“This might be the best festival we all go to all summer!” proclaimed Sam Lee, folk superstar, during his headline Sunday night set at Wood 2016 Festival. As the communal fire burned, the sun shone low in the sky upon the living roof of the solar-powered stage, and Sam Lee’s traditional folk songs drifted over the woodland setting, it was hard to disagree.
Wood is a truly beautiful festival and we were utterly charmed by it. With a capacity of just 800, yet set in the gorgeous, spacious site of Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, the whole weekend felt so relaxed. In fact, the day after we returned, even though we hadn’t got home until almost midnight and were then thrown straight into work and school runs the next day, I commented to several people that I felt like I had returned from a retreat.
Even the children seemed chilled out considering the late nights. For them, the joy came from the freedom this festival afforded them – the absence of crowds, size of the site and feeling of safety, meant we were able to give our nine and five-year-olds the independence to wander the site alone. They delighted in visiting the charming stalls with their pocket money, playing football and tag with their new friends and exploring the small, friendly site. Both have begged to go back next year.
The camp site was one charming field surrounded by trees, with ample space to spread out and for children to play. A family section was marked on the map, but unnecessary as the whole field was suitable for families.
Compost loos and running water were provided as well as beautiful wood-fired showers. They were so gorgeous, I really wanted to try them out, especially as there were hardly ever any queues. However, there was too much else demanding my attention, so I had to take the other campers at their word that they were lovely and hot.
There was a separate area for disabled camping, as well as a camper van field. The walk from the car park to the camping field was about ten minutes, so longer than for many small festivals, but it was mostly flat and a lovely walk through trees. Admittedly not quite as nice as it could be when you’re lugging a multitude of bags, but lovely nonetheless.
The compost loos, available both at the camp site and around the main festival site, were a joy. We had used them before on a camping trip so knew what to expect, but for the uninitiated, here’s an idea: Beautiful wooden structures, each housing two toilet cubicles. Your waste is deposited through a drop, straight onto the ground below. You then simply throw a handful of sawdust to neutralise smells. They are a dream when compared to chemical portable toilets – so natural, far less whiffy and confined. My children were much happier using them than they usually are at festivals.
The whole process was completed with the most lovely hand-washing facility I have ever seen at a festival – again, a wooden structure, whereby a small plank of wood acted as a foot pedal that manually activated the tap. Soap was strapped to the side of the sink and it was lovely to be able to properly wash your hands. My five-year-old was particularly enamoured by the foot pedal. The toilets were well maintained and barely ever ran out of toilet roll or sawdust.
Site and Facilities
There is no separate arena here. The main festival site is a stone’s throw from the camping field, with no beefy security checking your bags as you meander between the two.
The main music venue is Wood Stage – made from wood and covered by the aforementioned stunning, living roof, which holds a charm all of its own.
The gradually sloping hill that leads to the stage means you can see easily from anywhere, which is great for the children and adds to the relaxing vibe. There is no planning necessary to get a good spot for a band – at any time of the day, for any act, you can simply wander over and sit yourself down.
As well as the main stage, there were eight tented structures; one of which, Treebadour, housed the second music stage and bar, while the rest were home to a multitude of workshops and talks. This meant there was always shelter from the elements if needed, and again, they were never crowded.
A communal fire was set just back from the main stage and was manned by fire stewards from dusk until late. It was lovely to sit and watch them axe wood, feeling the warmth of the fire as bands played, or chatting around it once the music had finished. My nine-year-old particularly enjoyed our late night chats at the fireside after my husband had taken our younger child back to bed.
The woodland park was another big hit with our children, and we spent a lovely hour there during a shower. As it is covered by trees it makes a great spot if you do get rain as it is almost completely sheltered.
It was lovely to see so many parents engaged in playing with their children. The adults seemed to particularly enjoy pulling on the strings of the large cargo net to bounce the children around, which of course, they loved too.
Workshops, Talks and Activities
This is yet another area where Wood really shines. There was a wealth of activities available for both children and adults all weekend. You could tell a lot of thought had gone into the programming of events and you could easily fill your weekend learning new skills, whether you were with children or on your own.
Children could take part in making their own hula hoop, learning basic puppeteering, or making carrot flutes, to name just a few of the workshops available to them. In between, there were theatre shows, storytelling, crafts and circus skills available. One of their favourite activities was when the four of us made dream catchers together on the Sunday. It was such a well-run activity with a great introduction about the history of the dream catcher. All materials were provided and just a small donation was requested to cover the cost of these. We spent about an hour working together peacefully, and it is one of my favourite memories of the festival.
My husband and I were even lucky enough to be able to take part in an hour-and-a-half-long Qi Gong session together on the Sunday morning, which in itself felt no mean feat having no one else to look after the children. We gave them a few pounds each, a football, and told them to stay fairly close and together. Apart from a few small interruptions, they were having so much fun that we were able to complete the whole of the lovely session outside in the early morning sun. We were both left feeling chilled out and full of energy for the day ahead.
