I LOVE this festival! Having previously enjoyed bigger festivals as a pre-motherhood, carefree young woman, it was the first festival I went to with my young family in 2011, and I was firmly reassured that festivals can be wonderful places for children to play and learn.
We didn’t hesitate to go back the next year (a wet year), and loved it again despite the weather. We had to miss the next two years due to other commitments, but visited several other family festivals. I was very happy to return with my slightly older children (11 and 7) this year, to see how it compared to my fond memories and indeed to the other festivals.
It certainly did not disappoint. While some festivals do requiring a bit of psyching up to, the only mental preparation Beautiful Days needs is in regard to living out of a suitcase in a tent for a few days – the rest of it is just so easy and fun. It is so well organised, with so much to entertain every age group, with a gorgeous collection of artwork around the site.
The festival staggers its opening to prevent a mad rush, with the car parks opening two hours before the camp sites, on the Thursday. Campers could then load themselves and their camping equipment into a free minibus to take them down to the campsites. We found that there was plenty to see and do whilst finding our feet on the Thursday. All the food and merchandise stalls were open, so we bought a programme and wandered around developing a vague plan of action for the weekend (which we slightly adhered to.) The Theatre shows began at 9.30 Friday morning, and The Bandstand opened at 12pm with an open mic session, but the Beautiful Days music always kicks off with an acoustic set from The Levellers themselves in the Big Top at 2pm. It is vital to get to that show early to be in with a chance of being in the tent; we didn’t, but were more than happy to have a sing-a-long and dance just outside. They played a fantastic set as always to lead us into a fantastic weekend.
Onto the rest of the festival…
There are six main venues: Main Stage and Big Top, which host the biggest names of the festival, such as Dropkick Murphy’s and Wilko Johnson, The Theatre Tent (plays, circus and comedy); The Bimble Inn (smaller, pub bands and a great bar); The Little Big Top (essentially a dance tent running until the early morning with a silent disco at the end), and The Band Stand, (upcoming and/or local music acts and poets etc.)
Two of the stars of the bandstand open mic sessions were this father and son duo who won the crowd over with their melodies on the guitar and ukulele respectively.
To be honest, the line up didn’t hold much appeal to us, this year. Having said that, Peatbog Faeries were one of the main highlights of the weekend. We had tried to see them at Beautiful Days a few years ago, but left as my son got upset by the noise level. This time however, armed with ear defenders, he insisted on staying to dance to the entirety of their set, and at the end wanted to be held up as high as possible to clap along, and now cites them as his favourite band and best bit of the festival. If you get the chance, do try and see them. They are folk punk and so much fun.
Other than Peatbog Faeries, we ended up being too busy with everything else on offer to have time for much of the music. We even ended up missing bands such as The Beat, which I would have like to have seen, due to too much fun found elsewhere.
The Theatre had plenty of shows on for all ages. We thoroughly enjoyed Granny Eyeball, a light-hearted play about an evil old lady who keeps her own Cinderella locked away from the world. (Spoiler alert): It had a happy ending. The theatre was a seated venue and cleared between each performance. It would be easy to predict that this would be a complete shambles, trying to herd a festival crowd in an orderly fashion, but the staff at the theatre were amazing, and everything ran smoothly with all the performances running to schedule. They were particularly hot on accessibility. They spotted that my son was in a wheelchair, and offered to reserve a place for us at the front, or come and let us in ahead of the rest of the queue. (We weren’t going to turn that down!) The next show was the one we were really looking forward to… Circus of Horrors put on two performances, a strictly 16+ version at 8pm, and a recommended 10+ less horrific version at 5pm. We hadn’t seen the age recommendation for the afternoon version, but were informed by the staff – it was in the main programme but not the pocket version – but I’m so glad that we decided to risk it as it was an unforgettable spectacular. A few families, whose children had originally thought they would be brave enough, left when the music and effects made everything a bit creepy at the beginning. It actually transpired that my eleven year old watched through her fingers for much more of the show than my seven year old! She wasn’t sure about the sword swallowing which I tried to assure her was just a trick, but I really don’t see how it could have been. The whole cast were amazing. I think my favourites were the acrobats jumping over each other while one was limboing under fire! My daughter found the fire hula hooper quite inspiring.
On the Saturday we went back to the Theatre to watch a play called Napoleon by Le Navet Bete, which was great, camp, slapstick fun. My son got a bit upset when his Daddy got picked on to dance with (and be kissed by) one of the actors, but that was very much our fault for sitting in the front! The play was kindly recommended to us by a family we met doing bushcraft activities. I hope they managed to get in to at least one of the performances.
