Have you seen the photos on social media recently, about the 2023 festival that could rival the famous “Year of the Mud” at Glasto 1997? Read on to hear about how our family experienced Bluedot 2023.
Introduction to the festival
For those who are unfamiliar with Bluedot Festival, the event takes places at the Jodrell Bank Space Observatory in Cheshire. This is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular festival venues we have experienced. The remit of the festival is exploration, discovery, science, creativity, technology, environment and space. Each of these areas are celebrated with equal weight. It is a festival of intelligence and innovation as much as a festival of music.
If you have a child who is interested in physics, chemistry, astronomy, Star Wars or nanotechnology, they are going to be in heaven here. But at a more accessible level, if you have a child who is open to and curious about trying new things, learning through play or seeing role models who they may not usually come across at their school, this festival is one for your must-do list.
The effect of exposing children to these sorts of experiences should not be underestimated. The opportunity to see, meet and chat freely with scientists, Antarctic researchers and geographers has influenced my children’s career aspirations and shaped the issues that they are passionate about, in a way that would never have happened at a formal education event at school.
Bluedot festival seeks to evoke a sense of wonder and respect for our fragile planet. The festival takes its name from Carl Sagan’s speech at Cornell University in 1994, where he referred to planet Earth as a “pale blue dot”.
Whilst we saw loads of young children and toddlers having a great time, we felt that Bluedot really came into its own for slightly older children/ early teens.
Arrival on site and facilities
We arrived at Jodrell Bank on Thursday evening, to the glorious view of the sun setting behind the Lovell Space Telescope. We pitched our campervan up on the designated campervan field and each pitch was generously sized. There were metal tracks laid on the ground to facilitate easy access on and off the fields. We were extremely grateful that these tracks were in place when we came to leave on the Sunday. There were plenty of portable toilets available, which were cleaned regularly and there was access to fresh water.
After setting up, we walked into the arena, which was an easy 10 minute stroll. On our way, we stopped and looked at the access field, which provides camping for festival goers with accessibility needs. Again, there were tracks laid through the middle of the site to facilitate movement of wheelchairs. We were impressed by the pre-booked accessibility scooters, disabled showers and toilet facilities. The only improvement that I spoke with the site manager about was a mobiloo, which would make changing for festival goers with more significant care needs accessible. The access site manager was keen to organise this for next year.
We wandered past the Tangerine Fields, which had pre-bookable tents in perfectly arranged rows and had a peek at the “Meteor Showers”. I chatted to the staff, who explained that this was a pre-bookable facility, which costs £50 for a weekend ticket per adult or a one-off use for £20, which included hot showers and access to a wide range of Lush shower gels and skin treatments. If you’ve stood outside a Lush store, you will know the incredible smell that emanates. The price seemed pretty good value if you used the facilities every day and wanted a bit of a festival treat.
There was a designated family camping area to our left and as we walked closer to the festival entrance site, we saw many tents camped near to the bars and shops. Unfortunately the people in these tents did not have an easy time of it, as the weather over the weekend became steadily worse and people began using the spaces in between these tents as a walkway to avoid the mud.
Our bags were checked by friendly security guards as we went into the festival area. Soft drinks and food were allowed into the site, but not alcohol.
Once we were onto the festival site, most areas of the Jodrell Bank site were accessible using concrete paths. Getting to the main stage or dance tent involved a short walk across the grass.
On Saturday, we explored the VIP Village, which was situated in between the main stage and the dance tent. This included access to flushing toilets and sinks, covered areas with inflatable sofas and some gourmet food bars, including visiting open-fire takeovers from famous chefs and restaurants such as Dishoom. At night, there were DJ’s playing sets and a genuinely fun, relaxed vibe.
Activities for kids
Bluedot had absolutely loads of fun and interesting activities available, including things that I’ve not come across elsewhere. As soon as we walked into the festival arena, we could see the “craft punk” area, which included space vehicles made of junk, a craft tent and a chalk graffiti wall.
The first thing that caught our eye was the inflatable luminarium. After queueing for 10 minutes, we took off our socks and shoes and ventured inside. The luminarium was filled with many nooks and crannies to chill out in and we saw a little girl making angel shapes on the floor whilst she looked up at the colourful patterns in the ceiling. It was a very relaxing place to spend half an hour. In the paved area in front of the Lovell Telescope, we were greeted by some full sized, colourful R2D2s, who were playing with the kids whilst blasting out an array of dance bangers.
We then had fun playing on the Actual Reality Arcade, where we played real life versions of classic video arcade games, such as Tetris, Mario, Donkey Kong, Whackamole and PacMan. This involved jumping on hay bales, dressing up as an ape, dodging foam barrels, whacking each other on the head with a foam mallet and chasing around a maze. As we walked towards the main stage, street artists were creating the most incredible fantasy landscapes and we watched them spray paint for a while.
We looked at a variety of science based stalls, many of whom were hosted by staff and students from the University of Manchester. We learned about the structure of grapheme, the topography of Antarctica and looked at the sun through a telescope with a protective filter.
