Like all good festivals, there’s absolutely zero sign of Wilderness until suddenly it’s taking up your entire field of vision, and there’s no denying it looks glorious with leaves in bloom and sun blazing down on the hillside. Anticipating late arrival we stumped up for a pre-allocated plot with its own car park, but to begin with it seems we don’t have a space. Karma, no doubt, for kicking the others out of the car earlier. The prospect of driving along to the bottom of the hill and then walking back up with all our gear in the blazing sun isn’t worth contemplating, so we manage to force the vehicle into the end of a row and make our way to our pitch which, thankfully, is all present and correct. Security doesn’t check for booze, drugs, knives or guns.
It’s pushing 5pm, so we set about building our home for the weekend. Having provided two of the three tents I’m uniquely and unfortunately equipped to put them up, which in this heat means working up a veritable river of sweat before we even get into the crowd. A swim would be ideal, but for now we have to make do with that festival classic, the Warm Bloody Mary. No ice, no celery, no tabasco, just a punchy slug of Glen’s finest and a tomato top-up from a carton that’s been gently cooking under pressure in the car to a few degrees over room temperature. It’s as cool and refreshing as it sounds.
News comes in that the other group are stuck in horrendous traffic. Feel very pleased with ourselves. Crack open a warm beer and then head down the valley, over the lake and into the arena. Security doesn’t check for booze, drugs, knives or guns.
Well, this is all very pleasant. Beautiful sunset, warm breeze, and seemingly only about five people in attendance. I go to a bar for a cold one and get served in seconds. It sets me back an equally cold £6. We try our luck at the spa for tickets, but the lady on the desk doesn’t like the fact that we didn’t book in advance, and likes it even less when I say that I tried but the website crashed every time. Don’t expect any cancellations either, because we don’t sell those tickets on. Next stop is the Dining Room, where I’ve pre-booked a table at Duck + Waffle for the first night’s pitstop. It cost £5 per head for the privilege, but as it’s bound to be heaving it’s undoubtedly a worthy investment which, in any case, can be offset against the bill.
It’s half empty. Have to get used to this lack of queues. Pleasingly our choices don’t have to be limited to Duck + Waffle, which is something of a relief given that there’s a wealth delicious plates on offer. We go for the eponymous Duck + Waffle, obviously, onglet from Quality Chop House and some pork buns and tuna sashimi pizza from Kurobuta. The waffle is sweet and rich, the onglet cooked to perfection (i.e., charred and blue), but Kurobuta is the star. The sashimi pizza – don’t be put off, more of a crispy flat taco glistening with slivers of raw tuna, green tobiko and chilli dressing – is a thing of beauty. We order a second. Wine from Noble Rot is pricey – starts at £30 a bottle – and a little underwhelming at the lower end. Otherwise prices are reasonable, but in all the excitement over the sashimi pizza we fail to collect our deposit, rendering the meal £20 more expensive than it could have been.
Head over to clothes shop by the main stage, where one of the girls has spotted a coat. Marvel at the balls of the vendors selling multi-coloured tie-dye leotards you’re guaranteed never to wear again for anything up to £700. Does anyone carry that much on them at a festival? Or bring their credit card? Consider buying a silly Hawaiian shirt for £50, then realise I’ll be paying to look like a bellend. Move on.
Parov Stelar on the Main Stage draws a healthy crowd. None of us are familiar with the Austrian act (electro-swing, apparently) but there’s no denying the infectious bounce of the music. After his set finishes we make our way over to The Valley where Maribou State are a last minute replacement for Jackmaster. It’s a little further than expected (having got used to the size of the festival I now don’t expect to have to walk at all) so we stop in for a beer on the way. I’m just taking my first sip when a security guard barges into the group of thirty year olds, insists we all show ID, tells us off for looking young and then tells the two of us who didn’t think to bring their passport to a festival that if he sees them drinking in his bar he’ll have them kicked out of the whole event. Lovely guy. A little busy for my liking.
At some point in the evening we pick up the other half of the group who, by all accounts, had a horrendous journey to the festival. I keep my mouth shut. Maribou State are already in full swing by the time we reach The Valley around 10pm. We had grand intentions of arriving for the start of their set but this road to hell was paved with stalls selling sequin jackets (one of the girls gives in to temptation) and Madonna blaring out of the Juke’s Joint stage. To be honest, they may well have finished already – none of us are exactly compos mentis by this point – but the impressive setting of lasers shooting through the illuminated arches of the trees is worth the trip alone. It’s an inventive use of the landscape which effectively turns a hillside into an open air Fabric for the night.
We lose an hour or two flitting from one stage to another, wherever the music’s best. There are late night cheese toasties, and then all of a sudden we have to leave. One of the girls has sprained her ankle. She’s also lost her phone and brand new sequin jacket. The first two she can live with, but the loss of the coat is too much to bear, and we start the long hobble back home at around 2am. We’re just about to cross over the bridge to the campsite when a random number pops up on my phone. It’s a good Samaritan who found the phone and wanted to make sure it got back to its owner that night. Third phone he’s returned in as many hours. He must be a telecommunications angel. We run back, meet him outside the ghostly Hix tent, thank him profusely, and call it a night.
The Morning After
Mother of God, will they shut up? It’s barely 7am, and for some reason this family of adults next to us seems to think it appropriate to start prepping a seven course fry up, with all the pan-clanging racket that entails, before discussing, at the top of their voice, just how many annoying people there were at whichever miserable show they saw last night who just wouldn’t keep their voices down. Oh the irony. To make matters worse it’s about 30 degrees in my tent and it feels like someone fixed the dough hook attachment onto their Kitchen Aid and let it off in my head.
The breakfast finishes and they bugger off, but the damage is done. I’m up now. On the plus side there’s no queue for the facilities, and so I treat myself to the only genuinely new experience of the weekend: a festival shower. I say shower, it’s more like a dribble, but it’s warm and it makes me feel marginally less smelly. Unfortunately I failed to pack two of the t-shirts I’d set aside for the weekend, so I’m still going to be wearing yesterday’s sweat. The thought was there.
Soon the others are up, and in the cold light of day it’s clear we need to get the ankle seen to before anything else. Conveniently the first aid tent is in the next door field, but it’s also at the top of the hill, which unfurls itself like a breezy green middle finger in our faces as we turn round the corner and look up at our destination. At least they’re handing out free weak coffee. Entering the tent we find two medics in good spirits despite being at the end of a long night, who cackle with glee at the suggestion we might get a pair of crutches. We make do with a bandage, then wonder over to the arena again. The headache’s starting to clear, but I’m in need of a strong shot of caffeine.
So in need, it turns out, that I’m willing to wait in line for almost half an hour for the privilege. The masses were here all along, they just don’t come out for any old rubbish. Nothing but the finest small producer artisan coffee. And tea, hordes of people gathered in a circle in the shade of the tea tent, listening to someone who looks like a tea leaf mumble about tea leafs for what seems like an eternity. It’s like a human cold brew happening before our very eyes, which sends us running down the hill and towards the lake, where a good deal of people are swimming but far more seem to be just loitering with intent on the bank. They’re trying to pretend like they’ve definitely just got out of the water or are just about to dive in, but I’m not convinced anyone’s following through on the bluster.