It has been five years since we were last at Deer Shed Festival. Our kids were much smaller then and we were keen to see how the festival has changed. It was heart warming to see that the spirit and ethos remains exactly the same. Great music, great food, happy children.
Deer Shed is a joyful, clean, safe family festival which just happens to have the most incredible music line up too. Children of all ages and abilities were made welcome, including sporty kids, creative kids, nerdy kids, adventurous kids and musical kids. However the festival has grown up too and it offered a broad array of camping options, including some rather luxurious options of glamping, electric hook up and large, pre-reserved pitches. It was great for families to have that peace of mind that they had an allocated space, particularly for those families who had a long journey or would be arriving later.
We live in Birmingham and decided to watch a triathlon race for the Commonwealth Games which went past our house, before making the journey up to Yorkshire. We arrived on site a little later than we had planned, around 4.30pm on the Friday. By this point the festival site was fairly full and I would say that we were one of the last families to arrive.
The first thing that struck us was how much the campervan area had expanded since we were last at Deer Shed. What was once a fairly small area at the back of the festival site was now across the road in two expansive fields. The campervan field had its own coffee stall, washing up area and a place to get wristbands and programmes. Several campervans had their own electric hook up points. This is not something that I have seen at a campsite before and gave the option of an extra bit of luxury during your stay. I could not see any showers in the campervan field, but I found some on the walk into the festival site.
The walk to the main site from the campervan fields was not too far (around 8 minutes) and was certainly manageable with a buggy or festival trolley for smaller children. The family camping and accessible areas were closer to the main arenas. My only niggle was that the campervan field is obviously used as a farmer’s field for the rest of the year and there was a lot of cow dung on the grass. Not too much of a problem for us in a van, but many people had tents next to their van and I would recommend a ground sheet and some wellies for additional protection, especially if you have younger children.
A tip about the showers: sometimes the queues for showers at festivals can be long, especially in the morning so what I do is shove a hammam towel in my bag, flip flops and a solid bar of shampoo/ shower gel. Then when I’m at the festival site and the shower queue looks empty, I am ready to pounce. The other thing I do is to use the shower late at night before going to bed.
Whoever programmes the line up at Deer Shed is an absolute legend. Year upon year, they book exciting acts, as well as up and coming bands. I remember a few years ago, taking my small daughter to see a new band called Wolf Alice and the lead singer Ellie giving my daughter some pick and mix sweets from the stage. Now they are a massive act, playing at Glastonbury and headlining festivals around the world! This year we were looking forward to seeing the Lovely Eggs, Snapped Ankles, Self-Esteem, John Grant and Yard Act.
There were two music main areas, a main stage and then the smaller tent called In the Dock. The stages were no more than a 3 minute walk from each other and were separated by a large field you could park your festival trolley, put down a picnic blanket and have a good view.
The music tended to alternate between both stages, so you didn’t need to worry about your favourite bands clashing. It was easy to get right to the front of both stages and kids were welcome at the front.
There were some friendly mosh pits going on, mostly teenagers and enthusiastic Dads, but they make sure that the kids at the front were safe. We were able to get to the front for Lovely Eggs, Snapped Ankles and Self-Esteem and it was brilliant to be just a stones throw from some of our favourite bands.
The Lovely Eggs encouraged one girl to try her first ever crowd surf and Snapped Ankles waved his microphone into the crowd and encouraged one kid to make bird noises. Everyone was having such a great time, kids, teenagers and parents alike.
After hours, there was a Silent Disco in the Big Top area. We missed this on the Friday night and planned to come back on the Saturday…however that plan didn’t quite work out, as I’ll go into later.
On the natural slope between the two music stages, there was loads of space for the kids to run around and play. Children were enthusiastically playing glow in the dark mini golf, or riding on the Big Wheel and Helter Skelter. Prices for the fairground rides were very reasonable. It was £6 for a ride on the wheel and two goes on the Helter Skelter. You needed to take a long sleeved jacket or hoodie to protect your arms. In the evening, the queue for the tickets was quite long and then there was another queue for the rides, so we decided to go back at 10 in the morning, when the kids were able to buy their tickets straight away and then go on the rides.
My son and his friend are 12 and both love sport, so this was their favourite area. There was a huge, flat field that was dedicated to sports of all kinds. There were many games of cricket and football that were really friendly, so kids of all ages were joining in and playing with each other. There were also some more unusual sports to have a go at, including organised wrestling (in a proper wrestling ring), Quidditch, BMX, Monster tag archery, tree climbing and fishing.
The archery looked liked great fun, with kids playing against the grown ups in what looked like a paintball arena. I spoke to the people who were organising (Monster Tag) and they said that they were fully booked by Saturday morning at 11am. Next time we come, we will make sure to look at the programme and book activities as soon as we can, if there is something that we really want to do. There was also kayaking in a lake area (again you need to reserve your place as soon as you can) and the classic Deer Shed game of “Ball on a string”.
Younger children were also provided with loads of opportunities for climbing and having fun, with a field full of hay bales (the Feral farm), balance bikes and a soft play area.
