The build up to the summer festival season was pretty fraught. Sports days, parents’ evenings and school trips all needed to be juggled between trying to pack quicker than the toddler could unpack. Then of course there was my annual panic about how on earth to fit all our camping gear in the car. But once school was out we crammed Evelyn (9), Martha (5) and Ada (1) into the back seat, applied a bit of brute force to the roof box and headed off down the A303 to kick off our festival season at Chagstock in Devon.
It was our first time there, and after those hectic, end of term weeks, it turned out to be exactly what we needed.
Arriving and getting set up at Chagstock couldn’t have been easier. The festival is in its tenth year and everything seemed to run with relaxed confidence. There were plenty of friendly stewards to direct us and the trip from the car park to the quiet/family camping field was merely the width of a country lane. The camping field was huge and grassy with a gentle slope and the views across Dartmoor were stunning. There were toilets with proper sinks (something I always appreciate when camping with small children) and I never once had to queue for them. Actually I don’t think I had to queue for anything all weekend. There were also larger toilets in every block on site for disabled festival goers.
From the family camping it was just a short walk up the hill and across the main camping field to the festival arena.
Music and atmosphere
Chagstock feels like quite a small festival, a lot of the visitors are local and come for the day and it was never crowded. There was plenty of space for kids to run about, even in front of the main stage, and festival goers were universally friendly and chilled out. I never had to worry about losing sight of the girls and could let the older ones wander off from us a bit. A freedom much cherished by everyone.
The whole site is refreshingly free of big brands and corporate sponsors. The adverts in the program were for local cafes and pubs and the festival raises money for the local Devon air ambulance. But this is no village fete. The quality of the music on offer would make you think you are at a much bigger festival. Tired children meant we had to listen to the headliners, Buzzcocks and Imelda May, from our tent, but some of the other acts may well be new favourites. Xylaroo had the girls dancing and twirling in front of the main stage. The Correspondents got the entire field on their feet. None of us had a hope of matching the energy of Mr Bruce as he lept around the stage singing, rapping and scatting a set that ran from Electro Swing to Jungle. Dartmoor was jumping that afternoon!
We all loved the theatrical set from Barbarella’s Bang Bang and the girls were delighted to say hi to the singer in the crowd afterwards. Show Of Hands provided that perfect cider and folk songs moment as the sun began to dip lower on Saturday.
Food and drink
Did I mention cider? You can’t have a West Country festival without cider and the beer tent had three local options plus beer. All for a pretty reasonable £3.50 a pint and again – no massive queues.
The food was great. Tom’s pies were a big hit with Martha, one was more than enough to fill her up (and she has a big appetite for a small girl). You could get two for £8 including vegetarian options. The other food vans included a vegan stall, seafood, Egyptian falafels, pizza (kids size £5) and of course burgers and ice cream. Many were local and quite a few boasted an array of awards.
There wasn’t a huge program of free kids activities. There was a large craft tent and the girls loved handling snakes with the local reptile rescue group. But most of the kids area was paid for fairground rides and games. I’m usually very grumpy about these things at festivals and the inevitable endless whining and demands for money that they generate. But I didn’t mind handing over £2 for hook a duck as both girls were delighted with the toys they won. We couldn’t see or hear the rides once we were at the main stage and the space, music and friendly (often elaborately costumed) crowd kept the kids happily distracted. So the dreaded whining never materialised and Mum and Dad were actually able to enjoy the Music.
The really nice thing about this was that, rather than having to plan our time around what the kids wanted to do, we spent most of the weekend all together, just messing about listening to the bands. We danced, we bounced, we giggled, We dangled small shrieking children upside down.
In a world where you may need a spreadsheet just to keep track of kids activities, and where festivals can seem like just another marketing opportunity, Chagstock is a little retreat. Two days at the start of the school holidays to abandon the schedules and the tag team parenting and enjoy being a family. A place where children of all ages are welcomed and included. But aren’t assumed to be the centre of attention (or kept out of the way of everyone else). A chance to get out in the fresh air, enjoy really good live music and great food. With one of the most beautiful backdrops you’ll find anywhere.
As I sat looking at that view, sipping my cold cider and watching my little girls dance with their Dad, the worry-work of the last few weeks, the planning, the packing, the school demands, all lifted quietly from my shoulders and drifted off with the music, over the Dartmoor Tors.
Thank you Chagstock.