Most festivals create huge amounts of waste and use a ton of energy. Not this one, though. The Green Gathering is different, for all the right reasons. It is a truly low impact festival.
We were lucky enough to be gifted some tickets for this year’s event, so dusted off our camping gear and set off to Chepstow in early August. Here are our thoughts on the Green Gathering.
Where is this low impact festival?
The Green Gathering is held every year in the grounds of Chepstow Racecourse, just across the border from England in Monmouthshire in Wales. It is a beautiful area, with views across the Wye Valley.
We found Chepstow itself to be a charming little town on the River Wye. We wandered down to have a look one day and sat eating chips and sipping tea (in our reusable mugs, of course), in the grounds of Chepstow Castle.
Can this be a really low impact festival? How can it be achieved?
The gathering itself aims to be a festival with a difference. Rather than leaving a scar on the land in the form of used plastic bottles, drinks cups and takeaway packaging, the organisers insist that all catering suppliers and trade stalls follow the sustainability principles to: ” … respect people, animals and the environment in the production of the festival. Waste, destruction, pollution, fossil fuel use and feeding corporate profits are to be minimised….”
Some suppliers hired reusable crockery for their customers, but most offered reusable plastic cups with a refundable deposit on return. We saw no polystyrene fast food packaging, thank goodness. Instead, you could provide your own plate or bowl or get a recyclable paper napkin or, on one occasion, a plate. I did, however, spot a coffee stall giving out paper (and I assume plastic lined) cups to customers.
More on the green credentials later.
Arrival and first impressions
Our first impression of the festival was that there were no signs! We were among the first to arrive on Thursday afternoon, so maybe they hadn’t got round to it yet. It didn’t take long to find the car park at Chepstow racecourse, where we had to leave the car and hike all our camping gear to the shuttle bus stop.
We hadn’t appreciated how much we had, so ended up doing it in two bus journeys. However, we later realised that some people with more than us (mostly those with small children) had put theirs all on the bus in one go. We could have done the same and left half of it at the entrance to the festival field and humped it over in a couple of shifts.
However, at that point we didn’t appreciate how lovely everyone was at this festival and that your stuff would be safe for a bit if you left it unattended. I have been to festivals in the past where things got stolen from the tents whilst people were asleep in them! This felt like a whole different breed of extremely nice and respectful people from the start, from the stewards to traders to the festival goers themselves.
The bus shuttles system worked brilliantly. The buses turned up every 15 minutes and the stewards and driver helped to pile everyone’s stuff on the lower deck so that we could sit on the upper deck. There were also wheelbarrow taxis to hire if you needed help you get your tent and equipment to your desired camping spot.
Maybe because it is a small festival, the Green Gathering seemed both incredibly well organised and quite laid back. I think the organisers had done such a good job of planning it and had lots of stewards who were committed to keeping it green, that it seemed to run like clockwork.
The fields were divided up into general, quiet and family camping areas. We chose quiet camping. However, we did end up next to a group of 15 teenagers, who arrived back at the tent at 3 am the first night and proceeded to shout at each other for the next hour.
Fortunately they were soon firmly but politely told to be quiet as they had woken everyone in the supposedly quiet field up. They were better after that. I need my sleep, whether I am camping in a field or in my bed!
As ever with a festival, the toilets were an adventure. However, these were compost toilets and were kept clean and full of toilet paper for the whole event. There was also somewhere to wash your hands and/or hand sanitiser for when you came out. They worked really well and didn’t smell or attract flies. However, you did not want to look down them!!
There were also solar showers and a hot tub available. We didn’t bother and instead took a little bowl along, with our water carrier and gas stove. This meant we could have tea first thing, warm up a can of something and boil a bowl of water for washing. Not quite as green as a solar shower but gas and water use were minimal and we didn’t have to queue.
Most people go to festivals primarily for the music. I think this one was a bit different. There were no huge names, although we came across some excellent artists.
