Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Over the bank holiday, we went to the Galtres Festival - a little local festival that has evolved from a beer and food festival into a family extravaganza of bands and beers.

As you are well aware, I'm writing this a good month after the event, so you'll have to make do with the edited highlights. As it is we didn't take a camera (we sadly lost the little camera last winter, and we didn't like the idea of taking the expensive SLR to a festival), so this is a bit bereft of photos.

It rained. For several days beforehand and then most of the first day. And people walked around on the wet grass until there was no grass left. So we got to experience the seven ages of mud right from the sludgy stuff squidging around the grass, through molten flowing liquid mud, to sticky, half-foot deep quagmire that sucked toddler wellies off every other step, all the way to dried rocky ravine mud. As someone who was at Glastonbury in the Year of the Mud, before they installed the amazing drainage system, I wasn't too bothered, but some people didn't enjoy it, and the campsite emptied out on Sunday quite dramatically.

Typically, the kids weren't too bothered. They didn't like it the first time they fell over and got caked in soft runny stuff, but once we had explained that we weren't going to wipe it, that it just dried and then you brushed clumps of it off leaving an insulating brown crust, they just got on with it! It meant that there was none of the sitting round on the grass, listening to bands, nursing a cold beer while the kids ran around us, which is what we had all been imagining, but it just added an extra dimension to the complexity of moving around the festival site.

We had to do quite a bit of hosing down when we got home!

The amazing bell tent
You wouldn't think we could get more enthusiastic about the bell tent, but we can! The bell tent was in it's element. Cars weren't allowed on the campsite - you had to carry things in. When we arrived at the site, it was chucking down with rain - really throwing it down. But Nathaniel and I were smug in the knowledge that during the 10 mins that Ian spent taking the tent to the campsite, he wasn't just finding a pitch and dumping the tent to get rained on like everyone else, he was putting up the tent, so that we could retire to the dry while he brought all the other kit.

Then as the rain continued, we sat in the tent with the door open, watching everything that was going on, with no rain getting in at all. There wasn't a nylon tent on the site that you could do that in.

And we quickly met the other bell tent enthusiasts - five others around us - and spent hours afirming how great our tents were!

The awning was a godsend as well. While other people had a swamp outside their doors, we rigged the awning between us and the Turner's tent and had a covered, dryish mud area where we could barbeque, put chairs and generally shelter without running for the cover of tents.

The buggy

We don't use the buggy much anymore, Nathaniel prefers to scooty bike, so we felt a bit silly taking such a big conveyance to a festival. But we had the idea that it would enable us to carry stuff around the site during the day easily, and give Nathaniel somewhere to have a bit of a rest without returning to the tent. Obviously that turned out to be not even an option once the mud started to stiffen up, but the buggy had already turned out to be worth it's weight in gold.

Carrying three days worth of food and camping equipment from a distant car park to a tent doesn't sound too arduous, but when the car parks have all been closed due to the fact that no-one could move the cars through the mud, and your car is miles away, and it's tipping with rain, and the mud is deep and squelchy, life is much easier if you can load up a buggy and push it!

Nathaniel the wonder-toddler

Festivals aren't necessary the best place for 2 year-olds, especially when they are very muddy. There is noise 24 hours a day, and nowhere to retreat. But Nathaniel took it in his stride. We anticipated that he would find the stages rather loud, and got him a pair of ear defenders which he wore with pride and as result really enjoyed seeing bands.

As it was, this was the most amazingly family friendly festival that I have ever seen. Along side all the story-telling, sing-a-long sessions, shadow puppet shows and tents filled with sofas and tea, there was a whole kids field with a tent full of brio! Nathaniel spent a good afternoon playing with trains and castles and planes while I reclined on bean bags and chatted to the play workers.

The rest of the time he happily squelched his way around in shorts and wellies, encrusted with mud up to the waist, with his cap on his head and backpack on his back taking in the sights and sounds.

In the evening when our friends were wrestling their over-tired toddlers into bed, we sat around the barbeque with a big carry keg of beer from the beer-tent while Nathaniel peacefully went to sleep. Star child!

