Set amongst the rolling green countryside of idyllic Oxfordshire is Wilderness Festival, best described as the ultimate modern-day village fête. It’s a foodie’s heaven, a naturalist paradise and a sanctuary for all the weird and wonderful folk who want to step out of the grey of city life, adorn themselves with sparkles and escape for a weekend of wonderments.
The festival is centred on a beautiful waterway ideal for swimming, basking under the waterfall, or boating. And if the river isn’t your ideal soak, there is the spa, and wooden hot tubs set up along the bank: perfect to relax and unwind in.
Food rules the roost here, and our taste buds are on overdrive with gastronomical delights, prepared by top chefs: Yotam Ottolenghi and Mark Hix amongst them. For those who like their food on the hoof there are stalls aplenty, with no greasy kebabs or bland noodles in sight. It’s not all about the eating; there are also cookery and butchery courses on offer.
This is one of the most family friendly festivals going, with plenty to keep the little ones entertained, from story telling, arts and crafts, rides and of course dressing up. There is plenty of space and the whole site is kept remarkably clean, with litter-picking crews in constant circulation.
With the children taken care of, what about the big kids? There is just so much to choose from: horse riding, yoga and meditation, theatre from the likes of GB Theatre Company and an immersive interactive tail of the Jabberwocky. There are book readings and discussions, our favourite being Jon Ronson on his book The Psychopath Test. There’s an eye-popping spectacle of trapeze and aerial acrobatics… did we mention there’s naked girl swinging through the air?
On Sunday there’s even a cricket match, which is surprisingly entertaining, with a witty, quintessentially English tongue-in-cheek commentary. And if cricket isn’t your thing, don’t panic – there is always croquet.
And let’s not forget the music. With a festival full of people wearing amazing headdresses, what better band to headline Friday night than Australian outfit Empire Of The Sun, famed for their costumes and psychedelic backdrops. They didn't disappoint, and bring the vibe up a notch with their poppy brand of electro dance, playing hits including ‘Walking On A Dream’ and ‘We Are The People’, which go down a treat.
Martha Wainwright spends a lot of her set chatting, recanting tales of her times getting wasted at festivals, holding nothing back, creating an intimacy suited to this setting.
The highlight is Saturday night’s only UK appearance this summer of the Sugar Man himself, Sixto Díaz Rodríguez. He plays with the confidence and charm of a folk legend, inspiring words interjecting classic tunes, resulting in a seamless live performance that is an honour to watch.
A little treat on Sunday afternoon comes in the form of French band We Were Evergreen. They’ve a nice full sound, and could be mistaken for veterans rather than a band awaiting their first album release.
No strangers to the festival circuit, and with a new album out, Noah And The Whale close the main stage on Sunday. They have the crowd singing and dancing along, all smiles and cheer, not wanting it to end.
The fun doesn't stop when the stage lights go down. It’s time for Late Night Revelry, with the likes of Secret Garden productions, Rumpus and Soho’s notoriously lascivious revellers The Box, appearing especially for Saturday night’s bacchanalian masked ball. All of this takes place in the valley, with stages nestled at the bottom. The sloping hillsides are covered in a swarm of dancing bodies, making for quite a sight: a swirling mass of colour, glitter and flesh.
For those who like more swing with their beat we are also joined by The Correspondents, Swing Patrol and Trans-Siberian March Band, taking us on a journey through swing, jazz, ‘50s R&B, be-bop, nu-soul, electro swing, hip-hop and chap-hop.
Wilderness really is a festival with it all. It may not be ‘all about the music’, but it definitely is ‘all about the fun’.
- - -
Words: Vanessa Higgins
Photos: Carys Lavin
Get the best of Clash on your iPhone - download the app here