“We should take our kids to a festival one of these days” we said. “We’re going to give our kids a real festival experience” we promised.
This was about five years ago and in the intervening years we have found reasons to avoid going, found concerns that stopped us biting the bullet and buying the tickets. We have totally and utterly chickened out.
But having heard so many rumours about the magic that is Camp Bestival, having seen so many delicious pictures of children having a glorious time and frolicking in the sunshine and eating their way around the globe via street food vendors, we knew that this was the right festival for us.
This year, we decided, we would do it – we would give them the full on festival, sleeping under canvas and dancing the night away experience.
Armed with what appeared to be our entire house contents to kit out our new Vango tent, clothes for almost every weather eventuality (apart from, as it turned out, the right clothing for gale force winds!) and a HUGE ‘Honk if you’re going to Camp Bestival’ sign for the back window, we set off on the five hour drive to Lulworth Castle in Devon.
When, half an hour down the road at 5:30am on a Friday morning our six year old was distraught that nobody had ‘honked’ at us yet and the stash of sweets already seriously depleted, we wondered if our decision had been the right one.
Survival tip number one. Go early. On the first day. Get Pitched.
Camp Bestival runs from Thursday to Monday with camping opening on the Thursday morning around 10am to midday. Our decision to set off on the Friday morning and arrive when the festival was already in full swing was our first rookie error. By the time our tent was fully pitched it was mid-afternoon on the Friday with lots of activities already booked and some gigs missed. Sure, we spared ourselves a night under canvas but we missed out on the luxury of setting up camp slowly and easing ourselves into the festival experience.
Premium Camping Places/Camping Plus?
We booked into Camping Plus, an extra £150 for better toilets and a marked out and reserved pitch. Personally I ‘m not 100% sure I would pay for it again. I would take advice of fellow campers and arrive early doors on the first day and pitch up in General Camping – either that or go all out for genuinely luxurious bell tent or campervan options. You can check out all the options for camping at Camp B here.
Camping Plus is situated right at the top of a huge hill. We chose a pitch close to the carpark and far enough away from the arena to be peaceful. This was a definite trade off between peace and quiet and an epic slog back to the tent at 11pm.
Survival Tip Number 2 – Buy that festival trolley
Not a skimpy granny shopping trolley like I did. No, you need a full-on bumper deluxe, size of a trailer, reinforced beast of a mega trolley. Why? Remember the hill to the campsite. Remember that you have small children with you. If you don’t want to enter divorce proceedings before the tent is out of the bag and you don’t want to have to piggy back a seven year old for a mile when they fall sound asleep during a main stage concert – buy the trolley. Clearly most of the festival goers with kids had learned this lesson the hard way in years gone buy (either that or they had looked down the barrel of divorce too) as their trolleys were bedecked with sparkly lights and duvets and blissfully ensconced, sleeping kiddiwinks.
Survival Tip Number 3 – Buy the Festival Programme or at least have a plan before you go!
As we drifted in awe into the festival grounds on the second day (you can feel our festival errors building up here right?) we eagerly purchased a festival programme and handy lanyard version. Cue utter overwhelm. Yes we knew about the epic inflatable church, we had heard about the joys of Dingley Dell and the magical face painters and craft zones. But…we didn’t have a game plan. Camp Bestival, as with other festivals, is brimming with magical experiences, most of them free of charge. Without a rough plan of where to go when, it is hard to fit it all in and easy to get lured into the paying events and into parting swiftly with more cash than you intended.
Survival Tip Number 4 – set a rough budget and prepare accordingly
Festivals aren’t cheap affairs but, if you know what you are getting into, they are quite simply one of the most fun things you will do all summer. If you choose to go with a ‘money no object’ approach then the beer is delightfully cold, the prosecco is fizzy and the food is incredible. With a pint of lager running at about £6 and the average simple takeaway meal a tenner, this can soon add up to a few hundred pounds per couple without trying. We made a decision to eat out once a day, ate a hearty breakfast in the tent and took snacks and drinks to keep us going. Again, seasoned pros showed us how it was done by carting around festival trolleys brimming with cans of G&T or beer and flasks of wine!
We also said to the kids to choose one or two paid activities per day. Yes you can do it all for free in superb style but for most kids the lure of the flying chairs or the world’s largest bouncy castle proves too great a temptation. We gave in to more requests than our initial agreement as the face painters and flower crown workshops just looked too good to miss.
Survival Tip Number 5 – Don’t miss these incredible Camp Bestival attractions whatever you do.
For pure magic, whimsical set design and incredible atmosphere – our firm favourite place had to be Caravanserai. The kids danced the night away on the disco stage and marvelled at the crazy guy on the highwire whilst we sipped gin in the bar.
Head to Dingly Dell both during the day and in the dark. It really is amazing. With woodland magical trails, fabulous fungus, dens and the chance to build a crazy construction with real saws, hammers and nails, we headed back to the Dell again and again.
My kids adored the crazy ‘Wall of Death‘ bike riders, sitting side saddle on dangerous bikes and riding the wall with no helmets of insurance was, I’m assured, a thrill like no other (I couldn’t face it!). I had a feeling my mother instinct would have risen to the surface and had visions of shouting at them to be responsible and get the hell down.
Stay as late as you can manage in the main festival arena. A few nights of past midnight partying never hurt anyone and if you take my advice in Survival Tip 2, you will have a trolley to dump the kids in if they can’t take it anymore.
As a food blogger, I couldn’t write a review of our first festival experience without mentioning the food tent, the epic Feast Collective. Packed with tastes from around the world, bursting at the seams with kids trying new food and thumping to the tunes of DJ BBQ, somewhat dubiously dressed in a flame print unitard, we went back there time and again, sometimes to eat and sometimes just to soak up the atmosphere.
Will we go back to Camp Bestival – we most certainly will! But we will buy a trolley this time.