Of all the UK summer festivals, the award-winning Wilderness, which takes places in the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside – this year from 4-7 August – is one of the most eclectic. Drawing together elements of music, theatre and arts, outdoor pursuits, wellbeing, debate and family fun, the festival is a veritable wonderland of recreation and relaxation in the heart of the Cotswolds, and around 90 minutes from Bristol.
While it’s never claimed to be one of the major players in the music stakes, Wilderness always attracts a quality line-up punctuated with a couple of big hitters, and has welcomed the varied likes of Burt Bacharach, Sam Smith, Metronomy and London Grammar – last year it was also the only British festival the elusive Björk played. The diverse 2016 bill includes acts like Lianne La Havas, alongside the absolute legend of rock and roll that is Robert Plant, with his band The Sensational Shape Shifters. His Friday night slot at the festival is the only UK stop on the flaxen-haired frontman’s tour, which draws on a lifetime of adventures and includes original material as well as Led Zeppelin classics. Then, bringing their own brand of euphoric psych-rock to the main stage on the Sunday night are The Flaming Lips, who’ll be playing their album The Soft Bulletin in its entirety – another coup of the UK-exclusive kind for Wilderness – and treating audiences to one of their unique live performances.
One of the things the festival is pretty famous for, however, it its foodie credentials. The line-up this year includes luxurious long-table banquets courtesy of Raymond Blanc, no less, whose previous events at Wilderness have gone down a storm; plus Peruvian ‘maverick’ Virgilio Martinez, who’ll be presenting a melting pot of flavours and techniques from his native country; and Skye Gyngell, making her Wilderness debut. Elsewhere, acclaimed chefs such as Mark Hix, Christian Puglisi and Robin Gill abound, and there are restaurant experiences from those such as London’s Duck and Waffle. You might wander into the 1920s-themed Champagne Laurent-Perrier orangery; join Oliver Rowe for a relaxed session talking about seasonality as he cooks simple recipes from his new book Food for All Seasons; or meet Bristol’s own Jack Adair Bevan – owner of The Ethicurean in Wrington and award-winning drinks and cocktail writer – who will explore two of his favourite recipes and discuss how his vermouth The Collector is made at Barley Wood Walled Garden. And if that makes you miss the wilds of Somerset, you could always head into the Orchard Pig cider barn afterwards…
Feed the soul
As well as keeping bellies blissful, there’s also the opportunity to nourish the inner self as part of the wellbeing programme. In addition to plenty of pampering therapies, this year’s highlights include massages and facials from Neal’s Yard Remedies’ expert therapists, a meditation yurt open from sunrise to sunset and delivered by London Mindfulness Project and Buddhify – plus paddle boarding, hotrod yoga and lots more. Then, of course, there’s the lakeside spa – there are few things more glorious than the juxtaposition of soaking in a bubbly hot tub, with the mad goings-on of a summer festival rumbling on around you.
Thinking caps on…
Fans of the written word should head to the Literary Tent for takeovers from major publishers, talks and debates with superb writers, masterclasses on writing, and readings; while those interested in late-1960s history can make their way to The Forum, where The Victoria and Albert Museum will bring discussions of their major exhibition Revolutions, Records and Rebels (opening 10 September) and how youth culture then drove an optimistic idealism, motivating people to come together to question the established power structures across society. Expect ‘a musical odyssey through some of the greatest music and performances of the 20th century, from Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, to The Who’s My Generation’.
Art at the heart
Lose yourself in a play, dance, comedy, or even a mime if you like, at the new Wilderness Playhouse; sashay into Ronnie Scott’s jazz club at The Atrium; and be sure you’re outside the Clubhouse at 10pm for the traditional Saturday Night Spectacle from the Cirque Bijou – they’re flying in from all around the world, including Bristol, and bringing a never-before-seen show to the table, created just for Wilderness. The soundtrack comes courtesy of celebrated folk and classical musicians, while the cast includes game festival volunteers who’ve bravely signed up to be part of the spectacular. Personally, we’re most looking forward to the Wilderness Orchestra presenting their tribute to the late, great Bowie on Sunday at 8.45pm – with new arrangements from conductor Dr Ewan Cambell, special guest vocalists, DJ producer Mojo Filter, and the Wilderness Choir.
From Mr Peek’s Fun Time Poetry Workshops, the Playcircle and puppet-making origami from Polka Theatre, to the Forest School and The Magnificent Insect Circus, there are more fun activities for youngsters than you could shake a stick at this year. Take part in the Wilderness cricket match – where dubious umpiring decisions, inspired commentary and theatrics are the name of the game – or let all the children boogie at Julian Butler’s Singalong Bowie 45-minute sesh.
Try something new!
As if the programme wasn’t exhaustive/exhausting enough, the team have also put together a schedule of outdoor pursuits including wild medicine walks, archery and fishing. For a more serene experience, sail out on the boating lake; or have a wild swim to wake yourself up in the mornings. You can also join in on a secret off-grid adventure – a secluded picnic or a spot of night kayaking perhaps – or try a new skill such as perfume making. Though maybe you’d prefer to learn how to make your own fully functional film camera, or even how to have better conversations? To be honest, the must-do activities far outweigh the time we’ll have to try them out. If there are any events this summer that really do offer the so-often-promised ‘something for everyone’, then this, surely, is one of them.
Tickets are still available for Wilderness Festival (4-7 August at Cornbury Park) – visit wildernessfestival.com