During the summer holidays I got the opportunity to tick one more item off of my ‘40 Things Before I’m 40‘ list… #35: take the girls to a festival. It’s been almost twelve months since I last managed to complete any of the tasks on my list, and I’ve only got a few years left to go before the milestone birthday (eek!), so heading for Sunshine Festival in Worcestershire on a super sunny bank holiday weekend in August felt extra special.
Way back in 2005 Neil and I went to V Festival. We’d only been together for about a year at that point, we didn’t have children yet (with the exception of Neil’s daughter/my stepdaughter who would have been almost four years old at the time) and we were pretty much free to do as we pleased. We went on both the Saturday and the Sunday though we didn’t camp overnight – having in-laws who live nearby who happily let you crash at their place was a definite advantage! We saw Oasis, Natasha Bedingfield, Maroon 5, The Streets, Bodyrockers and so many more awesome bands and had an altogether brilliant time.
Fast forward fourteen years to now… We’re mid thirties/early forties (I’ll leave you to decide which of us is which!), married, with four children between us, and so our priorities have changed somewhat, even if in our heads we’re still the fresh-faced, carefree, twenty-somethings we were all those years ago. I think we thought our festival-ing (that’s a word, right?) days were over. Well, it turns out that might not necessarily be the case. Since we’ve had our daughters a whole host of family-friendly festivals have popped up and I’ve been wanting to take the girls to one ever since they were little.
In fact, there are now so many choices of festivals all over the country that I found it quite hard to narrow down which one to opt for as they all sounded like really fun, interesting and uniquely different experiences. In the end I did what I always do when paralysed with indecision – absolutely nothing. The years ticked by, we still hadn’t been to a festival with them and I was starting to get a bit worried that we’d maybe missed the boat on some of the ones that cater for kids in particular.
It turns out I needn’t have worried at all. We were lucky enough to be approached by the team at Sunshine Festival who gifted us a family ticket in exchange for an honest review and coverage on my blog and Instagram. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to take the girls to their first ever festival and we happened to have Sophie (now nearly eighteen years old!) with us that weekend, so she came along for her first ever festival experience too.
Sunshine Festival is a three-day, family friendly festival event which takes place every year over the late August Bank Holiday weekend. This year happened to be their tenth birthday celebration event and so it was even bigger and better than previous years, boasting a brilliant line-up of acts including headliners Busted, East 17 and Scouting For Girls, plus Peter Andre, SClub, Boyzlife, Jedward, Judge Jules & Dave Pearce amongst many, many other tribute bands, DJs and performers.
We opted to go along just on the Sunday rather than all three days. The nature of the husband’s job meant that he couldn’t take the whole weekend off work – the bank holiday weekend is always one of the busiest times in the pub industry calendar. Plus we weren’t sure what the girls’ responses would be to the loud music and busy crowds so we figured that just the one day would be a good introduction for them. The weather lived up to the festival’s name…the sun shone and the temperature soared – a miracle for August Bank Holiday!
Where Is Sunshine Festival?
Sunshine Festival takes place in the heart of the beautiful Worcestershire countryside near to the pretty little village of Upton Upon Severn, about 15 minutes from Junction 8 of the M5.
Knowing that the festival entertainment wouldn’t start until midday, we arrived late morning with the plan of walking into the village for a bite to eat. We easily parked our car in the Day Parking area which was a short-and-bumpy drive through the fields and past the various camping areas (Quiet camping, Family camping, Glamping and General camping), all of which looked busy but clean enough from what we could see.
We wandered into the village where we found narrow streets lined with delightfully quaint old houses, a high street bustling with festival-goers peeking into the windows of all the independent shops, an impressive number of pubs for such a small place, an abundance of gorgeous floral displays, a marina and The Pepperpot – the bell tower of an old church and the oldest surviving building in the village.
We opted for tiny ‘Minnie’s Tea Room’ for lunch and I can highly recommend the doorstop toasted sandwiches with salad and crisps, a pot of tea or mug of coffee and a piece of the rather excellent carrot cake which more than satisfied our rumbling tummies.
Strolling back to the festival site, we began to feel the excitement fizzing in the air. The girls were wide eyed as we walked through the campsites, people in costumes blended in with the crowds, we could hear the music drifting across the fields and, as we got closer, feel the beats vibrating in our chests. Mimi and Lola donned their ear defenders and in we went.
The security at the site was good. We collected our wristbands (which had to be visible the whole time we were on site), picked up a couple of programmes so we knew what time everything was happening, tucked our free circus tickets safely away for later on in the afternoon and had our backpack thoroughly searched (no alcohol is allowed to be brought onto the site) before being allowed in.
A Family-Friendly Festival
Once inside we had a quick wander around to get our bearings and I was pleased to see that the site itself wasn’t too huge. I remembered V Festival feeling overwhelmingly vast and crushingly busy with people, whereas Sunshine Festival had a completely different feel to it – tickets were completely sold out but it felt so much more relaxed, everything was nearby, it was busy but in a good way and it was set out in a layout that made sense. This was important for me – with it being our first time taking our girls anywhere like this we obviously wanted to make sure they would be safe and still have a good time. Festivals are definitely a different experience with kiddos in tow – equally as much fun, just different!
There was the Main Stage where all the bigger bands and headliners performed, plus three further smaller stages (the Westons Stage, the Sunflower Stage and the Variety Stage) which were all situated inside separate huge marquees. Two things that really impressed me were: 1/ the free water stations dotted around the site so you could refill bottles – vital with the heatwave we were having. And 2/ how little litter there was – it seemed very clean and tidy compared to V Festival.
