Lovely family festival Lakefest charmed us once again with its perfect combination of size, music and family friendly fun, all set around a gorgeous lake complete with water sports.
This was our second Lakefest, the fifth to take place overall and in fact the final one to occur at its current Croft Farm location, with a move to Eastnor Castle planned for next year. But more on that later.
I was keen to see if the hard-working organisers had taken on-board the feedback they had actively requested after last year’s festival and managed to once again improve on what was already a lovely family festival. Due to my little boy being unwell, we didn’t make it to the festival until Saturday lunch time, and with advance tickets having been available for Thursday or Friday entry, by now the festival was in full swing. My first point of interest was to check out the all new family camping field. Last year, there was no separate area for families and the camp site was ‘lively’ to say the least. I was pleased to see the organisers had taken this on-board and had this year split the main camping field into four – the top end of the field housed family camping to one side and groups to the other, while the bottom section of the field was designated for camper vans, again split into families and groups. There were several signs directing people as such, however they were a little confusing, partly because it is all in one field.
Because we turned up so late and have a relatively large tent, we were struggling to find a space, but luckily the friendly organisers stepped in and let us camp in a field with the live-in vehicles and tipis, which was much appreciated. The tipis, one of several glamping options that also included chalets, a pod village and cabins, looked stunning set alongside the lake. In a separate field, moved from last year and with direct access to the festival site, was disabled camping. The disabled campers I spoke to were pleased with this decision as it made access onsite much easier.
The family camping area was pleasant with lovely countryside views and well serviced with plenty of toilets and showers. The toilets were really good again – barely ever any queues and with plenty of soap and paper for the majority of the weekend, and the same could be said for the rest of the toilets around the festival site. Unfortunately, once again, people I spoke to complained that the family area was noisy at night. Confusion over the directions for family / group camping was blamed, but I also wonder if, because all camping is in the same field and you reach the family area first, people just stopped and pitched up regardless of whether they were in the right place or not. Kudos to the festival for trying to separate families and I think on a bigger site next year, if they could make this a little clearer defined with better signage and well-informed stewards, this small problem can be easily resolved.
The festival arena was laid out slightly differently this year, with quicker access from the camp site which was nice. Once through the customary bag checks, there were a few stalls and then you were straight into the festival proper. The ever-popular Salem Café had moved this year, putting it right in the hub of the action. This meant the Floating Globe tent, Salem Café with its larger, more focal stage than last year, plus the main stage (also housed in a tent but with some of the side open to provide a garden viewing area to sit in the sun) were very close together. This made it easy to move between acts but caused inevitable noise spillage that was sometimes hard for the quieter acts and could make it difficult to listen from outside these tents.
The kids’ field was great as ever, set right by the gorgeous lake, and hosting a vast array of children’s activities over the course of the weekend. There was the usual circus skills area, plus the ever-popular Glamba drumming workshops from last year were back and ran frequently, setting a nice beat to absent-mindedly tap to as you walked around, as well as providing much fun for my drum-obsessed four-year-old. The dragon procession was absolutely brilliant and inspiring, and all the children – the ones chosen to make up a part of the dragon itself and the many others who followed waving flags – had a fantastic time. It was lovely to watch and a great addition to this area.
There were some fab and free crafts on offer, run by enthusiastic, hard-working staff who aided the children in creating a host of items to take home with them – masks, kites, tie-dye T-shirts and headdresses to name but a few, were all on offer. My two spent ages enthusiastically decorating and putting together lanterns while we sat outside the craft tent, listening to a band playing in the BBC tent.
I like that Lakefest have one of their music tents placed right in the middle of the kids’ field as it means adults can hear the music from outside or, if you have children of an age whereby they can be only partially supervised, you can go inside and come out to check on them every now and then. As well as the many free activities available, there were a host of things you could pay for, including a bouncy castle, zorbing and all the water-based activities on the lake.
We didn’t take part in any water sports this year and tried to stick to the free things on offer, although we did pay the £2.50 donation for them to have a go at slacklining in the Ru-slack area. It was a bit pricey for what it was if I’m honest, but as they re-invest money into local projects, I didn’t mind as much. We all also enjoyed the daredevil bike stunts that created a great atmosphere in the kids’ field. The one thing they could have done with in this area would have been some toilets, especially specific child ones. It was annoying having to leave the kids’ field to take the children to the toilet and I did feel sorry for my little boy (and us) who could only reach the toilet by standing on Mum or Dad’s feet!
