We’re going ‘Doune The Rabbit Hole’…
Up in the Scottish Highlands, close to the city of Stirling and down the road from the Lake of Mentieth, is a place called the Cardross Estate.
And every summer, it plays host to a music festival called Doune the Rabbit Hole.
My music festival history (so far)
I’ve been to a fair few music festivals in my time. The first was Exit festival in Novi Sad, Serbia, held inside a medieval fort; then I headed out to the infamous fields of Glastonbury in 2011, followed by the fancy Wilderness festival a few years ago (and again last weekend for the second time!).
I even visited my first Scottish music festival recently, which fulfilled all my expectations by featuring a wandering group of brass band players in full-on kilts.
But like most festival-lovers, I’ve never been involved with the inner workings of a festival.
Who actually runs them? How on earth do they manage to set one up and pull it off?
Arriving at the Cardross Estate
I first visited the site of Doune the Rabbit Hole one afternoon in May. The lord and lady who own the Cardross Estate invited us into their cosy kitchen, and over a bottle of red wine we chatted about festival preparations while a collection of dogs chased each other under the table.
Afterwards we walked through the fields outside the estate house and down to the riverbank amongst the sheep. So much space, and such stunning views.
I was hooked.
For each of my subsequent visits to the Cardross Estate since then, I’ve watched the place grow ever closer towards the third weekend in August – towards ‘The Festival’ – and I’ve unapologetically developed a case of festival fever.
I’ve wandered the stunning fields at Cardross, tracing in my mind’s eye where each stage and stall would eventually sit.
I’ve wandered down the tree-lined paths in the setting sun, and imagined groups of festival goers chilling out between performances.
I’ve spent evenings chatting with the folks who are building the festival up from scratch – and I’ve made immediate friendships with the estate’s resident dogs.
And the more festival-related people I meet, the more I feel sure of just how special Doune the Rabbit Hole really is.
The story of Doune
Doune the Rabbit Hole first started in 2010 as an intimate music-festival-slash-tea-party in the Scottish town of Doune (hence the puntastic name), and for the last seven years they’ve been celebrating the very best of Scotland’s independent arts scene with a number of unique factors…
A smaller capacity = more intimate performances
Doune the Rabbit Hole occupies a modest amount of land, and there’s a maximum capacity of a few thousand people – making it one of the UK’s smallest festivals. It’s worlds apart from the hundreds of thousands swarming the Glasto fields, and due to the small size it’s easy to recognise the same faces and start making friends.
The entire Doune experience becomes much more community-driven, much more quickly.
The homegrown ethos behind Doune is also really inspiring. It’s not a commercial festival at all: the focus is predominantly about fostering and promoting local Scottish talent and celebrating what this country has to offer in terms of arts and music.
Plus the joy of such a small audience capacity means you’re treated to virtually private performances from a stellar line up.
Who could ask for more?!
Doune’s decor is like a wonderland
Alice in Wonderland, eat your heart out: Doune is one arty place to spend a weekend.
The festival’s Wonderland vibe runs through the entire site: from the Jabberwocky stage to the props and decorations (and even an occasional surprise tea party), there’s a beautiful sense that something magical is happening around every corner.
The thousand year old oak trees may have something to do with it, too.
Everyone’s welcome – from families to dogs
There’s a strong focus on being inclusive at Doune, and every member of the family is welcome.
Camping areas are segregated, so families with young children can sleep away from the late night festivalers; all the food vendors have a £1 children’s portion on offer; and all the kids activities are meticulously planned and scheduled, making the site like one large playground.
Doune is also infamously dog-friendly – not least because lots of the organisers and on-site workers own dogs and want their furry friends to enjoy the festivities too!
The food and drink are locally sourced
All the food and drink served at Doune the Rabbit Hole comes from local vendors and suppliers, like cider from Thistly Cross, locally brewed beers from Williams Brothers, and food ranging from crepes and woodfired pizzas to locally sourced game and meat.
Yet the festival itself is wonderfully international
The primary focus of most festivals is the music – and Doune has a blindingly good line-up on offer for 2017, with many of the artists coming from as far afield as Norway, the US, Canada and Mali.
There’s a host of Scottish acts, including Idlewild’s Roddy Woomble, Meursault, PAWS, Pronto Mama and The Vegan Leather.
