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Join the Party: Festival Family Fun

“The four of us, in a field, dancing and singing along to Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long…” Lisa Mills on taking the family to Cornbury Music Festival
"When you have the view of rolling hills and trees of the beautiful Great Tew Estate and beyond to look at when you zip open your tent, who could complain?"

I didn’t really know what to expect from Cornbury – having read words like ‘genteel’ and ‘civilised’ thrown at it, and being well aware of its location near Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire, home of the ‘Chipping Norton set’ I feared we commoners may be a little out of place.


To counter that, as I packed my box of peppermint tea, the kids’ Boden jackets and a living lettuce, I started fearing I would actually fit in instead! In reality, I needn’t have worried either way. Yes, Cornbury is a ‘nice’ festival; a ‘posh’ festival if you like, and it has its rather large VIP area that looms over the main stage, lobster sandwiches, oysters and Bloody Marys, along with a dose of tweed, and none of that appealed in the slightest to me, but it was so easy to ignore that it was barely ever an issue for us. And who doesn’t like a bit of ‘niceness’ when camping anyway? We had opted for tickets in the Quiet Camping field, and the children absolutely relished the abundance of space within the campsite and spent hours playing football and frisbee with their new friends from nearby tents.

A good night’s sleep is something we feel is really important these days (getting old!) so it was great to be able to choose Quiet Camping and for it to live up to its name. You could still hear the music coming from the campsite bar until the small hours of the morning, but that kind of noise never bothers us or the children – in fact I like falling asleep to the sound of a festival still ticking away. But what was pleasingly absent was drunkenness around the tent and shouting – everyone was very mindful of each other and I think this was helped by the fact that you had to specifically select tickets with Quiet Camping to camp there. In fact, we both had a giggle when someone walked past talking loudly and the man in the next tent declared indignantly, “Do you mind? It’s 7.20 am!” I, myself, had no issue with being up at that time – when you have the view of rolling hills and trees of the beautiful Great Tew Estate and beyond to look at when you zip open your tent, who could complain?

Once we reached the arena and after the customary bag searches that take place at any festival that doesn’t allow alcohol inside the arena (something I tolerate grudgingly) we were met with a pleasant site that was very easy to get around. The site is essentially circular – one route taking you past the free children’s activities towards the main ‘Pleasant Valley’ stage; the other past the purse-tugging, child-nagging-whinging-and-whining fairground rides towards the second, smaller ‘Songbird’ stage.

Yes, as you can maybe tell, we took the wrong route on the first day and paid for it with unhappy children who didn’t want to do anything but slide down the helter skelter and bounce on the bouncy castle. I know some parents are happy to fork out for this kind of entertainment, but when you have paid for the cost of a festival and there is loads of free stuff on offer, I feel the need to put my foot down and refuse to pay out for much more. As well as the two bigger stages that were home to the main acts at the festival, there was the Riverside stage which sat between the two and showcased local Oxfordshire acts along with rows of hay bales to sit on, overlooked by the ‘Tea for Tew’ tent, serving, unsurprisingly, tea and cake.

Because of Cornbury’s reputation, I was worried that food would be pricey, but I had no reason to be. If you avoided the aforementioned luxury items of lobster and oysters for around a tenner, you could get great food from £4 or £5. As a wheat-intolerant veggie, I’m always nervous about finding food I can eat, so as soon as I spotted the wonderful Curry Shed, I literally jumped for joy. At £5 for three servings of delicious vegetarian, gluten-free curries with rice, or £7 for the full five, I was sorted. Better still, we could buy two of the £7 plates, ask for two extra plates and sets of cutlery and feed all four of us for £14. This was a firm favourite. I also enjoyed Mexican from Pura Vida at £7 for the full monty of nachos, veggie chilli, refried beans, cheese, jalapenos and a tortilla, again shared with a small person, while my husband and children were fans of Barnaby Sykes Pies, mash and mushy peas at £8.50. The only specific children’s meal I spotted was goujons and chips at £4, but we are more than happy splitting meals and find this works better for us anyway.

