The Dad - 44
The Mum - 40
The Kid- 8
It’s hard to imagine a festival set in a more idyllic place than this one. If you arrive from the main car park you walk, rising gently but steadily up a track lined with victorian-style lamp posts, alongside the seemingly endless neat rows of veggies that belong to the Community Farm which sits right next to the festival site.
Your uphill efforts to the entrance are immediately rewarded by way of the hive of activity that is the ’main street’ where you get an immediate sense of Valleyfest’s family ethos. The first thing we were met with was a blue rabbit that came bounding from the face-painting and glitter station that is surely the first stop for any budding festival goer (and their parents of course!).
Punctuated with fluttering colourful flags and thoughtfully-dressed stalls, the little street invites you to try and buy some bright new ‘festwear’, grab a coffee and chat to representatives from organic produce companies and most importantly, to drop a donation to the friendly volunteers at the Teenage Cancer Trust tent, the festival’s adopted charity. Some of the stalls offer activities for the kids to do or they can have a go at hula hooping and juggling at the ‘Village Green’ which is cleverly placed in amongst It all, allowing you to keep an eye on them whilst you explore.
There was a small funfair at the top of the field with a Ferris Wheel and a Helter Skelter, set behind the main festival bar, the ‘Ring’O’Bells’. This bar is the pivotal spot of the ‘Gathering Place’ and from here you can really get a sense of your surroundings. The view down the valley to the main stage and on over Chew Lake is nothing short of stunning. There are food options adjacent to the ‘Gathering place’ with plenty of higgledy-piggledy seating options to choose from, from everything from bales of hay to bathtubs!
The Valley forms a perfect natural arena and gives off a feeling that there’s plenty of space to move around in. To the right of the main stage there were more tents and stalls, amongst them was the info point where you can book some great activities for the whole family, which I would highly recommend to ensure your place. We arranged to go on the Farm Tour, Forest School and the Aardman Workshop, which was great fun. A modeller from the animation company tries to get a tent full of rowdy non-modellers to create a character from the films!
To the left side of the Stage there were more eating options, nicely positioned for people heading down to the second stage in the far corner. From here all the way back up the hill there was a more going on, from the large dining tent (you can pre-book one of the feasts here), ‘The Flicks’ cinema and a kids craft tent.
Food wise, the main emphasis is on wholesome and healthy. The majority of choices were vegetarian and Vegan, all of it so satisfying that it could turn even the most carnivorous carnivore’s head (who knew that Jackfruit could be so tasty!). If meat is more your thing then you’re well catered for too, the juicy burgers were hand-stacked with care and I developed a mini addiction to the chips! The drinks choices are plentiful too. All of the above could be washed down with a pip fruit juice, a Thatchers cider, a lager or local Bath Ale etc. All available at the ‘Ring ‘O’ Bells’ bar.
It’s worth mentioning here that Valleyfest has a respectful approach to the environment and it really shows as I’ve never been to a festival that is so clean.
There are well marked bins everywhere and as a result you rarely saw anything on the ground that shouldn’t be there. The organisers ask that you bring a refillable bottle with you and they provide a water pumping station for you to top-up, courtesy of Bristol Water.
Music-wise, the sounds echoing across the valley integrate perfectly with whatever you happen to be doing at the time. When you have kids, as we know, sometimes you’re not able to just sit around to watch the bands but it felt that whoever was playing was never far away because the main stage is so well placed, slap bang in the middle of the venue, with all the smaller venues very close-by (but with no overlapping).
The lineup was versatile and catered for a broad range of tastes. The emphasis was on modern swing for the first two acts on the main stage, with Dutty Moonshine Big Band and Cut Capers. Both injecting some real energy into the start to the proceedings. I thought Cut Capers were particularly good. Big drums and searing brass solo’s accompanied the ‘guy and gal’ lead singers taking turns batting the lyrics to each other, which was really entertaining. Later Basement Jaxx headlined and delivered a DJ set that didn’t disappoint. Stompers from their own catalogue mixed with dance classics meant no-one was able to sit down!
Down on the second stage, we were treated to the foot-stomping folk tunes of Sheelanagig, the spellbinding voice of Nuala Honan, the nod-along-to beats and synths of Icarus and the wild whistles and tribal drumming of Afon Sistema. I did say broad tastes didn’t I?
’The Yard’ was behind the main bar and hosted some excellent DJ talent over the weekend. From Phibes to Hollie May, from The Nextmen to Si Mclean, from DJ Dunks & Flashman Funk to Junior Jungle, with their ‘Massive Rave For Little Ravers’ which I must say is one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Never mind soft play, these guys know how to wear the kids out. They were fantastic and had the kids going crazy!
The weekend continued to showcase some brilliant artists from acoustic to drum and bass. Razorlight headlined on the Saturday night and as you would expect, had the whole crowd shouting back lyrics to their long-loved tracks.
We had to leave while Norman Jay (MBE) was on the decks on the main stage. He was getting people on their feet to dance in the afternoon sun and we could feel and see the energy building for the ’Ultimate Elton and the Rocket Band’ experience as people were donning their Elton John glasses and multi-coloured garbs. One guy had made a piano out of polystyrene to sit at! Later, Tom Odell would close the festival.
Valleyfest had over sixty acts playing, music is in every direction as you walk around. Not bad for this lesser-known event.
If somehow all of the above wasn’t enough, there were also cooking demonstrations, talks on wellbeing and the chance to join Yoga and a huge Zumba class.
To summarise; if you like music, food, family fun in the sun* in an amazing setting and an all round great weekend away, head to Valleyfest 2020. You won’t be disappointed.
*This reviewer doesn’t guarantee good weather!