I do love a music festival. From Southsea’s very own Victorious (which has the added bonus of being the only one I can walk to and back home from) to End of the Road (my own personal favourite down in deepest Dorset) they all have that one shared aspect; a feeling of escape from the real world. Being the father of two (a four year old and a one year old) has meant that my festival ambitions of late have been scaled back a little. Victorious has been visited and the dedicated kids area is very good but daytime revelling is all that’s been attempted there before taking them home to the babysitter. As much as I appreciate the various CBeebies stars to have graced the kids stage over the last couple of years I was looking for something a bit different for them this year – to cancel the babysitter and give my children a chance to experience their first festival proper. Having heard lots of positive things about Camp Bestival it was decided that this year we’d take the plunge.
Situated in the grounds of Lulworth Castle just outside Wareham in Dorset the festival has been run by Bestival founder and Radio 1 DJ Rob Da Bank for the last 11 years. Seen by many as Bestival’s ‘little sister’ the festival includes an eclectic line up and is targeted mainly at families with smaller children. Big musical artists share the stage with upcoming pop acts and children’s TV stars whilst the focus is very much on presenting a variety of experiences the whole family can share in. It’s fairly unique in being one of only a handful in the country that does this and is certainly the biggest with 30,000 people attending over the course of the three days.
It might sound obvious but let’s make it clear: a festival with children in tow is a vastly different experience than going with a group of mates. There’s a whole host of added issues that strike at the least expected times – illness meant that we ended up missing the whole of Friday and needed to come home a little earlier on the Sunday for example – but with an open mind and an ounce of patience, Camp Bestival can provide one of the best festival experiences you’ll ever have.
As first timers we didn’t know exactly where to start with the site and what to do/who to see so we decided to let the four year old govern the day’s agenda. Walking into the site on the Saturday morning the first thing that is spotted is the Big Top Tent. ‘Can we go to the circus?’ enquires the four year old, an excited grin on her face. We enter to the polished pop strains of Brandon Rivers who seems to be just finishing his set. A look of confusion on my daughter’s face – why would they just sing one note and walk off stage? – before we’re told by the MC that an LOL surprises dance takeover will be up next. We’re not at End of the Road anymore I think to myself whilst the four year old seems to be po-going up and down in crazed anticipation.
Walking into the site on the Saturday morning the first thing that is spotted is the Big Top Tent. ‘Can we go to the circus?’ enquires the four year old, an excited grin on her face.
Having a pre-schooler dictate the weekend’s programme means we’re sometimes dropping sets and activities halfway through in order to experience something else that has been deemed more eye catching – the queue for the world’s biggest bouncy castle is quickly vacated when a procession of drummers, stilt walkers and giant sized superheroes parade past. It’s a joy to follow (along with a number of other families thinking the same thing it seems) and when Spiderman starts doing his flips and tricks my little one’s mind is blown.
The aforementioned bouncy castle is as large as promised though the beautiful sunshine beating down on it means the entrance is full of small children asking for their shoes to be put back on – ‘just bounce in the shade’ comes the helpful reply from the group of dad’s waiting outside.
DIngly Dell is a welcome moment away from the familiar festival sights and sounds. Tucked away in the woods, we follow a winding path interspersed with a range of activities for the kids all inspired by nature. Lizzie’s Way provides a mud kitchen and cafe which we seem to spend about an hour in, the children well looked after by the hosts excitedly encouraging their imaginations as a veritable mud feast is served up to the parents.
Having a pre-schooler dictate the weekend’s programme means we’re sometimes dropping sets and activities halfway through in order to experience something else that has been deemed more eye catching – the queue for the world’s biggest bouncy castle is quickly vacated when a procession of drummers, stilt walkers and giant sized superheroes parade past.
Next, we head to the main stage where perennial Bestival/Camp Bestival favourites The Cuban Brothers bring absolute musical joy to proceedings. They are camp, poppy, rude, soulful and extremely funny in equal measure; the Castle Stage turning into one big open air party during their set. We stay put at the Castle Stage for DJ Yoda who presents a special 80s themed set.
