There has to be something magical about a festival that, even in the relentless rain, the kids can’t stop smiling.
It’s not for nothing that Just So Festival has won a Festival Kidz gold award twice. And on the Sunday night the spirit of this cracking three-day event was most evident at the Tribal Tournament parade. Thousands, kitted out in their tribal gear with banners and placards held aloft, paraded in the rain – and boy did it rain!
It looked to us like almost everyone had donned wild and wonderful costumes for the final evening of this intimate festival at Rode Hall Cheshire. And let us be clear here, this wasn’t an alcohol-fuelled frenzy like V Festival that was happening down the road but a relaxed, chilled weekend of family fun.
Fittingly, given all the water around, the fish won this year with their chant of “Just keep swimming – we like winning” with a vast array of jellyfish, starfish, mermaids and a range of scaly get-ups streaming into the main arena. We stags came bottom, we may have been small in numbers but we were strong in spirit – well that’s what I told my six and nine year old anyway.
From the epic pillow fight to the tribal sports day and the beautiful lantern parade – the days were punctuated by big events with lots of exciting small things in between.
The Lantern Parade must have been quite a challenge to pull off. Hundreds of lanterns made at workshops during the day are collected at dusk for a candlelit parade. The kids loved it although it did take a fair while to actually get going; then it was cut short by the rain.
There are no fairgrounds, no rides. Just plenty of theatre shows, characters dressed up, things to explore and crafts to make. And lots of singing too.
Our favourite spot was the bonfire in the Spellbound Forest. We loved the Tales of Animalia, especially the Reynard the Fox production, messing about in the circus tent, listening to authors and learning to dance Bollywood-style, boogying at the retro disco and jigging in-front of the main stage. We played saws, ukuleles, made wands and did the zombie conga. We laughed a lot.
Working full time over the summer had been a bit of a shocker for me and the kids since I’ve always been home for them. To hang out and enjoy their wonder and focus on us, as a family, having fun was totally what we needed!
This really is an ideal first festival, that’s perfect for little ones (there are a lot of babies here!) but also great up to tweens. It’s also refreshing for those jaded by the big corporate face of festies, where you feel like a walking pound sign. Just So is wonderfully friendly and relaxed and, as my nine-year-old says “makes you feel like you’re in a little world made just for you”.
We didn’t even mind the rain! Just So is a special festival, and will hold a special place in our memories of summer 2016. Oh and if you come next year – which you should – please come as a stag! The boys are on mission to win next time.
CAMPING AND ACCESS
It is a small site so not far to walk from your car to the campsite. It’s all very close to the main entrance. Rode Hall is just a few minutes off junction 15 of the M6.
As I left a portable toilet on Saturday evening I just had to exclaim to all in the queue (which was not very long I might add) that they were the nicest portable toilets at a festival I have ever been in. They even smelt nice! We used the flush toilets for most of the three days we were there.
Phone charging tent was also a welcome facility.
Easy site to get around with trolley (some buggies) and although it did get quite muddy at times hay was put down to ensure it didn’t get too boggy – this did get stuck in the wheels of our trolley though.
Located in the ‘Social’ there was a really nice selection of street food from around the world and a big barn with hay bale seating, great for when it rains and also equipped with high chairs for the younger ones.
ACTIVITIES FOR ALL
There were outdoor productions in the Woodland Theatre, which we didn’t get to, and the Tales of Animalia area. It did get muddy but the kids, of course, loved that.
There was lots of singing (in the rain) around the Spellbound Forest bonfire. We missed the Midnight Feast and some activities and shows had to be re-scheduled or cancelled due to the weather. But there was still plenty to do.
The sun came out for the Tribal Tournament, which was great fun. There was yoga, tai chi, dancing, movies and theatre in the High Seas area.
The Peekaboo area is dedicated to little ones with baby bath time, baby yoga, lullabies, sensory storytelling tent and baby massage. There are lots of activities specifically for babies!
FOR SMALL KIDS
There was a sandpit in the High Seas that was popular, with a wrecked pirate ship on its edge.
The pirate ship was actually out of bounds but my six year old still managed to clamber on it. He thought it was a climbing frame but fell off (unharmed) as a piece of wood broke!
Most of the theatre shows are geared to under 10s as well as things like the woodland activities.
FOR OLDER KIDS
We didn’t see many teenagers but plenty of tweens with younger siblings. All were dressed up and thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Circus trapeze activities in the Head over Heels tent were very popular for this age group. You had to book for longer/half hour sessions. We didn’t book as there was also an option to queue up to try and we were happy with that.
We did try to go in The New Curiosity Shop tent, which offered workshops for ages 7+, but it was busy or booked. We saw a couple of people complaining about being unable to book a session but our boys weren’t too bothered so we didn’t try or wait around.
My eldest scampered off a few times ‘to check the scores’, ‘to see’ what was happening in one tent or another. He felt safe and so did we, as it was busy but without being crowded. All kids’ wristbands have their parents’ mobile numbers on in case they get lost.
The First Aid tent was open until the early hours and located by the entrance to the festival. Friendly, helpful, staff manned the gates.
There were no big headliners or bands geared for 80s or 90s music-loving parents like at some festivals. The line-up isn’t the main pull of this festival.
Instead you get the Footlights stage with a variety of acts playing music from folk to world. The aim is music that is great to dance outrageously to or tap your foot with a kid perched on your knee.
The Jitterbug tent was mostly for little ones although there was a bit of grooving going on in the evening at the retro disco. It was super busy in the day for dance lessons.
Bring or hire a trolley – it makes such a big difference to how late or long you can stay out. It also worked well holding wet-weather gear.
Very relaxed, friendly, fun. Less commercial than other festivals I have been to.
There are just a few big sponsors: Soreen (given out on arrival – very handy for breakfast) and Weleda Wellbeing, which sponsored the baby area.
MEMORIES AND BEST BITS
Shouting ‘heave ho’ at the top of our voices on the lake as dad rowed frantically to shore during a downpour.
Telling the same joke to different smiling stewards to get a gold stone (to collect points for the tribe)
Friendly banter with other tribes “we’re gonna win!”, “No, we’re gonna win – go stags!”
Hearing the trumpet entice us into the Spellbound Forest for some top music on Saturday night.
My six-year-old failing miserably as the detective in Wink Murder with only two people out of about 20 left standing (a game organised by the tribal leaders)
The kids giggling away to a song, sung by John Dougherty (author of Stinkbomb and Ketchup Face), in the book tent about wanting to go for a wee at school.
And finally, according to my nine-year-old: “Everything – it was all brilliant!”
Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2017 (18 – 20 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 26 August at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices of £120 (adults), £45 (child) for weekend camping, £70 (adult), £25 (child) for 2 day non-camping, £40 (adult), £15 (child) for day tickets. Under 3’s free. A booking fee applies.