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Behind the scenes at Gatcombe

Gatcombe has got to be great this year – I’ve chosen it in preference to a friend’s festival in the South East. Seeing as it is the Festival of British Eventing, a celebration of the sport from novice to world class, I’m banking on it showcasing eventing excellence.

Indeed it already lived up to my expectations at the preview and course walk, when the sight of Zara Phillips and Toytown out on a leisurely hack was a reminder of the venue’s royal connections. This morning Zara was in no hurry, chatting on her mobile as she rode along the path but Gatcombe Park is as undulating as it is beautiful and will no doubt produce a few puffing horses… and riders. Novice, intermediate and advanced riders better start practicing their angled rails and corners; Mark Phillips’ course will take no prisoners.

But that’s only if the Willis brothers get there in time. The world famous course builders are busy at Barbury and at present the Gatcombe course is a sandwich short of a picnic. Nevertheless I am convinced that once the fences are in situ, the track will be a feast for the eyes, and a feat for the competitors. In fact I am thoroughly looking forward to enjoying my picnic in the Park Bowl — the natural amphitheatre has great views over the water jump and house.

But as I breathe a secret sigh of relief that I won’t be sleeping in a field near Kent, I worry for those Gatcombe goers who have not yet booked accommodation. Although the legendary Snooty Foxhas a couple of four poster bedrooms still up for grabs, low to mid priced rooms within striking distance of Gatcombe are scarce.

All the big Tetbury players have sold out (Crown Inn +44 (0)1666 502469, Close Hotel , The Ormond. If I hadn’t cunningly secured a bed in the Priory Inn, Tetbury I would have been relegated to my tent after all.

My advice would be to visit www.tetbury.org and click on accommodation – the list of b&bs, hotels and guesthouses is extensive. Then it’s a question of picking up the phone, but make sure you set aside enough time as it could take a while.

Once you’ve got your room – or even if you haven’t – book your Gatcombe tickets online soon . The box office has received record bookings this year and the advance booking line will only be open for a few more days. As well as guaranteeing you and excellent ticket price, advance booking also buys you a car parking space in the most conveniently situated car park, Gatcombe’s equivalent to Ascot’s car park number one.

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