It has been a long 3 years since our last visit to Towersey. And a lot has changed in that time. As we approached August Bank Holiday I was hopeful that all the wonderfulness of Towersey would remain. And I was also optimistic that their new site at Claydon Estate would bring even more magic to what is already a great festival.
You would be hard pushed to find a more established festival than Towersey. It has been running for almost 60 years and there is no doubt that this team know their stuff. Our last visit, 3 years ago was pretty much perfect. But this year they have moved to a new home. The magnificent Claydon Estate. Would they be able to deliver their usual flawless festival experience at this new site?
In the run up to the Festival there was a lot of communication from the Towersey team. Emails about logistics, booking arrival times, changes to tent/parking arrangements. It was clear that they were having to deal with lots of changes due to the new site. I hoped that this wasn’t an indication that things wouldn’t be as slick as in previous years.
We arrived on the Thursday evening. Despite rumours of problems with the arrival system we had no issues at all. The festival was well signposted and the volunteers on each gate were helpful and knowledgeable. We arrived around 5pm and set up our tent and enjoyed an Early Bird stroll around the site. We were off to a promising start.
Camping options at Towersey included tent fields, campervan and caravan fields and a number of glamping options. The campsite had designated family areas for those wanting a bit of quiet. The feedback I had from lots of festival goers was that the campsite was really well laid out and less cramped than in previous years. The campsite was directly adjacent to the Festival Site so no long slog across fields which is always a bonus!
The new site is also within reasonable distance of lots of hotels should you want to stay off site. I spoke to lots of people who had done this and booked day tickets. If camping isn’t your thing that doesn’t mean festivals are out of reach. Day tickets give a great experience and are a good way to test the water if you haven’t tried festival life before.
Just on the outskirts of the camping field we found the campsite shop. This year it was a zero waste/refill shop. I haven’t seen one of these at a Festival before. If I’m honest I was a bit pessimistic about whether it would be able to meet the needs of thousands of campers. But it seemed to work and it was a great addition to a festival already working hard on their sustainability.
We opted to stay at Embers Camping. Embers Camping is a permanent camping site at Claydon Estate. Far enough from the festival to enjoy some quiet time but close enough to still feel part of the event. The site also boasts flushing toilets, hot showers and a coffee shop.
Best of all there is heaps of room for the kids to run around and climb trees. It was real treat compared to most festivals where tents are usually pitched very close to each other. Embers was run by the lovely Charlotte who also lived on site in a very enviable safari tent. Having a designated person on site made it feel very safe and secure. After a noisy, busy day it was a pleasure to retreat to the Embers Site and quietly enjoy some of the beautiful views around Claydon Estate.
Creative Quarter at Towersey
In previous years Towersey has had a dedicated AAC area that was slightly separate from the main Festival Green. While this made it easy to find all the kids activities in one place, you did feel slightly cut off. This year it was great to see that the Creative Quarter and The Nest were part of the main site. One at each end meant you got the full festival experience and felt part of the festivities. Parents could enjoy acts on the main stages whilst sat crafting a pet from a small log with a 6 year old.
On Friday morning we headed into the site early. We spent more than a few hours in the Creative Quarter playing chess, building sandcastles and entering the daily art competition – open to children and adults so everyone could take part! The Creative Quarter had a jam packed timetable of craft activities, competitions and other games and we spent hours upon hours here over the weekend. Lots of the games were outside the tent which was great as the sun was shining.
The Nest and Nest 2
At the further end of the site was the other family area. This included The Nest, the Nest 2, School of Noise and the Busking Spot.
The Nest offered a new craft activity every 30 minutes between 11am and 6pm every day. On Sunday afternoon when I was feeling more than a little festival weary it was an absolute godsend. Both my daughters, aged 6 and 12 amused themselves for hours making masks, bracelets, bunting and painting. While I rested and recuperated on a large beanbag with a coffee.
