Camp Bestival veterans Adam and family were invited along to check out the 2nd edition of Camp Bestival Shropshire, the midlands-based spin off of the Grandaddy of family festivals Camp Bestival Dorset.
Set amongst the rolling tree lined hills and sparkling lakes of Weston Park, the backdrop was just as beautiful as the site dressing.
This year the site and capacity had grown somewhat since its first edition, as such the arena had moved to a new area of the park and a new activity lake was waiting to be explored.
Getting in and setup
Our arrival at around lunchtime on the Thursday could not have been smoother. The park is accessed from the main A5 road and as such there were no queues and the clear signage for various entrances helped get folks in efficiently. We were staying in the general campervan field and the stewards had us in and parked in no time at all.
At Shropshire this year they had expanded all of the campsites and camping options, with a plethora of upgrades to tempt you if you wanted to make the weekend a little easier.
The general campsite was set amongst the trees on gently sloping or flat fields with toilets and plenty of showers scattered throughout the areas, there seemed to be plenty of space here and closer to the arena there was still acres of flat space for more tents throughout the weekend.
The general campervans were parked near the carpark behind general camping on a flat, open field with a large bank of toilets and about a dozen showers, all of which were clean and rarely had queues especially if you avoided the morning peak time at the showers.
The walk from campervan to the arena was quite a stretch, clocking in at 1.1 mile on my smartwatch, taking around 20 minutes, but it was a fairly flat walk so wasn’t that strenuous, worth considering an upgtade if you want to be closer with less walking or trolley pulling.
With regards to those upgrades you could get ‘Front Row’ campervan, camping plus (pre booked pitches), backstage, boutique and glamping. All of which are set near the arena itself so you can nip to and from your accommodation much easier over the weekend.
Another option to make life a little easier were the Charity Concierge taxis that were running from the carparks and campsites, golf buggies who, for a donation to charity, would pick you up and transport your camping gear to a camping spot or over the course of the weekend take you from the campsite to the arena or back again.
All campsites were clean and tidy throughout the weekend and the walkways clearly marked out so getting to your tent and around the place was easy enough.
The toilets were plentiful around the campsites and main arena areas, they were a mix of composting ones and chemical loos with urinals near each block too. It was mostly chemical ones in the arena, which personally was a disappointment as the composting ones are so much better for the environment, less smelly and rarely get messy and blocked up.
The layout had been totally rejigged this year to make it much bigger. The entire arena was efficiently one massive field with venues and attractions around the outside and ‘islands’ of attractions dotted in the centre.
There was a very small woodland area that we felt was severely underutilised in comparison to the previous years woodland and the amazing woods at Dorset, mostly it was used as a cut through to get to the lake from Caravanserai. This is certainly something many others felt too when in conversation. It did hold the super popular Orchestra of Objects that had dozens of kids making music from random household objects turned into musical instruments, this was a big hit and the fellow running the orchestra was great and starting the kids off with a tune or beat.
With regards to Caravanserai, which is normally by far and wide the most amazing venue at any festival, this year Camp Bestival had made it an open area rather than the enclosed whimsical, ramshackle festival within a festival it’s always been. While this made it more accessible we were sad that the vibe had totally been lost and it no longer felt like the Caravanserai we all love so dearly. Please return it to its glory next year Camp Bestival.
Another Bestival institution that had a ‘face lift’ this year was the beloved Bollywood tent. It was relocated centrally into what looked to be an old funfair bumper car/dodgems arena, this was a Rollerskating rink during the first half of the day (more on that later) then classic Bollywood stage after lunchtime.
One of the big advantages over Dorset that Shropshire has up its sleeve is the beautiful lake that proves the backdrop. The lake offered a number of activities over the weekend – Wild swimming, SUP boarding, Kayaking and raft building.
Aside from wild swimming these needed pre-booking the day before, which made them inaccessible to day ticket holders, but did allow weekend campers the ability to plan the days ahead easier.
