Nipple tassles and Lady Gardens: review of Northamptonshire's Shambala Festival

A couple get into the Shambala spirit
A couple get into the Shambala spirit

Where would you find a thousand men wearing summer dresses, an American school bus filled with vegetarian curry and a yurt full of babies bathing in garden buckets? Shambala on the Kelmarsh Estate, where festival goers of all ages gathered over the August bank holiday weekend.

I travelled just six miles from home with my husband and two sons to experience the award winning green festival for the first time and see whether it really was as family friendly as I'd heard.

Drumming in fancy dress

Drumming in fancy dress

The four days were a cornucopia of colourful delights and curious sights as all of our senses were pushed to their limits. From the outrageous fancy dress dazzling our

eyes to the repugnant compost loos offending our nostrils the event was an eclectic whirlwind of music, theatre, craft and play in the beautiful grounds of the Northamptonshire estate.

I have never experienced a festival so relaxed and friendly that even the police officers wore glitter on their faces and we never had a bag searched once.

Our sons, aged two and four, had an incredible time and were not in the least bit phased by the men in wedding dress drag or the flamboyance of human flamingos walking by on their way to the Cloud Cuckoo Land carnival.

Byron enjoying the swingball

Byron enjoying the swingball

Don't get me wrong - Shambala is not for everyone. It is incredibly liberal, there are lots of 'shiny naked people' as my four-year- old marvelled and day time activities include nipple-tassle making and visiting the Lady Garden in the wood. But it is also refreshingly down to earth with a strong ethical ethos and contagious 'anything goes' attitude.

One community project is the Nosh Cafe which is manned by volunteers from Arthingworth, Great Oxenden and Clipston and all profits raised from the food outlets are ploughed back into village projects. This year they were on target to make a record amount of more than £8,500 profit.

All of the food sold on the festival site is vegetarian but there are still loads of options from pizza to sushi to burgers and we never struggled to feed ourselves and managed to keep a family meal to a £20 budget.

There is also loads to do, given that it is a relatively small site. I jogged around the perimeter in 20 minutes on Sunday morning - which I think to some people was the

the fairground

the fairground

most offensive thing they had seen all weekend.

The Kid's Field kept our pair entertained all day with circus acts, music and craft workshops, inflatables, play equipment and the bright pink Ambling Band - all free of

charge.

In the family campsite there were bedtimes stories played out by actors and a tent for bathing babies, and for older children in the main field there was a fairground with

Ivor and Byron playing in the kids' field

Ivor and Byron playing in the kids' field

rides at £2.50 each.

One top tip would be to make sure you buy a programme for £5 and read it cover to cover. We didn't realise until too late that our eldest son's favourite TV presenter Andy Day had hosted a music show in the Play House theatre on Sunday morning.

And although it is definitely a family friendly festival that is not to say that it is a family festival. There were loads of things we couldn't see or do because they were too

'loud' or 'boring' for our kids. Next time we will make better use of the creche.

Find out more at www.shambalafestival.org

A hula hoop girl

A hula hoop girl