Having spent 3½ days as camping novices at our first Camp Bestival, the first thing the kids said to us as we drove away on our way home was, “Can we come back again next year?”
I think that counts as a roaring success.
Before I launch into my glowing review of this family-friendly festival, let me qualify that statement with a few caveats.
Camp Bestival isn’t cheap. A four-day ticket was £197.50 per adult and while kids’ tickets were less (prices vary depending on age), the cost for the five of us was an even £500 – and that’s before you add on the cost of your camping pitch, food et cetera.
We were also fortunate enough to be staying in a pre-pitched tent – I struggle to put up an umbrella never mind a tent, so that was a major stress-saver – and throughout our stay it was warm and dry. No dragging a car-load of gear through muddy, rutted fields and up and down Lulworth’s infamous ‘hill of death’. Even a separate portakabin with hairdryers and hair straighteners.
This was very much a glamping experience rather than a more traditional camping one.
But what of the festival itself?
In many ways, the easiest way to describe Camp Bestival is to imagine the world’s biggest village fete married with a C-list music festival. Individually, each half on its own is nothing special but put them together in a happy and safe environment that is populated overwhelmingly by families of all ages and you have a combination that meshes perfectly, like rhubarb and custard.
Musically, this year’s line-up had a little something for everyone, from the contemporary sound of Jess Glynne to the big beats of Fatboy Slim and golden oldies such as Squeeze and Tears for Fears. (Not to mention Mr Tumble for the CBeebies brigade.) Two of the biggest joys of the weekend for me were wandering out in the evenings with Isaac to give him his first taste of live music and watching Bananarama with Kara bouncing along happily on my shoulders.
As for the village fete element, this was no bad thing. Indeed, it provided many of our kids’ favourite moments – from traditional circus shows to a ferris wheel, helter-skelter and the world’s largest bouncy castle (23.8m long, 20.7m wide, 12.8m high). Throw in a variety of stage shows from science demos to the Clangers and portable planetariums – outer space being this year’s festival theme – as well as the usual arts and crafts, face painting and a smattering of corporate sponsors such as Energizer, who offered visitors a chance to personalise and keep their own head torches on their ‘Dress Your Head Up’ stand and Volvo (heaven for our car-mad boys), and we had no trouble filling an entire long weekend.
And even then we barely scratched the surface. We didn’t spend as much time doing some of the more outdoorsy activities as we would have liked but mud-pie and potion-making got a big thumbs-up. The areas and sessions set aside for older kids and teens passed us by. And hundreds of others danced the day and night away to the DJ sets at the outdoor Bollywood arena.
The one other key aspect of Camp Bestival I haven’t yet mentioned is the food. We had been warned to expect stalls to be expensive and that was certainly true but from more traditional fare such as hot dogs and burgers to the more exotic alternatives available at the Feast Collective – everything from Ghanaian curry to shrimp burgers to Indonesian rendang – the quality of everything I tried was excellent. And by steering clear of peak lunch and dinner times – we brought sandwiches and snacks with us each day and then had dinner at 5-5:30pm – we avoided the longest queues too.
I could go on and on but hopefully I’ve given a representative account of what Camp Bestival is all about.
Was it perfect? No. Saturday was noticeably busier – too busy – with a huge influx of day visitors leading to long queues, a general sense of overcrowding and grumpy kids. And the musical line-up, while varied, wasn’t particularly strong. But then if music is your priority, you go to Glastonbury or one of the other big festivals. Overall, though, those are relatively minor gripes that don’t overly detract from all the positives.
Having not camped as a family before or attended a festival with kids, this wasn’t the cheapest way to dip our toes in the water but it proved to be the perfect event for our eight, six and four-year-old children (as long as you accept that end-of-day exhaustion-induced meltdowns are a given).
Would we pay to come back again next year and do it all over again? I think the kids have decided that for us already but yes, we would. I’d better start looking in to buying our own tent …
For more photos from Camp Bestival, check out my 50 photos from our Camp Bestival weekend post.
We attended Camp Bestival courtesy of Energizer UK, who provided us with tickets and camping accommodation. All views expressed in this and other Camp Bestival-related posts are entirely my own.