Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Just So Festival Review 2014

Both Mr B and I loved festivals before we had a child, and this year we decided that we were ready to get back to it and take Small along too. We went to Bugjam 2014 for our first taste of festival with a child and picked up some pointers of things that'd make our lives easier next time.

We arrived at 12PM Friday (the advertised car park opening time) to find they were already letting people in (some people had their tents up!). I'm not sure why they tell you to absolutely not turn up before the time if they are going to start letting people in anyway, but we experienced this at Bugjam too. We had left the rainy Midlands deliberately early to get ourselves there in time to bag a good camping spot - luckily not too many people were in ahead of us and it was only 5 minutes walk from the car to tent.

We took a radio flyer and a trolley as we knew there was going to be a walk from car to tent. Online beforehand I saw mention of there possibly being people around to help carry, but I personally didn't see anybody so I was insanely glad that we went prepared! (Mr B says he saw some, but obviously weren't enough for everybody). We had packed my Beetle with no room to spare, but it wasn't TOO bad ferrying things over to our camping spot. I stayed at the tent and entertained the toddler whilst Mr B did the to and froing. They also had a company called Trolley Tots hiring out wagons online before the festival (I think they sold out quite quickly at around £50 hire charge for the weekend) which had a pick up point close to the car park so those who had managed to reserve one could pick it up and use it for unpacking their car.

The campsite had one set of toilets which were a mix of portable toilets and one block of flushing loos. I always had to queue for the flushing ones, and there never seemed to be anybody waiting for the other! Mr B tells me he never had to wait for the mens! They also had several blocks of showers - which were actually very good. I never had to wait (although I'm told you might if you try to use them around 7 or 8AM) and they were actually hot with water pressure. I had a shower every morning and even washed my hair which is a festival first - it felt like luxury! The showers did get a bit grubby by the second morning and there was a lot of grass on the floors and discarded toiletry bottles which nobody seemed to be collecting. I guess depending where you set up in the campsite it could have been quite a walk to the loos/ showers as there was only one area instead of several dotted around as I'm more used to seeing at festivals. There wasn't really enough water taps around and because everybody had to use the same washing up area it became VERY muddy very quickly.

It also seemed really odd to me that there wasn't anywhere selling basics. I expected at the very least there would be a stall selling basic camping items people might have forgotten as well as basic food items like bread, milk and baby food - but there was nothing even close.

The campsite was really a strange experience. Parents seemed to be terrified of breaking their children's routine and putting them to bed at 6 or 7PM. This meant the campsite was very quiet in the evening - which is certainly a good thing, but meant there wasn't much of an ambiance. It also meant that we were woken ridiculously early (don't worry we managed to get back to sleep and have a lie in) by cries of 'Tollomy come and eat your brioche', 'Rufus and Tarquin would you stop fighting this instant' and 'Othello would you PLEASE let mummy put your wellingtons on!" (yes seriously). As we ended up being a reluctant co-sleeping family fairly early on, Small's bedtimes seem to more closely echo ours so it meant we weren't missing out on evening entertainment as many seemed to do.

The actual festival entrance was only a short walk away and we didn't have to wait too long at the ticket exchange to get our wristbands the first time we went in. One thing that slightly concerned me was the checking of tickets. Literally nobody checked anything to get into the camp site - we were all set up and had been there for hours before we had to show our tickets. I felt they should have at least looked at them as we entered the car park. It was honestly the safest festival I feel I have ever been to, but still feel they should have had a bit more security. At times our wristbands weren't really looked at - while this was OK this year, it might be a problem if the festival were to get bigger.

We received our tickets in advance along with a programme, planner and CD featuring some of the bands that were playing over the weekend. I marked out all the things I wanted to try to get to but wanted to remain a little flexible as I wasn't sure what we'd want to see and do once we arrived. I would say that it turned out Small was a bit of an awkward age. At just a few months past her second birthday she was technically in the 0-3 or 0-4 age group for a lot of things - however on seeing the activities I felt that we couldn't really participate as all the other kids in these groups were pre-walkers and I wasn't sure their mothers would have been impressed with Small jumping all over everything! Most of the craft was aimed at an older age group and I'm not sure what she made of some of the shows. We actually didn't end up actually participating in much for this reason, though I'm sure if we return next year she'll be that bit older and more interested/ able to join in with the 'older' kids stuff.

One thing that we all enjoyed was watching John Hegley's 'I Am A Poetato' - it was a show with poetry and music that really engaged with the audience which I felt was lacking in some of the other things we saw. It felt like he was addressing the children directly and it really kept them engaged. Honestly Small was transfixed on the stage throughout and really enjoyed herself. We also saw lots of good music throughout the weekend on the Footlights stage.

We really enjoyed the High Seas area - the path to get there was through some woodland and decorated in a really magical way. The arch on the entrance was covered with a huge octopus and there was a loose 'pirate' theme in the area. We watched a few shows there and they even had a giant sandpit! (and almond milk at one of the coffee stalls for mummy).

The festival site was set out into different areas - Peekaboo (for the 0-4 age group), Lazy Days, New Curiosity Shop, The Imaginarium, The High Seas, Jitterbug, The Spellbound Forest, Head Over Heels, Footlights & The Social. I have to say although beautiful, the map was rather confusing at first - it did make more sense once we'd walked around the whole site and knew where things were, but then isn't that the point of a map? All areas were well signposted and the grounds of Rode Hall were beautifully decorated and a lovely setting for the festival. It was obvious a lot of effort had gone into the decorations and setting the ambiance for the weekend. I was really disappointed then to see kids smashing up the 'Hello' signs coming up to the entrance as people waited in line for the wristband exchange. In fact by the end of the first day they were ruined, but I'm happy to say I didn't see any of that going on inside the festival.

I was a little worried about vegan food before we went as I'd seen a blurb in an issue of 'The Vegetarian' (The Vegetarian Society's magazine) about lack of veggie food. I'd sent the festival a few messages on Twitter beforehand but didn't receive a reply (boo!) so took that as a negative sign and made sure we took LOADS of food with us to cook in the campsite. Wondering around the festival I was actually surprised and really pleased to see that loads of the food vendors had the words 'veggie' and 'vegan' on their chalkboards. We had some gorgeous bhajis with tamarind dip from Becky's Bhajis, yummy smoothies from Groovy Smoothies, lovely roast corn on the cob and several yummy meals from Goodness Gracious (which if by some miracle you haven't heard of them, they are a totally v*gan company often seen at festivals). There were several companies selling coffee with not just the option of soy milk, but almond milk too! (yay!!!) Bear were also there giving away samples of their Alpha Bites and selling their fruit snacks.

Would we return? I think it's almost a given that we'll be buying tickets for next year at some point. Overall it felt like a wonderfully safe festival where because it was all families we felt really comfortable and free to enjoy ourselves. The areas were well thought out and lots of effort had gone into creating a magical atmosphere for everybody. This post might seem a little negative in places, but honestly the overall experience was a really good one - I just wanted to be honest about all aspects as I found it difficult to find out certain things before going. Although there was alcohol on sale, it was discrete and we didn't have to worry about people being loud & drunk. I'm hoping Small will enjoying the activities a bit more next year and I've even been ogling people's pictures of the gorgeous boutique camping area!

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