We’ve just returned from an amazing weekend at Just So Festival 2018 at the picturesque Rode Hall in Cheshire and I’m still on a high from it.
It was our first family camping experience so we were full of trepidation but we nailed it! I think we might be a camping family now!
Of course, we were very blessed with the weather with only two spells of rain, most of which was in the night. Apparently, Just So Festival 2018 was the best weather they’ve ever had in 9 years!
So here is my Just So Festival 2018 review and our top tips for Just So Festival goers in the future…
What is Just So Festival?
The Just So Festival is an annual weekend-long camping festival for children and their families. “The festival provides a magical experience where art, music and literature are embedded and entwined in a beautiful and wondrous landscape.”
Wild Rumpus, the not for profit organisation who organise the festival provide a huge range of musical, theatrical, and visual performances, workshops and installations within a safe, natural and magical setting.
“Every clearing and glade holds a new way to unleash creativity. Families discover and delight in the spectacular within the woodland environment during this weekend camping event.” Wild Rumpus also organise the new festival Timber and all of their profit goes back into their arts programmes.
Fantastic for Families
We were sent to Just So Festival to blog for Fantastic for Families which is a Family Arts Campaign initiative. Fantastic for Families promotes theatre performances, museums, film screenings, and events at multi-purpose arts centres around England and Wales. The theme for the summer is the great outdoors, which encourages families to access arts and culture within the context of nature – be it outdoor performances or events which focus on the theme of nature.
Fantastic for Families wants to ensure that arts and culture is both accessible and diverse, so that all families and generations can access arts and culture together. I wrote about how great their website is for searching for cultural family events near you here. Just So Festival is the perfect example of what Fantastic for Families and the great outdoors theme is all about!
Our highlights of Just So Festival 2018
The Fairy Queen
Both my kids were in awe of the beautiful fairy queen that we visited deep in the woods. They thought she was truly magical and they’ve still got some of her magic glitter stuck to their scalps that may never come out!
Fabularium – There be Monsters performance
Our favourite performance of the weekend was ‘Let there be monsters’ by Fabularium. It was a moving performance within the woodland amongst the trees. At the end of each scene the audience and performers moved to a new location and the final scene climaxed next to a beautiful lake.
It was really interactive, bringing the audience up for key roles which only added to the hilarity. The singing in it and songs were really wonderful too, with the performers playing their own instruments. It kept all of us entertained – from ages 3 to 34!
As for other shows we saw, my 6-year-old really loved Bicycle Boy too.
The dream antelopes
My 3-year-old is obsessed with animals and kept chasing the mysterious and shy dream antelopes around the site shouting ‘come back goat’. It did make us chuckle.
Lantern making and the lantern parade
My 6 year old’s favourite part of the weekend was the lantern parade. In the afternoon we made a lantern. Just So provided a crafting area in the woods with all the materials.
Then at dusk, everyone congregated with 500 lanterns to do a parade as the sunset led by Voodoo Love Orchestra. It culminated with everyone gathering in the dark for a performance by the Bullzini family doing an impressive tightrope performance called Eisoropia.
The ‘Tribal’ Tournament
The biggest Just So tradition is that everyone chooses an animal ‘tribe’ before they come and dress up as that ‘tribe’ at the festival. There are stags, frogs, fish, bees, owls and we chose lions. Over the festival, staff hand out golden pebbles for impressive tasks, behaviour or challenges. The ‘tribe’ with the most golden pebbles at the end wins. It’s actually pretty hard to get a golden pebble. My kids got 4 in total over the festival but they were all on the Sunday.
It’s all for fun because some teams are WAY bigger than others as we realised at the Wild Rumpus Parade on the final night. Everyone met with their ‘tribal’ leader and learned chants and songs. Then in turn each tribe paraded through the festival to the Footlights stage where we all congregated to hear which tribe had won.
We loved dressing up as lions all weekend. Although I’ve since realised my face-painting skills are somewhat questionable!
One of my favourite moments of the whole festival was watching my normally shy 6-year-old come out of his shell and roar, chant and shake the sign we made at the other tribes during the Wild Rumpus Parade. I was so proud of him and he loved it so much.
David Gibb – Teddy at the Disco
When you buy Just So the programme, you get a CD with some of the songs that will be played at the weekend. Our favourite by far was David Gibb’s ‘Teddy at the disco’ with its catchy chorus of ‘its Saturday night and I’m getting ready, I’m going to a disco with my teddy’. Watching him sing it live and dance with my 6-year-old at the footlights stage was really special.
Stables at Footlights
Also at the Footlights stage, we all danced to a beautiful performance by Stables. Watching my 3-year-old dance in her knickers and a Jeremy Corbyn t-shirt because she had just wet her pants (thanks to Papa Ginge for a) deciding to potty train her 4 days before a festival and b) not packing her a spare pair of trousers that day) was something I’ll never forget! Grant me 1/10th of the swag that child has and I’ll be grand.
I want to give a special mention to whoever found my phone and handed it in at the footlights stage after this performance. It’s testament to the safe space that Just So creates that before I had even realised I had lost my brand new Iphone X, it had been safely returned to me. I was so lucky and am very grateful! If it was you, please let me know!
