The ‘return’ of Cornbury in all its glory…
Cornbury Music Festival, set in the Great Tew Estate in Oxfordshire, is possibly about as traditionally ‘British’ as you can get. If it wasn’t for the huge stages and campsites, one might be forgiven for thinking one might have stumbled upon a rather large village fete complete with Morris Dancers and straw boaters.
We arrived around 7pm on Friday. There were no queues to enter the car park at that time and the parking stewards were very well organised. Wristband exchange was also queueless and equally smooth. We set up camp and headed off to the arena to familiarise ourselves and within minutes we were in the middle of the action, the kids eagerly noting the locations of interesting looking stalls to spend their pocket money in.
We caught the end of the energetic Stereo MCs bouncing around to an equally bouncy crowd, and later watched UB40 performing their classic tunes to a packed arena and stunning sunset. Although technically tight, UB40 were a little mellow for our mood so we ended up in the JACKfm / Disco Tent. This cute nordic tipi turned out to be a very happening little place: fantastic bands and singers by day – dance floor classics evening and night. This was my kids’ favourite place to hang out too.
Saturday brought more fun, lots of kids activities, more bands (we particularly enjoyed Nina Nesbit, Mavis Staples, Amy Macdonald and Alanis Morrisette), some comedy and more disco dancing.
Cornbury had plenty to offer in terms of stalls and entertainment. We happily wandered the arena, sometimes stopping to catch a band and rest, sometimes stumbling upon an unexpected delight. One of these delights was being dressed up in the most flamboyant of clothes and posing with vintage props by the hilarious team at the Wardrobe of Infinite Possibilities. Our biggest unexpected delight however came as we entered the incredible Vintage Mobile Cinema and watched fascinating Pathe footage of 60’s fashion. We also learnt all about the restoration project and future hopes for this wonderful unique piece of automotive history. If ever you see this beautiful vehicle, make sure you visit – it was a real treat.
We were blessed with blazing sunshine all weekend. The flipside of this very un-British heatwave was that shade was at premium. Many families opted to set up a base for the day in the few patches of shade around the site but you had to be in the arena pretty early to nab a shady spot. Of course Cornbury is famous for its many VIP areas, so for those who can stretch to the extra cost there was access to plenty of sheltered and comfortable seating all day long.
Cornbury is very geared up for families and a great introduction to family festivalling. While it is arguably one of the poshest festivals out there, it is also one of the cleanest and safest. The family activities are set in one area in various tents forming a semi-circle around a beautiful rainbow gazebo which was communally woven overhead during the weekend providing some much needed respite from the sweltering heat. Many families chilled and conversed in its welcoming shade, while others idly enjoyed extending the brightly coloured weaving down the sides.
The activities were engaging, well-organised and plentiful. The craft marquee was always bustling with children keen to try their hand at drawing, lantern making, needlecraft, and all sorts of other lovely arts and crafts.
There is a rather large fairground area that was a huge draw for young teenagers. Personally, I HATE fairgrounds at festivals. In my opinion they are a money drain, noisy, and completely out of keeping with the sophisticated elegance of the rest of Cornbury Festival. My teens however, were quick to say that was one of their favourite places in the festival!!! It was their own pocket money they were spending, so I begrudgingly put my resentment to one side and let them have their adrenaline thrills! Bah humbug.
More up my street was the brilliant Mayflower Project who offer an enticing array of interesting stuff to get involved with in a teen-only hangout space. Teens were busy laying down tracks with guitars, mics and mixing desks, braiding hair, applying henna, weaving, or just doing what they do best – chilling on the comfy sofas while they recharged their phones – for free!
Food in Cornbury is high quality, reasonably priced and a good variety is available, with many family-friendly options from organic burgers, pizzas, curries and world foods. Most main courses were priced between £6.50 and £10, but there were many outlets offering smaller plates.
In their first festival outing ever were the Hairy Bikers offering a Festival Feast of wood-fired delights. I was sorely tempted to have Dave and Si personally serve me some of their delicious food but, at £55 a head, I couldn’t justify the cost. Plenty did though and all looked like they were enjoying the experience.
