The Just So Festival: review. Not your average camping trip…

Review of the Just So Festival - from the kids point of view

This year we attended our first festival as a family. Prior to my arrival, M&D spent a fair bit of time at festivals, by all accounts being carefree and jolly, though how that’s possible without the presence of a fun-loving child, I have no idea. Anyway, they’ve been in enforced festival-hibernation for 8 years, and this was the summer they intended to go back to their grass roots – literally. We started with Magic Summer Live – a music festival, breaking ourselves in gently with just one day. That ticked, could we manage a whole weekend? We donned our wellies and shorts and headed off to review the Just So Festival.

We’re 8 & 6 – here’s what we thought of the Just So Festival:

Feel and design:

The Just So Festival feels funky and colourful

We loved the colourful and imaginative design of the site.

As we drove up the M1 to Rode Hall in Cheshire, Mummy tweeted her unhappiness at the prospect of pitching a tent in the rain, but for once the weather was better “up North” than it was in London! (She’s allowed to say that, she’s from Manchester, where it rains pretty much all the time). Arriving in good time we found what looked like a decent pitch, nice and flat, not too much sheep poo, and enough space for some decorum amongst our neighbouring tents. So far so good. There were tears and tantrums (mostly from the boys) over having to carry all our stuff a good 10 minute walk from the car park, but we were done in good time, and headed off to play.

Just So Festival – the best bits:

Atmosphere: The site was lovely, colourful, and well spread out, so that even when it got busy over the weekend it never felt like too many people were there. That was nice – the Bug especially hates being crushed between random adult bottoms as he makes his way through a crowd. I was quite keen to take a lazy ride in one of the site’s trolleys – they were all booked up on arrival, so if you need one for small children, book ahead – but I had to admit that really the whole site was walkable.

Food at the Just So FestivalFood and drink: Mummy was fretting about how much food to take. She needn’t have worried, there were tons of food outlets on the site, all of them clean, well organised, and mostly yummy. From stone-baked pizzas to the most incredible dessert milkshakes I’ve ever had (sorry Shaken Cow, these even beat yours!) there was just about every kind of cuisine you could want. Steer clear of the Thai, it’s not very Thai-like. There was a bar for Daddy’s cider, a barn full of hay bales to sit on in the event of rain, a toastie caravan, and decent coffee, to counteract the sleepless nights (more on that further down). There were even fresh croissants in the morning, and organic fresh bread loaves. So largely, the food gets a big tick from us!

Activities and entertainment:

  • Storytelling: As we made our way into the Spellbound Forest, a small crowd gathered around a small tent. “I know him!” declared the Bug, as we plonked our picnic blanket down and joined him. Forty minutes later we were still there, listening to Ian Douglas, professional storyteller paint pictures with words, of his characters and their adventures. It turns out he had recently visited the Bug’s school, enchanting the children with his tales of giants, eagles, near-misses, and a boy call Jack. We found him again later, by the campfire, where it seemed everyone had gathered to hear the sequel. There were other story tellers, but this guy beat them hands down for our attention.

Brilliant story telling at the Just So Festival

  • Lost in Translation Circus performers: We didn’t know what to expect from this act as we plonked our rather soggy bottoms on our trusty picnic blanket (it rained a lot on Saturday!) but within moments we were transfixed. Crafting a story through drama, mime, acrobatics and incredibly good circus skills, this small team of talented performers had us totally engrossed:

Lost in Translation at the Just So Festival

In fact, it was so good, you just have to see some of it for yourself:

  • Books: we forgot to pack any, but we were swiftly drawn to the book tent, where we found exactly what we never knew we were missing 😉

Just So Festival books

  • Uselesskillz Circus workshops: It was the rain that first drove us into the circus skills tent, but once inside, we were queuing up for the next session. Once again, these guys were professionals, and you could tell. They showed us everything from stilt-walking to unicycling, and by then end of the weekend I was proficient in all of them. Well, maybe not all…

Circus Skills at the Just So Festival

Just So Festival – the worst bits:

Tales of the Fairy Fey: We don’t have any photos of this as we were asked not to take pictures. I should first of all say that Mummy was keen to go to this area of the festival, having overheard someone saying how the fairy village, lit up at night, was one of the best things, but we didn’t like it. From the barefoot walking through deep mud, to the storyteller’s desperate desire to make sure we’d seen her hairy armpits, this was so not up our street. The singing was weird. The fairy queen mixed up herbs to take because she didn’t want the baby that was in her belly (yes, they covered that at a children’s festival!) and Mummy put her disgusted face on. Mummy told me there were fairies floating in the trees, but as I pointed out to her, she was off her trolley, because there were no fairies, “just a load of old dresses from the charity shop!” Not a high point.