The Deer Shed Science tent was incredible, as always. The kids really enjoyed taking part in an Amazonian forensic investigation, playing retro computer games and throwing paper aeroplanes off a raised platform. There were loads of options to choose from, including virtual reality, tape art, circuit making, a Delia Derbyshire music making workshop (Delia Derbyshire composed the Doctor Who theme tune) and a laser maze.
After the lads had played their 80th game of cricket, it started to rain heavily and we took ourselves off the Big Top to watch some comedy. The tent was huge and we were able to get ourselves a great spot down the front. There is always a good selection of comedy, including some famous names such as Shapporak Khorsandi, Stewart Lee and many acts who use Deer Shed as a warm up act for the Edinburgh Festival.
We watched several acts including Njambi McGrath from Africa and Yuriko Kotani from Japan. Not only did we have a great laugh, but the kids also learned about other cultures, how people from other countries perceive life in England and some of the quirks of our own ways of life.
Arts and Crafts
There were a huge range of arts and crafts activities available, some of which were run by the Bradford School of Art. This included learning how to make a stained glass sun catcher and use a soldering iron, friendship bracelets, rag rug making, origami, South Pacific skirt making out of plastic bags and soap carving.
Under 5’s Little Shedders
This festival was really good for tiny festival goers, with dedicated tents for babies (including a calm and private area for breast feeding, a microwave, highchair and changing table), to a huge variety of sensory activities, soft play, creative play, story-telling, play based yoga, dance workshops, bubbles and films. It is also very easy to walk out of the main arena and find a peaceful spot by the trees, if you have a tired little one who needs some downtime.
Food and Drink
There was a good selection of food and drink, including pizza, churros, Japanese gyozas, loaded fries, fish and chips, coffee and cake stalls and an ice cream van. The meals were fairly pricey (around £12 for a pizza), so we tended to eat breakfast in the van, take a picnic lunch with us and then eat at one of the stalls for our evening meal. At the Mad Hatter’s tea party, you could buy cups of tea for £3, with cream tea, cookie pies, loaded donuts and an array of cakes. Beer and cider was very reasonably priced at between £4.50 and £5.50 a pint.
It’s worth bringing a bit of pocket money as there were some great stalls for the kids, where you could buy bubbles, circus equipment, funny hats and masks as well as toys. There was a great Merch stall with Deer Shed themed t-shirts, hoodies and bags, where you could meet acts in person, a record shop and a lovely stall selling screen prints.
And this is where this review becomes slightly different to any other than I’ve written before…what happens if your child injures themselves at a festival?
It was Saturday evening, the kids were having a brilliant time and I was watching Self Esteem. The kids were playing football and my husband was sat close by to them. As I walked up the hill after the end of the show, my son’s friend ran up to us and told me that my son had hurt his arm doing a slide tackle whilst playing football. As I hurried over to him, I could see that his arm was in a very bad position indeed and it was evidently broken. There were several security guards around the festival field and my husband asked them to call for medical assistance.
The security guards moved straight into action and called for a marshall, who immediately called for a paramedic, who arrived promptly on a quad bike. The paramedic assessed my son, confirmed that it was broken and called for an ambulance, which was already on site. The security guards then cleared the area so that the ambulance could come straight to where my son was lying down and in significant pain and distress. The marshalls stayed with us the whole time.
The paramedics did a wonderful job of reassuring and distracting my son with light hearted chat about his favourite footballers. We were advised by the paramedic that only one of us could travel in the ambulance, so I did this whilst my husband remained with my son’s friend. Once in the ambulance, he was given pain relief and we were taken straight to Harrogate District Hospital.
Whilst travelling in the ambulance, I realised that I had no idea where we were going, or indeed how we would get back to the festival site after his treatment was finished. As I had already been contacted by the festival organisers, I texted them to let them know what had happened and to see if they could give me any advice. I was absolutely blown away by the kindness of the festival organisers, especially Harry and Jasmine, who offered to collect us from the hospital, no matter what time of the night. Later that night we learned that my son would need to have an operation the following day and Harry offered to drop off a change of clothes, collect us from the following day, whatever we needed. As my son was not discharged until lunchtime the following day, my husband was able to pack down the van and collect us directly from the hospital. The offers of help and support from the festival were much appreciated at what was a very stressful time. Harry even gave us a call a few days later to check how my son was doing.
Sadly our festival experience had come to an abrupt and sad end, however, I can honestly say that we have never received this level of care and attention from a festival before. I think that this clearly demonstrates the concern that Deer Shed has for the welfare of children, both within their festival planning but also behind the scenes too.
Would we go again?
We were disappointed that we had not been able to see some of the other incredible acts that had been scheduled for the Saturday night and Sunday, including John Grant, Dry Cleaning and dance giants Django Django. However the time that we spent at Deer Shed was hugely enjoyable and although we were a bit unlucky, we had a fantastic time. It is great to see that despite the big-name acts, Deer Shed is not overly commercial and recognises that kids are often really happy taking part in simple things, whether that is leaping around in bales of hay, hitting a swing ball or messing around in nature. I think that this leads to happy children and happy parents too.
A huge thank you to Deer Shed Festival! We will definitely be back, hopefully for the whole weekend next time!
See our Deer Shed factsheet for more information on the festival.