As we drove through winding roads and pretty little villages on our way to Cornbury Festival 2018, I felt increasingly more relaxed and chilled with every passing country pub and hanging basket. The sun was shining, our car was packed full with our camping gear and the toddler car seat was noticeably empty. We were off on our first baby-free trip away, and I couldn’t quite believe we were finally getting some time to ourselves.
Ahead of our Cornbury Festival experience, we debated whether to go as a family or not. On the one hand, I’d read some wonderful reviews from fellow parenting bloggers that made me feel reassured that Cornbury caters very well for the family market, but I also knew how much LPD and I could do with a break away just as a couple. Unlike our time at Timber Festival, there were artists in particular at Cornbury that I would have been distraught to miss – and the one thing I’ve learned in my time as a parent is that you can’t guarantee being present for anything. I’d have cried hot bitter tears of resentment and anger if we’d have missed Marc Cohn’s set, and I didn’t want to risk it. With the offer of weekend babysitting from my parents, it didn’t take us long to make up our minds. We were doing it. We were turning back the clock and going to enjoy the weekend without needing to parent.
I never set off for holidays at the time I hope. I have all the best intentions to be fully packed the night before and to set off at the crack of dawn, but in reality, I’m still scrabbling around trying to find clean and dry towels at 11am. This weekend was no exception, but as we headed off less than 2.5 hours after my original target – I’m taking that as a success. With a stop off at Aldi on the way to pick up some basic snacks and stock up the camping drinks supplies (absolutely gutted that they’d sold out of G&T tins… had to settle for Pimms instead), it was only a short hour long drive to the festival. Without having to placate and navigate Pickle, it didn’t take us long to set up camp and acquaint ourselves with the surroundings.
As it quickly becoming the norm, I pitched our tent on my own. It speaks volumes about the ease of pitching our Kampa Paloma 5 Air that I can erect this beast by myself. God bless the air poles (although, I’m considering getting a battery operated pump as the hand pump is a bit hard work on the old back).
For anyone interested, this is the camping gear we took with us for the weekend:
- Kampa Paloma 5 Air tent (with the carpet, but not the footprint)
- Double blow-up mattress
- Foot pump for the mattress
- Double sleeping bag
- Our two Kampa XL high back chairs
- Deluxe Kitchen Unit (link isn’t the exact one we purchased last year, but it’s ridiculously similar)
- Single Campingaz Stove (used only to make tea, currently only £10 on Amazon)
- Whistling Camping Kettle
- 2 enamel mugs (used to drink tea)
- Folding washing up bowl (which we didn’t use, except to store books in)
- A massive thick scarf I bought from Asos years ago that I use as a rug
- Our special camping blanket
Shop our Camping Gear
Settling into the Vibe
I can’t speak from reams of festival experience, but one constant with each of the ones we’ve been to is that it takes a while to settle into the vibe of a festival. It takes a bit of time to acclimatise. I felt a little prickly at the start, constantly comparing the size, the atmosphere, the layout to the previous week’s festival before I quickly realised that was completely futile. All festivals are different. They cater to different audiences, and once we’d taken some time to have a look around and figure out the offering, we better knew how to make the most of our time.
The Kids Area
We automatically found ourselves in the Kids Area first. Partly this is because it was fairly close to the entrance from the campsite, but also because I really wanted to know what was on offer for future reference. Parents will be parents. The first thing we were greeted with was the sounds of a drumming workshop, and I grinned because I knew Pickle would have loved that.
The whole Kids Area was riotously colourful, with a very clever kind of rag tent that offered a bit of shade for families too. The crafts tent was open for two long sessions every day, and I was so tempted to go in and do some for myself but feared I might look a bit weird without a child in tow. There was all sorts on offer though: from colouring to cross-stitch.
The circus section was particularly popular, where all and sundry were invited to give various circus activities a go for themselves – I saw a lot of plate spinning and juggling attempts! There was also a face painting tent (with a range of designs available for just a donation to go towards buying more supplies) and a lovely display called What is Love? that kept being added to over the course of the weekend.
My absolute favourite though was The Rig: a delightful set up of noise making implements that was keeping children and adults of all ages entertained. I know we could have quite happily left Pickle to play with the pots, pans, spoons and more all day long and he’d have had a whale of a time. We may have even had chance to sit down and enjoy a rest whilst he did so (or maybe that’s wishful thinking).