Journalist and Editor workshops: This was the only bookable session I did (and there were lots – plan ahead if you want to make sure you get to do the things you fancy). Although it sounded interesting, and could have been if it had been well executed, it was disappointing. To be fair, the journalist who came to talk the small group about what makes a good newspaper story, was nice enough, but he didn’t engage all of his group, focusing his attention on the children (and mothers!) who shouted loudest. I was really keen, but very much left on the sidelines. Undeterred, I went off to interview my chosen subjects – the circus performers – about their careers. They were brilliant, but again my feedback to the Editor fell on pretty much deaf ears. I’m probably not pushy enough. A shame, because this could have been brilliant.

Just So Festival journalist workshop

The walk to the campsite: Probably not the organisers fault, but with young children walking with camping equipment is a pain, and there was very little evidence of help with transporting stuff from the car. We left early (see below) and Daddy brought the car closer to the gate to transport our gear back a bit more easily. There were no people around as the festival was still in full swing, but he was challenged quite aggressively by site security, and told he was being irresponsible and dangerous. Hmmm…

Other people’s children: Totally not the organisers fault, but the family that managed to squeeze their tent into the gap we left when we pitched up had a baby. The baby wasn’t the problem, but she woke her older sister up in the morning at 5.30am. So the whole family started their day with a rousing chorus of Baa Baa Black Sheep. And so did we. Consequently we were too tired to enjoy the Festival’s later attractions and missed the lantern parade. Hence the early departure.

Just So Festival – our verdict

There’s a lot about the Just So Festival that we liked. It’s well organised, bright and cheerful, and very safe. The campsite is good, though it could do with being cleaned of a bit more sheep poo. Loos are plentiful, better than your average campsite toilets, and mostly well-stocked. Same goes for the showers, although there needed to be more – the queues were long. Food is mostly very good, though quite expensive – there are cash machines, which was lucky for us!

Volunteers, stall-holders and staff were friendly and polite, apart from the hired-in security people, one of whom needed some more manners.

Activities were a mixture though. We thought we’d see some excellent street-style performers, and we did, but we also saw some very lacklustre activites, and some well-intentioned but poorly executed workshops. The professional performers and workshop organisers stood out so far above the amateur that the latter really looked quite poor by comparison.

Should you go? It depends. We decided that overall, the Just So Festival was best for very young children. Whilst there were some activities aimed at my age group, most of the festival seemed to be aimed at children under 5. I like a good story as much as next pre-schooler, but spraying mud-coloured water at an A4 sheet of paper with a plastic water pistol is not my idea of fun art.

The best part of all? Family time. Chilling out time. Time to read, play, blow bubbles…

Blowing bubbles

If your family loves the outdoors, enjoys a good story, and adores any kind of craft, you will probably enjoy the Just So Festival. I’ll be unapologetically non-pc here and say that we are not a tree-huggy family. If you are, go – and let us know what you think. :)

Early bird tickets are available on the website here.

If you’d like to read more about the Just So Festival, you can check out these bloggers reviews:

Oh Comely Magazine’s review of Just So Festival 2013

Babes about Town’s review of the Just So Festival

Just So Festival Review in Pictures by the Alexander Residence.

Not Like the Picture.

Mummy Whisperer’s review of Just So 2012.

Treacle Mum’s review of Just So 2013.

Nurture Store’s review of the spray painting.

I’m adding this post to Coombe Mill’s Country Kids linky, which is all about outdoor fun with the kids, and with Mums Do Travel’s #familydays

Disclosure: we recieved free tickets from the Just So Festival for the purposes of this review.





  1. Livesey girl says

    Hi this would be ideal for our kids age range next summer. Hope you don’t mind me asking how much it is? The website doesn’t have the info at the moment. Thanks x

    • says

      Hi, I’ve edited the post to show a link to the ticket sales page now. There’s various options on an early bird rate just now. If you go do let us know what you think :)

  2. says

    Thank you for the pingback.
    Just reading your review of JSF, it’s great. Though a little the same about the Fairy Fay, but thank goodness my 3 got bored and so didn’t really hear that bit.
    Very strange! {glad it’s not just me who thought that}.

