This was my fifth year at Camp Bestival. The 2016 theme was Outer Space, and I think it may well have been my favourite so far.
Some Changes from Previous Years
There were a few changes to Camp Bestival this year: The Carnival Stage had replaced The Bandstand. I loved The Bandstand and missed the bands that had become regular acts appearing on that stage, although I’m not sure it would have felt the same without seeing Howard Marx reading a collection of fairy tales to small children on the Saturday evening.
Our morning routines were very different this year too, as there was no Guardian stall delivering morning papers in a different coloured bag each day to all the campsites. We managed to adapt, of course, but did miss the crossword, and collecting the different bags.
The thing I missed most this year was definitely the jousting, which would have worked well alongside the Tudor Village. Having said that, there was still more than enough to do over the weekend.
We only ever cover a small percentage of what’s on offer. Camp Bestival is an amazing weekend with something and more and much more for everyone.
It is always a good idea to arrive early to Camp Bestival, as everyone else does, and everybody wants a good place to pitch. The only way to get around this is to pay the extra for an allocated space in Camping Plus, or Boutique (with proper beds this year) or VIP camping, or even hospitality.
We stay in accessible camping which has 5x7m plots marked out, but is first come first served. Of course you also have to decide whether to camp closer to the car park to minimise how far you have to lug all your equipment from the car, or closer to the arena so there isn’t too far to walk each day. Choosing where to pitch is always a difficult decision. There is a Fest Taxi option at Camp Bestival, but this gets booked up pretty quickly.
In previous years the rest of Thursday hasn’t been great as there have been few eateries open before the festival really kicks off at 12pm Friday, so little choice but massive queues for food. This year however, it was great, with well over half the food stalls in full swing. We then had time to explore the site, find our bearings, and try and make a vague plan from the programme.
Camp Bestival is very well set out in the idyllic park around the magnificent 17th century Lulworth Castle.
The main kids area is so massive it is divided into an upper and lower garden.
The Lower Kids’ Garden is home to many areas of fun including Mission Control (formally the Little Big Top) which hosted a selection of shows, and this year offered a rocket ship to climb aboard, and various information and craft activity stalls; The Literary Institute which was the place to go for poetry and story telling among other things and included a book stall; a craft tent; a science tent; (officially) the world’s biggest bouncy castle; The Travelling Barn for local ales and hoe downs; The Carnival stage which resembled a pirate ship and had spectacles ranging from a steel drum band to a fire show, and also had fitness instructors in the morning; a soft play area; a giant sand pit; food and bubble stalls; and many more treats.
The Upper Kids Garden had the WI tea tent, kids’ welfare tent and kids merchandise stall. There was also another craft tent here, and many opportunities to learn new circus skills with Big Top Mania. There was even a Punch and Judy. This area was also one of my favourite places to go for food as there was the Farmer’s Market, with fresh deliveries everyday. It was a great place to find tasty pastries for breakfast. The Feast Collective was just next door, with a huge variety of culinary treats from around the globe (and the tastiest skinny chips at the festival!)
There were several routes from the kids’ field through to the Castle Field, home of the main stage. One of these routes involved going down stone steps, but the rest were all fairly accessible. The Castle Stage dominates this part of the site, along with the viewing area for the huge crowds. At the back, and raised above the crowds was an accessible viewing platform. The view from the platform could have been improved by changing the structure slightly. Vertical bars around the front obscured vision somewhat although I think most people were high enough to see over them, but from little wheelchairs it was tricky. There is a steady slope heading down to the stage enabling a good view for almost everyone. A number of food outlets run down either side of the field towards the stage suiting almost every taste.
The Castle Field also contained The Brancott Wine Estate. Here visitors could take a virtual multi-sensory tour of their vineyards in NewZealand, and see and smell the fruits used in their winemaking.
The Tudor Village in the Caste Field was new this year. Tudors on Tour had come from Hampton Court Palace providing opportunities to experience life in the Tudor Age. There was a theatre, candle making, stone masonry, traditional games, and (my personal favourite) have-a-go crossbow.
Dingley Dell is a gorgeous area in the woods, which is a great place to come to when it is time to take a break from the rest of it. Kids could come here to climb a tree, safely harnessed in. This activity booked up very quickly though,so a good tip is to make this an early port of call. Longworth Petting Zoo allowed children a chance to hold a baby chick. National Trust were there with their 50 Things Meadow. Lizzie’s Way was a beautiful path that led to fun muddy activities like digging for treasure. There were various trails, and if you stood around long enough, someone would be sure to involve you in some adhoc activity such as ninja games.
