Beautiful Days 2013 was our first ever family festival. Way back when we were a family of four and still in need of nappies, buggies and all the other paraphernalia of very small children. The fact that I now spend my summers going to multiple festivals and reviewing them here is testament to how much we enjoyed it.
Nine years and another child later, 2022 was our first time back at Beautiful Days. It is a truly independent festival. Held at the Escot estate in Devon, it was set up by the band Levellers to bring back the weirdness and community spirit of festivals. It has earned a loyal band of followers who return year after year. Our long absence felt quite unusual.
On average, the crowd at Beautiful days are a bit older than many festivals, but kids are exceptionally well catered for. There is an entire field of childrens entertainment and activities.
Much of this is inside large tents, a real bonus given the extremes of weather this summer. There was a range of free craft activities, a tent full of dressing up clothes, another with circus toys and a non stop programme of jugglers, puppet shows and dancing.
Outside the tents there was plenty of space to sit down with a picnic or let the kids burn off some energy on a little climbing frame while costumed stilt walkers, or the occasional pantomime camel wandered past. There were a few paid for rides but with so much else on offer we didn’t suffer any nagging for extra cash.
The kids field is also the venue for another Beautiful Days tradition, the kids v Levellers football match. The kids won of course. Having a dragon in goal probably helped.
Our three children range in age from 5 to 13, so we appreciated how well the festival catered to all ages. With everything from sensory play and on demand yoga for babies to a craft tent specifically for that tricky tween stage and another tent where teens could try out new activities (or just hang about on sofas with their phones).
With so much to keep them happy all in one area I was able to enjoy that most rare and precious of family activities – sitting back in the sun and chilling out while other people entertained my kids.
But there was lots to enjoy together as well. Beyond the children’s field, we started our weekend with a Big Fish Little Fish rave and there were plenty of family friendly shows in the theatre tent. We all enjoyed some serious silliness from Le Navet Bete and two of the girls ended up on stage with juggler Dan The Hat.
At night they were all mesmerised by the fire show which featured some very brave and skillful young performers.
This is the Levellers festival so don’t expect chart pop. Which is fine by me. The music this year ranged mostly from folk to punk. We enjoyed a chilled out afternoon listening to The Unthanks in the Big Top tent and Seasick Steve was great on the last night on the main stage. The music acts always open with an acoustic set by the Levellers who also close the main stage on the last night. Sadly for us everyone was completely worn out by then so we missed them. But with this festival – there is always next year!
The campervan field was spacious and flat. The toilets weren’t great here (more on that later) but the showers were quite nice. We did initially get a bit lost trying to find our way from there to the main arena but soon got the hang of it.
On our last visit we had stayed in family tent camping which had seemed quite packed but when I took a wander through there this year it didn’t look so bad. There were also plenty of glamping bell tents for those after an easier option.
The stewards did a great job, even standing in the rain to help vans turn out of the lane onto the road as we left. We particularly loved the security lady who seemed to be smiling and high fiving everyone coming into the main arena for hours every day.
Food and drink
There was lots of choice for food covering everything from the traditional burgers and pies to tibetan dumplings and yorkshire pudding wraps. There was even an entire stall just selling desserts. Mains came in about £9. I didn’t see many places offering child portions but there were plenty of slightly cheaper child friendly options including toasted sandwiches and filled crepes in the kids field. We found vegetarian and vegan options too.
Unusually, I never made it into any of the bars. Unlike a lot of festivals Beautiful days allows you to bring in your own drinks (no glass) and, as we’re not heavy drinkers anyway, our stash lasted the whole weekend. There were plenty of water taps around the site to refil bottles.
My only slight complaint about the food is that the limited internet connection on site meant that some of the stalls were struggling with contactless payments and asking for cash only.
Which I’m afraid brings me to my only big disappointment of the weekend. The loos.
Grotty toilets is a festival stereotype but, like so many stereotypes, it’s often wrong. Most of the festivals I have gone to have decent toilets with queues only at peak times. But at Beautiful days we spent a lot of time queuing for grim toilets right through the day.
I find this frustrating, it’s not inevitable and it’s something that puts a lot of people off even trying out festivals. As a mum to three girls it also felt like women and young children were most affected. While my husband could pop to the urinals and be back before the end of a song, I twice missed the end of a set standing in a 30+ women long queue, only to be met by something I really didn’t want to take a touchy feely five year old in to.
It’s a problem the organisers acknowledged on their facebook page immediately after the festival. So I hope that the situation will be better next year, because otherwise Beautiful days offers a really great family weekend.
A month into the long summer holidays it can be hard to find anything the kids still want to do that doesn’t involve a screen. The very different ages and interests of my girls adds to this challenge. So Beautiful Days arrived right when we needed it. Even if we had never left the family field we would have had a really nice weekend. The bands were almost just an extra bonus.
It can be tricky returning to something you loved. Beautiful days 2022 wasn’t quite a perfect homecoming, but it was in many ways a new experience and one with a lot to offer the whole family.
To steal a line from the eponymous Levellers song: “It felt good to be back”.