We almost bought tickets for Solfest last year, but the horrendous weather put us off. I’m so glad we went this year though, as the sun shined most of the weekend, with just a few scattered showers on the Friday. This made it our first mud-free festival for three years!
Solfest is held on Tarnside Farm near Aspatria in Cumbria over the August bank holiday weekend and has been running for 10 years.
The location is stunning, if somewhat hard to find (signage from the main roads approaching the festival would be beneficial, for those of us who don’t know the area!).
This festival is small compared to other family-friendly festivals we’ve been too (around 6000 people), but has two outdoor stages, a bar stage, dance tent and 3 other smaller covered stages.
The great thing about Solfest is that you can actually camp right next to your car, so you don’t need to lug your tent, camping equipment and of course the kids, for what seems likes miles until you can find a space to pitch your tent! We arrived on the Friday afternoon, when most of the prime spots had been snapped up, so I would recommend either arriving on the Thursday (for an extra £15 per car) or early on Friday.
The festival campsite is split into different areas (noisy – right near the main arena toward the dance tent, family – near the main arena but away from the dance tent, quiet – the furthest away from the main arena, but much flatter and near to the live-in vehicles field).
We opted for the family field which was mainly sloping; this meant that we all found we slid down our airbeds at night! Although we camped away from the noisy camping field, we did wonder whether the rather loud bass coming from the dance tent, until around 4am each morning, might keep younger children awake, but this didn’t seem to be an issue (maybe as they were all worn out from the plethora of kids’ activities on offer.)
There were mobile toilet units and water taps dotted around the campsite and a few showers were available (at a cost of £3). I was impressed with the cleanliness of the toilets, but the loo roll and hand sanitiser did tend to run out during the day, so make sure you take your own!
Barbecues and campfires are permitted on the campsite and many families seemed to go back for a barbecue in the evenings. You can also take your own food and drink into the arena (no glass bottles). If you don’t want to self-cater though, there were plenty of reasonably-priced food stalls (lots of vegetarian options available) and the bar prices weren’t bad either.
My kids, being 12 and 14, were happy to sit and watch the bands with us, but as the whole festival area is enclosed, we were more than happy for them to wander off on their own to the different stages or to get something to eat or drink. I did rope them in to check out the kids’ area with me though…
The kids’ area was fantastic and very colourful, with all sorts of FREE facilities and activities to keep children of all ages occupied from 10am each day. There was a massive wooden climbing frame and sandpit, bouncy castles, face painting, craft and music activities, live entertainment, circus skills and even a ‘youth club’ for teens to hang out in with a pool table, table football etc. All the kids we saw were having a fabulous time, which obviously makes things much easier for the parents too! Some parents told me that their kids love the activities so much, it was hard to drag them out to see the bands!
The baby chill-out tent with changing facilities and feeding facilities provided a large, safe, enclosed soft play area for babies and toddlers, while mums-to-be were also catered for by the Radical Midwives who provide a place to rest and chat, or to seek advice and information.
Solfest is the only festival I’ve been to where they haven’t announced the running order in advance. Apparently this is to encourage people to come for the whole festival and not just for their favourite band/s, but I can’t really see the point of this as you have to buy a weekend ticket anyway!
Music-wise, there was a good mixture of bands, with Maximo Park, Flogging Molly and The Afro Celt Sound System headlining the main stage. We particularly enjoyed seeing our old favourites Oysterband and discovering Dehli 2 Dublin, (Asian/Irish fusion!) who really got the crowd going and seemed very happy to go down so well at the festival.
There was plenty of room to sit and watch the bands, or to get up and dance, depending on your mood. Strangely, the smaller Dry Stone stage (featuring more folk-based bands) often pulled a bigger crowd than the Main Stage acts; the Sunday ceilidh proving to be particularly popular.
Fancy dress is optional on the Saturday and although there was no set theme, families and groups are encouraged to all dress up the same… we spotted a family of Santas, a pair of cockroaches, a band of hippies and a whole troupe of Despicable Me minions to name but a few!
We found Solfest to be one of the friendliest and most laid-back festivals we’ve been to (and we’ve been to quite a few!). We had a fantastic time and would happily go again next year, weather permitting!
For more information about Solfest see our Solfest Factsheet
See more photos in our Solfest Photo Album on Facebook!