Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour is a Magical and Imaginative Weekend

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
Sisters observing their first fairy house.
One of the most anticipated events of the fall season is the whimsical and enchanting Portsmouth Fairy House Tour. No one has to twist our arm to one of our favorite seacoast cities and we were very curious to see this weekend festival first-hand.
Details on the Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour taking place Saturday and Sunday, September 24th and 25th, 2016.
With a decade under its belt, the Fairy House Tour manages to strike the perfect balance of smooth organization and a decidedly under-commercialized feel—we hope it always stays this way!

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
Mother and daughter enjoying the magic
We arrived around 10:40am--20 minutes before the event opened because we weren’t sure what we’d encounter with the parking situation.  At that hour, we had no trouble finding a spot at the Hanover and High Street Garage which, being downtown, is not adjacent to the festival grounds yet it remains affordable ($1/hr, cash/check only) and was just a short 7 minute walk from our starting point. (Parking here made it a snap to head back to the highway as well).
You can also take advantage of free parking on Peirce Island, near Prescott Park.

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
A lovely sample of  a tour fairy house
We checked in at the Governor Langdon House on Pleasant Street where for us the tour began. With an easy to follow Fairy House Tour map in hand, we followed the path across the Langdon House lawn. Almost immediately we encountered the first series of houses displayed on the lawn.

Our map marked the ten “artist invitational” displays with numbered butterflies and there were four of the invitational houses for us to enjoy on the first section of our walk. Not solely restricted to artists, many of the fairy houses on display—over 200!—were contributed by local school children, gardening clubs, and non-profit groups.

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
Tulle was hung between the trees
to keep us on our path--so clever!
Each fairy house should be constructed with organic materials—fallen leaves, pine cones, twigs, shells, pebbles, pods, gourds, sand—whatever you can forage from Mother Nature. Any adhesives, fasteners or platforms must be obscured with leaves and other natural items. There are no restrictions to size or theme leaving the sky as the limit to a fairy house builder’s imagination.

Signs hung from the tulle festooned around the trees gently reminded us “Shhh, Fairies Sleeping – Do Not Disturb!” and the colorful boughs steered us along the tour path. One moment we’d be in a small forest observing the houses blended into the earth and the next we stumble into a stunning English garden with fairy houses tenderly situated between the fall blooms.

Watch New England Fall Events' video (above) from our Portsmouth Fairy House visit for even more photos from the festival!

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
This house featured exquisite detail.
We saw fairy houses roofed with pillows of moss, feather-adorned teepees, multi-floored fairy homes, miniature music halls, fairy beach resorts, and many others. Some houses featured delicate terraces, hidden waterfalls, and clam shell spiral staircases. Others fashioned walls of honeycomb or were wrapped in birch bark. Diminutive fairy furniture bedecked the rooms—acorn-capped stools, ceiling swings, flower petal carpets, and walnut shell beds.

It’s hard to overstate how earnest and magical these houses are. Boys and girls, men and women, grandparents, aunties, you name it—everyone was equally enthralled and entranced by the displays before us. Not just an event for children, many adults without kiddos were in attendance to witness the charm of the festival.

Upon discovering a new house nestled in a tree nook or hidden in a woodsy corner, we crouched down low to peer inside and smile at the tiny world crafted from nature. Adults and children alike seemed to instinctively speak in hushed whispers (lest we wake the fairies!) and the most frequently heard sounds were ooohs, ahhs, and “look here at this!!!”

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
The bubble machine tower was a hit!
With helpful guidance from the easy-to-spot festival volunteers (in fairy wings, naturally), we made our way from the Langdon House lawn and adjacent woods towards the multiple separate gardens dotting the Strawberry Banke Museum property.

More fairy houses were on display within the Banke’s historical gardens including the herb garden and the children’s garden. In every corner a new house peeked out from the leaves.

A beautiful (human-size) fairy house was even created with pine branches, flowers, leaves, and tree stumps for children to sit inside and feel what is like to be a tiny fairy inside a house built from natural materials.

The Banke Museum’s expansive central lawn was a stunning and peaceful setting for kids to run around or to leap at giant bubbles streaming from the bubble tower. Here you could snap a few pictures with the luminous fairy/lady greeting the children or set up your picnic lunch.

At the far corner of the lawn, Tracy Kane the author and illustrator of The Fairy House Series® graciously greeted her fans and signed her books for the young and the young-at-heart. There was an exhibit of seasonal fairy wreaths crafted by local florists and even a fairy face painting booth (nominal fee).

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour Ballet
Performances of Fairy Houses - The
Ballet took place throughout the day.
If you forgot your fairy wings or feel inspired to don your first pair there is a small kiosk where you could purchase a pair for as little as $5! Fairy house charm aside, the sheer fact that you can purchase a pair of fairy wings for your kid (or stave off a meltdown) for less than a Frappucino is enough of a reason to love the folks who produce this festival, am I right?

