Writers: Gavin Freeborn and Stacey Price

Images: Gavin Freeborn

Into the Wilderness…

Arriving shortly after the sun had set on Friday evening, we were keen to set up camp and head on into the Wilderness. The lights led the way into the main arena in which an array of traditional marquees and bell tents housed and hosted the huge variety of entertainment on offer. From The Forum, where discussion and debate had already begun, to the bar where people where gathered and tunes filled the air. Aspalls from the cider bar in hand we found ourselves wondering into the London Folk Guild tent, joining an eclectic mix of all ages that had joined to celebrate the arts and outdoors in the wilds of England.


The award winning Secret Garden Party, together with an apt concept of Where The Wild Things Are, was the Friday night opening offer, whispers among gatherers led the way to the woods and on arrival, a few tents dotted in the trees serving drinks and a variety of fools created a social hub, but not quite the secret party we had anticipated. Then, in the distance, the sound of drums caught our attention, moments later the ‘Wild Things’, led by the Stag, emerged from between the trees and descended into the ancient forest clearing Wild dancing, fierce drumming, creature creations and the realisation that the party had only just begun followed. The Secret Garden Party ‘Feast of Fools’ brought the Wychwood forest alive.


Saturday began like any other with fresh coffee, from Bean and Gone and the headlines on the front page of the Guardian, but in the air a sense of what the day would bring. Chefs Sam and Sam Clark busying themselves in the open fronted kitchen preparing for the Saturday evening festival banquet, whilst new on the scene, Headspace, delivering to the packed out Forum tent, demystifying meditation and delivering calm and clarity to the crowd through a ten minute guided practice.


Later came the music, appalachian rockgrass hellraisers Hayseed Dixie relinquished the calm and raised the crowd’s spirits, and feet, as hordes gathered in front of the main stage. Homegrown Dry the River followed with a stunning performance of powerful vocals and memorable melodiesNext, a funky back catalogue of Jamaican ska and reggae hits from Toots and the Maytals, the crowd quickly merging into a state of groove ecstasy as the sun shone down and the cider flowed from the vender’s that conveniently moved between the grooves, no trips to the bar here!


On the Saturday evening, despite missing out on the opportunity to sit down for the whole banquet experience due to it being completely sold out, we were invited to spend some time in the banquet marquee and sample the food. Our personalised taster plate of charcoal grilled lamb, grilled aubergine and red pepper salad with seasoned yoghurt, caramelised butter and chilli was a melt in the mouth dish and simply the best festival fodder we have ever sampled. It was hard to grasp that it was prepared in a pop up kitchen in the middle of Cornbury Park and not out of the Moro’s kitchen, Sam and Sam Clark’s award winning restaurant in London. The banquets and exceptional work of the Chefs and their staff took dining at the festival to a sumptuous level.


As the masks came out for the Last Tuesday Society run Saturday night Masked Ball our group got a little distracted by the wonderful DJ Ollie Lyles in the Bar, a regular at the Secret Garden Party. With our feet firmly funked in the dance tent, we lost out on the Masked ball but word the next day was that it hadn’t quite met the standard of Friday night’s woodland wildness and punters had queued for little reward. As the evening came to an end night time life drawing was an option in the ever popular Forum tent and for those in the mood for moves, an intimate tent of musicians playing on straw bales near the glowing camp fire was a satisfying nightcap.

For Sunday we had pre-booked fitting relaxation. Slightly separate from the main arena the Wilderness Spa was nicely nestled between the Cornbury Park lakes. Hot tubs, deck chairs and lovely people filled the space and the wild swimming was a true natural delight. Being a regular attendee of the sauna at festivals, the sauna could have been bigger, but the hot tubs made up for that as we sunk down deep with glass of bubbly in hand.


After such a tranquil and soothing morning, Sunday’s listings couldn’t compliment more. Laura Marling and Antony and the Johnsons among others, set to take the stage throughout the evening. First though, a spot of cricket on a large open field, then to a few stores offering vintage delights and a chance to write a letter to a friend at the Wilderness Post Office. One store to remember ‘Pretty Rubbish’ shared their bespoke pieces made from recycled materials. Their tweed garments were certainly on trend for this year’s Wilderness.

On a stage that seemed perfect for her, Laura Marling’s poetic lyricism failed to project, a slight disappointment for the large folky crowd that had assembled, but CW Stoneking, tenor banjo in hand, quickly remedied with his lonesome holler blues and full blown jungle epics. To complete a truly unique festival, Antony was simply mesmerising, as he wooed the crowd with his eerie but beautiful voice accompanied by the sublime Heritage Orchestra. The blue glow of the stage teamed with a near full moon, made for an unforgettable live finale from this rare and intriguing performer.

Wilderness festival offered intimacy, vibrancy and a touch of class at a reasonable cost. The unique twist on festival dining banquet style and rejuvenation among the woodland at the Wilderness spa are worthy added extras. The site is picturesque with complete 360 degree panoramic views only of the stunningly beautiful surrounding Oxfordshire countryside.

We were absolutely won over by the Wilderness and are looking forward to more wonder at Wilderness next year.

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