by Vashti Zarach and family
It was looking like 2014 was going to be a festival free year for us. I’d had to settle for following Glastonbury via Twitter and the BBC, and wistfully wondering if I could afford a day at Festival No 6, a new festival in its third year, and relatively local to us in one of our favourite places.
Portmeirion is an enchanted Italianate village overlooking a stunning Welsh landscape of estuary and mountains. Therefore, we were over the moon when we unexpectedly won weekend tickets!
Festival No 6 operates a Park and Ride system to the festival site, presumably due to access and space issues at Portmeirion, so all weekend baggage needs to be lugged from cars onto a shuttle bus, driven the short distance to site, and carried to the camping fields. We have previously only done festivals with the kids when able to drive everything on site in a camper van, and felt seriously challenged at the prospect of carrying tent, bedding, bags, buggies and two under fives, so opted to commute daily from home, an hour’s drive away.
Even without overnight camping gear, it was challenging manoeuvring kids, buggies and day bags across the Park & Ride area on Friday morning. We were hugely relieved to skip the long queue for shuttle buses with our guest tickets, and then be unexpectedly driven on site in a chauffeured Volvo, one of the many highlights of the weekend. I’m not sure how we would have coped if we’d had to wait in the queue for a few hours with two impatient young children.
On arrival, we took the children straight down to the central Piazza for a paddle in the pool, finding ourselves in a joyously magical sunlit moment with Gypsies of Bohemia playing gypsy jazz to an audience reclining in deckchairs, families splashing in the water, giant bubbles floating, and people admiring the beautiful surroundings. After indulging in delicious Portmeirion ice creams, we set off to explore site, marvelling at the wide range of people, from dreadlocked friends working on the crew to upper class ladies with cut class accents, from hipster city dwellers in chic attire to casually attired festival goers. It was a joy to hear the most Welsh I have ever heard spoken on a festival site from Portmeirion staff, stall holders and locals out to enjoy the weekend.
After a quick browse, we made our way to the wonderful Kids Area, which was to become our main base for the weekend. Most importantly, this area was fenced in, enabling parents to actually sit down whilst their children explored a range of bell tents and tipis, making totem poles from dough, dream catchers from hula hoops, playing with lego, and relaxing in the chill out tent. The field was staffed by friendly crew and fantastic entertainers who led daily activities, including a Kids Rave on Friday and a session on protest songs on Sunday, culminating in a parade down from the Kids Area through Portmeirion to the estuary, waving inflatable bananas and singing, another highlight of the weekend. My only constructive feedback for organizers would be to add a sign pointing to the Kids Area so more people find it, and ideally place some toilets closer by.
We never see much music when festivalling with kids, and in all honesty, this was an ideal festival for missing the music, as I wasn’t that bothered for most of the snippets of sounds I heard when visiting the main festival arena, but we did enjoy the end of Peter Hook’s set, and the aforementioned gypsy jazz, and my favourite music was undoubtedly the dance music playing in the pop up raves scattered enticingly around the magical woodlands. We left my husband on site on Friday night, and he really enjoyed Andrew Weatherall’s set in the middle of the night. I had intended to stay and dance the night away sometime during the weekend, but was so exhausted each day after hours of pushing buggies and looking after small children that I left site every night.
There was an impressive range of food and drink on site, and we sampled greengages for the first time, ate delicious butternut squash pies, revisited the chunky chips stall several times, had a couple of wood fired pizzas, ate cups full of fruit, and drank fresh juices. Due to being in charge of young children and driving home, I didn’t try out the many gin stalls, nor the frozen mango margaritas, though hope to sample some of these next year. The items we bought were pretty comparable with prices we normally play at Glastonbury – £6 for a pizza which we shared as a family, £3 for the chunky chips, £6 for a cup of fruit and a freshly squeezed orange juice – but I did hear friends complain that the beer was pretty pricey.
Festival No 6 has a wide range of literary talks and much more, in addition to the usual music and food, and we missed most of this, but I did manage to overhear snatches of Tom Hodginkinson’s talk to the piazza as my children were paddling, which was great as I have his book on idle parenting. I enjoyed the bits I heard about creative inspiration being achieved better when idling rather than being at work, and was pleased to hear him sing “The Big Rock Candy Mountain”, a classic old tune. We missed Julian Cope’s talk due to restless children, but my other half did manage to tell him in passing how much we enjoyed his book on megalithic sites. The one person I would have loved to catch was Vashti Bunyan, my namesake, doing a Q&A, but I was tucked up asleep with the kids at home.
I’m a big fan of carnivals and parades, but we missed all the night parades. We saw a wonderful daytime parade, with lots of fabulous costumes, and had a great time in the kids’ parade. There were some great walkabout performers, including tea ladies, and the fantastic No 6 festival bus and crazy druid, plus hula hooping in the woodland raves. These are the quirky and colourful touches I really enjoy at festivals, and really like my children to see, to transport them from mundane everyday life into magical realms where anything is possible. And, oh, how I loved the chance to dress up, digging out sparkly trousers and peacock dresses hanging unworn in my wardrobe. If only every day could be a festival day.
In addition to the dedicated Kids Area, there were kids activities in the woods and on a boat beside the estuary, which we didn’t try, and of course my children found their own entertainment around site, chasing each other around signs outside cafes, and leaping all over the beanbags outside the BBC Radio Wales airstream in the main arena. This last activity confirmed my opinion that Kids’ Areas are fantastic, but that it is also nice to have the occasional spot with kids’ toys near music stages– even just a pile of circus toys and hoops can enable a parent to see a bit of music! Event organizing is a lot of hard work, however, and it’s very easy to criticize and suggest improvements, overall a good effort so far at entertaining families.
I’d also like to note that it was great to see a number of festival goers in wheelchairs, and that attempts to provide good access for wheelchairs are ultimately also beneficial for parents with buggies. Festival Kidz review events across the UK and beyond and are always delighted to see real effort and consideration in making festivals accessible to all.
In conclusion, a fabulous weekend, glorious weather, magical setting, friendly people, and lots of family fun. Site crew were very kind and helpful on many occasions, and many kind strangers helped us carry buggies onto buses. Whilst understanding the limitations of the site, some work needs to be done with the Park & Ride system to make it all less of an endurance test, as I expect families who camped had a testing time getting equipment on site. In an ideal world, next year we’ll be rich enough to afford to stay on site, and take it in turns to party the night away in the enchanted woods, and enjoy all the entertainment in more glorious sunshine with our family.