When anything that has been loved comes to an end, there is inevitably a celebration of its existence intermingled with a sense of loss. These emotions could be felt across the Cornbury site all weekend. The sun shone, the music played and the crowd partied. The 14th and final Cornbury Festival definitely went out with a bang. Literally as well as metaphorically.
This will be a slightly different review to what you’ll be used to from us. You don’t need to know how much a pint cost or how the festival could improve for next year, as there will be no next year. So I hope instead, it serves as a literary celebration of 14 years of a festival that has been loved by many.
This was our third Cornbury, but walking the site I didn’t even need to talk directly to people to hear how many times they had been or how much they would miss it. It was the subject on almost everyone’s lips.
Many people had been attending a lot longer than us, and genuinely felt lost as to what they would do next year. Lots of people asked me which other festivals were so good for children. All felt it was such a safe environment, full of friendly people, and I agree.
One of the things I love about taking our children to festivals is the opportunity to experience new things. At Cornbury this year, it wasn’t so much the activities that provided this (although they were wonderful as ever).
For my ten-year-old daughter, who made friends almost immediately, she experienced her first medium-sized festival where we allowed her to roam the site with her new friends and have their own experiences that were not in some way influenced by us.
They disappeared for hours at a time, returning with hair braids, henna tattoos, headdresses, new sunglasses, festival shorts and make-up.
At one point, just as the Pretenders’ set finished, they appeared from the crowd, gushing over the top of each other about how they had decided to try to get to the front. The five of them had woven their way between the crowd and friendly adults had moved to one side or helpfully pointed to gaps they could slide between.
They watched from there, in awe of Chrissy Hynde (incidentally, one of my favourite performances of the weekend too. She is so cool!) They thought it was amazing that the drummer had launched his drumstick into the air after the final song, and that the man next to them caught it.
Considering the music hadn’t been my children’s primary interest over the weekend, it was lovely to see my daughter have her first experience of how much of a buzz a gig with friends can provide.
Fun and Freedom
My six-year-old spent most of the weekend playing football. He was lucky to have a friend at the festival who he could play with, and there was usually space at the side of the stages for them to set up a mini football pitch. Adults walking past never seemed bothered by the fact they were effectively playing in a walkway, and many joined in as they passed.
We were extremely lucky with the weather – in fact, people seemed to agree the sun appears to have a special place in its heart for Cornbury. As such, the children were able to spend all their waking hours outside, becoming gradually more grubby as the weekend wore on. Just as festivals should be for children.
We’re usually quite strict with screen time, but allowed our son to play football games on phones with his friend when it got dark if they weren’t too interested in the music. They were perfectly content, occasionally subconsciously joining in with the music with a tap of the foot or arm. It was great for us as it meant we could have a dance and not worry about them.
The music at Cornbury never quite ticks my taste boxes, but we always manage to find plenty that we enjoy. Many of this year’s acts seemed as disappointed as the crowd that it was the last one. All three headliners went down well.
The Kaiser Chiefs played a greatest hits, crowd-pleasing set that had everyone dancing, singing and chanting. ‘Oh My God’ took me straight back to Glastonbury 2005. The line, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home” held a resonance with me then that makes it suitable for any festival.
Who doesn’t feel a million miles from home in the bubble that is a music festival?
Bryan Adams on the Saturday night was another crowd-pleaser, and everyone had a good singalong to ‘Summer of ’69’. He played all his most popular hits and the children loved jumping around with me to ’18 Till I Die’.
Jools Holland was a fitting Sunday night headliner, having played the very first Cornbury Festival. He had a host of special guests on stage with him, including Chris Difford who treated us to a couple of Squeeze songs, including ‘Cool for Cats’.
My daughter had got really into Sophie Ellis-Bextor in the lead-up to the festival, so it was brilliant that we caught her performing ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ on top of the Waitrose Cafe.
We also watched her full set later on the Songbird Stage. She looked amazing and spoke about her four boys and her delight at how many children there were at the festival.
In fact, lots of the artists commented favourably on the number of children present. This has definitely always been a place where children are welcomed and catered for rather than tolerated.
There is always so much for the children to do at Cornbury and this year was no exception. My children didn’t partake in as many activities as usual as they were having too much fun with their friends, but what they did, they loved.
My daughter made several lovely items out of clay. She also screen printed a good luck message onto a jute bag as a present for one of her old teachers who is leaving the school. Lots of the children were making those for end-of-term gifts for their teachers which was a lovely idea.
There were loads of fab arts and crafts activities, including the Groovy Record workshop. Here, children and adults could paint old records and turn them into funky clocks to take home. There was a family magic show, drumming, belly dancing and circus skills, plus some huge outdoor games that entertained all generations.
Teens and Tweens
This can be a tricky age at festivals as they often fall outside the children’s activities but are a little young for the adults’. The Mayflower Tent at Cornbury is such a lovely place for them to hang out.
Although officially for teenagers, my ten-year-old was allowed in with her older friends and had a blast. They painted each other with henna, had their hair braided, played pool and chilled out.
The comfy seats and musical instruments to play made it a space that was really appealing. The staff were fun and treated them with respect.
I’ve never been a fan of fairgrounds at festivals, but came round to the one at Cornbury this year. It was a nice space for the older kids to hang out and we avoided hassle by employing the ‘no rides till Sunday’ strategy.
It meant that when we did take them it felt like a treat that we all enjoyed, rather than having been harassed into parting with cash all weekend.
When Nature Calls
We are firm converts to the When Nature Calls posh loos. They’re a luxury at £25 per adult and £13 per child for the weekend, but worth every penny.
The staff are so friendly and work incredibly hard keeping them spotless with a clean after each use.
A proper flush and, especially, both hot and cold running water to wash your hands with is just wonderful. Access to hairdryers and GHD straighteners make them a dream for the style-conscious.
For me it’s also the little things that are so appealing – I love the paper towels, the hook for your bag and the nice soap. I’d happily pay for access to these facilities at any festival that has them.
One of the nicest experiences at this year’s Cornbury was the free breakfast put on by Dorset Cereals at the camp site.
Long tables were set up under a covered area, adorned with various types of muesli and granola, Yeo Valley yogurt, Bonne Maman compotes and Cawston Press juices. Outside, a yoga class ran.
Inside, a woman sang and played guitar, while free glitter tattoos, colouring and flower-headband making was provided for the children. It really felt they had thought of everything.
What a truly lovely way to start the day. I hope to see this at other festivals. It must be a great promotional activity for the companies while providing a fantastic resource to families.
The Cornbury Vibe
Cornbury has proved itself over the years to be a festival that is a brilliant introduction to festivals for families.
It’s a lovely, safe space in which to relax. I spent most of the weekend on a picnic rug, chatting to friends and listening to music while the children happily played.
We also had lots of opportunity to spend quality time with our children, which is something I love about festivals.
It’s never been the most rustic, raucus or hippy festival, but it knows its audidence and it caters to them fantastically well.
I know I won’t be the only person who misses it and hope to see it back in some form or another in the future. So here’s a big thank you to the Cornbury team from us here at Festival Kidz, for always making us feel incredibly welcome. Goodbye and good luck.