We arrived at Wilderness into a puff of pink smoke. Dragging our bags to the campsite we could not contain our excitement as the sky above the distant main stage teased us with its pastel hues. Bjork is in the house.
Taking advantage of a small square of unoccupied land, we set up my tiny pop up tent next to some friendly-looking campers. Indeed our neighbours quickly became companions, as seems to be the Wilderness way.
The next morning we awoke to beautiful sunshine and it was easy to wonder what kind of wilderness we’d been transported to overnight, as our breakfast was a fresh coconut, sold from a stall on the campsite.
Next was an (extremely) refreshing skinny dip in one of Wilderness’ famous wild ponds. Barely an inch of the bankside was visible through the bodies reclining by the water. From bronzed babes in fashion-forward swimwear to kids diving-bombing into the mud, there was space for all to enjoy nature’s offering.
Indeed the ponds are a key selling point of Wilderness. The festival, which attracts many from London, markets itself as an invitation to switch off and escape to nature. A place where you can swim in a wild pond, float in a rowing boat or enjoy the view from the waters edge in the comfort of a bubbling spa.
But this is just an ounce of what the festival has to offer. Much like a tiny Glastonbury, it manages to simultaneously appeal to a wide range of ages and social groups. It’s quite possible to at once pass a besuited gentleman enjoying his normal Sunday paper from the comfort of a deck chair and a gaggle of tweens in sequin hot pants. (In fact, there were so many sequins & sailor hats on display, we wondered if we’d missed a memo stating the dress code!)
On one end of the spectrum, in the queue for a pop-up Ronnie Scotts performance hosted by Laurent Perrier Champagne’s Orangery, we met a lady who’d just bought an eye-wateringly expensive headdress to complete her festival look. On the other, I have friends who flock to Wilderness as a clubbing mecca. My own experience meanwhile, was altogether more relaxed and, indeed, light on the pocket.
I have scarce been more content that lying in the arms of a handsome man, under the shade of a paper parasol, while live music kissed our ears. The experience was made all the more memorable by the Japanese ‘bubble tea’ we slurped – just one of an astounding range of culinary delights on offer.
Wilderness’ wealthier clientele book into long-table banquets, hosted by some of the countries most respected chefs, but there is something for everyone here. My own highlights included a divine pizza from Pizza Tabun which was made before our eyes, a Moroccan pulled lamb dish from Moro’s souk, a goody box of vegan nosh from Buddha Bowl and a halloumi bagel midnight feast, the memory of which still makes my mouth water!
Most of the caterers keep serving until 2am, which sets the tone for what kind of festival this is. Although the main stage shuts down at 11pm, there were whispers of a spot called ‘The Valley’ where hardened partygoers rave in the woods until 4am. We stopped off en route at Jose Cuervo’s ‘Tequila Town’ and never made it any further!
The next morning, we were up early for ‘church’. In this case, a performance by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, meditation hosted by Headspace (a start-up on a mission to make mindfulness accessible to all), followed by Sunday Assembly. Sunday Assembly is a self-styled secular movement that celebrates life rather than any particular religion (church for atheists!). The service intercepts inspirational sermons and guest speakers with invitations to sing along to pop classics and shake what your mama gave you with 200 strangers! The congregation were only too happy to deliver. Never before have I seen a church service end with cries for an encore!
Other highlights of my weekend at Wilderness include dancing to hillbilly folk with a gaggle of kids, after being commandeered by a cowboy; squeezing into a tiny tent to bounce in unison with fellow devotees of South African musician Jeremy Loops; and being treated to a spontaneous massage by one of the many roaming therapists.
Although Wilderness does not have a specific focus on permaculture, its many charms seduce thousands of revellers to return to nature, if only for one weekend, leaving the stresses and divisions of urban life behind. Coupled with a packed programme of thought-provoking workshops and countless opportunities to dance your cares away, Wilderness can’t help but bring out your wild side.
For more info on the festival, visit www.wildernessfestival.com
Our festival guide: www.permaculture.co.uk/festivals
Want to find out more? You can read a digital copy of Permaculture magazine free of charge here. All print and digital subscribers can read 20 years of back issues totally for free.