Other adult activities included yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, various lessons in learning to give massage, hand quilting, acapella singing, a creative writing session – the list goes on and on. Children were warmly welcomed into the adult sessions, providing they were supervised, which was lovely. It added to the feeling that everyone at Wood is part of one family, all of whom respect one other.
There were lots of interesting talks, many geared around environmental issues, and we were lucky enough to get to see George Monbiot’s fascinating Rewilding talk. We also listened to the endlessly interesting and animated Stevyn Colgan: QI Elf, talking about his work as a researcher and script writer for QI.
The music was very folk-orientated. The musicians, although there were not many I had heard of, were all of a good standard and seemed to really enjoy playing there. We enjoyed Americana duet Lewis and Leigh, hailing from Wales and Mississippi. Singer-songwriter Emily Barker was a big draw and went down well with the crowd – her lovely voice and folky sound was perfect in this wooded setting. Katy Rose Bennett kept us swaying under our umbrellas when the rain came in during her set, and The Dreaming Spires, organisers Robin and Joe Bennett’s band had us dancing. But the band that got people moving the most was definitely Owiny Sigoma Band, the Kenyan / English electronica fusion who headlined on the Saturday night, for whom the dancers came out in force.
By Wood’s standards, that’s still only a few rows of people getting down, but what they lacked in numbers, they made up for in enthusiasm. My daughter and I had a good dance ourselves, on the outskirts, and she loved how upbeat they were. The highlight of the weekend musically, though, was Sam Lee and Friends on the Sunday evening. The timing of his set couldn’t have been any more perfect and, when he and the band came down from the stage, hushed the audience in around them and sang Lovely Molly acapella, the crowd was silenced in awe.
I found this was a festival where my children showed a real interest in the music; partly, I’m sure, because it was so accessible to them. They could always see, children were welcomed at the front of the stage, and lots of the artists referred to them positively throughout their sets. There was also so much space around the stage, they could play games with their new friends while the music was there in the background for them.
This is never going to be a festival that attracts rousing crowds to the bands, and it can lack a bit of atmosphere if that’s what you’re used to, but personally I wouldn’t trade that for how calm and laid back the whole site feels.
My only suggestion with reference to the music would be that I would have loved the programme to contain a little information about each act. When you don’t know the artists it’s nice to have some background info so you can decide who you would like to check out.
Food and Drink
Considering the size of the festival, the food options were fantastic and all of a really good standard. The Vaults and Garden café offered a lovely space to hang out for tea and cake, and their meals were yummy and healthy. We sampled the vegetarian lasagne and a Thai yellow curry, each for £6, as well as some lovely gluten free cakes.
Taste Tibet offered gorgeous curries, dahl and rice, for around the £6 mark and they were happy to do a half sized portion for my five-year-old. When I encouraged him to go back and thank the friendly staff for the lovely food he had polished off, they responded by giving him some complementary vegetarian dumplings. It was just one of the many lovely moments my children experienced at the festival. Everyone from the guests, through to the artists, stall holders and people running the workshops appeared to be happy, kind and generous-spirited.
The wood-fired pizzas went down well with my husband and daughter, varying between £7 – £10 depending on toppings and we all enjoyed our afternoon treat from Shepherds Ice Cream. Drinks came in at £4 a pint or £3 a can, £3.50 for a spirit and mixer or £5 for a large glass of wine.
It was no surprise for me to learn that Wood was originally set up as an experiment to see how green a festival could be. They have stuck to this ideal and it’s certainly the greenest festival we have ever visited.
All power comes from 100% renewable energy from solar panels, biodiesel and wood-burning stoves, with mains electricity being provided by Ecotricity. There is virtually no litter around the site and full recycling is available in clearly marked bins, which people take the time to use.
The presence of the compost toilets, wood-fired showers and the living roof on the stage combined with Wood’s proximity to the, well, woods, really adds to the back-to-nature feel of the weekend, and is all the better for it.
I really can’t praise Wood highly enough and have been recommending it to friends since we got home. It’s certainly not for the hedonistic or lovers of larger festivals, but for us it was perfect. Leaving through the wooded path, twinkling magically with fairy lights in the trees, we all agreed we would love to return next year.
Review by Kyla, age 9
Wood Festival was the most amazing festival I have ever been to. It was a very green festival and also very inventive. It was small, but this meant me and my five-year-old brother were free to wander.
In the woods was the adventure playground, which was very interesting and fun. The best bit was the cargo net which me and my brother thoroughly enjoyed bouncing on.
Another great thing about Wood Festival was that it was so easy to make friends as there were children everywhere. I made friends with a group of girls and we played Chase with some boys, including my five-year-old brother who loved the freedom. The children mainly played while the parents watched music, however, there were a few bands I specifically wanted to watch, such as; Water Pageant, Katy Rose Bennett, Emily Barker, Sam Lee and Friends and Owiny Sigoma. My favourites were Katy Rose Bennett and Water Pageant.
At some points, me and my brother would wander round looking at the stalls. We mainly shopped at a stall that sold cute, wooden ornaments. I bought two cats and eight bracelets.
I loved the compost loos as well, as they consumed the smell way better than chemical toilets.
This has to be the most amazing festival ever and I would love to go there next year!