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Wilderness festival guide

A leftfield line-up, gourmet grub and a distinctly boutique vibe: Wilderness could be the country's coolest festival

Andrew Whitton
Sebastian Barros
Sebastian Barros
Andrew Whitton

Drop everything. Seriously. Never mind those vague plans you had to maybe go to a barbecue at the weekend. Forget that market trip. Sod Sunday lunch. This weekend, Wilderness festival is taking over a pocket of Oxfordshire countryside and filling it with music, food, performance and festival magic – and when we went to press there were only a handful of tickets left. So what are you waiting for?

Still reading? Okay, time for the hard sell. Here are a few of the many reasons you’ll be kicking yourself this weekend if you haven’t booked your escape to Wilderness 2015.

 Björk – ‘Vulnicura’

Björk is playing

Björk is one of the most groundbreaking and influential musicians working today, she’s renowned for her incredible live spectacles, and her only UK festival performance this year takes place at Wilderness on Friday night. Reports from the first dates on her ‘Vulnicura’ tour suggest that Cornbury Park is in for something bold and beautiful. Needless to say, we’re very excited.

So is George Clinton

The actual reigning King of Funk – seriously, Google ‘king of funk’ and see who pops up – leads his Parliament/Funkadelic crew out onto the Wilderness main stage on Saturday night. Mr C is celebrating 40 years since Parliament’s stonking, spaced-out ‘Mothership Connection’ album, so this’ll be all funk, no junk.

And so are loads of other great musicians

Whether you’re into minimalist piano epics, pulsing electronic workouts, globe-spanning electrofunk or fiery afrobeat, you’ll find something to love on Wilderness’s diverse three-day bill. As well as Nils Frahm, Róisín Murphy, Ibibio Sound Machine and Seun Kuti we’re tipping passionate singer-songwriters Perfume Genius and Benjamin Clementine to send shivers up a few hundred spines this weekend

Located at the heart of the site is the hugely popular Bandstand stage, which this year boasts a wildly eclectic programme: Norwegian synthpop artist Aurora, immersive, risqué cabaret from Lady Austin, Snoop sing-alongs from Hip Hop Karaoke, vintage dance at Swing Patrol and more fun than should rightfully be allowed on a relic of the Victorian age.

Photographed by Justine Trickett

© Justine Trickett

There’s food – glorious food

Long-table banquets have become a Wilderness tradition, and this year’s hosts include Angela Hartnett and Raymond Blanc. They’re joined by Nuno Mendes, Neil Borthwick, Hix, Moro and Duck & Waffle – among others – on a culinary line-up guaranteed to get any London foodie’s juices flowing. There’s even a cookery school where you can learn to cook anything from Japanese comfort food to the perfect steak. Or another option is to simply graze on the various street food trucks dotted around the site. You’ll forget all terrible memories of the usual festival shitburgers.

The woods are full of DJs

When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, it’s time to head to the Hidden Valley for some after-hours fun. There you’ll find Wilderness’s party animals capering amidst the ancient trees of the Wychwood Forest, soundtracked by top spinners such as DJ Harvey, Kim Ann Foxman and Andy Butler of Hercules And Love Affair, and Time Out’s own disco king Oli Keens. The vibe: Tolkien’s Lothlorien meets Studio 54.

There's a goshdarned speakeasy…

If you’re the type to get tremors whenever you’re more than ten feet from a cocktail in a jam jar, then venturing outside London (or, let’s be honest, Hackney) is a bit of a stretch. Fear not: at Wilderness you can soak up some old-time sounds from acts including Big Joe Louis and Errol Linton while knocking back a julep or six.

Photographed by Jenna Foxton

© Jenna Foxton

…and a party stage on a merry-go-round

Set up by the guy who started Shangri-La at Glastonbury, the Carousel Stage hosts live acts and DJs blasting out Balkan brass, electro-swing and Latin jazz. In case you were wondering: yes, it is on an actual carousel.

There’s theatre, film and dance

On site you’ll find performers from Opera Holland Park, Battersea Arts Centre and the Old Vic, roaming performers, hula-hoopers and tap dancers, circus and cabaret performers and even a plush cinema tent.

You can walk on fire

With the help of hypnotherapist Oona McFarlane, festivalgoers can walk across hot coals in imitation of an ancient initiation rite. Unlike the ritual burnings that take place every year at certain other UK festivals, Oona’s firewalk is a transformative, transcendent experience that definitely won’t set anyone’s tent on fire.

