Back at the beginning of July we headed up to the National Forest to Timber Festival – a festival exploring the transformative impact of forests. As seasoned Just So Festival devotees, and fans of Wild Rumpus (the team behind Timber, Just So, and a myriad of large scale outdoor family arts events) we were fairly confident Timber Festival would tick our boxes, but it still felt like a bit of a gamble swapping our annual pilgrimage to Just So for a weekend at a brand-new untried festival.
As soon as we arrived at Timber Festival, set in the forest at Feanedock, we knew we were in for a fantastic weekend. The site itself was stunning with wild-flower-lined pathways leading down to the main areas, some in woodland, some meadows, all looking glorious in the bright sunshine.
The vibe was seriously chilled – partly down to the heat – but also because there were no crowds or any need to rush from place to place. We got our bearings and settled into a slower, laid-back pace for the long weekend.
What we were looking forward to most was the variety of programming at Timber Festival and this was the real winner for us. There really was something for all of us, from interactive shows that pulled in the kids, to practical workshops and seminars, to art installations and wellness workshops.
We love the programming at Just So, but it was lovely to have a more options for the grown ups, and to stretch our kids a bit who, at age 8, are definitely able to enjoy something a little more challenging (without missing out on the magic of the stuff for the younger festival-goers).
Here are our highlights…
The Lost Words: Seek, Find, Speak
Undoubtably the highlight for me, this spoken word adaptation of Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s beautiful, illustrated book of acrostic poems The Lost Words had the kids and I totally entranced. You could explore the forest theatre trail, featuring stunning 3D installations of the book’s illustrations dotted across the site, by yourself, or join a charm of Goldfinch performers who led you on a journey, performing the poems along the way.
It really felt like time stood still as we followed the troupe through the woodland and meadows. They brought the poems from the book to life through spoken word and physical movement, and this has stayed with the twins – since we got home Esme has been learning some of the poems off by heart and I can often overhear her reciting them to herself.
The Nightingale Stage
We enjoyed the sounds of the live music that permeated across the whole festival site throughout the weekend. Unfortunately I think the extreme heat meant that there wasn’t as much dancing as there might have been, but we had a bit of a sweaty bop along to Perhaps Contraption and Alice Jemima. We also enjoyed This is The Kit, and Jane Weaver.
Next year, I’d like to spend more time at the other music stage in the forest (The Eyrie Stage) – we caught a bit of Perhaps Contraption again there, and it was a great space nestled in amongst the trees.
Bee Cart – Pif-Paf Theatre
A favourite from Just So Festival, we were excited to see the show by Pif-Paf at Timber. Bee Guides Bombus and Borage are from a secret government organisation called The Human Union of Pollinators – this interactive show was a brilliant mix of fun and learning.
The kids got taught how to do the pollen packing dance, the waggle dance and got to try out the Buzz Pollinator and Flapper-Winger-Tronerators. Plus Alfie got his nose pollinated! With the usual Pif-Pif creativity and energy thrown in, this was a fun point in the festival.
Going to see the incredible Fire Garden at sunset on the Saturday night was one of those remember-forever moments. This series of fire sculptures was created especially for Timber by leading artists, sculptors, designers and technicians. It was spectacular, especially with the sun setting in the background.
In The Eyes of the Animal – Marshmallow Laser Feast
The kids donned the virtual reality headsets to discover what it’s like to be an animal in the forest through the eyes of four woodland species. They would happily have sat there for the whole morning enjoying Marshmallow Laser Feast’s award-winning immersive experience, but we had to pass the headset over to the next people in the queue!
Other highlights included:
- Stone balancing – We all became obsessed over the course of the weekend. It was the ideal spot to go for some quiet time over the weekend.
- Spatula carving – One of the woodland workshops on offer and Ben loved it. Next year we’ll make sure to do one of the carving workshops for kids, too.
- Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon – So striking, measuring seven metres in diameter, this internally lit spherical sculpture suspended in the forest featured detailed NASA imagery of the real lunar surface.
- Campfire stories – Just So veteran storyteller Ian Douglas had the kids (and us) hanging on his every word as usual, and offered us the perfect opportunity to cool down a bit in the shade of the trees.
- Keynote Session by Stuart Maconie – Totally engaging and entertaining, I had a bit of a fan-girl moment listening to broadcaster Stuart’s keynote session. His take on the countryside as president of The Ramblers went down a storm.
- Mindful Drawing Workshop – This had me almost falling asleep on the Sunday. I loved having the chance to go off and do something for me away from the hustle of the rest of the festival.
- Campsite – We stayed in the camper van field, which had a set of porta-loos and porta-showers nearby, along with a bank of sinks for washing up, well-signed waste area with recycling, and water taps.
- Water – It was a super-hot weekend, and keeping ourselves and the kids hydrated was a high priority. There were a generous amount of water points across the festival site, which meant we could constantly top our water bottles up.
- Food and drink – I enjoyed everything we ate, but the choice was a little limited, especially for kids. I wish there had been more places with kids’ portions (and prices) on offer. The wood-fired pizza was a big hit, as were the burritos. We missed stands like the corn-on-the-cob place and toast van that we’re used to having at Just So. Alcohol was expensive, but probably competitive for a festival. We were also looking forward to visiting the farmer’s market but were a bit disappointed with what was on offer there. You definitely couldn’t pick up enough produce to rustle up a meal back at your camp.
- Toilets – All the porta-loos were immaculate and well-stocked and there were plenty of them. This was very good, as with the temperatures so high, dirty loos would have been a very unpleasant experience!
We were totally won over by Timber Festival. The variety of what’s on offer kept us all engaged, and there were also plenty of places and moments where we could be still and quiet. I think the beauty of the festival landscape plays a big part – it was easy to find a quiet spot in the trees or tall grass to chill out for a while. It was the most relaxed and in-the-moment I had been for a long while and I came away feeling refreshed and so much happier.
The other thing that really struck us was the range of other festival-goers. Obviously Just So is a lovely mix of families, but Timber attracted a wider demographic, from older folk, to multi-generational families, to groups of twenty-somethings. That really contributed to a strong feeling of community throughout the festival.
The fantastic news is that Timber Festival’s first-year success means that it’s set to return in 2019. Super early bird tickets were released just last week – get yours now! We are 100% going again – Timber Festival 2019 will take place on 5/6/7 July 2019, at Feanedock, nr Swadlincote, in the National Forest. I honestly can’t wait to head back to the woods.
Disclosure: Our family weekend tickets were given us free of charge for the purposes of this review. Thanks Timber Festival for letting us join you for such a special weekend!