Our first stop was the Sunflower Tent as Ella was desperate to see the Taylor Swift tribute act, who had just started her set as we arrived. Grateful for the welcoming shade, we settled down and watched / listened / danced along to our favourite tracks. Sophie and Lola got up and moved to the front of the crowd, closer to where she was performing, and Lola was absolutely thrilled when the singer came down off the stage into the crowd and danced alongside them!
Sunshine Festival prides itself on being a family friendly festival and there was loads for kids to do and join in with at certain times throughout the day. An entire section dedicated to inflatables and bouncy castles (extra charges); free circus skills workshops; and a free KidZone filled with games like giant Jenga, Connect 4 and Noughts & Crosses. There were also lots of stalls offering services like hair braiding, glitter tattoos, face painting and henna, all of which were very popular.
The five of us girls all had henna tattoos done on our hands (£5 each). I had a lot of Asian friends when I was at high school and I used to be so envious of their beautiful henna designs when they came into school after a weekend at a family wedding – I’ve wanted to have one done ever since and I was thrilled to get my chance at Sunshine Festival. I tried to convince the husband to have a glitter beard done but he wasn’t having any of it!
Crucially, there was a ‘Kids Bar’ area selling slush puppies and milkshakes and we spent a lot of the in-between times here as there was plenty of shade and the chance to cool off a bit from the scorching temperatures outside. We chilled out there for quite a while, just people-watching and soaking up the atmosphere.
There was a real mix of people at Sunshine Festival – plenty of families of course plus couples, groups of friends, young people, older people, those who were clearly seasoned festival-goers who seemed prepared for anything and those who were obviously newbies like us. I liked how eclectic it was. There was a wide variety of international food on offer in the food village as well – burgers, pasta, pizza, Mexican, Thai, coffee, cakes, crepes, pies and paella to name just a few!
Usually on a day out or family trip we like to stay in a group so we can experience everything together. Occasionally though there is a need to ‘divide and conquer’ and go our separate ways in order to keep everyone happy and take advantage of everything that there is on offer.
Lola was desperate to see the circus show, whereas the husband and the teenager wanted to let loose to Judge Jules classic Ibiza tunes in what has affectionately been nicknamed ‘the Rave Tent’. Ella opted to stick with Lola and I, whereas Mimi chose to stay with her Dad. From the videos Neil took whilst they were in there I can only anticipate that Mimi will be the one most likely to be staying out until the small hours clubbing all night as a teenager – she LOVED it!
Meanwhile, Ella, Lola and I took our seats in the circus tent ready for the first of the day’s two performances from Happy’s Circus. I love the circus and The Greatest Showman is absolutely up there as one of my favourite films but I have to say I do not like clowns. At all. So I was a *little* bit nervous when I saw one in the wings peeking out from behind the curtain. Lola was also a bit worried there might be fireworks or fire in the show (she’s never liked fireworks and since the fire we had at our home back in February of this year anything even remotely connected to flames has been a real trigger for her) so I checked with one of the staff members. She told us that there was a little bit of fire in one of the acts but nothing terribly scary. Thankfully Lola was reassured and settled down to watch the performance ok, though she did sit on my lap when the section of the show that did have fire in it was on.
The show was fab: 45 minutes of breathtaking performances from gymnasts, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers and a strongman. We “oohed” and “ahhed” as the various acts dramatically flew through the air, balanced themselves gracefully on invisible wires, contorted themselves into seemingly impossible knots and hefted objects that no normal human could even dream of lifting. The clown was entertaining and had both Ella and Lola giggling (though I have to say I was grateful he kept his distance and I wasn’t chosen from the audience to participate in one of the sketches!) and the female ringmaster was excellent too. I didn’t get many photos as I was so busy being amazed by the show I forgot to pick up my camera!
After the circus show was over we bought a rainbow ribbon (Lola wanted to take it to her Saturday morning dance classes and I had heart-eyed visions of golden hour photoshoots on the beach next time we head down to Cornwall) and played on the field for a bit. Isn’t it funny how the smallest of things bring the most joy? She was SO happy with it, bless her. Eventually we wandered back to meet up with the others (who, we discovered, were still raving!).
It was still deliciously hot, which meant that ice creams were needed for air conditioning and sustenance purposes. We then had a tricky decision to make. I’d suddenly remembered our cats and realised that I hadn’t arranged for anyone to go in and feed them in the evening (oops), completely forgetting that we wouldn’t be home until very, very late if we stayed to watch Scouting For Girls (who, let’s be honest, were the main reason I wanted to go to the festival in the first place!). We had to choose whether to call it a day at the festival and miss the headline act, or whether to stay and let the cats go hungry…
In the end the cat-mum guilt won and we reluctantly elected to go home. Honestly, I was gutted – I REALLY wanted to see Scouting For Girls. But, realistically, the girls had pretty much reached their limits for the day, we’d had a great time, and I didn’t want to spoil it by pushing them to stay too long. I think it was the right choice in the end, and I still got to see the videos of Scouting For Girls performance in Sunshine Festival’s Instagram stories so I didn’t miss out completely.
We had a quick mooch around the stalls and a quick trip to the toilets (which were MUCH cleaner than I’d expected and they still had loo paper and hand sanitiser in them even in the early evening) before heading back to our car to make the journey home against the backdrop of a gorgeous sunset and quietly snoozing children in the back seat.
We had an absolutely brilliant day at Sunshine Festival – I would say that the girls’ first ever festival experience was a resounding success.
Early bird tickets for Sunshine Festival 2020 are now on sale and the first headline act has been announced with more acts being announced on Christmas Day. You can buy tickets to next years event here.
Thank you again for inviting us along Sunshine Festival!
(As previously mentioned, we were gifted a family ticket to Sunshine Festival in exchange for an honest review and coverage on my blog and Instagram. All photographs, words, thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own)