We weren't really expecting to see many bands, particularly when it became apparent how muddy it was going to be. After bedtime, someone was going to need to stay with the sleeping boy. So we drew up a rota according to who liked what the most, and resigned ourselves to the fact that only one of us would see most of them, especially, the Sunday night headliners, the Levellers.

But come Sunday night, Nathaniel had been so good, that we agreed that after supper he could get ready for bed and then come out to see a band in the dark so that he could see all the lights. He decided that he was going to do this in the buggy, so we bundled him up in warm pyjamas, blankets, ear defenders and a hat, and pushed him over to see Beyond all Reason, who we both wanted to see. He was fascinated, and then promtly fell asleep in the second song! So Ian and I both saw them, and then pushed him over to the Levellers, and due to the complicated way that the site worked, got to see both bands from relatively near the front. Excited doesn't really cover it!!

All in all, we had a great weekend, and although the mud made it a different experience, it wasn't a disaster at all. We're already considering tickets for next year........

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Adventures of the Bell Tent

It wasn't really an impulse buy, it's just that we had managed to shrink our usual decision making process time scale of around 18 months to two weeks on this occasion. That sounds a lot like impulse for us!

Buying our last tent was done out of necessity rather than true desire, mainly because we figured that it was going to be hard camping with a baby in our Vango Delta which required one to get in on your hands and knees. But we didn't really think it through as carefully as we should have, probably because we didn't really know much about camping with babies and definitely had never considered taking something so ludicrous as a travel cot with us. Basically our hearts have never been in big tents - we've always been light-weight on equipment (we never had camping chairs until Nathaniel was imminent), and the idea of sleeping in a nylon palace rather than a luxurious bivouac didn't really appeal.

But it became apparent this year that getting two adults, one growing Nathaniel and one Adama (who would probably also grow) into our tent, was going to get a bit tricky.

So we started looking at other tents. We spent hours on the internet, and ages sniffing around other people's tents at campsites. We went along to a proper outside tent exhibition and climbed into tens and tens of tents. And while this was great fun (Nathaniel enjoyed counting the bedrooms, finding the built-in storage and unzipping all the electric hook-up zips and pulling tufts of grass through), we never found a tent that we wandered into and felt at home. In fact, the tents we liked the most were little low ones, much like our very old ones, and we found ourselves pondering how soon we could have one little tent for us and one for the kids.

And then the internet struck. And I saw a bell tent on someone's website. And was smitten. And I showed Ian, sort of as a joke, and he became more obsessed than I was.

We dutifully kept looking at modern tents, but none of them matched up. We started pacing out its footprint in other tents and obsessively observing living arrangements, and came to the conclusion that we had entered the realm of the yogurt-weavers, and nothing except a Baden-Powel worthy canvas monster was going to satisfy us.

So we bought it, immediately put it up in the garden, and instantly it was perfect.

So this weekend we took it for it's first outing. Just up to the moors, to a little campsite on a farm with room for only a few tents (a good antidote for the Butlins-for-Boden we visited in Rutland), and played.

It was perfect. We have been broken records with our exclamations of "I love our bell tent!"

It's made out of polycotton, so its lighter than canvas (just!), and is light and airy and aesthetically pleasing inside. It takes just 15 minutes for one person to put up on their own (and that was just the first attempt!). It has no bedrooms, so camping is a proper communal activity, just as it ought to be. Privacy in a tent is an illusion, so why not stop trying?!

I thought I was over-indulging my kiln-coveting tendencies by making bunting out of scraps of old pyjama, outdoor cushion and ian's shirt material (thank you Mf for all the bits and advice!), but it is lovely, and makes the tent feel all cosy and festive.

Nathaniel thinks the whole thing is brilliant and saying "I like the bunting - I like the stripy flags. I like the bell tent!", and we have found that unlike a nylon tent, sitting inside somehow feels like sitting outside. We have so enjoyed actually being inside it, which is very weird.

