Here we are in this sumptuous setting again, back for more at our second Cornbury, which is now in its third year. The organisers are still taking care to see it doesnt grow too fast but have expanded on last years successes. Unfortunately strong winds made it impossible for the trademark hot air balloons to fly. But despite rain late on the Saturday night the overall feel of the festival was happy, friendly and relaxed. I can honestly say I saw not a hint of trouble all weekend. This isnt to say there were no problems, loos were unlit and in serious short supply on the first night, after complaining that was rectified by the second night, unfortunately water points were still sparse but the toilets were in better condition than I expected each time I used them.
The site itself is split in two, camping on one side of the valley, this year with added beach huts, tipis and bus beds plus a quiet camping area and a campervan field, with the other side home to the arena proper. Theres an additional tented stage this year with music programming by Abingdons Truck Festival and The Oxford Folk Festival on separate days. The small Riverside stage was still there with its bales to sit on and earliest start of the music to tempt people over. The main stage once again drew big crowds but they arrived earlier this year and all day tickets for Saturday went early in the day.
The weather was frankly pretty wonderful as was headliner Robert Plant, and the football was shown on a big screen for those of us who had followed the action for the last month. Despite a few bands not being able to attend at the last minute like the Waterboys (flight delays), second stage headliner Ronnie Spector (her husband has fallen ill) and Zooeira meaning all three stages lost acts, we werent too disappointed and it gave many a chance to explore the traders and caterers on offer.
The large fence around the campsite perimeter may keep the untoward out, which it certainly did - this time we left alcohol and camping equipment outside the tent on night one and it was still there the next day, we heard of nothing going missing all weekend. But the downside was that we had brought a lot of kit expecting to walk direct to the campsite only to find we had to walk around, not too difficult for a family as experienced as ours at going to festivals, but possibly more difficult for those not anticipating this who have Cornbury as the only festival on their calendar.
Most of the draconian sounding regulations wed read about beforehand concerning barbecues proved unfounded as everyone appeared to be sensible with cooking kept off the ground. Despite the loss of Waitrose (and cheap plonk) the essentials were still catered for at the village shop, not as wide a selection but local produce none the less and milk and breakfast materials all available.
Despite the disappointing loss of the braziers outside the campsite bar this year, both the entertainment, live acts, big screen visuals and the choice of drinks had widened and the staff were excellent if slightly bonkers! The music volume was stunningly clever, nice and loud inside but walk away and before youd reached the middle of the campsite youd never guess there was anything happening inside the tent. Who knows what time they stopped, the air on Friday was occasionally punctuated by applause as bands finished, but I was too busy enjoying the line of trees and their soothing boughs to notice the time. Trees gently illuminated at night dont half look impressive.
However, the catering outlet for the campsite was abysmal. They seemed to be unable to cope with the demand, and tried as best they could with young inexperienced staff, who just took too long to deal with customers. The amount of time I wasted in queues was disappointing, worse still when I turned up early on the Sunday for breakfast they werent ready and took an age to get up and running. After two years of poor catering onsite I hope the organisers get things sorted next year. Especially if they do start to enforce the 'no cooking by tent' rule.
As well as stages, beer tent and stalls in the arena there was also a fun fair, a Double Decker Bar (on the Sunday only - shame it wasnt better sighted for the top deck views), kids area and random events stage with its programme of fun and workshops. Now Im no fan of fun fairs, however this one seemed to attract its fans and having seen the miracle work it did on fractious kids, Ive possibly changed my opinion of them. Certainly they added colour to the back of the arena at night and provided good conversation starters with strangers.
As I mentioned heavy rain, and a possible tornado, reports are unverified, put an end to late night Saturday shenanigans but the weather cleared before the bands started up on the Sunday and the line ups on the smaller stages attracted many. The Dualers, The Pretenders, Kate Rusby and Texas being the highlights for many and personally I enjoyed The Oxford Folk Festival Stage on the Sunday most. Guess my musical tastes are changing, oh and the football, well done for showing it, I didnt hear anyone complaining it was on.
Sunday was the best day in terms of atmosphere, with wandering bands, performers and the occasional cool breeze and cloud to provide us with happy distractions. The Wychwood brewery ales lasted all weekend the first festival Ive been to this year to achieve that and its not for lack of us trying to drink it dry. Better yet no problem getting a beer as long as you timed and didnt turn up at the same time as everyone else. Not a hint of trouble, the only problem for us was the way home. The signs said all routes well that wasnt true the way led traffic for the South West totally the wrong way.
With a few improvements Cornbury is on the up, a wonderful location, perfect for families, more good weather, and despite the holes in the line up, it was a grand relaxed weekend. Guess well all have to view buying tickets early next year if the trend for selling out day tickets spreads. As we drove home we were happy and its already decided we will be back next year to relax under the trees and watch the bubbles float by. Glorious!
review by: Scott Williams
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