My kids have a new favourite thing. It involves a man in a full body chain mail suit, climbing on top of a massive van der graaf generator, and firing lighting from his hands.
I’m not sure how I’m going to top that this summer.
Valley Fest 2022 was our first multi-day festival since the pandemic. There was a lot riding on it. The kids are older, the youngest now well past toddler stage, the eldest just morphed into a teen. Were festivals still going to be our summer “thing”?
The site, not far from Bristol, was definitely promising. Actually it was stunning. Set on a hillside, the backdrop to the main stage and family camping areas was a huge (and I mean huge) lake. In the daytime it was dotted with little sailing boats and backed by more grassy hills. The sky is big here and the sunsets were gorgeous. On the last evening we spotted a pair of hot air balloons drifting over the horizon.
The festival itself was divided between two fields. One housing the main stage, food demo areas and a nice collection of shops, bars and food stalls. The highlight of the other area was a collaboration between The Woodland Tribe and Arcadia.
This is a dream team for active kids. In the daytime they could grab a hammer and build a playground, before a tea time jungle rave. After dark, Arcadia’s Afterburner stage came to life. Hosting DJs, flames and a laser show that entirely blew my 5 year old’s mind. Alongside the afterburner we saw men on flaming stilts and, of course that new favourite thing, The Lords of Lighting.
The music is a real mixture at Valley fest. Over the course of the weekend we saw folk acts, dance acts, Travis, Judge Jules and The Dolly Show. I’m not generally a fan of tribute acts but this one was great fun and included a duet with a volunteer “Kenny Rogers” from the audience. Mention should also be made of “Doggy Parton”, the assistance dog who won the lookalike competition.
But my personal favourite was Mr Bruce, making a very welcome return to the festival scene this year. I just wish I had a fraction of his energy. I’m still not entirely sure how anyone can sing and dance like that for a full set.
Beyond the music stages, my kids were surprisingly excited about the cookery demos. We started with a sushi making demo and got to try the results (ah, that’s probably why they were so keen). Over the course of the weekend we got tips on preparing everything from crab, to BBQ green beans, to creme caramel.
If your kids are into arts and crafts there was lots going on, lantern making seemed to be popular and culminated in a parade. We also spent a lovely chilled out morning with the local forest school team, pond dipping, and making wands and dream catchers.
In fact the whole festival had a lovely, chilled out feeling. Despite the heat. Even later in the evening, when the lasers and dance tunes had really got going, everyone was happy and friendly. A late night trip to the medical tent for a minor injury didn’t reveal any trouble either. There were a lot of groups of fairly young teens there and I can see why. Valley fest would be a great place to get a first taste of festival freedom.
Sadly we did not get to take part in the feasts that were hosted by local chefs. They sounded fabulous but at around £45 each with no kids option they were outside our budget as a family of 5. But nevermind, there were plenty of interesting food stalls. It’s a running joke in our family that festival food is essentially meat in a bun. But on the last day I realised I hadn’t eaten a single beef burger or sausage. These were on offer, as was the obligatory pulled pork and pizza. But between us we enjoyed Nepalese Thalis, Mac and Cheese, Moroccan shawarma, some really very good chips and several burgers made from insects. High protein, good for the planet and, thanks to other people’s squeamishness, the shortest queue.
Most dietary preferences were well catered for with lots of options for vegans and vegetarians, main meals were generally around £10 and lots of stalls offered kids portions for £4-£5 . Beer and cider came in at £6 a pint in the bars. Plus the cost of a reusable cup.
This was the first outing of our new very micro campervan. We raised a couple of eyebrows when we turned towards the campervan field with all 5 of us in what looked like a very small van. But once set up with an awning and a pop up tent for the kids we were very comfy.
The camper van field was quite flat, had plenty of room, but was down quite a steep hill from the main festival site. The hill probably helped with the noise though. Acts on the afterburner stage ran until the early hours but we had no problem sleeping. Even the five year old had a lie in! There were composting toilets, and a few showers. My only complaint was a lack of proper hand washing facilities near the toilets.
Family camping required a bit more effort. The family tent field is a good walk and a fairly big hill away from the car park. But there was a luggage shuttle service to help out and I never saw a huge queue for it. The reward for these efforts is a lovely view, some proper sinks (always good for little hands) and a spot close to all the children’s activities.
There was also a van giving out free ice cream and yogurt pouches part way up that hill. So apparently ice cream for breakfast is now a thing in our family.
Valley fest gave us everything we could have wanted from a hot weekend in August. The last time we were out late at a festival, my youngest was just a toddler, asleep in a buggy. For her, Valley Fest 2022 was a new and wondrous experience. As I write this, three days later, she still hasn’t quite come down from the high.
For me, it felt like I finally got to exhale after years of holding my breath. I danced, I sang, I lay in the sun with a cold cup of cider and a beautiful view.
Are festivals still our thing? Yes. Thank you Valley Fest.