With Hazel Kaye (5), Gwilym Kaye (3), Caroline Gilbert and Tim Kaye.
25th Anniversary Party!
It would be fair to say that the Larmer Tree Festival is defiantly one to take the whole family, and yes that does include the grandparents, it was lovely to see so many there!
Having been a couple of times before, but only for the day, we were all looking forward to getting the full Larmer Tree experience. And with it being the 25th anniversary everyone was up for a good party.
Getting there and away and accommodation
Getting on site seemed a little muddled. There were either a lack of stewards in crucial places or they didn’t quite know what was going on but friendly none the less.
However we didn’t have to wait in a queue or walk very far to reach our camping area. We opted for family camping which was spacious with lots of toilets, showers and water points nearby and, apart from the occasional group of over excited teens wandering along the track, was also very quiet.
Other camping options included the general (and probably noisier) camping, day camping, quiet camping, camping areas for people with disabilities and a whole array of “comfy” camping options such as yurts, wigwams and gypsy caravans. And those with their own live in vehicle you can use them in the designated areas. One of the great things about Larmer Tree is that wherever you camp you get beautiful views of the surrounding countryside and space around your tent.
General facilities including disabled
For toddlers or those with limited mobility the site is very flat and barely a step to negotiate, although getting to the Lost Woods can take a bit of time but worth the effort.
The disabled camp site is situated just next to the main arena and there is also a land train (tractor with trailer) that will take you all the way up the main track to the far end. Toilets are always the big issue at festivals but Larmer Tree don’t just have the normal portable toilets; there are even blocks of ‘posh loos’.
Generally these were very well attended to being clean with paper and soap and only a couple of occasions where people stumbled out aghast clutching a hand over their mouth. There were toilets in the kid’s area but not many. A few more could help with those desperate toddler moments!
If you are someone who likes to stay clean throughout a festival there are plenty of showers around the campsites to avoid the need for ‘wet wipe showers’.
Food and drink
Trying different foods and drinks is always a treat and Larmer Tree does not disappoint. With a wide range of food stalls you can pick up anything from pheasant jalfrezi to basic pasta dishes for the less adventurous.
The ‘Knitted Pig’ in the kid’s area has kid friendly portion sizes (and tables and chairs) and the prices are reasonable at £2.50 for a small portion of pasta and sauce. Outside of the kids area around £7 for a meal is typical. This can get a bit pricey for a whole family but due to the small size of Larmer Tree doing your own cooking is a good option as it never takes too long to get back to the tent.
We tend to cook most of our own meals but we did treat ourselves to a delicious Asian/Dorset inspired dumpling meal from Dorshi which went down a storm especially since the kids had a go using chopsticks (and failing – they are only little). Beers and ciders were local and cost upwards of £3. Water points were available throughout the site which was needed as we were lucky to have some bouts of hot weather. But we also had the occasional Shepherds ice cream (made from sheep’s milk) to cool us down!
Kids activities including toddlers and teens
We met Anna Harriot, who runs the kids area on the Thursday night and she was so full of enthusiasm that we were in anticipation of what was on offer. Anna has been involved with the area for some years and is constantly looking for ways to improve the entertainments on offer and it really showed.
The Larmer Lawns and Larmer Parler provide a secluded respite from the rest of the festival but where our children could get stuck into the wealth of crafts on offer. They were very proud of their totem pole which stood proudly amongst all the others decorating the kid’s area.
Workshops ran in the morning (which was our first port of call each morning) and afternoon and one that went down really well with Hazel and Gwilym was the beaded keyrings. In spare moments they took it upon themselves to do some chalking on the framed boards that celebrated the 25th anniversary. The central area was fenced off and was soon filled with willow and paper peacocks which made a lovely centrepiece for the kid’s area.
More craft activities could be found in a separate area where there was a whole tent dedicated to making things for the carnival which is held on the Sunday. This meant that kid’s crafts were always on hand.
Theatre and performance were very much on the agenda and one of our favourites was the Hand to Mouth Theatre with the ‘Piggery Jokery’ show. The couple create the show themselves and perform it using a hurdy-gurdy and rustic puppets to bring a touch of timeless magic to a throng of entranced faces.
