We’d narrowly missed the boat for tickets to the 2017 Good Life Experience, so this is something that I’d been looking forward to for an entire year!
And it absolutely didn’t disappoint.
I wrote about Good Life back in April; a little potted history, including it’s background and ethos. From everything I’d read about it, we’d decided early on that we weren’t going to take the boys.
There were so many things on the line up that we wanted to see and do, without feeling rushed or like we needed to be responsible parents.
Plus, it was a short festival — only Friday to Sunday — so I didn’t have any parental-guilt about leaving them.
It meant that they could spend a bit of quality time with their grandparents, whilst my big (man-shaped) boy and I spent a bit of quality time together.
And oh my word. It was absolute quality.
So what was it that I liked so much?
Well, here are a few things I loved best about The Good Life Experience 2018.
The Green Green Grass of Home
I loved the location.
The Good Life Experience is held on the green fields of Hawarden Estate, up in Flintshire. It’s home to Charlie and Caroline Gladstone (better known to me as the couple that founded one of my favourite homeware brands; Pedlars).
Admittedly, the outer-reaches of North Wales is a bit of a treck for us but it was such a worthwhile journey.
The festival site itself is nestled between two castles, a woodland and a lake… basically, it’s a dream venue. Plenty of lovely places to bimble about in.
And because it’s such a small festival, you’re not hemmed in by giant metal fences or red VIP tape. You’re at liberty to go and explore at will.
I loved that the live-in vehicle field had such a relaxed vibe.
There weren’t stewards telling everybody where to park; which threw us initially if I’m honest. We’re so used to being asked how much room we need for Dolly (whether we have an awning — which side is it on?); or being told that Dave (our car) isn’t allowed to park next to the van.
I guess, because The Good Life Experience is a much smaller festival than most we frequent, they can afford to be more relaxed.
There were still ‘parking bays’ (spaces marked out on the cricket pitch) and Good Lifers did adhere to them.
Good job too, as one of the vans had a fridge fire and Mr D had to smash the window with a hammer, in order to put the blaze out!
It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that on a festival campsite and I was really glad that the fire-lanes were clear, so the fire-brigade could get through.
But — fire dramas aside — camping at Good Life was a lovely experience.
We were surrounded by glorious countryside and nice, friendly ‘neighbours’ for the weekend.
Food, Glorious Food
If you’re a bit of a foodie, you’ll love The Good Life Experience.
Be it foraging or campfire cooking; learning how to prepare and cook a crab, to making the perfect risotto; there were so many gastronomical delights to tickle our tastebuds — both mentally and physically.
The food stands had some lovely grub on offer and the bars were very well stocked too; there were lovely local beers and ciders plus cocktails and gin by the bucket-load.
Mr D was in his element watching pro-chefs like Valentine Warner (who was nursing a spectacular hangover) create culinary masterpieces on an open fire. Anything food related is totally his thing, so whilst he was immersing himself in all the culinary demonstrations, I went and explored the craft workshops.
The craft workshops.
This was — without question — my favourite thing about The Good Life Experience.
Whether you’re a knitter, painter or potter (or jewellery making and woodwork is more your thing) there was literally a craft for everyone.
Macrame, calligraphy, sewing, print-making… the list of craft workshops was long and varied.
But — and this was the thing that impressed and delighted me most — unlike some festivals that I’ve done crafts at, the workshops at Good Life were really, really reasonably priced.
I made a solid silver ring for just £25 and a metal keyfob for just £20. My sister-in-law and I spent a few (very satisfying) hours — spanning the Saturday and Sunday — hammering and filing metal, to create our masterpieces. More about that on another day — I have a whole post to write about that!
The workshops are generally held in small groups and you’re given a time-slot when you book. It’s definitely worth scoping them out and booking early to avoid disappointment.
I was really keen to do giant knitting but by the time we’d found the lady responsible, it was too late sadly. Definitely something for next year though!
Possibly the jewel in the Good Life Experience crown.
The music at Good Life is curated by Cerys Matthews and if you ever listen to her show on Radio 6, you’ll know that she has an eclectic taste.
Which, thankfully, mirrors my own.
I loved the bands and DJs she’d chosen as the soundtrack to The Good Life Experience 2018.
We watched a fabulous band on the Friday night — Touts — who reminded me of The Jam. Very rock and roll.
Followed by a mooch around the festival site, filling up on artisan cider and a delicious wood-fired pizza, before heading to the Kansas Smitty’s tent, to watch The Dave Archer Quartet. It kind of felt like we’d been transported back to the 1930s. Lovely gypsy jazz, which was the perfect end to our first night.
