While Glastonbury Festival 2016 might not have had the torrential downpours and rivers of mud the festival makes the headlines for, the festival site was certainly waterlogged leaving the festival one of the muddiest in memory. Everywhere was damp and there were very distinct types of mud, from the soothing diarrhoea-consistency mud that made it quite easy to float through, the heavy sticky stuff that was the new home to many a welly alongside the massive puddles of mud that were best to steer clear of altogether.
And as my then six-month pregnant wife re-inserted her foot into a mud-lodged welly, she still insisted that the festival was simply perfect to bring children to and that we must return in 2017 with our, by then, eight-month-old baby. I was sceptical given I could barely take care of myself. And so when ticket sales came around and our little one was due to pop within weeks, I managed to convince my wife that we really needed to sit out Glasto 2017. But for some reason, by the time the April ticket resale date came around and our little one had a smiley personality all of his own, I’d been convinced that we could manage. Imagine my surprise when I actually got tickets!
Fast forward to June and I’m as prepared as I can be. I’ve read the balance of views across the Mumsnet and Nappy Valley forum posts, those saying how selfish it is to take babies to Glastonbury (they won’t remember it, why go at all?!) versus the alternative positive comments with useful information on the great experiences families have, what to take and which buggies are best to battle the farmland terrain of Worthy Farm.
My thrift-savvy wife has managed to procure a Phil & Teds Sport for the princely sum of £35 an I’ve spent half that again to replace a single inner tube. We’ve bought a family-sized tent and packed up a week’s worth of Ella’s Kitchen meals and Hiip Organic formula milk. I’ve packed the bare minimum for myself (which includes two SLR camera bodies and five lenses) as well as a separate bag of clothes for all three of us to be left in the car to keep dry in case we do get struck by tent-flooding torrential downpours.
But you know what, this might just be the year that Glastonbury avoids the rain altogether! The run-up to the festival saw record lack of rain and lovely sunshine descend on the UK. So as we set off at 3am on the morning the gates to the Glastonbury Festival site open, with horror stories of nine-hour road queues from 2016 fresh in our minds, we’re filled with a mixed sense of excitement and impending doom.
Imagine our surprise when we’re all parked up by 7:20am having stopped en route for coffee and slowed as we passed Stonehenge during the midsummer solstice sunrise, the absolute busiest time of year in the area. We’re all smiles for now. Until we discover that we’ve been directed to the southern-most lot in the blue eastern car park – i.e. one of the furthest from the family camp site we’re aiming for regardless of our sleeping boy in the back celebrating his eight-month birthday. We decide to take only the essentials on our first trip into the site – tent, day packs with water, bog roll, (camera), wellies and, of course, the little one in his buggy and enough food and drink for him for the day.
The queue on the way in is long, but slow-moving and with festival-goers in a jovial mood, everyone excited to be slowly edging towards the gate. But as we pass through field after field after field, past cars and campervans before slowly descending a beast of a hill towards gate C, I’m imagining my multiple trips back and forth to pick up the bulk of our belongings – trolleys are already breaking under the weight (largely of beverages) deposited on them. The temperature is set to reach a record-breaking 34 degrees today, the highest temperature on record since the heatwave of 1976!
But we’re not there yet, it’s a comfortable temperature as we finally make it through the festival gates around 90 minutes after they open and begin the haul uphill, past the Pilton Palais and Acoustic Stage to our right, the Kidzfield to our left and up into the Cockmill Meadow family camping area. And even though we set off super early, plenty have beaten us to the punch. So we walk further and further uphill before spotting a clearing a short way into a field, perfect for setting up our tent. Tent up in record time, little one patiently watching his parents faff around with poles and guide ropes and we’re off for our first adventure, walking around the festival site with drinks in-hand.
The Phil & Teds Sport runs a treat and our little man is actually enjoying his new ride bouncing around over the many uneven surfaces, stones, gravel, grass, making a murmuring sound to hear his voice vibrate with each bump. And he’s flashing his smile and catching the eyes of all in his path who coo at him.
