How to describe Wilderness – the four day family-friendly (to use a slightly cringe term) festival set in 1,700 acres of breathtakingly beautiful Cotswold countryside? It’s got more sequins, sparkles and gold lamé than a Dolly Parton gig for starters – not to mention the dream jar workshops, fire-walking trampolinists, hip hop karaoke, boating and dozens of succulent food stalls. Where else could you dine with the delectable Raymond Blanc, attend a ball in a wild wood and watch Zoe Williams and Grace Dent (two of my journalistic heroines) debate the importance of critics today? The eclectic line of music artists was also pretty dazzling with Goldie, Robert Plant and The Flaming Lips (not even going to pretend I’m cool enough to know the last one) were headlining this year.
It was our first time at the festival, now in its sixth year, all though we’ve been to a few other local ones over the last few years. Living on the Oxfordshire/ Warwickshire borders we’re pretty lucky to have Jamie Oliver’s Big Feastival (held on Alex James’s – one of my many 90’s crushes – Cotswolds farm) and Cornbury which is held in the same place as Wilderness but has a somewhat different vibe. We decided, after seeing Jeremy Clarkson, David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks (you couldn’t make it up) at local festivals in recent years that we should maybe go for something a bit less painfully middle class. So – thank to the very kind Family PR – we found ourselves at Wilderness (all though – being in the Cotswolds, we were hardly roughing it) this summer.
As festivals go it has a wonderfully hedonistic, decadent feel and truly lives up to its escapist namesake. We were surrounded by gorgeous, gold embossed 20-somethings which could have made us feel a bit out of place, being closer to 40 than 30 and with two out of three kids in tow but it really did have a totally inclusive, anything goes, laissez-faire ambience to it.
I read somewhere once that happiness is only ever really defined by a series of fleeting moments so the pivotal Wilderness moments for me were boating on the lake with our boys (7 and 4), watching the fairy lights glistening and the merry revellers gambolling around on the bank of the lake, a blissful 20 minutes to myself watching music producer (and hottie) Tourist on the main stage, bumping into two mummy friends (who had, very sensibly, left their kids at home with the dads for the weekend) and watching Bare Hunter – a Johnny Cash/Nick Cave sound alike in the Juke Joint – described as ‘the rhythm and blues hub’ of the festival. My friends had had a wild night at ‘The Valley’ the previous night – an area so achingly cool they apparently don’t even give a monkeys if you’ve got a press pass.
What else? Going on the big wheel with my seven year old and looking down at the hubbub below, having the obligatory glitter put on by a lovely lady (and Selfish Mother fan) on arrival, eating a lobster roll from the Crabby Shack and sneaking a can of Orchard Pig cider onto the top deck of the tea bus whilst the kids gorged themselves on chocolate brownies. Playing Connect Four with the four year old (who beat me – twice) and drinking prosecco (can you see there’s a bit of a booze theme here?) in one of the many bars.
One of the things I loved most (aside from the fact you can walk around with a glass of fizz or cider at 11am in the morning without anyone batting an eyelid) was the array of wonderfully eclectic sparkly clothes and accessories being sold in sumptuous pop-up boutiques. My husband almost bought our little mad hatters some purple velvet top hats from one of the lush stalls but at £40 a pop, thought they were a little pricey. Peacock feathers, elaborate masks and vintage parasols were all de rigueur.
Had we been a bit more organised we could also have booked into one of the envy inducing long table banquets hosted by Raymond Blanc, Angela Hartnett or Skye Gyngell (formerly of Petersham Nurseries) but it was quite steep at £70 per head and children and fine dining don’t really go together in my experience. I also debated using the brilliant babysitting service – which seemed pretty reasonable at £10 per hour (plus a booking fee in the evening) but as we had left the two year old with the grandparents for the weekend we thought we should make the most of having some precious time with the other two (for a few hours at least.)
I also asked the boys what there top moments were and the seven year olds highlights included boating on the lake, going on the big wheel and the magnificent insect circus. The four year old’s best bits were the candy floss, boat and chocolate brownies on the bus (he’s a simple soul – bless him).
Next year I’d love to try out the lakeside spa (namely the hot tubs), wild swimming and spend some time in the literary tent. Oh and book the kids in with the babysitting service for a few hours so I can have some proper, grown up time out.
Really can’t recommend Wilderness enough if you’re looking to escape with the kids in tow. Maybe see you there next year.