By Romany, with 4 kids (11, 13, 13, 13)
It’s the end of term, the children are flagging and I’m not sure that any of us have the energy left to do anything this weekend, let alone a festival! But we have such enduring happy memories of Larmer Tree Festival as a young family, that we wanted to see if it still retained its magic for us now they are a bit older.
Arriving at the entrance to the Larmer Tree Gardens, we were immediately greeted by smiling and waving stewards – it’s a nice touch and fills us with a warm glow of anticipation. We then proceed down a gorgeous avenue of festival flags toward yet more happy stewards and the super-friendly box office staff. Oh yes, this is definitely the Larmer Tree vibe we all remember!
Setting up was easy and stress-free. We arrived at 6:30pm on the Friday evening and soon parked up in a nice flat spot in the campervan field. We heard the distant sounds of a band starting up on the Main Stage and ventured into the main arena, a gentle 10-minute walk away… it’s only 7:30pm.
This stressless start continued all through our weekend as we gently meandered from one thing to another. The programme was jam-packed of different artists, performers, activities, sights, workshops and experiences, and yet the pace feels so gentle and relaxing.
Larmer Tree has a very loyal fanbase and it’s easy to see why – it’s just so friendly, clean, beautiful, and utterly charming. Larmer Tree Festival is ideal for first-timers, families with young children, and those who just don’t like the more crazy raucous crowds.
Larmer Tree Festival is held in pristine Victorian gardens, home to free-ranging peacocks and macaws. This unique setting offers many natural sub-venues within the site such as Lostwood, The Retreat, Larmer Lawns, etc – each area home to different activities. Lots of people find a spot by the Main Lawns to watch the day’s music but we found it a bit loud unless we were specifically watching a band. There are lots of quieter shady places to put down a blanket and other areas with seating. Families with younger children tend to hang out in the pretty Larmer Lawns area where there is an abundance of child-friendly activities, shows and music.
If the weather turns wet, or if the sun is too unbearable, there are plenty of places to take shelter as the festival also has several other under-cover venues such as The Social, The Arc, The Pavillion and The Chase. These venues are well worth exploring for new and emerging talent, comedy, talks, and fun stuff like quizzes and the hilarious Ringo Music Bingo.
Younger children are incredibly well catered for. There are baby facilities, toddler activities, children’s crafts aplenty, kids shows and general drop-in fun on offer. However, I did feel there was a bit of a gap where older children were concerned… at 11 and 13, my girls felt too old for the kid’s crafts as they just weren’t challenging enough yet they were not allowed to join the adult crafts either.
Carnival Workshops were open to all ages. Here you could spend time as a family making some incredible contributions to display during the Carnival Parade on Sunday afternoon. Even if you don’t make your own creation to take with, the procession is unmissable as it winds its colourful way through the entire festival site, banging out infectious Samba rhythms.
There was no Youth Zone this year, but I’m not sure we would have used it anyway – it’s a tricky age group; too old for kiddie stuff, yet they are still kids. If you put specific activities on for them, they often perceive them as lame, yet when nothing is provided they moan that there’s nothing to do! They would have enjoyed something like a Henna Body Art workshop, or a wifi lounge (with Mocktail Bar?), or just some of the adult crafts. They did do the Totes Amazebags workshop and each brought home a lovely hand-painted tote bag but they were rather envious of the lovely lino print I came out of my adult workshop with – they would have loved the opportunity to learn something more challenging to further develop their artistic skills.
Personally, I loved the calm focused atmosphere of the child-free space in the Adult Workshop tent and I know this was a big plus for many other adult crafters too, but perhaps as a compromise teenagers could be welcomed into certain sessions if accompanied by their adults?
Afternoon slackline sessions were provided by Plymouth-based social enterprise Ru-Slack. Their friendly and encouraging staff helped the kids with useful tips to find their balance along the bouncy lines. We already have a slackline at home (see our blog post here) and it’s a great activity for all ages – excellent for core strength, posture, body awareness and balance… and of course you look cool (once you get the hang of it!)
We tried to do the Bollywood dance class, and the kids were allowed to join in even though it was held in the Adult Workshop tent. Melanie Keen is a fantastic dance instructor, but unfortunately the tent was just too small for such a popular class. There was no stage so we just couldn’t see Melanie at all through the crowd. Reluctantly we gave up and left after 15 mins. We were not put off though and tried again on the Sunday for Melanie’s Merengue class; it was much less busy so we could see her demonstrations clearly and had a lot of fun and laughter learning our funky new dance steps.
A surprising highlight for my ‘children’ was the Pitta Bread workshop by Pizza Tabun. My girls first did this workshop 8 years ago when they were just little toddlers. It was so lovely to see Clare and Nicky still doing the workshop, in much the same way, and with the very same aprons which once dwarfed them now looking so titchy! As sophisticated teenagers they were still excited as they watched their carefully rolled dough puffing up in the oven before their very eyes…
The music bill at Larmer Tree is eclectic. Headline acts were Jamie Cullum, Caro Emerald, The Stranglers, Calexico and Tom Odell. Initially my kids were only interested in the big names and the few artists they had already heard of like Gabrielle Aplin but because of the intimacy of the small crowds at Larmer Tree, they ended up really engaging with other previously unknown bands.
