The Woolpack Festival – Sept 2014

It’s their festival day, two years (2014) since Wendy and William – Co-Directors – arrived and six months after they took full control of the lease. The main bars are fairly free of customers as the festival includes outside sitting decks, one above the other on three levels, beginning with the lane level outside tables, another level a few steps down to a long terrace and a lower one on a level below which contains the music tent, vegetarian food and a small bar. This is the Stroud valleys after all and the total drop is about 100 feet. On this lower level children play on the natural slope and some of them have spent the afternoon clambering into the sycamore tree looking very serious as they climb upwards and emitting joyous cries having achieved a specific target branch. Others build temporary huts from the branches or dig up the soft soil using tools made from branches. Most of them have their faces painted, some by Wendy.

In the background a two person band churn out folk songs and what seem like sea shanties. Obviously it is a jolly atmosphere but with a quiet hubbub, of people conversing naturally, with no excess shrieks or screams except occasionally from the children. Mostly groups know one another but I hear a small group introduce themselves as they sit in adjacent seats. However, one solitary individual is enjoying a pint and reading the Sports section of the Telegraph.

All the regular staff appears to be employed this afternoon except for two. Two new sous chefs run the burger bar and two strangers run the Vegetarian bar – presumably employed for their food production from outside. William has been around all day and well into the afternoon he says goodbye to his wife and child who are heading home after a long day.

There is a cider bar and lager is sold on all levels but the real ale remains available from the main bar at prices 15% above the normal to pay for the event.
A small girl clambers up the grassy bank collecting mud as she goes. A previous worker here, sports a hat adorned with peacock feathers but there is not much dressing up. A boy aged about ten with a red face painted mask and black rims to his eyes consumes a burger, looking like something from the deep forest and a young women with face painted stars on her forehead rolls a cigarette and talks of her recent trip to Croatia.

The steep steps down to the third level require care and some perch on the iron railings including the sous chef who takes a cigarette break from the burger bar with her mates. Dogs bark ferociously from time to time but people are tolerant, smiling as they pass strangers on the steps or accept you with warmth to join their table, ‘If there’s no room you can sit on her lap’, is one welcome from a stranger. The children continue to adventure around the tree seemingly oblivious of the rest of the activities, but occasionally returning ‘home’ to reconnect and sometimes carrying out a dangerous manoeuvre near a steep drop that requires stern warnings from their parent. There is a long line of cars parked in the grass verges into the village, with people still pouring in towards a festival of joy, friendliness and lots of laughing, representative, perhaps of the Slad valley and the welcoming Woolpack Inn.

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