Reviewed by Claire Humpidge
After the success we experienced taking our family (me, hubby, 4 year old daughter, Boo, and 2 year old twins, Flo & Lola) to the girls’ first festival earlier this year, we were very excited to have an opportunity to attend another.
Touted as “an intimate, cost-effective festival… loyal followers and newbies alike make their way down to its countryside home at Gilcombe Farm, Bruton, for the promise of wallet-friendly good times and acts on the cusp of stardom”, Farmfestival sounded right up our street. Although we were only familiar with the headline bands (Black Strobe, Art Brut), my husband (Ollie), is a club DJ, and the DJ line-up, with names such as Crazy P Soundsystem, Chicken Lips and Luke Unabomber, was a big pull factor for Ollie.
We live in Birmingham, so it was a bit of a trek to Somerset, but we weren’t too concerned about the travelling. Unfortunately the journey down there ended up being a bit of a nightmare, taking 3 hours longer than it should have because the M5 was closed – 3x preschool aged children cooped up in a car for 6 hours isn’t the most amount of fun!
We’re used to camping in our awning, attached to the side of our camper van, with access to amenities within the van, and therefore never have to travel far on foot; however, we’d attended Farmfestival in our car, and planned to use the awning as though it were a stand-alone tent. By the time we arrived though, our kids were climbing the walls following the drawn out journey, and the thought of traipsing from a car park to campsite, with 3 tired, grumpy children, lots of very heavy equipment, and most significantly, no pushchair, was not very appealing. I explained this to the very helpful staff in the tent issuing the wristbands, and thankfully they were happy for us to camp in the camper van site, and suggested that if anyone stopped us, to explain I was press and to ask them to radio through to confirm it was all ok.
Off we tootled, expecting all to be well, however the first security person we met on the gate wouldn't let us through. Thankfully a very helpful man (named Ollie too) listened to our predicament and arranged for us to camp in the crew and artists area, with our car with us… Perfect!
The campsite was spacious and clean, with heaps of space between each tent. Being crew/artist camping, it was very close to the noise; in so much as we were directly behind the main stage and performance tents. Initially I was a wee bit concerned that the girls would struggle to sleep being so close to the action, but I needn’t have worried as they slept fine, and it was such a benefit to not have to walk far from where we were camped to the entertainment. I believe there were areas of the main campsite, which were away from the noise and aimed at families/those not wishing to take advantage of the 3am/4am finish.
All the stewards were helpful and friendly, although we weren’t given recycling bags, as we’d been given at the last festival we went to, I didn’t see any litter where we camped, or on the walk into the main festival arena.
Close to Glastonbury geographically, and close to what I imagine Glastonbury festival was like in the 70s, Farmfestival is proud to be sponsor-free, and only really had necessary facilities. You won’t find any of the hot shower, cash machines, hot tub, and phone charging booth type niceties you see at more commercial festivals. Not that we have a problem with that at all.
Unfortunately I ran out of porta potty bags for the girls’ travel potty, so they needed to use the onsite toilets instead – I took one twin to the toilet, and was pleasantly surprised by the fact it was clean, had hand sanitizer and didn't smell too bad. There was no toilet roll, but that was ok, as I had wipes with me. Minutes later I took the other twin, and could not find a clean toilet. They were absolutely disgusting, even by festival toilet standards, so my previously great impression was completely overshadowed by the ensuing dismay.
There wasn’t a huge amount on offer in terms of stalls, with little variety. There was the usual handmade and vintage clothing, and a handful of food options, all from organic produce and local suppliers. We were quite well prepared for this festival in terms of food/drink, cooking breakfast and main meal each day on our little camping stove. In the festival there were massive queues for food, it was definitely worth the wait for the pizza though – it was delicious, and reasonably priced at £4.50. The hog roast however, was quite dry and therefore a bit disappointing, especially at £4 each pork roll. The free sample of rich, gooey chocolate brownie that we were handed by the cake stall in one of the tents was a very welcome surprise. We filled our pull along wagon with the girls and surrounded them with drinks for us all. It was great to be able to take our own alcohol in with us, which again draws comparisons with Glastonbury. I was aware that it maybe looked a bit questionable, having 3 eager children sat alongside cans of pear cider, but other than the lady from the local newspaper suggesting we cover the cans with a blanket when she took their photo, sucking away on freebie Chuppa Chup lollipops, no-one else seemed to mind (oops…!?)
What Worked For Us
We loved the simple layout of the site and the friendly, laid-back attitude of the people working there.
The fore mentioned pull along wagon was such a great bit of kit, with sturdy, air fill tyres, and kids, provisions, warm clothing for when it got dark etc… safely stowed inside. It attracted quite a bit of attention too, and everyone was very friendly, speaking to the girls and commenting on their mode of transport.
Ollie had a go on the Practical Action charity 'Watt Challenge' where he managed to pedal 878w; he needed 1000 to be a winner and get an energy drink. (Technically, does that make him a loser…?) He was pleased though to have made it onto the top of the leaderboard (admittedly it was only lunchtime though!)
The Mexican style wrestling was fun to watch, and the event pulled quite a crowd, who all got involved with the heckling of wrestlers.
One thing that really disappointed us, and made things quite difficult, was that by the time we’d arrived, set up camp, and got into the festival itself, they’d already sold out of programs. We tried again to get one on Saturday, but were told that the 500 that were printed had all gone – not great for a festival with circa 4000 visitors. I wouldn’t have minded if announcements were made to keep you abreast of who you saw/were about to see, but this didn’t happen at all. As a result we couldn’t plan where to be and when, and couldn’t search online for acts we saw for the first time, that we really liked. Thankfully though, Practical Action put an announcement out later on Saturday afternoon, that more programs were available, so we got ours for £2, and quickly realised we'd missed Crazy P, which was a bit of a wounder considering that had been a big pull factor for us.
We also didn’t feel there was that much for kids to do, although there were a lot of children there? Punch & Judy was a great option, unfortunately though we didn’t get to see any performances, assumedly because we went virtually the whole festival without a program. We heard a Punch & Judy show from within the arena when we back at our camp, but any time we were in the right place, it was seemingly the wrong time.
There was a great stall offering kids the opportunity to paint their own cardboard animal full head masks. Boo, Flo & Lola would have loved to do it, but at £10 if they make their own, or £15 if they buy theirs, we simply couldn’t justify the cost. (Minimum £30/maximum £45 was way too much for us). It’s a shame there weren’t some free craft type activities for the kids, there were certainly a lot there who would’ve loved it.
Farmfestival runs a hat competition across the whole weekend. We saw some great efforts, with my favourite being a 4-man sausage dog! I was gutted I didn’t have my camera on hand to capture it.
A Turn For The Worse
Our girls were getting sleepy so we let them fall asleep on our laps, only for one of them to promptly wet herself 🙁
Whilst we were back at the tent, the heavens opened… This was most disappointing, seeing as though there was no mention of this on the forecasts I'd checked before setting off, so we hadn't bothered bringing wellies.
Hoping it would pass quickly we stayed inside our tent. Boo, Flo and Lola were kept entertained by Disney movies on the iPad; we were kept entertained by the music that we could still hear with ease from where we were camped…
After 3.5 hours at the tent, we decided we didn’t want to miss out any longer, and chose to brave it.
It was really muddy. By really muddy, I mean really, really muddy. The girls coped well though; in fact they didn’t seem to give a monkeys and welcomed the soggy surroundings with heightened delight. We were a bit more affected, but then again, we had to cart them around with thick mud squelching through our toes on account of wearing flip flops, whereas they were riding high in their wagon!
I’m so glad we did brave the conditions though, as the music on the Saturday night was amazing.
We were introduced to The Lovely Eggs, who were ace. Boo had a good old dance in the wagon. Flo got very excited about the inflatable dinosaur that was crowd surfing; it even brought her out of a massive strop, which trust me, is an enormous achievement.
The one big disappointment though was that (understandably, given the dreadful weather), the acts that were due to play the main stage had no-one to play to, so rumours started to circulate that instead they would be moved inside the tents.
We were having a great time inside the tent, really appreciating the music and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. Unfortunately though it started to really fill up as we approached the time that the headline act, Black Strobe, was due to play. It began to feel unsafe to have 3 little ones in the crowd, even though the girls were mostly sat on our laps/in the wagon, so we ended up returning to our own tent before Black Strobe came on.
All Good Things Come To An End
The following morning we packed down our awning and loaded the car with all our gear. Leaving the festival was really easy, with no traffic issues exiting the site at all.
We had a good time, it was just a shame about the weather, however if we’d been better prepared with wellies, even the weather wouldn’t have put too much of a dampener on proceedings.
We’d go again, although feel that Farmfestival would benefit from retaining it’s small, friendly atmosphere, but having more to cater for families and a bigger variety of food options to ensure we keep returning year on year. Oh, and a bigger supply of programs, or else some sort of compare would help no end too!
For more information visit www.farmfestival.co.uk