Feast in the Woods is a wonderful way to explore the outdoor life with like-minded people
I take my children to festivals not just for the music, but for the sense of community and the chance to experience life outdoors and connect with nature. So when I heard about a new popup camping event called Feast in the Woods, only an hour and a half from London, I jumped at the opportunity to go. This promised so many things I love – wild camping in the woods, cooking on the fire, gourmet food, boating on a lake – throw in a well-stocked bar and, well, it sounded like paradise to me. And it was.
Arriving on Saturday afternoon we were greeted warmly by the organiser Rebecca Cork, and the children quickly made friends with her dog Poppy. This was only one of many friendships that developed over the weekend. There were about 30 people at this the first HoneyWoods event; all different ages and backgrounds, but sharing a love of nature, food and fun which gave us all plenty to talk about. Not to mention some very silly conversations round the fire after a couple of ciders!
The event was held in a small clearing in the woods – we pitched our tents at one end around the communal bonfire, and the cider barn was at the other. The lovely marquee set up for our feast in the woods and a large smoking wardrobe (which I later found out was full of cheese) were the only other structures in the clearing, leaving plenty of room for the children to run around, play cricket, practice their circus skills or play fetch with the dog, while we could just relax and chat.
Now I admit that normally at festivals I get a little bit stressed. There are shows or bands I don’t want to miss so I’m often trying to get my large brood moving (which can be tricky with 3 small children). We have a brilliant time but sometimes when they are being difficult I look around and it seems as if other people are having more fun than me. This didn’t happen here.
Admittedly there weren’t so many activities and everything was at a slower pace but for us this was perfect as we could join in with everything. We sampled the coffee tasting, went kayaking and boating on the lake, went on a lazy nature walk, learned a bit of ukulele (my six year old learned a few chords while we were there!), saw the fire breathing and fire juggling and as the communal fire was right next to our tent we could stay up and chat with everyone after the children had gone to bed.
The cider barn was run by Virtual Orchard cider makers who sold their own lovely ciders as well as local beers and other drinks. The friendly barman could always be found either in the bar or chatting with people round the fire, so he was always available to open the bar and pour you a drink. Everyone who was there to help – from the barman and chefs to the fire breather were also part of the community so we all sat around the campfire together during times when nothing else was happening. It was like being on a camping holiday with a group of talented friends who all had something to bring to the occasion – and we enjoyed spending time getting to know each other.
And the food – oh the food! Feasting was the theme of the weekend and feast we did! The first evening was the main feast – a four course banquet cooked by What the Dickens which we ate together in the main marquee – prawns grilled on the fire with sourdough bread, slow cooked lamb with Victorian salad and ember baked potatoes, beautiful wardrobe-smoked cheese and fire-charred banana splits. Sunday lunch was cooked by the Guyrope Gourmet (Josh Sutton) – chicken and chorizo paella, pancetta wrapped asparagus and mozzarella salad.
But in addition to the two promised meals, there were enough for leftovers for Sunday night too – we made the lamb into a stew and Josh and his daughter lent a hand transforming the leftover mushrooms into a garlicky butter soaked delight and added apricot and almond rice to go with it. No one was asked to cook or clear up but we all helped.
There was so much cheese we were eating it all weekend – someone handed me a piece of bacon with camembert on it for breakfast (I recommend trying it, it’s lovely). On the Monday morning there were so many eggs left I found myself making scrambled eggs and fried bread for more than 15 people. Anyone looking in would have thought we had all known each other for years.
This was the first pop up camping event run by HoneyWoods Camping, and Rebecca’s enthusiasm was infectious. All weekend we found ourselves discussing the potential of the event, and all the things we could add to make it more interesting, especially for children. Building a little climbing area in the woods. Having more nature workshops, a fire making demonstration, paper boat sailing on the lake. Turning the wardrobe into an entranceway for children to climb through into a secret fairy dell. There are so many ways the land could be transformed further and I have no doubt that next year will be an even more exciting affair.
A few practical notes – this was wild camping – meaning no showers, only compost toilets and no running water (although the organisers provided a large water tank with enough water for everyone and there was a large supermarket a short drive away). The toilets were actually very good – my six year old was happy to use them, they were solid, wooden and had lanterns at night – but they were up some precarious steps so the organisers plan to provide children’s toilets next year if more families with young children want to come.
You also need to bring and cook your own food apart from the meals provided so you need a stove and cooking equipment – although the fire was kept burning all day making it very easy to grill anything. They offer bell tents if you want to sleep on a mattress but apart from that it was very much a wild camping ‘back to nature’ experience, and all the better for it!
One thing I will say as a parent is it was wonderful for my children to go for a whole weekend in the woods without television or anything electronic. All the music was acoustic, the food was cooked over a flame (and they were encouraged to fetch kindling from the wood which they loved to do) and they were fascinated with every beetle, dragonfly and wild flower. When we got home they ran straight past the television and into the garden to play, which shows how beneficial a weekend away in the outdoors can be for city kids like mine.
I love the passion involved in this project and I would like to do everything I can to help it succeed. I believe that we all need a bit more wild fun in our lives. If any of you feel the same as me I really hope to see you next year – we have signed up for the 2014 event and I might even be running some of the activities myself!