Lakefest is a true family festival held in the grounds of Croft Farm Waterpark near Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.
The music takes place over the three days of Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but for a small extra charge you can buy a ticket that also allows you to camp on the Thursday night.
We opted to travel up on Friday afternoon and after a short journey from Bristol (there’s something to be said for local festivals!) and just a five minute queue to get into the car park, we were good to go.
It was a short walk from car park to camp site, but unfortunately there was some confusion over family camping. It was clearly marked on the festival map, but after consulting with several stewards, who eventually radioed through for advice, we were informed there was only family camping for motor homes and caravans but not for tents.
A little disappointed we pitched in the main field and hoped for the best.
We wondered for a moment if we would have been better off bringing our touring caravan, or even trying out one of the range of glamping options that were available. Tipis, two and four-person chalets as well as pods can all be hired and can work out quite reasonable if there is a group of you. Still, we zipped up our faithful tent and headed off to explore.
Our first walk around the festival site was pleasing – set around a lake complete with water sports, Lakefest comprises two main fields – one contains the main stage, Floating Globe stage and the wonderful Salem Café with its own small stage, as well as all the funfair, food outlets and stalls.
The other is the kids’ field that, other than the BBC Introducing stage, was dedicated to children. This was a great size with several permanent activities such as a bouncy castle, tyres sunken into the ground as stepping stones, a zorbing pool and a huge foam Gladiator game.
A circus skills area provided the opportunity for practising diablo, juggling, hula-hooping and even wobbling around on unicycles.
Then there was the craft tent that held host to many different activities – my children, aged three and seven, painted and put together wooden and bead necklaces, made carnival masks and coloured pictures all in the space of an hour, for some of which we plonked ourselves on a quirky sofa to watch.
Over the weekend there were over 30 children’s activities on offer, including the fantastic Glamba drumming workshops, pottery, recycled flower crafts, as well as the funfair and water sports on the lake, which included speed boat rides, pedalos, banana boats and wind surfing.
Many activities were free, with others varying from £2 – £5. Water activities were generally £5 a head, but flexible, and we were only charged £10 for the four of us to take a 15 minute speedboat ride.
This was one of the highlights of the weekend for the children and I was delighted to give them a new experience to come home talking about. My husband, less of a thrill-seeker than the kids and I, came off with white knuckles and a forced smile, while my three-year old grinned from ear to ear!
Children’s entertainment was obviously an area the organisers had worked extremely hard on.
If I could suggest the odd improvement for next year, I think a small tent with baby change facilities as well as an indoor area for toddlers with some soft play toys would be a great addition.
Still, with so many kids in presence, there was always something to keep them occupied and the only time I heard a cursory ‘I’m bored’ was when we dragged them away from the kids’ stuff to watch bands.
Even then, they were mostly happy dancing with us, doing handstands and cartwheels in the corner of the main stage with their new friends, or snuggled up on the picnic rug having a nap.
All four of the stages at Lakefest are in tents, which provide shelter from sun, rain and wind, all of which we experienced over the course of the weekend, though the weather was mostly pleasant, and it made life much easier with small people.
None of the tents ever got too busy, even for the headline acts, so there were enough people to create a good atmosphere, while still meaning there was space at the back to lay down a rug. Also, because the tents aren’t too large, you can happily stay near the back without feeling out of the action.
The three main headliners at the festival were Buzzcocks, Shed Seven and Fun Lovin’ Criminals, all who put on stonking shows each worthy of their top place in the line-up.
I particularly enjoyed reminiscing to Shed Seven’s Britpop anthems that I used to bounce around to as a teenager. Bouncing around now with my husband at my side and two small children asleep at my feet, I chuckled to myself as I remembered the last time I saw them, I was a very young, very free, very drunk girl at Reading.
Other big draws included Doctor and the Medics, Lightening Seeds, Neville Staple and The Bad Shepherds who wowed the crowd with their fantastic folk covers of punk songs by the likes of The Clash and The Jam.
Coco and the Butterfields were also great fun headlining the Floating Globe stage on the Friday night, with their curious blend of folk and hip hop that they have termed fip fok, and there were lots of smaller, local acts playing – we particularly enjoyed the Celtic inspired Whipjacks on Sunday afternoon, who played Levellers and Dropkick Murphys covers as well as their own material.
But the rather bizarre highlight for me, musically, was stumbling across a bearded guy sing blues at the Busk Stop, while a young girl tapped percussion and a teenage boy humbly showed off his skills on guitar. It was magical.
A slight let-down to the family vibe was our first night on the camp site. Although the site was well spaced with meticulous toilets (more on those later!) we had a terrible night’s sleep, thanks to two very loud, very drunken groups camping in front and behind us.
While our children slept soundly, we were subjected to continuous shouting, swearing, revelry and arguments that lasted right through the night until the children rose at 7 a.m. feeling very perky. We, along with half the camp site however, were not.
All credit to the festival here, though, on how they dealt with this – after I spoke to a security guard, more security were swiftly called in and both groups were spoken to and warned. Soon after, two of the festival organisers pulled up outside our tent to find out what had occurred.
They listened sympathetically and explained that the reason they didn’t have specific family camping was because with a crowd that is 80% families, it would fill up instantly. My recommendation was that for next year maybe most of the camping should be labelled as family camping, with a smaller area for ‘groups’.
I also felt that better patrolling of the site by security or stewards was necessary, with loud groups being warned and dealt with at the time, rather than the next day. All comments were welcomed and taken on board and they are clearly keen to improve this for next year.