I went back to the Theatre Tent in the evening for the comedy. The staff did their best to advise of the adult content, warning every family. 16+ was the recommended age. They had some great acts, and I’m certainly glad I didn’t take my children!
There was still plenty for children to take part in. The family camping and two of the other main camping areas rolled into the Theatre tent field. There was a library in the family camping and also story telling. The stalls that were in that field included craft workshops and free demonstrations. The bouncy castle was £2 for five minutes, but at quiet times, it was quite a long five minutes. A great deal of thoughtful planning had clearly gone into the siting of these stalls. They included pole lathe turning, pole timber framing, copper works, rag art, leather workshop, willow weaving and peg loom weaving. There was also slacklining to try for free.
In the children’s area in the main festival site, there were a lot more free activities and obvious successful intentions to ensure all children’s age groups were covered. For younger ones there was pottery and craft tables, and a toddler play area. For slightly older ones, more craft, a climbing frame, magic show. There was even a separate teen tent with pimp my wellies, drama activities and plenty more including free phone charging!
We were delighted to meet a lovely lady who was running a bandana making workshop. It was free to make a triangular bandana, and for £4 children could make a square bandana. She had a huge choice of materials and paints and stencils, and was superb at encouraging children to really bring out their creative side. I really hope to see her again at Beautiful Days, as it wasn’t something either of my children had done before and they thoroughly enjoyed it, and made beautiful bandanas.
So the Children’s area was at the bottom of the hill with also rides such as a helter skelter for £1.50, and a small train, a merry go round, ferris wheel, banana boats and aeroplane swings for similar prices.
At the top of the hill was possibly my favourite area of the festival.
Beyond Bushcraft are Beautiful Days regulars who offer a wonderful sample of creative activities that can be honed to suit any age from toddler up. My son was shown how to use bellows on a fire to heat some copper, which he was then helped to use tools to bend into the shape of a curly moustache. He was then instructed on how to tie this to leather cord, so he could wear it as a necklace. He adored this, and was so proud of himself, and showed most people at the festival his new moustache!
Meanwhile, my daughter was in the same area having a lesson in how to make her own set of poi. They were and are beautiful, and she learnt the skill with ease. Both children also painted their own tiles which we collected the next day after they had been glazed and fired. These activities had a small price, which we didn’t mind paying as the tuition was excellent, and the free activities had a lot more families waiting to do them.
Trickswap provided the circus skills workshops, and my personal highlight of the festival. Not only did they provide tuition in the day time and their own fire show in the evening, but they also gave a chance for children to learn and perform fire skills! I couldn’t believe it! We found out on the Friday evening as my daughter wanted to go and see the display which we assumed would be the Trickswap performers, (my son had worn himself out dancing to Peatbog Faeries!) We got there in time to see the children who wanted to have a go with the fire being called up to audition and then receive safety instructions. How exciting?! Unfortunately, the onesie that my daughter was wearing wasn’t suitable due to the polyester content, and no unnecessary risks were being taken. This was ok, as it gave her a chance to watch and a full day to mentally prepare herself for it, and practise. The young performers were allowed to use the fire poi and staff, as they are easy to throw away from the person, should they become worried. Apart from when we were in the theatre, my daughter spent the whole of Saturday practising the poi, while watching the clouds with some trepidation. Luck was with us though and she actually got to do it. I was so proud and she found it so exhilarating! She then spent hours with Trickswap on the Sunday afternoon practising the hoop with then so that she could go back in the evening and be the only child to do the fire hula hoop! AMAZING moment! This is why we go to festivals!
This year’s Sunday theme was This Garden. Unfortunately Sunday was a bit of a washout, but after all the effort that had gone into the costumes, the Beautiful Days guest were happy to show that mud, sweat and tears really didn’t matter. There was a family of bumble bees, Alice, The Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, and many other wonderful creations.
To sum up, I struggle to find fault with Beautiful Days. The camp sites are great; the entertainment is brilliant; the beer is reasonable, and tasty; the toilets are kept clean and well stocked and there are plenty of them; the facilities for children are amazing, and we all ate well. They even seemed to have managed to fine tune their clientele. Everyone is fun and friendly and just having an excellent time. I would go there with or without children as there is so much for everybody. Thank you Beautiful Days!