But what we were really there for, was the music. There weren’t many acts that we were desperate to see – but rather we were really happy to meander between the two main stages, the little Riverside stage and the Caffe Nero tent and listen to whatever ticked our fancy. I couldn’t quite believe how lucky we were when sat, with a milkshake each, under a parasol outside the Caffe Nero tent listening to Joe Slater play a cracking acoustic set. I could have sat there for hours. It was such a treat to be able to take in our surroundings without entertaining a two year old and panicking about upsetting anyone around us with the inevitable tantrums.
The highlight of Saturday’s line up for us was, without a doubt, Amy Macdonald. Not only did she come across as very grounded, genuine and grateful, her music was just right for me on a Saturday night: upbeat, a bit rocky and with a storytelling core. Exactly my cup of tea, and I really enjoyed listening to the songs I knew, as well as the ones I didn’t. I’ve been listening to her albums a lot since we returned, and I’m so glad we’ll always have the memories of her set to look back on, and I’d love to catch her live again.
The whole weekend though was all about Marc Cohn. He was the whole reason we wanted to be at Cornbury Festival in the first place. We chose one of his songs True Companion as the first dance at our wedding, and it’s a song that still gives me goosebumps now listening to it. I was keeping all my fingers and toes crossed that he’d play it live for us at Cornbury, and even though he didn’t, listening to him play the songs I grew up listening to was absolutely mesmerising. He played on the Songbird Stage, which has a much more intimate feel to it than the bigger Pleasant Valley stage so it felt more personal too. He’s a wonderful storyteller in his music, and hearing some of the details that helped to flesh out those stories was incredible. It was an absolute honour to witness his set, and I would love to see him play again. Next time, I’ll definitely be putting in a request for our song!
Our other Highlights
Aside from the music and enjoying some rare child-free time together, I like to think we made the most of what else was on offer. After originally being a bit sceptical, I’m so glad LPD managed to tempt me into the comedy tent at 2pm on a blazing hot afternoon (I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much) to see an incredibly comedy preview of Kieran Hodgson’s Edinburgh show ’75. If you’re heading up to the festival this year, make sure you get your tickets to this clever, witty, beautifully performed political masterpiece. At first, I wasn’t sure… it sounded all a little too rehearsed compared to previous comedy shows I’d been to, but then I got it. I relished the intricate details, the narrative and the research. If you’ve ever had an interest in politics, if you’re totally bemused by Brexit or if you just enjoy good impressions – this is the show for you.
Another highlight was saying hello to fellow blogger Louise from Pink Pear Bear, and meeting her lovely family in-between Amy MacDonald and Alanis Morrisette. It can sometimes be a bit nerve-wracking to meet the women from in your phone face to face, but as soon as I started chatting to Louise, I felt like I’d known her a long time.
The rest of the weekend was spent in a daze of chilling out and relaxing. We enjoyed a drink and cake in the Tea for Tew tent (a group of local parents putting on the most professional catering service to raise money for their primary school), we went on the big wheel, and I even enjoyed taking the time to read a whole magazine from cover to cover – which I never do. They were giving out free copies of Red magazine in the Tea for Tew tent, and I was pleasantly surprised by its contents – including an article on Mum guilt and big travel adventures.
Our time spent at Cornbury Festival was chilled, relaxing and unforgettable. It’s known as being a bit of a ‘posh’ festival, but in all honesty… I didn’t think it was that posh. Whilst there were parts of the festival that obviously catered to those with a lot more disposable income in their pockets (the Nyetimber champagne bus is a perfect example), we were there on a tight budget and didn’t feel like we missed out, especially as it was so easy to nip back to the tent for snacks, drinks or some down time.
Planning your first trip?
There are some points I’d make for anyone thinking of attending for the first time next year:
- camping chairs and festival trolleys are allowed into the Arena (I didn’t think they would be judging by some of the rules I’d read – which was a bit confusing)
- some of the literature I read also said the festival had more of a ‘standing and listening’ music culture rather than sitting, but we didn’t find that the case either. We often sat on our rug – there’s a bit of a natural order: standing at the front, rugs behind, and chairs at the back
- we arrived on Saturday, two days after the camping field opened and there was still plenty of space
- there is a quieter camping section for those who don’t want to be disturbed by any night time antics – we found the campsite a little louder than our experience at Timber Festival but not too disruptive
See you next year!
All in all, we had an absolutely brilliant time – one I’d love to repeat next year. I’ll be keeping an eye on my inbox to await further news of next year’s dates and line up (it looks like it could be 5th – 7th July 2019). I think I’d plan to spend every summer weekend at a festival next year, if I could. Thank you, Cornbury. You gave this set of parents a much needed and well deserved break.
Disclaimer: we received press tickets to the festival in exchange for this honest review of our time there. All content, views and opinions remain my own, and as always, are 100% honest.