Looking for a small, super-chilled, but active festival that you can enjoy with the kids? Look no further, we’ve found a total gem……
We really weren’t sure what to expect from the National Trust South-West Outdoor Festival – to be honest, I’m not even sure how I stumbled across it. But it looked like there was loads of activities going on and it was also super-cheap for a family weekend away – £80 for a whole family ticket for the festival including two nights of camping. Boom. So we booked it back in May thinking it would be a great Autumnal campout and then pretty much forgot about it.
Fast forward to last weekend and what turned out to be one of the best family weekends we have had in AGES. The festival is a relative newcomer and has only been running for 4 years; last year it was held at Chedder Gorge, but this year it was at the National Trust’s East Soar Farm, near Salcombe in Devon. What a setting.
(Photo taken before the meltdowns! 😂)
I’m not going to lie, we had a pretty horrific four-hour drive down on the Friday afternoon, characterised by some epic over-tired, sleep-refusing whinging from Oskar, a minor meltdown from me and some less than admirable parenting, and then just as Oskar fell asleep shortly before we arrived, some all-out screaming from Ella that had me covering my ears and rocking backwards and forwards in the front. It was the sort of journey where you ask yourself “are all these family adventures and weekends away really worth the hassle/pain/meltdowns?” – the answer – oh my gosh YES!
We arrived at 5pm, used the handy wheelbarrows to cart our stuff from the car to the camping field and then pitched our tent with Morten cursing its broken poles and general inadequacies (family tent blog to follow soon from Morts!). Once pitched we headed over to the farm and so began the amazingness.
Within 20 minutes of being at the festival, we found ourselves in a twinkle-light filled barn, listening to the most wonderful folk band, with craft cider in hand and noshing on a beautiful wood-fired pizza. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh… the horrific-ness of the journey had already been forgotten.
Having had a small sleep and been nourished with food, Oskar was now on brilliant form, dancing round to the music and having the time of his life, while little Ella was strapped to my front, bewitched by the music and twinkle lights and happily working her way through a piece of pizza. It was a perfect night!
I absolutely have to give a shout out to the band – a folksy, acoustic guitar and fiddle duo by the name of Kit Hawes & Aaron Cutlow – they were phenomenal and I am now the proud owner of their debut album ‘The Fox’. Please go away and listen to them!
After a wonderful evening and great sleep that night, the weekend of activities began. It was pouring with rain on the Saturday morning, so we opted for a few indoorsy activities – the kids rock climbing and the ‘caving’, which was a man-made, very cramped, dark, twisty-turny tunnel that the kids had to squirm their way through.
Oskar had multiple goes on the climbing, inching higher each time, though somewhat hindered by the fact he was climbing in some over-sized wellies. He wasn’t so sure about the caving, making it through the first section, before attempting to reverse out of the second harder section, much to the dismay of all the kids backed up behind him!
Having tackled these activities, the rain had cleared and we headed out for some outdoor fun and so ensued the axe-throwing, slack-lining, hoola-hooping, disc-golf playing, foraging, fire-making, bread-baking, tree-climbing, archery-shooting, juggling, SUP board balancing (on-land), wood-whittling, yoga, and general charging around. It was non-stop.
Thanks to the wood-chip flooring of the barns, which kept the kids entertained for hours “making volcanoes” (!?), over the course of the weekend we adults even got to listen to some of the many inspirational speakers, including adventure-athlete Laura Kennington, solo round-the-worlder Sarah Outen MBE, Paralympian & adventurer Mel Nicholls, barefoot runner ‘Barefoot Aleks’, family adventurer Monty Halls, ultramarathon runner Damian Hall, as well as watching the lovely film ‘The Yukon Assignment’ produced by Charlie Fripp. All whilst supping some mulled-cider. Lovely. It was impossible not to come away feeling super-positive and totally inspired to get planning some epic family adventure.
On the Saturday afternoon we also took part in one of the guided coastal walks down towards Salcombe. It was brilliantly blustery, with stunning views of the coastline and the kids loved charging around, clambering over the rocks and exploring. It was a real family highlight of the weekend.
So far – all of this had been free. Nice heh? The only activity that we actually paid for the whole weekend was for Morten to take part in one of the organized events – the coastal half marathon on Sunday morning. Morten loved the route, although it was somewhat ‘undulating’ (!) so a pretty testing half. Also, we have to admit that it was pretty badly organized, with limited water stops (and no idea where/when they were), poor route-markings, no distance markings and a general lack of idea from anyone about what was going on. Needless to say Morts and other runners have fed back about this to the organisers (a group called ‘Wild Running’ to whom the events had been out-sourced) and it is definitely something that needs to be improved before next year.
If half-marathons are not your thing, there is a whole host of other activities you can book and pay for throughout the weekend: 5/10k distances, SwimRun events, night runs, coasteering, paddle-boarding, kayaking, Canadian canoeing, and a load of mountain bike events. Basically there is something for everybody, and if you don’t fancy any of it then you can just stick to the freebies, of which there are plenty.
Another real plus of the festival was that there were a great selection of eateries so we ate really well all weekend. Normally we are very much a “make your own and bring a packed lunch” kinda family, but genuinely we were having so much fun that we just wanted to embrace the whole experience and didn’t want to have to go back to the tent in the evening for dinner. So, other than breakfast, we bought all our food out – the highlight being the falafel wraps (ENORMOUS and delicious), and even better – all was pretty reasonably priced.
Activities ran all day again on the Sunday and the festival really came into its own as the clouds cleared and we were treated to beautiful sunshine that had us stripping down to t-shirts.
We were all enjoying ourselves so much that we stayed right until the end at 5pm before leaping in the car for the long drive home. Thankfully, exhausted from the amazing weekend, both kids fell asleep within minutes of driving out of East Soar and Morts and I enjoyed a chatty drive home reflecting on the highs of the weekend and, inspired by all the talks, started planning our next family adventure.
One thing is for sure, one of next year’s adventures will definitely be the 2019 South-West Outdoor Festival, which will be held slightly earlier on the 13th – 15th September, at Penrose near Porthleven in Cornwall. Get the date in your diary now – it’s already in ours!