Croissant Neuf – not just ‘family-friendly’ but a real family festival
Croissant Neuf gave me many new festival experiences, and for someone who has been to so many festivals that is an unusual thing.
The first one happened as soon as we arrived. A kind man with a wheelbarrow stopped at our car and when I asked how much it cost he said “Nothing, it’s all part of the service!” While we were still reeling from this news, he piled a significant amount of our stuff onto his barrow and set off. I could see why they do this as it was quite a long walk over the hill to the campsite, however there are many other festivals with long walks that don’t offer this service so it was greatly appreciated!
This led to the second new experience – when we got to the campsite I asked the man with the barrow where family camping was and he looked at me confused. “Where do families camp?” I asked him again. After a pause he smiled and finally replied “This is *all* family camping!” I smiled back and we looked around the vast empty fields wondering where to pitch, and finally settled on a spot right by the fence which should have morning shade from the woods. It turned out to be a perfect place as the children immediately made friends with the neighbouring children and ran off to build dens and look for caterpillars under the trees behind the tents. So began a true holiday for us – as this was the first festival the children were never bored. The space in front of our tent remained empty – there was so much camping room that everyone was able to spread across the campsite and the children were even able to play cricket and football outside, which made such a difference as it meant we could relax.
We spent most of our time in the centre of the festival as there was so much to see and do. There was a castle to climb over (because the theme this year was Medieval Merriment, last year it was Pirates and they had built a ship). There was a circus area with tightropes to try, also the widest range of circus equipment I’d ever seen for children to try out – stilts and unicycles as well as the usual hoops, poi, plates, blocks, sticks and diablos. There was a fantastic shaded toddler area with tipis, ball pools, a sandpit, and enough good quality toys to keep them occupied for hours. Some of the children’s crafts and activities were charging, which was a bit difficult for us with 3 children, and we had to say no to the trampolines many times over the weekend. We did have a go at archery which was reasonably priced at £2 for 10 arrows. But there were plenty of free or donation-only activities – the favourite in our family was recycled sticker art – you scrunch up paper and hold it together with unused food labels – and we soon discovered you could basically make anything with enough stickers and time. My husband fashioned swords and shields for all the children so they could play knights together.
There was a big top run by the excellent Big Top Mania which had trapeze workshops and lots of acrobats, clowns and circus shows, many of them getting the children involved. The highlight was the children’s talent show on Sunday afternoon where all children had a chance to show off their abilities to huge applause – some were exceptionally talented in circus skills or acrobatics and others just got up to tell a joke or sing a song. My youngest, tiny 3-year-old Amelie, got up on stage (I thought to sing a song) but when the compere asked her what her talent was she held up her newly made sword and shield and said “Fightin!” So he pretended to sword fight with her using a blade of grass. She received an enormous cheer and won a medal, beaming from ear to ear, and I received the most wonderful memory that still makes me chuckle!
The main area in the centre of the field hosted a variety of activities designed to involve everyone – they had under-12s football in the morning and adult football in the afternoon, activities such as jousting (one child dressed as a knight and the other was the horse and followed with coconuts) and shows of medieval sword fighting. The tavern actually ran a pub quiz on the Friday night which people joined in with enthusiasm, and there was a non-religious Sunday service run by a vicar telling jokes so blue that the children didn’t understand them, and performing some very silly ceremonies. Two people were married just for one day and the vows were “Do you take this man…?” “I do – today”.
The facilities were superb. There were plentiful toilets, and they were cleaned twice a day, and nearly always had paper and soap. The stewards were friendly and I felt they were there for our safety rather than to stop us having fun. The site was kept spotless with barely any litter, and if any was dropped it was quickly collected. There were hot wood-fired showers with barely any queues, and even a sauna. The bars sold real ale and spirits at reasonable prices (a pint was only £3.50). All the food was organic and fairly traded where possible, freshly cooked and locally sourced (not a burger van in sight) and there was even an organic bakery which sold cakes and gorgeous freshly baked loaves. They were happy to give us a small portion of their adult pasta for £2.50 for the children. The children also loved the beautiful wood fired pizza and the hog roast. My favourite was the goan curry; fresh spicy curry and naan bread which tasted amazing.
There was a healing area, which we didn’t visit much but I’m sure as the children get older it will be appreciated! There was also a crafts area with lots of adult crafts such as jewellery making to try out for a small donation, and some lovely handmade things to buy. We recognised the witches’ caravan from Glastonbury Festival, toting their potions to cure all of life’s ills. The candle powered steam boat stall was also there, selling the same beautiful handcrafted boats and we couldn’t leave without getting one (I can’t remember what happened to the one I bought in 1992!) We had forgotten to bring books, so the second hand book shop was brilliant for us and we came away with quite a few lovely picture books to add to our collection.
