This year was our fifth adventure with Just So. Half of me can’t fathom how quickly those years have flown by, the other half can’t imagine a year without the Just So Festival knitted into the fabric of our family life. Five years in, I know my way around, I recognise the same volunteers, the same festival goers, the same costumes. We’ve got our festival rhythm down pat, but that feeling of magic, of being swept up in a glorious weekend of pure joy, has never faded.
I still have those skin-tingling moments when you suddenly look around you and your heart skips a beat and you want to screenshot that very second, and store it away in the vault of special memories that will always be with you. It could be the kids belly-laughing with tears in their eyes at an open-air performance, or the look of pure, unadulterated wonder as they meet some spectacular creature in the woods, or the whole gang of you dancing like loons and not giving a stuff who’s watching. Every year we get to stay up a little later and experience something that blows our minds and wins our hearts.
If you’ve never been to a festival with your kids before, and you’re up for being swept up into a world of creativity and enchantment, then trust me – the Just So Festival is the place to do it. I can wax lyrical about it for hours, but if its been on your radar for a while, then now is the time to make it happen for 2018. Early bird tickets for next year’s festival (17-19 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale now, at special early bird prices. Still need some encouragement?
Here are ten things that make the Just So Festival really special:
- It’s small enough to feel intimate and never too full-on, but large enough for there to be something to watch, listen or experience from the moment you walk through the gate until you leave. The site is reasonably compact and the estate it’s held on is truly beautiful, with forest, fields, a lake and even a forgotten courtyard.
- Those feelgood vibes do their job and make everyone happy and friendly. It’s so welcoming and warm, and I swear it must be the smiliest place in the country for that weekend.
- You get to experience the joy of being a kid again. The programme is full of creative and captivating shows and activities that will grab your children’s imaginations, and you can’t help being drawn in, too. For the weekend you get to see the wonderful festival world through the kids’ eyes – it’s stunning, colourful and completely magical.
- Golden pebbles will become more valuable then anything in your wallet. These are part of the Tribal Tournament (a fun, costume-filled weekend-long competition between Just So’s seven animal tribes) you earn/find golden pebbles throughout the weekend, to add to your tribe’s tally and aid them in their mission to win the cup.
- The shows and performances are spectacular. We definitely don’t watch enough theatre with the kids during the year, but we really make up for it at Just So. Highlights for us are festival regular Pif-Paf Theatre’s visually arresting, joyous shows (always with some incredible piece of engineering playing a central role in the performance) and The Fabularium’s shows in the Spellbound Forest – outdoor theatre with a medieval twist. Comedian James Campbell is another festival favourite – his jokes get retold by my twins countless times over the year until they get a new instalment.
- You get to dance like no-one’s watching. From silent discos, to live music at various stages, there’s always music going on at Just So. We listen to the CD of songs by that year’s performers (sent out with programmes in advance) on our journey to the festival, and it always puts us right in the Just So zone. And if your dance moves need a little work, there are plenty of workshops at Jitterbug over the weekend, from disco to the can can.
- You can always find somewhere to chill out. If it all gets a bit too much (and there is usually at least one moment when the pace and lack of sleep take their toll), there are always quieter areas to explore. The High Seas usually becomes a large picnic area (there’s a sandpit for the kids to just play), there are yoga sessions, and this year we were blown away by Between Stillness and Storm – a large-scale sculptural installation generating audio and visual responses to changing weather conditions, in daylight and at night.
- The campfire is heart of the festival. Just inside the Spellbound Forest, the Just So campfire endlessly delights with its campfire songs and bonfire bands, hosted by the absolutely fantastic storyteller Ian Douglas. He loves Just So so much he got married there this year!
- The Lantern parade will bring tears to your eyes. And that’s not just the making of them (which can get a little stressful if you misplace your ‘zen’ for a minute). Any lantern-making stress is always, without fail, forgotten the second you see the hundreds of lanterns lit up on the Saturday night, parading through the festival site, led by a brilliant band. This year’s parade outdid all the others by involving pyrotechnics for the finale. It properly rocked.
- You’ll find your tribe. Cheering on your tribe in the Wild Rumpus Parade (the awesome finale of the Tribal Tournament at the very end of the weekend) is another of those incredible pinch-me moments. Marching from the meeting point down to the main stage, shouting out your tribal chants and being wowed by everyone’s costumes is simply epic. For me, the tribes are one of the things that really create that strong sense of community and togetherness that weave their way through everything at Just So. The competition is light-hearted and the festival family is big-hearted, and it pulls me in and makes my heart swell and burst every single year.
Did I mention that tickets for Just So 2018 are ON SALE NOW?
Here are my pics from shots this year’s festival, as a final push. Go on, get booking. You know you want to…
Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with the Just So Festival, but all opinions are wholeheartedly my own.
I wouldn’t have gone five years in a row if I didn’t love it as much as I say I do!