This is ONE SERIOUS PARTY!
30,000 proper party people strip down to their undies and make the most of the glorious British countryside.
After a 5 hour journey on possibly the hottest day of the year we were tired but excited to arrive at Secret Garden Party in Cambridgeshire. Or at least to the start of the traffic jam.
This was possibly one of the most unorganised festivals I have ever arrived at as it took almost another 3 hours for us actually to get on site.
Our good friends had travelled in convoy with us with their 14-week old baby but luckily for the little one they had air con in their car. Our camper is less well equipped and our kids were super grumpy, especially after we had been sent in the wrong direction by a couple of young stewards who had never even heard of family camping. Finally, we collected our wristbands and after spending an hour or so driving around car parks and through an angry mob of sweaty teenagers we finally made it to the campervan field.
We were all feeling perhaps we had come to the wrong festival as we’d experienced crowded hot queues, unhappy festival goers, extremely unorganised stewards, heavy security and unnerving sniffer dogs checking the kids out.
BUT… we were not disheartened. The campervan field was run by a familiar face who was extremely organised and even let us park under one of the big oak trees to shade the kids.
All of this was soon forgotten when we glammed up and hit the festival.
This has to be one of the most gorgeous sites for a festival ever. Exceptional attention is put into the detail and décor and there is so much to discover in this delightful adults playground you can’t help but walk around with a smile across your face (and everyone does!)
Family camping is right next to the Boutique Camping both of which lead straight in to the village area where there are heaps of food options, the kids area and the more low key Small World and BBC Introducing tents (more acoustic than the rest of the site). This then opens up to the louder crazier world of areas like the Collisillium (hilarious auditorium entertainment by day and full on rave by night), and the stunning lake with decked lake side dance venue. Across the lake are the main stage and more great dance venues like The Drop which cover this 150 acre site.
We were camped in the campervan field which was just beyond the family camping both of which were kept clean with good toilets and water taps (as was the kids’ area). Unfortunately, the rest of the site was not kept tidy with toilets and bins overflowing by Friday and although there were recycling bins it seemed little effort was made to manage this. By Saturday there were bottles, cups and food across the site and by Sunday the main stage looked more like the last day of Glastonbury than the gorgeous site we had found just a few days before. Some of this could have been helped with more bins but the #LeaveNoTrace message really does need to be worked on to keep this festival special. Come on kids, we know you are busy fluttering those false eyelashes and layering on the glitter, but please, TIDY UP!
This year the theme was The Yellow Brick Road and in the centre of the lake stood a huge Emerald City venue you could take a row boat out to for a dance. Pretty unique for this festival is the chance to swim too. A great opportunity to cool down on such a hot weekend and well managed with life guards and queuing for the swimming and boats rather than thousands in at once. We opted for a dip in one of the smaller, shallower little water holes with its own mini waterfall (or weir).
The Kids Area
Although Secret Garden Party is by no means promoted as a festival for kids it is now one of our firm favourites. The whole festival is one big play area with grownups taking part in the silliest of games like wacky races, mud wrestling, and bungee mars bar eating and giant waterslides. Our kids loved watching all the craziness across the site and they even won the dangerous disco dance off on Saturday night (possibly as they were the only kids in it!)
If you wanted to escape all the craziness then the designated kids’ area is much calmer and a welcome break. The Munch Bunch Café was a hit, with kids’ meals for £3 and the Pizza and Puppet crew did delicious stone baked pizza with a rather unusual puppet show.
For families that didn’t want to venture in to the big dance areas or main stages at night, the kids’ area still had plenty to offer, with fire shows and UV discos continuing till midnight.
With a relatively small number of kids on site (just a few hundred in comparison to 21k adults) the official kids’ area was ample. There was a café, craft tent, crystal healing stall, soft play tent, baby tent and big top run by the lovely Jeff from BigTop Events.
Highlight for my 4-year-old was the death-defying DANGER DANGER show in the Big Top. She is still talking about the man that swallowed a 3ft balloon and couldn’t watch the nail trick.
Free activities in the adult craft area were open to kids with knitting, clay, wood work and others and the kids enjoyed spinning their own pots on the potter’s wheel in the kids craft tent for just £2. We didn’t do any shopping and in fact, my 8-year-old went home with money as on Sunday the bar was paying 10p for every returned paper cup or plastic bottle. £10 bonus for her!
