This year Festival Kidz were lucky enough to attend the first day of Children in Need’s CarFest South. We had an amazing time, despite the weather. There was just so much to enjoy. We’d definitely love to go back for longer.
Arrival at CarFest
CarFest South is just a few miles off the A34 and is extremely well signed from quite a distance. As we approached there were different entrances according to which campsite was needed or for day parking, and another for accessible which was accessed through the town. There were plenty of very knowledgeable stewards at every point, all very welcoming and happy to direct.
CarFest is brilliant for young families. We had such a fun filled afternoon, and there was still loads that we didn’t even get to.
As we went up the hill from the gate, the first thing we saw was the World’s Biggest Bouncy Castle. This is always a big hit. We managed to get on almost straight away. They were offering ten minute session (plenty!) for just £2, and I was allowed on with no charge as a carer to my disabled son. The session wasn’t too busy and we bounced until I could bounce no more (of course my son could have gone on much longer, but the final whistle was a relief to me!) They split the queue so that smaller children could bounce safely in their own session.
We loved the Farm Olympics, which were all free. My son beat me at a game of carrot darts. I got my own back in the potato and spoon race, although my son was much more cautious with his potato and managed to not drop it once. I just went for it, trying to beat the CarFest record and get my name on the blackboard, but I didn’t even come close. The haystack hurdles were also a huge hit.
On our way through the festival, we happened upon a big skiffle set put on by Grundon Event Waste Management. It was wonderful – full of paint pots to bang and pipes to hit. We spent ages there until the rain started when we went to hide in the boot of a Mercedes van!
They had complete drum kits, and sticks to bash their wheelie bins with. Children were given free miniature wheelie bins, which work well as pencil holders. They also gave us quiz sheets, which involved finding all their dressed up bins around the festival which held the answers to a number of questions. This was all free!
We spent a while looking at cars in various displays, and watch some of the doughnut spins on the track, which were pretty exhilarating. This got a bit noisy for my son (who has sensitive ears) even with ear defenders, so we carried on exploring. We found the football tent, and he played with a few other children until for about half an hour until the next (fully booked) session started. After that, we went off to explore some more.
We found a field full of activities. CarFest offer a fantastic opportunity for children from 10 to 15 years old to have a driving lesson in a full size car. This is about the most popular activity over the whole weekend and works on a first come first served system on a daily basis. From what I’ve heard, you have to be ready to run there as soon as the gates open on a morning in order to get a slot.
Instead of a driving lesson, we both decided to be brave and have a ride in the back of a Monster Truck! This was £10 per person, but I figured it was a very rare opportunity, and we hadn’t really spent anything so far that day. It certainly was exciting. We were driven over car wrecks, and it felt really fast! I’m not sure if we would do it again, if the opportunity arose; I’m glad to be able to say we did it though!
We some how managed to miss the steam rides, which according to the map were right next to the Monster Trucks. We were getting pretty soggy by this point though, so were rushing from shelter to shelter, and could quite feasibly have missed something that wasn’t immediately in front of us!
There were also water walkers and other types of zorbs, and a food area and bar in this field. Sporting Bears were also located here, providing passenger experiences in a thrilling 10 mile ride. There were a huge range of dream cars to chose from Lamborghinis to Rolls Royces. The cost of this was around £200 with all proceeds going to Children in Need.
As we headed slowly towards the main stage, we stopped for a few rides at Carter’s Steam Fair. CarFest had sent free ride tokens out with festival tickets to use at the fair. Extra tokens were £3 each or £20 for 8, with most rides costing one token per rider. This seemed about the right price for a festival. We loved it and had a lot of fun.
In hindsight, if I’d known the weather was going to stop play for us so early, I wish we had spent some time up at the kids’ theatre before we went to watch the Proclaimers. I am also feeling very guilty for not making it to the Horrible Histories Medieval Camp. Horrible Histories is on our TV every day that we are home, and my son would have had a brilliant time. Illustrator Martin Brown was doing a book signing and Q and A sessions. There were workshops, displays, knights and singing. I wish I could go back in time to go back in time with them.
Even the youngest family members are thought of at CarFest. There were several Tiny Tots Pitstops around the festival with soft play and changing areas.
Most festivals have a main stage and a secondary main-ish stage, with timetable clashes and lots of running back and forth not wanting to miss anything. CarFest chose instead to have the main stage divided into two stages. This worked brilliantly, and effectively meant that the music was almost non-stop. While one band was playing on the left hand stage, the crew were busy dismantling and rearranging everything for the next band on the right hand stage. Chris Evans came out in between each act to speak to the crowd, and lead enthusiastic sing-a-longs to tunes such as Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now and ElO’s Mr Blue Sky, which everyone loved.