For me, one of my favourite things about small festivals is being able to watch live music close-up. At Larmer Tree the audience is so friendly and respectful that I felt fine letting the girls go off on their own to get to the very front. There is no fear of them being jostled too much or crushed. Everyone looks out for each other, politely stepping aside to let people move through. This meant the kids could get an amazing up close experience with the bands – something I wouldn’t feel safe letting them do at a larger or rowdier festival.
A highlight for me was Afro Celt Sound System. We missed the beginning of their set but I later learned it had been plagued with sound difficulties. At the point when we arrived, all we experienced was a full crowd going absolutely mental with adoration for the awesome collective. They were just totally killing it. The entire audience was dancing. My kids made their way up front in order to fully appreciate it while I hung back to enjoy a roomier boogie, feeling so proud that my children were loving such ‘real’ music rather than listening to the standard pop drivel that we are normally subject to on the radio…
They went to the front for the Treacherous Orchestra too, staying for the whole set! If you’ve never heard of the Treacherous Orchestra, just imagine a large ensemble of musicians totally rocking traditional Scottish music complete with bagpipes, fiddles, heavy metal outfits and moshing – Bizarre? Yes. Compelling? Definitely. I bumped into some of the band members afterwards as they were exploring the festival and was really interested to hear their background story. I love this about festivals: they are such an education, for the kids and me, in an incredibly diverse range of musical genres.
After the main stage has closed for the night, there are still plenty of opportunities to dance the night away until the early hours in one of the many small venues around the site. My favourites were The Hide (in the woods) and The Social.
The last artist we saw was Tom Odell as he closed the main stage on Sunday night… he was AMAZING!!!! We had seen him two years previously and were all big fans already, but he has grown so much as a performer and his set was just incredible. He mixed new material with old and played with such energy and passion. And then he jumped off the stage and held the kids hands at the front – OMG HE HELD THEIR HANDS!!! They squealed hysterically until they fell asleep, vowing never to wash ever again! This has certainly been a festival they will never forget. 😉
There’s a very relaxed atmosphere at Larmer Tree Festival, and it is renowned for its friendliness. Both Security and Stewards are especially friendly which really sets the tone. While it attracts a very loyal and civilised following, there are still lots of quirky characters roaming around, especially on Dress-up Saturday when creativity and fun are high on the agenda.
Larmer Tree also feels really safe. Security is very well-managed and the team of volunteers do a fantastic job of keeping everything running smoothly. I didn’t see a single drunk or out-of-it person. Yes, you do get ‘that festival smell’ (and I’m not talking toilets) but I’ve yet to find a festival where you don’t!
Larmer Tree is firmly multi-generational. Every age group is represented here, from tiny tots to OAPs, and no-one looks or feels out of place, such is the universal appeal of the festival.
Larmer Tree Festival is a high-end affair, and consequently the food traders are carefully selected. Huge variety of really good quality food on offer, including loads of kid-friendly options – pizza, pasta, burgers, curries, burritos, pies, churros, sheep milk ice creams, cream teas… there’s virtually everything you could wish for. Most will do child portions on request. There are also several cafes around the festival site, one of which (the Knitted Pig Cafe) is a dedicated café for kids, and conveniently situated near the Larmer Lawns area. There is also a Farmer’s Market with local produce.
Tap water is freely available throughout the site. Frank Water (a charity funding clean water in India) were on site too with their refillable bottles and carts of chilled fresh water. You buy a bottle or wristband and get free refills all weekend.
There are several well-stocked bars, selling local ales, bespoke Larmer Tree wines and the usual suspects. The queues appeared to be manageable, even during the gaps between bands on the main stage.
The Campsite and Toilets
In addition to Live-in Vehicles and Disabled Camping there are also areas for Quiet Camping (furthest away), Family Camping (noisy early mornings), Glamping (masses of options), General Camping (close to the arena but can be noisier at night) and Camp Rushmore (for weeklong holiday camping). So research which area would suit you best and choose accordingly. Campsites are generally very clean and spacious, with plenty of toilets and showers. Expect a small queue at peak times, but opt for an afternoon shower and you’ll have the place to yourself!
On the whole, the toilets at Larmer Tree Festival are some of the cleanest and well kept of any of the festivals I have ever been to. They are mostly chemical toilets though so they’re never going to be as lovely as your toilet at home. They rarely ran out of paper, were never completely ‘full’, were regularly serviced and consequently didn’t smell too much. When there were queues, they moved quickly.
Larmer Tree caters well to disabilities. The site is flat with good paths so easy to get around on wheels. There is a roomy viewing platform for the main stage. The organisers are very accommodating so best to email them in advance to discuss specific needs like refrigerated medicines etc. There is a designated Disabled Camping area adjacent to the entrance to the arena.
Phone reception can be patchy, texts can be extremely delayed and 3G is virtually non-existent. Arrange meeting points in advance so you can check-in with each other if you are letting your older children roam-free. If you are separated from your littler ones, the stewards are brilliant with lost children.
Larmer Tree Festival has some fantastic festival traders and craft stalls so if you are looking for a bespoke piece of furniture or unique hand-made silver jewellery then do bring a credit card! Don’t miss the Artist’s Quarter – a marquee full of beautiful hand-crafted treasures, sold by the makers themselves.
A 3 day Adult ticket will set you back around £175, but under 10’s are free. Youth tickets were £90 for 3 days. Tickets range from Day Tickets (including overnight camping) to 1-week Holiday Tickets.