While on the moors, we forayed across the purple-heathered high moor to the North Yorks Steam Railway at Grosmont and spent a happy day watching steam trains and visiting their workshop.

Its been pretty much a year since we went there last, and Nathaniel's enthusiasm hasn't wained, though he is still somewhat alarmed by the volume. It took about 10 minutes before he would venture out of the doorway of the waiting room and then would only sit on a bench away from the tracks next to a parent.

He did get as far as standing on the platform, but he still insisted on an arm wrapped around him at all times, and when Ian suggested that the train might sound it's whistle, he ran as fast as he could back to his doorway!

On Saturday evening, the forecast drizzle appeared and we took the opportunity to experiment with our awning......!

Yes, it's pretty much the same size as the tent, and probably a bit overkill. But it is beautiful as well, and will be very useful when camping in the rain to create a bivouac to sit in of an evening around a campfire. We spent a long time investigating various arrangements of poles and guy ropes.

This morning was exactly how camping should be. Warm and sunny and beautiful, and we sat in our doorway (handy to have a bit of insulation so that we didn't wake everyone else at 7 in the morning), and ate bagels and watched the cows. It was very pretty.

Striking camp was so quick - much quicker than with a giant nylon tent with more poles than brains. It helped that Nathaniel took himself quietly into the car, put on his favourite CD (alarmingly, Toby Keith - a patriotic American country singer!) and sat reading his vehicle book.

Then we went for a walk/scooty bike along the Cleveland Way past some rather fine fishpools created by the monks of Rievaulx.

And no walk is complete without compulsory splashing and throwing stones into a stream. We could have stayed there for hours.

We had the country's second best fish and chips and an ice cream in Helmsley and then headed home, feeling as if we had had a relaxing week away rather than just a brief weekend. Everyone is smiley and happy and looking forward to next weekend's adventure in the bell tent - Nathaniel's first festival.

Watch this space!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

The Bell Tent...

Our latest impulse-buy has arrived....

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Pickering Steam Fair

Several years ago, we decided to take various family members on a jolly on the North York Moors, but found ourselves sitting in the world's longest traffic jam just before Pickering. This was our first introduction to the famous Pickering Steam Rally.

Several years on, we now have a use for it! Nathaniel has been talking about steam tractors ever since his recent visit to a steam fair, so we thought that we'd brave the traffic (we set off very early!), and see some more.

We were not put off by the horrendous weather forecast, and were rewarded with lots of steam tractors! Nathaniel was in his element.

Threshing and grinding machines with examples of the cereals before and after. N thinks that they all make weetabix.

The levels of smoke were amazing. With the low, thick cloud, we started to appreciate the true smogginess of Dickens.

I enjoyed meeting Mrs Preston of Prestons of Potto. She was wearing wonderful sandals with gold toenails. I bet she didn't last the whole day!

We spent a vast quantity of time at the fairground, most of it with Nathaniel carefully observing the rides both when stationary and moving. This was the only one that he was actually interested in going on.

Note the concentrating face!

We found our way to the main arena via many stalls containing matchbox cars and tractors and watched tractors and steam engines, and let the rain do it's worst.

A machine that scoops up hay bales.

Then as the heavens opened and thunder rolled, we reverted to the classic rainy day activity - splashing in puddles!

On the way back we found the helicopter (giving rides to those with a budget geared to more than the occasional doughnut from the sweet van), grounded because of the rain. And they were nice enough to let us have a good look.

We were very wet when we got back to the car, and Nathaniel was asleep before we left the carpark, but it was a very fun day!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

More window art

Once you have started making art with sticky-backed plastic and windows, it's hard to stop.

Nathaniel is now demanding more colours of tissue paper!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


Nathaniel is starting to drop his afternoon naps. This is sad for me as I've enjoyed the 2 hours of peace and quiet that I've had reliably for the last year or so. But it's good, as it means we have more time for fun. I've often felt recently that we've not been able to fit everything in as we only have two mornings a week in which we can go and do things.

More amusingly, it sometimes leads to entertaining scenes such as this: