Countryfile Live At Castle Howard

This is the first foray for Countryfile Live in the North of England. It’s chosen venue is the opulent and imposing Castle Howard (of Brideshead Revisited TV series fame). Set over several sprawling acres, the show is broken down in the equine, farmyard, village green, shopping village and food market, wildlife zone, canoeing and kayaking, farming in action and the arena with the lamb national which D took part in. Red faced and chasing sheep is the ultimate in keep fit. However being red faced behind a steering wheel is not. We arrived on a chaotic site on the first day, with car parking marshals struggling with the large number of cars coming onto the historic site. They too were red faced and tight lipped, pointing many cars in the wrong direction, we were supposed to be in forward parking but ended up in disabled. A one way parking system was in operation and though on paper someone thought it would work, in practice it was a shambles. Throughout the day we heard of horror stories with people stuck for hours trying to get to the show and tweeting for help. This was a real shame as the show was marred by this on the first day, along with wifi problems for retailers, new shows at new venues have teething problems and one in particular was addressed by the show team the following day - we'll come to that one soon - but these same problems were seen at Blenheim too for two years on the trot and there was a high level of hope that the show team would have addressed these at Castle Howard. Sadly, this wasn't the case on the first day though on subsequent days we heard traffic moved more smoothly and an apology was issued by the show. We were among the first few hundred through the gates and received a bacon butty from chef Brian Turner. The site wasn't easy to navigate and the show map would have benefited from being a little clearer, including the avenue names which played on the presenters names, many people we met found it hard to find the wildlife area and the village green. Again, these are teething problems and exacerbated by the car issue. Countryfile Live worked best when it celebrated the beauty and fragility of our countryside and its traditions. This was strong in the wildlife area which encouraged children and adults alike to go peat free, build habitats, consider plastic use, and treat nature with more respect. 

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The sphagnum moss game was a particular hit with children and adults, and though the moss were bean bags and the moors were velcro, it highlighted an important problem for our countryside, the loss of habitat that locks in carbon, slows down flood waters and creates areas for wildlife. This was seen in How does water flow on planted peat? A simple demonstration that shocked D as water flooded off it barren moorland. He quickly cottoned on that it's hard to reseed a moor with moss when you lose it to fire or erosion and the bean bags missing the velcro target and the water hitting the bottom of the bucket highlighted how much work is involved to save this habitat. The staff here were knowledgeable and patient, D enjoyed matching poo to the animal and talking about the animals we have in our garden. 

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At the village green, which was a welcome relief from the over priced vintage fun fair (rides do not come part of the ticket price), we found a gentler countryside that celebrated folk dancing and music. Here the rides were vintage with old swing boats for the children and plenty of room to stretch out. It was a shame though that the vintage fun fair detracted from the wildlife activities. For in the end a child given the choice between a fun fair or mud making, would choose the bright lights. There needs to be consideration here to what the show wants to promote: countryside - yes, food - yes, wildlife and conservation - yes, getting outdoors - yes, farming and animals - yes but a fun fair that costs up to an additional £30-£45 + food at around £11 per head then you have to ask what the show is really about and who it ostracizes. The village green made amends to the idea that you have to have a heavy wallet to be in the countryside as they created an air of village fair. We spent our lunch here enjoying the music, the stories and the dancing. Maybe a produce and veg tent wouldn't have gone amiss to celebrate local bakers and growers. 

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With recent coverage of single use plastics on the BBC with Anita Rani and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in War on Plastic and on Countryfile as pressing pollution concern it was upsetting to see so much of it on show here, bins brimmed with it. The most horrifying thing we heard that day was when we tried the new mousse from Bonne Maman and the person handing it to us said, 'You can keep your spoon or throw it, it's plastic'. It was rather dismissive in tone and judging by the spoons in the bin nearby hundreds of people had opted for his 'throw it' advice. The show should commit to being a plastic free site as this is a pressing problem in the modern world, in cities and in the countryside.

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This lack of consideration around green credentials was also seen around toilets on the day we were there. The queues for the toilets in three areas saw people waiting from 30 minutes to an hour to use facilities that had run out of hygiene solution and toilet paper. This was particular galling for people with disabilities as tensions were high, the toilets unstaffed and those of us with disability didn't feel comfortable to cut the line. Here we heard complaints from people who had been on coaches for hours to people who had been stuck in traffic trying to get in. As one woman stated, 'I have come all the way from Buxton, it took four hours to get into the show, I've been queuing for just under an hour and we're leaving in two hours. I won't see anything'. Her anger was echoed throughout the day on social media causing people to declare that they would not attend the show and seek a refund.

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This lack of traffic management and toilet facilities was a criticism of the show when it was at Blenheim and the problems have followed them North. Countryfile announced this week that they were moving to Windsor Great Park due to continued traffic management and security issues. These were in evidence on the first day at Castle Howard, queues in and off the site were heated, slow and poorly managed. Red faces abounded. You'll be glad to know though that Countryfile did bring in more toilets for the second day but by then the damage had been done.  

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This is sad because from kayaking to the lamb national, Countryfile is trying to engage families with the wider outdoors. To show them the breeds of animals and their role within our food chain but they are not engaging new communities whilst ticket prices are high, food prices are high and workshops, talks and activities book up quickly. 

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We came to the show open minded, loving both the wildlife and outdoor pursuits but as the day pressed on and the growing sense of frustration from those trying to get in, and those trying to find a functioning toilet and those trying to sign up to activities that were booked up as they were stranded on the roads around Castle Howard marred the start of something that should have had us all championing the countryside rather than drawing attention to everything that is ruining the countryside. Countryfile Live could take a leaf out of RHS Chatsworth for traffic management and RHS Tatton for park and ride facilities, then they would have a show. At present, as a disabled person I would have to think twice about attending due to the traffic management, the problem with cables left across pathways (they was in evidence on the paths to the village green), uneven surfaces with no warning signs and in the end the very large carbon footprint that Countryfile Live has should be a concern to them and us.

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