By Natalie Paris (guest reviewer)
It’s the final festival of the season and – if you think you can handle scrubbing all the glitter off the night before your kids go back to school – End of the Road is completely worth it. This compact festival is always hugely popular, selling out months in advance. Now, I always thought this was due to the lineups being full of the need-to-know bands indie music fans love but since our visit this weekend I’ve realised it’s also because it’s just a great, easygoing little festival. Not perfect, of course, but a microcosm of everything you might want in a weekend, with a surprising amount of fun for families alongside the music too.
The site at Larmer Tree Gardens in Wiltshire is the sort of place you would happily spend a lazy afternoon with a picnic anyway, a Victorian pleasure garden with ponds, a grotto, wooded glades and roaming peacocks. Add to this varied music, quirky craft tents and a tipi selling frozen margaritas and you’ve got a good time on your hands.
MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT
If you like your bands to be on the cusp of greatness and enjoy going home with lots of new musical finds, then End of the Road is definitely for you. Alongside the headliners this year, who were Fleet Foxes and Pixies, we also discovered plenty to listen to again at home. The main Woods stage takes over a field, while the Garden stage is one of the festival’s biggest draws, a pretty, very safe-feeling space lined by trees with a Roman Temple at the back (a great meeting point).
Contemporary classical music outfit Tiny Leaves made for a chilled start to Sunday and the kids enjoyed some audience participation when the composer told everyone they could sing or scream along to one song (oddly, our kids never quite matched the noise levels they manage at other times).
Crashing rather more noisily between hip-hop and heavy rock, Wu-Lu was an exhilarating recommendation from a friend, while my eldest daughter, aged six, conjured up some of her best theatrical singing to the shimmering pop of Perfume Genius. She also enjoyed romping through the Pixies’ greatest hits sat on my shoulders, harmonising with the Fleet Foxes and swirling about on the grass with a pal to Kurt Vile’s languid guitars.
Away from the music, there are two main areas that will excite kids. The Wonderlands Lawn is home to a large, well-stocked circus skills tent (we even learnt to spin plates ourselves) and an expansive, tree-fringed lawn for crafting sessions (upcycled underpants anyone?), or just relaxing on. There was also a tent for making willow sculptures, which appealed to adults too.
Then in the woods, along paths lit by tiny lights, a selection of garden games in a clearing had us bowling skittles and attempting mutli-player, blind ping-pong. There were also a few arty creations hanging from the trees, our favourite of which were the fairy houses that encouraged mammoth tree-climbing sessions and the giant papier mache heads of birds and other characters which kids could try on.
The Boat dancefloor also staged a kids’ disco at lunchtimes.
FOOD and DRINK
There wasn’t quite the variety of food that larger festivals manage but there was still more than enough choice for a weekend, including lots of veggie and vegan options. A big hit was the Two Tribes brewery’s campfire in the trees, which was a lovely spot for a truffled chicken burger in a charcoal bun to the sounds of a hip-hop DJ. The Curry Shed was great value, with three choices for £7.50 with a chapati or rice. The biggest queue seemed to be at the Creperie, which was our kids favourite, but the kids were given a free extra portion of rice at the Indonesian Coconut Curry stall, which was a bonus.
There wasn’t much craft beer on offer (just a can van in the woods) but there was a fair choice of lager and cider (£6.50 a pint), along with the Somerset Cider Bus, a gin bar and lots of opportunities for cocktails. The grapefruit frozen margheritas in the tipi tent (£10) were heavenly.
The site is very compact and easy to navigate. There is only one way into it though, which unfortunately involves trudging up and down a short hill. It is easily mastered but not entirely welcome when carrying sleepy kids back to the tent or when packing and unpacking.
Luckily a trolley hire stand offers wheels (£6 for 30 minutes) in between the family camping area and the car park, which is only a short walk up said hill. It does mean you get lovely views of the boutique camping area when camped on the hill though and you are positioned next to the campervan field too, should you have friends there.
The main stage is only a short walk away and there was some noise at night from other areas.
The toilets were mostly all portaloo style (many without lights) though there were some banks of more swish cabins near the main stage. Loo paper was generally kept well-stocked though there were often queues near stages in the evenings and by Sunday the portaloos near the late-night Boat area, in the woods, were definitely a little worse for wear. There were a few showers but most people seemed to do without.
The site was really easy to walk around and appeared manageable for people with disabilities and the partially-sighted. There were appropriate platforms and toilets dotted about too. The woodland areas got quite dusty as there wasn’t much rain.
Kids who love a fairground ride can try the speeded up ferris wheel (£3 a go) or a traditional helter skelter.
WHAT THE KIDS THOUGHT
My six-year-old has been to a few festivals this summer and she enjoyed EOTR for its size and sense of fun. We were able to skip between watching bands and having fun in the woods really easily, which meant she didn’t get bored and it wasn’t too tiring for her little legs. It also felt really safe everywhere. Each area feels quite self-contained, so I didn’t get that nagging fear that I might lose one of the little ones that I often get at larger festivals. She also loved the wandering peacocks, hearing parrots in the trees and just generally enjoying the parkland.
This would be a great first festival for teenagers who want to develop some independence, though there isn’t that much to do for active, older primary-school aged children. Overall, it was a very relaxed weekend of music and frolics, partly helped I think by everything feeling close by.