Dancing, relaxing, playing, laughing, feasting…
These are the first five words that spring to mind when I think back on our four days at Cornbury. I think it’s testament to a really great festival, especially where children are involved, when you can come back feeling relaxed and switched off. We were lucky to have exactly that experience.
This was our second year at Cornbury and, despite having a fab time last year, I will confess to being slightly worried that coming off the back of our recent trip to a very noncommercial festival, Cornbury would feel exactly the opposite – too commercial and too elitist. Once again, though, this side of the festival really didn’t bother us at all.
For us, as a family, what we love is how safe the whole festival site feels and how much there is to occupy the whole family. The site never felt crowded (even on Saturday when it was noticeably busier, queues and crowds were never an issue), moving around the site was easy and the people were almost exclusively very pleasant and civilised.
The Camp Site and Facilities
We opted for tickets in Quiet Camping again this year. The car park is so close to the camp site, you could find a pitch within 30 seconds of leaving your car if you wished. Liking to make work harder for ourselves, we walked on a few minutes and found a lovely, sheltered spot close to some trees and separated from most of the other tents. My theory was that not everyone would have to listen to my children squabbling that way!
The camp site was really beautiful and spacious with lots of trees and lovely views, and was serviced with plenty of portable toilets and showers that were kept in excellent condition. Running water and sinks were available for hand washing and washing up, as well as drinking water stations.
A Café Nero tent serviced the Quiet Camping field serving breakfasts, snacks, lunches and drinks.
I was really pleased to see that the grass on the slope between the camp site and the festival arena had been cut a lot shorter this year. This made it so much easier to get between the two and made wearing flip flops bearable – no prickly grass and scratchy thorns like last year. Hooray!
The camp site was very quiet at night, as long as you didn’t mind the sound of the festival for as long as the entertainment went on.
You could still hear the music coming from the Campsite Stage into the early hours, so if you or your children are light sleepers, ear plugs would be advisory, but there was no noise or drunkenness around the camp site at all. We all slept incredibly well, which helped our relaxed and happy moods.
A multitude of glamping options were available, as well as room for camper vans and a separate accessible camping field.
The Festival Site and Arena
The festival site was laid out very similarly to last year, and being fairly small, it was easy to get around. You could do a circuit of the site in about 10 – 15 minutes, so everything was accessible without feeling cramped.
We did have to go through the bag search process every time we moved between the campsite and festival arena, which I always tolerate through gritted teeth. The list of things you were not allowed to take in, as well as the obvious alcohol, included any drinks other than sealed bottles of water.
Picnics of any kind were also banned, which I found to be a bit excessive. We bought three evening meals out, which were lovely. We just couldn’t have justified buying lunches as well, so it meant going back to the tent to eat, rather than taking lunch out with us like we usually do at festivals.
In fairness, the security was in no way heavy-handed or rigid in their approach, so this was something we accepted, and used lunch as an opportunity to touch base.
The three outdoor stages (the main Pleasant Valley stage, Songbird and Riverside stages) were fairly close together, so it was easy to wander between them. Still, I never noticed any sound interference between stages, so they must have got the sound levels down to a fine art.
The VIP area overlooked the Pleasant Valley stage, manned by two burly bouncers. Honestly, I don’t like this kind of elitism at festivals, but I didn’t find it at all difficult to ignore. I really feel you can have whatever level of festival experience you want at Cornbury, and don’t need to be affected by the ‘extras’ if they are not for you.
The site was just slightly too large for me to be comfortable letting my nine and five-year-olds wander by themselves, but there was plenty of space around the main stages. This meant if we wanted to watch something they weren’t interested in, they could run around nearby and play football.
Frank Water were here again by the main stage, and both years have proven to be such a great addition. Once again they offered intricate colouring, which children could enter into a competition, as well as face painting. Both simply incurred a £1 donation to this great charity. We bought a water bottle for £5 and had it refilled many times for no extra cost over the course of the weekend by their friendly volunteers.
There was also a huge grassy area next to the comedy tent where the children could run around with a ball as freely as they liked.
The fairground was there again, but we were clued up this year and avoided that route, and in fairness it was fairly tucked away.
We trialled a new technique this year which worked a treat. On the first day when the children started whining about fairground rides and ice creams, we told them both that there would be neither until Sunday. The deal was that if they behaved themselves, were nice to each other and did not whinge about either, on Sunday they could have both.
This gave us the freedom to enjoy everything else the festival had to offer, without feeling cajoled into paying out for extras unnecessarily. It also gave us a great bargaining tool over the course of the weekend.
The Caffé Nero Stage was back again with a more laid-back, folky vibe, while the Campsite stage provided the after-hours entertainment courtesy of some very fun covers bands that we listened to from our tent.
If dancing at the camp site stage after-hours was out for us, the kids’ area was definitely where it was at! It was the quality and quantity of what was on offer for children that brought us back to Cornbury for a second year, and would definitely see us return again.
The kids’ area was a bright, fun environment. It was fairly centrally located so it was easy to nip in and out of activities between watching bands.
There was lots to occupy small people all day long. Shows included a pirate puppet show and the Same Same but Different puppet show; a take on Punch on Judy that my children sat and watched avidly for an hour.
There was a variety of crafts on offer, with the opportunity to make masks, head dresses and festival clothing all for free, as well as screen printing and batik.
The fab Bubbles Inc. stall was around all weekend, selling bubble-related items. At any time there seemed to be any number of different bubble effects being released upon the festival.
Huge nets sent out a flood of bubbles the children loved chasing. They were fascinated by the smoke bubbles and foam. We couldn’t enter or leave the festival arena without at least one chase after the bubbles!
