As we drove through the manicured villages of The Cotswolds on our way to Jamie Oliver and Alex James’s The Big Feastival – a two-day food and music extravaganza – it suddenly struck me that I didn’t really do big, crowded, noisy events.
I never ‘did Glastonbury’, not even once, and especially not at the height of the Mud Years which many of my friends lived through and pretended were a blast. I did do the Notting Hill Carnival, but only once. A near death-crush experience on a crowded pavement somewhere near Ladbroke Grove ensured I never returned, even though the Caribbean food was great. Millennium Eve celebrations in central London? Well, you can only do that once, but a similar near death-crush experience near Westminster Bridge, also ensured that I never really ventured into the city again on December 31st.
However, arriving at ex-Blur member Alex James’s expansive farm and country pile in Kingham, Oxfordshire, I needn’t have worried. With an expected 14,000 plus visitors over the course of the weekend, the spacious Feastival site seemed to have been organised with military precision.
The rows of tents were neatly and perfectly pitched in one field, campervans all polished and tidily lined up in another. We caught a glimpse of the pristine white yurts in the exclusive Glamping enclosure as we rumbled further along the dusty country track, and the field car park was, perhaps not surprisingly, full of family-friendly MPVs, BMW estates and Qashqais.
This was without doubt a Middle Class family festival – with ticket prices to match. An adult ticket for the weekend cost £100, for 12-17-year-olds it was £50, while under-12s went free. Once in, there was the endless temptation of many food and drink stalls peddling their wares at reassuringly high feastival prices. Thankfully, most other things, from some big name bands on stage to the big name chefs in the demo kitchen, cookery classes and loads of activities for kids, were included in price.
Grab that crab!
We were guests of Nova Scotia Tourism, one of the main sponsors of The Big Feastival this year. Their teepee marquee and gated garden, being pretty close to the main stage, was the ideal place to take in all the music action. Names on the playlist that day included Basement Jazz, Rizzle Kicks, Dodgy and Jasmine Hill. I’d be lying if I told you who was actually playing when we arrived! I’ve never been up on the music scene. Besides, we had a lively and hungry toddler in tow, eager to explore the rest of the site.
Arriving as we did at lunchtime the day was already heating up nicely to a low 20-something degrees, and the Nova Scotia tourism reps handed us some cool, refreshing blueberry and honey lemonade. Naturally, our 14-month-old promptly spilt this deep purple juice down his trendy white trousers. But I’m such an experienced maman by now, I’d brought a change of clothes along (what, only one change, I hear you cry).
The six-foot plus Nova Scotian chef Craig Flinn was busy cooking up some big juicy crab cakes with a refreshing little side salad. I know I’ve already enthused about these on Facebook and Twitter, but they really were the BEST crab cakes we’ve ever tasted. Maybe because they seemed to be made from pure crab, not a mashed potato in sight. Of course, we went back for more. Sadly I somehow missed out on the Nova Scotian wine that was flowing freely around the guest enclosure, but hubby was rather glad about that because even a sip around lunchtime means I pretty much flake out for the rest of the day.
After a bit of mingling in the enclosure, we were handed a jaunty little picnic backpack filled with lobster rolls (could they top the crab cakes?), blueberry tarts and Canadian cranberry juice, and off we went to explore the rest of Feastival.
Sizzling street food, smelly cheese
Being part of the Jamie Oliver brand wagon, the festival was naturally a showcase for his foodie endeavours, from Barbecoa and Union Jacks to Fabulous Feasts and Jamie’s Italian. Alex James, that rare (or these days perhaps not-so rare) breed of musician turned cheesemaker, had a huge big tent full of fragrant cheese.
There were loads of other fast-foodie brands to choose from in Street Food Alley, all with fabulously appealing names – like Margo and Rita’s burritos, Banghra Burger, Pizza Pilgrims and Yalla Yalla Beirut Street Food.
Artisanal food products were also in abundance. Some well known names like Daylesford Organic, Neil’s Yard Dairy and the Humming Bird Bakery, and many other small and fabulous looking producers who work so hard all year to bring us many delicious and handcrafted food stuffs.
