Beautiful Days 2017 Review

Beautiful Days certainly holds a special place in my heart. It was our first family festival back in 2011 when our children were 7 and 3 years old. We loved it then and returned in 2012 and 2015 and felt the same. We had been really looking forward to this year’s festival, and as always it exceeded expectations!

It really is a perfect festival for families. My children are now 13yrs and 9yrs. We do tend to pick which festivals to attend by how much fun we think they will have, with our tastes taking a back seat. Beautiful Days is easily one of the best festivals at catering for every age group. Majical Youth are responsible for booking, organising and overseeing most of the children’s entertainment, and really do a perfect job with this. However, this is not a festival specifically aimed at children. Beautiful Days, without a doubt is one of the best festivals for the entire family, and I shall definitely want to come even when the children are old enough to come on their own!

This festival is just so much fun! I always find it reminiscent of 90s Glastonbury. I’m sure most of the Beautiful Days grown ups were Glastonbury attendees in their youth. (The Levellers were certainly there!) There is a certain vibe only really captured at west country festivals – whether that is down to the people or the ley lines, I wouldn’t like to comment. Hailing from nearby in neighbouring Somerset myself, I certainly feel at home here. It is a feast for all the senses with so much going on. I kept nearly forgetting to collect food that I had ordered after becoming absorbed in one of any number of pieces of theatre happening nearby.

Kids Activities at Beautiful Days

Where to start? If you’re ever concerned about how entertained your children will be at a festival, and you find out Majical Youth are involved, then you really have nothing to worry about. They have been with Beautiful Days since the start and put on a truly fantastic weekend of fun and wonder to suit every taste.

There are several areas across the site where children’s activities can be found for free or at a reasonable cost.

Family Camping Activities

At the bottom of the campsite is a run of stalls offering crafts, physical fun and story telling. I was especially pleased to see the return of the lady with the van. Basically she paints her van a matt black, parks it up in her spot and provides paints and chalks for children to cover it with fabulous artwork. The same lady also has various tubes and tunnels set up for crawling or sending balls through. I have some gorgeous photos of my children enjoying this area back in 2011, and it still provides much needed chill time.

Both children had fun decorating swords in one of the craft areas, and would have been able to make eye patches, flags and other items if we had spent more time there over the weekend.

They also had a brilliant time on one of the inflatables. We had to drag them off as the soapy water was added. We were headed for a theatre show and wanted to keep them dry for their own comfort. They weren’t overly concerned though!

Also, in the run of stalls in the campsite was another bouncy castle, story telling, a climbing frame and even a library. We didn’t use them though. We were in a different campsite, or I am sure we would have spent much more time there. The children definitely would have been safe to head over there unattended.

There was also have-a-go slacklining.

The Main Children’s Area

They really thought of everything!

Outside was a colourful climbing frame featuring swings, a big net and a ladder. From time to time it was commandeered by festival pirates. Some children refused to budge for them though – they had fought off bigger children to get to the spot that they wanted and could easily withstand fully grown pirates! There was also street theatre to rival that of Edinburgh in August.

There was a fenced off area for under fives to play in with slides and soft play. For the youngest guests a baby changing tent was supplied. A Lego science tent was popular all the time. In the theatre tent in the children’s area, kids could watch puppet shows, magicians, and take part in music making and a talent show as well as join the parade which went around the arena.

Within the marquees, as well as the theatre, there were craft workshops and circus skills. They were always manned by staff who were experts in their areas. My two love improving their circus skills and there are at least three places to do this at Beautiful Days. In the circus skills tent I was almost brought to tears when my son was helped along the tight wire rope. I never thought he’d be able to do anything like that on account of his spina bifida. When my husband informed the circus helper of his issues, the guy said that he’d already spotted this and assured us that he would be fine! He was of course and we were overwhelmed with this new achievement. Meanwhile my daughter has vastly improved her juggling and moved on from balls to clubs.

Fire

In the evening, the circus skills crew met up with others from Trickswap in an outdoor ring in sight of the main stage. Here children could continue to practise their skills on the professional equipment. Those with the required level of ability were then invited to become part of the stunning fire display! My daughter got to wow the crowds in 2015 with fire poi and the fire hoop, and again this year with a little more confidence. There were much younger children than her taking part and I was so impressed with their skill and bravery. It was all made very safe with fire marshalls around the perimeter with blankets and buckets of water, which were not needed.

