The Wychwood Festival, at Cheltenham Racecourse, has become an annual event for our family – and one of our favourite days of the year. It takes place every year on the second weekend of May half-term (aka the first weekend in June).
We don’t stay over as our group ranges from my 3 year old nephew to my 73 year old dad. We always go on the Saturday, whoever is headlining. Sometimes we get lucky (like when the Levellers played) and sometimes we’re not quite so lucky. But we don’t just go for the music, we go for the atmosphere.
The line-up is always a nice mix of old favourites from the past and up-and-coming artists from the local area.
This year’s Saturday headliners were Gipsy Kings, and I must admit I didn’t know who they actually were, until my son’s friend told me they sang Bambaleo! Friday’s headliner was Baxter Dury and Sunday’s was Shed Seven, who I remember from my younger years. Other big names on the bill were Feeder and Toyah, celebrating her 60th birthday and her 40 years in the music industry.
There were also 15 student acts from the University of Gloucestershire over the course of the weekend. It’s great to see a festival supporting young people and new talent.
Adding comedy, storytimes and workshops to the musical mix, the range of activities on Saturday alone was absolutely incredible. There definitely wasn’t time to get bored!
Described as the ‘UK’s favourite family festival’ there really is something for everyone. Every year you can expect to see a big name from kids’ TV and this year it was Dick & Dom. I’ll be honest, Dick & Dom have never really been on my radar, but I really enjoyed watching them. There’s a lot of comedy value to be gained from calling half of the audience ‘the Dicks’ and saying it repeatedly. Also throwing ‘massive balls’ into the audience.
I was slightly disappointed by the line-up on paper this year, but even though the bill lacked big names, it was still entertaining. The Bar-Stewards Sons of Val Doonican sing well-known songs with comedy words. Which is something my husband does all the time (do all husbands do this, or just mine?). My favourite was one about Nandos tasting like sh*te (which I don’t agree with) and Walking in Man Piss to the tune of Walking in Memphis. It really did ruin his blue suede shoes!
With the exception of Gipsy Kings, the biggest crowd of the day was probably for Toyah. I have no idea why she was on stage at 2.10, but she was amazing. You would never guess she was 60. She’s still got the voice, the moves and the attitude. She played It’s a Mystery (of course), a couple of covers – Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell and Guns & Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine, and plenty of her old hits, including Be Proud, Be Loud, Be Heard. She has just released an EP for her 60th birthday and played the lead track Telepathic Lover for the first time especially for the Wychwood crowd. And she just happened to mention that her and her guitarist are in a band in America WITH THE DRUMMER FROM REM. No biggie.
New York Brass Band play lots of familiar songs on brass. They played both the Main Stage and the Hobgoblin Tent. I thought they were brilliant on the Main Stage, but my husband tells me they were even better in the Hobgoblin Tent. We had the best weather ever – non-stop sun and very hot. I absolutely love warm weather, so I didn’t actually check out either of the smaller stages, the Hobgoblin Tent or the Big Top, because I was just enjoying the sun far too much.
The Gipsy Kings are incredibly slick, with at least five guitars playing at any one time in perfect sync. They are entertaining, and they got a big crowd clapping along, but they’re not really my cup of tea. Although I was very happy to sing and dance along to Bamboleo, as it is such a feel-good track.
Every year, we say this will be the year we stay for the headphone disco after the bands have finished, and every year it gets to 11pm and we’re just too tired, so we haven’t managed it yet.
So what else do you need to know?
Travel and parking
Cheltenham racecourse is about a mile from Cheltenham town centre, so easy enough to get to on public transport. But, let’s be honest, the majority of people will drive. There is a huge, free car park right on the edge of the site and it’s easy enough to nip out to your car during the festival if you need to.
The festival is held on a small area of the racecourse. It feels busy, but not overly crowded, even by the main stage. It is small enough to feel comfortable with children walking around on their own from the age of about nine or 10. The Main Stage is right in the centre of the site, with most of the food outlets and Big Top stage at one end and the family activities and Hobgoblin Stage at the other end. There are the usual quirky stalls running along both sides of the site and an area for outdoor fun, mainly involving inflatables, which is always my daughter’s favourite bit. (Why she has to like the paid activities rather than the free activities, I don’t know!)
There are lots of smaller tents with non-stop activities going on, from dance workshops and circus skills to story times. The female members of the family tried a swing dance workshop – and we all got a bit confused, apart form my daughter. My mum and daughter went to a drumming workshop and also did some hula hooping – my amazing mum has to be seen to be believed! My niece and nephew went to a storytime.
Then there are the paid activities, which this year featured a traditional swing ride, which my daughter and niece loved, as well as inflatable slides, dodgems, a rotating sweeper game and football zorbing. I managed to limit my daughter to just three of these.
I must admit, I do look forward to the Wychwood food every year, as there is such a good selection! There’s burgers and pizzas, of course, but also Indian and Mexican food, noodles and much more. We do spend a disproportionate amount of time pondering what to eat next and start thinking about dinner as soon as we’ve finished lunch.
You can of course take your own food and drink in with you, as long as you don’t take in glass bottles. There are also a number of taps around the site for refilling water bottles.
Toilets are always a big issue at festivals. Will there be enough of them? Will they be clean? Will there be queues? Will there be toilet paper? We are no longer living in the 90s, so I’m pleased to say that the toilets at Wychwood are absolutely fine! More than fine, in fact. There is a set of traditional portaloos at one end of the site and a set of the ‘posh’ portaloos at the other end. Queues are rare and move quickly, the toilets are clean and there is plenty of toilet paper.
We all had another fantastic day at Wychwood and will definitely be going again. Although, just to let you know I really am being honest about this, we may leave the two boys at home next year. They both got bored fairly and ended up going home early. I’m not sure why it doesn’t appeal to them, but teenagers are a mysterious bunch. You don’t really see any kids over the age of about 14 there and, it appeared to me that there were less teenage boys than teenage girls. The music doesn’t appeal to them and they don’t seem to be able to just relax and soak up the atmosphere like adults can. Maybe it’s just my kids?
I was given tickets for myself and two of my children for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.
Watch out for news of next years acts and tickets at https://wychwoodfestival.com