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Review: Wilderness Festival 2017

Taking your kids to a festival is hardly revolutionary. But will they enjoy it? And is it actually any fun for the parents? We tested Oxfordshire’s Wilderness to find out

Review: Wilderness Festival 2017
First Aid Kit at Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire. Image: Andrew Whitton

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It’s quite hard to drink a pint with an eight-year-old dancing on your shoulders. It’s the closing hours of Wilderness Festival on the Friday night and our kids are getting their fill of Two Door Cinema Club. The Northern Irish trio are proving why they’ve become a headline act, while we’re proving you can take kids to a festival you (actually) want to go to.

We’ve done Glastonbury, Bestival, the (sadly departed) Big Chill, Lovebox and many more, but never with kids. It’s hardly revolutionary — you might have noticed the amount of children at festivals in recent years — but until our youngest turned four earlier this year we’ve generally figured ‘if they’re happy, we’re happy’. It’s a philosophy many stick to although it can only last so long of course. Now there’s a little more common ground we can find, the balance swings a little.

Set in the grounds of Cornbury Park, near Charlbury in Oxfordshire, Wilderness is now into its seventh year and has established itself as an all-encompassing experience. Music takes centre stage as you’d expect but equally important are yoga, debates, wild swimming, performance, workshops and, notably, food — long-table banquets and some of the country’s best chefs and restaurants (Yotam Ottolenghi, Thomasina Miers, Deliciously Ella) extolling their wares.

Of course, if all that sounds a bit virtuous then rest assured it’s most definitely a) fun and b) great for kids. There’s a lot of ridiculousness going on from the Club House (naked cricket) to the Kid’s Area (the Flying Seagull Project are as much for grown-ups as they are for small people) while the drag queens at the Love Hotel keep things fierce.

Wilderness Festival, Oxfordshire. Image: Carolina Faruolo

Toots and the Maytals kicked off Saturday night with some classic ska and reggae (Monkey Man, Pressure Drop) as the sun burned off the last of the afternoon cloud before Bonobo delivered a hedonistic slice of soulful electronica, elevating his trademark downtempo sound to a pumping crescendo.

Normally at this point we’d head for the Valley, where the DJs (Eats Everything, Nightmares on Wax, Crazy P) have only just begun the long march into the night. However, by 9.30pm our kids are on their last legs and — having kept them occupied all day with helter skelters and bubble wands and ice creams — we are too. So we head back to the campervan and drift off to the distant sounds of Daft Punk.

Usually by the third or fourth day of a festival everyone has found their feet, a certain state of mind; ready for the elements, a calmer sense of being, a feeling of togetherness… I’m not sure we’re quite there, dealing with the occasional demands of a pre-schooler, but the kids are certainly more in the festival spirit. Faces are painted, bubbles are blown, grass is sat on while the world goes by and late-night stories are overheard.

The best festivals have a handful of must-dos and an impossible amount of would-like-to-dos. Wilderness delivers this in abundance, meaning you can have an entirely different experience with or without kids, and still leave not feeling like you’ve missed out but that you need to return again next year. We just need to find a way to be out until the small hours — and not spill craft beer all over my feet.