Body and Soul
Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath
Ah, Body & Soul. One of the great loves of my life. The weather pulled an absolute blinder this year and along with the stunning line-up, beautiful people and access that just wouldn’t quit, it turned out to be one hell of a weekend. Some might say that I had the time of my life.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the Body & Soul team put extra effort into making the site and festival as accessible as possible. The wooded areas and some of the field site are rough but with the FreeWheel clipped on to my chair, it made life so easy and cut my travel time down by half. It was my first Irish festival using it and I honestly don’t know how I coped without it before. If you are going to a festival in a wheelchair, buy one. Seriously. You’d be an idiot not to. And now, on the the nitty gritty.
What has it got?
Getting there/Campsite/Carpark: When you get to Clonmellon, Co. Westmeath, you are directed to a different entrance at Ballinlough Castle for the Access Campsite and Carpark, which keeps you away from the heavy traffic. Once you get there, your name is checked off the access list and you can drive right into the campsite and pitch your tent beside your car.
The wonderful Access Officer Maggie McKeever meets you and sorts you out with wristbands, timetables and maps that include the locations of the viewing platforms, accessible portaloos, First Aid areas and so on. You also have her mobile number for the weekend if you need anything.
Because you apply to get into the Access Campsite, there is enough room for all of the cars and tents. The campsite is right beside the castle (they had cocker spaniel puppies this year as a special feature) and you are just a stroll away from the walled gardens. It’s a stress-free experience camping here and you’re close to all of the action.
Ground: The weather was very good leading up to the festival so there was very little mud to report. Some of the paths are gravelled and the wooded areas and field sites are a little bit uneven but like I mentioned above, the FreeWheel is the best thing you can invest in to eliminate any hassle with getting around. There was a shuttlebus available all weekend that takes you into the main arena. I didn’t use it myself but it was a great addition for other people.
Bathrooms: At every toilet area, there is an accessible portaloo and they’re very easy to find. However, by Saturday, things were a little bit grotty because of people using them when they really shouldn’t have been. That’s when I realised that behind every great First Aid tent is a clean accessible portaloo. I made pals with the medics and skipped all queues and avoided all grossness by using their toilets.
Viewing platforms: The main stage and Midnight Circus stage had their own viewing platforms if you needed them.
Helpfulness of Staff: I have nothing but glowing words for the Body & Soul staff. Between Maggie the Access Officer and the security and stewards around the site, the whole experience was just so easy. Not many Irish festivals make the effort with access that Body & Soul did this year. They are ahead of the pack and hopefully they continue with this because it’s such a magical and inclusive festival.
Why did it lose points? Body & Soul was so close to being totally perfect this year and the only thing that let it down was the accessible portaloos. They had plenty around site but because so many people were going in and using them, they were in a pretty poor state by Saturday. This is the only complaint I heard from other wheelchair users there. For every 20-30 regular portaloos, there is one accessible portaloo. So if others could think before they piss, they would just be great. Otherwise, it was an amazing weekend and I know that the next time I go there, I’ll have no issues with getting around or having the craic.