A gem of a festival on our doorstep

One of the headline acts at this year's Cloudspotting. (s)
One of the headline acts at this year's Cloudspotting. (s)

Cloudspotting at Gisburn Forest is a unique family friendly festival like no other that I’ve ever been to.

Staged at Stephen Park, it cocoons festival goers in a magical bubble which immediately erases the stresses and strains of daily life.

One of the headline acts at this year's Cloudspotting. (s)

One of the headline acts at this year's Cloudspotting. (s)

Now in its third year at Gisburn Forest, the music and arts festival started out at the legendary riverside pub The Aspinall Arms at Mitton in the summer of 2011.

Moving to the remote forested location two years later enabled the festival to stretch its limbs a little. It has since developed creative partnerships with other like-minded organisations and there is now a much wider programme of Arts in addition to eclectic live music.

And what a combination! The result is a festival which manages to provide something for everyone, every age.

One of the festival’s organisers Matt Evans explained: “Every year has seen the festival grow and develop and this was the best year yet.

Lantern making at Cloudspotting. Photo by Matthew Collinge. (s)

Lantern making at Cloudspotting. Photo by Matthew Collinge. (s)

“The longer we have been at it the more our partnerships have matured and that was reflected in the quality and range of activities that families enjoyed.

“The production on our music stages reached a new level and all our artists found it a fabulous festival to perform at. A number of them commented that it was their favourite festival of the summer.

“There were some magical moments - things you can’t plan for - and many of those were created by members of the audience who get so involved with the event.

“Our volunteers and the staff at the Forestry Commission deserve a lot of thanks as their hard work has really helped identify Cloudspotting as something unique on the festival circuit.”

The storyteller at Cloudspotting. Photo by Matthew Collinge. (s)

The storyteller at Cloudspotting. Photo by Matthew Collinge. (s)

Unique it certainly is, taking a mere 20 minutes todrive to the site, via Bolton-by-Bowland, as opposed to the hours of driving required to reach a lot of other festivals. Plunging into the deep dark depths of the vast borough that is the Ribble Valley the excitement was palpable in the car from my party - which consisted of myself and my eight-year-old daughter Ruby, school friend Abigail Bywater (eight) and her brother Henry (six) along with their mum Marie.

Cries of “are we nearly there yet” from the children ensued until the green expanse that is Gisburn Forest came into view in the distance. A mecca for cyclists and nature lovers, Gisburn Forest, has regrettably not been on my radar for several years. I’ve previously been mountain biking there and maybe enjoyed the odd picnic, but since having Ruby, it is not somewhere that has offered much appeal.

I realised how much of an oversight on my part this has been as soon as I set foot upon the site.

There’s an ample car park, new modern toilet facilities, a children’s play area, activity centre and until recently, the “Forest Hub” café which currently is without a manager. And all this set in acres of gorgeous Ribble Valley countryside and surrounded by Gisburn Forest. What a gem.

Cloudspotting itself is set in the fields around these facilities which helped to make it one of the most comfortable festivals I’ve ever been to.

There were fresh water taps, the Village Store by the Lawn Stage selling a selection of essential camping accessories plus Cloudspotting and some limited edition band merchandise.

In addition, there were numerous Porta loos scattered around the main camping field, but when the nights drew in and those extra home comforts were needed it was great to be able to use a “proper” toilet in the activity centre and slouch on a settee in the Attic Cinema room. An eclectic mix of films were shown over the weekend from cult horror flick “An American Werewolf in London” to family films such as “The Book of Life”. Also in The Attic, which provided a welcome respite from sitting in the tent or on the grass, singer/songwriter, music teacher and gig promoter Baxter Rhodes staged a contemporary song writing workshop and drumming circle. There was then a showcase of acts from his Red Rose Acoustic Club during which we managed to catch two-piece act The Broux and the great vocals of its female singer in a rare intimate gig.

At Cloudspotting there is something for everyone and every age. The days, as well as evenings, are filled with music from alternative and established music acts playing on the two stages.

There were also presentations from touring family theatre, interactive arts, music workshops, themed arts and crafts, a selection of food and drink stalls plus a selection of ales in the beer tent, topped with late night DJs.

There were many highlights musically – both the “Ragamuffins”, who performed as a full band for the first time at Cloudspotting, and Clitheroe band “Good Foxy” on the main stage on Friday evening set the tone of the festival. Saturday’s highlight music wise was “The Earlies” who headlined on the main stage while Ezra Furman and The Boyfriends were a real coup for the festival headlining on Sunday.

Attending a festival with children it was impossible to take in all the music acts, more often than not they were background music while we indulged the kids as they immersed themselves in Cloudspotting’s huge creative activity programme on The Village Green.

In the Cloud Cuckoo Land tent activities were delivered by The Bureau Centre for Arts from Blackburn and their talented bunch of art enthusiasts from across Lancashire. These activities were continued in the Bowland Explorers Tent.

During the weekend, Ruby, Abigail and Henry learnt how to bind a book, make a flick book, design and print a T-shirt, make several badges, create jewellery including an ambulet using natural materials from the forest, and make clay creatures, to name just a few of the activities they enjoyed.

One of the highlights of the children’s programme was making a lantern and then taking part in an early evening lantern walk through the Gisburn Forest accompanied by stories from the festival’s resident storyteller. For older children, there was a DJ work shop which took place away from the bar in the beer tent.

In the forest’s Woodland Yurt, as well as story time sessions, alternative activities included Gong Yoga which was developed specifically for the festival by Soul Harmony Yoga.

For the more active festival goers Playhappy Promotions had created a short walking trail. You could even hire a bike if you’d had to leave yours at home.

When I asked the children what their favourite parts of the festival had been, Ruby said: “I enjoyed the park and lantern walk, but my favourite thing was the cinema where we watched ‘The Book of Life’ and ‘Labyrinth’. It was nice and comfy and warm in there and I liked listening to the bands in there too.”

Abigail, meanwhile, said: “Cloudspotting was amazing! I enjoyed the Cloud Cuckoo Land tent in which we did a variety of arts and crafts. In particular I liked making the lanterns for the woodland walk. When we were on the walk we listened to a story. Then we stayed for creepy stories and I told one!”

Henry added: “At Cloudspotting I had lots of fun. My best bits were arts and crafts, the explorers tent and having crepes with a grasshopper! Give it a try next year!”

So for a family friendly festival which ticks all the boxes for all ages groups make sure you check out Cloudspotting next year.