“I’m running wild,” shouted the toddler sprinting as fast as his stubby little legs could manage over the hillsides of the Brecon Beacons; a slightly manic grin on his grubby face. It’s safe to say he and his sister loved family festival, Starry Skies, last week. With a mega sky rolling by above us, grassy fields dotted with yurts, bell tents and flags, music in the distance, the promise of a massage, forest school for the kids and cider for us, we adults were a whisker away from happily running feral ourselves.

We arrived at Barton Hill Farm on Wednesday afternoon – already running late after a stop in nearby Abergavenny to pick up all the things I’d forgotten to pack and a host of assorted other seemingly essential crap. The four night festival takes place on a working farm cosied up against the Welsh border. The site is expansive: gentle hills, working fields, glades, dells, nooks, tracks and various crannies I didn’t manage to get to. Organisers (better known for their larger-scale festival Shambala) see the event as providing families with the space to detach themselves from the rigmarole of daily life and embrace the great outdoors.

With a mega sky rolling by above us, grassy fields dotted with yurts, bell tents and flags, music in the distance, the promise of a massage, forest school for the kids, and cider for us, we adults were a whisker away from happily running feral ourselves

I have to confess that, even without children to consider, I’ve always been a bit of a festival sceptic. I don’t like mud that much, I’m keen on quiet, loathe tents, crowds and retch-inducing toilets. The festivals I’ve been to have been cunningly chosen to avoid the less civilised parts and I’ve never rushed back. Festivalling with small people and their unpredictable demands was always going to be a hard sell for me.

Luckily the Starry Skies team have met wimps like me before and had anticipated and set about destroying all my objections in advance. We chose to glamp not camp and turned to Fred’s Yurts to save us from a trip to Tents R Us. To my surprise Fred was a real person who greeted us with a hug on arrival and camped with his family nearby. We were shown to the yurt of my dreams, replete with a log-burner, beds, cafetiere and a view to die for. The ‘boutique’ camping is handily located in the ‘Healing Field’ – next to the breakfast cafe, the massage tents and a stone’s throw from free activities like family yoga and relaxation. I liked being away from the hustle and bustle of the main areas, but those who preferred the DIY option found themselves in well-equipped campsites with proper loos and showers, decent-sized pitches and a nice villagey vibe.

Rebecca's son, Arthur, getting into the festival spirit

Mornings started with giant bubbles being blown across the main field. You could always reliably find children rolling down the hills, swinging on the tree swing, getting sand in each other’s eyes in the giant sand pit, or playing with tents full of wooden toys. We took a trip down to Woodland Tribe where my six year old was taught how to use a hammer, given a fistful of (quite large) nails encouraged to help make her own adventure playground with a newfound gang of buddies. The little one made clay snails, chased bees, found a red mushroom in the forest (and learned not to eat it) and did a terrifying sounding workshop called ‘playing with fire for the under fives’. I sent my husband along to that one and daren’t ask much about it.

It wasn’t just the beauty of the place, or all the amazing stuff we could do together, Starry Skies felt like a real, honest community of nice people in it together

The big one disappeared off for Forest School sessions (available every day for a range of age groups) and though she hasn’t let on much about what happened she has a tell-tale self-made, willow crown, new knowledge of sunken roads and badgers and an ability to point out ‘Enchanter’s Nightshade’ on the woodland walks. Tents like ‘Arty Farty’ (with a constant supply of creative activities) kids theatre and talent shows, kept us busy in the brief rain showers and every now and then a white-bearded man with a drum led us off in to the disco-ball encrusted woods to a willow shelter to hear stories from around the world. Be still my secret hippy heart.

The place was littered with babies so thankfully there was a dedicated ‘Bub Hub’ for baby massage, quiet time and support as well as the unbelievably cute baby baths session every evening. Children small enough to fit in a rubber bucket had the day’s mud scrubbed off with a backdrop of bubble machines and rubber ducks. Older kids were also well catered for with their own area and dedicated workshops on fire craft. And adults could enjoy the nightly bands and DJs or (like us) sit outside the tent listening to the sounds of contented kids snoring while watching the sunset with a bottle or two.

Our favourite activity was the Farm Tour. Collected by tractor (sending the two year old over the edge with delight) we bumped down to meet farmer Wendy and her motley and beautiful crew of rare piglets, rescued sheep, extended breastfeeding goats, patient ponies and wise owls. The visit helped me understand why I liked the festival so much. It wasn’t just the beauty of the place, or all the amazing stuff we could do together or even the Bloody Marys. Starry Skies felt like a real, honest community of nice people in it together. The organisers, the farmers, the festival staff (most of whom seemed to have their whole families with them) and festival-goers were open, welcoming and respectful. And as well as discovering how to spot butterflies, make play dough or how a composting toilet works, our children learnt about being thrown together and getting along marvellously. We left with mud (and god knows what else) under our fingernails, more freckles and smiles on our faces. What more could you want?

For more about Starry Skies please visit www.starry-skies.net

If you like the sound of this you’ll love…

Shambala Festival: 22-28 August
Can’t wait for next year’s Starry Skies? Give their big-sister Shambala Festival a try later this month. With a dedicated family camping field, kids activity field and winner of Festival Kidz ‘Festival of the Year Award’ in 2013 it promises to look after the little ones and the grown-ups alike.

Fforest Gather: 15-29 August
Take yourself over the border in to West Wales to the intimate Fforest Gather festival set in on a beautiful riverside. Build a den with your kids, listen to DJs, smoke fish, draw birds, climb trees, drink in the on-site pub, sleep in a dome (or bring your own tent). Only 500 tickets available in total so don’t tell everyone.

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