Finally, the last area of the arena is split into the Upper and Lower Magic Meadow. The Upper Meadow has a huge portion dedicated to traditional woodworking skills, willow weaving, felt making and metal forging. It is a beautiful area, and the skills to learn are fascinating. I have still never managed to convince my son to make a pirate ship though, sadly. The Upper Magic Meadow also contains more sporty stuff such as Ken Fox’s Wall of Death, Free Sports Park, Indecit Family Football Experience, along with a launderette, The Den (for teenagers), and the Slow Motion holistic therapies area.
The Lower Magic Meadow boasts more stages, including Caravanserai (circus, folk punk, allsorts!), The Big Top (comedy, theatre and more music), Bollywood (cocktails, old school dance, again allsorts!).
All areas have plenty to offer foodwise, and the artwork around the site is stunning. The two giant astronauts at the top of the Lower Magic Meadow were the most notable features this year.
Our Experience of Camp Bestival 2016
Given the number of stages at Camp Bestival, along with the astounding amount of diverse activities on offer there, it is simply impossible to review every part of it, so here is what my family got up to over the weekend.
On Friday, I took my son (8) and daughter (12) over to have a bounce about on the world recording breaking bouncy castle. As we arrived we had an extra surprise as the first session was limited solely to people with additional needs and their families, and for this group there was no charge on the first day. I found this was extremely thoughtful. I did hear that the noisy siren to indicate the end of the session upset some of the children, but that staff amended this for the following two mornings. There wasn’t much of a wait for this session – not nearly as much as there was for the main sessions. The queue for the bouncy castle later in the day was horrendous, but people queued and enjoyed the acts on the Carnival stage whilst children played near by.
The weather was perfect for Camp Bestival 2016. There was glorious sunshine and everyone was smiling, so we took it easy on the first day,going back and forth to the tent. We spent plenty of time investigating the craft activities available in the kids’ field. In the Mission Control tent, my son learnt what happens to a
marshmallow in a vacuum, which symbolised how a human in space would be stretched out to five times their size if they were not wearing the appropriate space suit. He also got to make a rocket which he then fired with a pump to a model of the moon and managed to hit where Apollo 18 had landed. He was also given some magic beads which were white in the dark but became colourful when exposed to the sun. As he was now in the mood for science, we went down to the science tent, where he combined rosin dust (used on violin strings), some string and a plastic cup to create an instrument that made a horrific noise. He thought it was marvellous!
One of my son’s favourite things this year was predictably a penalty shoot out which was in place at the bottom of the Kids’ Field. They were a lovely bunch and were accepting donations for Water Aid. We managed to limit my son to one go per day, but I think he would have happily spent the whole weekend there. Of course he also found the Indesit Family Football Experience over at the other end of the site, which he also loved.
The Tudor Village was a fantastic addition to Camp Bestival. They brought together an admirable collection of theatre, dance, dress up, bringing history to life.
Historians taught how castles had changed over the years, whilst the cooks showed how Henry VIII would have eaten. Other children learnt how to dip string into wax to make candles.
Traditional games were played with a leaderboard for the competitive among the guests. We headed straight for the Have-a-go Crossbow because we knew we’d love that. This was set up seemingly like a coconut shy except that swedes were balanced on sticks.
While we were queuing, a lady told us that the mums had faired best so far, so the pressure was on. We had three attempts each, with me alone finally shooting my swede on my third shot. Woohoo!
After I shot my swede, we went down to The Big Top, catching the end of West End Kids’ performance. We made a mental note to see their full show the following day. We watched Comedy for Kids which had moved from it’s previous location in the kids’ field.
This wasn’t such a bad thing as it made the stage much more inaccessible to kids due to its height. In previous years children have overwhelmed comedians when they have clambered up on the stage. It seems most comedians have a wealth of fitting retorts to put down unruly drunken hecklers. They weren’t prepared for the onslaught from the tiny children. This year, without that distraction everything went more according to plan and we enjoyed the show.
We milled around for the next few hours, soaking up the atmosphere, then went back to the tent for an early dinner.
We relaxed, letting the kids make new friends in the campsite, sharing bubble guns and balls. To round the evening off we went around to the Carnival Stage to watch the Ryde Extreme Performers Fire Show. It was a bit disappointing that this show was scheduled during daylight hours, but we still enjoyed it and the fire breather had the audience whooping for bigger and better fire balls.
My daughter and her friend managed to get to the front to see Jess Glynn who was headlining on Friday night, and said that was the best bit of their weekend.
