I’ve just returned home (had a quick hot shower and warm food) after a family day out at the very wet Festival No 6, set in the beautiful Italian inspired village of Portmeirion, near Porthmadog.
Festival No 6 has been on my ‘to do list’ for a few years, but there’s two things that always put me off; the timing – it’s during the first week back at school after the summer holidays, and the £180 – £195 price tag for an adult weekend ticket, which is hard to justify after the summer holidays! Fortunately, I was offered a press pass, so I forced my husband and my daughter to get up at 7am and off we went, to see if No 6 is any good for us families!
Portmeirion is only an hour from our house and much to our surprise, we didn’t have any queues to get into the festival car park. The second surprise wasn’t so pleasant, the cost of parking – a staggering £25 and you can only pay with cash! Fortunately, I didn’t have to pay as I had the press pass (pheeew!) – but it’s not exactly the best welcome for festival goers, is it? We parked near the exit, as my husband had flashbacks of the news reports from last year, when cars were stuck here for days in the mud after the torrential rain – the weather was equally bad this morning and we didn’t want to be stuck here in the middle of this muddy field, with a 5-year-old!
Armed with wellies, umbrellas and as many waterproofs as we could fit into one back pack, we took the free shuttle bus to the festival – driven by local Welsh speaking bus drivers. We didn’t hear much Welsh after that. Welsh is non-existent on the festival website, marketing material and the app too and considering that this festival is set in Wales, that’s rather disappointing, isn’t it?
We arrived at the village entrance and were unsure where to go as there were no maps to be seen, not ideal when you arrive with an excited 5-year-old who just wants ‘to go’, and even worse for the nearby family with buggies and a handful of children. The stewards were also unsure where the ‘Little Big Top’ aka the kids section was so I went on the app – which was very good (despite it not being bilingual) and it was easy to use. It wasn’t in the village itself, we had to walk through two small fields to get there, which was easier and quicker than it sounds!
My husband loved the fact that there was a bacon sandwich hut on the way and I loved the pink portaloos – plenty of them dotted around the whole festival, which is really good news for families!
On the way, we passed dozens of really cool food outlets. I was really impressed with the choice of food on offer throughout the festival; wood fired pizzas, seafood, Thai, Indian, street food, local produce and much more. Also, lots of coffee and pudding stalls and they weren’t ridiculously expensive either; Gareth and Elsi shared a pizza for lunch and it was £8 and I made the mistake of choosing a scotch egg and sweet potato fries for £8 – not nice! (I won’t go in to detail!)
There were plenty of bars too! If I wasn’t wearing my sensible Mummy hat today, I’d have had so much fun trying them out! From the fizz bars to the gin bar to the rum house, cocktails and everything in between…not today Heulwen!!
The ‘Little Big Top’ is a new development. The staff explained that all kids’ activities had been outside until now, but after last year’s downpour, they decided to put the kids’ undercover – thank goodness, as it was raining so badly and the three of us were already soaked!
As we entered, Elsi was approached by a funny looking member of the Rave a Roo entertainment team – he pretended to interview her, with a plastic skittle! He said she had to prove she was funny and nice enough to enter the space! Elsi thought they were hilarious! The Rave a Roo crew were great, full of energy and dressed in full on festival gear – sequins, feathers, funny specs and glitter, (which is what most people were wearing at this stylish festival – Fab!) One of the crew explained that Rave a Roo are part of the Paper Chatterbox company and they offer various children’s workshops and entertainment at festivals like this – they were a good choice!
The Little Big Top and the other smaller kids tents within the gated area were perfect for under 7’s, they had events going on all day every day until 6pm and you can come and go as you please and all the activities are free. Elsi loved painting rubber ducks for the duck’s disco, making headdresses and neon animals. She also loved the soft play tent and clay modelling and craft tent. The story corner, for kids who like quiet time, didn’t appeal! Everything she made, she could take home with her, which is always a bonus for her and me– but annoys my husband, as he has to carry all this ‘precious clutter’ home with him!
We had a great time until the so called ‘theatre’ show started! A show presented by Spectatoe Theatre, about two aliens who landed on earth and who needed the kids to teach them about our planet – they weren’t great, they should have landed somewhere else, or maybe done some more rehearsing before coming here?! It annoyed Gareth to the point where he walked out and then Elsi broke down in tears when the ‘aliens’ put a cape on her! It was time to leave!
As we walked towards the village itself, I had a quick five minutes to visit the vintage market which I’d spotted on the way in – it was lovely, my idea of heaven but those little words ‘Can we go now?’ came to disturb me (again!) and off we went, I didn’t want any more tears!
I thought there would have been a lot more craft stalls dotted around, but there were only a few – probably a good thing! In amongst these, were Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, who were offering 60 second Welsh lessons and I was glad to see a crowd of people and a few families taking advantage of this – great idea!
Within the village itself there were no specific events or performances for children and families, but there was a lot on offer. There were performance stages located in the gardens, in the woods and there were also events taking place in various buildings in the village too from yoga lessons to paddleboard lessons on the wharf and psychic readings. Elsi loves disco music and Dj’s and she was at the front during most performances! The Lost in the Woods stage was one of our favourites, and we enjoyed Gretta Isaac and DJ’s Mari and Elen.
Walking around, I didn’t see that many children and families, but I did see a few buggies struggling through the muddy woods (my idea of hell) and Elsi managed to find a few kids to jump up and down with her in the muddy puddles! As the site is so spread out between fields, woodland and the village itself, it isn’t the safest or easiest festival for families, especially families with younger children. The staff are few and far between too, so if a child was lost it would be a nightmare for all!
On the way to see the amazing llarregub brass band, Elsi’s umbrella broke and I was soaked through to my nickers – (too much info?) so at 4:30, we decided it was time to leave and head back to the car – which wasn’t stuck! Hooray!
Overall, apart from the rain – which can’t be helped, the aliens – who need a bit of fine tuning and the lack of Welsh – which seriously needs to be addressed, I think Festival Number 6 is a really cool festival, it has something for everyone. I think they could have more activities for families, especially those with older children – a family stage/ kids disco/ silent disco (undercover) in the village, were some ideas we discussed on the way home in the car. There also needs to be Welsh language provision for kids – it would attract more families to the festival and allow children from outside of Wales to experience our language and culture, something we always enjoy when attending festivals and events in other countries.
Having experienced it and the scale of it, I would say that Festival No. 6 is worth the £180 – £195 price tag, as there’s such a great variety on offer and so much to see and kids go free – but you do need a ticket. The programme beats most festivals I’ve been to, so you should put it on your ‘to do’ list.
I hope to return next year to test out the family campsite – but only if it’s dry, as I learnt that there are no showers on site which would have driven me to tears after all that rain today! I also want to spend more time at the festival in order to sample of the Mummy friendly events and workshops too – particularly the events taking place in the wellness area and the floating dance floor on the lake – Yes, Festival No 6 – I’ll be back in my sequins and gortex!
By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru