There’s very little that would entice me to chuck the kids into the car and drive to a large field for three days of festivalling without my partner in crime for back-up, especially on the last day of the summer term, when everyone’s exhausted and still grouchy about not coming first in every race at sports’ day. But this year that’s exactly what I did. Mr Viking had a badly-timed stag do to attend (at a rival festival, as it happens, of which we will say no more) but the prospect of another cracking weekend at Deer Shed Festival, just outside Thirsk, was enough for me to embark on a solo trip with an excited 8, 6 and 3 year-old for company. And I’m pleased to report that not only did I survive, but that we actually had fun.
I made life easier by booking a pre-pitched tent in the glamping area – not cheap, but worth every penny as it meant we were set up and ready to enjoy the weekend almost immediately. It also gave us access to flushing loos – luxury. There were some seriously stylish tipis and yurts available but we opted for a basic modern tent which was easier on the budget and had the benefit of blackout material in the bedrooms. This was a godsend – friends we met had been up since sunrise with their little ones but mine didn’t wake up until almost 9am. Festivals are tiring work but Deer Shed is worth the effort.
What makes Deer Shed fantastic for families is the same thing that makes it a challenge for parents: there’s just so much to do that fitting it all in becomes a herculean task. Learning from last year, we picked up a programme early on and earmarked what we wanted to do, booking activities where necessary. Most activities are included in the ticket price but some do need pre-booking, like BMX activities in the Sports Field and certain ones in the Science Tent. However, I also knew from last year that there’s even more pleasure in stumbling into a tent and discovering an act that wasn’t on our radar or an activity that I hadn’t noticed on the programme. Our most memorable moment of the weekend was a spontaneous one, grabbing a pair of headphones each and joining in the silent disco, wending our way through the crowds conga-style and singing badly at the top of our voices. It was joyous and magical and we didn’t even know it was happening. In the same way, we discovered some rib-tickling comedy, danced along to some brilliant bands and even joined in with a hula-hooping class.
This is a family festival run by a family, and it shows in every detail. There really is something for everyone, from grown-ups looking to discover new bands and re-discover old favourites to frazzled new parents with little ones who still want to be able to enjoy a festival experience. All ages are catered for, which is no doubt why so many families come back year after year: there’s never a point at which the kids have outgrown Deer Shed. We love the fact that the NCT tent has a baby bathtime and that there are activities specifically for small festival-goers but without a CBeebies character in sight. Our three-year-old loved the storytelling and drama session with York’s Mudpie Arts while the older two played about in a big pile of straw. What could be better?
With an 8 ½-year-old to entertain, I’m pleased to report that there’s loads for the older age group too. He’s a big fan of the science tent and sports field – we spent ages in both – and we found plenty of activities that all three of them could enjoy (we are now all proud owners of homemade cardboard guitars that we created together). The fact that all three of them were happy made navigating the festival on my own much easier – there wasn’t much they could complain about, except how long they had to wait for their next ice cream. Speaking of food, there was an even bigger range of options this year than last, with everything from Thai to fish and chips, pizza, gourmet hot dogs and mac’n’cheese (our kids’ favourite). Prices are, on the whole, surprisingly reasonable given the obvious temptation to hike them up for a captive audience. There was also some good coffee on offer – vital for exhausted parents – and great gin too.
As it turned out, my reservations about taking the kids to Deer Shed on my own were unfounded. Yes, it was hard work – marshalling them all across the site from one thing to the next was exhausting, and there was always someone needing a wee at an inconvenient moment. But the sun shone, there was never a dull moment and that we couldn’t move without bumping into another York family that we’re friends with. The lovely Deer Shed vibe made the weekend a cracking start to our summer holidays and we’re looking forward to kicking off summer 2019 in style at Deer Shed 10 too.