A great addition to the festival this year was Milk and More. We tried the Family Feast bundle and were very impressed with the quality. The bundle consisted of cold fresh organic milk, cold organic freshly squeezed orange juice, 2 large all-butter croissants, 2 pains au chocolat, a couple of meringue bars, a bag of scrummy Pimhill organic muesli and a lovely hessian cool bag. The muesli was one of the best I have ever had. A pot of yoghurt for the muesli would have been a welcome addition to the bundle but even so, it felt so luxurious to start the day with a breakfast fit for a hotel! The three different bundles on offer were all very reasonably priced at between £10 and £15 – well worth it to avoid our normal festival staple breakfast of warm iffy milk and stale coco pops. Milk and More will also be selling breakfast bundles at Carfest South at the end of August.
Cornbury security are very hot on searching bags and will open, sniff, and confiscate anything vaguely resembling alcohol. There are however plenty of bars with seating inside the arena. There are also specialist bars such as the Gin Bar (yum), the Nyetimber bus (yum), craft beers and the pure wonderfulness that is FRANK Water: A £3.50 wristband gives the wearer unlimited refills of chilled filtered water all festival long. They also sell lovely Kleen Canteen bottles and every penny of profit gets poured into lifesaving projects to help communities in poverty stricken areas to gain access to safe water.
Cafe Nero were on site too with a large marquee and lots of seating. They were also host to some good bands on the little stage within their cafe. Brian McFadden even made a surprise appearance, much to the delight of the Cornbury coffee drinkers!
The toilets at Cornbury are quite good… for festival toilets. They are conveniently located and plentiful. But even with the regular cleaning schedule, at peak times they did suffer from sheer volume of people. Well-used toilets soon become quite full and smelly and this was made worse by the unseasonably hot weather.
But fear not, again there are upgrade options… When Nature Calls operate a lovely ‘posh loo’ area. Advance passes are around £27.50 per adult, £15 for children over 4. The environmentally-friendly vacuum flush toilets are cleaned after EVERY SINGLE use! This can be slightly intimidating at quiet times when you know the staff are outside waiting to make your cubicle spotless the minute you exit, but it does mean that you will have the cleanest and most pleasant festival loo experience possible – every time, no exception. WNC also offer a hair washing station and a styling bench with hairdryers and ghd straighteners. There were never long queues for any of it and my favourite bit of all was the little sink… with WARM WATER and SOAP!!! The lack of proper hand washing really gets to me at festivals. Somehow the disinfectant alcohol gel just doesn’t quite cut it. But washing your hands with running water? Words can’t explain how heavenly that feels!!! I’d buy a WNC pass just for that.
Cornbury is big on glamping and there is a very wide variety of options available from pre-pitched basic tents to no-expense-spared luxury bedouin marquees.
If you do have to rough it like the best of us, there are several choices depending on your needs: Quieter camping, Family camping, General camping or Live-in vehicles. From what I could gather, General camping had the most flat areas (apart from the Live-in vehicle field which was totally flat) and Quieter camping was furthest away from the arena. Showers had quite long queues in the morning, but if you nipped back in the afternoon you could go straight in.
The camping fields are spacious and Cornbury attracts lots of family groups, which often pitch around a communal gazebo.
Top tips for Cornbury Camping: get the flattest pitch you can find – much of the camping areas are on quite hilly ground. so get there early if you can. Camp away from the toilets so that you don’t hear the constant door banging or get unwanted wafts. Lastly, avoid bright lights and generators unless you want to sleep in noisy daylight conditions!!
Cornbury is a very easy festival for families. If you have cash to splash then Cornbury could be the most luxury you will find at a festival, but being on a tighter budget definitely doesn’t mean a second-rate experience. It’s safe. It’s friendly. The headliners are household names. If you’re looking for whacky and off-beat delights then this is not the festival for you, but if a pleasant stress-free family-friendly affair is more your scene then a dose of Cornbury could be just what you need…