On the Saturday morning, the rain was coming down heavily, so we joined a talk in the Mission Control tent. We struck lucky, as we listened to Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE, who gave an inspiring and engaging talk about her work as a space scientist and astronomer. Maggie answered questions about a dizzying array of subjects, such as “are we made of stardust”- yes, twice over, why has a Black woman never been into space before, is there life on other planets, how long does it take to polish the mirror on the James Webb telescope and how quickly could a solar sail travel beyond our galaxy. She even showed the audience a Barbie doll that had been created in her image. Luckily the Mission Control tent has been made much larger than in previous years, which meant that there was space for everyone. All of the seats were taken, but we were able to pitch up our camping chair or stand around the edges.
In the early afternoon, we watched the joyful Space Procession, which included a giant spaceman who appeared to float above the crowd, enormous puppets who danced in the wind and a fabulous array of aliens, stormtroopers, human UFOs and a group of very proud looking local school children. The procession was accompanied by a brass band, who played The Prodigy classic, “Out of Space”.
We went to the indoor science exhibition and looked at images of ourselves on a thermal camera, listened to the sound of the Big Bang and learned about how a radio telescope works. We even learned from Professor Tim O’Brien, one of the festival directors, that the Lovell Telescope was used for monitoring the capability of Russian missile technology during the Cold War. This was a fascinating fact that had been kept secret until recently.
During a break in the rain, we hung out with the disco R2D2s again, high fived a rainbow storm trooper, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Masterchief from Halo whilst watching a body-popper dancing to the Human Jukebox. We then chilled out in the Outer Limits, an art installation area which was lit up at night. It was good to have somewhere quiet to relax for a while and sit by the campfire. There was a large light installation which played music, as well as a resident DJ. Throughout the wooded area, we could see posters which featured portraits and interviews with female scientists from a variety of disciplines, which were interesting to read.
The only activity that we we didn’t spot that my son would have liked was a sports area. It would be great if Bluedot could find a way to incorporate sport and science into some fun activities- anatomy, respiration, cardiology, performance etc.
The music line up was not specifically aimed at children, but there was a vibrant mix of bands on the line up and because the music areas are a short walk apart, it was easy to try different things out. We really enjoyed listening to the end of the Max Richter Orchestra, Henge, which was very popular with the kids as it features Venutian aliens and wizards in the line up, Djanigo Django, Beak, Snapped Ankles, lots of silly dancing at the glorious Henge disco, a bit of Pavement and Roisin Murphy in the pouring rain and a life-affirming set from Leftfield.
Food and drink
There was an array of bars around the site, with plenty of covered areas with tables and chairs where we sat down and had a drink comfortably. The drinks were served in recyclable cups, which could be returned at the end of the festival. Drinks were fairly priced at around £7 a pint and included a range of local and specialist beers, in addition to cider and a non-alcoholic option.
There was a good variety of stalls selling food, including vegan and vegetarian options. As it was so cold, my son enjoyed his rotisserie chicken, chips and gravy, which was a bargain for £6 for a large children’s portion. The most expensive thing that he bought was a medium sized bag of pic and mix sweets, which cost £10.50! Despite the rain and cold, our teenager also enjoyed a slushie from the ice cream van (£5). Bluedot use a cashless system, so everything was paid for by card. Us parents enjoyed some interesting meals, including some very spicy salt and pepper fries (£8 per portion), and a delicious, yet also very spicy chickpea curry from Dishoom (£13 per portion).
How did the heavy rain affect the festival?
The rain didn’t bother us too much on the Thursday or Friday and during this time, the ground held up fairly well. Unfortunately by the Saturday, the rain was relentless. The immaculately kept green fields of Jodrell Bank turned into a quagmire and getting around the site became increasingly challenging.
The festival volunteers did a great job of steering people around the worst puddles and soggy areas. To be fair to the Bluedot Team, you could see that they were absolutely doing their best to maintain the safety of the site and we could see that they were laying down huge amounts of wood chip and extra track.
The crowd were in good spirits and the atmosphere of the festival remained happy. We saw many little ones jumping around in the puddles in their wellies and having lots of fun, despite the miserable weather. By Saturday night, the festival organisers were really struggling, as the wood chip sank into the mud. The entrance into the festival was diverted, as the area around the entrance way had turned into a swamp and many tents were looking very forlorn and mud splattered. By this point, much of the area had become impassable for wheelchair and pushchair users, which must have been very frustrating.
We read on social media that some of the day visitors were having to be towed off the car park and we saw several signs saying “get your tow eyes ready”. This made us question if we had brought our tyre tracks with us and if we had packed a tow rope in the back of the van. Always always bring these items with you!
On Sunday morning, we were really sad to read on social media that Bluedot had made the difficult, but sensible decision to refuse access to the site for day ticket holders, in order to maintain the safety of the site and to enable the festival to go ahead for the weekend visitors. I am sure that this must have been heartbreaking for the festival organisers, as well as people who had tickets to see Grace Jones, Young Fathers and BC Camplight on Sunday. As we had school and work on Monday morning, we decided to pack up our things on Sunday morning and get off the campervan field using the tracks that were in place. To be fair, it was really easy for us to get off the site at that time of the morning and we felt very relieved.
We came home absolutely buzzing from a fantastic weekend. The team at Bluedot know how to put on an incredible event and we left with our hearts full and lots of new music to listen to on the way home. We left with a tangible sense of the determination of everyone involved in the event to be cheerful, polite, innovative, courageous and joyful even in the face of adversity. A valuable message to take home. Can’t wait to come back in 2024.
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For more information, take a look at our festival factsheet: Bluedot Festival – Festival Kidz