Mud, Sweat and (not so many) Beers. Here’s what happened when we took our toddler to her first music festival
I like to think of myself as pretty ‘festival-savvy’; I know that dry shampoo and hand sanitiser can see me through just about any weekend in a tent, and I can navigate my way through a field of guy ropes in the dark with minimal face-plants.
However, I’m not remotely outdoorsy. My usual definition of ‘roughing it’ involves staying in a budget chain hotel with a low-tog duvet and only Freeview channels on the TV. When you throw a toddler into the whole festival camping mix, I really am completely out of my comfort zone.
But with its ‘family-friendly’, relaxed reputation and as it’s less than 90 minutes away from Cardiff, Nozstock in Herefordshire seemed as good a place as any to introduce our daughter Emily to the full festival experience.
Nozstock was founded by ‘Farmer Noz’ nineteen years ago. What started as a little garden party amongst friends and family has, over the years, grown into a weekend of music, comedy, cabaret, circus, crafts and film. With acts spread out over 11 stages, the festival now welcomes around 5,000 visitors each year and is considered one of the best ‘boutique festivals’ in the summer calendar.
As soon as we arrived I was relieved to see how small the whole set-up was. Anyone who has parked their car at Glastonbury or Leeds / Reading Festival will tell you that if you forget anything in the car when you’ve already made the arduous journey to your campsite – whether it’s a bottle of vodka or life-saving insulin – you’d rather do a handstand in the festival latrines than walk all the way back to get it.
In the surrounding farmland of Nozstock, you can park your car and be at your tent within a couple of minutes. Handy if you’ve got crates and crates of beer. Or, like us, if you’ve got crates and crates of toddler crap.
My husband and I are not ‘seasoned campers’ and I definitely got the impression that for the majority of the families in the designated ‘family campsite’, this wasn’t their first rodeo. There were high-tech family camper vans, huge communal gazebos and outdoor furniture sets everywhere we looked. This was a lifestyle.
In contrast to this, Tom and I nearly divorced over which side of the tent was ‘the outside’. Our marriage was only just saved by two very obliging young Oxfam volunteers who managed to fit it all together just before the rain started to hit.
Despite this, everyone we camped with – and everyone we spoke to at the festival, come to think of it – was extremely warm and friendly. Some of these families had been coming here for years. For a lot of them, it wasn’t really about the music. Some of them were keen to see the headliners, but all in all, they came for the relaxed vibe and the inclusiveness that makes Nozstock a perfect camping option for families with young children.
Walking around the festival site and seeing people from all walks of life – from toddling babies to elderly couples – is testament to how inclusive this festival really is.
There was always something to see and do that catered for all ages and tastes. I heard such a diverse range of music; from free-form-jazz to indie-girl-rock and experimental electronica to folk-metal. There were secret passageways and tunnels to different stages, trippy sculptures and artwork augmented by quirky cabaret dancers and performers who would meander their way through the crowds all day long.
Emily enjoyed the Little Woodland Kids Area; a cordoned-off part of the field dedicated to the mini-festival-goer. They hosted workshops and craft-making, mini-yoga sessions and drum circles throughout the day, but most of the activities were a little too old for our toddler. Instead, she busied herself in the sandpit and played with the blocks and toys provided, as well as helping to make a huge fake bonfire out of pieces of orange fabric.
Despite the plentiful entertainment, Emily’s favourite activity of the weekend was tracking and following one of the chickens that was ambling about the festival site. She hasn’t stopped asking where the chicken is since we left!
Nozstock feels like ‘old-school’ Glastonbury; quirky, hippie, trippy and friendly. Everyone there seemed to share a collective intention to suspend real life for the weekend so that they can have fun and enjoy themselves as much as possible.
The compact, intimate nature of the festival meant that walking from the tent to the main festival site, even with a toddler who insisted on trying to unzip every tent we passed on our way, took us less than 10 minutes. Great for tired legs. Not so great when you’re trying to sleep in a tent with a toddler whilst the rave rages on a couple of fields away.
Luckily, Emily was so exhausted from all the excitement and fresh air that she would pass out at 10pm and sleep solidly until the morning. But nothing is louder than a rave you can’t go to. After having a few beers outside the tent whilst the baby slept, we called it a night ourselves by midnight. It felt completely strange to listen to the festival whir around me whilst I, rather than downing a bottle of vodka and dancing til dawn, lay in my sleeping bag next to a snoring toddler. The times, they have changed.
The only thing worse than lack of sleep at a festival is the infliction known to many as ‘toilet dread’. I have seen some truly harrowing scenes in festival toilets that will forever be burned onto the back of my retinas. But I’m pleased to say that the loos at Nozstock didn’t bring on any ‘Vietnam-style’ festival toilet flashbacks for me. In fact, they were some of the cleanest festival toilets I have ever seen. For me, this alone is a good enough reason to make Nozstock my festival of choice for life!
We packed up at the end of the weekend feeling totally wind-wept, shattered and filthy. Yet despite this, it was one of the best family weekends we have ever had. Would I do it every weekend? Absolutely not. But the whole experience was so rewarding. I learned that Emily is even more adaptable to different routines and ways of life than I have given her credit for.
And I learned that I could simultaneously rock out to a band whilst changing a pooey toddler nappy. Wins all-round!