You can feed your head

Alongside the escapist hedonism, Wilderness ticks pretty much every box when it comes to brainier pursuits. A series of talks covers politics, literature, science, history, philosophy, archeology, society, the great outdoors and the occult. There’s an atheist church service with the Sunday Assembly and an introduction to mindfulness with Will Young (yes, as in the pop star). You can learn from the experts how to be more confident, how to forage for wild food, how to improve your sex life or how to set up a business. In fact the only thing they won’t tell you is how to get rid of that Hidden Valley hangover. Sorry about that.

You can bring your sprogs

There’s a whole range of activities for children at Wilderness: everything from the educational (costume and dance workshops, bell casting, free ballet classes) to the very silly (a cricket match with a difference). There are even storytellers and nannies to keep your precious little ones occupied while you nip back to the tent for a cheeky tinny.

Photographed by Andrew Whitton

© Andrew Whitton

You can swim, ride, fish, shoot and forage

Fly fishing, horse riding, archery, boating and foraging are all on offer for the outdoorsy. If it all gets too much and you need to cool off, just plunge into the Cornbury Park lake. Maybe take off that flower crown first though.

It will be spectacular

There’s always a huge performance on Saturday night at Wilderness, tapping into the festival’s spirit of community, spectacle and magic. After last year’s stunning parade of giant animal puppets, this year the physical theatre group La Fura Dels Baus are creating something that could be even bigger. It’s a surprise, naturally, but we know it includes a massive human net dangling from a crane and something called ‘The Transformer’. You seriously do not want to miss this.

More Wilderness features

Björk interview

Heartbreak! Technology! Mortality! Time Out goes for coffee with the Icelandic avant-pop goddess headlining this year’s Wilderness festival

Read more
By: Michael Martin

The 11 best Björk songs

Time Out‘s resident Björk super-fan picks the greatest songs that she’s ever belted

Read more
By: Brent DiCrescenzo


Laura L
Laura L

blah blah Spa..it was an awesome festival with very few hitches. We had the same issue with the spa and were a bit miffed but once we got there there was a trillion other alternative options. We had hot showers, clean loos and security guards that gave out high fives and hugs. Sure stuff got stolen but every year someone in a crowd of thousands is going to aim for someone else stuff.

The only down side was the crowd mentality.... massively charming open people when encountered in talks and queues and sleeping on the grass but spot police once a band started. I wonder if a lot of the belligerent standers have ever been to a gig. How can you complain about pushing and shoving in a gig?..have you ever been to System of a Down, you go under and you come out again at best without a shoe at worst without a rib, by comparison the crowd at Wilderness seemed to think when you watch a band you are entitled to have a clear 6 inches around you at all times..London Underground would end them. Gigs in my world are sweaty, communal and close and all sway together and if you don't have the balls to move through the gaps in people then be cool and slip aside when other more enthusiastic people go for the front. 

Despite the tepidness of the overall crowd, Wilderness was a dream. Blessed with sun and combining goodwill, imagination, daring and eclecticism we being those I knew before and the loads of people I got to know during, all had a wonderful time. Being filthy and having trench foot is a sad badge of honour when instead you can swim in a lake, eat amazing food on top of the  ubiquitous mesmerising festival vibe of never-ending people traversing a huge site of wonder and colour dressed in revellry outfits with open hearts and minds. 

and if you are lucky enough to cobble together the £250 ish all in for tickets and food then I would suggest just swallowing the £8 for a program as all festival charge for them...or ask someone for directions and make a friend. 

If you haven't been go!!!..or don't as it will make buying tickets a ball ache like Glastonbury became:.)


Really dissapointed about the expensive booking fee and it has been an absaloutely nightmare trying to book the spa. The system kept crashing and when I finally did book, I get an email stating I don't have tickets and that I will be refunded. To make matters worse, they have people requesting refunds which they grant but do not offer them to me but put them back on the Web site so now I have to go through the whole process again! Rubbish.

Nicola Mills
Nicola Mills

Arrived with minimal planning on Saturday afternoon - taken aback by the size of the grounds (don't know what the word is for grass even bigger and posher than, "grounds"), lack of map and signage and requirement for over 8 quid for a programme. Also taken aback by low key security - especially after Gentlemen of the Road - pleasant, but probably only possible because of the clientele and distance required to do a runner. Didn't stop someone nicking all one stall's lip balms though. Punters far too nice to use vacant disabled loo, even with queues, but didn't stop the shoving and shunting at the main stage - which could have been cut down if they'd forked out for some screens. Finally found my niche at Friends of the Earth busking tent on Sunday where really impressed by a young man with musicianship down to his fingernails. Event did make me need to check he wasn't an Eton graduate pretending to grow up on a council estate - he wasn't and James, aka the Cartoonist now has his first middle aged female groupie. Will look up Debrett's first if I go again,