Ahoy there! Climb aboard the HMS Bestival, to be sure to escape the gales and downpour! Having lucked out for many years with Camp Bestival falling on one of the hottest weekends every summer, we appear to have hit a bit of a blip. 2017 saw the first Camp Bestival mudfest. This year, after three funfilled days, the weather rapidly deteriorated and the dangerous winds caused the organisers to make the devastating decision to not open the arenas on the Sunday. We still had a fantastic three days though!
Camping at Camp Bestival
With so many options, you really do get what you pay for at Camp Bestival. A weekend ticket includes general camping.
The upgrades range from Camping Plus, which guarantees a specific 5 x 7 metre pitch, flushing toilets and luxury showers and the exclusive use of campsite traders. This is a great option for those who may be arriving late or want to make sure they can camp with their friends.
For the ultimate luxury festival experience, guests can book a yurt or Lotus Belle tent in the Hospitality site. This campsite has the easiest and quickest access to the main arena. Hospitality guests enjoy ceramic flushing toilets (with hot and cold running water in the sinks, with soap and moisturiser and hand dryers); fancy showers; a dressing room with hair dryers, straighteners and mirrors; charging points; free tea and coffee; exclusive bar and traders and a VIP ticket to the Castle Bar Thursday night party. I never saw any sort of queue for the showers in hospitality, even at peak showering time in the morning.
General camping has more than enough space. I didn’t hear of anybody who didn’t get to camp where or with whom they wanted. The Campsite Village was located in general camping. This included a camping supplies shop and a few food vendors.
Our favourite by far is the gorgeous Dorset Famers Market. They get fresh deliveries of bread and cakes, meats, cheeses and salads. In previous years, we have used the market a lot more. It was a bit too far for us this year but I was lucky enough on the Saturday morning that my husband was happy to make the trek over and back. We had our best breakfast that day! I’d love to see them move back to the Kids’ Field.
Thanks for Listening
There had been some upset on social media when it was confirmed that campsites would still be opening at 12pm on the Thursday. This was after official national announcements to avoid the midday sun. Camp Bestival listened, and put the opening time forward to 10am (9am for accessible camping). It was still hard work getting pitched, but much less unpleasant than it would have been. Thank you.
We stayed in the accessible campsite as our son has spina bifida. They really do go all out for guests with disabilities. The campsite is huge and ideally located at the bottom of the Lower Kids Field, and close enough to the courtyard that leads in to the main arena.
There was a bit of a panic on arrival as the pitches were not marked out as they have been in previous years. This turned out to be a non issue though as the excellent team made sure everyone got camped with enough space. I don’t think anybody felt at all compromised. We had plenty of toilets, accessible and regular. Most of the time only one out of the five showers had hot water. Many people happily had cold showers on the Thursday and Friday though. They were ridiculously hot days. Apart from that, we just had to pick our shower times sensibly to avoid a long queue. Drew and his team kept trying to get the showers all working, but we never had a full set.
If there is ever such a thing as a Bestival Honours list, then Drew (who heads up the accessible campsite team) definitely deserves the equivalent of a knighthood. He made time for absolutely everybody, seeming to be constantly available. Every time I saw him he was fixing or sorting, or helping a family with a tent. He really is one of the top contenders for most amiable and hard working member of staff and should definitely be recognised for his services to campers.
Access Across the Site
The access was also impressive across the main arena fields. This year, the viewing platform was much nearer the stage, following complaints that it had been too far away for those with any kind of visual impairment.
Guests with hearing impairments received priority for one end of the platform as that end hosted a BSL interpreter. For some of the acts including Dick and Dom, the interpreter was on stage with the bottom left quarter of the big screens showing a close up of her. There were at least two interpreters and they were fantastic. Even when there were no words, they would sign the names of the instruments, and dance to infer the style and speed of music. Elsewhere, the World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle offered specific accessible sessions.
This year also saw the Big Top feature a viewing platform for the first time (a much needed addition), and there were accessible toilets throughout the whole site.
