Hooray â€“ I’m finally back in the world of festivals after a five year absence! I heard about The Wilderness Festival back in June and in a rare moment of decisiveness booked tickets a few weeks later. My two eldest children were away so I only had my youngest daughter Violet (aged 1) in tow and went with two other families who had a five year old, three year old and nine month old.
This was Wilderness Festival’s first year and it billed itself as â€˜a celebration of the arts and outdoors in the wilds of Englandâ€™. The venue was Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire, a 1,700 acre estate with lakes, woodland and parkland. Along with the festival tickets (Â£99pp for the weekend) I booked a session at the Wilderness Spa (Â£10 for an hour) and seats for the Saturday evening banquet (Â£27pp).
Once we had arrived and set up camp in the family area we headed off to explore the main site. The first things that caught my attention werr the decorations scattered throughout the venue. Everywhere you turned there were little touches to enchant and captivate. At night there were illuminated dresses hanging from trees, beautiful lighting and giant white fabric domes lit up (we couldn’t resist a bit of posing on our way back to camp one evening). During the day I spotted giant bird cages filled with clocks hanging from treetops, over-sized birds hidden in branches and giant feather headdresses. It was a little bit Alice in Wonderland and lot lovely.
During the day there were talks including one on Cloudspotting by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, author of The Cloudspotter’s Guide and another by Tom Hodkinson of the Idler Academy. I admit I didn’t go to any of them as I was too busy with the other stuff.
My highlight was a session at the spa on Saturday. Located at one end of the swimming lake there were tipi changing rooms and a yurt sauna. Dotted around were wood-fired hot tubs and champagne served from the bar. Children weren’t allowed to use the facilities but were allowed in. Violet was looked after by her lovely godfather while J and I sneaked off for a bit of relaxation. I managed to brave the cold water and had a refreshing swim before being rewarded by a warming hot tub and a lounge in the sauna. The festivals of my youth were never this luxurious!
At dusk on Saturday we headed to the banqueting tent which had beautiful petal-strewn tables and hay bales to sit on. All the guests were seated together so it felt more like a wedding than a festival. The banquet was hosted by Sam and Sam Clarke of Moro Restaurant fame and the food was amazing â€“ baby squid, prawns, flat bread and olives to start and then lamb and grilled aubergine and pepper. Everything was brought out on platters to share in groups of eight. Violet came along and loved the food, especially the pomegranate, yoghurt and cherry cake to finish.
Dedicated entertainment for children was in a carnival area with dancers, stilt walkers and face-painting. It also had sock-creature making workshops and a â€˜Meet the Speciesâ€™ wildlife walk around the estate. The older children in our party loved it and would have happily spent the whole weekend exploring the children’s activity area. There was also a Green Crafts section where you could try willow making, wet-felting, chalk modelling and ironmongery (yes, really!) I wished that my elder children were with us as they would have loved it.
It took me until Sunday to actually sit and listen to some music â€“ a very lovely hour spent listening to Laura Marling with Violet fast asleep in her buggy beside us.
I had a totally amazing time at this festival! Although it catered brilliantly for families with children of all ages it wasn’t specifically a childrenâ€™s festival (the entertainment went on until 4am and there were plenty of ravers still up on Sunday when I was brushing my teeth). I liked this about it though and if you wanted to get involved in the night-time fun there was boutique babysitting in a lovely tipi available until 2am.
There was so much going on – a midnight masked ball on Saturday night, a crazy cricket match on Sunday afternoon, the lovely food stalls, folk music and the fact that there was toilet paper in the portaloos right up until the very end. I know that I didn’t get the chance to see everything and will definitely be booking tickets for next year.
Thank you for sharing with us Catherine. All images copyright Catherine of Bristol Parenting Cafe for more please visit her Wilderness Flickr set.