Cheshire’s green and grand Rode Hall revelled in the return of the arty Just So Festival this weekend – a whimsical wonderland of theatrical performances, dance, music, comedy and creative events.
Now in its 10th year, it’s a beautifully bonkers weekend-long festival from the Cheshire-based events team Wild Rumpus. They’re pros at creating wacky outdoorsy experiences and now have a year-round calendar of immersive adventures, with the trademark Just So Festival picking up a whole handful of awards.
Its madcap shows, scenery and stunts are aimed primarily at kids. Parents just come along for the ride, buoyed on by their inner rascal.
It’s the sort of shindig where kids can run amok and no one cares. Where grown-ups dressed as animals wax euphoric while slurping G&Ts. And mums moonlighting as sheepdogs leap over bales of hay. Yes, really.
With glitter, music, round-the-clock kids’ entertainment, immersive theatre, booze and food, we knew we would fit right in.
On the bill this year were family comedians, silent discos, crazy pillow fights and clown performances. The lakeside stage area – Footlights – drew dancing families to live music, where tweens pelted mud at their parents and took chilled moments to watch the sun go down on the glassy lake.
Little movers and shakers razzled and dazzled in the Flamingo Lounge, a tucked-away barn with a roster of dance lessons; family yoga sessions wound down the whole clan; and the Spellbound Forest was a phenomenally idyllic spot with bush crafts, tree climbing, marble chasing and fireside storytelling under the flicker of fairy lights.
If there is such a thing as an enchanted forest, this might just be it.
There was wild hilarity and plenty of WTF moments, too. A yellow tuk tuk beeped its way past, pulling along a bath filled with water and an animated young lad shooting helpless onlookers with an onslaught of water.
The place was filled with peculiar characters. Some were actors, others were grandads in all-in-one lycra suits, tagging along for babysitting duties.
A woman gave her husband a stern telling off. They were dressed as foxes: him with a tweed jacket, pointy ears and button nose, her with a flowing fluffy tail and smudged make up. I just can’t take people seriously when they look like oversized ferrets.
Most had signed up to the Tribal Tournament, dressing up as one of the owls, foxes, frogs, stags, lions, bees or fish, picking up golden nuggets in a handful of competitions before the riotous final tribal march.
Everyone went mental during the parade – grown-ups were howling, kids were whooping: hundreds scurried from all corners of the festival to unleash their excitable energy.
That’s not to say it was all easy. Any festival with young kids is tough: there’s back-to-basics camping for the majority and there were sprawls of thick mud after a rain-soaked first day. This is the summer that never stops raining, after all.
We didn’t bring a buggy as we knew it’d get stuck in the mud and we were too tight to buy a wagon. Bad decision. Those carts are lifesavers for parents – load them up with the gear and pull the kids along to rest little legs or take a nap.
There’s a hell of a lot going on. You need to go for the whole weekend rather than just a day.
Our verdict? Just So isn’t so much a festival, it’s more a space to step away from the nine-to-five persona, to embrace the mayhem and to act like all the kids that bring the infectious, youthful energy brimming around every pocket of the site. The setting’s serene and wonderfully atmospheric and everyone has a damn good time.
Would I go again? 100%, with a bunch of pals, too.
Just So Festival sets the bar when it comes to all-round family fun and frolics. There’s nothing else quite like it.
Just So Festival is one of the many exciting highlights of Cheshire’s Where Science meets Nature campaign – a county-wide initiative championing Cheshire’s role in two landmark moments: the 100th birthday of the Forestry Commission and the 50th anniversary year of the lunar landings.