We caught the end of Go West, and then watched the Proclaimers. Sunshine on Leith is one of our favourite films, and my son had prepared for seeing the Proclaimers by watching (a few times) in the week before CarFest. This worked out really well as they mostly played the very well known songs that were used in the film. It was wonderful hearing these songs performed by the original artists, who still retain their ability to wow us with their exquisite harmonies.
My son was very keen to stay for X Factor winners Rak-Su, and Britain’s Got Talent finalists, Boogie Storm. It would have been great but we were soaked through from the surprise down pour that lasted much of the evening, and we were both shivering. I think Boogie Storm are wonderful and was sorry to miss them.
Many many more of the festival goers were far more hardcore than us, and were happily dancing in the rain.
I had been concerned upon reading about people picking a spot and claiming it with folding chairs and tents. I was worried how the atmosphere would be affected if there wasn’t room to dance by the main stage. Actually, this turned out to be policed much better than at other festivals. The chair free and chair fine zones were separated by knee-high rainbow bunting and the barrier was well respected.
There were some massive names on over the weekend: Paloma Faith, Reef, Razorlight, Richard Ashcroft, Jools Holland, James Bay, Status Quo, Clean Bandit, and the CarFest Supergroup (that featured The Feeling, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Gary Kemp, Beverley Knight and Ricky Wilson – wow!)
I heard that Michael Ball and Alfie Boe were hugely impressive. I think CarFest was a fantastic opportunity for many acts to perform to a large number of people who might not have thought to go and see them on tour. From what I read on social media they were one of the biggest hits of this year’s CarFest. In his radio show the following day, Michael Ball was saying what a wonderful time they had there and that they would love to be invited back to perform at both CarFests – fingers crossed! I saw their first tour with my son in 2016, and they were simply magical. We’re definitely going to go and see them again if we can.
The Sunday night closed with a performance from Lord of the Dance. By all accounts, the dancers blew everyone away. I have seen their Dangerous Games show on tour twice, and I can see how they would be a fittingly spectacular way to close a festival.
There were two other stages with smaller bands but we didn’t even make it to them!
Festival goers attending CarFest are very fortunate to basically be presented with a food festival within a music (and car and everything else) festival. I was surprised to see how full the bars were given the amount of free samples on offer – enough for a skin-full – in the food fair. There was a very impressive variety of gins to try along with ales and wines, and much more. All the different food stalls in this area were also handing out samples of their delicious products from around the world. For those wanting to see what delights have originated from this country, there was a Best of British food tent.
There were also children’s workshops in the food fair, including decorating a biscuit or making a milkshake.
The food fair stage featured inspirational demonstrations from celebrity chefs. I’m a little wary of Chris Mackett now, as immediately after he mentioned that the weather seemed to be looking ok, the rain suddenly came down in bucket loads.
Elsewhere around the festival were countless food and drink outlets. There was so much choice for everyone.
There were plenty of well maintained toilets all over the arena.
I should have done my homework before we went really. There is a dedicated car park and camping area for those with access needs. I was shocked how far we had to walk from the car park to the main arena. However, I found out later that there is in fact a shuttle bus that runs regularly from the disabled car park, via the campsite to the main arena. I made good use of this later on and it was greatly appreciated, and very comfortable. CarFest also had buggies which could be radioed for, helping those with reduced mobility to get to different areas of the festival.
There were viewing platforms for both the main stage and the track. These were not at the points where they were advertised on the map, but there were plenty of stewards to point us in the right direction. They also provided chairs on the platforms for those who needed them. In the future they are hoping to add BSL interpreters, and audio guides. There were hearing loop systems upon request for those using hearing aids. Both platforms were in ideal locations. The main stage platform offered a great view, but was not so far in that it would have been difficult to get to. There were also four big screens around the stages.
I met a lovely lady on the viewing platform who was really pleased with this area. They had been permitted to drop of all their gear at the campsite before taking the car to the car park, which was just a short distance away. She was happy with the facilities in the campsite.
There were accessible toilets by each viewing platform and around the whole arena which was great.
The Saints Foundation of Southampton FC were running football sessions, and had timetabled accessible sessions every day of the festival. We missed this unfortunately, but they were happy for children to have a kick about between sessions, so my son still got to play some football. The guys running the sessions were lovely and were so sorry that they couldn’t fit us in. The football was predictably very popular. It was also undercover, giving us a welcome break from the rain.
Although CarFest is like a dream for motoring fanatics, there is so much more to this safe family festival than cars. CarFest is also a fabulous place to go for anybody who likes music, food and just generally having a fun time with their family.
It is a good idea to study the programme well, as there is so much to do and see, and as I realised it’s very easy to miss something amazing.
CarFest is a brilliant fundraiser, raising millions each year for the wonderful Children In Need. My son and I loved it and definitely hope to return in future years.