We are Deer Shed regulars and we have enjoyed many happy years of basking in the sun, or at most a light shower. It had to happen at some time – finally Deer Shed festival got hit by the rain. So this is Deer shed festival review – the muddy edition. Did the mud stop us from having a great time – no of course not!
The theme of Deer Shed 8 was “the Wilderwild”, a celebration of nature, exploration and the little bit of magic that happens when people interact with the magical woodland’s various beings. The title of the theme comes from a piece of performance art run by the Flanagan Collective and funded by the Arts Council. The wildness permeates into all of the children’s activities, the art, the science, the films and the music.
As soon as my son’s school finished on Friday afternoon (his last day at infant’s school- sob!), we jumped into our camper van and headed up the M1 towards Yorkshire. The journey took a little longer than expected but we were warmly greeted by the smiling Deer shed staff and given a choice of where we wanted to pitch our van. By the time we had set up our awning we realised that it was almost 10pm! We made a quick dash to the ticket office to get our wristbands and then we went into the main arena for a quick turn on the Big Wheel and a look around the site, before walking a very easy ten minutes back to the live in vehicles field.
On Saturday morning I woke up to the sound of rain thundering against the canvas. Nobody wanted to leave the tent but my husband braved the elements to buy a festival programme and 2 lanyards for the kids (£10). He told me that there was a long queue of families waiting to enter the festival because of the additional security checks in place this year.
We didn’t fancy getting wet so we decided to wait for another hour before heading in to the main arena at 12pm. By this time the queue had died down to get into the festival arena. However it seemed that everybody had squeezed into the Science tent – it looked like there were loads of exciting activities but it was far too busy. The slime making stand had run out of ingredients by 12:15 and the stand organisers were very apologetic but looked a little stressed. I think that they just hadn’t anticipated the huge demand in a short amount of time because of the rain.
Thankfully at this stage the sun started to come out and we were able to explore the site. My seven year old son made a beeline for the Sports Field and had a great time playing his first game of Quidditch, football and BMXing where he received brilliant support from the team at On Board skate park. In fact he loved it so much that he booked to go back for a second lesson on the Sunday.
My 12 year old daughter is more interested in arts and crafts so we went for an explore to see what was on offer. The Deer shed offers a fantastic selection of activities for all ages and they had made a huge effort to ensure that older children had interesting and age appropriate things to do. There were workshops where you could use a sewing machine, screen print your own festival poster for a small fee, design a digital poster, nature photography and special effects make up.
On Saturday evening we set up a lovely spot on the hills where we could watch the headline act, Kate Tempest. However about 5 minutes before her set began, the heavens opened and did not stop for the next two hours. The kids were soaked through and so was I, but I didn’t want to miss the main act so my husband took the children back to the tent to get dried and changed into their pyjamas and I decided to stay in the rain. This meant that I could walk up to the front of the crowd and watch Kate Tempest’s perform from a distance of about 10 metres away.
You just can’t get anywhere close to the headline artists at a bigger festival but this felt as if she was singing in my front room. Somehow the combination of the dark clouds, small crowd of devoted fans, thundering rain and powerful lyrics made for an intimate yet powerful experience that I will never, ever forget.
At the end of the gig there were people crying, strangers hugging and chatting to each other and the sense that we had witnessed something very special indeed. Luckily for me I had a warm sleeping bag waiting for me so was able to dry off and warm up fairly quickly.
When I woke, the children were still asleep so I walked down to the arena to try a “gong bath”; this is described in the programme as “a sound massage for the body and mind”, which uses vibration to have a positive effect on mood and well being.
As I walked into the site I could see that the main walkways were becoming very muddy and I wished that I had put my wellies on. The gong bath was an experience- perhaps a bit more hippy than I am used to but I did relax for half an hour before heading back to give the kids their breakfast.
We walked back in to the festival in our wellies and went back to the Science Tent as we had booked a place for the forensics workshop – one of our Deer Shed favourites. Both children had a great time solving the mystery of a jewellery robbery at a festival, using fingerprint analysis, footprint casts and lipstick matching. Whilst the workshop was fun it lacked the grisly gore of the previous year’s murder scenes!
The Science tent was much emptier today, which gave them a chance to try lots of activities including learning how to pimp your paper aeroplane, a giant marble run including pipes, an old bath and a fire pit, soldering, using pedal power to generate electricity and creating digital music using a mixer and Ableton software.
Then we headed to the comedy tent where we spent a couple of enjoyable hours learning air guitar skills and watching the comedy shows. Then back to the sports field to watch a live hangman show and another go on the BMX track.
Whilst my son was busy perfecting his half pipe skills, my daughter and I went to explore the Wilderwild- the newly created wilderness area.
Because of the rain, we had missed most of the theatre performances, which I had been looking to watching, but despite the mud the Wilderwild area was a hive of activity, with amazing looking dens, two kids were bravely having a go at black smithing, another child was cooking a pizza over the campfire whilst another was finishing off making a wooden stool with a saw.
All activities were closely supervised and I was very impressed by the range and complexity of activities on offer. I do hope that this area becomes a permanent part of Deer Shed as it looked wonderful.
Deer shed was harder work this year than usual because of the weather. I think that Deer shed may need to think a little more about increasing the number of security staff at entry points to help people get into the main site easily and provide a couple more sheltered areas to deal with the rain in future.
However the staff at Deer Shed worked tirelessly to make sure that children and families were happy and well entertained. This is a fabulous family festival – please don’t get any bigger than you are Deer Shed, you are perfect just as you are. A magical combination of music, art, sport, adventure, mud and happiness.
For more information on Deer Shed please see our factsheet.