Security promised to better patrol the site and monitor the situation that night, but going one stage further, the festival organisers asked if we would like to move to another field. When we looked reluctant at the idea of uprooting all our stuff, they swiftly offered to tow round a trailer to carry everything in. We still weren’t convinced, but I felt I should give them the opportunity to fix things for us as they were so keen to do so. I’m glad I did!
We were moved to an even more spacious and very quiet field complete with a permanent shower and toilet block with flushing loos. Our second night was a different story altogether and we had a very peaceful night’s sleep with hardly a murmur from our new neighbours.
I cannot commend the festival organisers highly enough for their manner and help they gave us. If they are that keen to rectify all problems and to improve year on year, this festival, which is only in its fourth year, will go from strength to strength.
Toilets and facilities
Speaking of strengths, let’s go back to those meticulous toilets – without a doubt the best ones I have ever encountered at a festival.
There were plenty of them, both on the camp site and in the festival grounds, they were extremely well maintained and stocked so well with toilet roll and hand sanitizer that by the second day I was confident enough not to carry any around with me.
In fact, over the whole weekend, as a family we only managed to find one toilet that was out of loo roll and not a single one that ran out of soap. You rarely had to queue for them, and when you did, the time was minimal.
A big thumbs-up for your loos, Lakefest! Well done.
Food and drink
And while the thumbs are up, I must comment on the previously touched upon Salem Café tent.
A wonderful space complete with a carpeted and cushioned area where you were asked to remove your shoes before entering; a small stage that hosted intimate gigs; some seating and some very hardworking and friendly staff who served up delicious looking wood-fired pizzas and crepes.
I enjoyed a few much-welcomed peppermint teas in here and eyed my family’s food enviously – the only downside for me, being both veggie and wheat intolerant meant there was nothing I could eat. Boohoo.
Elsewhere, I did struggle with food – it wasn’t geared up fantastically for people with dietary needs such as veggies, vegans and coeliacs, but I was able to find some rice noodles with plain vegetables (bland, and though it might sound fussy, I can’t help judging the authenticity of a noodle bar that only offers forks instead of chopsticks) and nachos with veggie chilli (pleasant enough and a huge portion).
My husband was also disappointed with his ‘pie’ which was, in fact, a re-heated, soggy pasty. In fairness, we didn’t sample what seemed to be the main draw as far as festival food was concerned – the hog roast. As a vegetarian family, we were understandably uninterested, but punters seemed very satisfied!
The price of a meal was on average about £6, rising to about £8 or £9 in places, with cheaper options also available. I couldn’t see any specific children’s options or prices, but my two were happy sharing portions of noodles and nachos and the very exciting treat of good old chips and beans.
A pint would set you back a fiver the first time complete with a re-usable souvenir Lakefest sturdy plastic glass, and then £3.50 after if you had your glass refilled.
Definitely a good incentive for people to keep hold of their glass and save on waste, however it would have been nice to see recycling available over the site, rather than just in the Salem Café.
A friend who camped with us for one night and arrived by train and bike, also commented that the only directions he could find on the web site were for people coming by car, with no mention of public transport.
This would be a nice addition next year to try to encourage some greener transportation. That said, it was obvious the majority of the crowd were local to the area and the festival had the feel of a large town fair, with the crowd made up very much of average local families who enjoy their cider, most very friendly and good natured with a good mix of all ages.
Dogs were allowed, and although an animal lover, I was a little sceptical of how that would work, but it was no problem whatsoever – they were all well behaved, kept on leads as requested, and no mess was spotted over the weekend.
I spoke to several disabled campers at the festival and all agreed the disabled camping was good, access around the site easy. Even after very heavy showers on the Sunday morning, the festival site remained mud-free and hay was swiftly piled in to stop other areas clogging up and the large viewing platform within the main stage was much appreciated.
As an added benefit, when booking, one free ticket was also available for a carer with each disabled ticket booked. Each person I spoke to said that they really needed more disabled toilets dotted around the site, though.
Some people who had been the year before could see an improvement, but not enough. If I learnt anything from my time spent with the organisers plus the constructive comments they have invited after the event, I’d be willing to bet this will be improved further next year.
By the time Sunday evening came round, we were feeling very happy and tired. The Fun Lovin’ Criminals played at 7 pm, meaning all the bands had wrapped up by 8. Many of the bands had commented positively on the prevalence of families and at the end of their funky set, Huey Morgan brought his young son onstage to introduce to the crowd – a cute touch that went down well.
After they had left the stage, the festival organisers and helpers were called out where they were greeted to a round of applause for all their hard work in putting on the event. Many appeared with their children either on their shoulders, in their arms or by their sides, which was quite touching and really cemented Lakefest as a local, family festival. They left to whoops and cheers.
After a twenty minute gap the very popular silent disco ensued. At £10 a head, we felt shelling out £40 at this stage was too excessive, much to the disappointment of my seven-year-old, but seeing the fun everyone was having, singing along at the tops of their voices to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now, we pledged that if we come back next year (which we would love to) we will budget for this in advance.
Instead, we let the children spend a final five minutes on one of their favourite activities of the whole weekend – walking the tree trunk steps that raised up and down around the middle of the main field. A simple touch that not only made a great centrepiece but kept many children entertained for ages, with thoughtfully placed benches for parents.
To sum up, thank you Lakefest for a fun-filled family weekend and we look forward to more surprises in the years to come.