I also heard that Spinney Hollow were fantastically aware of individual needs, doing a great job of making appropriate adaptions. They made exceptions to their queuing and booking systems for those who were struggling. Their efforts to make sure that everyone could get in.
There were five main music venues across the festival site, and several smaller stages. Really, there was music everywhere.
Caravanserai is like a festival within a festival, that expands every year. It is quite something to behold: The booths are predominately vintage caravans, with the odd piece of old fairground thrown in.
The bar is good for cocktails, but not so much mocktails – so I did have a drink on the Thursday night. We caught the end of Junior Jungle, and marvelled at all the small children shimmying up the central poles in the marquee. Some of the Dads had a go, but without the finesse of the six year olds.
Next up were skiffle band Thrill Collins with their marvellous renditions of pop classics and a spectacular UK garage medley. We had seen them on Oberon’s Observatory in the Kids Field last year, and were glad to see their return.
We had mostly been looking forward to Elvana (Elvis fronted Nirvana – yes really) who had been a huge hit in 2017. Sadly the weather stopped play. This year, despite the line-up not quite being so impressive as previous years, there was definitely plenty for most tastes. Camp Bestival favourites Clean Bandit were the main attraction for the teenagers attending the festival in 2018. They headlined on the Saturday night, and my two thought they were amazing, and were impressed that Grace Chatto wore a mermaid costume, in line with the festival’s nautical theme. We loved how much they interacted with the audience, and particularly enjoyed their cover of Abba’s Gimme Gimme Gimme mashed up with Madonna lyrics.
My children are 14 and 10 years old now, so it’s a while since they watched CBeebies. When they did, my favourite was Andy Day, who used to be one of the main presenters. Having secretly looked forward to seeing Andy with his band, The Odd Socks, since they were announced as being on the line up, I then made the difficult decision to forego the experience when I realised they clashed with one of my favourite grown up bands!
Pop Will Eat Itself were the first band I ever saw live (at Exeter Lemon Grove in 1992 or 1993). We saw them again a couple of years ago at Camp Bestival and they’d seemed a little uncomfortable singing Their Law to a sea of kids on shoulders, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them back and on top form this year. I bumped into (chased) the singer, Graham, later on and told him how much I’d loved the show. It was good to see that he was there with his family and having a great weekend. I do think it’s better when band members take time to get to really see a festival and get a feel for their audience, as Graham was doing.
Other mainstage best music bits included Mary Berry drumming for Rick Astley, the return of the Skatalites, and of course, the fabulous Cuban Brothers. I don’t think it would be Camp Bestival without them now! As mentioned though, the Sunday line up had been set to be a blinder. Simple Minds would have been a lovely way to wait for the fireworks finale. It really was a shame. I also hope Elvana return next year (and get to play) and become Camp Bestival regulars.
Shed Seven had expected to play the main stage on Sunday evening. Not wanting to waste an opportunity, they reportedly delighted guests at a local pub, by playing an impromptu gig to about one hundred people. What a wonderful display of proper festival spirit!
This hosted a huge range of musical styles. Big Fish Little Fish have a well deserved glowing reputation for providing awesome family rave fun. If you missed them here, then be sure to catch them at one of their events as they travel the country. Huey Morgan’s NYC Bloc Party DJs provided the entertainment for most of Friday night in Bollywood, with the man himself taking to the decks at 8pm for two hours. He’s still a legend. David Rodigan has now become a staple feature of Camp Bestival’s Bollywood tent. One year we will organise ourselves properly to actually experience his set, but alas, this again was not our year. The problem for us is that there is just so much to do during the day with the children, that come David Rodigan time, we are thoroughly exhausted and holed up back at our tent.
We didn’t spend that much time here compared to previous years, as the acts on other stages suited our musical tastes a bit better. I was fortunate enough to catch some of a set by Isle of White close harmony group Company B-UK. They are a delightful group very similar in style to the Andrew Sisters from the 1940s, and a perfect addition to the nautically themed Camp Bestival 2018. I had been quite excited to check out Mr Maker on the Sunday. I always enjoy the comedy (that was also scheduled for the Sunday), and Orbital would have been a massively popular way to finish off the festival after the fireworks finale.
