Monday, 2 August 2010

HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Camp Bestival

The Family Panel have just got back from a weekend spent in Lulworth, Dorset, for Rob Da Bank's Camp Bestival Festival. So, what did they think of this Family Festival?

Dorset itself is a great part of the country, and with its beaches, coves and historic walks, its a good family destination. Lulworth itself is a small village just outside of Poole, but is easily accessible by road and rail (4 miles from Wool Station with regular buses and excellent taxi services).

We arrived at midday Friday for the start of the festival, and here's our views of different aspects.

ACTS

The line up was possibly the best aspect of the festival, and there was something for everyone on the different stages on site. 
With modern acts like Tinie Tempah, Ellie Goulding and The Fall, to longstanding favourites like Madness and The Blockheads, you were genuinely spoilt for choice. Most of the entertainment started at midday, giving families lots of chance to have a good breakfast, shower and wake up before the start of the day's entertainment.
The kids were well catered for, with a showing of the live action stage show of The Gruffalo, bands playing nursery and children's songs, and with it being in a separate field it was easy to find. 
The acts carried on in all the tents and on stage until 3am- which sadly was quite a bit too late for both of us parents to enjoy, and sadly I missed the comedy acts which started at 10pm.
The act that Big Tot liked the best was a duo who performed circus acts and really had the children in stitches, joining in with dancing and teaching them how to spin plates and juggle. Even though Big Tot was too young to join in with the plate spinning herself, they found a way of including her in the fun, and she was more than happy doing silly songs and dances.
My favourite act of the weekend was The Blockheads- despite the death of their lead singer, Ian Dury, the replacement lead was easily able to fill in, and of course the band themselves were still just as great at playing as they've always been.

The one negative I would mention was that when headliners Madness played, the stewards really didn't have control of the crowds of people who appeared. With 30,000 people on site (made up of 20,000 adults and 10,000 children), I expect that a vast majority of these wanted to see Madness play, and because of this, it became quite a dangerous crush to get near to see the band. I had to leave Gadget Dad to watch the last half of the concert as it really wasn't safe for both the Tots in the crowd, as people pushed and jostled and Big Tot became quite frightened. It was also sad to see in the morning on speaking to one Mum who had been at the barriers with her family having bruising to her chest due to the surge of crowds. I do think in this case that the stewards didn't react as they did appear to be too preoccupied watching the act than over seeing crowd safety. Another factor was the food bars on either side of the field remained open and people trying to buy food got mixed in with people trying to get nearer to the stage. Perhaps next year the organisers could erect Big Screens on either side of the stage so people get a clear view from any area of the field, which was lose the need for crowd surges.

FOOD

This was unfortunately very much the downside of the festival. Although the organisers themselves don't set the prices charged, I do think more of an effort could have been paid to making the mix of stalls as good as the mix of acts, and with cheaper options to suit all budgets.
Considering the Festival is marketed as a family festival, the food available didn't reflect this- there were no stalls selling kid friendly food like chicken and chips or sausages. There was also far too many vegetarian stalls- is it really necessary to have 5?
With an (undercooked) burger costing £6.50 (the equivalent of which would have been on sale in other fast food high street chains and better tasting for £1.50), without chips, it was very expensive for a family of four to eat over the three days. Even a small carton of orange on most stalls averaged at between £1.50 and £2.00, and with the sunshine and heat we experienced over the weekend, these were a must have for the children.
Whilst it was a festival and one does expect Goan Fish Curry stalls and a certain amount of hippie food, it would have been good to have a better mix.

By far the best stall was the Woman's Institute Tea Stall, selling generous mugs of tea for a mere pound, hearty salads and sandwiches for £2.00, Juice cartons for 50p and a meal deal of sandwich, huge slab of homemade cake and a cup of tea for £4.00. The food was excellent and the price much fairer than other stalls, such as the Authentic Roast stall, who promised proper roasted beef and chips, which came to £10 for just one small box, and which contained just a tiny sliver of beef whilst the rest was fat and gristle and frankly inedible.
Altogether, we managed to pay over £170 for all of us to eat over the weekend, which is simply too much. A much better idea is to bring your own food and cook on a barbecue, which sadly wasn't an option for us as we traveled by train.

OTHER STALLS

The market stalls were quite varied, and some where very reasonably priced, or even in the case of the Maclaren, Johnsons and Bandai stalls (all in the kids field) free. 
Johnsons set up a free to use change area with purpose built flower multi-change table in a cosy tent, and a 1,000 free packets of baby wipes. Inside the tent, older tots were kept amused with a soft play area allowing parents peace of mind to change the younger members of the family. It was ket clean and tidy and very busy indeed!
Maclaren held their Stroll Back to Shape classes over all three days of the festival, showing parents how to use the buggy for a good walking workout in the surrounding woodland of the Castle grounds. They also hired their buggies out for free to those who had forgotten theirs and had realised that the site was too vast for the toddlers to walk around all day.
Bandai had free storytelling and gave out some little goodie bags just for popping in and saying hello.
There were some excellent fancy dress stalls- with the theme of the festival being Fairy Tales, there was the opportunity for kids and adults to dress up, and with costumes available for adults to hire starting at £10, and wings, wands and crowns at as little as £3 for the kids, as well as free face painting, there really was no excuse not to join in!
The kids field opened earlier than the main fields, which kept the kids entertained, with Carousels, Helter Skelters, and free showings on the big screen in the Little Big Top of Peppa Pig. 
We did get to briefly see Mr Tumble- on Saturday between 2pm and 3pm he was signing autographs. However, even though we arrived to join the queue at 1.15pm, we couldn't get near as the queue was already all the way around the Little Big Top and back again, so the tots had to make do with a quick hoist onto Gadget Dad's shoulders to wave over the crowds.

FACILITIES

The toilets weren't quite as scary as I had envisaged and were kept clean and well stocked throughout the campsite on all days. I would have liked to have seen some bigger toilets available for mums with buggies to be able to bring the children in when needed.
Showers were available, but the queues in the morning were unbelievable, but well managed, as those in need of a freshen up were required to buy a ticket and wait their turn (scarily on one morning the number called out at 9am while I waited for a coffee was 306!).
There was running water points on all fields for free for those who'd brought a barrel to carry it in.
The Convenience stall was well stocked with a variety of essentials from baby bottles to pints of milk and ear defenders for children, and was manned by friendly staff.
The camping fields were large but not very well managed- we found that we were quite squashed as the late comers literally squeezed in anywhere, yet further up the field and away from the main fields where empty, so maybe a steward or two would be well placed guiding people where to camp so this doesn't happen next year.
Babysitting is available, however, this was again very expensive, at £48 for 2 hours.

OVERALL

Overall, a good weekend with a mix of acts, bands and stalls to cater for all, its easy to see why the festival has been voted Best Family Festival on several occasions. However, the best way to enjoy the festival and not bankrupt yourself is to bring your own food!

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