We were invited by Wild Rumpus, the team behind the Just So Festival and The Lost Carnival, to experience their latest project – A Day At The Lake. This event is being held over this weekend at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire, and is an attempt to recreate bygone Victorian days when Rudyard Lake was a popular weekend destination. Apparently in those days there was a constant stream of day trippers heading over from Manchester and The Potteries, and waiting for them at the Lake were a fleet of rowing boats, a funfair, brass band concerts and dozens of tea rooms. I was really keen to see what Wild Rumpus would do to transport a modern-day audience to those heady bygone times.
We arrived shortly before 3pm – as the geekdaughter has a ballet lesson on a Saturday morning we'd decided to have an early lunch at home after that and then head to the event. I was a little apprehensive as the weather was not looking brilliant – we'd already seen heavy rain and hailstones, so I'm not sure I'd have chosen to go if I hadn't committed to reviewing the event. Despite Rudyard Lake being only a 30 minute drive for us, we'd never visited before, so it was definitely a chance to try something new with the kids. I had heard that the car park at the lake was very small, so I was worried that we might not find a parking space turning up later in the day, but there was nothing to worry about. A couple of nearby fields have been set up as parking for this event, so there is plenty of space for everyone, and although the wet weather meant the entrance got quite muddy we managed to get in and out without getting stuck.
It was a short walk from the parking to the entrance to Rudyard Lake, where there is a station for the little steam train that runs right to the lakeside. We treated ourselves to the train journey, but only single tickets as the train stops running at 5pm and we were intending on staying later than that. It was a short ride, only a few minutes, and we found ourselves right next to the entrance to A Day At The Lake. If you choose to not take the train it's an easy 10 minute walk along flat terrain.
My only previous experience of any Wild Rumpus production was The Lost Carnival last year, but I'm told by those who have attended multiple events that they all have a certain “feel” and atmosphere. It certainly felt like A Day At The Lake had a lot in common with The Lost Carnival, so I'm prepared to believe this is the “Wild Rumpus” effect, and if you've attended other events this one will have a certain familiarity to it. It felt as if time really stood still for a bit, and you could almost imagine yourself back in Victorian times. The event didn't feel too big, but we certainly managed to fill our time there – after arriving about 3pm we didn't leave until after 8pm when we felt we had seen and done everything.
The first thing that greeted us as we entered the grounds was the little funfair area, where a helter skelter towered over the proceedings with some traditional swing boats next to it. There was an additional charge for both of these – tickets could be bought at a nearby cart at £2 each or 3 for £5. The weather had been very variable during the day, and we were warned that the helter skelter might not be very slippery due to the wooden runners getting wet. I rode with the geekson, and had to pull us all the way down as we didn't slip at all – this was quite hard work! So I'd advise avoiding that ride if it rains. The kids loved the swing boats though, and it is nice that they are now old enough to work together on a ride like that!
A little way down a slope behind the fun fair were the donkey rides, operated by local business Lakeside Donkeys who can apparently often be found at the lake during the season. Two donkeys, appropriately named Woody and Buzz, were on duty, and the rides they were giving were a good length. This did mean that we had to wait for a little while despite there not being too many children ahead of us in the queue, and there were a few moans from the geekson, but these were all forgotten when he got his ride.
Throughout the day there were performances happening on the specially built stage on the lake. When we arrived the City of Birmingham Symphony Ensemble were performing a selection of brass classics (I recognised the Teddy Bear's Picnic, Mozart's Horn Concerto, and the Monty Python theme music to name but a few), and the live music really added to the atmosphere of the whole event.
When we started to get hungry we were spoiled for choice with the range of food available. Hot dogs, burgers, hog roast, Mexican, crepes. There was something for everyone, and the food vans felt like a cut above options you might find at similar events – vintage vans, quality food and some interesting options – the geekdaddy was very impressed with the bacon jam he was offered on his hotdog, or at least he was until he found out I'd had the option for chilli jam on my cheeseburger! The food was reasonably priced – the kids hot dogs were £3, and there were a good number of “grown-up” selections in the £5+ range. There was a small amount of seating available under tent cover, but I would imagine this might get crowded in peak times, so it might be advisable to take your own folding seat or small rug if you think it might be necessary.