Liars: the New York art punks open the festival’s headlining slot on Friday night.
Songhoy Blues: a punk band from Mali who played a storming set at this year’s Glastonbury and BBC 6Music Festival in Glasgow, are headlining Doune as their ONLY Scottish gig.
Start to End: this covers collective who tackle a wide range of genres are performing Daft Punk’s Discovery on Sunday night.
Steve Davis: the six time World Snooker Champion – moonlighting as a Snookerstar DJ – will be putting his considerable DJ skills to the test when headlining the Baino stage on Friday night.
Holy Fuck: a group of Canadian electro-punks who toured with MIA.
Jenny Hval: an avant-garde Norwegian who plays electronic & melancholic pop.
The other artistic offerings are equally exciting
From comedy and film to spoken word, there’s a huge amount on offer at Doune. Here’s just a few of the folks I’m most excited to see:
A heartfelt and honest spoken word performer from the USA, whose piece ‘OCD’ went viral online recently. Have a watch here:
Luke will write a story for you about anything you ask for. He writes stories for strangers in the street, in parks, on beaches and at festivals around the world using his typewriter: just give him a subject and he’ll type your own custom story for you right there on the spot!
This poetry, music film and spoken word event runs in Glasgow each month – and the Fail Better crew will be working their literary magic throughout the weekend at Doune.
CineMorr are a social enterprise bringing people together through cinema & film making, and they have a special cinema yurt to show their screenings.
The ‘NoMansLanding’ Dome
Initially devised to portray the experiences of soldiers during World War One, this incredible interactive artwork was first installed in the waters of Sydney Harbour in 2015.
It then journeyed around the world via a shipping container to end up in Scotland – and the crew at Doune will be re-purposing the acoustic abilities of the Dome for a musical experience like no other…
And then there’s everything else!
If the above isn’t quite enough, Doune the Rabbit Hole has a ton of extras on offer.
In the words of Jamie Murray, the festival’s founder: “It’s not just a music festival! We’ve got a huge kids space with multiple activities, amazing caterers, Williams Bros. and Thistly Cross, workshops for adults and kids, and glamping in yurts. This year we’ll also be hosting axe-throwing tournaments and getting some wild swimming on the go – adjacent to our mobile sauna, of course!”
Of course, there are also the moments which nobody can predict. Occurrences I’ve merely heard mention of – like the late night campfires, the tribal drumming circles, the early riser who wanders the grounds playing the bagpipes, and stories of a legendary chai tea tent.
I’ll keep my eyes peeled for the naturally hollowed-out oak tree filled with fairy lights, and the secret leafy glen hidden beside the river which serves as the entrance to a music tent too.
You’ll leave as part of the Doune community
From the lord and lady who own the estate, to the festival crew who work tirelessly throughout the weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly, everyone is welcome at Doune the Rabbit Hole, and everyone belongs. It’s a community which may only be visible for one August weekend – but it’ll get under your skin.
As Jamie says, “It’s pretty rare to find an event that embraces a family-friendly culture. There is a real sense of community-spirit at Doune the Rabbit Hole, and I guarantee you make friends for life.”
So although I don’t know what will happen at this year’s Doune the Rabbit Hole, I’m going to be there to find out.
See you at the festival!
All the Doune festival tickets can be bought online through Eventbrite, BookItBee and SeeTickets.com. The booking fees change depending on which site you use, so make sure to check first!
Adult weekend tickets: £125 (plus online booking fee)
Adult Friday tickets: £50 (plus booking fee)
Adult Saturday tickets: £80 (plus online booking fee)
Adult Sunday tickets: £65 (plus online booking fee)
Children aged 5 and under: £4
Weekend car parking: £16
Day car parking (Fri/Sat/Sun): £10.50
Live-in Vehicle plot (party zone or quiet zone): £26
There are multiple Doune Buses arriving at the site from Stirling train station, all of which are timed to meet popular trains from Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Perth. There are also direct buses from and to Glasgow.
If you’re driving to the festival, the SatNav code is FK8 3JY.
Doune the Rabbit Hole will be publicised live on various channels throughout the weekend, using the hashtags #DTRH17 and #DouneTheRabbitHole.
If all goes to plan, I’ll also be commandeering the festival’s Instagram account to film some IG Stories, so keep an eye out!