Sit back, relax, and savour the delights of a quintessentially English weekend.
Don’t mind if I do!
We have been to a lot of festivals as a family and Wilderness has certainly topped the most idyllic setting for us.
Just gorgeous. You can’t help but relax.
Arriving late on Thursday night there was no waiting or grumpy security and we were directed in to the campervan area and told we could park anywhere we liked. Really?
A strange place to start a review I know, but even if you don’t have a van and are considering Wilderness then it’s seriously worth borrowing one! Possibly one of the most beautiful places we have camped as a family, the area is full of ancient Oaks overlooking Cornbury Park. Rather than being herded in and squashed up like most festivals, live in vehicles are trusted with the grownup responsibility of parking as they wish. We had heaps of space and the kids made friends straight away with a game of Frisbee.
Camping and Glamping
Family camping had been moved for 2014 so was closer to parking for visitors just across the river from the festival. It was on a gradual slope and looked reasonably spacious but was a pity that festival goers left it in such a mess on the Monday. Perhaps some way of patrolling this needs to be put in place or at least invite some recycling charities in to reuse some of the tents and other things that had been discarded. A bonus for us though as we picked up some awesome new fancy dress for our collection.
On Monday morning we snuck in to the Glamping area to check it out. Now this really was something else. Dedicated showers, toilets, changing areas with hairdryers and straighteners, social areas with a café (£4 bacon butty) and the fabulous double decker hot tub bus from Bathing Under the Sky (also providing wood fired hot tubs to regular festival goers at the stunning lake side spa – fully booked in advance).
All this comes at a price with glamping options starting around £900 for a standard yurt upwards of a few thousand pounds for some of the even more luxury options like airstream trailers and gypsy caravans. If you have the money, flaunt it.
Wilderness really is where the beautiful people go. Don’t be surprised to find yourself waiting for the loo rubbing shoulders with celebrities and even royalty. As usual, my husband slipped in effortlessly in his festival favourite Robbie Flower Opposuit twinned with a super jazzy Gnat Shirt that he had plenty of compliments on.
I felt a little more out of place. My designer clobber is pretty limited so I settled for a rather grubby evening dress and the kids dressed as rabbits. If dreadlocks and incense are your thing then this isn’t the festival for you.
Cornbury Park is big. Although Wilderness festival is only 10,000 people it is quite a large area to cover so if you have little ones transportation is a good idea.
The going is good but there are a few hills which add to the beauty of the site. No one is in a hurry at Wilderness though so we didn’t feel worn out and relaxed straight away in to the very English countryside vibe. More like a village fete feeling than a hectic festival we allowed our 8 year old some freedom although she chose not to go far.
There are heaps of regular activities for adults and kids like horse riding (prebooking advised) and archery (£12.50) and you can also release your inner self on a shamanic journey or dance yourself naked on one of the Wild Workshops (free).
The craft village provided some amazing traditional treasures to join in with but we found a lot of the activities on offer expensive. There are free things to be found but you just have to look and if you aren’t used to saying no to your kids and they enjoy making things then your weekend could easily become a very expensive one.
Some of the activities we found that the kids could do for free were swimming and boating on the lake (just magical), wool workshops with the local Women’s Institute, and late night life drawing (8 year old favourite). Exploring the beautiful Cornbury Park is obviously a big draw and the woods alone provide hours of entertainment for kids if they love the outdoors.
If, like me, you prefer the sillier side of festivals then the Village Hall offers hilarious spiritual Olympics, bingo, cabaret, fashion shows, weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. There’s also some pretty funky bands playing.
Possibly more important than the music at Wilderness are the eating experiences. You name it, you will find it. There are regular food stalls serving anything from Wild Boar to Ostrich, dairy, gluten, wheat free options, vegan and vegetarian and then there are the fine dining and banqueting options. I’d definitely award Wilderness the ‘Finest food selection festival of the year award’. Not cheap though, but you get what you pay for and clearly those paying £100+ for their feast were used to doing so. Personally I found the food hall style banqueting a little noisy and hectic and I don’t think I would have attempted it with the kids (even if I did have a spare £400!)
With fine food comes fine drinks. As well as food master classes you could try your hand at cocktail mixing at various cool little bars across the site with people like Zubrowka Vodka and Monkey Shoulder Whisky. We loved the junk riddled, old town Juke Joint with some great roots and blues shanty music, overlooked by the Monkey Shoulder crew who helped us mix some of own delights. The area also featured a cool roller disco (£4 pp)
Expect to pay £5.50 for a pint of ale, £6 lager, £7 cider, and up to £10 for a cocktail. The programme states that no alcohol can be bought in to the arena (camp site allowed). Luckily this didn’t seem to be enforced to the extent that some festivals go to in searching bags and pushchairs. Plenty of people seemed set up for the day with their own delicious picnics and on more than one occasion my kids seemed to wriggle in on someone’s goodies.
