efore we left, George’s mum made me swear not to let our six-year-old-son out of my sight for the duration of the festival. Even as I was nodding in agreement I knew keep this promise would be almost impossible – but I didn’t reckon on breaking it quite so spectacularly or, as things turned out, so willingly.
Before I’d even finished putting our tent up on the festival site, George was making new friends with kids a few pitches down. Fifteen minutes later, he came and asked me, his face aglow with excitement, if he could go and explore the forest with Ravi and Jasper, his new mates – on their own!
The Starry Skies slogan, “where kids runs free”, may sound like bland marketing-speak, but it encapsulates perfectly the appeal of this small family festival on the Welsh-English border. When I went to check on George on the scramble nets in the woods 10 minutes later, his sense of freedom at doing something that he’d never done before was palpable.
The scale of the festival, just 250 families over three fields, means your kids are never that far away, and the central area feels more like a village green under canvas than a festival site. The main giant tipi, where most of the live music (local bands rather than big names) and kids’ disco happens, is surrounded by a dozen or more other tents and marquees, acting as everything from a kids’ cinema (a sanctuary when it rained) to the festival shop – where prices are no higher than your local corner shop. (There’s a refreshing lack of commercialisation all round – the beer tent had a good selection of hand-pulled ales and ciders for £4; a food van did wood-fired pizzas for a fiver.) From here our campsite was only a three-minute, lantern-lit stroll through the woods.
But though the site itself is compact, the hillside setting feels unbounded, thanks to the view of the Black Mountains seemingly afloat at the end of the field. It’s a gorgeous, idyllic backdrop for a festival.
Kids as young as five can explore this countryside on guided forest walks (no adults allowed) where they learn to build dens and light fires – but George was always too busy doing something else to go on one.
Clay model-making, farm tours, circus skills, water slides, storytelling, stargazing, tug-of-war and five-a-side football are some of the many free activities dotted around various tents, fields and forest clearings. Our favourite was the Woodland Tribe, where we baked our own bread by wrapping dough around a stick and holding it in a campfire, and kids can use hammers, saws, nails, wood, rope and their imagination to build whatever they wanted – mostly swords to fight each other with.
There are also extras you can pay for, like canoeing, and yoga for adults, but there were more than enough free activities to keep us occupied for four days. With more to actually do rather than to watch, Starry Skies feels more like an uber camping holiday than a festival – a fabulous site with loads of organised play and entertainment thrown in. In fact, there’s no reason why it couldn’t run for the whole school summer holidays, with different families coming and going each week. It’s an idea the organisers hope to realise in the future.
For me the best thing about it wasn’t all the organised fun, it was seeing the joy on George’s face at being able to run wild and unsupervised – a sense of freedom I took for granted at his age but, where we live at least, is now sadly missing. He still talks about his Starry Skies friends, and we’ve already bought our tickets for this year’s event. George says he’ll see you there, Jasper and Ravi.
• The trip was provided by Starry Skies. This year’s festival takes place from 27-31 July, adult £156.45, 3-5s £30.50, 6-17s £41
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FIVE MORE KIDS’ FESTIVALS
Elderflower Fields, East Sussex (27-30 May)
lovely Pippingford Park this year, there are endless activities (baby bouldering, mud-hut building, archery), the music line-up’s lively (London Afrobeat Collective, Carnival Collective), and there’s a Youth Performers Competition. Tasty local food (with a big picnic on the Sunday) and camping options (including glamping) complete the picture.
• Adult weekend tickets from £105, child £55, under-five £10,
Imaginate Festival, Edinburgh (28 May-5 June)
Children are firmly at the centre of this event, which showcases kids’ theatre and dance from around the world. The festival kicks off with a Family Fringe weekend at the National Museum of Scotland, featuring performances and free arts activities.
• Tickets go on sale 16 March – £8 each as part of a family, individual adult £12,
Goldcoast Oceanfest, Devon (17-19 June)
Combining mid-summer surf and an impressive line-up, this festival is lots of fun, particularly for older kids. Overlooking Croyde Bay and run by surfer brothers Shaun and Warren Latham, there’s everything from beach volleyball to circus-skill sessions, and pop-up cocktail bar and craft cider and ale tent for the grown-ups. There are big names (KT Tunstall, the Cuban Brothers and DJ Fresh) among this year’s artists. Camping’s not included, so book nearby. The Ruda Holiday Park (parkdeanholidays.co.uk) has caravans sleeping six from £389.
• Three-day family ticket £150 (two adults and two children),
Nozstock, Herefordshire (21-24 July)
The whole family is encouraged to dress up in this year’s theme – Wonders of the Ancient World – and try the huge range of activities at this working farm setting. Go for sessions such as Walk Like an Egyptian or Aztec Sundials, chill in yoga classes, or play chicken-shit bingo and grab a snack at the Chicken Cow Cafe. Sounds are by the likes of Jurassic 5 and Gentleman’s Dub Club. There’s free camping and a bell-tent village for glampers.
• Four-day adult ticket £125, teen £95, under-12s free,
Deer Shed Festival, North Yorkshire (22-24 July)
There’s everything to keep families happy on the picturesque Baldersby Park site – think high chairs and milk warmers – with tons to do for all ages, from science experiments to playground games and colourful art workshops. Top-notch music from the likes of Beth Orton and Everything Everything ensures adults aren’t forgotten. There will be a celebration of cinema, including acting workshops and film-score composing, and the making of a movie in which everyone can take part (see website for details).