Happy 25th birthday Larmer Tree Festival, and wow what a party we had! We headed down a day earlier this year to catch the legend, Sir Tom Jones doing a 2-night opening show supported by The Shires. As we were nice and early, and before the usual crowds arrive on Friday, we got our wristbands and car park pass quickly, and had pretty much the whole of the family camping area to choose where to set up our tent. We got everything set up and ran into the festival sadly missing Sir Tom's first few songs (though we heard them from the camping area and sang along to 'Sex Bomb' and 'Mama Told Me Not To Come' as we put the tent up.) He put on a cracking show though, for his second night too; a Cuban salsa style, 'It's Not Unusual,' 'Green Green Grass' and 'Kiss' which made my evening. The whole main lawn was singing, dancing and swaying along, I was so glad to catch him this year.
This is Larmer Tree, a 5 day party, or 6 or 7 if you want to stay the whole week. Situated on the Wiltshire-Dorset border, just outside Shaftesbury, you leave the outside world behind, drive down the huge flag-lined drive into the gardens and are very quickly immersed in the beautiful, musical craziness, knowing that whatever the weather, you are going to have a lot of fun!
Comfy camping was back again, tucked away from the main site, so a bit of a walk back from the festival, but with teepees and caravans to hire, food stalls and private toilets and showers, it is a haven to stay in if you want a bit more luxury and peace and quiet. We chose the main Family Camping field, nice and close to the car park for lugging half the house over to the tent. We stayed further away from the General Camping as that can get a bit noisy and early rising children aren't really appreciated. The camping areas are great, everything's nice and flat, but the ground is very rocky so take hard-ground tent pegs, and you become a little community making friends with your neighbours and all the children can run around together. Larmer Tree also have the 'poshest' toilets of any festivals we do; real proper flushing toilet blocks, kept constantly clean, and showers too; the mirrors are a bit scary though as the weekend progresses.
Thursday morning, after a peaceful night's sleep, we chose to go into Shaftesbury for supplies and a look around, nice and convenient, only 10 minutes down the road. Stocked up with goodies we went back into the festivals site to have a proper explore, after only seeing it in the dark last night. Activities had been going on since 12 on the official day of opening; the lawns needed decorating so children's workshops were busy making 2 giant crepe paper peacocks and totem poles for the Children's Lawns. 'Big' children could do Bollywood dancing, didgeridoo workshops and learn to Charleston, watch music in the ARC tent in the main arena or do some early shopping; and for the teeny ones Baby Yoga was on in their very own tent, The Nest.
Just walking into the main arena (through much more chilled-out security staff this year, yey!) you have to let out a huge, 'Wow.' The array of shops, the huge music tents, an impressive 'Larmer Tree' sculpture made out of planks of wood, and recycled materials over metal into a massive tree complete with peacocks, little wind-turbines and other decorations, created to mark their 25th Anniversary with the help of local schools. It was fantastic, children were loving running round it and spotting all the quirky decorations, and adults were enjoying the shade of it. Next to it was the flag circle, a feature part of the festival just for chilling out in the middle of everything and for entertainment over the weekend.
On our wander, we encountered one of the many walk-about entertainers, a lady dressed as a lizard skulking around, being followed by two explorers ticking off random creatures on their festival map.She scared a few children until she starting singing, putting the explorers to sleep, then they took loads of selfies with members of the crowd; until the lizard made her escape. My children loved it. Every year at Larmer Tree you have to watch out for the quirky touches, not everything is always as it seems, be it an entertainer walking around ready to catch you, or this year random post boxes dotted around. Not doing much today but something to keep an eye on; they did create some confused faces.
Other quirks included a photo booth in a black cab; 2 time-travelling scientists broken down outside the main lawn needing some people-power and recyclable rubbish to get their time-machine going; and a sofa and lamp suspended up in a tree over-looking the main stage. Even before you've seen any music you've been entertained.
The main lawn hosts the Main Stage and the Garden Stage, with loads of space for sitting down, surrounded by trees and a labyrinth of paths to walk around. With a well-stocked bar, you can happily set up camp and watch the music on both stages, all you have to do is turn your head slightly. We caught the Southampton Ukulele Jam on the Garden Stage, not the biggest stage for what must have been 20+ ukulele players, so they'd spilled out onto the lawn, and were doing a brilliant jam with, 'Just Can't Get Enough,' 'Valerie,' and a little bit of Taylor Swift for good measure, we could 'Shake It Off' and have a good boogie.
Next to the main lawn is the Lostwood, we'd had a wander through the night before but everything was dark and asleep, but today it was very much awake. You have to walk past the Wishing Tree, put on every year and a nice opportunity to write down your deepest wish and tie it to the tree to see if the Larmer fairies will make it come true. Or just write some friendly wishes to your fellow festivallers. A particularly poignant wish we read was, "I wish my dog would listen to me." Deep. The knitting tent was back and also next door was a local children's charity tent offering crochet lessons in order to make lots of squares to put blankets together. Further round was The Retreat, previously used for adult craft classes, this year was a sanctuary for adults to hideaway, partake in various mood and soul enhancing classes, beat stress, laugh, meditate, 'Dance The Rainbow,' or have a late night yoga disco. Larmer Tree is a perfect festival for forgetting all about life outside, letting yourself go and discovering your silly-self, whether you choose to do it out on the main lawn for everyone to see or in a more private setting.