Kids’ yoga, glamba drumming workshops and a disco party and games were just some of the other activities on offer.
There was also the skeleton of a tepee erected in the kids’ space that they could help to cover over the course of the weekend by tying pieces of colourful material all over it. It looked really impressive and the children loved watching it evolve day by day.
There were lots of stilt walkers and people dressed in a variety of impressive costumes, walking around the site. They always made a point of stopping and talking to the children, posing for photos with them and drawing them into their slightly crazy world!
For teenagers, this year saw the addition of the Mayflower Project. This tent, tucked away from the main throng of the festival, but close to the fairground, was strictly teenagers only.
Manned between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m., activities over the weekend included jam sessions, up-cycling wallets, henna and hair braiding, and console games and chilling.
It looked a fab space with chilled out, friendly staff, and was lovely to see teenagers catered for so well. In fact, my husband looked in longingly at the comfy cushions and row of guitars, and said he was quite jealous!
The toilets were great again this year. In fact, they are one of the many reasons why Cornbury would make a great festival for virgin family festival-goers, nervous festivallers, or just those who like to camp nicely!
All the portable toilets were well maintained and serviced, as well as almost always being filled with plentiful toilet roll and hand sanitiser.
The white cabin style Ladies’ loos just off the main stage were even nicer and more spacious. If I were being fussy (and I think I’m allowed to be given the ‘poshness’ of Cornbury) hand washing stations with soap outside all the toilets around the festival arena would be a great addition. It’s so much nicer to be able to wash your hands with running water, especially when you have children with you.
And if you fancied an even nicer toilet experience and were happy to pay for it, there was always the When Nature Calls station…
When Nature Calls
We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to try out the When Nature Calls toilets at Cornbury.
At £25 for an adult and £13 for a child for the weekend, you could gain access to the poshest loos I’ve ever experienced at a festival. Decked out with proper flushing toilets, a glistening sink with both hot and cold running water, fancy hand soap and even paper towels, I have to say they were bliss.
My daughter tolerates portable toilets but gets quite anxious about using them, so she was much happier using these.
Each cubicle is cleaned after every use, so you always know it will be spotless, plus you also have access to hair washing stations, a large mirror, GHD straighteners and hairdryers.
OK, OK, I know straightening your hair is not really in the festival spirit! However, as someone who is not remotely precious about my hair but does like to use straighteners on my fringe every day, I don’t mind saying it was absolutely lovely to spend two minutes each morning doing just that.
The staff on the gate were always incredibly friendly and, as much as I did feel a bit of a sell-out when I first obtained my wristband, by the end of the weekend, I was more than convinced!
The posh loos were well positioned between the camp site and festival arena, which meant we were able to use them in place of the camp site toilets and the arena ones.
They were positioned in such a way that it was so easy to use them when entering the arena, moving between stages or nipping back to the camp site, which meant you got better value for money. A big thumbs up from us!
Music and Entertainment
The music at Cornbury is never exactly matched to our tastes, being fairly mainstream and poppy. That said, we certainly found enough to entertain us over the course of the weekend.
Stella Parton (Dolly’s sister!) performed a bunch of Dolly’s songs from her Mountain Songbird tribute album, as well as a few of her own. She was fab, very charming and had an accomplished band with her.
Bringing the cool pop factor to Cornbury were All Saints. I always had a soft spot for them back in the 90’s and my nine-year-old was wowed by their clothes and dancing. Lucinda Williams was very commanding, rocking her bluesy country, and Brian Ferry was a great Saturday night headliner. He got the crowd going with his own and Roxy Music numbers such as Virginia Plain, Slave to Love, Love is the Drug and Let’s Stick Together.
Bjorn Again, the last band to play on the Sunday evening, were pure fun. We had a great time dancing and singing along to their Abba covers and even a random version of Van Halen’s Jump.
We also saw some great smaller acts on the Riverside stage which hosted lots of local bands.
It was always easy to get a good spot at any of the stages and the children could usually see what was going on.
It’s not the liveliest crowd at Cornbury. Picnic rugs and camping chairs are a-plenty, but there is definitely the opportunity for a dance, sing and cheer if you want.
We also managed to watch some comedy. Our children were happy playing football on the grassy area outside the comedy tent, so we grabbed end seats and could keep an eye on them at the same time.
Rose Matafeo, Nish Kumar and Ed Gamble we found to be really funny and added another dimension to the festival.
I would like to see some more workshops and activities aimed at adults added next year if possible. Now our children are a little older and able to entertain themselves for periods of time, it would have been nice to try out the odd exercise or mediation class.
Food was good again this year and reasonably priced. A meal started at £5 for a basic (but yummy) margherita pizza, up to about £10 for the more fancy.
I mostly stuck to the Curry Shed, one of my favourite festival caterers. £7.50 got me five delicious, vegetarian, gluten free curries with rice and mango chutney. It was more than enough to share with one of the children.
Pies were popular in our family too, starting at around £6 for just the pie, rising to £9 including mash and mushy peas.
One of the pizza stalls offered a child’s pizza for £3.50 and places were happy to do small portions or give extra plates / cutlery to make sharing easier.
Once again, we spent such lovely family time at Cornbury. One of my favourite hours of the whole weekend was spent painting my finger and toe nails and doing an activity book with my little boy, laying on a picnic rug while Corinne Bailey Rae played. It’s these simple things that can be so hard to find the time for in everyday life that I find I can really indulge in at a festival.
More and more I am finding that where festivals in my 20’s were a hedonistic experience that left me needing a week to recover, nowadays the best festival experiences allow the whole family to come back feeling relaxed, happy and full of love. We all felt that way after Cornbury.