As the day progresses, so does the temperature and by mid-afternoon peak temperatures are reached and festival goers shelter from the sun wherever possible, not an easy feat with most tent stages still shut – the folks at some stages, such as the acoustic stage, opening their cooler spaces up to get folks out of the sun.
And it’s now that I decide to begin my two-hour roundtrips to the car to go fetch our remaining belongings. With at least three trips ahead of me, I don’t want to be doing this late given I’ve been up since 2am. Big mistake. It turns out that carrying far too much stuff in 34 degree heat up and down hills and across many uneven surfaces is a very bad idea.
But once we’ve transported just the essentials from the car to our tent and I’ve calmed down, we watch the massive fireworks across the site at The Park area which officially kick off the festival before getting set for the night, the three of us cosy in our tent – parents in sleeping bag and little one in his (bloody heavy) travel cot.
We wake up on Thursday morning earlier than most at Glastonbury but later than many in the family camping fields, the area already abuzz with the sound of children running after the milk truck on one of its many rounds around the site selling fresh, cold milk. It’s also significantly cooler and far more comfortable today, the sun parked safely behind high cloud. After a quick a noodle about the site, breakfast and coffee, we’re off to the Stone Circle to become an integral part of an attempt to break the record for the most people creating a peace sign.
But time at Glastonbury Festival seems to move within its own continuum and after a quick saunter to the famous large Glastonbury sign atop The Park area, it’s already almost time for our festival to kick off in traditional style, dancing along to the massive power ballads thrown out by the DJs of Ultimate Power at Williams Green. Although after a good few tunes, the little guy is getting restless so it’s time for a stroll in his buggy to let him explore. And so the way our festival will now go has been set, and we know who will be in charge!
“Is it fair on the baby?”, “Do you even see any bands?” “What’s the point, just watch it on TV!”. These are common negative responses we’ve heard, but Thursday shows the naysayers. How does it work? Well my wife and I either take it in turns to catch a band up close or we find a spot that suits the three of us. One tent not given any coverage on the BBC is the Willams Green stage which hosts the first bands of the festival, such as fantastic London four piece Pumarosa, who played a storming show ahead of secret sets from Circa Waves and Everything Everything.
But we also wander through the Kidzfield itself, a visual feast. A mass of colour, there’s so much going on from play areas, obstacle courses and a helter-skelter, to face painting, crafts and a stage (of course) where none other than my childhood favourite Basil Brush puts of a slightly racy show and ensures his audience are soaked thoroughly by water guns. We also get to explore the back of the field, geared towards tiny tots. There’s an NCT area where feeding and changing facilities are provided. Tatty Bumpkin run a huge tent with play mats, toys, baby sensory activities and even music classes.
While wondering back up to our tent, we happen past a welcoming but conspicuous tent but are stopped by those hosting it when they see our buggy with little feet poking out. “Do you know about the Little Kidz R&R?” they ask. We don’t, but are educated about the overnight, free service the friendly folks at the tent, which is part of the Kidzfield facilities, put on for parents. It’s a respite, somewhere parents are offered the ability to wash their babies, feed them with high-chairs, sterilise bottles and even just sit and play with toys or choose from a selection of baby books to read. And they’re absolute saviours! Open overnight, while the NCT facilities within the Kidzfield are closed, we return the next morning to give our little man a bath, sterilise his bottle and feed him while sat in a (far too) comfy sofa! I even found a book from his favourite series to read to him, absolute luxury. Even free teas, coffees and toast are offered.
Chatting with volunteer Jess one evening while sterilising a bottle, I learn that organiser Liz Bradwell, who started up the NCT tent within the Kidzfield back in 2003, proposed to Kidzfield co-ordinator Tony Cordy that a companion facility available outside the hours of the Kidzfield made sense as more and more families were bringing young children from the Wednesday morning. Cordy got the go-ahead from the Eavis family and Lizzie & co’s Little Kidz R&R has been a life-saver for parents since 2013.
With the little man washed and fed, we’re off to enjoy the festival proper, with huge acts starting to play shows around all the stages around the site. We duck and dive, as much as we can pushing a giant, bright red stroller but keep out of tightly-packed crowds.
