Just So is about playing battleships and pillow fights, balancing stones and plates and people. It's about passing pirate training in the morning and learning the ukelele in the afternoon. Just So is making faces from clay and drying them on trees in the sun, finding fairy houses in the woods and making 3D monsters to scare your brother. Just So is about song and story and magic and music. Poetry and chants and tribes. Just So is about being allowed to be a child.
We were able to arrive at 2pm Friday and my partner and 15 year old daughter brought our belongings from the car park to the first large area of empty campsite (right next to day parking - that seemed quite mean when we'd made 6 trips with the trolley half a mile up the hill!). We got the tent up and went out to explore.
This review only covers half of what was at the Just So Festival. This is our weekend, someone else will have had one that was completely different!
Everywhere you look there are things to see and interact with. Things that are familiar, and those that definitely aren't. The Lost Luggage Office is a stop I'd recommened to anyone. My lads took it very seriously and studied all of the clues to try and work out who had lost their case.
Then we visited the Spellbound Forest for the first of many times. This was our favourite area. Inside we found the New Curiosity Shop, the Glossatree and the Museum Of Curiosities....it was a great way to get to understand the Just so Festival - and to appreciate the preparation that goes into getting everything ready for the general public!
We were actually shattered ourselves by 8pm, and the little boys were begging to go to bed, so we had a really early night and were all asleep by 10pm. This was in many ways a mistake because we missed the Marie Celestial performance and bad weather stopped them from performing again all weekend.
At 7am next morning when hundreds of children woke up and found themselves in a tent the dawn chorus started. At this point we were glad of our full night's sleep and ready to get out there!
Saturday morning first thing (9am!) we were in the Tea Tent with a session on 3D Monster Paper Modelling with the fabulously creative Paul Stickland (author of the ever-popular Dinosaur Roar! and lots of other children's books) and his equally talented wife Helen. I'm a big fan of his and their workshops with children are amazing. My lads both made awesome monsters and even my usually reluctant and hyperactive 5 year old thoroughly enjoyed doing it!
We walked through the Spellbound Forest and Away With The Fairies - a woodland full of cottages for the fairies, puppeteers and the Fairy Queen, as well as home to the Woodland Theatre - an incredibly impressive space and perfect for the performers and audiences.
Food at Just So is great. Good quality and although it was overall a little pricey, it seemed a better deal when you had home-made piri piri sauce or carrot chutney, and a really good choice of veggie, vegan or hog roast. Special mention for Lickalix - their ice lollies are gorgeous and we had 3 each over the weekend! Best food for my lads though was definitely the toasted marshmallows cooked over the fire....
The High Seas was a lovely and bizarrely relaxing area. A huge open space across which giant Battleships is played and a shipwreck island sand pit mean you can sit and relax while the children run around. The entrance is a Nautilus, which my 5 year old would have happily played in all afternoon, but my 6 year old was more interested in Pirate Training! He was a fully fledged pirate within an hour of arriving. We were very proud.
Saturday afternoon it was hot. We're used to Manchester and 25 degrees was roasting. But we had relaxed into the swing of the festival by then, as had everyone else.....
Back to the Spellbound Forest and Clay Faces was just about to start. We'd seen these on the trees and so all the children were keen to make their own.....although someone seems to have shown a secret tribal allegiance...
We had a selection of weather on Saturday teatime, most spectacularly 2 hours of thunder and lightening with torrential rain in 25 degree heat. Unusual and very exciting for the UK - we were already at the tent when the thunderstorm started - lucky timing.
And then the rainclouds left, and it was pretty much dry until late evening....when we went over to Footlights and danced under our umbrellas. We ended the evening around a campfire in the Spellbound Forest listening to some gorgeous acoustic music from a band who say their name too quickly!!
The younger members of our party were out for the count by this time and our trundle truck is only just big enough for them both nowadays......but Just So cute. Who knew you could hold an umbrella while sleeping?
Sunday morning started bright and early again, but we had to start to put away before we could go into the festival. Although you can camp on Sunday night, my OH had work at 7am....boo! The Gruffalo was back....we caught him sneaking out of the Enchanted Woods. The redhead on the right is not mine.
The weather on Sunday wasn't kind, by afternoon it was a lot colder as well as rainy, however everyone was determined it wouldn't dampen their spirits. We split up at this point - my children went off to join in with the giant pillow fight and I went to watch John Hegley. Despite the rain a good time was had by all!
With work looming, no tent to escape to for a dry and a brew, and the children absolutely shattered, we took a last walk around...
Its no surprise that my younger children have grown up a lot since they lost their sister. They also lost a lot of their innocence and it's affected them in different ways. It has made our 6 year old much more studious and serious and quite nervous about the world. My favourite moment of Just So was watching him on Sunday afternoon, run through a big muddy puddle which splashed all over him. Two days previously he would have cried and demanded to be washed and been inconsolable. Two days previously he'd never have walked through that puddle, let alone run. My child didn't just run through a puddle, he ran with the biggest grin on his face. He was completely immersed in just having fun. For that brief moment he was 100% being a child. And it was priceless.
The Just So Festival was awesome. There was masses to do, but the site was small enough that even with little ones you won't struggle getting around. Visitor numbers are kept low, so everyone has a chance to take part in or watch whatever they want. We were camped quite far away, but could still nip back to the tent to fetch forgotten items. Your children will learn new ways to have free fun, cheap fun, natural skill-building fun. You will learn a lot about them.
At Just So everything is included in your entry except food. Some of the workshops need to be booked in advance, and some need to be booked when you are on site. Most just need you to turn up at the right times. Find out more and keep up-to-date on the Just So website.
We took our #MysteryMachineOnTour with us to the Just So Festival, The LEGO Scooby Doo photos can be found here...
Tickets for Just So Festival 2016 at Rode Hall in Cheshire from 19th to 21st August are on sale now at an early bird price per ticket+booking fee of £117.15 per adult and £48 per child for the whole weekend in the festival and 3 nights camping. You can book Just So Festival 2016 tickets here.
We were invited to attend free of charge in order to review.