Back once again to rural Devon for another weekend of fun, music and prepared this year for plenty of rain and mud. But we've done enough muddy festivals, Beautiful Days particularly in previous years, and we were still excited as we drove through the windy roads to Escot Park. Open on Thursdays now, you can get in early before all the crowds and find a good camping spot, it's really well organized to get your wristbands and then find your camping spot, but parking as usual was a long way away from main camping, so pack as light as you can as it's a bit of a walk.
Situated in a bowl, the surrounding fields up the sides are free for camping; campervans up the top, family and quiet camping down the hill and at the bottom, and for those that want noise and the full-on festival experience, they have the longest walk of all right through the festival and can camp in the midst of it all, and they can quickly stagger back to their tent at the end of the day.
We camped with friends up in the campervan field, as far away from the festival as you can get, but in the quietest part. At 5 o'clock on Thursday the place was already filled up with vans and tents, setting up on Thursday is getting more popular, to get the best spot and just have a nice quiet evening as no music was on the in the main arenas. The bars were open, people were milling about, merchandise was open to get your hands on this year's T-shirts which were brilliant as always; another really vibrant design on purple for the ladies and black for the men; I did hear a few grumbles from some purple-loving men having to make do with black or yellow.
We had a quick look around to see what was where, what was new and where our old favourites are, then headed back for an early night. Tents were in plentiful supply everywhere as we walked back, but toilets weren't, especially up in the campervan fields so that was a worry; I didn't fancy the long walk across the dark empty field in the middle of the night, so stayed off the cider that night and kept my fingers crossed.
Friday morning and everything starts. A quick walk down the hill and the family area was already waking up and getting going for the day, enjoying the cafes set up for breakfast, the bouncy castles were inflating, the shops were opening, people were enjoying the sunshine sitting on benches dotted round the Bandstand Stage. We queued up at the Theatre Tent, excited to see 'Rise & Shine' again. My two girls loved this last year and we couldn't wait to have a good sing-song to wake us up. Dextor and Rob were back with their lively morning silliness, singing 'Bring Me Sunshine' and then getting us all to beatbox, clap, stamp, wave our arms about and just be crazy for an hour and a half. The children were invited up on the stage for the Banana song, and to show us all their groovy moves, then it was back outside for more looking round.
Over the bridge, saying hello to a fish sculpture and into the main festival site, we grabbed some goodies from the Village Shop, kindly put on by some of the locals selling most of the essentials you could ever need, and found Joe May (Passion For Laughter) entertaining a big crowd of children and parents with spectacular bubbles in one of the many shopping areas. With fishing nets and long ropes everyone was chasing massive bubbles around the place. The festival site was still lovely lush grass, but my two girls soon found a lonely patch of mud and played in that for a good 20 minutes.
The fair was back again next to the Children's area, with the helter skelter and big wheel, trampolines and swing boats, further in teens, children and babies were spoilt with tents to play in, sit and chill in, make things, make noise, smash some plates or get a stick-on tattoo or hairbraid; which is always the way at BD, the children's area is a full-on fun-fest in itself, they are well entertained. We walked through and checked everything out, climbed on the climbing frame assembled and drummed on the massive plastic drum kit and then headed for the Big Top area for some more breakfast. What else will do for a festival breakfast but fresh pizza at the Pizza Tabun, a regular favourite for the wonderfully generous pizzas and the extra strong coffee for me to keep me going.
The place soon filled as the Levellers started off the music with their acoustic set, there was no room in the Big Top but it was nice sitting out on the grass in the sunshine, you could hear them clearly and as always their set was brilliant, we could watch the world go by and sing along, children could run around, eat ice-cream and dodge the pesky wasps.
We had to run round to the Main Stage to see CoCo and the Butterfields, who we've seen a few times before and totally love to watch; we set up our 'camp' for the rest of the day on the hill overlooking the Main Stage and sang along, toe-tapped and joined in with their 'The Prince Of Bel Air' and 'Jump Around' covers.
