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Belladrum Tartan Heart Organiser promises “full debrief” after traffic chaos

By | Published on Monday 31 July 2023

Dougie Brown, Event Producer for the Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, has spoken of his disappointment at traffic issues that marred the latest edition of the event last week, promising a “full debrief” to avoid a repeat of this year’s problems in 2024.

The 25,000 capacity festival took place from 27-29 Jul at the Belladrum Estate in Kiltarlity, around twelve miles outside of Inverness.

Speaking on Thursday after festival goers faced significant delays entering the festival site, Brown said: “We are incredibly disappointed by the traffic issues that so many of the festival goers and local people experienced”.

“We have had good ticket sales, but it was a very small percentage increase on last year and nothing else in the plan was changed”, he added. “We have used the same routes, the same traffic management and parking companies, and the same number of police officers in the same locations”.

Festival-goers took to social media to express their frustration with the traffic problems, with one woman saying: “We live 20 minutes away and it took us four hours to get to the campsite, then another two hours queueing to get in”.

And another ticketholder said: “It was a really great festival – but three hours to get from Inverness to site was shocking”.

Google Maps shows that the average journey time from Inverness to Kiltarlity is around 26 to 40 minutes, depending on the time of day. However, as another local pointed out, referencing the roads in the area – many of them narrow single track roads – “It’s a festival in the highlands – what were you expecting?”

A combination of factors seems to have contributed to the delays, including wet weather and people arriving “exceptionally early”, which had a knock-on effect on festival staff who found roads blocked, slowing down their access to work on the festival site.

This caused further delays as the festival scrambled to deal with the volume of cars and other vehicles arriving. Additionally, there seemed to be more cars than in previous years.

Brown attributed this to fewer people sharing cars, saying: “We have had more cars. Interestingly the ratio of people per car has gone down this year. There’s less people per car, so more cars on the road. That’s something we need to look into – what the reason for that was”.

He suggested that more effort might be put into promoting car sharing at next year’s event – the festival’s 20th birthday – to ensure vehicles would not be arriving with “just one or two people” in them.

Brown apologised to local residents who had got caught up in the traffic problems saying: “That’s the last thing any of us want. We don’t want the festival to cause gridlock. That’s something we’re going to look into, to try and make sure it doesn’t happen again”.

Traffic exiting the festival site on Sunday experienced fewer problems, helped in part by the festival putting in place additional traffic management for vehicles leaving the event.

In an “important notice” to festival goers pushed out through social media channels – and local police – on Saturday evening, the organisers said “to manage traffic on Sunday morning, measures have been put in place”, before going on to outline a plan to split the flow of traffic as it left.

Campervans and caravans were asked to turn left onto the A833 while other vehicles were asked to turn right. The notice also highlighted the need for people exiting the festival site to stick to the main routes and avoid using the side roads which are “not suitable for large number of vehicles”.

Despite some criticism from local residents familiar with the roads in the area about the routes chosen for caravans leaving the festival – that criticism largely being that directing campervans and caravans to go down a steep hill at Culnakirk may not have been the best choice – the plan seemed to work.

Festival-goers on the event’s Facebook page commented positively, with one saying: “Was expecting usual car park chaos but straight out in twelve minutes – well done to all!”, while another added: “That was the easiest exit ever from the festival, well done Belladrum Tartan Heart on a fantastic weekend”.

This year’s Download festival at Leicestershire’s Donington Park also resulted in “unprecedented” congestion on the roads near the site. Its promoter Live Nation also promised an investigation after a local council leader said “something’s got to change for next year otherwise I’ll be pressing that the damn thing is cancelled”.

In Download’s case, the addition of an extra day of programming to mark the festival’s 20th anniversary – but camp sites not opening any earlier – may have been a key factor.