The wild swimming was available as a walk up open session throughout the day, limited to 50 per time for anyone over 6. It looked lovely with changing tents provided and a pontoon erected to easy entry and lifeguards on hand. The queues did seem rather long for this as it was obviously a very popular activity, hopefully they can increase capacity for future years to alleviate this as everyone we spoke to said it was an amazing experience.
A really cool wobbly bridge stretched across the lake from the Spiney Hollow craft village over to the Slow Motion Retreat – an area of calm set away from the hustle and bustle of the festival where you could take part in a plethora of well being open sessions for free or paid for more private ones. It was a lovely spot to sit by the lake and chill with the kids when they needed a break from sensory overload.
The main ‘Park Stage’ was well situated with plent of space to find a spot further back with your chair and picnic blankets, or up front in the crowd for a boogie. Likewise the Big Top was a great spot to catch shows during the day and hand in the air raves in the evening, or later on the mega popular silent disco for those with extended festival bedtimes.
Camp Bestival prides itself on the sheer amount of activities you can fill your time with, and Shropshire had a good fill of these too, almost everything you can do there is free so I’ll list some of them first:
A big hit during the morning was the Rollerskating rink inside Bollywood, this was free and sessions lasted 20-30 minutes and you had to queue for entry, the queue was always quite long and most folks waited 30-60 minutes for a turn. Various DJs soundtracked your roller disco once you’d strapped your wheels on with themes sessions like Disney Skate, Break/Street Skate, Assessible skate, Funk and soul disco. There really was a session for everyone.
For the more extreme sport fans, we thoroughly enjoyed watching the Extreme Bike Battle show which had a team of dar devil BMX and Motorcross bike riders doing huge jumps with tricks and backflips. There was also an open skate ramp and bowl for you to show off your skateboard and scooter skills that was buzzing all weekend, and Tic-Tac skate school were on hand to teach you the basics on a skateboard, I must say the instructor here was fantastic and always had a smile the whole weekend.
Camp Bestival regular activity providers were also present: BigTop mania circus skills and shows, The Woodland Tribe wood work and den building (this would have been ideally placed in the woods), Woodland trust were running tree climbing and nature sessions.
The stoneage museum was back and had an amazing array of free activities, from pot making, to a stone age selfie booth, catapult target range and our favourite – bow and arrow shooting.
A few of the activities could be done in exchange for a fee and these included:
Crafts at Spinney Hollow, where you could spend time with expert traditional craft folk to create a keepsake. On offer was willow weaving baskets, walking sticks, swords and wands from wood, Leather crafting, slate carving and bronze metal working.
The world’s biggest bouncy castle was £5 for a 10 minute bounce and there were some vintage funfair rides for £3 a go, Ferris wheel , chairoplanes, helter skelter etc. We treated the boys to 2 rides each day so they managed to get around them all.
Music + shows
I’ve got this far and haven’t even touched on the fantastic music and entertainment lineup that had been curated for the event!
The one group that Blake (9) was most excited to see were the Friday night headliner, Rudimental. Friday was the one day of the weekend that we had the heavy rain most of the afternoon and night so we donned our ponchos, pushed upto the front and threw some shapes and sung our little hearts out. The show was incredible and they put on an amazing performance with lasers and massive bass drops throughout.
All headliners on the main stage finish by 11pm so even the youngsters have the opportunity to experience them and see what a big festival is like.
The biggest audience over the weekend was Saturday morning for the legendary Mr Tumble. He had a sea of thousands of kids and grownups dancing along to playground classics and popular songs from his TV shows. The fun continued with Mister Maker and Utah Saints teaming up to create an unforgettable, and unexpected, rave inspired lesson on colours and shapes.
On the Sunday morning the Camp Bestival team had managed to rejig the programme in order to screen England ladies play the final of the women’s football world cup on the main park stage screens, even though the result didn’t go as hoped it was a lovely thing to do for all the fans and it was inspiring to see so many thousands of kids and families in face paint and draped in flags cheering the team on.
The Sunday lineup on the main stage was simply amazing there on out, after the disappointment of the football result Sam Redmore immediately lifted the spirits with his Tropical All Stars set full of sunshine and energy, followed by ska/dub legends The Beat and pop superstar T’Pau who can still hit all those notes!