One of the things I really love about Lakefest is that my children always come home thoroughly enthusiastic about the music. I thought about it this year and have realised the main reason for that is the size of the festival and how well children are able to see the acts and feel involved. At bigger stages, I feel they get distracted and are less able to feel a part of the music. Here, all the tents are spacious and often, if you want to, you can sit at the back with the children and they can become really absorbed in the music. None of the tents are very big and I feel that by being enclosed, rather than on open-air stages, as well as providing shelter from the elements, whether that be sun, wind or rain, it also provides a more intimate setting that, certainly my children, seem to find more engaging. My daughter fell in love with Claire Boswell with her pretty vocals and pop / folk sound, while we all thoroughly enjoyed Billy Bragg on the Saturday evening. He is a family favourite of ours and was a real crowd-pleaser, treating us to many of his hits, along with his distinct brand of socialism that went down well with the crowd. It was lovely for all four of us to be singing along to an artist we all genuinely like.
Other musical highlights included New Model Army – hardened fans (there were a lot of NMA T-shirts around the site) would probably wonder how I got to 36 without knowing much about them other than their name, but as we danced along, I vowed to check out their back catalogue once home. It’s a shame we missed out on the Friday headliner of Ash, who were a firm favourite of mine back in Britpop days, and we were all a bit too tired on Saturday to catch Embrace, but Sunday night’s headliners The Magic Numbers more than made up for that. Back in 2005 their debut, self-titled album produced a string of hits with the likes of Forever Lost and I see You, You See Me, but they disappeared off my radar a bit after that. With the release of their fourth album, the band have seen a bit of a resurgence and have been featuring heavily on the festival circuit this year – I recommend if you like them, you get along to see them as their live show is phenomenal. They played all the hits from their debut album as well as a mix of other material which included some great new songs from their latest Alias album and went down a storm.
My daughter, complete with ear defenders, was delighted to find herself hoisted over the front barrier near the start of their set and spent the rest of it watching from there with me just behind her. She hasn’t stopped telling people about her experience since we got back, as well as proudly showing off her photo with the very obliging lead singer Romeo, and is now a firm fan. If I could make one suggestion regarding the music, it would be that it could do with being turned down a notch or two on the main stage as, at times, it was so loud it was actually distorted.
Food at the festival was variable and more akin to what you would find at a local event rather than a festival, but we did enjoy some Mexican veggie chilli, a really nice vegetarian curry and some good old-fashioned chips after the bands on Saturday. It would be nice to see a greater option of caterers next year at the bigger site, with more focus on dietary requirements such as vegetarian and gluten free. The cost of a meal was about £6 and there were some children’s options available at around £3.50 for a portion of pasta. A pint was £3.50 plus £1.50 for a reusable souvenir Lakefest glass which cut down on waste, but I couldn’t see any recycling available onsite, which was a shame.
The other thing strangely lacking was a programme! Lanyards were available with the stage line-ups, but I really missed having a programme to read about bands, and imagine it would have been quite detrimental to some of the smaller acts many people wouldn’t have heard of, as this is often a vital introduction and enticing reason to go and check out a new act.
Overall, this is a very friendly, family festival where the organisers work hard to improve year on year. It very much has the feel of a local event and you will see children riding round on bikes and scooters, dogs on leads, lots of families as well as groups all looking for a good weekend. This is never more obvious than during the silent disco on the Sunday night. A £10 deposit will get you a set of headphones and my daughter and I had a great time dancing round to some cheesy classics, singing at the tops of our voices and meeting other very friendly people having a great time.
One of the draws of this festival is definitely the size and the vibe, so I hope, with the planned move to Eastnor Castle next year, which has played host to The Big Chill and can hold a lot more people, the festival doesn’t lose its way. The organisers have promised not to expand to anywhere near the maximum capacity, had no choice but to look elsewhere anyway, due to refurbishment plans at Croft Farm, and seem intent on keeping Lakefest a family festival and want to improve further for next year. I’m confident they can achieve that and look forward to seeing what they have in store for us next year. Good luck, Lakefest. See you at Eastnor Castle!