Mention you're from England to any continental European and after mocking you for your cooking, they will most likely mention the weather. Although our continuous drizzle is often exaggerated, several days of downpour have the potential to make life very miserable if you're sleeping in a tent. After several summers of English music festivals, these are my tips for embracing the mud and enjoying the party regardless...
Choose your festival carefully
As you're reading this, I'll assume you take an interest in music. A good way to start narrowing down your options is to find the festivals which often host artists you like or are known to be good for a particular genre. For the really massive headline acts and tonnes of incredible artists that you've probably wanted to see for years, your best bet is also the biggest event in the UK, Glastonbury. Bestival, a slightly smaller alternative, also has a similar vibe with somewhat less effort involved in making your way between stages and there are various others such as the Isle of Wight Festival which I can't personally recommend, but always seem to have some good acts.
On the other hand, if you don't like big crowds or ticket prices, there are countless other small gatherings. I grew up with the tiny Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival in Dorset, which is probably a bit more about politics than music, but there are hundreds more around the country. Somewhere in the middle of the scale is highly recommended Shambala which I haven't yet made it to. Let me know what it's like?!
Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival
If you're genuinely looking for total madness try Boomtown near Winchester or the slightly more middle class nutter gathering- Secret Garden Party. For families on the other hand, Camp Bestival and Latitude should be ideal, but Glastonbury is also very possible and has a huge area dedicated solely to kids.
Remember you do not necessarily have to pay for a ticket, have a look at companies like Green Stewards or Seed Staff who you can volunteer with or even get paid to work at a food stall. These options are not to be taken too lightly though; you will likely be exhausted by the end of the weekend.
- Be practical- remember you will probably have to queue with and carry everything you take.
- Check the rules online- usually glass isn't allowed and there is sometimes a limit on the amount of cans you are allowed to bring in (you can probably hide extra in your stuff...)
- Do not carry loads of bottled water, there will be taps, but take a bottle.
Unless you have plenty of money...
- Take your own food. Remember you won't have access to refrigeration and most things will get squashed at some point. Unless you want to drop down with skurvy by day three, be sure to take something which includes some vitamins and fibre. Your stomach will thank you later.
- Leave you valuables at home- this includes your smart phone which will not retain its battery beyond day two, so buy or borrow a cheap nokia type brick. Do not take any unnecessary electricals and think carefully about your camera.
To make yourself feel human/less so...
- A some point, you will probably want fancy dress of some sort- lazy people like me can make do with face-paint or glitter.
- Check the weather, but you're safe with wellies and long socks or leggings (to stop them chafing your calves after a weekend's dancing). You should also take a light, waterproof coat.
- Work out how you will carry things around with you all day- you will want pockets or a small bag (colourful bum-bags are actually acceptable accessories).
- For "hygiene" you will want hand sanitiser, baby wipes, toilet paper and dry shampoo. I usually take a tiny amount of soap or shampoo in case I feel the urge to douse under a tap, but unless you're in posh camping don't expect a shower.
- A small first aid kit with plasters for foot blisters, antiseptic for cuts and painkillers for Monday morning.
- Occasionally vital extras that might help repair your tent if need be- gaffa tape, string, big bags, safety pins...
Arrive as early as possible to avoid the worst as the queues!
Choose your camping spot carefully...
- If you are planning to sleep at any stage of the weekend, stay away from the edges of paths (as drunks are likely to trip over you in the night) and stages, which will be ringing in your eardrums as you try to drop off.
- It may seem convenient to be near the toilets on Thursday, but you won't want to be down wind by Saturday- keep well clear! Find high, flatish ground to pitch your tent, NOT down hill from a tap.
- If you are in a group, leave a little space around your tents to sit down in, but not enough for someone to pitch up in when you're away.
- Shorten your guy ropes or they will trip people up in the night.
For minimum hassle/maximum enjoyment once you're set up.
It's best not to loose people as the night can turn very miserable for anyone left forlornly searching for their friends.
- Work out who is supposed to be with you and keep an eye on slow bumblers when walking through a crowd. Making a chain of hands is sometimes the only sure way to keep hold of everyone through a tight crowd.
- Choose a meeting spot at each stage.
- A very lightweight flag can be useful for large groups (I never do, but am eternally grateful to those who can be bothered to carry one)
- If someone does get lost and you have phone contact with them, unless you are going to wait, tell them here you will be in 10/20/30 minutes to allow them to catch up.
If the worst happens and it rains torrentially for three days...
- Try and keep a dry set of clothes, use big-bags and be careful where you leave things in the tent.
- If your tent is leaking from below, you can improvise a new groundsheet with newspaper/cardboard to absorb the water and bin-bags on top.
It may not seem the place to worry about your health, but you want to get the best out of your long weekend, so try and be a little nice to yourself.
- Pace yourself! Don't hit it too hard on the first night or you're likely to burn out before Sunday.
- Drink plenty of water whatever the weather, wear suncream if it's hot and don't forget to eat...
- Don't be afraid of going to the toilet! Depending on the organisers, they might be disgusting, but being dehydrated or needing a pee for hours and dancing is likely to lead you towards some kind of infection.
- Hand sanitiser!
- Use your common sense when you decide who to trust. I've never had any problems at all, but it is well known that there are occasional instances of dodgy drugs, tent robberies and even sexual assault at some of the bigger festivals. Look after your friends as you would on any night out and don't imagine you are in some sort of bubble where the normal laws of authority don't apply.