Heading towards the river, we crossed Macy Street with the help of the fairy-winged traffic cops to arrive at Prescott Park. The stage inside the park featured performances of “Fairy Houses – The Ballet” throughout the day from the Southern NH Dance Theater where the children were invited up on the stage to dance with the performers!

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
Fairies love to relax by the beach too.
The tour wrapped up across the bridge on Peirce Island with a park area dedicated to—wait for it—building your OWN fairy house!!! After a day of peering into precious little pixie villages, everyone felt inspired to create their own.

As the build-your-own fairy house activity was included in the ticket price, there was nothing to stand in the way of coming up with your own creation. The activity large booth provided plenty of branches, leaves, and other natural fragments you could choose for building your house but you are also encouraged to forage through the park to add to your materials.

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
Families can pre-register to display
their own fairy house creation too.
Across the shady park small troops of festival goers hunched over their creations building houses from the ground up or building a nest in the elbow of a tree.  From what we could see, most built their fairy houses and then left them where they stood to attract the fairies to their sweet new dwellings. It was lovely to discover the little homes scattered across the park but equally a joy to observe the various families working together as they created their own.

The Portsmouth Fairy House Tour enters their 11th year on Saturday and Sunday, September 26th and 27th, 2015. Click for details. Held rain or shine from 11:00am – 3:00pm each day, we can’t stress enough how much you will love this event and encourage you to come for the full four hours—the time will fill up quickly. If you plan to make your own fairy house at the end—and we hope that you do—you’ll want to leave yourself enough time to create it.
New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour Strawberry Banke
Strawberry Banke Museum's property
was an ideal setting for the tour.

There are two concession areas (which we didn’t notice) and well as numerous fantastic restaurants in Portsmouth. However, the parks which host the festival are postcard pretty so packing a picnic is our recommendation. A picnic will help you maximize your time at the event and there is a lot to see and do in four hours.

Special kudos to the City of Portsmouth which appears to embrace this wonderfully fun and unique event—from the traffic cops sporting fairy wings to the impressive amount of space dedicated to hosting the festivities. 

Advance tickets are the way to go. You’ll save money by purchasing ahead of time (day-of ticket prices are higher) and you won’t need to wait in line to buy them. Find advance ticket details here.

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
The event held the attention and wonder of every generation, boys and girls, and although there are activities for children, it is not just a family-focused event.  We loved how joyful this event was and how much it was appreciated by all. It was remarkable that as magnetic as the fairy houses were to the children, all the kids we saw were incredibly respectful and all appeared to resist the temptation to touch the miniature fairy homes—impressive!  
If you don’t live nearby, this is a festival completely worth a road trip to attend as you’ll spend a full day in the fresh air and are guaranteed a singular experience. This festival will surely become an annual family pilgrimage.

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House TourFairy House Festival Tips – for Everyone

  • Pack a picnic—you’ll be glad you maximized your time if you do.
  • Wear smart shoes – A number of the houses are set in the woods which, depending on the weather leading up to the festival could be mushy or slippery.
  • Be ready to squat and crouch down...and often. Most fairy houses are displayed on ground level and the best way to appreciate the detail is to get down at fairy-level. 
  • Pack a gardening kneeling pad if you have one for extra comfort! 
Well-marked volunteers are there to
answer your questions or find your way
  • Apply sunscreen/bug spray – We didn’t notice the bugs but never a bad idea to wear tick repellent in the woodsy area. Though many areas are shaded, the gardens and much of the Banke lawn is in full sun so pack your sunscreen.
  • Free up plenty of digital memory on your camera because you won’t be able to resist taking a billion pictures of this special day.
  • There are two ticket booths—one at the Governor Langdon House entrance (which was closest to downtown) and the other off Macy Street, near Prescott Park (which is closes to the Peirce Island parking).
  • The tour has plenty of fairy-winged crossing guards at the intersections surrounding the park grounds and easy-to-identify volunteers to help you find your way.

Fairy House Festival Tips –Family Tips

New England Fall Events Portsmouth NH Fairy House Tour
  • Stroller-friendly – It might be a tight squeeze in some of the gated historical gardens so in some cases, it might be easier to park the stroller outside the garden and carry/walk your child in.
  • Fairy wings – Pack ‘em if you have ‘em but it is only $5 if you need to buy them at the kiosk.
  • Show good manners - It’s a good idea to prepare your children for the exhibit—the fairy houses are never to be touched and please use a quiet voice so as not to “wake the fairies”.
  • Unless you pack a platform to transport your newly-built fairy house home, you will want to prepare your kids for the idea of leaving their fairy house behind at the park. If you pack a platform, the Peirce Island parking is close to where the fairy house building takes place so it wouldn’t be difficult to retrieve it from the car before you start the activity (but definitely don’t try to carry it around while you are at the festival).
  • Be sure to check out the dance performances held four times daily at the Prescott Park stage.
~ Special thanks to New England Fall Events blogger Shel Tscherne for her photo contributions ~

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