Festival Number 6 was the destination for a long anticipated father and son adventure, to celebrate Harry’s A level results before his departure for University in London. We had visited the uniquely beautiful Portmeirion village as last year’s Festival Number 6 was setting up and we had been very keen to return during this year’s festival week. It only seems like yesterday that Harry was a toddling mini-traveller and I was particularly keen to see whether Festival Number 6 would be a suitable place to take Harry’s younger cousins next year as a special treat.
Festival aside, Portmeiron is a must see spectacular for anyone of any age. This surreal village with its storybook Italianate architecture, cut precariously into cliffs overlooking the River Dwyryd estuary at the heart of breath-taking Snowdonia, truly is a real life fairy tale location that I don’t believe could ever be replicated. I know from previous experience that the two hotels at Portmeirion are flawlessly beautiful, and I am reliably informed the various cottages and apartments throughout the village are excellent destinations for a short stay break. However, “general camping” was the accommodation type marked on our festival ticket; and we couldn’t wait!
We chose not to travel by train, but F#6 had gone to much trouble in partnership with Virgin Trains in making it as easy as possible for rail travellers. Virgin services from 30 key locations across the UK connected with a dedicated service from Crewe to Bangor, from where shuttle buses dropped you straight to the festival site. Those travelling by car parked at nearby Porthmadog football club, where access wristbands were issued in an orderly fashion before you jumped on one of numerous and regular shuttle buses. All very organised and smooth running apart from the fact that the GPS postcode given on the website either led car borne visitors blindly up a nearby dead end farm track or into the consequently gridlocked town centre of Porthmadog! It seems very few GPS navigation systems know about the reconfigured access routes to the football club since construction of the Porthmadog bypass in 2011. Traffic chaos ensued, as hundreds of technology dependent festival goers missed yellow road signs, while blindly concentrating on robotic directions recited by poorly informed phones and dashboards.
That leads us to hot tip number one. From this point forward, if your life now relies upon digital data communication in any way you may as well turn back now. As O2 users, we occasionally saw flickers of non-responsive GPRS signal, but we went four days without seeing so much as a sniff of 3G or 4G. There was however one saving grace; an extremely popular wifi hotspot at one of the Portmeirion village cafés. Sponsored by Volvo, this technological oasis saved Harry and many other social media junkies from total digital suffocation.
Be warned, getting to Festival Number 6 does come with an exercise warning. Do not forget you are “getting to a festival” and any inexperienced festival goer with young family in tow will need to be organised. The comparatively short 500 or so metre walk from your car to the shuttle bus and then the 500 metre or so walk from the shuttle bus stop at the festival to your camping pitch may sound of little consequence compared to treks at other larger festivals, but any unsuspecting unfit and slightly overweight parent with tribe of tired little ones in reluctant pursuit, may wish they were back in work after carrying four days’ worth of camping goods the length of that otherwise insignificant distance. I was only carrying for one and at 18 years of age, Harry didn’t lose the plot and throw a paddy in the middle of a mud puddle like some Boden attired lovelies we spotted, but I have to confess I was on the verge of needing a defibrillator by the time I got to throw my rucksack on the grass and collapse, gasping for air!
Hot tip number two! – get yourself a trolley; with nice big wheels, capable of coping with rough terrain and mud. We saw many purple faced dads, dragging trolleys laden with weary or sleeping children propped amongst tents, sleeping bags and food packages. Goodness knows how they would have coped if they hadn’t been prepared with trollies!
Camping at Festival Number 6 falls into two categories. Flat and southerly facing!
Flat camping areas are limited and tend to be taken by the ready pitched, luxury canvas bell tents which can be pre ordered at the time of booking, if you’re feeling flash with your cash.
Most other camping areas are on sloping fields. We didn’t find this a problem and most people we spoke to didn’t seem bothered about sleeping at an angle.
Pre-erected tents were available at a small premium, provided with luxury toilets, showers and dressing room stations with electricity for hair driers etc. The convenience of not having to carry, erect and then later re-pack your tent when you have children to entertain is not to be sniffed at, and with hindsight is very much recommended.
Harry and I set pitch in the general family camping area, close to food and coffee stands for convenience at breakfast time. Camping near the 24-hour dining facilities turned out not to be a great idea as festival revellers on late night food reconnaissance missions tended to have difficulty negotiating randomly pitched tent guy lines, resulting in several late night / early morning tent assaults, spilt drinks and rude awakenings. Also take note; grass areas attracting greater footfall are fine in the dry but after three days’ rain, readily convert into a mud bath. So choose your camping pitch wisely and don’t be afraid to invest that extra walk, to find a lesser trodden zone for pitching your tent.
Now for the most important question that everybody asks. What about the toilets? Frankly, the general toilets around the site and on the campsite were no different to other toilets at other festivals. Within hours of the gates opening the majority of the toilets on site became zones requiring heroic levels of bravery and very strong stomachs.