I’m sorry but for me this just doesn’t work. Dogs are allowed on site and even though there weren’t many I had to rescue two that had been locked in a hot van in the camper fields and in scorching heat for a few hours. It’s irresponsible to take animals to festivals unless you can look after them 24 hours a day.
You wouldn’t leave your kids locked in cars. DON’T LEAVE DOGS IN CARS! Other than them acting as a fancy dress fashion accessory and taking part in the dog show they really have no place at a festival like this. Hedonism and debauchery are high on the list of revellers priorities and I felt that it was very cruel for the animals especially in such hot conditions. There was also a lot of rubbish including chicken bones and glass that just isn’t safe.
The Music and Nights
This place is certainly buzzing all day long but at night, it absolutely explodes. We were lucky enough to get the night out on Saturday when our kids went to our friends’ tent for a sleep over. Well worth it if you like to party and can take turns to go out as the place keeps rocking all night.
The crowd at Secret Garden are young (well, younger than me). We were actually photographed in the early hours of Sunday morning for being ‘the oldest ravers in town‘ when I accidentally mentioned to the guy dancing next to me at Chase & Status that I remember raving to them 20 years ago. Still not really sure how I felt about that one!
There was so much going on that we didn’t even venture to the main stage till Sunday. A firm favourite for us as always was Alabama 3 and we also saw the awesome Ken Boothe who just loved the crazy crowd. Loads of small stages and sound systems dotted around the site you could always find something to enjoy.
Food, Drink & Spending
Heaps of choice of food and everything we had was really good. Delicious curry £6, pizza £8, crepes £3+. Some of the drinks were overpriced in some bars but you could get a pint of lager or iced cider for £4.50 and all of the bars were happy to give us ice for the kids. There was also no waiting more than a few minutes for anything (food, drinks toilets) so everything was really easy especially in such hot weather.
A couple of overpriced fun fair rides with chair swings £4 and big wheel £3 each perhaps could have offered a child price but you can always say no as there is so much more to do. Apart from that we didn’t find it overly expensive and the absence of sponsorship scored highly for us. The ticket price is high but it’s well worth it for all the extras like the amazing fireworks, snow and an immersive rainbow (yes really!)
Our family felt very safe all weekend. Considering the heavy dance music and late nights we were pleasantly surprised that drugs weren’t obvious (except perhaps the 5,000 silver capsules all over the floor).
Our kids have grown up at festivals so perhaps if yours are not used to the more colourful side of festivals then this isn’t for you. If you aren’t going to join in with the dressing up and silliness you could feel out of place in an anorak.
Without spoiling the secret, let’s just say this place is full of quirky crazy little worlds at every turn. We loved it. The kids loved in. Just MAGIC. Step through a wardrobe or toilet door and open your eyes. Secret Garden Party is not for wall flowers. Explore and experience it. DIVE IN!
Secretly I loved the fact that the place wasn’t overrun with small people. It’s not all about them after all, is it? My kids would sum up Secret Garden Party in one word ‘AWESOME!’ But don’t tell everyone. It’s a secret after all.
Would we go again? ‘With bells on! But do it with friends. The nights are too much fun to miss.’
Thoughts from a new mum
I was apprehensive about attending a festival with a 14 week baby and staying in a tent. People kept saying ‘you’re brave.’ However, a brilliant time was had by all and we are so pleased we did it. Our baby Lily loved the Secret Garden Party, it was like a baby sensory weekend for her. Ear defenders were essential, with these on she was happy to take in all the sights and even sleep through a lot of banging music. She loved her first firework display.
There were lots of secret venues including a sunflower field which you entered through a toilet! In the kids area, there was a tent where you could feed or change your baby. I was happy feeding Lily in most areas and felt comfortable doing so.
One of our favourite relaxing areas was the Sanctuary where you could sit around a beautiful lake. There was lots of dressing up and general silliness, Emu polo and wonky races being just two of the very entertaining things we saw over the weekend.
Fellow Gardeners were very friendly if you want to make new friends, take a baby to a festival. People would stop us for a chat about the baby and how we were getting on. Our response to one revellers question of ‘is that a real baby?’ was ‘no it’s a remote control one’ which she believed!
I think SGP is probably the friendliest festival we have been to. Although children were in the minority we were made to feel very welcome. When we arrived the stewards were very kind and allowed us to camp under the only tree in the field so we could get some well-needed shade. Accessibility throughout the site was good and we had no problem getting around with our pram.
Would we go to SGP again with a baby? Definitely!
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For more information on the Secret Garden Party please see our Festival Factsheet.