Go wild, it’s good for you!

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Wilderness Festival is a spanking new addition to the festival landscape. Held in Oxfordshire’s Cornbury Estate, the usual population of huge and beautiful trees and hoards of wild deer was added to by 10,000 or so be-masked festival goers for a relaxing weekend of eccentrically commentated cricket, fascinating talks about stuff you didn’t even know you would be interested in but now you are hooked, hauntingly beautiful music and possibly the most gorgeous, lake-based spa scenario outside of Switzerland, but with more naked hippies involved. But not too many.

Wilderness Festival is a haven of peaceful ease; from the initial chunter through the picture-perfect Cotswolds villages as you wend your way to the site, to the fact that once you arrive, parking, camping and partying is all a gleeful hop, skip and a jump away from each other. No more tramping for miles to make the transition from warm days into chilly nights: at Wilderness you can just mosey to your tent and back to the action within minutes.

The site is neat ‘n tidy in extremis, with courteous parking attendants carpeting the countryside with neat rows of shiny cars – no mud here! There is the distinct feeling that the locals and grown-up services have more than embraced Wilderness: the local primary school provided the cakes and tea, and the AA guide you in with a plethora of reassuring yellow signs in case you miss any turnings as you gaze around you in wonderment at the idyllic surrounds.

This level of cosy professionalism is testimony to the fact that Wilderness was created by two of the strongest pillars of the current festival world: Mama (Lovebox) and Secret Garden Party. In Wilderness, they have birthed a fully formed festie, with barely a teething problem in sight. After such a jolly launch, many more people will catch on and crowds are sure to swell from the pleasantly sparse levels of this inaugural year. Attendance is recommended asap to enjoy the rarefied ‘English summer with many a twist’ atmosphere before it gets too popular.

Wilderness embodies a realisation that increasingly, we love small festivals. And we also love it when our lives are made simpler, and better. This applies to a large section of the festival-going public, perhaps in particular those of us whose days of roughing it have been curtailed by the arrival of children, or bad backs, or who simply wish to arrive back at work on Tuesday morning elucidated and enriched instead of plain old b*ggered. Small, new festivals can suffer from being under-catered, or even dangerous. Not so Wilderness. Dear me no.

The fact that festivals are increasingly run by a smallish selection of major players as opposed to the random multitude of independents of old, means that for better or for worse, more and more small festivals will emerge which benefit from slick production. Anyone seeking the chaos, health and safety debacle and endearingly formative feel of a brand new festival need not attend, as thanks to the intellectually angled programming of partners such as the Idler Academy and unique selling points such as the stunning Lost Horizons spa wrapped around the beautiful lakes of the Estate, not to mention the salubrious banquets where you can sample gourmand dining in a huge group of brand new and interesting friends, you can emerge from Wilderness with many more brain cells than you came in with, and a darn sight cleaner and healthier. Weird! And wonderful.

Wilderness festival goers (Wildebeasts?) were a pleasant and game lot; the Last Tuesday Society hosted Masked Ball encouraged hundreds of people to lovingly create a stunning range of masks and costumes, and many of the kids put the adults to shame, showcasing festival couture Alexander McQueen would have been proud of.

I recommend cycling the entire way to Wilderness next year, raising money along the way for one of the inspiring charities such as Small Steps, which showed a short film of their adventures in direct action for children who live and work on rubbish dumps all over the world. You can fling yourself into the lake on arrival, let one of the best chefs in the country feed you as a reward, and bubble away contentedly in a hot tub before wandering over to idle a few hours away with the cricket. Later, you can rouse yourself for a bit of folk dancing, or inhabit an animalistic alter ego at Where the Wild Things Are, the foresty Secret Garden Party mash-up.

Other highlights included hearing about how bacteria and stalactites are being used to create buildings, having a blissed-out bluesgasm to the Alan Weeks Band at the (tiny but brilliant) Big Blue Bus Stage, and stumbling across the Story Telling Circle at a critical moment where an unrecognised need for stories had emerged and was answered in fantastic style by Giles Abbott and his compadre’s. I loved reading words like Heirloom tomatoes, Salmoriglio, san Daniele, orange fleshed melons and kirche franipan in a festival programme – a first for me. Even if I don’t know what half of them mean, they sound tasty. I revisited the Beyond the Valley clothes rail several times over the weekend to fondle a £100 kimono covetously, then walked away contented that such things exist in our world even if I may not own one.

Jokes and emergency masks were catered for by an excellent stall run by a six or seven year old with excellent joke recall more than able to hold his own amongst a much older, possibly artificially enhanced adult customer base. A very special shout goes out to the tireless Postmen (didn’t see any women ones) who scoured the campsites for the lucky recipients of festival mail. Good work lads!

Finally – well done to Glyn from the Stratford Upon Avon Choir, who persuaded his sceptical choir mates that they should diversify from village halls and schools to a full-on festival; this was an inspired addition to the programme and much enjoyed by all who wandered by.

Only in retrospect do you realise how much went on at this festival, as the event itself seems to glide by in a breezy summer dream. They didn’t cram overmuch into the programme, opting for a pared down minimalist feel of cherry picked gems, and the breathing space this created actually meant you ended up seeing a lot more. There is so much that deserves a mention here but I have gone on long. Over to you. Please share your experiences of the delicious Laura Marling here. Did anyone catch Toots talking about his life? What did he say? Where do you stand on Daniel Johnston, who divides opinion so? Were Mercury Rev legendary or lacklustre? And are there any food poisoning scandals emerging from the glittering line-up of banquets? (Only joking.)

If I know anything about the people who organised this festival, the programme won’t stand still; you can expect a different small but perfectly formed selection of speakers, musicians and artistic ‘animateurs’ to bring the party to life in 2012, including the punters, but it will be well worth a revisit.

Meanwhile, I will furnish you with a step by step guide to growing architectural crystals, which is the knowledge I brought home with me from the Wilderness.

You will need:
1.a chemical professor
2.a bucket
3.a substrate of whatever size you can muster up – probably ought to be small enough to fit inside your bucket
4.copper sulphate

How to make the crystals grow on the substrate to create a mini architectural masterpiece:*

1.lower substrate into bucket
2.add copper sulphate
3.leave to cook for a week
4.remove resulting mini architectural masterpiece which will be formed of glittering crystals

*I may be, in fact definitely am, missing a few crucial details here: please do not actually try this. Instead refer to architecture student and Wilderness speaker Magnus Larsson instead.

And finally, a couple of tips for the festival organisers, if I may be so bold. First off revellers in need of sustenance after 1am who had not attended a banquet were somewhat un-catered for. By 1:30am the only option was either an ostrich burger (yikes?) or a crust of left over bread from the sterling Library cafe.

Also, why not ignite some lurve into an atmosphere perfectly designed to inspire it, with some upmarket romance games? I’m thinking hot tub speed dating…


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