Monday, 31 August 2015

Does it get any quirkier than this? The Wilderness Festival

“You’d better grow a beard,” said my friend when he heard we were going to Wilderness. “To fit in with all those Hoxton hipsters.” Oh? Were we making a mistake? Was this not a festival suited to a family with a nine-year-old and parents who were closer to hip transplant than hip?

But Wilderness was 'just down the road' from us (close enough to sneak home for a shower-without-a-queue). And ever since it began four years ago I’d been tantalized by tales of its quirkiness. “They have a naked knitting circle,” said one friend who’d been. “Pop-up gospel choirs pop up out of rose bushes,” said another. Really? I needed to see this festival for myself.

It didn’t disappoint. We wandered, wide-eyed and swirly-headed at what we discovered there. Perhaps we didn't quite fit in ("You're too old and I'm too young" was my daughter's summing up) but it didn't matter. Although there was a Kid's Field, she was way more interested in exploring the areas for Big Kids. "It’s really fun watching grown-ups be weird,” she said. 

So here, as picked by her, are some of the quirky things (of hundreds) from our weekend. 

1. "That blindfold thing"
Inside this gorgeous 1920s Spiegel building we stumbled across a very unusual event: A group of classical musicians were playing in the centre with audience members sitting in a circle around them – blindfolded! Each one had their own personal ‘dancer’ who moved around them playing with their senses: They fanned them, played with their hair, massaged their feet, placed things on their tongue to taste, wrapped them in a duvet, tipped their chair backwards, wobbled their thighs, sighed in their ears, held their hands wearing rubber gloves ... 
We watched, mesmerized. "Would you like to do it?" I asked my daughter. "YES!" she said. When I enquired if kids could take part, they were as enthusiastic as her. "Oh yes! We love it when children do it! We don’t get many of them.” Unfortunately they were fully booked for all performances. Still, she liked being stopped by a camera crew on her way out to give her thoughts on what she'd just watched. 

2. "Doing wild swimming"
There can't be many festivals where wild swimming is on the agenda. One of the most striking things about Wilderness is the beauty of its location: blue-green lakes, a waterfall to frolic in, paths winding through the trees, grassy dells, a hidden valley. Nature is never far away and the festival makes the most of it. You can hire a rowing boat ...
go horse-riding ...
... go fishing or foraging for wild foods with people who know how. We decided we couldn't go home without going for a wild swim ourselves.
The water was exhilaratingly cold. “I’ve gone blue, I’ve gone blue!” squawked my daughter. But the the sun quickly warmed us up again and we sat by the lake watching the Paddleboard Yoga. As you do.
"It doesn’t look very relaxing," commented my daughter. “You'd have to keep thinking about not drowning.”

3. "The stuffed animal thing"
Paddleboard yoga was just the start of it. Think of anything – ANYTHING – you’ve ever wanted to try – EVER – and I bet you can do it at Wilderness: Learn flamenco dancing, have swimming lessons, make perfume, play croquet, make dye out of berries, knit a dinosaur, walk on fire ... Yep, you can do it here. But for us, the Mouse Taxidermy workshop beat the lot! We poked our noses into the gap in the tent to see if the sign was actually factually true ...  
Yep. It seemed they were at the pulling-out-the-guts stage.
It was oddly fascinating but we didn’t hang around for too long. “It's putting me off my candy floss,” said my daughter. “It smells like when we had hedgehogs nesting behind our garden sofa.”

4. "The church service where you don't talk about god"
We had to try this. On Sunday morning there was a non-religious gathering to "celebrate being alive". Instead of hymns, we sang pop songs like Call me Maybe and Mr. Brightside  sort of mass karaoke with a spiritual purpose. In between, there were interesting and uplifting talks about positiveness and the state of ecstasy. “On the spectrum of glass half empty, glass half full ..." said the atheist 'vicar', "I’m like ... WOW ... isn’t water amazing?!!!” Admittedly I was overtired and emotional – we’d accidentally camped in the General (= noisy) campsite instead of the Quiet campsite – but it made me quite teary. In a good way.

5. "The boy with the lizard on his head"
At dusk one evening, at a festival edge, we saw a swarm of people around a small table. It turned out to be some sort of spontaneous pop-up exotic animals stall: frogs, tarantulas, giant snails, lizards, snakes ... Though who they belonged to or who was in charge was unclear. There were children, with animals on their body, wandering, freely, like some sort of surreal dream.
“It’s okay. It’s not poisonous,” said this girl when she saw me gawping at her unwinding this snake from around her neck. “It’s the strangling type.” 

6. "The secret postmen"
We were super-excited about using the service of these guys: festival postmen and women who deliver your mail by bicycle. Just pop into the Secret Post Office and write a postcard or letter to the festival-goer of your choice. Perhaps a fun message for your friend in the next campsite or a long love letter to the beautiful girl you met last night. Their special skill is their ability to find the intended recipient, no matter how vague the 'address'. My daughter had already worked out what she was going to write on the envelope for her friend: 
Unfortunately, the Secret Post Office turned out to be a little too secret and we never found it. Though to be fair, we were repeatedly distracted on the way.

7. "The people without any clothes on"
Nakedness seems to be lurking in the bushes, so to speak, all around you at Wilderness. There but not quite there. Seen but not quite seen. We frequently stopped at the ‘sports arena', where all kinds of competitive events were held, from musical chairs to high jump ... 
from sack-races to sock-wrestling ... 
One time, as we were settling down to enjoy a game of crazy cricket  with a hilarious commentary coming from the double decker bus  a streaker suddenly ran across the pitch. “He’s like, properly naked!” said my daughter, in giggly disbelief. 
Five minutes later, another one appeared. Then another.“They're coming from the bus!" said my daughter. "They're all cooped up in there!" 

And then, Sunday morning, as we crossed the bridge over the lake, we spotted this sign.
“Can we go and watch?” squealed my daughter, still excitable from her sighting of the streakers. “It’d be funny!” “Erm ... [pause while my moral code tried to work out the most appropriate answer to that one] ... okaaaay" I replied. “You want to join in the skinny dip?” asked a guy sitting by the sign. “It’s in about 15 minutes.” “Um, no, we just want to watch!” I said, trying to sound cheeky rather than perverse. “Is it happening here?” “Ooh, we can’t tell you that if you only want to watch,” he laughed. “Let’s just say it’s somewhere in Oxfordshire!” Fair enough, I thought.

8. "And the people with clothes on!"
The people wearing clothes were equally entertaining. If Wilderness had a dress code written on the ticket it would be this: Theatrical, head-turning, with a big dose of sparkle. Young, toned body preferable. People had proper I-planned-my-outfit-before-I-came-outfits with intricate, artistic make-up. 
Amongst kids, the craze seemed to be to turn yourself into part animal with the addition of a tailWe saw the behinds of foxes, cats, even dinosaurs. My daughter was so taken with the idea of having a tail that she decided to give up the birthday money she'd planned to use to buy her own pair of back-to-school Clarks shoes with a toy in the heel (because she knew I wouldn't!) and buy one instead. She put it on and didn't take it off. Even in bed. 
Came with a child, went home with a squirrel. At Wilderness, anything is possible. 

Visit The Wilderness Festival website here.


  1. Wow! That looks amazing and with SO many different things to be doing! #FamilyTested

    1. It was pretty mind-blowing - overwhelmingly so at times for an old lady like me!!!

  2. Haha! Love the squirrel tail. What an interesting, and very different festival. It's amazing how you get to see and experience such different things, you'd never of dreamed of!
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

    1. I know! And this is just a tiny selection of what was there!