Camp Bestival must be one of the best festivals for a family holiday

Camp Bestival review

published: Mon 3rd Aug 2009

around the festival site (1)

Friday 24th to Sunday 26th July 2009
Lulworth Castle, Dorset, BH20 5QS, England MAP
adult weekend ticket no camping £100, child age 12-16 £50, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 23rd Jul 2009

For families Camp Bestival must be one of the best options for those wanting a festival that caters for everyone, and is a huge treat for the kids. Last year we went with kids, this year we did not, and I have to say the experience is greatly reduced if you don't have them, there's so much geared to children on the bill, and younger children rather than teens. A family arrived near us for the weekend with three generations, Granddad, parents, and three young kids, and all of them had thoroughly enjoyed themselves when I spoke to them on Sunday.

around the festival site (1)
We arrived to find ourselves in a small queue but nothing like the delays we'd experienced at lst year's inaugural event. All my gripes with the organisation of the event at the point of arrival were resolved this year, and it was clear it was much better organised. A tractor was delivering campers and their equipment from the car parks, and the campsite was much better laid out. Whilst the campsites nearer the arena were slightly overcrowded, those further away had more space and were quieter and also had the Tangerine Fields bespoke camping. Toilets, lighting, and water points were much more prevalent, although stewarding was still low key.

The site was vastly bigger than last year, a lot more camping, and car parking provided. The walk into the arenas was longer, and the number of places for late night coffee, or a snack in the camping area was minimal, although there were those who did their own catering in the campsite. Although kids are always going to be early risers the noise levels where we are in purple afforded us a decent sleep after returning in the small hours.

As last year the arena was divided into four areas, the healing area, which this year had the showers and a breakfast area beside it, although 'Restival' had gone, this area once again had the late night fire pit, with circled sofas and late night acoustic music for those able to sing-along badly.

around the festival site (3)
The late night area, and 'Magic Meadow' beside it felt much fuller this year with an addition of a big top to sit alongside Black Dahlia, Pink Flamingo Cocktail Bar, and Bollywood with its beds and umbrellas to afford rest and shade. These returned alongside Time For Tease, the 'Hi De Hi' large letters, the Blue Coats stage, Bramble fm caravan, catering outlets, and more including the big screen. Here to was the home of the Sony PSP bus, for a 'no corporate sponsorship' festival - this, the Nestle den, and Nickleodeon's presence proved a bit of a surprise.

During the day this area played host to children with the giant screen playing cartoons, comedy (also for adults) and much fun and games by blue coats, and even a packed field for a secret Mr Tumble gig. By night the tents were filled with parents dancing to cheesy tunes, and the big top was filled with those enjoying a silent disco. It also played host to crowd filling gigs by Frankie Boyle, Bon Ivor, P J Harvey, Marcus Brigstocke's Early Edition, and the English Ballet.

For me personally the three music tents failed to hit the mark for late night entertainment, Erol Alkan failed to impress although by all accounts he got better, and the other tents were too packed to get past the fringes leaving us only the most popular choice, the 'Silent Disco' which was good fun as was the Burleque although the speed with which the women got undressed, with very little 'tease' involved did make me wonder how much it had been designed to not be too risque for kids.

around the festival site (1)
This area filtered via the knights' jousting area, book club with a poetry slam, and big wheel into the main stage area. The main 'Castle Field' arena was flanked by a bar, other drinking options including wine, and rum, food outlets, and of course the main stage. Towards the back there were a few stalls, some seating and the choice of visiting the castle, or the petting zoo, via the magic wood, which also had theatre, art installations, walkabout performers, and moody lighting at night.

The last area was an expanded magic meadow leading to the boutique tipi field. This area was even bigger than last year, housing a smaller bandstand stage, insect circus, and the River Cottage where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tries out festival catering for the first time which also holds the longest queues of the weekend. The area also has masses for kids to do from a library to ballet, from circus skills, to maypole dancing, a bouncy castle, face painting and much more.

