Just So 2017 was our first time to experience this festival taking place across a mid-August weekend. We truly haven't been to a festival like this before. It offered an enormous variety of activities - such as art, literature, theatre and music - all of which were underpinned by the quintessentially British idea of a tribal tournament. At first sight, you could be forgiven for assuming that this is solely a children’s festival, but as the weekend progressed, it was clear that it was every bit as much about adults releasing their inner child and indulging their imaginations for the weekend.
Let’s be clear from the outset, if you prefer more music-based festivals or if dressing up isn’t really your thing, then Just So probably isn’t the right festival for you. On the other hand, if you have young, lively children, and you want to spend a magical weekend where you can be as wild as them, then Just So will not disappoint.
Read on to find out more about what you can expect from the Just So Festival and to hear about our experience.
Firstly, we must mention the setting of this festival. Just So takes place in the beautiful Rode Hall Estate and it really feels like you are a million miles away from civilisation. The immaculate festival site provides ample space for the 5,000 weekend festival-goers and every area is neatly marked out with bunting fences. We stayed in the live–in vehicle field which offered plenty of room for a campervan and an awning. Stewards were immediately on hand when we arrived; everyone was friendly and helpful and we were soon pitched up and ready to go into the arena. The arena is only about a five minute walk from all of the camping areas, making it really easy to pop back to your tent or van during the day, if you need to. This factor shouldn't be underestimated when you have younger children as it can be really handy to go back for a rest or some food, and avoid having to buy food from the catering outlets for the whole three days, which can become quite costly. The main arena itself was split into several different sections and we were overwhelmed by how beautifully decorated and enchanting the whole site was.
As you enter the Just So gates, the first area you come across is the Village Green where there are several different areas and stages nicely spread out so that people can set up their picnic blankets with enough space around them. You can simply wander in and out of the different tents and stages or, if you prefer, follow the very useful schedule in the Just So programme. With many other areas to explore, we found our first morning was spent wandering around and taking in what was on offer. One of our favourites was the Spellbound Forest, an enchanting woodland decorated with lights and lanterns. In this forest area you could find a campfire surrounded by a mini auditorium of wooden benches and bales of hay where a traditional a storyteller bewitched his young audience. A short walk past the forest was The High Seas area where you could hire a rowing boat for half an hour (at an additional cost of £10) and the Silver Screen area with a vast programme of drama, theatre and film workshops. The Footlights was the main music stage for this festival with an energetic selection of smaller bands and a wide variety of genres.
What we found extremely useful, and something we haven’t found at many other festivals is that there were many covered areas. We did have the odd light shower, so ducking in one of the seated indoor barns or tents was very welcome and, surprisingly, these areas never became overcrowded. One tent had a range of board games you could sit and play and I think that escaping a shower in here to play a game with our children was, in fact, one of the nicest little moments of the weekend. One main covered area was in a section called The Social. This huge barn, equipped with bales of hay and tables, also had lots of activities for children, such as making towers from jelly beans and cocktail sticks or sculptures out of vegetables. Simple ideas, but nonetheless highly enjoyable for the kids.
The whole site had an excellent variety of food and drink on offer. The range of trailers and tents provided food to cater for all tastes, with a good selection of basic options for fussy children right through to more adventurous and specialist caterers. I would really rate this festival for its attention to detail in terms of the whole festival site; everything was very well planned, very well laid out and beautifully decorated. I must also mention how the toilets and showers at this festival were some of the best we've ever used! We never had to queue and each toilet we used was spotlessly clean. There were also several cabin style toilets with proper flushing loos and hot, running water. You really felt like you were being well looked after, so top marks here.
Now for the entertainment on offer at the Just So festival. As I said earlier the style of this festival was really unique. Whilst there is music on offer, I wouldn't really call this a music festival. It's more of an arts / literature / "fairy tales for all ages" festival with many different activities on offer throughout the weekend. It also has a very different feel to most festivals because of the deeply entrenched ethos of the tribal tournament. I have certainly never experienced this type of event at a festival before. In an attempt to give an impression of what it was like, it could perhaps be likened to the types of tournaments which take place in schools, such as the Harry Potter house tournaments. Perhaps, it could also be likened to the activities which take place at a holiday camp, but all in a very different setting. It really needs to be experienced to be fully understood! Having said this you are not obliged to take part in the tournament and you can enjoy the tribal aspects of the weekend from the side-lines. However, I am sure that the festival-goers who really threw themselves into this really got the most out of it. As Just So Festival newbies, we were amazed to see just how seriously families took the tribal tournament. The vast majority families had dressed up as their chosen tribal animals and whether it was, Fox, Frogs, Owls, Bees, Stags, Fish or Lions, there were some amazing costumes to be seen. The idea was that through participating in workshops and joining in, you won gold nuggets which were then given to the leader of your chosen tribe. Our children immediately loved this, and as a way of encouraging participation, it is a fantastic idea.
We had decided that we didn’t want to be slaves to the programme or rush from activity to activity and we took things slowly for the weekend. Even so, we managed to do so much: games in the actual reality arcade, Maypole dancing, story-listening (several times), a pillow fight, a midnight feast, a barefoot walk, rowing on the lake, start-gazing, a ukulele workshop, mask making, fairy craft, board games, jelly bean towers, lots of dancing to bands, a poetry reading, a jelly-fight and much more! Our children absolutely loved taking part in all of this. My daughter described the weekend as “like being in a fairy-tale!” and my son said it was definitely the best festival he had ever been to.
The highlights of the weekend for all of us were, without doubt, the midnight feast, with story-telling and songs in the Social barn and the good old-fashioned feather pillow-fight. These were magical moments for us. Thank you to the Just So organisers for creating this fairy-tale world for the weekend. It certainly was a feast for the imagination and for the soul.
For more information about Just So, go to http://www.festivalparadise.com/just-so-festival