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Nicky Marr: Is Belladrum gridlock a case of forgive and forget?

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky and Colin Marr at Belladrum.
Nicky and Colin Marr at Belladrum.

I think we did pretty well, to be honest – stuck in Thursday’s Belladrum queues we managed to stay cheerful for the first four-and-a-half hours. We’d left Inverness at 1pm for the nine-mile trip, and fully expected to be settled in well before Skerryvore at 6.40pm. Ha!

We were luckier than most. For the first time we’d brought our motorhome, so while stationary for long stretches of time on the back roads over Abriachan, I made sandwiches, got wellied into some cake, and – resisting beers – brewed up coffee.

With an on-board loo we didn’t have to join the throngs hopping over fences in search of cover. I may have had a nap too.

At around 4.30pm, tantalisingly within both sight and earshot of the site, and having been overtaken by hundreds of people laden down with camping gear, kids, and false eyelashes, we met our first high-vized body. I asked about the hold-up.

“It’s Belladrum,” he chirped. “Have you never been before? It’s always like this.”

I’ve never come close to slapping a policeman before. We’ve been to Belladrum pretty well every year since 2004, and never seen gridlock like it.

By this point, our vow was ‘never again’. What a waste of time. But we were on our way to party – and therefore part of the problem – and we could see locals unable to get out of their drives or get home. There’s not a chance an ambulance or fire engine could have got anywhere in a hurry. Guilt began to set in.

Would the bands be able to get through? What about Bella staff? It turns out that Clare Grogan was held up, and Bohemian Monk Machine missed their slot altogether. We concluded that at 25,000 capacity, with just wee access roads and a single point of entry for everyone, Belladrum simply wasn’t sustainable any more.

Ah well, we thought, we’ve had a good run of Bellas. This will definitely be our last.

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Into hour five, we finally made it onto the site, and got swift passage through to the campervan section, only to hit more chaos. Circumnavigating a vast field, we were stopped for another half-hour while drivers were ‘given a run’ at the hill.

Safe to say, a few hundred yards of hired tracking over the mud would have prevented our van, and the one in front, and the caravan behind us, from getting stuck. By 7pm, thanks to lots of helpful swearing, sweating, and pushing, we got parked up.

Six hours after leaving home I took the keys from the ignition and stowed them for the weekend. The dregs of the coffee went into a whisky cocktail (ask me for the recipe – delicious) and we swapped our tickets for wristbands that proclaimed we were adults. We’d missed Skerryvore, but we’d missed the rain too. Time for the fun to start.

Within minutes of the delayed Altered Images taking to the stage (I am coveting Clare Grogan’s stunning red dress), and after a wee trip or two to Tomatin Bothy, an amazing set from Sigrid, laughs at Bella Karaoke, and the magnificent programming of Gimme Abba for the late-night sing-along, all traffic hell was forgiven.

Follow that with a very good night’s sleep, two days of wall-to-wall sunshine, laughter, friends, inspired programming (did you catch Hugh Reed and the Velvet Underpants?), great rosemary fries and a genuine Hollywood A-lister (thank you Keifer!) and we sailed home on Sunday morning. Best Bella ever.

The organisers have held their hands up, and for whatever reason this year, Thursday went wrong. They’ll fix it, I am sure.

It’s always a balance – the need for large-scale events like Belladrum which do wonders for the local economy, against the needs of locals who just want to get on with their day.

We’re already counting the days till next year. See you there.

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