Equally as good was a puppet show written by Michael Rosen called ‘Monkey’. The hour long performance held our attention even though the tent was hot and the music from the Main stage was a bit distracting.
There was also the opportunity to participate in drumming sessions and a beatbox workshop from Shlomo (see our interview with Shlomo). The kids, and probably quite a few adults, have certainly been inspired by Shlomo’s talents and we now have a 3 and 5 year old trying to perfect their new ‘skill’.
Interspersed amongst this was Musique a la Cart which brought a mobile disco and dancing to any area of the festival (including the toilets!). It was also amusing to stumble across the Junk Junkies perform amongst the trees with their slapstick routines which can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. The Children’s Area has ‘lunchtime on the lawn’ – bring a picnic and watch some entertainment.
We decided to do this on one day and the entertainment was Bruce Airhead. The act didn’t seem to be going anywhere at first and then suddenly Bruce disappeared inside a giant green balloon…. You wouldn’t expect anything less of Larmer Tree.
Within the children’s area are spaces dedicated to toddlers and babies but in a completely separate area is ‘Base Camp’ which is a teen’s only area – No adults allowed! Teens have their own space to meet people, learn new skills, join in with crafts and have fun. Judging by the number of teenagers around it is a well thought out area.
There is enough variety to amuse and delight anyone with musical appreciation at Larmer tree. Our children have always been big fans of Bellowhead and they even got to meet them. On the first night the excitement nearly got too much as they performed a tight and energetic set which set us up nicely for a typical Levellers set enlivened even more so by streamers and flashing balloons.
Interspersed between sets all weekend were the Still Moving DJs who play along with live drums to a real eclectic mix of music. This was a real bonus amongst the bands on offer. Rodrigo y Gabriella were a class act and our two didn’t notice as they tucked up in their trolley fast asleep.
I won’t list all the bands we saw but Meadowlark, Coco and the Butterfields and Molotov Jukebox were a few highlights. My personal favourite was Bill Bailey who is just ace! Despite Larmer Tree’s small size they get big names and to top off their 25th anniversary had Tom Jones playing two sets earlier on in the week.
Other crafts/spoken word/theatre/permaculture/street theatre
There are queues at Larmer Tree but not for toilets or getting in – No! The queues are in evidence when you try and do some adult craft. We did a tag team and I had a go at printed paper using lino cuts, whilst Caroline got her kids’ free morning making a felt bowl and origami.
It was quality crafting with talented practitioners who support even the most untalented and the marque is strictly adults only making it a very relaxing space! The Lostwood is an integral, and beautiful, part of the festival with an area for playing board games, life drawing with fairies as models, a door with a party in and a goblin house which Gwilym said was his favourite thing.
Similarly there were post-boxes around the site which periodically spouted anything from heavy metal to funny radio phone-ins or 1920s music that amused us all as we wandered from stage to stage.
Rather amusingly we caught 1 ½ sets of the Half Naked Chef which was one of Hazels favourite acts. It was probably my second favourite thing as well. Who doesn’t find a faux Australian in underpants chopping a carrot with a saw amusing?
There were innumerable street performers and The Southampton Ukulele Jam kept popping up around the site leaving smiles in their path.
Having kids we didn’t have the opportunity to sample all the adult entertainment but it was enough to suggest that anyone going without kids would be more than happy.
One thing that is apparent is that the festival has taken great pains to take care of people.
Rubbish is cleared away quickly by a gaggle of workers. Stewards are prominent all over the arena and are friendly. We noticed someone had collapsed but they were very quickly attended to. It made us feel that this was a very safe festival to take children to.
If the children were teenagers we would feel very confident that they wouldn’t come to any harm and would even encourage them to go off by themselves from a younger age. Everything was easy here, no stress. There is an atmosphere of benevolent good will and the weather certainly helped to provide our family with a very enjoyable four days of music, 25th anniversary silverness and peacocks.
Maybe the only thing we would do differently next time would be to bring the older generation of our family along!