Top 10 Festivals in the SW

ELTON JOHN best archive colour - US tour feathers photo (c) Emerson Loew 1974 Download PDF

Bestival 5-8 September, Isle of Wight

Bestival on the Isle of Wight is one of those festivals that has to be experienced at least once and this year, the 10th anniversary, with Elton John headlining is the one to go for. How to describe the crazy and beautiful madness that takes place in Robin Hill Park? Think Come Dancing Speigeltent where you can learn to breakdance, Tango, hip hop or the Viennese Waltz, the psychedelic Bollywood Tent and Indian themed cocktail bus, so popular and well loved stellar DJs like Fatboy Slim still want to play there or the Prangsta Boudoir, a costumier like no other with the power to reinvent you. Brilliant line up to celebrate the big anniversary and a nautical dress up theme at HMS Bestival – Snoop Dogg, Elton, Franz Ferdinand, MIA, The Flaming Lips, Wu Tang Clan and The Strypes –  this year’s hottest band. We’re loving the sound of the Swamp Shack, a Louisiana bayou with Deliverance mutants, fading Southern belles, DJ sets, barn dancing and celidhs. Sounds nuts? It is.


Glastonbury (26-30 June)

Glastonbury is back with a massive splash after its fallow year off, with incredible headliners Arctic Monkeys, the Rolling Stones and Mumford & Sons.  Started in 1970  (the day after Jimi Hendrix died) this will always be the mother of all festivals, partly because of its size but mainly for the entirely mystical and magical vibe which never dies. More like a whole psychedelic town than a festival there is so much to do here you really need the full four days. It’s great with kids – an enormous dedicated kids field (even a 1930s lighthouse to climb) with every kind of entertainment – but arguably better without because what’s on for adults is immense. You won’t find a better line up anywhere, a better theatre or circus field,  more progressive healing, fabulous food or more areas better suited to losing your mind (the Rabbit Hole springs to mind). It’s the benchmark for every festival and if you’ve managed to score tickets (returns go on sale this month) count yourself very very lucky.

Camp Bestival, Dorset (1-4 August)

Rob da Bank was very clever when he created a boutique family festival in the grounds of Lulworth Castle, allowing adults a little of the madness from Bestival but in an environment where their kids could safely come too. The event is a sell-out success, thousands of parents converge each year in this spectacular setting towing offspring in trailers or allowing teenagers off the leash without a backward glance. Camp Bestival majors on heritage acts to keep the parents happy (this year Billy Bragg, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, The Proclaimers, Nik Kershaw, Heaven 17) and a brilliant and eclectic mix of current artists think Beardyman, Richard Hawley and Labrinth (see what we mean?). Expect to spend a lot of time in the kids’ field with dressing up, every imaginable arty activity, visits from Mr Tumble and live jousting in front of the castle. Food is fantastic, cocktails on tap (lounging on day beds if you prefer). The vibe of a slightly nuts holiday camp – this one is perfect.

Sunrise Festival, Somerset (May 30-2 June)

And now for something different, hippy drenched, beautiful vibes at Sunrise near Frome, basket weaving a plenty but in the nicest possible way. The new site at Thoulstone Park is gorgeous, much of it solar powered, sustainable and organic. Children can wander safely here, fondly regarded by a dreadlocked city with the best organic food and drink. Story telling and lots of craft, music is always good:  Dub Pistols, posh ravers favourite The Egg, The Beat, The Neville Staple Band and then lots of bands you won’t have heard of. This line from the manifesto sums it up: “This gathering of the tribes will result in a wild, raucous celebration of the joy and privilege we share in simply being alive.”

The Rock Oyster, Cornwall 21-23 June

We are huge fans of the Rock Oyster, a small but brilliantly organised event which is the absolute antithesis of the big, corporate festival. Think quirky music, spectacular food and a truly beautiful setting at Dinham House where your children can safely roam. Let’s talk food first – a chef’s theatre with demonstrations from Cornwall’s legendary Paul Ainsworth, Jack Stein (Rick’s cheffy son) and food writer Joanna Weinberg. Learn how to filet a fish or cook foraged foods, slug back the freshest oysters by the dozen or feast on curry that was outrageously good last year. Cider is sublime, of course, and everything immaculately sourced. Eclectic music that majors on the experience – headliners include Slamboree who mix up dub step, drum n bass, classical and breakbeat with circus acrobatics and pyrotechnics.