Saturday had possibly my best ever start to a festival day. Samsam Bubbleman has brought his Bubble Inc stall to Camp Bestival for as long as I can remember. Bubble Inc sells every piece of bubble paraphernalia imaginable and sends bubbles out over the site. The smoke bubbles are the most fun to chase and pop. They brought a huge team along this year due to the stall’s unwavering popularity.
Finally, after years of touring the world with his show, Samsam (who holds 10 bubble world records) performed at Camp Bestival and it was worth the wait. He showed us a string of bubbles followed by a bouncing bubble. He sent bubbles over all the children in the front. Incredibly, he created a square bubble.
The main focus of the show was when he invited children on stage and put them inside massive bubbles. He then asked if any adults wanted to go inside a bubble. As expected, there were several volunteers, and so he called upon the audience to select one. Up to the stage went 6’7″ Andrew. To envelope this fine specimen of a gentleman with a single bubble was quite some feet, but of course Samsam Bubbleman achieved this with some style. It was an extraordinary site to witness, and one that I shan’t forget in a hurry.
After our bubbleology experience, and then breakfast, I headed over with my son to the main stage. We caught the end of The Clangers who looked like they were a lot of fun. Dick and Dom were back as Saturday Castle Stage hosts, loud and fun and leading to cries of “BOGIES” across the site for the remainderof the festival.
The main act of Saturday day time was, as always, Mr Tumble. A section at the front had been cordoned off for accessible viewing. In previous years this area has been flush to the security barriers and has stretched to about a third of the way across the front of the stage.
Unfortunately, this year the area set up for disabled children and adults, many of whom were wheelchair users, was a couple of yards back from the barrier and well over to the side. Therefore all most of us could see were the backs of parents with children on their shoulders. They did eventually clear the area in front, giving access to this area to some of the people who had requested accessible viewing. The staff allowed some others into the photo pit in front of the barriers. While I could see that the stewards were making every attempt to rectify the situation, it was a bit of a shambles. The Mr Tumble Show was superb.
After lunch, the five of us (for once!) all trekked over to the Dingley Dell for a couple of hours. We didn’t stay together for long though. The girls went and found a tree stump to hang out by. However it wasn’t long before the staff collared them and persuaded them to have fun. They played games called Ninja and Halt, and really enjoyed themselves. My son won the rolling down a big hill race in the National Trust 50 Things Meadow, then played on a wooden drum kit and held a baby chick. It was a lovely break away from the main arena.
As planned, we went back to watch the West End Kids again. They performed a Disney medley, and a selection of pop songs. On the Friday, their set also included a magnificent Queen medley. I hope they are back with more next year. Over at the Bollywood stage in the morning, West End Kids ran a Hairspray workshop which we unfortunately missed.
Comedy for Kids retured for their Saturday show and I was over the moon to see that one of my favourite comedians, Mitch Benn, was performing. This was indeed a treat for me, as I have been a fan for about twenty years and I hardly ever get to see him live. He generally tours in the north of the country and I live near Brighton. His ten year old daughter, Greta, also had a segment of the show. She had amazing stage presence, was very funny and was an absolute credit to her Dad. They performed a duet together at the end which was a beautiful song about overcoming a generation gap.
In the evening we went to watch the Demon Barbers in The Big Top. They perform a great fusion of dance and music, mixing traditional folk with street dance, morris and sword dancing. They had the whole tent on their feet clapping and dancing.
On the way back to our tent, we timed it so we saw Bubble Inc’s big bubbles at dusk which was magical, and the girls went off to watch Katy B who was great.
In bed, we listened to Fat Boy Slim who sounded great. Apparently someone in the crowd proposed to his girlfriend, while everybody watched on the big screen. It sounded like a fantastic set and I heard the lighting was fantastic.
By the last day I was a bit concerned that my twelve year old daughter and her friend hadn’t got enough out of the festival. I didn’t want her friend’s mum to hear the answer “just hung out” when she asked what she’d done at Camp Bestival. So I made a few plans.
My husband took our children on the big bouncy castle again. They had so much more fun with Daddy who bounced them both sky high. Whilst this was going on I went to investigate Urban Astronaut.
Urban Astronaut was a truly stunning drama piece performed by Midlands theatre group Highly Sprung. Up in the
Upper Kids’ Garden I had noted a wondrous steampunk-esque contraption and assumed it was some random artwork. I found out that it was actually part of a space walk performance. After learning that the next space walk outing was starting at 10am, I went along. Having expected a fun show demonstrating a lack of gravity, I instead ended up in tears while I watched one of the most moving pieces of theatre I had ever seen. The performance told of humans leaving Earth in 2055, having wiped out all finite resources on our own planet. The story ended with hope though, as when they finally found a suitable environment, the native woman taught them to respect the habitat around them. It was beautiful, and I hope they return to Camp Bestival every year.