The funky red Cho! caravan caught my eye, and their new gazpacho drink was both refreshing and healthy. Perhaps not so low calorie but equally appealing, were the Snowdonia Cheese Company’s colourful range of cheeses, including the Black Bomber, Green Thunder and Pickle Power. I do hope all the producers had a good and financially rewarding weekend!
Khoo-ing with delight
Further entertainment for foodies came in the form of the Electrolux Big Kitchen where some of the TV chefs du jour were mic’d up and giving demos on stage. For Saturday, the line-up included Jamie’s comedy Italian sidekick Gennaro Contaldo, Bruno Loubet and Rachel Khoo.
I stuck around to watch the delicious Rachel Khoo effortlessly rustle up a Paris Brest with mustard mousse, while my little boy and his daddy went to muck around nearby. She’s one of the few presenters I find refreshingly unpretentious, and I loved My Little Paris Kitchen on the BBC. She told us she’d been busy making a new TV series and writing a new cookbook, and regaled us with some charming stories about her first few years in Paris teaching upper class Parisian dames to pimp up English cupcakes. Jamie was actually scheduled to appear at the end of the day with Gennaro, but by that time we’d strayed too far away and I figured the crowds would be too great. Sorry Jamie, maybe another time – I really am a big fan.
Next to the foodie field was the kiddie field and there seemed to be loads of stuff for young tots to young teens, including mini JCBs to drive, vintage fairground rides like the Helter Skelter and fun activities like face painting, story telling, dance lessons and ‘guess the vegetable’. On Saturday, The Workshop tent was running sessions with Tatty Bumpkins Yoga, a Ukelele workshop and Calypso Kids percussion.
Playin’ in the hay
In fact, there was so much going on, to make the most of it, I think for the next Feastival you’d really need to plan ahead, focus on what your child really enjoys and make sure you either book ahead (if that’s on offer) or turn up well in time for the session to avoid disappointment.
However, should you happen to be a make-it-up-as-you-go-along (aka slovenly) mummy like me, there was a great fun-filled alternative that never failed to put a smile on my face each time we passed by.
A big empty space, mounds of straw and straw bales, and many happy kids jumping in it, spreading it about, tossing it over each other’s heads. Even my little boy was endlessly fascinated by it, and continually wanted to toddle into the heart of the bigger kids’ hay play frenzy. It was free, not so messy (as in the usual mud and dust) and a great idea for a future kids’ party.
So was The Big Feastival worth it? Well, I need to consider this carefully, as we didn’t have to shell out the £120 it would have cost for the day. I’d say, if you can easily afford it, then you’ll probably find it a great one or two days out with your kids, and to make it more fun, some of your friends with their kids. If you have children under 12 they go free (12-17-year-old tickets cost £30), which makes it much better value for a young brood. Coming as it did at the end of the school holidays you might be grateful for a big event to look forward to, instead of that end-of-school holiday malaise. From our point of view, our little boy of 14-months was obviously too young to participate in much. Mind you, he’s just happy with people, and action and lots of colourful things around him!
If you feel it’s a stretch, there are plenty of other great summer foodie festivals around the country that don’t even charge entry. OK, you might not get some big band names (if that’s what you’re into), but there’ll be lots to do and lots to taste. EAT NewcastleGateshead, for example, had an outstanding-looking line-up of foodie fun this year, and the event runs over several weeks.
Keep calm and glamp!
As the three of us trekked home through Alex James’s fields (he apparently bought the site as a ramshackle farm on his honeymoon 10 years ago), passing by the rows of tents, I did experience a slight sense of nostalgia for family camping and the summer of ’76 (actually I think we only ever camped that once!).
Perhaps in a few years, when my boy is bigger and ever more boisterous, we might make a weekend of it. Back at home in Kent, I did tentatively sneak a peak online at the Feastival’s Glamping provider, Yurtel. Their luxury yurt model offered big beds, sumptuous duvets, chocolates on the pillow (I thought it was just my son who managed to do that), dearskin rugs on the floor, fluffy towels and posh toiletries. Sheer mummy bliss! Then I caught site of the price – £1450 for three nights (that’s not a typo) on top of the usual Feastival entry – yikes and double yikes! I quickly clicked off the page and put those thoughts of grandeur to bed. Thank you Big Feastival, and good night.
Life and Chai was a guest of Nova Scotia Tourism at The Big Feastival 2013.
AROUND THE BIG FEASTIVAL