Further through the woods we found the fire pit ready for later, with disco balls hung around for a party atmosphere, and more disco balls hung through the trees, they'd gone to town with them it looked amazing, and would be even better all lit up in the dark. In the Lost Lounge tucked away they'd set up sofas and a dining table under some trees, lit up by lampshades hung in the trees, a shadow puppet theatre for everyone to have a go at, and a wooden goblin house for the children to climb around in. Another space to find some peace and tranquillity and a bit of fun, and close enough to hear the music from the 2 stages.
Exploring done for the day we settled down on the main lawn with a welcome pint and watched Bellowhead, and Levellers headline the evening. Perhaps the last time we will see Bellowhead before they go their separate ways, we had a good dance and sing-along to their upbeat folk songs. Levellers closed the evening on the main stage with a set of classics; my daughter's favourites so she made sure she stayed awake for the whole of their set and was first in-line at the Songlines tent to meet them and ask them to sign her ukulele. They are a lovely bunch of guys and were only too happy to sign it, and Jez even drew the Levellers sun on it; it is now her pride and joy and will be treasured forever.
There was still loads going on in the main arena even after the main stages had finished; reggae was booming from the big top; the ARC tent becomes the comedy club and Ed Byrne was on, but it was overflowing so no chance to get in and see him. We carried on walking, the Social was very much still awake, the bars were still open so people were enjoying the warm evening and all the food stalls serving late night snacks and milling around, or watching the capoeira in the flag circle. Our monkeys had had enough so we headed back to the tent, we could still hear the reggae from the tent but it wasn't too loud to keep us awake, nothing could.
Friday morning, sadly we weren't up and organised early enough to do any of the exercise sessions; yoga, tai-chi or Zumba; but we did use the showers which were lovely, enough of them so the queues aren't huge, we're not charged for them or timed and the water was lovely and hot. Another beautiful sunny day so we explored the Children's lawns today. Just inside the festival one of the random post boxes had come alive and a fire alarm was going off inside; there were a lot of very confused people standing round scratching their heads, including some security. Hilarious. Further on another one was playing a random radio phone-in, and another was chiming church bells.
The children's area was totally buzzing, with children running around while parents sat on the lush grass and had a rest, babies were crawling round or playing in the Nest tent; there was face-painting and hair-braiding, a packed craft tent where children could make totem poles, beaded key-rings, or wooden bug magnets. They'd also laid out loads of chalk boards and invited everyone to write or draw something about Larmer Tree for all to see. As were having a nice sit down in the shade, 'A-La Carte Musique' turned up with the disco on a cart and started a party. Mums, dads, children and babies were all dancing along, with instruments and bubbles and funky disco classics. We must have been dancing for a good hour or so, then it was ice-cream time and Shepherds ice-cream were set up in their usual spot on the main lawn, and always do the tastiest ice-cream. This year their signature flavour was 'Cinnamon Chai,' which was totally lush.
The sun was shining so we found a good spot on the main lawn to watch C.C. Smugglers playing some brilliant bluegrass rock-n-roll, then went to check out the food stalls for some dinner.
As always there's a vast array, serving any cuisine you want, some festival regulars and some rather interesting new ones; a crab and lobster stall serving lobster in a bun, very decadent but a tad expensive. I gave into the amazing smells from the Curry Shed, their paneer butter masala and cabbage thoran was gorgeous. Pieminister were back serving their popular pies and mash, or you could go for pasta, pizza, Thai noodles, Mexican fajitas or nachos, and they had 2 double decker buses in the arena, one serving bacon butties or toasties, and the Big Red Tea Bus serving cream teas and cake. They also had their local food market back again this year, with Purbeck Ice-cream, locally-produced biltong, an Oxford Bakery and a stall selling pheasant jalfrezi and venison chilli, just for something really special. You really can go mad and pig-out for the weekend, your wallet may shrink but your waist-line may increase!
We spent the rest of Friday wandering through the Lostwood, a game of Giant Scrabble was going on, a lot of knitting and crochet, a creative writing workshop, children climbing a tree sculpture, and people just sitting in the sunshine and watching everything go by. Another path had opened up with signs saying, 'Impossible' and 'Party' and music was coming from further in the woods. Well, we had to go and have a look, and eventually came to a standard looking front-door erected in the middle of an alcove, with dance-music playing from it. We rang the doorbell and nothing happened, so we looked in the letterbox and were met with a pair of staring eyes! Walking round another door was on the back and in that letterbox was a full-on party going on….very bizarre but very funny.
The Gaslight Troubadours with Professor Elemental started the evening's music off on the Garden Stage followed by The Magic Numbers, who started off quite melancholy, but did play some more well-known tunes I haven't heard for a while,but remembered liking. It was a great finish to the set as we all seemed to know the last few songs so could sing along.
An act I'd been really looking forward to, Rodrigo Y Gabriela closed the main stage for the night with a fantastic set. With just 2 guitars and an amazing talent the sound they made was awesome; explosive flamenco rock, and even a Rage Against the Machine cover. Some grumblings behind me were that every song sounded the same, but I don't care, I could have listened to them for hours; and she is so cute to watch with her enormous guitar and matching voice.
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