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Best of all, for me personally it also is the home to the real ale tent, moved further down the field, and the only place to buy proper beer all weekend, and whilst expensive at £3.70 a pint offers a varied choice throughout most of the weekend, with Sunday seeing certain ales crossed off the menu. The downside was the ale wasn't available at any of the other bars on site. The far end of the field is also home to Spongebob, a Million Mums, more seating, the 'GuilFest' flags, donkey rides, and pleasant views of the sea. Howard Marks proved the highlight, captivating kids with fairy stories, it's unlikely we'll see Peter Doherty doing this sort of thing in a decade or two.

With numbers on site a crowded 10,000 adults and 5,000 kids, this area is the most open offering seating, space, and refuge from the madding crowds, and also less queues. It's the queueing that gets to me most, everywhere at anytime you have to queue, perhaps there's too few food outlets, or not enough bars, the cash point machines also having long queues but this is more likely because it's a fairly expensively priced weekend for food and drink and everyone, in the main, spends more than they budgeted for. The glasses too are a problem flimsy plastic and wide based they spill easily over the hand if an attempt to travel with a full one is made, and very long fingers are needed to carry three at a time, a pre-requisite if you want to avoid queueing again for a while.

around the festival site (2)
All the food options we tried were delicious and of a high standard, facilities were kept in good condition, and the campsites felt safe. The numbers of people queueing and eating, leads inevitably to the bins being filled more quickly, and it's here the festival falls down, there's masses of rubbish piled around bins. Table surfaces were a mess, and the green areas rapidly become rubbish strewn as the bins are overflowing.

I couldn't help feeling with so much for kids to do there was something missing for the adults to consider late at night, other than a walk around a well lit wood and lake, perhaps a dedicated comedy tent, or theatre for those who weren't up for the packed dance tents and the BPM assault, I heard tales of an acoustic tent but failed to find it.

This year the music on offer seemed to me a bit patchy, not as strong as last year, there appeared to be a lot of their own 'label' acts on the bill. I enjoyed The Cuban Brothers brand of mad cap feel good tunes, and Mercury Rev's light show was awesome. I was wowed by Frank Turner's new songs, and the band behind Kid Creole. P J Harvey as an acoustic set up was a delight but did not vary enough in delivery style constrained by her solo performance.

Mercury Rev
This year also saw sets moved around, the main two being the criminally short set by Alessi's Ark, and Imelda May's re-scheduled appearance on the Bandstand. Although the tannoy system worked well whilst in the campsite to inform us of un-scheduled timings, the overly expensive programme failed to inform accurately the times for judging the fancy dress, or when the knights would joust.

My personal highlight was the Bookworm tent, plenty of space, no queues, and some great poetry on offer, although adverts for Rob Da Bank's book got a bit wearing, to the point where the audience said they would rather watch nothing than another repeat of the colourful advert. Biggest crowds were there for Florence & The Machine, Bon Iver, the near the knuckle Frankie Boyle, surprisingly for me Will Young, and all the headliners proved enjoyable. My personal high point was randomly standing next to Scroobius Pip watching Kate Tempest dropping rhymes in the rain at the bandstand with her band Sound Of Rum, who weren't even given a write up in the programme.

We didn't have much rain until the huuuuuuge fireworks display at the end - which must surely have blown half the profits of the event and seemed to lasted for almost half an hour! It made up for any drawbacks and with a terrific soundtrack ended the festival on a high.

around the festival site (1)
Overall there was loads of stuff for kids to do, and the site looked fantastic with colourful flags fluttering everywhere you looked. A nicely laid out, pretty, and safe festival, like a more corporate (Nestle???) and bigger Shambala. Great fun if you have kids, in fact I suspect it's unbeaten by any other festival for children, but it's slightly less exciting if you don't, the expense, overflowing bins and the queues were the downside.

Rob Da Bank and pals should be congratulated for thinking so much about catering for what kids love doing, making the site look lovely, and providing a fantastic alternative for those wanting to have a family holiday. It's definitely grown into a family festival rather than one designed for those with or without families.

around the festival site (firework finale)
review by: Scott Williams

photos by: Karen Williams / Sarah Stevens

Friday 24th to Sunday 26th July 2009
Lulworth Castle, Dorset, BH20 5QS, England MAP
adult weekend ticket no camping £100, child age 12-16 £50, under 12s free
last updated: Thu 23rd Jul 2009


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