Down the rabbit hole
Observing through a looking glass from afar, you’d itch to get involved. Otherworldly. Unimaginable. Ravishing.
At Wilderness, fragments of fantastical reality pass by: androgynies in silks on stilts; a gigantic wicker and papier-mâché horse lit from its inners and animated Bilbo Baggins-esque foragers, talking fungi and edible flowers with worldly knowledge. And peering into the many circus tents, we caught glimpses of headdress making, parrot painting and hot-tent yoga classes.
The vast miscellany of food and drink could have provided a schedule within itself. Bob’s Lobster arrived in its shiny red, awning-clad van to serve lobster rolls to the masses. Petersham Nurseries slipped into its agricultural surroundings without a glitch; if anything it seemed more at home here, than it does in Richmond. Peach Bellinis kicked off the proceedings as murmurs of satisfaction filled the Midsummer Night’s Dream-style tent, where woodland ferns crept up hessian ropes. As to be expected, the banquet’s ingredients were earthy fresh – discovering a radish-munching caterpillar wouldn’t so much have raised an eyebrow. Fingers remained poised and pinched at the tree bark vessels serving courgette fritti. And come main course, serving spoons clattered against table pans, whilst slithers of succulent, char-grilled, butterflied lamb were divvied between parties of twelve.
While hippies and the spiritual flocked to mainline Wilderness’ energy, there was a gaggle of Horatios, Ophelias and Arabellas, cavorting in designer hippie costumes. The queues for lost property hand-in were longer than those for lost property collection; those who had mislaid anything were too busy munching duck confit to notice, or to care. Main Stage – by anyone’s standards – was pocket sized, but then again, Wilderness isn’t aimed at die-hard music fans. The awkwardly elegant Björk headlined Friday, her emotional performance invigorated by fuchsia-pink fireworks erupting into thick billows of smoke at its end. In contrast, Nick Mulvey’s set found strength in its lack of pyrotechnics as the alt-folk songsmith stole virtually all the female contingents’ hearts with Cucurucu, a song adapted from D.H. Lawrence’s Piano.
Buried deep in the soul of Secret Forum were streams of discussion, floods of ideas and an ardent conviction for change. The collaborative spirit of those who spoke was gritty and thought-provoking and we quickly found ourselves vetoing partying for prose. On one evening, an unassuming coterie sporting snapbacks and tracksuit bottoms took to the stage. Never judge a book by its cover: single words volunteered from the audience sprouted poetic spoken song. Losing one’s virginity in a tent; revisiting a Nigerian homeland and a dying father elicited laughter, goose bumps and then, heartfelt tears.
Turning the sun-kissed visages at Wilderness into artful and Instagrammable creations was beauty company In Your Dreams, face painting’s sophisticated elder sibling. Sequins and glitter never looked so good with their chunky flecks and magical dustings. More skin deep was Wild Wellbeing’s The Sanctuary, an arboretum peppered with white tipis spanning down to the river, where eco-friendly Swedish-style wood-burning hot tubs bubbled and steamed. A salubrious Neal’s Yard full body massage allowed us to take stock, reboot and refuel.
As passionate champagne quaffers we started evenings in the 20s-inspired Laurent Perrier tent, where a brass band drew tipsy couples to the checkered dance floor to try their welly-clad feet at the waltz and the foxtrot. HIX’s Pharmaceutical Stimulant (read espresso Martini) had us drifting towards The Hidden Valley, which, like Narnia beyond the wardrobe, revealed a secret: a raging and thoroughly bonkers DJd party. Contorted gymnasts descended from the rafters into stinging purple light as revellers lost their inhibitions.
Ostensibly to swim, but rather to shake off the HIX-induced hangover, we bombed into the wild swimming lake – chilly, but undeniably good for the soul. Following a well-trampled sunlit path we found boats that may well have just rowed out of Wind in the Willows. Gentle conversations whiled away the afternoon as we clumsily navigated our way through congregations of thick-leafed lily pads.
And there we have it. Wilderness’ currency lies in its chameleonic style; there really is something for everybody, so why just observe through a looking glass? The early birds have already caught the worm, but late bird tickets are on sale soon for 2016.
Words by Phoebe J. McDowell