It’s a long and winding road to Knockengorroch, past the small village of Carsphairn, deep in the Galloway hills. Modest signposts lead the way, we had arranged a lift to the main entrance, from the drop off point it’s quite a walk to the festival itself, but luckily we bumped into a friend with an empty car who drove us down. A laid back but helpful rabble of stewards were on hand to guide us, sort out wristbands and sell programs. We arrived early Thursday evening, other friends reported things to be a little more chaotic on Friday with heavier traffic affecting the one way system and sniffer dogs holding things up, but the entrance remained heavily staffed and efficient. Driving into the festival, it was clear there was plenty of toilet facilities, several car parks and sprawling campsites, both before and beyond the main arena, giving people lots of choice of where to stay.
We crossed a bridge and set up our tent in an already thriving campsite, on a wee island by the river, which offered a beautiful backdrop to our stay, and a natural playground for paddling in that proved a popular spot for children who spent many happy hours dangling off the bridge, demanding tolls, shooting water pistols and playing with the many dogs that roamed around. Knockengorroch is both family and dog friendly, so be prepared to mingle with both.
After setting up camp we wandered around to get our bearings, and checked out the food stalls, which offered lots of variety, it was great to see such a lot of delicious vegetarian options too, curries, ice cream stalls, and international flavours, not just your average burger vans. A firm favourite was Mutley’s Crepes, who served a selection of savoury and sweet crepes served with a side dish of charisma and comedy, they also did a deliciously refreshing lemonade. The bars offered a selection of craft beers, pale ales and fruit ciders for around £4 a pint, spirits were £3/£3.50 and soft drinks were £1, they also did delicious cocktails, including the ‘Knocktail’, for £6, which contained whisky, honey mead, ginger beer and fresh fruit.
The decor throughout the festival was bright and bohemian and had a very handmade feel about it, with streamers, flags, upcycled CDs, lots of psychedelic UV artwork, many references to nature and a random giant sculpture of Jimmy Carr’s head, which actually housed the lasers for one of the stages. The surrounding river and hills, with flower beds and decorated trees, provides the perfect scenery to this very special event. This years festival theme was Rivers and river creatures, so there was a giant narwhal resting up a hill. Although we didn’t see much reference to the theme in people’s costumes and outfits, from the offset its obvious people have brought their festie best, the painted vans, the rainbow dreadlocks, the hats, the unruly festival kids, people greeting friends old and new with long hugs, as the evening sun set in that luxurious shade of gold, it already begins to feel like home.
Thursday night the campfire was the place to meet and mingle and the drinks flowed at The Fraoch Cabaret Stage and bar, we caught up with friends before heading back to camp for an earlyish night.
We got up early and wandered around the main arena, small groups gathered to try out Tai Chi and yoga workshops in the Tallyn Tent, while the kids area offered storytelling and crafting. We sat in a wooden boat and had morning refreshments, before climbing a hill, complete with a swing seat, and looked down on the festival being pieced together, a tapestry of tents, stalls, stages and campers going about their morning routine, as flags flapped and dream catchers swang on trees in a gentle breeze.
We wandered and mingled as more campers arrived, and checked out the shops. There was all your usual festival stalls, selling hats, shades, ponchos, floral garlands, uv paint, beaded jewellery, and plenty of bohemian alternative wear and ornaments, crystals, and even a fortune telling stall. I bought some shorts, 3 pairs of shades and a warm jumper from a lovely woman at the Red Cross charity shop, and checked out the face painting stall, which prides itself on the use of ecologically friendly glitter, something which the festival website was keen to promote this year.
We took ourselves off to the Tallyn Tent to attend a workshop with Anda Union, an ensemble of Mongolian musicians, who gave us our first real taste of the international flavour of the world ceilidh, and what a delight they were! Starting with a traditional drinking song, we were then talked through the history of their string and percussion instruments, some of which were made by the musicians themselves, before being treated to a demonstration of throat singing, long singing, and even a throat singing workshop for a lucky few volunteers. After a Q&A session they once again performed a song which had us fully roused and clapping along, they were very well received by the packed tent, which whet our whistle to see them perform a full live show later on in the afternoon.