This exciting new stage was home to some of Camp Bestival 2018’s best cabaret, panto and competitions. On the Friday it culminated with an hour long DJ set by Fearne Cotton. Rob Da Bank hosted a family rave on the Saturday night. Big Fish Little Fish were set to close the venue with one of their family raves on the Sunday evening. All who set sail had a heartily.
One of the things I love about festivals are the non timetabled acts that we stumble across. This year I was very happy to see the return of Portsmouth drumming group Batala. It was lovely to see all the smiles on the faces of everyone that heard them. There was also a wandering brass and woodwind group that also spread joy wherever and whenever they stopped to play.
The Kids Areas
Its fair to say that Camp Bestival is one massive Kids’ area as the overwhelming majority of the guests come as families. However, the Upper and Lower Kids’ Gardens are guaranteed to entertain and look after even the youngest Camp Bestival guests.
Upper Kids’ Garden
The Upper Kids’ Garden was, as ever, teaming with fun for little ones. Big Top Mania returned with shows and workshops. Again, one of the most popular workshops was the trapeze school, although I suspect queues were eased this year, given that there was another huge trapeze school in the Magic Meadow. There was also Punch and Judy, a circus wheels circle, where children could have a go on various bikes, trikes and scooters.
Various circus equipment was available for anyone who wanted to have a go juggling, hula hooping, doing poi tricks – even tightrope walking. With the Feast Collective and Rob and Josie’s Gin Festival also in the vicinity, it is always a very safe space for children to have fun while parents recuperate. As well as circus fun, there was a bouncy castle and a range of other inflatables to clamber on.
The baby chill zone included a changing area and bottle warming facilities, alongside some nice comfy seating.
Lower Kids’ Garden
This was definitely much calmer and more spacious than it has been before. In years past, this has been home to various stages including The Bandstand, Carnival Stage (which was a big boat), Travelling Barn and Oberon’s Observatory.
For 2018 there was still the Greatest Tent on Earth – my favourite show being the record breaking Samsam Bubbleman’s mesmerising display of bubblology. The Insect Circus is always a highlight of the Lower Kids’ Garden and did not disappoint this year.
The Science Tent also had a stage, with all the acts being themed and very educational. Punk Rock Scientists rewrote science themed lyrics to popular tunes, with hilarious results. 99 Red Balloons became 46 Paired Chromosomes. The Final Countdown became a song about exploring the solar system. I thought the cleverest was Half Life sung to the tune of Blur’s Park Life. Please do checkout their website for videos and a downloadable lyric book. They were genius!
As well as there being all of the above and more to watch and hear, there was of course all the activities in the Science and Art tents to take part in. Both areas had some lovely staff leading an impressive range of fun activities. The soft play area was back again enabling tots to burn off some energy, in a reasonably familiar environment for when the craziness of the rest of the festival got too much.
There were other areas that I was looking forward to checking out on the Sunday. The LoL Surprise Tent and the Visit Florida and Family Traveller Treasure Trove were reportedly great for activities and festival freebies. There was also a big boat sandpit – always a winner, and a huge facepainting tent.
This area is always one of the most popular at Camp Bestival run by the Proper Job Craft Village. We managed to take part in a couple of activities, as it was one of the first areas we went to (not wanting to miss out). My son made a beautiful ninja sword, using a wood shaving blade. I found this terrifying to watch, so I made his Dad go and help him.
I think most children managed without the support of a parent though, as the staff were so vigilant and knowledgeable of their trade. I didn’t hear of any casualties! There was one to two supervision for this workshop. At the end, there was a ceremony in which the two boys with their swords, swore an oath to only use them in play and not to injure anyone. It was lovely!
In Stitch You (My favourite stall), also in Spinney Hollow
Without a doubt, my best buys of the festival were stitched portraits of my children by Harriett Riddell of In Stitch You. The whole idea was gorgeous, and the finished products were beautiful. The plan was that the portrait subject, pedals away on a bicycle, creating the energy required to power Harriett’s sewing machine. My son’s legs were a little short for this, and so he doubled up with Harriett’s helpful colleague, who used the second bike alongside my son, to generate enough power. Whilst working her magic with the thread, and material, Harriet took the time to chat and get to know my children well enough to be able to add some surprise personal touches, by including words connected to their interests or personality. The portraits are perfect. I’m only sad as my children loved them so much, they want to hang them in their bedrooms. I wanted to keep them!
