We love festivals, but now we have two small daughters, we need to pick our festivals carefully. If its too loud, brash and big its easy to spend the weekend worrying about losing the kids in a big crowd and feeling a bit stressed out. However, if it’s too laid back and mellow, there is a risk they will get bored and whiney, so there needs to be enough to hold their interest whilst also having enough ‘grown up’ stuff so we don’t spend the whole weekend feeling like ‘just’ parents. Valley Fest promises on its webpage that it is a ‘truly family friendly event’, so we went along to this year’s festival to see how it compared with other family friendly places we know and love.
The first thing that hits you when you arrive in the camping area is the absolutely beautiful view.
I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in such a stunningly situated festival camping spot as here; the sun was setting over Chew Valley Lake as we were pitching our tent, and it really took my breath away with how gorgeous it was. The family camping area we were in was clearly marked, and there was plenty of room so no need to be camped practically on top of your neighbours. My first piece of advice though would be this: if, like us, you can’t exactly pack light with all the kids stuff you need, bring something like a trolley or wheelbarrow to carry stuff. Although there is a little shuttle tractor to bus you to the camping area, the camping is pretty far away from the car park so if you are carrying little people too, you might need all the help you can get!
When you head into the main festival arena, there are several clearly defined areas, ranging from stages and performance spaces to kids areas and even a wellbeing and spa area. With the weather not being great, our hopes were very much on the kids area having enough going on to entertain our rain soggy girls so they forgot to notice they were a bit cold and wet. I have to say; I was really impressed by the sheer amount of different activities on offer in the craft area and the cosy area at the back with beanbags and books was particularly appreciated by my three year old. Some of the activities in the kids tent had a charge attached, which was OK as they were good workshops. However, the one thing I wished for in this area was a space set up for free making with materials available to be used as the kids wished. Very occasionally we turned up just as an activity was finishing and being packed away, so we had to manage a little bit of disappointment. My eldest really loves being given a load of materials and using her imagination to create something, in fact she much prefers this to more structured activities as most of the craft in here was. Having free making space would give choice to those who are more like my daughter, and would have improved our experience of the kids area. Having said that, the people who were running this area were friendly and engaging and the activities were fab. They even didn’t seem to mind when my daughter wanted to make five nebulas in a bottle rather than the expected one!
My favourite area of the festival was the Tipi Valley. Those of you who have been to Eat Drink Bristol Fashion on College Green will probably recognise the huge tipi structures where this stage is based. Throughout the day there was a relaxed vibe in here, plenty of places to sit and never too long a queue at the bar. By day the dance floor was filled with little ones skidding across it on their knees, by night it was taken over by the grown ups. The set from Bristol based band Shelanagig absolutely rocked it in here with their energetic and crowd pleasing music; it was impossible not to get up and leap about with abandon!
What I loved about Valley Fest was that wherever you looked there was something interesting going on with entertainment popping up all over the arena. From the stilt walkers blowing bubbles as the kids walked by late at night, to the fire engine which had been converted into a sound system which drew an enthusiastic crowd of ravers there was plenty to see and do. My girls particularly loved the circus skills area and the outdoor skittle alley with probably the best view from an alley I’ve ever seen! The late night fires dotted about were a welcome addition, giving space to chill out and chat with other festival goers, and giving the kids a place to get sleepy and wind down before bedtime.
The food at Valley Fest certainly deserves a mention. My experience of most other festivals is that the food is usually not great, lots of burger vans and chips. It was clear though that the influence of being next door to The Community Farm rubbed off. Yes, there were burgers, but they were made by the Story Group and were just completely delicious. The food was fresh, tasty and there was enough choice of good wholesome food if you wanted that, with a brilliant egg and bacon bap to be had if that’s what you needed to fend off the hangover!
As we left the site to head home and back to the reality of school in the morning, I couldn’t help the huge smile that was plastered all over my face. The funk and soul set from Craig Charles on the Lake Stage was amazing and a fantastic way to end our time here on a high. We even loved the fact that there was so much space in the arena that we could get right to the front of the stage and dance with no fear of being pushed or crushed with a crowd surge. Valley Fest is a really friendly festival; big enough to be interesting but small enough that is feels safe and intimate. We absolutely loved it and will definitely be back next year.
Review by Karen Blake