Crikey, not long now until we’re off to Camp Bestival for a weekend of very chilled out family festival fun! It’ll be our third visit, which I think qualifies me to dispense advice? Maybe? Well, even if it doesn’t, here is my TOP TIPS about surviving a weekend camping in a field around Lulworth Castle.
1. First of all DON’T PANIC if you really hate camping. My husband and I absolutely loathe it with a vengeance but we still manage to trot out every year with our four man tent. I would say ‘hey, don’t worry, you won’t spend much time in your tent anyway’ but actually we found last year that going back to the tent for a midday spot of quiet time was a life saver. This meant Kindles and a shared vegan Thai curry for us and snoozes for the boys, neither of whom have had daytime naps since they were tiny babies so that’s how exhausting a morning at Camp Bestival can be!
In our first year we tried to camp near some people I’d been talking to online – this was a MISTAKE as it meant camping in the non family bit, which landed us next to a pack of feral posh teenagers. Things improved last year when wise to this, we camped in the family bit and managed to get a spot on top of the hill and next to the path to the main site. THIS year we are in Camping Plus, which means we have a guaranteed flat pitch just for us, which means no rushing about and panicking about whether we’ve got a decent spot near to all the action. Definitely worth spending a bit more plus Camping Plus get the double decker cafe (it’s a cafe in a double decker bus) and their own car park, loos AND SHOWERS. Hurray!
However, fear not for there is a space for EVERYONE just make sure you look at the site map if noise and distance is going to be an issue and plan accordingly.
2. People either love or loathe the trolleys you see all over the place at Camp Bestival. Originally used to transport heavy camping gear from cars to tents, they are also employed by enterprising parents to cart small children around the festival site. Our three year old thought this was rather ace last year and perched like a small bacon crisp eating monarch beneath his pile of blankets to watch all of the fun. He’s a bit big for that sort of thing now so we’ll be leaving ours at home this year but if you have access to one then it’s definitely worth considering – loads of people really go to town decorating theirs with fairy lights and fake flowers.
However, the site is bumpy so they do tend to tip over if you’re not careful and you will get the odd tsk from Trolley Haters.
3. I’ll be honest here and admit that my husband and I are musically probably more into the more Download or Sonisphere side of things as we like to, y’know, m/ out a bit. HOWEVER, neither of those festivals are recommended for small children so we go to Camp Bestival instead and still have a marvellous time even if the music isn’t really to our tastes. There’s always SOMETHING that we like though and I think the organisers do really well to cater for everyone. Last year I was pleased to see Blondie, Human League and Mark Ronson and the year before that I lay in a field and listened to The Fall and Hurts, which was nice. This year I am particularly excited by The Japanese Popstars and Adam Ant.
I think what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t get all hung up about whether you like the line up or not as unlike a lot of other festivals, Camp Bestival is about so much more than the music and you can spend a weekend there without seeing any bands at all and STILL come away feeling like you had a marvellous time because there is so much to do and see. I know this is a bit of a change in mindset for those of us who grew up in the late 80s and 90s, which were, I think a GOLDEN AGE OF FESTIVAL MUSIC, however it can be done. Just listen to your old faves on the car down to get you into the mood.
4. One thing that Camp Bestival really DOES seem to be all about is the FOOD. If you’ve never been to a festival before or your only previous experience of one was something really horrible that involved vans selling suspicious hot dogs and nasty burgers then prepare to be amazed by the array of tasty treats on offer here as it really is a paradise for foodies. Okay, unless you are AA Gill or incredibly hard to please.
In the past years there has been a tempting array of burritos, churros, curries, pasta and sauces, pizza, fish and chips, pies, curries, paella, Moroccan tagines and even a couple of restaurants. You’ll recognise many of the names on offer too from Pieminister, Byron, Thali Cafe, Pizza Express, River Cottage (not this year alas) and the good old Women’s Institute.
If you prefer to cook for yourself then there is an excellent farmer’s market style stall selling fresh goodies as well as what I’m told is very nice coffee and also cake. There’s lots of cake at Camp Bestival – Lili Vanilli was at the last one and very charming she was too.
5. However, all of this nice food can get a bit expensive so plan carefully before you go! There is a couple of cash machines on the site but they charge users and there’s generally a hefty queue to use them. We take cash with us so we can avoid all of that nonsense – last year we took £300 between us for a family of four and that was plenty to keep us all fed and supplied with PIMMS, goes on the fairground rides, visits to the insect circus museum and floral hair garlands. However, we were vegan last year and don’t drink very much so possibly you’ll need more if you eat more meaty stuff and need to get as drunk as a lord every evening.