Because we didn’t know who any of them were we just kind of wandered here and there and came across people we liked randomly. The stages were all fairly small and, again, it was all very laid back. I loved this.
Some people on the camping field near us had done a bit of research in advance and knew the artists they wanted to see. We probably missed some good ones so I would do the same if we went again.
The best one we did manage to catch was Pete the Temp, who was political, funny and entertaining. He really got the crowd joining in.
We also kept getting drawn back to the Triban stage, with its big bean bags and bar. It was unsurprisingly very easy to relax and chill in there for a few hours at a time! We came across Devon Bird a few times there, who presented mellow, trad folk.
There was also comedy and cabaret, and some great impromptu sets by bands on the Village Green. I loved that you could come across music, stay for a bit then wander on to see what else you could find.
The Healing Field
Because a low impact festival such as this one attracts people who tend to look at alternatives, there was a whole field devoted to healing. This was my favourite part and was certainly popular. We had a lovely yoga session with a fabulous teacher called Chloe.
Also on offer was Tai Chi, Chi Gung, massage of various kinds, chanting and complementary therapists. I could have spent the whole festival just in the healing field! It was brilliant. But there was so much else to see, we didn’t spend enough time there. If we go again we will try to get to early morning yoga or chi gung each day.
There was a whole field devoted to campaigns. We had a look around and it was interesting, but I felt they were pretty much preaching to the converted at an event like this one.
We were quite excited to go to the permaculture section, but a bit disappointed when we visited each time as there wasn’t very much happening. This could have been because we missed the talks, though! We weren’t very organised.
Food and drink
There were loads of places to eat. However, because I can’t eat onions or soya and the food was completely vegetarian and mostly vegan, we didn’t take advantage of much of it. It did look fabulous and there was a lot of choice. We had a lovely pizza made in front of us in a hot pizza oven and also some delicious pancakes.
Mr S was more than happy with the choice of beer on offer. I’m not a beer fan but managed several proseccos from one little bar. However, I didn’t find anywhere that you could get a glass of wine the whole festival. Organisers, please can you get a local vineyard doing a stall next time for us wine drinkers?
There was one little stall selling bits and bobs of groceries and another selling bread, but we did pop into Chepstow to get more lactose free milk and a few supplies on Saturday morning. It was less than a mile away and a very nice walk.
Other bits we liked
We loved the atmosphere of the Green Gathering. Everyone seemed really happy and laid back, it wasn’t over crowded and it was clearly very family friendly, with plenty for children to enjoy.
The huge campfires were a hit with us and we spent a fair few hours in the evenings chatting around them.
There were solar panels everywhere and no noisy, smelly diesel generators in evidence. The organisers encouraged festival goers to use public transport to get there if possible. This was a big ask for families, though, because of the camping equipment required, although there was a glamping field if you wanted to leave your tent at home and go upmarket. We had to take our car as we were moving onto Wales and needed to be able to get around (more on what we got up to here).
We only saw one incident where someone was so out of it he couldn’t stand up and needed some assistance. I wasn’t sure about the elderly man walking around completely naked at one point. It was a green festival, not a flipping naturist resort!! (Maybe I am a prude but I don’t need to see that over my breakfast, LOL!).
There was more we missed. We had a look around the craft area but didn’t take part in any of the activities. I will try to do so if we go again as I fancied some willow weaving. There is certainly plenty to do!
The green ethos of this low impact festival was impeccable. Other festivals and large events could, and should, learn a thing or two from this one. I believe that there is a will amongst many people to live more sustainable lives. Many would happily go along with a compost toilet and get into the idea of ditching disposable beer containers if they were offered sensible alternatives.
Have a look at the website to find out more, here.
I would love to know if you attended the Green Gathering or any similar low impact festival events. Let me know in the comments! For more of our experiences on travel and days out, see here.
Disclosure: The Green Gathering didn’t pay me to write this review and these are my honest opinions. However, they did provide a full ticket for myself and a discounted one for Mr S.