However, waterless and chemical free toilets provided by LooWatt.com were a revelation. Spotlessly clean, absolutely no odours from previous use, abundant supplies of loo roll, fragrant soaps and even flower arrangements by the washbasins. And Loowatt recycle the waste to generate energy; so all good for the environment too.
The Loowatt toilets cost us £3.00 per visit or £37 for a wristband for the weekend. For those not subscribed to the pre-erected tent option with its luxury toilet provision, the cost of using Loowatt soon became the best deal of the event. Loowatt also provided dressing table and hair drier facilities for those who retained a degree of vanity during the festival.
The festival’s welfare tent was excellently resourced and organised to deal with first aid issues or any other assistance required by festival goers.
There were cash tills on site and most stalls and bars took cards for payment. A children’s play area was situated in the grounds of the castle and this was very well attended by younger children.
We spoke with various families with children of various ages to establish their thoughts. Patrick and Margot (aged 7 and 10) positively bounced between activities with broader smiles each time we crossed paths. In addition to the musical performances, there were a plethora of other activities available for energetic youngsters as they skipped between venues through the woodlands and village paths including face decoration, head dress workshops, human chess, theatre, wood carving, disco in the woods and a kids’ comic making workshop. Mum and Dad (Feargus & Michelle) were seen strolling behind, with stress free smiles and glitter beads brightening up their faces.
We did however see numerous parents who didn’t appear quite as stress free as Feargus & Michelle. These tended to be those clinging perhaps to a pre-child existence; with babies or very small toddlers too young to appreciate a long weekend of loud music and long walks in the rain and mud. We saw numerous blue haired mothers and bead wearing dads, screaming and swearing at crying toddlers who only wanted to be hugged and carried through the mud; upsetting the festival karma to be honest! Hot tip number three – Don’t be selfish! If your mini-travellers are too young to run all day of their own volition through muddy woods and fields in the rain, perhaps you’d be better off choosing something other than a festival for your mini-break.
Talking of mud……..it happens! It’s a festival; in a field; in the UK! The chances are it will rain and the idyllic grass will disappear. So if you don’t like mud and you don’t like getting wet then don’t go! Or don’t moan about it! But if you can embrace the warmth of the atmosphere and the brotherhood of the festival crowd at every turn, then a good pair of wellies and a 100% waterproof coat (as opposed to a shower proof fashion garment) will kit you up for the best weekend of your lives.
It has to be said; I have never experienced such an affluent and middle aged festival crowd. Most people under 30 were the younger element of 2.4 children families, delivered in large German estate cars with headphones plugged into their ears. I guessed some festival goers were properly having to rough it this weekend when I overheard a complaint at the general bar that the selection of only sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio was “just not good enough”. In my humble opinion, the selection and quality of food and drink at the festival was actually excellent. Although it was pricey, with most modestly portioned take away meals costing in the region of £7-£10. So if you want to stick to a tight budget, major on bringing your own food and drink, allowing yourself a budget for treats.
Was the environment suitable for youngsters? I did hear one performing poetess, midday in the Central Piazza, taking great delight in the name of her art to recite vulgarity and swear words of the worst kind in a 15-minute tirade of hateful poetic licence, making even the broadest mind cringe. There was also the occasional hint of marijuana smoke in the air. However, on the whole, such instances of inappropriateness were isolated and avoidable. In fact, the majority of performing artists and festival goers had full respect for the festival’s civilised tone and the overall atmosphere was friendly and a great place to bring energetic, activity loving children above pushchair age.
Festival Number 6 was a fabulous celebration of art, fun, music and enjoyment for most all ages. The range of activities and attractions for all ages was infinite and even thought the weather this year was occasionally extremely inclement, spirits remained high and everyone in general revelled in the fantastic atmosphere. I thoroughly recommend this event to anyone who wants to let their hair down, chill out and have fun.
Now for the regrettable complaint; so severe it made national news! It was perhaps unexpected that “hurricane weather conditions” would hit the 2016 festival but anyone who knows Porthmadog knows that the fields beyond the football club used for festival car parking are a flood plain. We were lucky and were unaffected, as we had arrived early and parked close to the football club. Those who arrived later and parked further away from the club returned to their vehicles on Saturday and Sunday to find them stranded in the centre of a huge lake.
A fleet of tractors were on hand to tow vehicles out of the expansive bog zone but news reports tell of numerous cars being seriously damaged, either from being towed inappropriately through the deep mud and water or through being opened or started whilst standing too deep in water. Accounts of festival goers unexpectedly spending the night in the local leisure centre should really have been avoided and festival organisers must reconsider such a huge oversight, which significantly blighted an otherwise fantastic experience.
Let’s end on the positives though! For us and for many mini-travellers we spoke to, Festival Number 6 was all about the party and the music. We were not disappointed! A huge range of acts across 31 different stages and venues with headline acts including Bastille, Kaiser Chiefs, The Blossoms, Roisin Murphy, Hot Chip, Milky Chance, Super Furry Animals and Noel Gallagher did not disappoint! We’ll be back next year.