After I managed to compose myself, I found the girls and took them up to a trapeze workshop, while the boys went to watch West End Kids again. Big Top Mania boast a number of skilled performers, and twice a day three of them passed on their expertise to potential trapeze artists. This is a very popular workshop and children have to arrive and queue very early to get a place. Each of the children spent about five minutes learning how to hang upside down, sideways and spinning. They all looked very pleased with themselves.
The girls finished their turns just in time to get to their novel writing session. Writer Sarah Lewis-Hammond ran a Write A Novel In An Hour workshop at the bottom of the kids’ field. My daughter needed some convincing to take part in this. I managed, though, and I’m so glad I did. Both girls loved it and produced excellent stories. My daughter even stayed in the tent for an extra half hour as she wanted to add more chapters.
I laid off the girls a bit after that, and sent them off to get henna tattoos.
While my daughter and her friend were busy writing, the rest of us went up to the top again to watch Circus Raj (formerly Kawa Circus). This small circus group returned to Camp Bestival to wow us again with illusionists, dancers, aerial and floor acrobats and a tight rope walker. They are visually very pleasing with their use of colour. I think everyone enjoyed watching them as the crowd always grows.
One of my favourite things about going to festivals is that I have no choice to but enjoy new experiences and discover new acts. This year was no different, and the one I will remember most and try and look out for was The Steelers.
The Steelers are a steel band from Treviglas College in Newquay. They looked great in their baseball shirts and their sound was enormously uplifting. They played on the Carnival Stage, which looked like a pirate ship. This was ideal as their music drew people in from all over the lower kids’ field. Gorgeous music lifted the spirits of families stuck in the queue for the bouncy castle. The group played a bunch of pop songs, and then surprised us with a brilliant rendition of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing in the Name of. My other favourite covers were Toots and the Maytals’ Monkey Man and Just Can’t Get Enough by Depeche Mode. I even joined in a conga.
In the afternoon, we got free head torches from the Energizer tent. We then went inside to decorate them with stickers, balls, fluffy bits – whatever we wanted. They gave us free photographs of us wearing our new headgear. My son went through their “high velocity” tunnel, while wearing his new torch. He loved it and did it a second time.
We took it easy again after that. My son and I went up to play games and do some painting up at some charity tents near the top of the Castle Field, and the girls went off to watch Ken Fox’s Wall of Death. I highly recommend checking out this show, but don’t forget your ear defenders. In previous years I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and intend to see it later this summer. The motorbike riders perform death defying tricks whilst riding at speed, horizontally around a wooden cylindrical theatre. They are regulars at Camp Bestival. The first year we went, I think my daughter saw them more than five times.
Every year Camp Bestival culminates with a fire work spectacle extraordinaire. This starts after the final stage act at about 10.30pm on the Sunday evening. As it is the most popular event of the festival, it is imperative to get a good spot early.
We were in position from before half past nine and had a late dinner while we waited. They didn’t have the full projection show this year, but lit up the castle with blues and purples. It was very pretty.
To go with this year’s space theme the music included the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Queen’s Flash. There was also a bit of Abba for some reason. It sounded good though!
As always, the fireworks were astonishing to behold. Whoever is in charge of the display is very very good at what they do. The combination of music, projections, lasers, fire and of course the fireworks is awesome.
Camp Bestival got it right again. My daughter and her friend definitely appreciated the main stage line up more than I did. Across the festival though, there is more than enough for everyone. I loved the comedy and some of the bands on the smaller stages, and of course Urban Astronaut. As a family, we didn’t fully embrace the outer space theme, but I was very impressed with the people who really went for it. There were some wonderful costumes, and I saw several space wagons.
The food was varied across the whole site, so we never had to go too far for what we needed. The prices were high as we expected (£5 for a large milkshake), but no higher than other festivals. Most stalls offered smaller portions for children.
The toilets were fine. There was nearly always toilet roll. There were chemical toilets, organic toilets, with many solely for the use of children.
We always feel completely safe at Camp Bestival. I did hear of some security issues concerning the accessible camping perimeter. Those affected have forwarded their worries to the organisers, and I fully expect to see a larger security presence next year. From what I heard, there were people trying to climb in that way, and whilst this caused obvious worry, nothing was stolen and no one was hurt to my knowledge.
So all in all, I love Camp Bestival. We all love Camp Bestival. Will we go again? Of course.