I have never been to a music festival, even though my children spend many weekends in the summer attending various ones from Glastonbury to Secret Garden and loving them. Perhaps I thought I was too old, but how can that be as Grace and I always say, “never too old”. So when my friend, Carol, said she had prepared a Bucket List and at the top was ‘Go to a music festival’ and would I come, I said yes immediately. So she booked the tickets for the Wilderness Festival held in Cornbury Park in north Oxfordshire; it is an ancient park that became our playground for four days.
My kids were impressed though they were not sure I would cope with the camping side, the showers and loos – we are at that age when we need a loo visit during the night. I was concerned about the potential for lack of sleep as, when my kids return from a festival, they sleep for 24 hours.
Three of us signed up to accompany our friend to her dream, and as the time drew closer, I wondered if it was indeed madness. Rucksacks were volunteered, and advice was given on what to wear and what to take to make our lives more comfortable. We were, of course, glamping as we decided our old bones needed beds.
We packed our most colourful and wacky clothes, though, on arrival, we quickly realised our idea of wacky was very conventional to the younger festival-goers. We took alcohol in tins and cardboard boxes as though there was a limited allowance per person we felt we would not get searched. We at least got that right.
We packed the car, helped by our husbands, with everything but the kitchen sink – actually, that is not quite true as Carol brought a washing-up bowl. Our husbands waved us off, perhaps too enthusiastically, as they seemed to have plans for the weekend ahead.
Upon arrival, we hired a trolley and set off to check in and locate our Bell Tent. We soon attracted attention and were allocated a charming young man to pull our overloaded trolley (there are some advantages to being older). We weaved in and out of rows of tents and worried if we would ever find our way out of this maze again.
Our Bell tent was labelled luxury on the website booking page, but it was pretty basic though comfortable enough. It had four single beds and two plugs – electricity, what a bonus! One of the most useful items that Carol had packed was a pole bedecked in flags to help us find our tent in the dark, late at night. Not only was that great for us, our neighbours all appreciated it as it helped them too. Even so, one member of our group did try and stagger into another tent at some point!
We had taken lots of healthy snacks, but they were not consumed as there was so much incredible food on offer at the Festival. From our bacon brioche bun breakfast to the stuffed ravioli from the Pasta Bar and a late night wrap from ‘Greek Expectations’ or a wood-fired Pizza whilst watching Jungle perform.
We quickly threw ourselves into the Festival spirit. Wilderness welcomes families, so there were lots of little ones with plenty of activities to participate in. Their parents hire pull-along trolleys, decorate them with lights, and fill them with pillows and blankets, and for the concerts, they make them wear noise cancelling headphones.
There was every type of food on offer, zany and outlandish clothes stalls, a healthy Sanctuary area, a bookshop with hourly talks from authors, a Folk Barn, many stages and music of every variety. From rockers like Will and the People to dance music from Sophie Ellis-Bextor, garage-rock from Willie J Healey, orchestras and a Gospel choir, and the super-talented Ollie Alexander, accompanied by his pop band Years and Years, who may be well-known to all of us due to his starring role in the TV series, It’s a Sin. It was four days of music for everyone, letting all your inhibitions go, dancing the nights away and meeting and chatting with anyone you wanted to. Though there were not too many of our age, and those who were seemed to be babysitting grandchildren whilst the parents partied into the early hours, it was an incredible atmosphere, and everyone embraced us for our enthusiasm and vitality.
At this point, I have to mention that one of our group, Jan, has just finished an aggressive course of chemotherapy and been given the all-clear from Cancer, so she was here to celebrate. She was an absolute trooper as she maybe didn’t have the energy reserves of the rest of us, but you would not have known.
The only issue we truly had was the weather. It was very hot during the day, but when we returned to our tent, it was freezing, so we ended up sleeping in layers, including hoodies. By 9am, our tents were hideously hot again. However, the cold at night helped stop the loo visits, and we all slept soundly until we woke at about 7am. Maybe our bladders decided it was too cold to venture out.
My kids regularly called to make sure I was a. OK and b. going to all the right gigs! We did not make it to The Valley, the late-night venue down in the forest. We decided that was one step too far, but maybe next time, though I think our kids were relieved. Apparently, it is a bit of a den of iniquity, and the walk back is a serious hill, so we may have needed air-lifting out.
However, we did walk over 35 miles in three+ days, and even then, we didn’t get to the Sanctuary for sound healing, every type of yoga class, or the lake to paddle board. Jo, one of our group, went wild swimming every day, but that was as wild as it got in our group! We could have gone to a handstand class, learned salsa, an archery class or horse riding through the ancient forest. No, this year was for observing, and we will be more prepared next year. But if you want true entertainment, then the cricket match on Sunday is worth visiting:
“Two incompetent teams of cricketers slug it out in gentlemanly fashion. A swelling crowd gaze on intent, sipping on Pimm’s and drunk on the picturesque. A commentator rumbles on in tones of slurringly clipped precision. A man in a tutu charges into bowl. The umpire is asleep in the grass. Welcome to Wilderness.” (Cricket Blogspot)
And if I add to this, there are as many streakers as runs made!
So yes, I would go again, but maybe not if it was raining. The oak trees throughout the park provided ample protection from the blazing sunshine and, by Sunday, were packed with weary festival-goers. However, they would not offer much shelter against rain.
It was a very well-organised Festival, and everyone from 0 – 100 is catered for, so all four of us would highly recommend it. Our legs are sore but our hearts are soaring! As you can see from the pictures we never stopped smiling.
P.S. And guess what there is a ‘Pamper Tent’ filled with make-up mirrors, hairdryers and straighteners. They have thought of everything for us older folk!
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