On the Saturday night we saw Roachford — which was probably my highlight of the whole festival.
He was one of my teenage crushes (I played my 7″ of ‘Cuddly Toy’ on repeat) so to see him sing — live and up-close — was something that the 15 year old me could have only dreamed of.
He and his band were brilliant. Hearing ‘Only To Be With You‘ — live — was such a treat and (four weeks later) I still have it stuck in my head, on a loop.
Up Close and Personal
I loved the fact that we were just feet away from the performers. Unlike much larger festivals — with huge main stages — there were no barriers; no stewards holding people back from the stage. It was much more intimate and was the loveliest live musical experience you could wish for.
Later on the Saturday night my boy and I went to listen to Norman Jaye MBE play.
We used to love his DJ sets at Big Chill festival and always used to say that he brought the sunshine out.
And whilst he’d have struggled to bring the sun out at Good Life — as his set didn’t start until late — his tunes certainly put a big smile on our faces!
Our glitterball helmets got a dusting off and we had a proper dance for the first time in ages. It was so nice to leave those inhibitions and responsibilities at home; let off a bit of steam and enjoy being irresponsible parents — without our little charges — for a few hours.
Usually at a festival, you can buy a motley assortment of festival garb; everything from glitter to fancy dress.
This kind of retail therapy was very, very different.
There were lots of beautiful artisan products to buy — everything from homeware and fashion, to food and jewellery.
Plus, as the festival is sited on the Hawarden estate, we also had access to their brilliant farm shop which (despite it’s humble title) was far more like a swanky London delicatessen.
We stocked up on posh Welsh gin (Aber Falls if you’re interested) and some delicious pastries from the shop.
And I bought a gorgeous screen printed poster — courtesy of Tom Frost — from one of the makers tents.
Living The Good Life
At no point did I wish we’d taken the boys.
There were some families there with children but I feel that my boys — at 5 years old — would have been bored, if I’m honest.
There wasn’t a dedicated kids field or workshops aimed at their age-group. And that’s fine because, for me, even if it was more geared up to accommodate my children, I still wouldn’t want to take them. There was too much that I wanted to do, without feeling pressured or distracted.
Interestingly, there was a much older demographic than we’re used to — across the whole festival — the average age seemed to be late forties (and upwards).
As a result, it didn’t have the frenetic feel of a lot of festivals.
The daytime almost had the atmosphere of a village fete; it was very gentile. Plus dogs are welcomed (with open arms) to The Good Life Experience, which definitely added to the country fair vibe.
The night-time was laid back too. Friendly and easygoing — with an air of genial merrymaking — rather than hedonistic partying.
Although, I daresay there still was a lot of hedonistic partying happening in various corners of the festival. Particularly if Chef Warner’s hangover was anything to go by!
In short, I loved our first Good Life Experience.
It felt like the perfect way to round up the summer and a great way to draw a line under festival season.
Spending quality time with my boy — and my sister-in-law and her husband — was so lovely. And The Good Life Experience provided the perfect backdrop.
There’s changes ahead though. Lots of changes happening to Good Life next year in fact.
The site is moving — although only a few yards within the estate — plus they’re adding another night.
I’m really interested to see how these changes will alter the feel of the festival. To be honest, I think the addition of another night’s camping will possibly make it even better. Hanging out at Camp Dolly, drinking Mojitos, is always one of my favourite aspects of festival life.
As we didn’t arrive until late Friday afternoon — and knew we were leaving on Sunday afternoon — it felt like we really needed to pack everything in, to get as much out of our time as possible. So we didn’t relax at the van, quite as much as we would do at a longer festival.
Plus, I love the idea of another full day of crafting — and another evening of entertainment.
I also love the fact that the organisers are shunning the growth that comes with success and popularity, in order to maintain the essence of the festival.
I’m really keen to go back again next year, to ring the changes and see whether it feels very much different.
I kind of hope it doesn’t. Because, to paraphrase ‘Inner City’:
Love is shining
Life is thriving in the good life
No more bad times
Only glad times in the good life
It felt like a very happy contented little village. Brimming with creativity and buzzing with happiness.
If these words and pictures haven’t convinced you to throw caution to the wind and book tickets next year, have a look at my little film.
It’s my best Good Life Experience bits squished down into just 2 minutes and gives a really good flavour of the festival.
Many thanks to the lovely team at Good Life Experience for inviting me along; suffice to say, we really, really enjoyed it.
Super-early bird tickets for The Good Life Experience 2019 (September 12th-15th) are now on sale. Check out their website; click here for info on ticket options and pricing.
Although this is a collaborative post all thoughts, words and images — as ever — are entirely my own.