It was thrilling to watch my daughter do something so cool and so brave. For me it was made even more special by the fact that one of my old favourites, Sisters of Mercy, were playing in the background. I certainly did not agree with the suggestion that this made her a goth go-go dancer!

Teens Tent

The Beautiful Days teen tent is one of the best. The activities in this tent seemed to cover all interests: henna and hair braiding; jam sessions; airbrush tattoos; making and using circus equipment such as hula hoops and devil sticks; costume making; hessian rag weaving; neon face painting; t-shirt upcycling; pub games and poker. I was a bit upset that they didn’t let grown ups in as it looked amazing! All the activities were free.

Bush Craft Activities

Up in the woods, The Alan Bruford School of Outdoor Learning made an extremely welcome return. This is one of my favourite parts of Beautiful Days. My children made bread from scratch, even grinding the wheat themselves. They also painted beautiful tiles which we collected the next day after they had been fired. My daughter decorated a wooden disc pendant and my son forged a copper bracelet for himself. If the festival had been longer and/or drier, or if we had woken up earlier, then I imagine they would also have made wooden pegs and pots and spent more time by the camp fire roasting marshmallows. We already have plenty of dreamcatchers, but there was a workshop for them as well.

Elsewhere…

My son watched videos in a mobile ark, and enjoyed posing for photos with the many stilt walkers we saw. Pirates that had their own motorised boat staged mutinies at the kids’ pirate play ship that they were climbing on. They also kidnapped entire queues at food outlets, binding them with a huge rope and auctioning off their prisoners. We didn’t make it to Fiery Jack’s Medieval Games but I heard it was excellent.

On the Sunday afternoon there was a football match – children vs. Levellers and friends. I’m sorry I missed that but we had been beaten by the mud and rain. The match was followed by a regatta.

I’d also like to mention the Ethereal Performance Art crew, who were superb. They were playing parachute games such as Cat and Mouse and Duck Duck Goose with any children that fancied it. They had gone down to the pirate play ship looking for participants. My son was upset after being pushed a bit, and they immediately invited him to play. He went along with his sister. Other children soon joined in and they all had a really lovely time with my son quickly forgetting about his little tussle.

There were also a handful of traditional fairground rides which were cheaper than at the fayre.

Music

It’s got to be a great festival to play at as the bands keep coming back. This year one of the biggest crowds was pulled by folk punk band Ferocious Dog whose line up now includes Fruitbat from Carter USM. I think Ferocious Dog even beat New Model Army in the number of t-shirts worn contest. New Model Army played a fantastic set as always. I was a bit upset that Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott clashed with the politically charged Therapy? However, I got to watch part of both sets, even catching some of Going Nowhere on the way back to the tent after Paul and Jacqui’s encore which rather splendidly included Caravan Of Love.

I heard that the Cuban Brothers were hilariously on form on Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed listening to festival favourites Zion Train whilst the kids were honing the forest school skills.

The dance tent was widely varied, ranging from children’s rave crew Big Fish Little Fish through drum ‘n’ bass to reggae with many other subgenres inbetween. I can’t believe I missed Craig Charles again. One day I’ll get to enjoy one of his funk and soul sets.

The Bimble is basically a pub in a tent showcasing lesser known and unsigned acts. It gets crazy busy not least for notorious Bimblers Hobo Jones and the Junkyard Dogs. Kids and adults alike enjoy the lively music and atmosphere, entertaining themselves between bands with swordfights and the like. The beers and ciders were good and cheap.

 

The Theatre Tent

Scratchworks TheatreI’m always impressed by how well the theatre tent is run and managed. Whereas at most festival venues, people are free to come and go as they please, here if you want to see a show, then you queue up beforehand, watch it, and then leave at the end. It makes sense as this is how theatres operate in the real world, and it shows respect to the performers. It does mean that festival goers need to be a little bit organised if there is something they want to see. It works very well though with most shows reaching capacity. If you want to see Circus of Horrors then arrive very early as these performances are hugely popular. For this there is a 5pm show for anyone over 10 years, and an 8pm show for adults where they keep in some of the more shocking parts of the acts and the performers don’t cover up as much.

