It felt a bit weird: packing for the Wilderness Festival, knowing that most of the party-people there would be around the same age as our own four ‘fledglings’.
My youngest daughter sent me her top tips. ‘Watch the vino’, she urged. And on the style front? ‘Wear some long, funky harems, and take a layer for later as you’ll be cold.’
So, regardless of the ongoing heatwave, we took heed, but not harems, and added fleeces to a car already crammed with tent, sleeping bags, inflatable bed, wet-wipes, sun cream, paracetamol, plasters, water, bug spray and loo rolls…….and hit the road.
For seven minutes.
The Wilderness Festival (website here) happens to be just moments from our own front door, but as we unloaded supplies onto the only tiny square of field remaining, we realised the entire boot-load smacked of “sensible”. We had poled up at a festival with slightly dull clothes, and almost the same ‘anything could happen’ kit that we’d packed for our 57 day dash around the world. Even the security guard on bag-checks teased us for not stashing some alcohol in the mix.
Tent up; we marched off to get our bearings. And yes, the wine was a bit pricey. But drink-wise, you could get anything from a cup of Earl Grey tea to a decent cocktail, and the range of food stalls was vast, too. From mac ‘n’ cheese, to burgers, curries, tacos, street food and sushi. Plus top notch banquets and candlelit dinners if you booked early enough.
After a couple of pulled pork wraps and some wine, we realised that the more we meandered, the more “sensible” we felt. I’d opted for a black t-shirt dress with a daring pop of bright orange in my multi-functional pashmina. It could be a belt, a wrap, a rug to sit on AND provide a flash of ‘look at me‘ festival flair. Oh…but with my practical, all weather travel sandals.
Nigel, on the other hand (should I mention here that he was a Venture Scout in his teens?) had gone for Strictly Sensible. Beige shorts. That white, short-sleeved work shirt. And those surprised-to-be-out trainers with (fairly) long socks. ‘It’s OK, I know,’ he acknowledged, mercifully. ‘I look like an American tourist on a day trip…’
All around us, in comparison, it seemed…the world had gone mad. Eighty per cent (surely…) of people were wearing something sequinned. Or feathered. Or transparent. Or nothing much at all. Everyone seemed to have perfected the art of the Hilarious Hat or the Floral Head Garland. There were ballgowns, there was swimwear, there were dandies, colonels, rear admirals, Shakespearean faeries, drag queens and cute, sloshed, furry animals. Bizarrely, in opting for the ‘just a couple of middle-aged locals‘ look, we realised, we stood out like a rack of lamb at a vegan feast. But without even a sprig of rosemary, or a hint of red-wine jus.
Undeterred, we spent that Friday night and most of the weekend immersing ourselves in a crazy mix of performing arts, book talks, and music. We watched a Chorus Line workshop, a stunningly bizarre mix of acts in Kabarett Verboten, and an Alternative Miss Wilderness. We joined a choral crowd for a full, orchestrated version of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, marvelled at travel adventures in a ‘Sunday Papers Live’ session and cheered the likes of Olivia Colman and Alexander Armstrong participating in the ‘Letters Live’ event. We winced, a bit, at the amount of ‘weed’ and other substances being used, but grinned (not at all smugly…) at couples with children–all brilliantly catered for. We shimmied to late night dance music under the trees in The Valley, danced non-stop at the front to the incredible Nile Rodgers, rounded off the weekend with Bastille under the stars, and vowed to come back.
And..ok…we’ll ‘fess up. Facilities on site were excellent–much better than I recall at Glastonbury. But with a perfectly decent bed and bath just minutes away, we spent only our first night under canvas; then commuted.
As for the age thing? We certainly weren’t the oldest there, and saw plenty of other empty nesters enjoying the events on offer. But; compared to virtually everyone else, we were far from cool. I mean–we even cut off our Wilderness wristbands when we got home instead of wearing them for six months.
But the Wilderness car sticker?
We’ll leave that on a little longer. So people can just imagine what we wore……