Despite being a seasoned festival-goer, Jamie Bowman had never taken his children to a music festival until he ventured to Hawarden for the weekend’s annual Good Life Experience – a wonderful celebration of the great outdoors for all the family.
I’ve been to dozens of festivals over the last 20 years but none compare to the unique charms of The Good Life Experience which took place this weekend at the Hawarden Estate in Flintshire.
Since my first festival experience at Reading in 1993, through six Glastonburys, a handful of Vs and more latterly the excellent Green Man in South Wales, I’ve experienced mud, floods, gales and the occasional burst of red hot sunshine but there’s one thing I’ve never attempted – and that’s take my kids.
Following the arrival of our eldest four years ago, my wife and I have reluctantly packed away the tent and not dared to attempt a festival with the children in tow, haunted by the memory of a friend struggling with a pushchair up a sludge covered hill in the Brecon Beacons.
Thoughts of putting two toddlers to bed in the pouring rain with tent flaps and guy ropes only adding to the stress didn’t sound like fun. But when the opportunity to attend a festival taking place right on our doorstep presented itself, we decided to take the plunge and go for it.
The brainchild of former Catatonia singer Cerys Matthews and William Gladstone’s great-great- grandson Charlie Gladstone, the Good Life Experience bills itself as being aimed for adults and children alike and, after a wondrous weekend when smiles seemed etched on my two darlings faces, it was hard to disagree.
Thousands of people enjoyed the return of a popular festival founded by singer Cerys Matthews.
The Good Life Experience, which last year attracted about 4,500 people to the Hawarden Estate, took place at the weekend with organisers saying the event was bigger and better.
The festival saw a mix of outdoor activities, food and live entertainment as well as vintage fairground rides and much more over the three days.
Organisers say the festival prides itself on being unique, and is a family and dog-friendly event, with children up to the age of 12 able to attend for free.
Cerys Matthews put together a line-up of performers and newcomers.
Sophie Pitt, marketing and PR manager, said: “In short, the Good Life Experience celebrates everything that goes into making life really good.
“Last year the festival more than doubled in size with 4,500 people attending, and while it expects to grow again, there are absolutely no plans for it to become huge.
“It is committed to remaining a small and intimate festival.”
As way of a gentle compromise, it was decided I should arrive on site on the Friday evening, put up our tents and then enjoy a few drinks before the rest of the family arrived on Saturday morning.
The initial signs were great: friendly staff directed me to a car parking place just five minutes from the campsite which was based on the outfield of the beautifully scenic Hawarden Cricket Club complete with views of the castle and Gladstone’s former residence.
The site itself was bathed in late afternoon sunshine and life felt pretty good as I went to explore the many unconventional attractions on show and grab a drink in the wonderfully named Black Cow Saloon – a nigh-on perfect recreation of the kind of bar you see in a Western – complete with swinging doors and ol’ time cajun music on the stage.
As I sampled a ‘Gold Fashioned’ (a mouth watering vodka, salted caramel and Amaro Tosolini), a knowledgeable barman explained the vodka they use is actually made entirely from the milk of grass-grazed cows.
It’s this kind of quirkiness which is key to the ethos of the festival – whether it’s the live musicians or the many hundred of crastsmen and women who explain what they’re cooking or making at the many ‘How To...’ talks.
By the time my wife and two girls (Melody, aged four, and Grace, aged two) arrived the next day, I was already raving about sets by Liverpool band Stealing Sheep and punk poet Dr John Cooper Clarke before assuring her there was lots for the children to do.
And I was right: within minutes they’d discovered the delights of rolling down hills, swinging from a huge tree swing and picking blackberries.
On our way to the wonderful vintage fairground (complete with huge wooden helter skelter) we stopped off to watch axe throwing, whittling and sample some honey whiskey.
There were so many distractions it was hard to go anywhere without the kids grabbing our hands and leading us to another hidden delight they could take part in – whether it was making a monkey mask, decorating a gingerbread man or simply stroking one of the many dogs that uniquely are allowed on site.
All this was helped by the wonderful sunny weather which bathed the festival in autumnal sunshine.
It’s hard to think of a more family-friendly event, judging by the number of children clearly having a great time. But that’s not to say it was all plain sailing.
At one point, our four-year-old made a break for freedom, prompted by 20 minutes of frantic searching until we found she’d simply run back to the playground and was being watched by some sympathetic parents.
Several times during the weekend I bumped into Radio Two DJ Jeremy Vine and TV star Ben Fogle, both visiting with their own children and enjoying the attractions between their own appearances. They both chatted happily and raved about what a great weekend they were having.
That evening both girls loved their first experience of sleeping in a tent and we entered the festival’s final day excited and rested.
By 11am, Melody was signed up for bread-making while I sneaked off for a talk by writer Jack Cooke whose book The Tree Climber’s Guide is one of the publishing sensations of the year.
My wife meanwhile took a moment to see former Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers cooking Mexican food on the BBQ.
Trying to list all the other activities we watched and discoveries we made is almost impossible but memories of bee hives, live butchery, mobile bookshops, plasticine modelling and jumping of hay bales will all live long in ours and hopefully our children’s memories.
The Good Life Experience more than lives up to its name.