Afterwards we caught a few minutes of Cera Impala and the New Prohibition Band, at the Bo-Airigh Stage who impressed a relaxed but joyous crowd in the full heat of the afternoon sun, with deliciously rich vocals accompanied by a simple ukulele, fiddle and gentle bass, as a walk-through performance of tinsel and veil clad people danced and crept past.
Soon after we walked past another display of oddity in the form of a dioramic world of moss and creatures being wheeled about in a barrow with an eerie soundtrack playing behind it, I almost don’t believe we did now, you never know what you’ll run into next at this uniquely colourful place.
Next up we watched Scottish group Earth Wire, an emotive mix of chilled and somewhat haunting hip hop beats, with intense vocals. The cool air in the Shieling World Stage was much needed after our time in the sun.
On our way back to see Anda Union perform at the main stage we were hijacked by our good friends from Easy Skankin Crew, to check out their new van, kitted out with speakers and amazing decor, they sure know how to party, if you see them camped up don’t be afraid to go and join the fun!
We catch the lively end of Anda Union’s performance, the crowd which were mainly seated on our arrival, gave it their all in the last few tracks, relenting to the beats and getting up on their feet for some absolute belters, Mongolian style.
Easy Skankin Crew were next on the agenda at the vibrant and bouncy dance floor at Maddie’s Mash Tree, pleasing the crowd with a variety of ska and ragga beats, as people sprawled on the sofas and benches outside enjoying the last of the sunshine.
9pm at the Bo-Airigh Stage is where I found my new favourite band, Inyal, who bring a genre-defying sound, combining electronica, celtic fiddles, and synthesisers, creating euphoric beats with spectacular vocals which had us hugging strangers and stomping hard in the drizzle.
Maddie’s Mash Tree was the place to be for most of Friday night, as Cenote sounds, Junglism Scotland featuring Anikonik, Al the Kemist, Oh my Josh, and Mrs Magoo tore up the dancefloor with a variety of drum and bass, jump up and generally fat beats which had the dancefloor literally bouncing way past sunrise.
After some well earned rest most of Saturday was spent by the riverside, paddling, sunbathing and laughing with friends. At 5pm we headed back to our favourite spot, Maddie’s, to see a dubstep set from Skatty Dreadz, which went down well as the heat of the day cooled off a little. After some food and more drinks, and perhaps a little too much sunshine, Saturday evening got a little bit hazy for me and I missed a few of the acts I had intended to see, instead catching up with friends, climbing hills and flitting from one stage to another in a bit of a blur, seeing snippets of headliners Les Amazones D’Afrique at the Bo-Airigh stage, who oozed feminine power with their bilingual blues funk and ancient West African rhythms, a fire show, and a captivating genre hopping gig from old Knockengorroch favourites, Transglobal Underground. The festival really was in full swing by now, crowds of elated, colourful characters wove past each other, mingling, drinking, eating, glowing, hugging, dancing, laughing. The Shieling tent held me in its arms for the rest of the night, with an outstanding set from Cut Chemist, who showed off his impressive turntablist skills, with chop and changing samples, and a mash-up of hip hop and electronic beats, which had the tent heaving. We had to keep stepping out for fresh air and to find more space to dance in as Scottish DJ Mrs Magoo and local DJ Mayawaska pleased the crowd with some fat drum and bass before I went back to my tent to sleep and spoon my sister in a dizzy haze.
Sunday brought a welcome breeze and after some lounging, eating and napping on our favourite hillside spot, we ventured for some refreshing cold pints and caught Dalmellington Silver Band, by the Bo Airigh Stage, who brought a beautiful summer fete vibe to the place, playing crowd pleasing covers such as The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black, perfect for a chilled Sunday crowd. Next up was The Knockengorroch Ceilidh with Awry at the Shieling Tent, which brought a jaunty crowd of eager punters, many of whom were kilt clad, ready to jig and reel their afternoon away. Feeling a little too fragile to throw myself into the ceilidh I tore myself away to catch some of Tilitose at the Bo-Airigh Stage, described as Afro-rhythmic ghetto soul, their Malawian frontman had us instructed to ‘dance like you’re being attacked by ants’, to their interesting fusion of sounds, and dance we did!
After some more time spent by the river, and resting at the campsite with some delicious strawberry ciders we headed to Maddie’s Mash Tree and danced along to DruOid, who pumped out some seriously bassy beats, blending garage, jump up, mash ups and more, perfect for our silly sunny Sunday moods as I danced on a bench and hugged as many people as I could, followed by newcomer, local DJ Late Nite Jazz, who had a happy crowd moving and grooving to swinging mash ups through the last of the evening sun.
Mungo’s Hi Fi’s Breezak Bass took us on journey of surprising mash-ups later on in the Shieling tent, before I made my way along to the Bo-Airigh stage for My Baby whose psychedelic blues and funk sounds had the packed crowd pure beaming as they danced and swayed along, before heading back to the Shieling tent for some good wholesome dub from producer Escape Roots, with raggaetastic vocals from Tom Spirals, which went down very well indeed.
Next up at the Shieling Tent was the legendary Mungo’s Hi-Fi Sound System for their traditional Sunday night take over, bringing with them an impressive lightshow and hours of delicious dub, ragga, and satisfying beats, to a crowd of slightly wobbly, somewhat worse for wear festival goers. The crowds began to shrink a little, throughout the arena and campsites as the evening went on, only the truly hardy remained on their feet and jumping around. Maddie’s Mash Tree housed the last of the madness of Sunday Funday, as Mandidextrous drove the crowds into a frenzy with her Jungletek and Raggatek set, it was intense and chaotic, taking no prisoners as she enthusiastically bounced about behind the decks, people were loving it.
A plague of midges descended as the sun came up Monday morning, determined to feast on the blood of the hippies, ravers, families and dogs of Knockengorroch, no doubt pickling themselves in the process. After finding shelter in a friends caravan for a few hours I headed home to sunbathe and pack up before finding a lift and heading off home for a good wash and some sleep.
Throughout the festival our lost property was handed in, the welfare tent gave us free lollies, chewing gum, lube and contraception, and took care of the vulnerable, there wasn’t any hint of trouble, the amnesty bins took care of any contraband rather than a heavy police presence, and stewarding was relaxed. Some of our friends were evicted from the crew camping early on Saturday however, which they’d unwittingly camped in since Thursday, which could have easily been avoided if the stewards had paid attention to their standard issue wristbands at any point.
From the offset people were offering strangers help with their luggage and setting up tents, and as we left people were offering lifts, sharing supplies and handing out their leftovers. We were blessed with the hottest weekend of the year so far, despite some light rain on Friday night it was sunshine all the way, lashings of sun cream and midge repellent were shared around, like the good vibes all round. Portaloos were regularly cleaned and restocked with toilet paper and there was several water points throughout too, as well as shower facilities. The terrain was mainly grassy but the pathways were somewhat rocky and the dust did get quite intense as time went on due to the warm weather and winds, we did see a couple of electric wheelchair users there and as the main arena has everything on flat terrain its relatively accessible, although I didn’t spot any disabled portaloos.
There was a huge backlog of traffic to get out of the festival, due to the one way system and rocky terrain but having said that, the stewards were doing their absolute best to keep everything moving swiftly and safely, and helped tow our lift’s caravan out as we couldn’t get enough speed to get up one of the hills, a small crowd gathered at the top to cheer people on as one by one the vehicles gunned it up to the top.
As we drove out of the festival entrance on our way back to the main road, the windows open as the full heat of the afternoon sun poured down on us, our saying of the weekend sprung to mind, ‘The hills have you now boy, you belong to the hills.’ And so we do. Knockengorroch offers a little piece of heaven, but it takes a little piece of your heart in return, to keep the community spirit alive and ringing around the hills til next year, which you will give willingly, along with a few tasty blood samples to the ravenous midges.
Review & Photographs by: By Celia Donovan