Adventures and exploration: Wilderness Festival 2018

It is far too easy to creep through a week, just getting home from work, having dinner, watching some shows, and maybe playing a game or doing some exercise. Before you know it, you’ve marked five days off the calendar of your life, and now it’s the weekend. And what would you know, at least part of it will be hung-over, and another part of it dedicated to achieving the hangover in the first place.

When I look back it is easy to see just a haze of work, stuff, play, stuff, sleep, stuff… you get the drill. Just… stuff. I know stuff happened, because I haven’t discovered time travel – except into the future at the pace of sixty seconds every minute, or thereabouts. But what stuff? What did I do with my time, where did I go, and who did I see?

I thought that both as way of recording the things and experiences I have found and had, and also to encourage me to actively seek more, I would put some down here – some of the more interesting ones, at least. You’re not going to be getting ‘Thursday. Found a nice new cheese at Sainsbury’s. Also, the dry cleaner was quite busy today’. Not unless it was a particularly interesting dry cleaner, anyway. Or a very good cheese.

And to kick it all off, I’d go for a personal favourite from last year. Wilderness Festival 2018. If all goes well, then the next one might be about clowns. In the rain. That’s a good thing, right?

Use the ‘Adventures and Exploration’ category on this site to see related posts.

Wilderness is an annual music festival held in Oxfordshire. It’s a pretty short train ride from London (and Oxford), and so picks up a lot of people from both areas. It’s much smaller the bigger ones of the festival season, and deliberately so. They eschew the larger bands out there, as that popularity comes with an enormous fan base which can easily drown out the ticket sales. The organisers of Wilderness want the crowd to be eclectic, there to see lots of different bands, and have a mind-set that is more likely aligned to their festival. They expected about 10,000 people in 2018, which is significantly less than others, such as Glastonbury.

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Taken before things kicked off on the first day. Just the sun and a breeze by the stage.

Spread out over a number of fields in a conservation park, it has camping and festival grounds divided by a small wooded lake. It is a festival catering to many tastes and many age groups. It is family friendly and far less hedonistic than some of the more, er, rambunctious festivals out there. Music ranges from indie, to folk, to country, bluegrass, instrumental, pop, and world culture.

I went to Wilderness for the first time in 2018, after hearing about it from a few friends in previous years. I’ll admit right up that I’m a newly converted fan, and definitely going again in 2019. The ethos behind Wilderness is one that rewards curiosity, exploration, adventure and play. There’s light-hearted feel to the festival, and lots of pop-up performances or hidden gems to find. It is a tribute to creativity, to people, and to culture. It really lit a spark in me as I had been away from festivals for years prior to this. I was excited and happy to see so many performances and exhibitions of talent.

On one side, there is the music. Not knowing (m)any of the bands, I simply liked to move between sets and stages and settle in the summer sun with a beer or a cider, to listen to what was up next. But then there is also a lot more to do, as well. Throughout the festival there are programmes of classes, teaching anything from yoga to wicker basket weaving or how to hand-carve a wooden spoon. There are talks held every day in some of the large marquees, about life and about experiences. Authors talk about their books; radio journalists discuss matters of the day. Foraging courses are held in the local woodlands, and wellbeing sessions are held. The festival’s management team hold a Q&A each day, too.

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Early in the weekend, exploring the site.

And there’s even, for the particularly healthy or optimistic, daily runs throughout the festival grounds, letting people get in some morning exercise before exploring for the day.

The food on offer will make you wish you had a bigger stomach (they have nightly feasts that you can book in advance), and the drinks will make you wish you had a higher tolerance for alcohol (unless that’s not your thing). The festival is very well catered, and there is a strong emphasis towards not harming the environment – so there a lot of bins, and most people use them properly. This is not a festival that becomes covered in litter by the end of the first day. Looking at you, Reading Festival .

The lake in Wilderness’ Corrnbury Park provides a lovely respite from summer heat, and many people take a bathing costume so they can hop in and cool off. And a just little further down the lake from that spot, it is possible to rent out large wood-fired hot tubs so that as the day cools off a group of you and your friends can sooth themselves in the open evening air.

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Passing the lake, between the campsite and main festival grounds.

I’m told that in 2018 they changed an element of their programming. In previous years they had highlighted where the ‘hidden’ aspects of the festival were. In 2018 they removed this, as although they accept people want to find the little gems, the spirit of the festival is to explore and find them yourself. And there are clues hidden around, for those who look. The two I found were a secret walled Champagne garden, hidden behind a catering area and subtly open to those who think they’ve found something. The other one was a 1920s-style speak-easy, tucked behind a tent flap that seemed to have a suspicious number of people going though it and not coming back out – something that an observer would notice, but about which the festival played it straight. There was absolutely no hint of the bar, except the odd in-out ratio of this otherwise empty seeming tent.

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One of the tents that holds an evening feast. Best to pre-book your space.

So; it is a festival of wonder. One of community, and of relaxing, recovering from the daily grind, and learning if you wish to. It is a beautiful and idyllic location in the countryside, yet not a trek to get to. It’s not overcrowded, and its fun. The organisers have said they think of Wilderness as a grandchild of Glastonbury, harking back to the roots of that festival, before they days of it becoming the largest one in the UK (2019 expects 135,000 attendees at Glastonbury). Wilderness have said that they don’t want to get to that sort of size, they want to keep it more intimate.

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A lot of people dress up. The costumes on display are amazing.

And they want it to stay a bit silly; that too. There is a dip in the festival grounds in one area, formed between two small hills. On one side there is a beer tent, and on the other side, a commentator’s box/double-decker bus. And in between, cricket. Cricket played to be enjoyably daft, with flagrant rule breaking, egged on with cheering from the crowds idly sitting by and watching from the hillside. There is merciless tormenting by the commentators, and an-all round load of fun being had by everyone. Not that they are encouraging anyone, of course, but the scoreboard does have a counter for streakers in addition to runs and wickets. And the beer tent itself holds a reasonably bonkers quiz each afternoon, too.

For anyone who rally wants to let rip with a party, there is also the Valley. That’s a rave that happens late into the night, in a surprisingly steep-sided miniature valley on the edge of the festival grounds. I tried it, and can’t say it’s my cup of cider, but if you do like outdoor woodland raves, well, you’ll have fun there, too.

Wilderness was a lovely, refreshing experience. It genuinely revived and revitalised something in me, leading to what I can only hope is a new trajectory in my life. To them; I tip the straw hat that I won playing croquet at Wilderness (the Pimms tent), and say thank you.

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A little bit of peace under the shade of a tree. It was a good weekend.

Use the ‘Adventures and Exploration’ category on this site to see related posts.


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