As Camp Bestival regulars, we are always excited to see what Dingley Dell will look like each year – and it is always wondrously magical. It feels like a secret space for fun in the woods. Here children may discover storytellers; go to work in a mud café; make music with an instrument resembling a giant fungus – the possibilities are endless!
We queued up early and were lucky enough to book a highly sought after spot for the tree climbing with the Big Tree Climbing Company. The staff here are superb, and have such a wonderful manner with the children. They get them harnessed up, and explain in detail the method used to pull themselves up, then after that it is all down to the children. Obviously they are closely supervised with advice and support given whenever needed, but the actual climbing is down to the child. This is a thrilling way to give a child a huge boost to their confidence as reaching any height is an enormous achievement. If you didn’t manage to get a turn at Camp Bestival then check their website to see if they are visiting anywhere near you. We have already booked to do a full hour session later this summer.
Further along from Spinney Hollow there was a mini old Wembley where children and adults could join in a re-enactment of the 1966 World Cup final. The games and scores weren’t quite historically accurate, but all the players had so much fun, in their red or white replica shirt. The warm up and commentary were very funny (not just because every England player was wearing a number 6 shirt!)
Camp Bestival is never short on sponsors, many of whom offer exciting activities and giveaways on site. Following on from the popularity of last year’s Volvo Caraoke, this year BA brought us Cockpit Karaoke. We queued up for only about fifteen minutes for this and then were asked to choose from a selection of about six songs. My daughter was up for choosing an Abba song, but my son spotted This Is Me from The Greatest Showman. Apparently those two had been the favourites over the weekend. They than had the opportunity of dressing up. My son wasn’t interested in the fancy dress selection, so my daughter tried to pay him back for the song choice theft by going all out to try and embarrass him. They posed for a photo and were given the privacy of the enclosed cock pit to perform their song. Afterwards we were given six hard copies of the photo, which was also emailed, and free pilots hats.
Match of the Day also ran a popular area with free games of table football. Participants were given free Match Attax packs. My son would have quite happily spent hours in there!
Stage Acts for Children
What better way to introduce children to festivals, then by taking them to one where some of their favourite characters are on stage. Mr Tumble and Dick and Dom are always at Camp Bestival, and were fantastic as ever. Mr Tumble generally attracts one of the largest audiences of the whole festival, with people arriving very early to get a good spot. Dick and Dom always seem to come with an idea of how their performance will run but are one of the best acts at dealing with the unpredictable with masterful spontaneity.
This year it was their giant balls that went AWOL, when the Dick side of the audience was racing against the Dom side to get the balls to the back and then return them to the stage. The wind had other ideas, sending the balls off to the side with one of them visiting backstage! It didn’t phase Dick and Dom at all though.
Guardian Literary Institute
After a couple of years off, the Guardian made a very welcome return to Camp Bestival, to sell their papers (along with the funky bags, which had been greatly missed), and to host the Literary Tent. There is normally someone right up my street appearing in this tent. This year I only got round to scouring the listings on Saturday evening. I always have a quick look on the Thursday night/Friday morning, circling the obvious choices.) I was just in time to see that the legend that is Tim Pope was just about to come on stage. I wolfed down my packet pasta dish quicker than is healthy and legged it over just in time to catch the end of the drag act that was on before one of my all time heroes.
Pope was, and is again, the mastermind director behind the most highly regarded videos by my favourite band, The Cure. However, my favourite anecdote of the evening was his tale of how he met Christopher Walken for the first time, when they shared a helicopter from a film festival. “I hate you for two reasons…” was apparently Pope’s opening gambit. The first reason transpired to be that Walken was n THE best musical video of all time – Weapon of Choice (which Pope did not direct). The second reason being that Pope was given the unenviable task of creating the follow up video: Slash Dot Slash (which is remarkable). I was so happy to be there, and relished hearing all the gossip about The Cure.