At the edge of the festival was the hill fort – a small hill you could climb to get some quiet space and a beautiful view over the surrounding welsh hills including gorgeous sunsets. There was also a large communal bonfire every night with a fire show, and a trapeze show on the Saturday night.
It’s difficult to explain the atmosphere, but I think it was so amazing because everyone including adults was having so much fun, without having to deal with the younger element having ‘too much’ fun. Someone I was chatting to described it as “an ageing hippies village fete” which I thought was a charming description – these were people like me who were partying 20 years ago, who now want to bring their children somewhere fun yet safe and act silly again for a weekend. Most people had been before and many had been going every year since it had started, which created a real sense of community. Someone told me the lantern procession had evolved out of a paper lantern making workshop one year – they had just decided to wait until it was dark, light them and walk up to the hill fort. It had looked so amazing it ended up in the programme, until now everyone makes a lantern and everyone joins in the procession up to the top, ending with a spectacular fire show on the hill.
The whole festival threw itself into the theme and some of the costumes were spectacular. Most people had put a great deal of effort into the costumes, and the ones that hadn’t had opportunities to make themselves something to wear in the craft area. It was good to see all the adults joining in with the dressing up and silliness, but that’s what Croissant Neuf was all about.
Croissant Neuf was the first adult festival I’d ever been to where the children weren’t separated into their own field – they were truly integrated into the whole thing. The tavern had ping pong tables, bar skittles and a table with colouring in. The circus and other activities were for both children and adults, and many of the food places served up half portions for us. The lantern procession at the end was a family event, with everyone making their lanterns together through the festival and parading them up to the hill fort. Even the music tents late at night were still full of the older children – the wonderful Laid Blak who were headlining on Saturday evening were so charmed by this that they pulled all the children up onto stage to dance with them.
Each year a festival needs to be defined by its “Do you remember when…?” moments and Croissant Neuf gave us many of these. The absolute funniest for me was the well-meaning steward at the maypole dancing who tried to give three-year-olds instructions using the words Left and Right, and then waded in to try and help untangle it getting himself tied to the maypole by a lot of laughing children (and I confess some parents too – sorry!). The children’s talent show gave the children amazing memories of their own, and one of the children had become so good at the trapeze over the years of attending that she had joined the main acts. The children loved it when the clown in the big top took them all out into the field and got them launching water balloons with the largest catapult I had ever seen far into the midst of unsuspecting festival goers to naughty cheers and laughter.
The music acts also joined in the fun. Nizlopi climbed out into the audience to perform an acoustic version of the JCB song to an appreciative crowd (it was lovely to see all the parents and children singing along to “I’m glad I’m not in school”). Stealing Sheep did the same thing in reverse, by playing outside with a marching band in tow, collecting the audience and leading them into the music tent before finally climbing up onto the stage. I also saw Stealing Sheep performing with the same band at a secret gig inside the tavern, calling themselves “pan au chocolat”. Gabby Young & Other Animals headlined the Sunday night, with their highly danceable gypsy swing and jazz. By then the crowd had got slightly merry – causing a horse and some acrobats to have a people-tower competition (the acrobats won with four people up on each other’s shoulders) to massive cheers. The band to their credit carried on to play a fantastic set, and Gabby herself ended up wearing the horse’s head.
I greatly enjoyed the music over the weekend – my favourite were Laid Blak, a mixture of rap and reggae, whose songs explored their urban life in Bristol. Other stand outs included Nizlopi who are always at their best live, Stealing Sheep‘s wonderful electronica shoegazing (especially when mixed with the marching band), Natty who picked up the crowd with reggae and Bob Marley covers and RSVP who held a bhangra dance workshop in the smaller tent before lifting the main stage with their bhangra beats (no excuse for not knowing how to dance to it!). One omission was the lack of dance music or a dance tent – but although I usually would miss it, I think here it was good as it was probably why the party element were absent, which made the whole festival much more family friendly. There was still music playing at the tavern until the early hours, but it was much more social and much less crazy than most other festivals I’ve been to.
Croissant Neuf is such a wonderful addition to the festival circuit for so many reasons. It is the greenest festival in the UK, with no generators and all power provided by solar panels and windmills (the odd power outage on the stage was always greeted by a cheerful response by the crowd) and the best recycling policy I had ever seen with six different bins and all the food and drink packaging being fully compostable.
But for me it was the sense of family and community that made it so special – the same people attend this festival year after year and we made many friends, I felt at home there. I’ve been missing the atmosphere of green fields of Glastonbury Festival and yet here it is, slightly more grown up maybe but all the better for it! I can understand why people return every year, and I’d like to think that Croissant Neuf has become part of our family too.
(Photos by Anthony Jones, please do not use without permission)