A family of 5 with a zest for life, love of good food & passion for travel

Just So Festival with Toddlers

*This is a collaboration with Just So Festival

We LOVE the Just So Festival and were gutted that we couldn't make it this year. Luckily, Sprog on the Tyne agreed to help us out and attended in our place with their toddlers. If you're considering camping with toddlers for the first time next year, the Just So Festival is probably the first place I'd recommend. It is SO much fun. Over the Caroline to tell us more.......



Hello, I’m Caroline and I run Sprog on the Tyne, a North East family blog which mainly focuses on places to go and things to do with toddlers. I own two of my own, and we’re always looking for new interesting ways to spend our time.  

Just So Festival with Toddlers 


Wow! What can I say. We’ve been back from Just So for a week or two now, and l honestly think we’re still on a high from it. Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2018 (17 – 19 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 25 August at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices. Under 3s are free. So if you’re thinking of going, but unsure as to whether how well festival life works with toddlers then read on. 



When Samantha offered me the opportunity to blog about Just So for North East Family Fun I had no hesitation, we’d love to. I’d already read all about Samantha’s trip last year, and the 33 reason’s they’d loved the festival. I remembered the whimsical fantastic fancy dress photos and hearing all about the mass pillow fight and thinking it sounded so magical. So of course we said yes… 

…And then the doubt set in. How would we get tent set up? How would my toddlers (aged 3 and 20 months) get on sleeping outside? Were we crazy to consider going to a festival with two pre-schoolers? In the run up to the festival these thoughts went through my mind a couple of times a day. But I’m so happy that we did it, and as it turned out Just So has been one of the best family weekends that we’ve ever had. 



Me and my husband are not natural campers (or so we thought before this trip), during infrequent camping trips in our youth one of our friends would invariably take pity on our attempts to get the tent up, and we’d be left somewhat shamefully watching on with a cider whilst someone else did a much better job. Once we’d added kids to the mix it became even less appealing. I used to watch the camping episodes of Peppa Pig and scoff , Daddy Pig you fool. Surely toddlers and tents don’t mix.

Getting to Just So Festival


But as it turns out it, for us tent life really wasn’t too bad. After visiting our outdoorsy friends to collect the items they generously loaned us, we filled the car up and we were on our way. Just So Festival is held in the beautiful National Trust grounds of Rode Hall, about 5 miles outside of Stoke-on-Trent. It should have taken just over three hours to get there from Newcastle, but traffic wasn’t on our side and our youngest decided not to sleep for the entire five hours it took. That won’t go down as one of the weekend highlights, but the journey on the way back was much quicker. We would definitely make the journey again with kids, but we’d make sure we aimed to miss rush hour next time around. 

Getting around Just So Festival


Arriving at the campsite our excitement and trepidation about the coming weekend grew. Even in the carpark we spotted some families in fancy dress. We were directed to the free camping spots, and I was pleasantly surprised that it was only about 5 minutes walk from the car. We loaded up the double buggy and managed to transport all our equipment in two goes. We’ve got a monster double buggy designed for off roading, so that did a fine job as vehicle for the kids and our camping paraphernalia for the weekend. But Just So Festival offer the hire of trolleys which you can choose to keep for a couple of hours just for getting everything from the car, or keep for the whole weekend as a chariot to push the kids around in. It was easy to spot the seasoned Just So Festival patriots as they had gone all out decorating their trolleys with bunting and raincovers. Most people had cushions and quilts in there too, and we saw kids up to about six curled up having a nap whilst their parents pushed them through. These were a brilliant addition to the festival and meant if you wanted to you could easily leave your pushchair at home, knowing the kids would be easily transportable and have somewhere to catch up on sleep. 





Thankfully the evening of our arrival was dry and our mate’s tent was made for dummies so we managed to put it up quickly, whilst the toddlers were strapped in the buggy eating anything we could find to keep them quiet. We wandered the five minute walk from our tent to the festival site, exchanging our tickets for wristbands on the way, without having to wait in any queues. It was getting dark by this stage so we only had the briefest look around, then headed back to the tent. The kids slept really well, which was a theme of the whole weekend. There was just so much to do that they were exhausted and went off without any bother. 