Gary Stewart’s Graceland
After the Wild Rumpus Parade and the tribal tournament we were treated to a performance of Paul Simon’s infamous Graceland album in full by the Leeds troubadour Gary Stewart. We had a lovely time dancing around and then all sat and watched a little while as I nursed my 3-year-old who was getting tired. It felt like one of those moments that will go in the memory bank forever.
Sand pit area at the lake
My three-year old’s favourite area was the giant sand pit next to the lake in the ‘Roll up, Roll up’ circus area. She would happily play there for ages with other children, making sandcastle structures and feeling the sand between her toes.
On our last night we gathered round a giant moonlit campfire in the woods. We got some drinks from a caravan bar where the owner generously gave us some marshmallows for free. Then we foraged for some fallen branches/sticks and toasted them on the crackling bonfire.
Retro disco at the Flamingo Lounge
Our favourite place to end our days was the retro disco at the Flamingo Lounge. The kids loved being able to run around and dance freely. They got to play with other kids. The music they played was fab classics. There was a great moment where they played Aretha Franklin’s Respect and it being only a few days after her sad passing everyone sung loudly and then cheered and applauded when it finished. It brought a whole new meaning to the song title for me.
Being the foodie that I am, food always ranks highly on my festival hit list. We tried to sample as much as we could across the three days but still didn’t get to try it all! It’s not cheap but I am pleased all we took was food for breakfast. I would have felt sad to have missed out on more of what they had to offer.
I want to give a special shout out to the Cake Shop van who sold tea for just £1.50. The van wasn’t as glam as many of the other stalls but it offered the best value on site by far and the staff were so lovely. I was chatting to them and mentioned my phone was dead and they let me charge up my phone case there which was so helpful as I later got separated from Papa Ginge and without that charge it would have been harder to find him. Their tea hit the spot too!
Top ten tips for Just So Festival Goers:
- Do get the programme to see what is on where and when. The brochure is beautifully designed, costs £5 and comes with the Just So album. Take a photo of the programme on your phone so if you forget it you can still see what’s on and where. This happened to us a couple of times. I’d love to see them make an electronic one too or have it as an app.
- Wear covered shoes to go pitch the tent. There is quite long grass and lots of stinging nettles so sandals aren’t the best as I quickly discovered.
- Take plenty of cash. The cash point charge is £2.95 per transaction and loads of stalls, probably most didn’t take cards (frustratingly). Gordon’s Sweet Shop did free cash back but had a minimum £3 spend (clever).
- If your kids wake early and you need a brew, bring a stove, kettle and cups. We couldn’t find anywhere open until after 8am. We are #blessed with 5am risers no matter how late they go to bed (usually).
- Do dress up. Most people did and it really adds to the fun of it all. If dressing up isn’t your thing some people simply decorated a plain t-shirt with ‘Just So 2018’ and what team they were. Or just added a headband or face paints. Plenty of people didn’t dress up too though so don’t worry either way.
- Make the most of the area being quiet on the Friday. I didn’t realise at the time but Friday has fewer people due to people coming after work on Friday evening or local people coming on day tickets over the weekend. Next time, I would go and make lanterns on the Friday and spend more time at ‘Roll up, Roll up’ which gets very busy over the rest of the weekend.
- If you want to make a lantern and take part in the lantern parade then go to lantern making early. I had heard other bloggers say this and didn’t take it on board and should have. Friday is way quieter and the best time for lantern making. By the Saturday afternoon the lantern making gets really busy with queues and they ran out of materials. As for the lantern parade, it was basically queuing with about 1000 people but then my 6-year-old said it was his favourite thing so I am pleased we did it.
- Talk to people, use their costumes as a conversation starter. Ask what their favourite food has been so far, or what they’ve enjoyed the most. You’ll probably find they’ve been lots of times and have loads of great recommendations for you. Chatting to strangers is always one of my favourite parts of festivals.
- Be prepared for the campsite to get emptier on the Sunday night but be much louder and rowdier. It was pretty loud where we were till around 1am as revellers made the most of the last night of the festival freedom.
- Don’t worry about the showers. Even on the Monday morning they were relatively clean and I never saw very long queues. They also kept on top of the portaloos well. They were the cleanest festival toilets I’ve ever seen. Credit to the team for managing that all so well.
Still after all of this, there was loads we didn’t get to see. Which is a perfect excuse to go back next year to relive the magic all over again! In the meantime, we are on to our next family festival at Electric Fields 2018, to see the summer out in style! I don’t know about you but with the heat wave and lots of UK family trips, this summer has been our best yet and I’m going to be sad when it ends!
We’ll be sharing our Just So family vlog soon so watch out for that and I’ll add it here when it’s live. In the meantime, if you’d like to read more about Just So 2018 you can read more blogger reviews from Mini Travellers, We’re going on an adventure, Hodge Podge Days and Tippytupps too.
Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. For more details on my disclosure policy please see my about page. Big thanks to Fantastic for Families and Just So Festival for giving us the opportunity to cover this for you and make some lifelong memories along with it.