Another year another Shambala Festival! For a medium sized festival, we all agree this one is hard to beat. It remains our family’s favourite festival, because it has so many different activities and exciting performances and artwork everywhere, that every year there’s something new to experience. They also listen to feedback from festival goers, meaning that each year they make changes to try to improve the event, which shows how much they value their supporters, who keep coming back year after year. This was our fourth Shambala, and definitely not our last!
The best thing this year was that they’d fixed the problem with their entry system (which had caused up to 2 hours’ wait to get in last year) so this year there was no queue at all! This meant that on Thursday we got in and found a great camping spot and were set up very quickly.
There are two types of family camping; for under fives which is further away from the main festival, and for families with older children closer to the entertainment. I think this works very well as you then meet people with similar aged children. There is also the wonderful family yurt (with its own campfire) in the young families campsite – a safe place for small children play, toast marshmallows, listen to songs or storytime, or just hide from the rain (a necessity this year!). The family camping seemed particularly spacious this year, meaning there was space for large family tents plus gazeebos and shelters.
The Woodland Tribe
The woodland tribe is a separate area in the woods for children to explore their adventurous side. In an age where health and safety rules seem to be stopping our children experiencing exciting things, this area was a breath of fresh air. Huge cargo nets in the trees encouraged children to climb and jump and challenge their confidence. Another section was providing wood and nails for families to build their own climbing frames and huts in amongst the trees – something that every member of the family could enjoy. There were workshops on fire-building, crafting and cooking on the fire. The children made damper bread cooked on a stick over the fire, and climbed on ropes through the trees.
The Kids’ Field
This was wonderful as usual, with new things to climb on and a musical instrument built around a real piano. The imagination that goes into the field makes it one of the best kids’ field on the circuit, and with everything inside it being free it’s a special place to be. They’d listened to feedback from last year and added adult toilets, an example of how the organisers obviously care a great deal about families. My children are getting older and so we spent more time in the rest of the festival this year, there were even more large games dotted around the festival, but the kids’ field was still an excellent place to spend time in.
I cannot praise the staff at the crèche enough for what they have provided. It’s a safe, quiet and yet stimulating place with plenty of activities, where you can leave your children for three hours so that you can experience parts of the festival you couldn’t take them. My children go every year and they love being there, and we get a chance to go to the hot tubs, go and see a band, join in with the mad bearded kitten antics or just go and eat dinner together.
Overnight Bush Camp
My eldest daughter was finally old enough to attend the overnight bush camp this year. This is an adventure for children ages 8-12, at an additional cost. We packed her a sleeping bag, sleep mat, a bowl, spoon and cup and a change of clothes, and dropped her off at 4pm. Then they disappeared into the woods to be returned to us at 10am the next morning! It was an amazing experience for her, and gave the parents a night off to enjoy by themselves so everyone was happy.
As the parents were not allowed to join in, I asked my daughter to write a review – so welcome to Festival Kidz’ newest team member! You will see her review here soon.
There was so much variety and choice of things to do at Shambala, that the main problem with the entertainment is working out what to see and what to miss! Apart from the main stage, with a variety of excellent bands (I loved seeing Electric Swing Circus and Balkan Beat Box especially) there were also several more music stages, including a DJ treehouse in the woods, cabaret, theatre, poetry, debates, dance classes, crafts workshops, healing, permaculture… and all manner of interesting things to entertain and educate. The programme is quite thick – they even sent them out in advance this year – an excellent idea for those of us who like to plan what we’re going to see!
As my children are getting older we were looking for entertainment outside the kids’ field, and for us the puppet shows at Smoking Puppet Theatre were a massive hit. We saw a few of the shows; they were funny and engaging – just make sure you turn up early as this year the tent filled up and they had to turn people away.
The food at Shambala is varied and wonderful. Also, all food vendors had to offer a child portion, something that I wish all festivals would do! Our favourite stall has to be the bakery – fresh bread, pastries and croissants all weekend meant that it wasn’t difficult to feed even my fussy children. Add to that not one but two pizza stalls, and we could have gotten away with not bringing a stove. And for the adults there is such an amazing choice that it is often hard to decide. The Lebanese stall with their marinated chicken and slow cooked beef kebabs were the star of the festival for us. Even my fussy eight year old tried them and loved them!
Shambala is leading the way with green initiatives – they use 100% sustainable energy, they have pedal powered phone charging stations, a recycling deposit, a deposit on all plastic cups from the bar, a ban on all plastic water bottles and carts giving out free water refills throughout the site. If, like me, this sort of thing is important to you, there is more information on the Shambala website here – their genuine concern about their environmental impact is impressive.
Although we absolutely love this festival, there was a general feeling that it is getting too crowded. It was obvious the organisers had sold considerably more tickets this year. The venues were busy and it was necessary to get to things early before they filled up, which is hard for families as we tend to need to just drop into things. This meant we saw less, we queued more for things like food and toilets, and it made the festival that bit more difficult, especially for us with three children. Activities such as the Fox Hunt and the cargo nets in the woods even needed to be booked the day before. The ‘Waiting Room’ venue which had been a highlight the last few years had also disappeared which was a shame (although this wasn’t a family friendly venue anyway) and we hope it reappears next year.
The evenings also felt a lot more ‘wild’ with many more young people out partying, so if you’re looking for somewhere quiet this is not the place for you!
Having said that – Shambala is still one of the best festivals in the UK – it’s incredibly difficult to find anything else to match its variety of entertainment, facilities for families and sense of fun.