I’m happy to admit that I am a devout festival goer, and if I had that bottomless pocket of cash that so many of us dream of, I would no doubt spend a large portion of mine on a carefully curated arm full of festival wristbands.
This year Matt and I were given last minute tickets as birthday gifts to a festival we had been dreaming about all year. Wilderness is unlike most festivals. For the last five years in early in August, an ancient part of the Cotswold’s has played host to a wonderful collection of performances, activities and sensory experiences. Cornbury Park which sits right on the outskirts of Wychwood Forest provides an enchanting back drop to a welcome mix of arts, culture and night time revelry.
Wilderness is a festival that focuses just as equally on music as it does gastronomy, arts and culture, wholesome enterprise and learning. Activities undertaken might be boating on the lake, attending mediation class, making perfume, weaving baskets, learning how to make the most perfect Bloody Mary or joining the Wilderness choir for the weekend. Or you can attend one of the many varied yoga classes offered almost continuously across the weekend in different locations. And the food, my god the food. This year welcomed London restaurants Hix, Moro and my personal favourite – Petersham Nurseries, who each staged a pop up restaurant for the weekend serving lunch and dinner sittings in their beautifully decorated abodes. And that’s just a tiny part of the amazing food on offer.
Our weekend began on Friday morning when, after setting up house, we shimmied through the park between the lakes where as part of the weekends activities men were hard at work fly fishing in the sunshine all along the water bank. Straight on to the banqueting tent we went where trestle tables were set for a four course lunch with unexpected attention to detail at every point – right down to the canopy of birds that were suspended above us!
Fridays long table banquet was led by Angela Hartnett and we were lucky to have snatched up the last two tickets to her four course Sicilian inspired menu which was served down the center of the long trestle tables. Platters of Mediterranean salads were followed by a huge plate of whole fish with fresh pesto. And I mustn’t forget to mention here the seemingly never-ending supply of wine – all included in the price, and served in lovely large goblets that one wouldn’t usually dream of getting grip of at a festival. Although the banquets seem a little on the pricey side compared to your usual festival lunch, they certainly deliver value for money and the service easily matched that of a 5 star restaurant. And they’re pretty special.
Over the weekend there’s also a busy a schedule of talks, debates and readings to attend should one feel that all the milling around in the sunshine just isn’t stimulating the mind enough. Highlights for us were Michael Pawlyn’s talk on bio mimicry in architecture and Zoe Cormier’s ’Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll’ where she investigates the science behind Hedonistic activity. And lets not forget the all important music line-up. Bjorks headline show on Friday was just as mesmerising visually as her unmistakable vocals. And George Clinton put on one hell of party on Saturday night – so much so that my aging knees ached the next day from uncontrollable disco legs. There’s also tonnes of amazing things for kids to do should you have a babble of little people to keep entertained. The couple we were sitting with at lunch on Friday were sending their son out that eveing on a hunting, gathering and wild camping course, meaning they had the whole evening to themselves!
It has to be said that Sunday was a particularly good day. After a morning swim in the sun sprinkled lake, we headed to the food hall for breakfast, quite a specific breakfast actually – Duck and Waffle. I don’t know if there are many things that can make me quite as a happy as a confit duck leg with a homemade waffle, a free range duck egg and maple syrup. I honestly don’t.
It’s hard not to write this without feeling like I’m showing off a little bit, but I think I might be a little bit, which is why it’s hard! You see, after this rather memorable breakfast had gone down, we headed towards the healing and sanctuary area where we had massages booked in a tipi for an hours kneading from a lovely chap named Sam.
On Sunday evening whilst wandering around the park we accidently stumbled upon a small tent overlooking the boating lake. This was to be the happiest of accidents. Inside a u-shaped table seated about 15 people, with a small open kitchen set up in the middle. Curiously, we stood and peered further inside the tent and noticed that two seats laid ready for dinner sat empty. At this magical moment of fate we were approached by the manager who expalined they had two diners who hadn’t turned up for the event – which was a 7 course taster menu by James Knappett – would we like to take their places? Ermmm, yeah!? So we slung our cans of Strongbow aside, unfolded our napkins out onto our laps, poored ourselves a glass of wine and sat down to potentially one of the most amazing dining experiences I’ve ever had! Such an intensley thought out menu at every stage with the most beautiful view accross Cornbury Park, it was the perfect end to an amazing weekend at Wilderness.Minutes after leaving the chefs Top Table we found dancing under the decadent chandelier suspended from ceiling of the Laurent Perrier Champagne tent, where the evening’s live music was being hosted by Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club from London. Just wow.
My hat is well and truly off to the organisers of Wildedrness festival – it’s a magical place and if you’re thinking about attending your first festival next year – I say do it, and do it in style at Wilderness.
(Note that I am in the midst of persuading my entire family- to come home from their far corners of the earth to join us at the festival next year).