The Nest 2 was located just alongside The Nest and offered activities such as Young Yoga, Circus Skills and Drama Workshops. Lots of these were delivered by acts that were also performing on the weekend which reflects the feeling of inclusion and belonging that runs through the festival. Our favourite by far was the Family Silent Disco on Saturday afternoon. This was an event that all the family could genuinely get involved with and it would have been great to have seen this on the schedule more than once, it was so well attended that it could easily have been repeated on another day.
As the days draw to a close the craft activities at The Nest are put aside. Sofas and beanbags are huddled together for Bedtime Stories with Tom and Sarah. Delivered with wonderful theatrics to wide eyed children this is a welcome opportunity to calm over-excited little ones and wrap up your day at Towersey.
Family Entertainment at Towersey
On Friday afternoon we took to the floor for the Introduction to Ceilidh with Nancy. Ceilidh is a huge part of Towersey and whether you are a total novice or pro everyone should have a go at this wonderful dance. My 6 year old and I apprehensively joined another couple who seemed to know far more than us and threw ourselves into it. We may not have a big dancing future ahead of us but we had so much fun just giving it a go and meeting other festival goers in the process. If you attend Towersey this is an absolute must on your to do list.
On Saturday afternoon we caught Johnny and the Raindrops. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this but what we got was absolute genius. Catchy, funny, intelligent songs about punk rock, pirates and bears. Performed enthusiastically alongside children dressed up in carrots and peas costumes. Bizarrely and brilliantly entertaining and pitched perfectly for a festival audience.
The first of many performances on the weekend from Frumptarn Guggenband was on Friday afternoon outside the Market Square. Against the beautiful backdrop of Claydon House. For me this was the first glimpse of why the move to Claydon has been so important. Looking up and beyond the performers to see trees, fields, manor houses and lakes adds so much depth to the festival experience.
There is a wealth of family entertainment at Towersey. I asked my children as I started this review what was the one act or activity that they had loved the most. And they both replied. In unison. Dan the Hat.
Dan the Hat is a one man, circus, comedy, daredevil, magic, balloon modelling act that parents and children love in equal measure.
Scheduled on the programme a whopping 11 times over the course of the Festival, it was impossible not to catch at least one show or workshop. I think we saw it 5 times and that wasn’t enough. The show is almost the same every time. The jokes and timing perfectly replicated. But somehow every time you see it it feels new. There are jokes for the adults, balloons for the kids, some pretty epic circus skills and the cherry on the top is the brilliant interaction with the audience. Over the course of the festival Dan builds an affectionate relationship with children and families and you feel part of an exclusive gang that grows over the 5 days. Sharing in-jokes about earlier performances, bonding with other families and welcoming newcomers to the audience. Watching knowingly as they also fall head over heels for this brilliant example of real family entertainment.
The food trucks were located across the middle of the site within easy reach of all areas. There was a wide selection including curries, pizza, vegan options, yorkshire pudding wraps, fish and chips and noodles. Queues were manageable over the whole weekend and the area never felt over crowded or too busy. As usual we cooked a lot of our meals at our tent but we did treat ourselves to Burgers from Happy Herefords who had decent kids options alongside a quality adult menu including the Loaded Towersey Burger!
The Towersey Way
I couldn’t write this review without mentioning the truly wonderful Towersey Volunteers. These are volunteers like no other. They are friendly, helpful, kind and caring. There were a couple of occasions where volunteers came to my assistance over the weekend. And on each occasion they went above and beyond what was needed. As a single parent at a festival on my own with two young children this adds so much reassurance and comfort. I felt safe and looked after all weekend. I mentioned this to another volunteer later that day and she simply said “Well that’s just the Towersey Way”
Towersey is much more than just a festival. It feels like a family gathering or reunion. On the final day I attended a workshop with Festival Director, Joe Heap, where we all sat and talked about our Towersey experience. How it made us feel and how we wanted to hold onto that feeling when we left. Feelings of family, coming home, connection and belonging came up in nearly all the conversations in that session.
People are touched by their experience at Towersey.
It is clear there is something very special going on here.
And we hope it continues for many years to come.
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