Then at 4.50pm came the set of the weekend for us, Hot Dub Time Machine. Tom Lowndes travelled from Australia to bring his unique show to the stage – taking us all back 50 years to 1970 in his virtual time machine and hitting us hard with a banger from every year upto today. No filler, all thriller, he had the whole crowd enthralled and jumping around (quite literally when House of Pain came on), it was an hour of wall to wall hits to move your feet too and we LOVED it! Ella Henderson and Melanie C rounded off a fantastic day of music all from the main stage, both belting out sing along hits from their impressive back catalogues.
After the headliner – Primal Scream – there was a very impressive night time parachute display from the Red Devils who soared through the night with fireworks attached to them, it was breathtaking, spectacular and incredibly brave. A magical way to close out our weekend.
One of the other big hits was the comedy headline act, Dylan Moran – of whom Mum and Dad are big fans, his rambling incoherent delivery was wonderful and hilarious to see on stage.
Was great to watch the Wall of Death again having seen it at other Camp Bestivals. An amazing show, and it was free to watch aswell happening on the hour, every hour. Genuinely death defying, loud and scary!
I could probably write a dozen more paragraphs on the shows we saw as there’s simply so much to see there, from the walkabout puppet shows, night time fire dancing and the multitude of incredible circus shows from Cirque Bijou, Circus Raj and the Farmyard Circus.
Food + Drink
We normally stick to a routine at festivals when it comes to food and drink, to keep the expense down as a family of 4, we have a big cooked breakfast at the campervan, take loads of snacks in a backpack for the daytime and little squash concentrates to make up drinks using the water points, then we all pick a food vendor for an evening meal. Being able to take your own food and drink into Camp Bestival is a big plus point to make it cheaper for families.
The food variety this year was pretty good on the whole, lots of lovely street food vendors serving up loaded fries, mexican, surf and turf, south American smoked pit meats, burgers, hot dogs, pizzas. We were spoilt for choice really.
We all had our favourites from the weekend – the smoked meat platter was a big hit and huge portions, the kids loved the chicken strips and hot dogs.
Most meals were around £12-15 each so for 4 of us it was still £50+ an evening, but it was great food.
One nice treat came from a little candyfloss stall that was doing enormous bags or sticks of candyfloss for £3 each so the boys had a couple of bags over the weekend and it lasted them well for little outlay.
Great to see the bars using a cup levy system, where you pay £2 for a cup on your first drink, this cup is then exchanged for a fresh one each time you order another drink, the initial £2 fee is towards the procurement and washing costs so the idea is less single use waste and the cups are reused many times over the years. A great idea.
On the last day you could also exchange your plain cup for a Camp Bestival souvenir pint cup to take home, again this just stops people hoarding them throughout the weekend and reducing the numbers reused. Some folks weren’t fans of this levy idea, but I think it’s a good sustainable compromise. Bar prices were pretty standard festival at around £6.50 a pint.
This year the ‘Feast Collective’ arrived in Shropshire with its specially selected street food vendors, open fire cooking demonstrations and farmers market set around covered seating and was a foodies delight, hopefully this is a bit bigger next year as it was quite small in comparison to the Dorset version, but it was a great little foodie oasis and never overly busy.
We enjoyed our first trip to Camp Bestival Shropshire, it had the Camp Bestival familiarity and all of the good bits we were used to. It’s certainly one of the safest and easiest festival for families with the option to upgrade aspects of your camping for an even easier time should you wish. Stewards were friendly and helpful, I didn’t see much litter all weekend, bins were plentiful and litter pickers frequently wandered the crowds taking your rubbish – these folk worked so hard all weekend to keep the site spotless and really deserve a shout out.
Overall, with a few tweaks to the layout based on some of the feedback above I think the Weston Park site will be a wonderful home for Camp Bestival. I know the team are taking the feedback onboard and Festival Kidz look forward to seeing this iteration of the festival grow and evolve year on year.
Earlybird tickets for Camp Bestival Shropshire are on sale 29 September 2023 and can be grabbed here.