I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy Just So Festival. What’s a festival without loud music and late nights? How could a packed line-up of kids’ activities be any fun for a (slightly cynical) grown-up?
Nevertheless, Just So seemed the perfect place to meet up with my good friend Alex and her new(ish) baby. Alex mended my hair straighteners with masking tape when we lived in student halls, listened to me regularly breaking down when I was pregnant, cleaned travel sick off Tom and our hire car while I buggered off on a diving trip in Australia and allowed me to be her bridesmaid despite an unfortunate incident with fake tan. She’s a very good friend, so the arrival of Sophie in April was emotional and exciting. It was about time Tom and I met her and what better place to do it than at a festival designed especially for children?
When we arrived in the early evening, Alex and I got a ticking off from an other mother for making a racket and pitching our tent too close to her posh yurt. We decided we had better go for a walk, but everyone else seemed to be turning in for the night. It was quiet, dark and ever-so-slightly eerie. Still, we had each other. And the children. And six cans of warm cider.
That first night was disturbed by a chorus of screaming children. I know, I know- it’s to be expected at a children’s festival but… wow, it was really quite something. Every time one stopped, another one took over. In the morning, when I heard “Morning campers!” echoing from a speaker across the campsite, I did begin to wonder what we had let ourselves in for. As it happens, the PA was just a very efficient way of letting everyone know what was going on. And there really was a lot going on…
Lantern making, kids’ parkour, den-building, film screenings, storytelling, pirate training, photography workshops, sandcastles, ice cream eating, bug hunting, painting, science experiments, bath bomb building, puppet shows; Just So’s organisers had thought of absolutely everything. The site was magical, with a level track that meandered around a forest, each glade or clearing home to another set of colourful tents and stalls. There was plenty of food to choose from and it was cheap as far as festival grub goes. The toilets had the inevitable Portaloo scent, but they had skirting boards, washbasins and posh soap. It was refreshing to be able to let Tom go off to the loo on his own without worrying about him wandering into a Portaloo of doom.
This festival wasn’t all about Tom though, we had a tiny baby to consider too. Nature makes you quickly forget the ins and outs of new motherhood (I had almost forgotten that muslin squares exist) but Alex, practical as ever, tackled camping with Sophie with ease. I thought Tom might get bored around Sophie, but he loved being on ‘baby duty’; showering her with kisses, calling her ‘cute’ (she really is) and waving toys in her face. The babies had a choice of baby massage and baby yoga and lots of free products to try. Best of all was baby bathtime, where dozens of fat, chuckling babies were treated to a bedtime soak (and I nearly died of temporary broodiness.)
On Saturday night, the live music was excellent. I’d never heard of the big band who were playing, but they were funny and good. The ‘main stage’ was set at the bottom of a gentle hill, perfect for sitting on and watching the children dance and fight over enormous balloons. It made a change not to be worrying that I’d miss a must-see set because I was on mum duty (Echo & the Bunnymen at Kendal Calling is still a sore subject.)
After the dancing, Tom collected firewood for the big bonfire and we watched the pretty lantern parade through the site. At the end of the evening, we retreated to the warmth and comfort of the ‘Breastfeeding Boudoir’, which was nowhere near as petrifying as it sounds. A gorgeous teepee with a fire pit and comfy rugs, it was the perfect hideaway in the woods. (The advantages of having a lactating person in the camp*.) Tom played in the glade with his new friends and Alex and I had a good catch-up, both of us mums now, both of us properly grown-up.
The campsite was much quieter on the second night. Alex cleverly observed that this was probably because all the kids were knackered after such a fun-filled day and had gone out like lights. Either that or we were out like lights for the same reason and didn’t hear them.
We had to leave on Sunday morning, but I would have happily stayed another night. By then, I was getting used to wandering round the enchanted forest. Tom is quite mature and sometimes I almost forget his age. When I saw him grinning and wrestling the Gruffalo for a cuddle, I was reminded that he’s only a little boy – and Just So is the perfect place for little boys and girls to be completely free.
There were no late nights and no must-see gigs, but Alex and I agreed that Just So was the most grown-up festival we have ever been to. Tom’s verdict was obvious from the postcard he wrote to his nan (below.) Sophie was unavailable for comment.
* Alex only consumed one of the six cans of warm cider.