What to see at Just So Festival


Wow. Wow. Wow. Those were our thoughts as we entered the festival and continued the whole weekend. There was just so much to do.  And NO QUEUES not that we saw anyway, there was just so much going on that people seemed dispersed across the whole festival site. The festival was separated into themed areas, like the Village Green where the infamous pillow fight is held, the Spellbound Forest which hosts a campfire where songs are sung and stories are told as soon as the sun went down, and the Woodland Theatre where you could catch a show throughout the day. The themed areas were well separated and signposted, and although the site felt large, you could reach any of the themed areas within a 5 minute walk. 



We’d studied the programme before we got the festival and so much of it appealed to us that it was hard to decide where we’d want to spend our time. We wanted to see it all. We’d have the intention of heading to the Silver Screen area to join the family ceildh, but be distracted along the way by an interactive theatre show which would cross our path, and we wouldn’t want to leave. I think we could have stayed at Just So Festival for a full week and there would still be things to entertain us. 




Our toddlers (along with their parents to be honest) were so taken with everything that we saw at Just So Festival. They are at the age that even things which are probably too complex for them to fully understand will interest them due to the bright colours and reactions from the audience. As there is was far too much happening to go into detail about it all, we’ll talk about our favourites. 

Little Toddler (aged 20 months)


My little girl loved to explore Just So Festival. It was her first time wearing wellies and that made the weekend for her. We tried to strap her into the buggy to make moving around the festival a bit quicker but she was having none of it. Of the attractions she loved the Barefoot Walk. An area set within the Spellbound Forrest where socks and wellies were removed to feel the different textures of straw, smooth stones, grass and much more under our feet, all under a canopy of twinkling fairy lights. This was such a lovely activity for everyone, but the smallest member of our party loved it so much that she made us go around twice. Her other favourites was the beach near the lake with the buckets and spade, the wicker tubes to be pushed around in, and all of the dance sessions which we stumbled on. I’m not sure she is any closer to dancing the Charlston, but the look on her face as she bobbed along to it was just the cutest. Just So Festival have got lots of attractions aimed at babies and toddlers, and I know she would have enjoyed Baby Yoga and the Sing-a-long sessions if we’d managed to make it to them too. 




Big Toddler aged 3 (and a bit)


Without question my little boy’s favourite attraction was Snigel, a curious snail who communicated in electronic music. He has mentioned her pretty much everyday since we got back. She would wander around the village green throughout the day and always had an audience of pre-schoolers following her around as she blew bubbles to her funky beat. He also adored all of the big Just So Festival events, like the Jelly Fight, Circus acrobatics and Pillow Fight, which he was too small to be a part of, but were brilliant to watch. 




Mam (aged 33)


So I absolutely loved it all. It’s actually really hard to just put down one or two things. I loved the brilliant family atmosphere of it all. Throughout the weekend there was live music at the Footlights Stage. There was jazz, folk, indie and rock, pretty much every genre appeared at some point. I hadn’t thought my two would be that interested in the music, but actually the Footlights stage are some of my favourite memories of the weekend. There was room to set up our camping chairs and soak in the atmosphere, and near the stage there was a constant gaggle of kids and their parents dancing together. My two wouldn’t let us sit down. They loved the dancing, and would come over to grab us by the hand and take us back. ‘Dancing’ is probably pushing it, but there was a lot of running, laughing and demanding us to swing them around. I loved how many parents were on their feet that there was no need to feel embarrassed at dancing in public (sober) at 2pm in the afternoon. 



I also loved how much effort had been put into the festival to make it magical. There were fairy lights everywhere, all of the staff were dressed in the most fantastic fancy dress and the staging was incredible. There were doors cut into giant books for us to go through to enter the spellbound forest, huge moons and star cut outs in the Observatory area, and the lantern walk, where everyone who had made a paper lantern during the Saturday gathered together at dusk was quite breathtaking. It was lush, all of it. 




Dad (aged 34)


My husband’s out and out favourites was The Jukeboxers, a comedy musical quick change lip-syncing show. Which was hilarious, we ended up watching it twice over as we’d enjoyed it so much. He also loved the lifesized interactive vintage arcade games. Here you could don a pac-man helmet and run around trying to catch your friends in the maze, or try to avoid being hit on the head as you became the mole in whack-a-mole, or tried you hand at building a strong structure keeping up with the new blocks This area was fantastic to watch as there was so much to see. He also liked stumbling on one of the comedy shows in the Woodland Theatre. We wouldn’t have thought of a standup show as a natural place to head with two toddlers, but they actually stuck it out for about 30 minutes, as I think they were enjoying seeing all of the older kids laughing. The show was fab. The comic was a dad and his jokes hit the mark for the mums, dads and kids. 






