It’s 9pm Friday night, and I’m stood in the middle of a field with the sun just starting to fall towards the horizon, surrounded by thousands and thousands of people at CarFest South watching Rick Astley crooning away on stage. It’s a cool balmy evening and my 14-year-old son, Coby, is stood next to me watching and listening to everything going on around him, a little mesmerised and a little bit bewildered. My step-daughter Lucy is next to him, hoodie up, sunglasses on, playing it cool and Steve is stood at the end occasionally singing along to ‘Together Forever’. This is our first festival as a family and Coby and Lucy’s first experience of any kind of festival, ever.
They’ve flown all over the world since small, they’ve seen the most beautiful things that some people only dream about, but they’ve never actually been camping, nor danced in a field with strangers, until now.
Experiencing a little more of our own beautiful country seems like a bit of no-brainer this summer and I’m a big fan of a staycation, so when Carfest South contacted me and asked if I’d like to spend the weekend with them, it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
We’re usually on holiday the last two weeks of August and this is the first time in eight years we’ve not gone away. But for various reasons, mainly that we went to New York in February and we’re hopefully going away again for Christmas, we reined it in a little bit for the summer holidays and decided to see more of the U.K. this year.
I’d never heard of CarFest (or CarFest South) and initially thought it was a festival for petrol heads and Top Gear fans, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It is about cars, absolutely, and you can’t miss the roar of the engines or see them whizzing around the track whilst there. Laverstoke Farm (an organic/biodynamic farm) is also owned by the legendary FI driver Jody Scheckter but there’s so much to this festival than cars. With Carters Steam Fair onsite, a circus, cooking tents, wine-tasting, food stands, yoga classes, craft tents and endless activities to take part in, (I’m just scratching the surface here), adults and children of all ages; babies, toddlers, and teens all wander around the site with big smiles on their faces eager to find the next bit of fun to keep them smiling.
The atmosphere at CarFest South is nostalgic, unpretentious, friendly, honest and relaxed. We didn’t spot any dramas, drunks or fights and you can’t help but talk to strangers and make new friends.
Chris Evans is the brainchild behind CarFest. Founded in 2012 its aim is to raise funds for Children in Need and from what I can gather it just gets bigger and bigger every year. In 2018 the event raised just under £3.1 million taking its collective figure to £13.5 million! Just like Reading and Leeds festival, it also has two locations; one in the North in Cheshire and one in the South, in Hampshire.
If you’ve got a three-day camping ticket you can arrive from 7am on Friday. Apparently, the queues to get in the festival car parks are huge so not really knowing the advantage of turning up early, aside from getting your first pick of a pitch, we held off until lunchtime and arrived around 2pm. With a little help from the volunteers (after getting lost) we eventually found where we were meant to be and set off on our way down the hill to find the perfect spot for our tent and home for the weekend.
We’d borrowed a roomy(ish) family tent from a friend. Having never camped before I really didn’t want to be forking out on something that I wasn’t sure we’d use again. CarFest focuses hugely on conservation and reducing plastic so buying a new one also felt a little wrong in that regard.
Lucy and I practised putting the tent up in our back garden the day before the festival and it took us just under 2 hours!! No joke. The instructions were shocking so after feeling like we’d been taking part in some kind of cruel puzzle we eventually had a pretty cool (and sturdy) looking tent.
The first step of our camping experience was complete.
Supplies were bought from Amazon and again borrowed from other avid camping friends. I started writing an equipment list on my phone which was getting bigger and bigger throughout the day.
Thankfully (or with hindsight maybe not) the tent made it through the night so we packed it back up, along with enough food and drink to feed a small army, loaded everything into the car and off we set!
All the gear, and no idea! 😉
With all our belongings either on our backs or in the little trolley we hired from the gate, I remember looking around and clearly thinking “Woah, how many tents?”. It was incredible. Just a sea of blue, green and grey with the odd flag waving in the air and clear walkways between each pitching area. And there were some serious campers too! I mean, despite there being plenty of portaloos and clean showers, some folk even brought their own loo!!
The drawback of setting off late meant we had to put our tent up in 30*C heat and it was hard work. We were quicker this time as we knew what we were doing, but it was still exhausting. Lesson No.1 learned!
Tickets cost £356 for a full weekend with camping for a family of four but you can also get day tickets ranging from £69-£161. There are glamping and pre-pitched tent options too if that’s what you’d prefer. Personally, the glamping tents looked very nice and if we’d have had more time to plan I’d have most likely preferred to stay in one of those.
I’ve been to a few festivals in the past, I wrote about my experience of Coachella here, and whilst I’m not a regular festival goer, by far, I’ve never seen such a wide variety of food stalls as what there was at CarFest South. There really is something for everyone. Vegetarian, Vegan, healthy and the not-so-healthy. Every part of the site has some sort of food stand. Seating and shade were limited, and I’ve got to admit the lack of shady spots bugged us a little, but you will eventually find somewhere to sit and chill. It’s a good idea to take your camping chairs and blankets down into the festival and get your own little spot for the day. The website says no gazebos but we saw so many people taking them, which seemed like a good idea to us and if we’d have known the rules weren’t really stuck to, we’d have taken one too.