Larmer Tree, Wiltshire (17-21 July)

Set in the beautiful 18th century pleasure gardens of Larmer Tree, this festival is like none other – peacocks stroll on by while bands perform, magicians and theatre troupes entertain.  A great mix of acts this year – Van Morrison,  Seasick Steve, Bellowhead, Imelda May and Richard Thomspon. Loving the sound of Mark Kermode’s film club where he’ll introduce screenings of classics such as Twelve Monkeys, Groundhog Day, Peggy Sue Got Married. There’s a carnival procession on Sunday, children’s entertainment is especially good here (they’ll love beatboxing genius Shiomo, mini gigs and dance shows) and stunning food (don’t miss the keralan curries) in this beautiful setting where the vibe is calm and magical. Our local festival and we love it.

Beautiful Days, Devon  (16-18 August)

Pic credit: Russell Liley

Beautiful Days blew our minds last year with its unique mix of universal friendliness (from staff to punters to performers), great music and brilliant organisation. Hippyish in a good way, the crusty count is high and there is no sponsorship or branding, just pure and simple fun here. The backstage bar, decked out like a speakeasy club was a high point, so were the flagon-waving pirates moshing at 2 in the afternoon. The Levellers always headline (it’s their festival after all) and this year brings Primal Scream, Ocean Colour Scene, The Wonder Stuff and Sinead O Connor. Old fashioned fairground for kids, real ale from Otter Brewery and plenty of healing, of course. Move fast for tickets, the festival always sells out to a regular crowd who come back year after year. A real knockout this one in Devon’s beautiful Escott Park.


Eden Sessions, Cornwall (3 June – 14 July)

One of our favourites for the extraordinary setting and the intimacy of seeing huge name acts in a relatively small capacity; this year Eden has pulled in a brilliant line up – Eddie Izzard, Jessie J, the XX, Sigur Ros and the Kaiser Chiefs. Described as like watching a gig on the moon, Sigur Ros, the legendary Icelandic band known for its sweeping soundscapes and spectacular light shows is going to be unforgettable. These gigs spoil you for the big, corporate festivals – you won’t want to do a 50,000 crowd again.

Leopallooza, Cornwall (2-4 August)

We love everything about Leopallooza which describes itself as the greatest house party in a field, the new kid on the block and it’s going places. Started up by a group of mates, for their mates, as the best festivals are, it takes place in a hidden valley in North Cornwall and the best new Cornish bands are order of the day. Anti-corporate 7 years on, drinks are cheap, camping is free and the festival is staffed by volunteers. In true ravers style the exact details of location are a loosely guarded secret – come with your mates and get off your head, Hunter S Thompson style. Line up not yet confirmed.

Boardmasters, Cornwall (7-11 August)

Strictly for the kids this one, but we’re not going to hold that against it –  a surfy, skate-y, dance affair held at 2 venues – Watergate Bay and Fistral Beach. Surfing competitions for dudes down at Fistral in the day while everyone else gets mashed up at a site overlooking Watergate. There’s a gargantuan, wallet busting fairground, a surfeit of snogging teens and pear cider is the tipple du jour. Great headliners this year The Vaccines, Basement Jaxx and Ben Howard.

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  • Nobby

    These may be the top ten Biggest Festivals in the Southwest but not the BEST top ten, KOSFEST is by far the BEST

  • sarah ryman

    Agreed. These just sound like the biggest. There are loads of amazing little festivals all over. And I’m surprised that Beautiful Days didn’t make the list @afieldsomewhere

    • Country Calling

      Beautiful Days is on the list Sarah – see above!

  • Flounder

    New one coming next year (2014) by a team made up of people who work on the likes of Endorse it in Dorset, Bath Fringe, Glastonbury and Bearded Theory ( Tornado Town). Called ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, the event will be resetting the standard for the best party in the area. Launch party is this year during The Frome Festival – 5th July at the Cheese & Grain


    What about small but beautifully formed Priddy Festival?


    What about small but beautifully formed Priddy Festival?


    Missed Farmfestival. Can’t be beaten on value for money!