The Children’s Area is one place where this festival really shines – I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but we didn’t even make it into the arts and crafts tent all weekend. Had we have done, our children could have taken part in a multitude of crafty activities like lantern making, screen printing, knitting, circus crafts and weaving to name but a few. They did partake in the clay model making and giant colouring in outside, both of which they loved, but there was just so much else going on for them. Two of the main highlights for my children respectively was, for my eight-year-old, the wonderful shows put on in the open air, like the Marky-J’s Monkey Magic Show, the Big Balloon Experiment where the kids watched in awe as Dizzy O’Dare fought his way out of a giant, man-sized balloon through a tiny hole, and Professor Pumpernickel with his wacky science experiments and puffs of red smoke. They were both encapsulated!

For my four-year-old son who is music-obsessed, ‘The Rig’ was simply wonderful and enthralling, and I think he would have happily spent all day there, banging bottle tops, knives and forks, tin tea pots and the like with various implements. The creations were stunning and encouraged creativity, led by the wonderful and enthusiastic staff who interacted with the children, started beats and showed them how to make a variety of sounds. There were also circus skills on offer, a storytelling tent, as well as activities such as kids’ yoga from Tatty Bumpkin, bhangra dancing and drumming workshops – the children could have easily spent all day every day in the kids’ area. My one criticism is that it was on the way in / out of the main arena, so you did feel a little out of the festival and even though the kids were always having a great time, we sometimes got a bit bored ourselves. The saving grace was the wonderful ‘Disco Shed’, belting out tunes from 12 noon to 11pm. every day with a variety of DJ’s, a really great and happy vibe, and which provided the sole adult entertainment in this part of the site.

Just behind the Children’s area was the Therapixie treatment tent and for the first time ever, I partook in a treatment at a festival. Wow, I’m so pleased I did – I had an hour’s reflexology treatment with Nina and I found it such a lovely place to relax, while the conflicting sounds of the festival washed over me. For anyone who can feel a little intimidated by salons and white coats (I can’t be the only one?) a tent at a festival has to be the perfect place to be treated. I floated out and sat for 10 minutes taking in the sights and sounds around me, not even getting stressed when the children appeared demanding money for rides.

Elsewhere, the bands on the two biggest stages were mainly a mix of country pop and the radio friendly types – a lot of the music wasn’t really our bag, but we enjoyed new discoveries The Moulettes and Larkin Poe, had a giggle singing along to the likes of ‘Delila’ from Sir Tom Jones, danced to some cheesy covers by last year’s X Factor contenders Only the Young, and enjoyed Roger Hodgson singing Supertramp songs. But the out and out winner for us, musically, was the wonderful Felice Brothers – it’s the third time I’ve seen them live and they never disappoint. It was a slightly unusual set-up for them – never billed as a headliner, when the running order was announced, they suddenly appeared as the last band playing at 9.30 on the Sunday evening. This meant they were effectively closing the festival on the Sunday night on the second stage (the main stage finishing an hour earlier), but most people seemed to have left after Billy Ocean or found somewhere else to hang out, as the band started to just a cluster of people.

Having packed the car up earlier that day, at the end of their set we were due to walk back to the car park for the trip home – but we couldn’t resist a mad run to the good old Disco Shed, having been begged by our daughter. She and I had danced there both nights previously while my husband took our youngest to bed, and she was desperate for us all to have one last dance before we left. We got there for the last 10 minutes of music and had one of those lovely festival-with-kids moments where the four of us held hands and danced around like silly things out in the open air. In about 20 minutes time, we would be in the car and heading back to Bristol, thrown almost straight back into the craziness of a school run with overtired children and fraught grown-ups, but for now, it was the four of us, in a field, dancing and singing along to Lionel Ritchie’s All Night Long.

Upon returning, my four-year-old’s Nursery teachers told me he hadn’t stopped regaling them with his festival experiences, and I’ve overheard my eight-year-old proudly telling her friends about her late-night shenanigans at the Disco Shed. More festival experiences that will live with them, hopefully forever.


- Lisa Mills


Cornbury Music Festival 2016 takes place 8th-10th July.


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