Even posh people leave pants in loos but Wilderness make exceptional efforts to keep the site tidy. The facilities are excellent, although more toilets needed in the kids field please. There are no obvious recycling bins but I was assured by one of the crew that the waste was sorted after collection.
Pootopia provided a posh £3 poo (free for kids) or £20 for unlimited fancy toilet use if that’s your thing. We never waited more than a few minutes at the regular toilets so their fancy toilets seemed a waste of money or a money statement I guess.
Water taps could have been better and we never found one in the kids field. And by 2am even the fanciest of toilets get a little messy. Come on, this is a festival.
Culture, culture and more culture
With 13 pages of the programme dedicated to forums, talk and debates and world famous theatre companies, poets and performers guest are guaranteed a cultural experience. Even the kid’s area features classic delights like Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens, and Shakespeare.
We took in a rather disturbing performance of ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ from the Footsbarn Travelling Theatre which I was surprised to see my 8 year old absolutely entranced by, and we followed a couple of the walk about plays from the Royal Court Theatre (more family friendly). Like the activities, some of the theatre incurred additional charges.
With so many other things going on and such a lovely site to wander round we almost missed the music on offer at Wilderness. Our family really enjoyed just exploring the site and it was hard to make it out of the kid’s area.
The music on offer is really varied from folk to funk, country to classic. Certainly an eclectic mix of things you wouldn’t find together at many other festival I can think of. On Sunday morning we floated down the river to the gentle sounds of choir music followed by some John Williams classics from the Wilderness Orchestra.
On Saturday the Main stage was dominated by the genius that is Burt Bacharach. 86 years young and still performing timeless classics that delight all ages. Other highlights were the CC Smugglers who got the Wilderness stage rocking big time. And Metronomy, who we missed due to small person melt down but our neighbours didn’t stop talking about how great they were.
My kids love to make things so I was slightly disappointed to find that you had to pay for the first 2 things I looked at here. Pottery £4 and kite making £5. It turns out that these were the only 2 activities there was a charge for and there were others they could join in for free.
They really enjoyed making scented bath bombs with the lovely Elissa who keeps the area running smoothly and we struggled to get my 4 year old out of the glamorous fancy dress horse box.
In fact we weren’t trusted to even go outside the horse box to show her dad which was a shame. I appreciate that they don’t want to lose any of their kit but perhaps set up a little cat walk or something so at least the kids aren’t all on top of each other.
The café in the kids area was lovely. Filled with games, books and space to relax with a cuppa (£1). It was one of the few places I found selling kids portions but unfortunately this only stretched to finger food and cakes.
Would have been good to have a hot option in mini portions for hungry tummies. £5 for 5 items (packed lunch style) and a sweet. Outside expect to pay £3.50 for an ice-cream and £2 for a bag sweets. Swing boats £2 per child.
The area was really nice but could have been slightly bigger with the number of kids on site and really needed a couple more toilets. Personally I prefer kids fields where every thing is included so I can just chill out without being asked for money. Even the face painting was a ‘suggested donation’ of £3 but at least this went to the fabulous Flying Seagulls project who yet again entertained the kids all day long with their brilliant shows.
Mortimer Nannies offer on site Boutique child care for those that need a few hours away from the kids. Day care at £6ph is pretty reasonable and they also offer evening babysitting at your camp for £10ph for up to 3 kids which sounds like a bargain but I am told was fully booked back in March so if you are thinking about it for 2015 then get in there early.
Plenty! Cricket, crochet, G&T’s, afternoon tea, band stands, champagne, sensory concerts, star gazing, the AROMAetum, singing in the rain (literally and the movie), massages, and the Big Top Ballroom (over 18’s only)
Is it for families?
Yes. But although the under 10’s tickets are free, be prepared to spend a lot of money or get yourself super organised and pack everything you need. Taking a family is going to cost you but Wilderness is worth it.
It’s a really easy and safe festival to experience for little ones and they will find opportunities to see things you wouldn’t find at other festival. Although we didn’t make it down in to The Valley, which is the only part of the festival that goes on really late to keep general noise for campers to a minimum. We saw no drug use, violence or general misbehaving and I was happy for my 8 year old the wander the site freely. A very sensible crowd.
To sum up Wilderness
Unlike any other festival I can think of. If you enjoy the finer things in life and want to experience a relaxing weekend of everything that is splendid about England, DIVE IN!
Hope to see you in 2015!