The first time I managed to persuade James to camp at a music festival was in 2014, we headed to Kendal Calling with a car packed to the brim with all kinds of borrowed camping equipment, plus enough food and drink to fuel a small army. The festival was awesome but the camping was a complete disaster. It was absolutely throwing it down when we arrived so everything got soaked as we attempted to pitch the tent during a torrential downpour. We hardly slept a wink in our damp, makeshift beds, in fact we failed to dry out all weekend, and needless to say we never ate a morsel of the food mountain we’d brought (which included 12 onions, don’t ask!) “Never again” vowed James.
So, when he opened his Christmas present last year to reveal a weekend family ticket to Carfest North, his facial expression revealed a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I promised him it would be nothing like Kendal Calling, because this time we would be glamping, not camping!
Lookers Van Centre in Newcastle offer brand new state of the art VW Campervans for hire through their ‘Vancations’ website. We’ve taken one to Northumberland before (read about our trip here) so I knew how comfortable they were and the hire process was so simple that it was the first place I thought of when I wanted to treat James to festival glamping experience.
I picked up the VW California from Looker’s Van Centre after work on a Thursday evening. It’s just a couple of minutes from the city centre on The Fossway, Byker. After some simple form filling and a helpful tour of the van’s five star facilities, I was handed the keys and wished “Bon Voyage”.
However, as I jumped in the driver’s seat I spotted that the vehicle was an automatic, I’d never driven one before! Vancations’ manager Mark must have spotted the look of dismay on my face because he quickly came to my rescue and offered to drive round the block with me a few times until I got the hang of it. It was easy peasy (once I got used to not using my left foot!) and I was soon on my way!
The drive across to the North West where we picked up the kids was super comfortable. The sat-nav, air-con, DAB radio and parking assistance all made for a smooth journey and we felt like king and queen of the road! It was surprisingly efficient on fuel too!
The kids loved the VW California as much as we did but having never seen the interior be transformed from a living space to a sleeping space, they couldn’t quite work out where we were all going to spend the night. We left the surprise until we were parked up on our pitch at the festival.
They were amazed to see the roof of the campervan raised up at the touch of a button to reveal their very own ‘bedroom’ measuring a spacious 2.0m x 1.2m it was plenty big enough for them both to get a good night’s sleep. James and I slept on the sofa bed which was slightly bigger and thanks to black out blinds we slept very well indeed.
Electrohydraulics in the upper deck made it easy to elevate the kid’s bed to allow extra head room in the main living area during the day and a spacious boot provided plenty of room for all our luggage even when the back seats were in the bed position. Although, we also brought a small pop up tent to give us extra storage for things like muddy boots and camping chairs.
The kitchen had everything we could need for a short break and we enjoyed cooking our evening meals together before heading out to dance in the fields. We had hot dogs and cake for James’ birthday on the Friday night followed by fajitas on Saturday and pasta with chicken and veggies on Sunday. The camper had a generously sized fridge which kept everything fresh all weekend, the gas stove had two cooking rings so rustling up meals for four was a doddle and running water meant we could even do the washing up in the van – Although we found it easier for one of us to use the washing up station on the campsite while the other got the kids washed and changed.
It’s possible to run the electricity off the leisure battery but we had an electric hook up so never had to worry about how much we were using.
As you can imagine, it was a completely different experience to taking a tent, we lived in relative luxury all weekend. When the rain came we were cosy, dry and warm inside the van and when the sun shone we popped out the picnic table from its clever hidey hole and ate al fresco. It was the best of both worlds.
I’d heard nothing but good things about this family friendly festival before I booked the tickets and I was attracted to it for the combination of food, motors, music and family entertainment. The packed programme had something for everyone and the fact that all the profits go to Children in Need was also another reason to love it.
From the moment we arrived there was never a dull moment and to be honest we struggled to fit everything in to our three day experience!
Highlights included Carter’s Steam Fair (for which we got 6 free ride tokens per child with our tickets and never felt the need to buy more), the Vintage Village (where I felt very much at home), The Wall of Death (jaw-dropping stuff), Sporting Bears Dream Rides (you could go for a spin in a rare vehicle from just a £20 donation) and of course, the main music stage where we got to see incredible artists perform live including George Ezra, Jools Holland with special guests including Ruby Turner (a personal fave), Madness, Reef, Razorlight, Texas, Rick Astley and loads more.
There was a second music tent with some lesser known names, a food stage where celebrity chef’s did cooking demos, a huge circus style tent where we watched improvised comedy capers, a shopping village where you could pick everything from a new outfit to garden furniture, an area called ‘Oktoberfest’ which re-created a German beer festival plus loads of vehicle displays and marketing stands from prestigious motor brands. I’m sure I’ve failed to mention other highlights but there really was so much going on!
Judge Jules was a surprise guest on the main stage on Saturday night and as we danced away on the warm summer evening with the most incredible sunset as a backdrop to the legendary DJ’s rhythmic set, I felt like I’d been transported to Ibiza! I think the kids peaked a bit too soon though…
The cost of the food and drink stalls were as you would expect pretty high (about £6.50 for a bottle of beer) but we saved a lot of money by eating breakfast and evening meals at the campervan and packing picnics for lunch. You couldn’t take your own alcohol in to the main festival area but I took loads of snacks for the kids plus refillable water bottles to keep us all hydrated thanks to the many drinking water stations.
We did spend money on a couple of Dream Rides for James and go-karts for Jack and Emily plus ice-creams, coffees and beers but the fact that we were having such a good time and knowing that we were helping to raise money for charity stopped us from moaning about the prices.
The Complimentary Café was somewhere we found ourselves returning to regularly throughout the festival. It had a great location beside the main track, perfect for car-spotting and watching the carnival. The coffee was incredibly good and there were always free games and activities for the little ones to enjoy.
The toilets and showers were kept very clean throughout the entire weekend, every member of staff and volunteer we met had a big smile on their face and were more than happy to help us out when we needed it (like when Emily lost her wristband)!
The festival seems to attract mainly middle class families and older couples, the vibe was chilled and friendly, we certainly didn’t come across any issues with people being inebriated or anything like that. We did get a few funny looks from yummy mummies for letting the kids fall asleep on the grass during a concert (apparently it’s fine for kids to be asleep in fancy pull along trucks decorated with fairy lights though, we must have missed that memo)!
We left the festival with lots of fond memories and would definitely return next year, ideally with a campervan again to have the best experience possible! For more pics and a few videos, head to the highlights on my Instagram page.
If you have any questions about campervan hire from Lookers or about Carfest North feel free to leave me a message below and I’ll try and answer as best I can.
To book your own campervan adventure check out www.lookers.co.uk/volkswagen-vans/rental/ and keep an ear out for announcements on BBC Radio 2 about future Carfest events.
*We received a discount on our campervan hire from Lookers but all other cost relating to our weekend at Carfest North, including the festival tickets where covered by ourselves.