Sat on the bank in the Main Stage arena you don't have to move far to get a drink from the bar, get some food from a vast array of food stalls, do some shopping in the few stalls at the very top of the hill and toilets are in abundance. The pasta stall again do a fab 'baby' portion for a few pounds which is great, and enough for 2 'eyes-bigger-than-bellies' who only really just want to eat the garlic bread.
Slamboree were on next on the Main Stage and delivered some amazing festival entertainment. Even from right at the back of the arena the leading lady's spandex outfit required sunglasses; they kicked up some great dance tunes, with accompanying entertainment from dancers and acrobats, they were just fab to listen to and watch. The Dhol Foundation kept us dancing as the sun went down and the lamps were lit behind us giving us some warmth and some atmospheric smoke, and we prepared ourselves for House of Pain.
I was only familiar with 'Jump Around' so really wasn't sure what to expect from them, and opening with 'What the 'flumps' up?' and 'Is everyone ready for a mother-'flumping' party?' didn't go down to well in my family-festival book; but they were awesome!! They did say a few more naughty words in a few songs, then the whole set changed with Everlasts' acoustic rendition of THE original gangster-hiphop track, a cover of Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues.' and I think everyone's jaw hit the floor, wow the boy can play! He did a few more acoustic songs then had us all hooked and finished us off with 'Jump Around.'
I had to miss Happy Mondays to take 2 sleepy monkeys back to the tent, but I felt happy that my Friday night had ended with a great act. I then had the lovely task of pushing a heavy buggy back up the massive hill to the far campervan fields, that is a hell of a workout. I could hear Happy Mondays faintly in the distance, but otherwise it was lovely and quiet and crashed out.
Saturday morning and another sunny dry morning and a much more relaxed breakfast, cooking up as much as we could for us and our neighbours; we missed Rise & Shine, instead not venturing out until 12. We headed to the Big Top for the days music, to see Gaz Brookfield, and Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs, which did take us some time as we had to stop in a few of the shops to get some flowery hairbands, some bubbles and look for other gorgeous things we might need later on. Shopping at Beautiful Days is always brilliant, shops are dotted round everywhere and whatever you might need you can usually find, and a few things you may not need to.
We also had to do a few stops just to see everything that was going on; last year a metal horse was going round to entertain the crowds, this year an enormous dragon robot was set up, breathing fire and smoke and with control panels for children to press buttons and move its head, mouth, legs and wings. Passing by the children's area, aliens were walking round being chased by crowds of children. But not cute little green, boggly-eyed aliens, oh no, big, black, long-headed, acid blood, horror film aliens; the children were having a great time, the parents were running in the opposite direction or cowering under benches.
We eventually joined the crowds in the Big Top area, sitting round on the grass enjoying the sunshine and the music going on, we set up our sun-tent and blanket, got an ice-cream and a pint and settled down for the day. You can hear the music perfectly from outside the Big Top tent if it gets too crowded or you just fancy staying outside and you don't mind not actually seeing the act, and you don't miss the walking entertainers and just random crazy people outside.
As the weather warnings of an impending storm came in and the blue sky turned black, Hobo Jones started and even as the rain came down we were still dancing outside to their rendition of 'Boom Shake The Room;' others ran for cover in the tent, the Pizza Tabun or the bar, but with a little one fast asleep in the sun tent I had to wait it out, at least the rain was quite warm. We stuck it out for a while, the festival still carried on despite the now rubbish weather, then we had to go back to the tent for more appropriate footwear and dry clothes; the hill up to the camping fields was now like a waterfall which children were splashing around in, not much fun in flip-flops and pushing a buggy. Back in the tent and warm and dry at last, and with big fat rain still lashing down my Saturday was over, gutted to miss Eddi Reader, and Rich Hall, but I heard he did a great set, with his usual angry, sweary style, and couldn't quite remember if he was in Cornwall or Devon.
Our lovely lush green campsite had sadly been transformed into a big muddy bog with all the rain overnight, but we did get some respite from it to sit out and have breakfast. From quite a few years of experience at Beautiful Days, toilets are never pleasant by Sunday, and I wasn't looking forward to the morning's visit, especially given the vast number of campervans and tents, and the measly 9 toilets set up for us all; but they were clean and usable, whatever they'd done this year seemed to work really well.
