Alex Manson-Smith gives us the low down on family festivals and how to pull them off with (relative) ease.
Back in the days before festivals were a ‘thing’, they were considered pretty scuzzy affairs. To go to one you didn’t have to be a crusty or a grebo, but you were probably at least that way inclined. Attending was an endurance test, a badge of honour, a sign that you could spend three days in punishing conditions for the love of watered-down beer and slightly obscure music.
Not any more. Many festivals now are almost absurd in their poshness, with fully furnished teepees, and liveried waiters serving Mark Hix cooking in the orangeries of stately homes. These are the ones where you’ll find Le Tout West London in attendance – that’s Tom PB over there, look; oh, and isn’t that Stephen Frears in the corner?
All of which is enough to make you hurl up your barn-reared Indian Rock chicken – unless, that is, you have kids. Then it’s an absolute boon. Because poshness, broadly speaking, goes hand-in-hand with comfort, which is exactly what you need when you’ve got two pre-schoolers in tow, one of whom wants his dinner, while the other is demanding you take him for a poo.
In fact, festivals and children can be a winning combination – assuming you pick the right one. They get to run around free range; you get to sit around drinking and feel like a smug parent. And because so many festival organisers are now grown up with kids of their own, the events they lay on have become very much family affairs.
That means you’ll find dedicated family camping areas, along with soft-play areas, workshops, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Presuming the weather plays ball, it can be ridiculously wholesome and idyllic. If it’s chucking it down, you might want to turn around and head straight back home again. Going to festivals with kids is all about keeping an open mind. But wasn’t it always thus?
6 Tips For Surviving Family Festivals
- Go with as large a group as possible. That way the kids have people to play with, while the adults can take it in turns to babysit.
- It’s not worth taking full meals (they will look rancid by the time you arrive), but take plenty of sandwiches, drinks and snacks for the kids. Festival food is expensive, and entirely wasted on a five-year-old who only eats cheddar.
- If you’ve room in your car (unlikely, but you can hope), take a wheelbarrow. The distance between car park and campsite can be a shock if you’re not expecting it, and schlepping through a field with kids, tents and god-knows-what other crap can test even the most solid of relationships.
- Pack ear defenders, an off-road buggy and plenty of warm blankets.
- One of the biggest fears, particularly with toddlers, is losing them in the crowd. Dress them in brightly coloured clothes and write your mobile number in marker pen on their arm. If they’re old enough to negotiate with, tell them where to go if they get lost.
- Take a tip from seasoned festival families and invest in a Radio Flyer wagon – it doubles up as great toy and book storage when you get home too.
Our Favourite British Family Festivals
Port Eliot, Cornwall (27 July to 30 July 2017)
Held in the grounds of a stately home in Cornwall, this upscale festival is a celebration of all things creative. There’s a dedicated kids’ programme with workshops, readings and shows, and don’t forget cossies so you can go wild swimming in the estuary. Jade Jagger was seen there with new baby, daughter and granddaughter in tow. If that’s not a family affair then I don’t know what is.
Wilderness, Oxfordshire (3–6 August 2017)
With food from the likes of Ottolenghi and Angela Hartnett, this is another posh festival along much the same lines of Port Eliot, only in a more convenient location for most of the country. This summer’s music line up includes Two Door Cinema Club and Grace Jones, but you can expect everything from literary debates to naked knitting as well. And there’s no shortage of events for kids, from interactive shows to campfire songs and marshmallow toasting.
Festival No.6, Portmeirion, Wales (7-10 Sept 2017)
Far and away Britain’s most unique festival experience, No.6 is held in the surreal Italianate Welsh village of Portmeirion. Surrounded by the sea, mountains and woodlands, there’s no festival more beautifully set in the UK. While it has serious music credentials (Bloc Party and The Flaming Lips head the 2017 line up), there is a brilliant kids program too. Moomins, Pirate Training and a St Pepper’s Carnival Parade are just a few of the family highlights this year.
Elderflower Fields, East Sussex (25–28 May 2017)
A relative newbie to the festival scene, Elderflower Fields is especially designed with families in mind. Really it couldn’t be more kid-friendly, with stages and activities all fitting into a relatively compact site. Book early for the sports and arts camps, which are often oversubscribed. And for adults who can blag a babysitter, there’s the ever-popular silent disco.
Camp Bestival, Dorset (27-30 July 2017)
As the largest of the family festivals, this one attracts by far the biggest names (and queues). Mark Ronson, Kate Nash, Leftfield and All Saints are confirmed for 2017, while little ones can go mad for The Cat in the Hat Live, Dick vs Dom Go Wild in the Ring and the kids disco under the world’s largest disco ball. But it’s really Mr Tumble everyone’s here for (mums included).
Just So Festival, Cheshire (18-20 August 2017)
This one is for families who like to get involved. Installations and workshops, across visual, theatrical and musical arts are held in string of enchanting woodland glades and lawns. From a mass pillow fight to samba drumming; bubble hour, stone balancing or saw playing; the activities are unusual, fun and thought-provoking. Book into one of Fred’s yurts to try a bit of everything and crawl under a real duvet at the end of the day. Win-win.
Curious Arts Festival, Hampshire (21–23 July 2017)
Dubbed ‘high jinks for the high-minded’, this bookish, eccentric scene is set in the grand gardens of Pylewell Park, with far reaching views of the sea. Not only does it draw some pretty serious names – from musicians like Tom Odell and Izzy Bizu to writers Christopher Hampton and Joanna Trollope – but the family activities are inspired: immersive theatre, bedtime stories, writing and songwriting workshops and puppet making. Oh, and did we mention the Big Debate with The Week Junior? Not the choice if you plan to knock back the cider and sleep on the grass all day.