I’ve never been to a camping music festival before. They are a huge thing here in the UK (think Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds), and while they certainly can be found at home, they seem less prominent. I know many other people at home who have never been to one, while here, when I mentioned to my friends that this was my first, they all expressed incredulity: “What?! You haven’t been to a camping festival before?”
So at the beginning of summer, I started researching. I’m not hugely interested in the Glasto experience with its 1 1/2 hour walk through tent city to return to your tent. I’m not interested in the ones packed with dubstep and bad food vendors. So I chose Wilderness.
The Wilderness festival is held in the woodlands near the Cotswolds in Oxfordshire. It is set in a stunning location, and is designed so that the woodlands are a huge feature. And the best thing about Wilderness? Food is on an equal footing with the music. A number of top London chefs come out and set up tents or long table banquets under the trees. St John, Russell Norman of Polpo, Moro, Hix – the menu for the festival reads like a London gastronome’s bucket list.
After you have gorged on amazing food in the woodlands, you can go for a swim or a boat in the lake or have afternoon tea at the top of a double decker bus.
Then you can head to the greencrafts village, where families have set up caravans and teach things they have been doing for generations, such as pottery, bronzework, or weaving willow crowns. Dylan and I chose the latter, and we wove crowns filled with lavender, wheat, and grasses.
We set up our tent in the best spot possible, right at the bottom of the field overlooking the lake. This was our view out of our tent door.
Later at night, you can head down to the New Orleans stage and watch a voodoo funeral ceremony, or dance to a New Orleans Brass Band playing on a rotating merry-go-round.
There is a little archway at the end of the festival site, with the word Pandaemonium written above. Walk through this archway and you descend into a valley in the woodlands, impossibly high trees arching over to create a little pocket that has been filled with fairy lights, huge glowing orbs, a DJ stage, an aerial circus set-up, and most of the festival-goers who are ready to party until the sun comes up.
Each day had a theme for costumes and make up. We had fox masks, flower garlands and tonnes of glitter. For Cosmos day, I had eyelashes covered in tiny silver stars.
We sat on hay bales and ate chorizo and mushroom ragout on garlic bread, made by The Isle of Wight Garlic Farm.
We drank so many chocolate cheesecake/lemon meringue pie/rhubarb and custard/creme brulee/banoffee pie milkshakes that they gave us a free one on our last night.
We had cocktails in big top tents, where they combined the cocktails with scent, sound and light. Each cocktail was themed around Earth, Fire, and Water – our favourite the fire cocktail, which was basically an old fashioned topped with maple foam and smokey whisky marshmallows.
We sat under a full moon and watched London Grammar.
We danced to Metronomy in a thunderstorm, and listened to some jiving bands in the folk barn, and sat in a field and listened to The Melodic playing in a bandstand.
We went to a roller disco in the forest.
We hired bikes and rode out into the woodlands.
There were tents for bookstores, debates, actors, author talks – Irvine Welsh chatted with the public sitting cross-legged on the ground, while just next door we lay on hay bales and listened to a lecture on the history of journalism.
Intelligence Squared held debates on themes such as Monogamy = Monotony, and food scientists held mini-classes in tiny tents.
We followed Celtic Procession Pioneers into a field, where we all sat and watched as fire artists burned a tower to the ground.
On saturday, there was an Animal Stampede – dressed in woodland creature masks, dancers made their way through the festival.
At any time, we could stumble upon a New Orleans second line parade making their way through the festival grounds.
There was a postal service where you could write anyone in the festival a letter, and with a good enough description of the person the delivery people would find them. You could write yourself a letter to be delivered to yourself in five years time.
You could head out with people from River Cottage and butcher a deer, or learn how to forage food in the forest.
The entire woodland was strung up with fairy lights at night.
We did longbow archery, which Dylan was very excited to try so he could beat me… as longbow archery is in his ‘Welsh blood’. Neither of us could hit the balloon….
There were yurts and yoga sessions and deck chairs and what I loved most? The sense of community that develops – the crowd is a community, even if for just a few days.