CarFest implemented a no-plastic rule to traders so you won’t see any food being served in plastic trays, no plastic forks and not one plastic bottle of water in sight. There are also plenty of water taps to fill your own bottles up. I loved the communal whale waste sculpture too, I’ve never seen anything like it! Cups at the bar cost £1 so you’d keep the same cup and return at the end to get your £1 back. The staff will happily give them a rinse too if you don’t spot a tap before your next drink.
We didn’t eat as much as we usually would as I think the heat tends to kill our appetites a little but what we did have was delicious!
Battered chips with lashings of truffle mayo and cheese were a firm favourite, and Coby loved his pulled-pork wrap with chunky homemade coleslaw. Pizza, burgers, salads, smoothies, noodles, curry, toasties…the options were endless! A little pricey, but the quality was better than usual.
I’m not going to be that stereotypical Brit who complains about the weather, it was just incredibly hot, and doing my best to not sound like a total brat, without a swimming pool or the sea to laze by, I don’t deal with the heat at home too great, unfortunately. It was glorious of course, and I’d have hated it to rain, that would have been a nightmare! It was just super hot and sweaty. I’m a big fan of the cooler British summer.
The evenings were a totally different story, however, and it was drastically freezing in our tent during the night, and despite taking plenty of layers we were all frozen!
This was the first point where I thought that camping was just not my thing! I was laid on a blow-up mattress, in a sleeping bag, with layers and layers of clothes on, the tent was getting damp and worse still, people were so loud! I’m sorry, but they were, I really don’t want to moan… but there’s only so many rounds of “Alan, Alan, ALAN” I can mentally take!!! Coby found this hilarious of course, and despite me giving him the Mum death-stare he wouldn’t stop! Great. Oh, he is a camper by the way. He loves it! As I write this he’s currently setting up the tent again to sleep in the garden!!
Don’t get me wrong, I totally get the appeal of camping, I really do, and I wanted to love it. There were parts I liked; mainly sitting outside the tent and making hot chocolate or coffee… but that’s about it! We hardly slept a wink in our cold, damp tent and barely touched the food and snacks, we brought (including 12 breadcakes!). I heard Steve mutter under his breath “never again” first at around 5am and again at 7am…
Showering and using the loo’s weren’t that bad either, I was surprised how hot the water was in the shower, that part didn’t bother me too much at all. I don’t even mind embracing my frizzy waves and having no hairdryer which I know some won’t believe. I just like a hotel.. or a villa… something with a roof! Ooh, but I still want to try glamping, I think that would way more ‘me’.
Luckily, camping at CarFest is only half the fun. Most of the time you’ll be out taking part in the activities; silent discos, skateboarding, the car shows, watching the circus actus, going to the funfair, taking a yoga class in Eden, having your hair done (plaits or vintage styles) plus more!
On Saturday morning we sat outside our tent watching families running down the hill to the start line of the family fun race…. all in fancy dress! The seven dwarves, Buzz, Woody and Slinky from Toy Story, a family of gnomes, Scooby-Doo and the mystery gang…complete with Mystery Van! It was hilarious.
Throughout the weekend, on the main stage, we heard from the likes of Judge Jules, The Kaiser Chiefs, Texas and Tom Odell. While on Sunday, an iconic line-up saw the We Are Family hitmakers Sister Sledge perform their classic songs in front of a packed-out audience.
There’s also the WigWam stage, located in Eden where you can get ahead of the crowds and check out a selection of upcoming bold new musicians ready to rise to stardom. One of our favourites was Michael Aldag and his lyrics were intelligent, his voice mellow and heartfelt I’m saying it now that I absolutely think he’s one to watch!
Closing CarFest South 2019, was Human League who took to the stage with their classic ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ before finishing with their ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ mega-hit.
As mentioned previously, there’s a no-plastic rule, but CarFest’s sustainability policy goes way further than that. Their policy is here if you want a read.
Also, this is a photo straight after everyone had left…no rubbish, no tents… no evidence of tents whatsoever. Incredible!
However, I’m glad we did as I always wondered what it’d be like. But, if we didn’t glamp next time, I’d just get day tickets. The festival itself is only a 45-minute drive away from Reading and I’d much prefer to come home to a comfy bed… with no condensation and no “Alan”!!
But hats off to the volunteers and Chris Evans, it really is an amazing family event and well worth a spot on the family calendar. For 2020 tickets sign up here to receive a notification for when the tickets go live.
Our tickets for the weekend were gifted in return for coverage and a blog post, but as usual, all opinions are honest and mine.