We find time, as we wander through the Field Of Avalon, for my wife to take a ride on it’s famous red and white helter-skelter while the little man and I wave on.
We catch The Pretenders from afar before I duck in to grab a few photos (staying to catch Charli XCX) and then find what will become our semi-permanent position and meeting place for friends at the Pyramid Stage – a spot directly in front of a signpost and ice cream truck which is somewhat shielded from mass people movement while providing easy access to the road back to our camp as well as a good view of the stage. Perfect.
My dual hats of concert photographer and dad mean that I’m running around a lot and my wife stays with our boy, but I’m shooting three songs then I’m back (honest!).
And as Radiohead (finally) play the hits, we’re already back at the Little Kidz R&R tent and I’m washing and sterilising a bottle as those famous guitar crunches of Creep kick in.
The Acoustic Stage is perfectly positioned at the base of our campsite and next to The Kidzfield so we can dart between them, great for catching the likes of Portland-based sister trio Joseph opening up the stage on Saturday before we retire to the play mats and toys made available at the back of The Kidzfield.
But unfortunately for my wife, we’ve managed to get tickets to Glastonbury when her husband’s rock band obsession just happen to be headlining. The little one is being changed while popstress Katy Perry is on I’m told. He’s being rolled around the festival site following his dinner while The National’s frontman Matt Berninger is throwing drinks at the crowd.
But my boy is back in his spot in his fairy light-lit buggy, albeit fast asleep, when Foo Fighters take the Pyramid Stage by storm, showing all that follow how to stir a Glastonbury crowd into a frenzy. His dad, however, is front and centre, mere metres from his favourite rockers and both soaked to the bone and bruised & battered as the band depart.
Sunday is a more relaxed affair for us all. As always, we’re up early and playing in our tent but we’re strolling around the site in search of a good breakfast soon enough – eggs and spiced potatoes at the fabulous Thali Café for us, a pouch of Ella’s Kitchen Mango Baby Brekkie for the little man. We take a stroll through the Cabaret Field where we come across all manner of brightly-coloured weirdness from Chinese Dragons to people on stilts to dazzle the little guy.
Then it’s my turn to take care of him while his mother descends into the huge crowd gathered to catch Rory Graham – AKA Rag ‘n’ Bone Man – play a storming set on The Other Stage. The boy is having his dinner outside a packed John Peel tent with his mother as Las Vegans The Killers take the stage for a secret set, his dad left behind following a dip into the Avalon tent for a Country music set from Hollywood star Kiefer Sutherland.
We take the rest of the evening slowly, my boy and I making use of the hospitality area I’m granted access to for a quiet stroll and feed while his mother rocks out to Biffy Clyro. We then stop by the Bhangra Bus for some Indian food before roaming the festival site as most flock to one of the stages for the final acts of the festival, Ed Sheeran closing The Pyramid Stage.
Given my horrendous experience shifting all of our gear on the way in to the festival, I’m all set for numerous journeys back. So I set off with the first load early, this time using my boy’s buggy to wheel some bulky items. But I’m clearly not the only one who struggled, as when I reach my car I find a number of discarded trolleys that have been bought and dumped by others. Marvellous, one of those will do nicely to move the rest of our stuff in just one final trip.
We were lucky. Aside from the ridiculously hot first day, we had good weather for Glastonbury. Little rain, no mud and the full use of the whole festival site. If we had done this last year, it might have been harder. But we survived the best part of a week living in a tent on a hill on a site with 200,000 people and a ridiculous number of bands and acts that are the envy of people everywhere.
Did the little man enjoy it? Absolutely! His smile barely left his face for the entire long weekend, this was baby sensory dialled up a thousand percent and he was loving every second. He slept through every night, something he rarely does at home, and was bouncing around every morning with excitement. And the smiles and reactions he garnered in those who met him were fantastic and so very positive. Would we head back to Worthy Farm as a family again? Absolutely.
Photography & Words by Kalpesh Patel at Glastonbury Festival 2017
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate