Even though we’ve been together for nearly 15 years, S and I have never been to a festival together — festival in the sense of being in a tent in a field for three days. This year, as he isn’t working over the summer*, we decided it would be the perfect time to try out Latitude Festival, one we’ve always heard good things about, but never gone to as it’s in Suffolk and thus the absolute other end of the country.
We took Mini W on a one night camping trip a few weeks before, to make sure he would be happy sleeping in the tent, and to check out what equipment we would need. That overnighter went super well, and helped us realise what we needed to bring — namely, much more food than we thought and store things in bags that couldn’t be investigated by tiny fingers!
Latitude turned out to be brilliant fun. It’s sold as being very family-friendly, and it seemed that there were more people there with children than not. Although it was right in the middle of a heatwave, the site was never unpleasantly crowded, and being by the woods and a lake meant shade could always be found. There were a couple of children’s areas — the Enchanted Garden on the edge of the family campsite, then a children’s field in the main festival area, full of games and activities. Mini W was too little for a lot of them, but he really enjoyed the book tent, the sand pit and the soft play tent set up by a local youth centre — and we really appreciated the baby bathtime that they hosted between 5-6pm, to wash off the grime from the day! (There was so much dust, because everything was so dry, and which got everywhere. The laces on my shoes will never be the same again.)
There are also some really fun touches: the woods on the edge of the site have amazing light installations at night, and there’s a lake that you can swim in and which at night has some fab illuminations. Oh, and they (ethically) dye the resident sheep pink!
Having a small child meant that one of us had to stay with him at night, so we tag teamed it and had one night out each. If Mini W was a bit older then we would have kept him out a bit later, but he’s at that age where he gets really ratty around bedtime and just needs his dinner around 5pm and to go to sleep between 7 and 8pm. So S retired early to the tent on the Friday while I enjoyed Belle and Sebastian in the sunshine, had a henna tattoo and then saw James (for the fifth time I think? But always great). Saturday night saw me tucked up in my sleeping bag by 9.30pm, reading Private Eye, woolly hat firmly on, while everyone else rocked out to the Killers!
We were there more for the comedy than the music, and managed to see a lot of great acts — Marcus Brigstocke, Angela Barnes, Harry Hill, Alan Davies, Shappi Khorsandi to name a few. Because there were so many children around, we could have Mini W in the audience with us and make sure he was happy with toys, books or general people-watching. Mini W is very active, and makes it clear when he needs to romp, so we made a pact that if he wasn’t happy, we would leave — which is why we had to miss one of my all-time favourites, David O’Doherty, but that’s fair enough, as it’s not on to make a small child sit in one place for ages just so you can be amused. In fact, I think that was the biggest tip I’d pass onto anyone wanting to do a festival with a similar-aged child — don’t plan to see anything specific. If you do get to see an act, brilliant, it’s a bonus, but your child has to come first, obviously, and if you don’t expect anything then you won’t be disappointed.
I was initially pretty nervous about taking a 13 month old to a festival but it actually turned out really well. I read a few blogs and forums before I left with some tips, which was really helpful, so here is my two penn’orth for if you’re taking a small child to Latitude/festivals in general…
- You will be amazed what they can sleep through — Mini W took a while to drift off, but when asleep he went straight through the Killers at crazy decibel levels, and all the subsequent dance music. I, on the other hand, did not, so definitely bring ear plugs if you want to block out the whomp-whomp-whomp.
- We did buy ear defenders for Mini W but a) we didn’t take him to any loud music and b) he refused to wear them anyway! But I did see a lot of children wearing them, so they’re a worthwhile thing to have in your pack.
- The car park at Latitude is a LONG walk from the family campsite. Most people had little trucks, which you could also rent there. We did not, but we should have done so we only had to make one or two trips, rather than four in the baking hot sunshine.
- The food at Latitude is varied and plentiful — there’s almost too much choice! — and if you have a child who’s happy eating most things then you should be fine. But we also took lots of our own for Mini W, such as beans, and stuff that just needed hot water/warm through, such as packet flavoured couscous and Bean Feast, adding tinned veg to them for some vitamins and nourishment. Dried fruit and Naked bars were great as pudding and on-the-go snacks. There was a big Co-op shop on site though, which is really handy — we didn’t use it, but it was good to know it was there.
- If, like us, you need a coffee to get you going in the morning and like to brew one in the tent rather than queue for ages at the family campsite coffee stand, Oatly Barista milk is ideal to have, as it doesn’t need refrigerating before it’s opened, and even then it keeps a fresh for longer than cow’s milk.
- Bring a water carrier — we now have a collapsible one — as there was loads of fresh water available all over the campsite, and having a 5 litre container means less walking to and fro with smaller bottles.
- The campsites also had washing up stations, with metal sinks and cold water taps, so cleaning up was a breeze. Toilets were either chemical ones with hand gel or proper flushing ones in trailers with running water for handwashing. They were cleaned really frequently so I never really saw anything manky. I think there were also some long drops but I never saw these.
- The queue for the showers was insanely long by mid-morning — 3pm in the afternoon was the best time to attempt one! But as mentioned above, one of the tents in the children’s area offered baby bathtime, with a bath, hot water and bubbles, so all you have to bring is a towel and a grubby child!
- We use cloth nappies for Mini W, but had to admit defeat for the festival and went for eco-disposables. (We couldn’t hygienically store dirty nappies for four days in a hot tent), but luckily there was a special waste bin for sanitary products. Recycling is very big at Latitude: there are bins for all kinds of waste, and you’re really encouraged to put as little as possible in general waste.
- Even in temperatures over 25 in the day, a tent gets really cold at night, so you definitely need warm sleepwear for your child. We used lots of layers for Mini W — t shirt, long sleeved PJs, 2.5tog sleeping bag, and then added a blanket a bit later on. We also had a cotton beanie for him, but he kept pulling it off!
- We’re lucky to have a big tent and so just took our travel cot and put it in the sleeping compartment with us. Being raised off the ground and having sides meant Mini W stayed warmer, too, as well as being secure from rolling on uneven ground!
We’ve got another festival next week, a much smaller mountainbiking one in Yorkshire, so fingers crossed it goes as well as this one did!
* As S wasn’t happy in his job, we’ve done a swap — I’ve gone back to work for a few months, and he’s the primary carer for Mini W. He certainly picked an amazing summer to not be stuck in an office all day! Whereas I am sitting in an un-air conditioned building. Working on a Christmas magazine. In 30 degree temperatures.