I took my children to watch Scratchworks Theatre‘s The Great Train Robbery which was a brilliant and funny re-enactment of the untold story of the women involved in this historic event, who were never caught. My daughter even went back to see the play again the next day.

I was also very proud of my daughter who took herself off to watch The Beanfield which marked 30 years since the Battle of the Beanfield at the summer solstice gathering at Stonehenge.

The Rebel Tent

The Levellers RevolutionI haven’t been to a festival without my children since Glastonbury 2000. Now I sometimes wonder what I would even do without the kids with me. I have so much fun with them enjoying themselves, that save putting in a preference for a few bands, I don’t really bother with my own interests. I had a bit of “me” time at Beautiful Days and went straight off to the Rebel Tent.

This was the home of politics and philosophy, interspersed with rap and DJ sets from the Leviticus crew. I was lucky enough to catch a talk by historian John Reese who told us about the seventeenth century English revolution which saw a king being found guily of treason against the people for the first time ever. He talked of the original Levellers who led the revolution against the thought controlling church and the monarchy, which led to the eleven year commonwealth. It was fascinating and a good reminder that history is always relevant.

The Bandstand

This is another small venue featuring more music and poetry and open mic, featuring The Barsteward Sons of Val Doonican every year I believe!

There is certainly no grandstanding at the bandstand (not that there is anywhere really). Poet Gavin Martin was performing when the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. He promptly moved to the edge of the stage and invited the entire audience to come and shelter from the rain with him. He continued to perform amongst them.

Food and Facilities

I always plan to cook a lot at festivals but rarely do at Beautiful Days as I don’t want to miss out on all its culinary delights. My husband was sorry to note the absence of Flat Cow burgers this year. I’m a vegeatrian though and was in my element with the range of food on offer. It is also well priced for a festival. Even our fussy children were happy.

There were plenty of toilets throughout the whole site which were kept clean and well stocked as usual by AndyLoos.

In terms of green credentials, there were recycling stations all over the place. Most foods were served in biodegradeable packaging.

Campsites

There is, as mentioned, a separate quiet/family camping with children’s activities at one end. The walk from the car park to the campsites can be as little as five minutes if you get there early and plan well. It is never an awful distance. There are scaffold towers manned with security staff keeping their watchful eyes over the campsites.

Mud

It always seems to rain at beautiful days. There are a huge number of sheltered activities, but they could do with more temporary roads to improve access. It’s hard to say whether they put in extra measures for when the forecast is unfavourable as it pretty much always is unfortunately. The main place that needs matting is the entrance in from taxi drop off and accessible camping as it always gets churned up. They are unfortunate in that while Escott Park is beautiful in the sunshine, it does not drain the rain well.

Accessibility

Every time we have been, the accessible campsite has been located on the exit route from the drop off point. It is one of the flattest areas but still a little uneven. There are ample toilet and shower facilities with a ramp up to the largest shower cubicle, which also has a seat. My one gripe is that people staying in accessible camping are unable to access the arena through the most direct route behind the Big Top due to the health and safety aspect of vehicles using this route. I always feel that this could be overcome by just making it a few feet wider and having a makeshift pavement. It would certainly help things when the mud in the main walkway gets thicker and stickier. It is as yet unconfirmed whether or not accessible camping will be in the same spot next year though.

Finale

What A Beautiful DayNot only do the Levellers open the festival every year with an accoustic set in the Big Top, they always finish it with a set on the main stage on Sunday night, literally going out with a bang. The fireworks wow the crowds as the Levellers play us out every year with “Beautiful Day”. My husband and daughter watched the display from behind the stage in the campsite. It is a perfect way to end a perfect weekend.

Overall

We have always loved Beautiful Days and probably always will. Beautiful Days are always looking to improve their near perfect festival, but won’t let it get any bigger as it is just right how it is. It attracts a crowd that is colourful, fun and respectful. It is comforting when returning each year that the arena layout doesn’t change. It works and we know where everything is. There is no need to fix something that isn’t broken. The kids love it as much as we do, and we all want to go again!

See our Beautiful Days fact sheet here.

 

 


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