The afternoon brings more dancing courtesy of the Bollywood tent where a new found friend of the four year old’s (met whilst attempting to find shade on the bouncy castle earlier) has invited us to their parent’s DJ set. It ends up being a pop up version of the London based Pizz Up club night and it’s a lot of fun. The kids are kept busy with the giant inflatable beach balls whilst the mum’s and dad’s are raving to some old school house and garage.
As we walk around the site we find that it’s the smaller, more spontaneous events that really make this festival. Led by a troupe of besuited chimps – think a steampunk version of Planet of the Apes – The Caravan of Lost Souls pitches up and draws a sizeable crowd entertained by a range of vaudeville style performances. We witness a Freddie Mercury look-a-like miming along to ‘I Want To Break Free’ whilst a contortionist who makes me wince ends up being the four year old’s highlight of the day. Forget the plan to become a princess, she’s now looking at joining the circus.
The next day we explore the dedicated food area – the Feast Collective. Held in it’s own tent with long rows of tables down the middle the food on offer is first class. Personal highlights here included The Raclette Brothers for excellent cheesy garlicy potatoes and Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen. We take our food outside and pitch up next door to the castle where we have a good view of the Castle Stage area where we catch Henge’s set from the top of the hill. Their spacey prog rock goes down as well as the food.
Heading through the Upper Kid’s Garden we stop off at Bigtopmania which is an area dedicated to all things circus. From acrobat training to spinning plates we spend a good while trying out all the various activities on offer. I fail miserably at the unicycle whilst the wife informs me that ‘hula hooping is much harder than it looks’. This area was probably the best place for the one year old with it’s own dedicated toddlers and babies zone he was in his element crawling through tunnels and banging on a load of musical instruments.
With the four year old still in charge of the day’s agenda we stop off in the fantastically named ‘The Greatest Tent on Earth’ where we catch the end of a Gruffallo meet and greet. One year old has a look of terror in his eyes so we vacate before the next act – the intriguingly sounding SamSam Bubbleman and continue our journey to the Lower Kid’s Garden. Here we are met by a vast array of fairground rides and stalls as well as even more smaller tents and stages. A Helter-Skelter looms into view and so of course this is the next activity. After navigating a few more rides we walk into the Castle Stage area just in time for Ash’s set. `It’s great to see so many of you with old Ash t-shirts on’ says frontman Tim Wheeler ‘most of which are a lot older than your kids’ he adds. Once the new kids on the indie block, the band are now 40 something dads themselves but they still continue to knock out excellent fuzzed up power pop (new track Buzzkill a case in point) which fit seamlessly alongside classic tracks like Girl from Mars and Goldfinger. Picnic blanket out and beer in hand, the weather is great and so is the music. Sitting just behind us I meet Camp Bestival veterans Donna and James who have brought their two little ones Lizzie and Alice. When asked what keeps them coming back Donna is quick to answer: ‘The vibe is like no other festival, it’s so family friendly and the experiences the kids are able to have here are amazing.’ Eight year old Lizzie quickly adds that her favourite thing so far has been making ‘mud potions’ in the Wild Tribe area – a new area for this year which has proved very popular.
From comedy to trapeze acts, hardcore raves to mud kitchens with a sprinkle of musical performances and a whole lot of fun along the way this festival is real treasure trove.
Walking back to the Lower Magic Meadow and a food stop – a pretty amazing duck wrap with some halloumi fries on the side – we are just in time to catch comedian Omid Djalili’s set. He’s as charismatic as expected and where his discussions of national stereotypes and life in the film industry might seem a little safe, Djalili is a delight.
The evening ends for us with a bit of a musical treat. Bombay Bicycle Club are announced as the special guests before Annie Mac’s closing festival set and it’s the first time in four years since the band have been back on the road. And back on the road is where me and the family have to head to; left tired but exhilarated by an amazing festival experience. From comedy to trapeze acts, hardcore raves to mud kitchens with a sprinkle of musical performances and a whole lot of fun along the way this festival is real treasure trove.