  3. says

    I love taking mine to festivals – the older ones have been to loads, we’re really being terrible parents not taking our youngest two to many more. I blame the teenagers and their pesky exams….this looks like it was a great one and really not far from us. I shall have to check it out next year :)
    And yes, it really does rain every day in Manchester usually, this year is almost a drought!
    The Brick Castle recently posted…We Are Adventurers!My Profile

  4. says

    This is an interesting review and I’ve always had half an eye on Just So but feel I would need more as a selfish adult!! (Bars and music!) There’s always the risk of other campers and their ‘habits’ and touchwood we’ve always been quite lucky on that front. I do love a good family festival and know of one that hits everything on the head 😉
    Melksham Mum recently posted…The National Trust for children {Blickling Hall}My Profile

  5. says

    Oooh we saw the same storyteller at another festival, he was awesome! Thanks for linking up to my review from 2 years ago, and lovely to read about your experiences. Just So was really magical when we went, just for a day, mine were both under 5 then and it was just the right amount of walking, I am sure you got round faster, it looks like you did!
    Alexander Residence recently posted…Gadgets and games to entertain your parentsMy Profile

  6. says

    Reflecting a bit on our experiences at different festivals…I think Just So takes much braver creative and artistic risks then other festivals, so that might explain why some things worked better than others?
    Alexander Residence recently posted…Magic BeansMy Profile

    • says

      That’s true, plus they don’t have the benefit of a big budget. We’ve just got back from the Big Feastival, which we loved. Their children’s activities were much more professionally done, though way less imaginative. I guess that’s the benefit of having millionaire backers 😉

  7. says

    I’m note sure festivals are really my thing, but it looks like a fun way to enjoy being outdoors. I think if there was a hotel instead of a tent I might give it a go! I know the kids would be more keen than me! Thanks for linking up. I can see how the family time together is a big win.

  8. says

    Great review, I was really hoping to go and meant to look it up – I am pleased I didn’t now. I enjoy festivals and outdoors activities yet am not exactly tree huggy at all and don’t get the feeling this would be my thing. Especially not with Baa Baa Black Sheep at 5.30am – I’d loose the plot, although it may be better than swear words being shouted at 3am at Reading Festival 😉 xx

    • says

      Oh dear, the balance is hard to strike isn’t it? I’d say you can’t beat camping with friends, but if you want to try a festival, I’m about to review Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival, and that would be hard to beat

  9. says

    Haha great review, really captured your experience. I remember you looking pretty much ‘done’ when I bumped into you on Saturday — but I’d say that’s mostly the effort of camping.

    Funny enough, I’m not remotely tree huggy and I’m not sure we actually did a single craft. The boys missed the workshops they’d planned to do e.g. lasso training. As always, we had most of our fun just wandering about, exploring the scenes, doing the more random stuff (like stone balancing) and catching a few performances. I wasn’t as keen on La Balade aerial show as I found it difficult to see but my eldest loved it.

    And we had an absolutely brilliant time. My boys are 7 and 4, so only slightly younger than yours and they’re already asking to go next year. I do want to try something more ‘adult-focused’ next time (eye on Secret Garden Party), but I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Just So for its spirit, charm, warmth… and discos :-) Great to see you there and hope to catch up again sometime soon x
    Babes about Town recently posted…Just So Festival 2013: A Dreamy Family FestivalMy Profile

    • says

      Well it just goes to show how different people are – actually your review mentions quite a few things that we didn’t see, and I thought we’d explored everywhere. Maybe everything deserves a second chance 😉

  10. Emma says

    You should have called in for a cuppa ! We are 10 mins down the road ( mummumheart )
    Glad u had fun – we are going next year – when G can have more fun x

    • says

      Yeah, this one was in the middle of nowhere so not even a train journey :( I saw someone at Just So who took a train though, so that might be worth it.


  1. […] Helen from Actually Mummy went to last year’s Just So Festival with her kids in tow. She details the best bits and the worst bits on her blog – we think it sounds awesome but it’s good to get a balanced review of something, isn’t it? This year’s festival is happening in Cheshire from August 15th to 18th. […]

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