6. Okay, I know that one of the things that really puts people off festivals is the loos and general cleanliness of the whole operation. I really worried about this too as I really freak out about that sort of thing but I was actually pleasantly surprised by the loos at Camp Bestival – they have the standard portacabin ones in the main campsite (with nicer ones in Camping Plus – hurray) but they never seemed to get to the point where they became festering holes of cholera and iniquity, which I was surprised by. However, if the vast majority of festival goers are parents with small children then I suppose that shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The best loos are the ones on the main festival site, which are these awesome big airy hippy type things with a mountain of sawdust outside and stuff. Still bring your own loo roll with you though. I ought to bold that really – BRING YOUR OWN LOO ROLL WITH YOU. There.
Oh christ, this used to be such a NICE blog and here I am talking about lavatories. I do apologise. Let’s move on to something much more salubrious…
7. DRESSING UP! There’s a dressing up theme at every Camp Bestival – in 2010 it was fairy tales, in 2011 it was Medieval and in 2012 it’s going to be sport because of the Olympics. Although I love dressing up, I really don’t love sport so I’ll be sitting this one out. However, if you are really excited about this then don’t be scared to really go to town on your outfit as plenty of other people do too. There’s a costume parade at some point over the weekend, which is ace and loads of people stay in costumes for the whole festival so don’t be shy about dressing up! I’ve heard that there is a second dressing up theme of ‘disco fever’ in honour of Chic and Earth, Wind and Fire playing so perhaps that could be more my sort of thing? Or perhaps not. I think I’ll be spending my weekend stomping about with pink hair (although I’m seriously considering dying it blue for the summer) and a series of All Saints maxi dresses like THE GOTH I AM. If you spot me come and say hello. I loved it when people came up to me for a chat last year because they’d read my Camp Bestival blog posts!
By the way, don’t worry if you can’t imagine anything worse than getting all dressed up as to be honest, most people don’t bother and no one cares either way!
8. One of the other things that puts people off going to festivals is OTHER PEOPLE. I’m not judging you as I get a bit like this too. I hate crowds and queues just as much as the next Englisher. I’m not going to promise that you won’t encounter queues and crowds at Camp Bestival but there’s so much space around and people are so cheerful and having such a nice time AS YOU WILL BE TOO that you really won’t mind.
You can escape the crowds really easily though – there’s pockets of calm and quiet all over the place. My favourites are the little garden next to the castle, the ‘dingly dell’ woodland which often hosts theatre performances and secret gigs and has an ace children’s playground among the trees, the churchyard and the ‘family field’ behind the castle in the evening when the main performances are on and everyone else is in the castle field enjoying the music.
As already noted, most of the festival goers at Camp Bestival are parents with young families so there’s a LOT of children running about the place. If that sort of thing brings you out in hives then it’s probably best to go to a different festival!
Not everyone is there with children though – I was torn between confusion (why would you go somewhere with so many children about the place if you don’t have any of your own? Are you insane?) and envy (That person there is drinking PIMMS and reading a book in peace!). There were also quite a few gangs of drunk middle class teenagers about the place last year, which not everyone was very happy about and there were amusing tales afterwards that revealed that at least some of the said teenagers had got confused and thought they were at Camp Bestival’s more grown up sister festival, Bestival which is a bit less family orientated. How we laughed. I grumbled a bit myself to be honest but then realised that when my own boys are in their mid teens and desperate for a bit of festival fun with their friends, I’d probably rather they cut their teeth somewhere as safe as Camp Bestival than running straight off to the muddy allurements of Glastonbury or, God help us all, Download.
9. Like I said, it’s not just about music so here’s my top things to do at Camp Bestival 2012 – watch the ‘Wall of Death’ motorcycle tricks; see the Fantastic Mr Fox opera; do some ballroom dancing; attend a silent disco; watch the Wookey Hole Circus; visit the Underground Farmer’s Market; watch the firework finale at the very end; watch The Gruffalo yet again; The Japanese Popstars!; see the panto and lie on the grass drinking cider while listening to Dick and Dom! Things that I hope to see there again are the wand making workshop; Kiehl’s with their awesome and amazingly cheap facials; the Underground Restaurant, the PIMMS bus and the Hendrick’s gin train carriage and bathtub of delights!
10. I’m running out of stuff now so will finish by saying that it WILL rain, you will lose your family at least once, you probably won’t shower for four days, you’ll be kept awake until 2am by people shouting, someone may well trip over your tent ropes and call you rude names but you will ALSO have the time of your life.
Not that you need any of this advice really to be honest. Camp Bestival is as easy going, friendly and non scary as a festival can get, which is why droves of parents with small children return there year after year, confident that they will have an awesome time without having to worry about any of the naughty and often illegal things that go on at other festivals. Ahem.
I ought to say in all fairness that although we bought tickets to the last two Camp Bestivals, this year we are getting our tickets from the organisers in exchange for one of my peculiarly long winded reviews. I absolutely promise that this won’t make me all biased but on the other hand I feel like I should therefore experience even more festival goodness and also TAKE MORE PHOTOGRAPHS so it’s a win/win really for everyone.