“Mummy, can we come back here again?” asked my six-year-old as we made our way towards the car park. The end of ‘What a Beautiful Day’ was playing out from the Levellers’ encore on the main stage. To the left of the stage fireworks fizzed and cracked in the night sky.
“Would you like to?” I asked him.
“Oh, yes, I really do. I don’t want to leave.”
Folk and Oaks
Folk by the Oak is a perfectly constructed one-day festival that, like a good song, leaves you wanting more. From the second we arrived, we felt comfortable, safe and welcome.
It is set in the beautiful grounds of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire. It’s not far from London, but without a map you would never guess. Beautiful oaks surround the estate and folk music feels rather at home here.
The site is laid out exceptionally well and I have to give great credit to the organisers here.
It is a small site that you could walk around in its enitrety in less than ten minutes, but even with 8,000 people, it never felt cramped and had lots to occupy both young and old.
The best thing for us about the layout of the site was the proximity of the children’s activities to the main stage. At the back of the crowd was sited a wonderful array of old-fashioned games provided by the Willow charity.
This was fantastic. Our children got itchy feet just before This is the Kit played, who both us adults wanted to see.
I reluctantly agreed to find some children’s activities and was overjoyed to find I could play with them there while having a great view of the band.
Not only that, but the way the speakers were positioned meant the sound was amazing from back there, so it was a win-win situation.
Even the main ‘Family Area’ was within perfect reach of the sound of the main stage. You could peek between the tents and again have a lovely view of the stage, beneath the branches of a spreading oak.
It really did feel as though this was an event organised by people who know what parents want at a festival.
This is one of Folk by the Oak’s huge draws, especially for families. From the time the site opens at midday, the field essentially becomes one huge picnic in front of the main stage.
The organisers actively encourage people to bring their own food and drink. Even glasses are allowed, and there were people popping champagne corks all around us.
Incidentally, despite the presence of glass, we saw absolutely no broken glass all day, so people were very careful.
We decided to throw ourselves completely into the picnic side of the festival and took our hamper along with some lovely treats. It felt very civilised (and admittedly very middle-class) pouring elderflower pressé and tucking into bread, cheeses and olives at a festival.
People were very well prepared and some had even brought picnic tables with them! There was a separate area for gazebos and we saw groups of people camped out under them all day.
No one got in each other’s way and there was plenty of space for all the picnic rugs, chairs and even the odd inflatable sofa. Folk instrumentalist band, Leveret accompanied the picnic and it all felt very lovely.
Children were so well catered for, and they were never short of things to do. I honestly think mine would have happily stayed all day at the old-fashioned games area. There were so many different kinds of games set up, and they could move between them with ease.
There was almost always at least one free to use and if they did have to wait a few minutes for a specific game, they were happy watching other children play as they waited. The games were so simple, but incredibly engaging. They were almost all made of wood and included air hockey, basketball and hoopla.
My children especially enjoyed the game that involved pulling on two strings to lift a marble up past a succession of holes. They had to try to avoid allowing the marble to fall in the holes and make it to the top.
They kept returning to it, watching other children’s technique and trying to beat their previous efforts.
I remember being at a festival when my daughter was two years old and we were very new to festivals with children. She started getting a bit bored during a set we wanted to watch, and the woman next to me pulled out several tubs of bubbles.
She dished them out to the children in her group and gave one to us. The rest of the set was spent with the children happily chasing bubbles. The woman told me she never went to festivals without a huge supply of them. Why? Because bubbles = happy kids.
Folk by the Oak know this and there were bubbles aplenty onsite. The wonderful Willow Fondation provided a complete bubble station, where children could use a variety of implements to make weird and wonderful bubbles.
A piece of netting? Bubbles. A colander? Bubbles. It was great fun.
There was also “The Bubble Man” as we called him, who created swarms of huge bubbles that the children delighted in watching, chasing and catching. Another example of good, simple fun, and no one was whinging for screens!
More for Kids…
I had to drag my children away from the old-fashioned games and bubbles, as I wanted us to experience everything Folk by the Oak had to offer. And there was a lot more to see.
My daughter spent around half an hour at the wonderful Wooly Circus. She made wool and also wove part of a large rug. She loves anything crafty and found it both fun and relaxing.
Both children enjoyed their first experience of playing a didgeridoo under some patient guidance. There was also knot-making, henna tattoos, a Groovy Record making workshop, a storytelling tent and singing workshops. The craft tent was filled with a multitude of activities including the option to make your own Folk by the Oak crowns.
For a one-day event, there really was so much on offer for children it would have been impossible for them to get bored.
And for the very little, or when older children needed downtime, there was a lovely chill-out tent and also the wonderful Lavender Mandala. This was a space filled with dried lavender flowers. It provided a fab sensory experience as well as filling the kids’ area with the fragrance of lavender.
There was a decent range of food at Folk by the Oak, but goodness me, you had to be prepared to queue for it! Around the peak evening meal time, the queues were huge for certain stalls.
I queued a good 30 minutes for my thali of dahl, chickpea curry and rice. It was pricey at £12, but really lovely. A couple of girls from the curry stall came down the line offering cups of Bombay mix which was very sweet.
My husband, not one to care enough about food to wait, chose the shortest line and grabbed a pasty for £4.50.
But my children, who decided they just wanted chips (£3), queued for 45 minutes! It wasn’t a terrible experience, but wouldn’t have been much fun in the rain or if the kids had been playing up. I hope they will look at increasing the number of food caterers serving the types of food that had the biggest queues next year.
Other food available included Egyptian street food from £6, traditional burgers for £5, meat baguettes from £6, toasted sandwiches from £5 and jacket potatoes from £4. So there was a good mix of food at reasonable prices and lots of options for even the fussiest of children.
Drinks were averagely priced at around £4 a pint. I had a double gin and tonic and a lovely Mojito from the cocktail camper van, both at £6.
Folk by name, Folk by nature. I loved the music at the Folk by the Oak. Even the bands and artists I had never heard of, impressed me. They were all of a very high calibre and good performers.
Shake the Chains played some very politically motivated songs and I enjoyed listening to the background behind them, which they spoke passionately of.
Kate Rusby had the most beautiful voice and was very endearing with her Yorkshire accent and funny tales.
But the highlight for me, and I’m sure many others judging by the number of band T-shirts around, was the Levellers’ closing set. I’ve been a fan of the Levellers for over 20 years and have seen them many times. They always put on a stomping performance.
They played the entirety of their popular Levelling the Land album. This was perfect festival fodder and meant I could play the children the album before we went, meaning they would know most of the songs on the night. We had a great view and plenty of room to dance, so dance we did.
We were massively impressed with Folk by the Oak. It was very well thought out and families were put at the heart of everything. The vibe was very laid back, and being invited to take your own food and drink in was refreshing. The children had a fab day and so did we. We would definitely recommend it as a great family day out.