If Wickham Festival taught us one thing, it’s that just because a festival is not on Festival Kidz’ radar, it certainly doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.
Wickham is a folky gem of a weekend and was a joy to discover. From its lovely location, on the edge of the village of Wickham in Hampshire, to the fantastic array of accomplished performers; from the laid-back, friendly crowd to the quirky kids’ activities, it had us hooked.
The Festival Site
The site is fairly compact and really easy to get around. This meant we were able to let our eleven- and seven-year-olds have plenty of freedom.
There are four stages, spaced out well enough that there was no sound interference, but close enough that you never had to walk more than a minute or so between them.
All the stages are housed within tents, which offer protection from any rain, or, in the case of the this year, sun, sun, sun!
If you were happy standing you could always find space in the tents. However if you wanted to set up a seat for the day in front of the main stage (as many opted to do) you would have to get into the arena soon after it opened to bag some shade.
For the sun-lovers, there was always plenty of space outside the tent. The sides were open so you could see, and there were plenty of screens with good quality video of the close-up action on the stage.
The childrens’ area was thoughtfully placed among the two smaller stages. This meant you could still be a part of the adult entertainment if you were hanging out there with your children.
There was a nice selection of stalls selling good quality festival-ware and goods, plus a large range of very decent food stalls.
Food and Drink
Over the weekend, we sampled several of the food stalls. My favourite was the yellow vegetable curry from Mango, the Thai tapas stall. At £6 for a good portion with rice, it was delicious and filling.
Between the four of us we also ate lovely stonebaked pizza, Indian curries, veggie burger and chips, and crêpes. The large selection included Mexican, noodles, and fish and chips, to name but a few.
The food was good quality and reasonably priced, with meals averaging around the £6 – £8 mark. Vegetarians, vegans, and those requiring a gluten-free diet were all well catered for.
Over 20 real ales and ciders were available, many from local, independent Hampshire breweries. My favourite, though, was the little cocktail bar, where I treated myself to the odd Mojito. Mixed perfectly and with a double shot of spirit in each cocktail, I thought they were worth the £7 cost.
There were several bars across the site, but the busiest was The Moose Bar. With plenty of tables and chairs outside, this was a popular place to hang out with old friends and meet new.
I loved the crowd at Wickham. The age range was noticeably older than at some festivals with a large proportion of middle-aged festival-goers and lots of families.
Everyone we met was friendly, laid-back, welcoming and polite, and this really helped to make our festival experience.
Laid-back festivals can sometimes suffer from a lack of atmosphere when the bigger bands play, but not so at Wickham.
This is a crowd that knows how to sit back and chill in the sun with a beer, but can also jump up and, well, jump with the best of them. And make no mistake, this is an audience that likes, and knows, its music.
Wickham definitely turned me on to the folk music festival scene. What a lovely bunch of accomplished musicians we saw there, so often with something to say.
I expected to like some of the acts, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that I enjoyed absolutely everything I saw. The music was absolutely brilliant. We moved between the stages and got turned on to so many acts we’d never heard before.
The Dohl Foundation were a fantastic start to proceedings on the Thursday evening. Describing themselves as Wickham Festival’s ‘In-house banghra band’, they certainly brought the crowd to life with a brilliantly vibrant and lively performance.
I watched Mad Dog Mcrea by myself and danced my socks off. I’ll definitely be looking up their back catalogue. Bouncing around to ‘Happy Bus’ is one of my favourite memories of the festival.
Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel really surprised us. My dad has always loved him and told me he would be great live, but I thought he might be bit cheesy. How wrong I was. What an amazing singer and genuinely good guy. Add to that fantastic musicians and brilliant songs and it was a great way to close the Thursday evening.
Boo Hewerdine was fantastic and had us up on our feet on a sweltering afternoon.
My eleven-year-old and I, along with a friend, had a great dance to Melbourne’s Pierce Brothers. What a sound they created, considering it was just the two of them, switching instruments and even bringing out the didgeridoo for some songs. I mean, who doesn’t love a didgeridoo?
During Squeeze the four of us had a lovely dance and sing-along near the back of the tent. My children had fallen in love with ‘Up the Junction’ when we played them some of the music in the run-up to the festival, so we had a very sweet moment when they played that. My eleven-year-old says it was her favourite part of the whole festival.
I could go on. We saw so much amazing music over the course of the weekend. If you have even a passing interest in folk as a genre, you couldn’t fail to be impressed. The age our children are now means at a festival like Wickham we could give them the freedom to roam the site, which meant we had more time to watch the music, so it was great that it was of such a high quality.
Lots of the festival-goers were sporting T-shirts from other folk festivals, so they clearly do the rounds and love their music.