Things to look forward to:


There is no question about if we will be going back to Just So Festival, we’d love to make it an annual event, and both me and my husband talked a lot throughout the weekend about how much our two would enjoy it as they grew up. There were times when we’d walk past something great and I’d go to tell the kids and I’d be disappointed to see that the toddlers were both fast asleep. We didn’t catch much of the campfire theatre and music shows which went on throughout the day and night, as they looked like they needed a bit more concentration than my toddlers could offer. But that would be one area that we would look really look forward to taking part in as they get older. On the Saturday night they even hold a midnight feast with songs around the campfire and for older children I can imagine this is one of the highlights of the weekend. 




A key part of Just So Festival is the Tribal Tournament. A festival-wide competition. My two didn’t really understand this, but I think each year they’ll get more and more into it. Before heading to the festival, as a family you decide on a tribe to affiliate yourselves with. There were nine animal tribes to choose from, and most people then wear fancy dress in keeping with their tribal theme. The fancy dress was AMAZING-people went to such lengths, and spotting the best fox, frog, bee, or lion family is an attraction in itself. My little boy is still laughing about the ‘Squid head’ that he saw, and so next year we will be on the Fish Tribe so that he gets to wear one himself. When we arrived each morning the tribal leaders would greet us and lightheartedly campaign for us to leave our tribe (the Frogs) and join theirs. Everyone is involved in the tribal tournament as throughout the festival Just So Festival staff will hand out nuggets for taking part in activities or for brilliant outfits. You then pass those nuggets to the tribal leaders and the tribe with the most wins. There are loads of tribal events during the festival, including very funny and competitive campaign speeches, and it’s something that I think will make the weekend as my two get old enough to understand. We did manage to win two nuggets for the Frog tribe this year, presented to my little ones for very good behaviour when we had to visit the medical tent as my little boy had an episode of conjunctivitis which they kindly cleaned out for us with sterilized water. 




Food


Food provisions were really good. In addition to the usual ‘street food’ type of vans, it would be really easy to take your own food. There was a warm and dry barn, with seats where you could eat food from the vans or your own picnic in comfort. We bought all of our food whilst we were there and it was standard festival or event prices. We paid £7 for a halloumi gyros, £6 for a woodfired pizza, £7 for pesto and chicken pasta. Most of the food vans had a child’s option and ours were happy with the choice available. The queues were surprisingly short with only ever one or two people ahead of us, and the only long queues we waited in all weekend were for coffee and ice creams (which were totally worth it). 







Facilities


The facilities at Just So Festival were really good. There were loads of toilets and you were never far away from them. Again having waited ages at other festivals, I was impressed that we never encountered queues at Just So. You could choose from bog standard (pun intented) portaloos, or some lovely posh loos both or which were dotted about the site. There did seem to be a queue for the showers on a morning, but as we were only staying two nights we embraced festival living and instead of showering made great use of baby wipes for the whole family. There was a baby change tent with change mats, nappies, wipes and bags, and even a baby bath time tent along with a feeding tent. 




The Weather


One of my fears for the weekend was that it would rain the whole time and that it would be miserable. Well the weather wasn’t always great, but it turned out that any worrying was unfounded. It did rain, but there were lots of areas in the festival where we could take cover, whether that be in some of the activity tents or under the canopy of trees in the forest areas. Thankfully the rain didn’t tend to stay for long, but I next year I wont worry so much as I know that we’d have loads of fun whatever the weather.




Just So Festival had thought of everything my family would need and much much more to make our festival memorable. We had the best weekend, and we can’t wait until next year.




Thanks Sprog on the Tyne - it looks like the Just So Festival is just as much fun with pre-schoolers as it is with older children. 



You can buy tickets to next year's festival online here - they'll make a fab Christmas gift! 


If you're looking for more ideas to keep your toddlers entertained, especially across Northern England, I can highly recommend following Sprog on the Tyne's Facebook page here.

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Just So Festival with Toddlers - top tips and what to expect. Guest post by Sprog on the Tyne

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2 comments

  1. Oh wow, it looks fantastic. Reading this and seeing these photos has made me think that we should go next year. It really seems like they've got the mix right. I think my two would love it.

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  2. Glad you had such a fun time! we really enjoyed the festival last year despite the rain and the footlights music stage was my fave too

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I always love reading your thoughts and comments - Sam x

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