Pig’s Big Ballroom
A few different incarnations of this venue have been present at as least as many Camp Bestivals as I have. This year, in a return to form, it was the place to go for expertly taught beginners ballroom dancing lessons. My daughter and I went along for a jive. At the beginning of the class, everyone was a little apprehensive and self conscious. This quickly eased off as the instructors made us all feel very welcome and relaxed about trying something that was to many of us completely new. By the end of the session, we were all turning and doing the American spin. I didn’t look particularly elegant, but I’m happy for you to judge…
Fantastic – no complaints at all from me. There was so much choice – even for fussy eaters. The prices were about right for a festival, with most vendors offering options for child portions. We were never too far from a food outlet. My son’s favourite food stall was the Chicken Shop, whilst my husband made a few trips to the cider and burger barbecue off the main courtyard. This was particularly conveniently placed for accessibly camping. My daughter’s favourite was Shaken Udder milkshakes. I love to wander round the Feast Collective and Farmers Market for treats, but mostly had porridge and pasta back at the tent.
These weren’t as good as they have been in the past at Camp Bestival. There were a lots less, which meant longer queues, more mess, and supplies running out much faster. The urinals were very open, which didn’t seem at all appropriate for a family festival. Nearly all the toilets were chemical, whereas there have been a lot more organic options before. We definitely need more for next year, especially near the stages. There were posh loos that we could pay for, but I didn’t investigate those.
The organisers were simply fantastic at keeping us as well informed as possible. I felt well looked after when as early as Friday (I think) there were wind warnings and the main stage screens kept advising us to check our tent pegs and guy ropes were adequately secured.
On Sunday morning the official Facebook and Twitter sites informed us that the wind meant that it was not safe to open the arena yet, and that we would be updated at 12.30pm. Campsite security were giving out the same information. The following update asked us to sit tight for another hour, and then we were given the sad news that as they could not risk our welfare, they would not be opening again. Everyone was gutted, but it was of course the right decision.
We already knew that the main stage was out of action, due to damage from the wind the night before. I guess they had been hoping to utilise the other stages and condense the timetable. Before I ventured outside in the morning, the cynic in me had wondered if the organisers had erred on the side of caution to avoid the site spoiling too much for the main event (Bestival) the following weekend. However, with toilets, flagpoles and fencing blowing over, this was definitely not the case and the decision had been taken out of their hands.
Campsite vendors were still trading. Accessible camping does not have campsite vendors, so a burger van, also selling much needed teas and coffees, was relocated to our field, for which we were extremely grateful.
Everybody was given the option to stay until Monday. We didn’t but many did. Camp Bestival is very close to the beautiful Jurassic Coast – you can see the sea as you walk down the kids’ field. With this in mind, a large number of people attending Camp Bestival choose to extend their holiday by staying locally for a few days from the Monday. Also, this year saw Camp Bestival and big sister Bestival taking place on consecutive weekends. Anyone attending both would have also been likely to have booked somewhere local for Monday – Thursday. By keeping the option of staying the Sunday night, it meant that no one was faced with the panic at having to find somewhere for one night.
I loved hearing about the impromptu Shed Seven gig. Then I got a little jealous when I was at home on the Sunday evening (warm, dry, clean and cosy as I was) watching all the live videos on Facebook of the survivors’ parties going on at Camp Bestival! There looked to be a wondrous sense of camaraderie, with everyone absolutely making the very best of a horrible situation. The weather was miserable but the faces were extremely happy. Rob Da Bank, inspired by the community spirit, kept them well supplied with free beer and cider.
We loved it, as we always have. There were a few bits that I missed (like Sunday!) but it is still one of our favourite events of the whole year. When we first went in 2012, I would never have predicted that we would be returning for our seventh year in 2018. I really thought my children would outgrow it. I’m very pleased to report that Camp Bestival has grown up with them and now I can’t imagine us ever not wanting to go!
Please see our Camp Bestival factsheet here.