My seven-year-old was in his element with the activities at Wickham and I think he was a good age for what was on offer. There were a series of inflatables, manned by enthusiastic staff all weekend, that, like the rest of the activities, were completely free to use.
My son tore around the bouncy castles and slides until his time was up, running out red-faced to join the back of the queue to do the same thing over and over again.
If he wasn’t bouncing himself silly, you could pretty much guarantee you would find him in the laser tag. Both my children loved this. The guys running it were so friendly and enthusiastic with the kids, laughing and joking with them as they waited their turn. Again, my son would do this over and over again and never seemed to bore of it.
When they emerged, the leader would announce how many times each had been hit and who was the winner. New friendships and fun rivalries played out in this inflated, sweaty tunnel all weekend.
There was a stage set up opposite the inflatables and laser tag, where shows were performed over the course of the weekend. The children watched puppet shows and as a family we were wowed by the female performer who juggled swords while hanging upside down on a ladder that was supported by just four ropes.
The Digital Funfair area was great fun for the children. They especially liked playing Space Invaders which was powered by pedalling a bike as you steered with the handlebars. They also got to play at being a DJ on a converted video game table.
When the heat got too much for all of us at one point, we hid in the kids’ tent and the children painted clay models. We paid £5 in total for a heart and face-shaped model, which they very carefully painted at a table.
Compared to what you would pay in a pottery painting studio, this seemed really reasonable and was the only kids’ activity we paid for all weekend.
Both my children enjoyed watching cartoons in the cinema tent. It was very handily located close to the main stage, so if we wanted to watch a band, we could nip over to check on them, give them snacks, etc. A little snack stall was set up inside selling reasonably-priced popcorn and drinks.
The Lego Tent made for an awesome chill-out space. It was occupied most of the weekend by a few children happily immersed in their lego creations.
We all enjoyed the huge light-up heart that only lit up when two people held hands underneath it to complete the circuit.
Camp Site and Facilities
The camp site is very picturesque, enclosed by trees. It even has a beautiful farm shop and café directly next to it. Here, you could find way beyond the basic camping necessities, with enough fresh milk, eggs and other produce to mean you could manage to not need to bring any food with you.
Breakfasts were also served in the lovely café if you fancied a morning treat.
The toilets were of a good standard, clean and rarely ran out of loo roll. I love a festival with proper hand-washing facilities, and Wickham ticked that box too. Maybe I’m getting old, but I really appreciate being able to wash my hands under running water and knowing the kids have done that too (um, when they’re reminded!)
Water refilling points were available. Unfortunately, because it was such a ridiculously hot weekend, often the water that was being produced by these taps was tepid at best and extremely warm at worst.
I’m not sure the organisers could have done anything about this. However, it was a pain when you really wanted something cooling to drink, but didn’t want to buy bottled water.
We bought some ice from one of the local supermarkets on the Saturday and kept it in the shade. We added that to our water throughout the day, which made a difference. On the Sunday, however, there was no ice to be found anywhere – every shop we went in had sold out.
As previously stated, I don’t like buying bottled water, mainly because of the environmental impact but also because of the cost. However, we bought a couple of ice cold, two litre bottles from the farm shop for £1.50 each. This was another reminder of its value in being there.
The surrounding area
Wickham Village is only a short walk from the festival site and the festival feels very much a part of the village.
There are some lovely shops, restaurants, cafés and pubs. You could also book onto a Wickham History Walk, which sounded really interesting.
We paid a lovely visit to the nearby Titchfield Abbey. This is an English Heritage property with free entry, just a few minutes drive from the festival. It made for a great morning activity and picnic spot.
We were very lucky to be invited into the VIP area at Wickham. It’s very discreet and manned only by friendly and affable stewards (you won’t find any burly bouncers here). For an extra £80 on top of your weekend ticket, you can bag yourself access to this area. Here you’ll find posh, flushing toilets, a dedicated bar and a couple of food stalls.
There are some nice covered areas. We even found some comfy sofas where we parked ourselves for a game of cards one afternoon.
A magic show took place here on the Sunday afternoon. My daughter was chosen to go up on stage and giggled her way through her assistant role.
The other real coup is that you can actually watch from the wings of the stage. We watched Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel from here, perched on our chairs. A dedicated large screen is set up so you can see all the close-up action, and the sound was great. My son loved having such a good view of the guitar being finger-picked and was entranced. My daughter got out her phone and recorded her grandad’s favourite song, ‘Sebastian’ to show him when she got home.
Wickham is such a friendly festival. The stewards are laid back and there is no heavy bag-checking other than preliminary safety ones. Children roam free and folk newbies such as ourselves mixed happily with folk-officianados. The music was top-notch and the kids’ activites fun and well thought out. All in such a lovely part of the country.
Wickham, thanks for giving us a first taste of what you have to offer. We absolutely hope to return.