Adding to the atmosphere were the wandering entertainers. They didn't seem to be around when we first arrived, but as the weather cleared we saw performers on stilts, jugglers and a wandering band. There is something slightly magical about turning a corner and coming face to face with this kind of thing, and makes it all so much more accessible to be able to interact with the performers.
As well as the wandering performers there were some fixed stalls and curiosities. The geekdaddy was very interested in the company offering traditional tin plate portraits, taken with a vintage camera – he even persuaded them to let him have a look at their dark room! Two beautiful mermaids appeared in the information caravan during the afternoon, singing and answering questions about mermaid life. And there was a beautiful little replica Romany caravan pulled by a bike that travelled a round the site – I believe this belonged to a story teller, but we never managed to catch him in action.
As we were at a lake we felt we should take the opportunity to get out on the water, and Rudyard Lake had provided us with a voucher allowing a complimentary boat trip, so we felt we should try that. Honey the pleasure boat is operated by Rudyard Lake League of Friends and offers tours of the Lake throughout the season. The tour was a good length and we got to see all the beautiful boat houses and holiday homes on the banks of the Lake, as well as hearing about the history of the lake. Did you know Rudyard Kipling was so named because his parents came to the Lake whilst they were courting? We got to see some historical photos of the Lake as well, which the kids found very curious. Tickets for the boat trip cost £4 per adult and £2 per child, and I would say this was well worth doing.
If that wasn't enough to keep us entertained there was also the intriguingly-named Treacle Market to check out. We were hoping for treacle tart, but there wasn't any actual treacle there at all. Apparently the Treacle Market is a regular feature in Macclesfield, where you'll find 150+ stalls selling unique crafts, exceptional food & drink and vintage finds. I was completely unaware that Macclesfield is known as Treacletown (owing to some story about a horse drawn carriage spilling its load of treacle onto the cobbles there), and that's where this market gets its name. You won't find the full market at A Day At The Lake, but there are an interesting collection of stalls, all housed in a covered marquee, selling a selection of unusual, vintage items. The kids were most intrigued by the taxidermist stall – cue lots of questions about “is that a real butterfly/duck/dragonfly Mummy?”
The highlight of A Day At The Lake has to be the daring tightrope walk across the lake. Tightrope walker Chris Bull, billed as Bullzini, recreates the famous walks by Carlos Trower who walked across the lake in 1864 and 1878. This tightrope walk is performed twice each day, at 2pm and 7pm. We arrived after the 2pm walk, so made sure to hang around until the 7pm one. I'm really glad we did. Standing on the dam head of the Lake as the sun was setting, watching this amazing acrobatic feat was really atmospheric, and the kids were entranced.
The one thing that struck me at A Day At The Lake was how friendly everyone was. It was so relaxed, and so easy to get chatting to anyone there – other visitors, performers and stall holders alike were all having a great day. There was always something to see or do, and in our busy, electronic world it was lovely to take a few hours out to relive a slower time. All four of us thoroughly enjoyed A Day At The Lake, and would recommend it wholeheartedly.
A Day At The Lake continues on 1 and 2 May 11am – 9pm at Rudyard Lake, Staffordshire with tickets available at www.dayatthelake.org.uk or to purchase on the gate £14 adults, £7 children, under 3s free).
If you can't make it to this event, the next adventure from Wild Rumpus will be The Lost Carnival (www.thelostcarnival.org.uk ), an large scale outdoor immersive theatre experience from 28 – 30 May at Queen’s Park, Crewe, Cheshire. There'll be a preview of this event here on my blog soon.
Disclosure: I was provided with free entry to A Day At The Lake and complimentary tickets for a boat tour on “Honey” for review purposes. All words and opinions are my own.