With more appropriate footwear, waterproofs, changes of clothes and the buggy filled with as much as we could pack in to avoid having to trudge back up the hill for supplies, we braved the thick mud and went down to the Bandstand Stage for second breakfast from the Truly Crumptious stall, their Goats Cheese & Beetroot Chutney crumpets are amazing; especially washed down with a lovely cold Thatchers. We found a bench and stayed there and watched what was going on. Sunday at Beautiful Days is fancy dress day, and no amount of rain or mud can dampen a Beautiful Dayers' love of dressing up. The theme this year was 'In This Garden' and people were dressed up as flowers, bees, butterflies, ladybirds, caterpillars, gnomes, fairies, fruit and vegetables, bird-feeders(!), Bill & Ben, a rather lovely Charlie Dimmock, and the winning costume was a man with a swingball set on his head.
We also checked out the workshops next to the Bandstand Stage more thoroughly, and our daughter had a go at making a peg-loom cushion with strips of sheep fleece. At £8 I thought it was really expensive, but it took her an hour to make it and required a lot of concentration to weave the fleece, but she was so proud of it so was money well spent. Next door people were making things with copper or leather, and the wood-turning workshop was back again to make yourself a tent peg or a stool.
In the main festival site, despite the thick mud and rain everyone was enjoying their Sunday; sitting down was now a bit trickier, but it was business as usual, people doing last minute shopping for the bargains, the Big Top tent was full of people watching, 'She Makes War,' and the children's area was still busy, and they now had extra entertainment with mud to slide in. The fairground rides were still going, and we braved the Big Wheel and the Helter Skelter which give brilliant views over all the festival if you don't mind heights.
We had to run back to the Bandstand Stage to catchThe Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, we'd seen them quite a few times now and totally love their parody songs, such as, 'Lady In Greggs,' 'If I could Punch A Face,' 'Portaloo' and '(You Gotta) Fight For Your Pint (In Baaaaaaaarnsley).' They were awesome as always.
Getting a buggy through to the Main Stage area is very tricky in the mud, but we managed to find space on the hill to camp for the rest of the day and catch the last of the weekend's bands. I hadn't even ventured up the other hill to the Little Big Top or the Bimble Inn this year, or to see the Healing fields and if the Tiny Tea Tent was up there again, and the thought of trudging through more mud didn't appeal so I resigned to miss that part of the festival this year. Some very noticeable missing features were the light-up arches over the entrances to the main stage arena, and the lizard-plane usually up on the hill for the children to play on. The hill did look a bit empty and uninviting up there.
The bars were still well-stocked for a Sunday night to keep us going, the toilets weren't too bad, and despite it being the last night and the most popular part of the festival for everyone, we had room to move. Gogol Bordello started off the evening's entertainment; we saw them here a few years ago and remember them being brilliant and they still gave us a great performance of loud, funky, gypsy punk, and a fantastic 'Start Wearing Purple' which everyone remembered.
The rain seemed to know that we'd all had enough now and we managed to have a dry Sunday evening, we could happily sit out under the stars and enjoy the very last act for the weekend, our hosts, Levellers. Every year they close the festival with a set of all their classics; sometimes it's been brilliant, sometimes it's been OK, this year it was awesome!!! They were on top form, and despite dancing in mud the whole arena was jumping along to them, followed by the best fireworks so far to finish; it was definitely a fantastic end to a fun, but exhausting and soggy weekend.
And that was it, we pushed the buggy up the hill for the last time this year; 3 days goes so quickly at Beautiful Days as it's a full-on sensory- lashing with so much going on; it gets bigger and bigger every year, but it's also getting better every year, and we'll definitely be back again for more next year.
On the Monday morning it was great to see the tractors out on force to make sure everyone could get through the mud, and the still neighbourly atmosphere of everyone helping each other to get out and get home for a very welcome hot bath.
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