By Amy Ellis Winter
If you’ve ever dreamed of roaming through the fields of Aslan’s Camp or spent your childhood gaming in the land of Animal Crossing. This is the festival for you.
Tucked away in Uffington, Oxfordshire, stands a treehouse surrounded by all things wonderful. I must admit, upon arrival the idea of being without Wi-Fi and battery power for 4 days scared me a little. Not from a social perspective, Instagram I could do without, but as a woman travelling to an unfamiliar location (whether alone or with a group), safety is always a factor we must consider. Furthermore, I’ll admit that I hate camping. DofE was nothing but horror, ending with a friend rolling off the side of a Welsh slate mountain and breaking her leg. The paramedics’ helicopter was the only sight of civilisation I saw that day. Nevertheless, I cannot deny an opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, do something spontaneous, and truthfully, I had never felt safer nor more at peace.
Upon our arrival we were shown to our tent, given my first and last traumatic experience camping, Cotswold Bells were kind enough to provide my boyfriend and I with our own glamping Bell Tent. Decked to the nines with pillows; rugs; tables; bunting; fairy lights and what ended up being surprisingly a comfy air mattress, all the stress of camping had been taken away as we were situated amongst other glampers tucked out of the way from the hustle and bustle of the music stages and workshops.
Now truthfully, the first evening got off to a shaky start through no fault but our own. For some obscure reason, two Oxford students didn’t clock that despite there being a heatwave, camping would be slightly chilly to say the least. Thus, we spent the night huddling for warmth in our quilts and duvets resembling something of a couple in their 80s. The following day, a quick trip back to Oxford allowed us to pick up a few daytime snacks and reunite with our college puffers – which was an identifying feature of the other Oxford students on this trip. From here onwards, the trip was a huge success.
Our first day included exploring the new Treehouse Saunaverse which consisted of two saunas, a hot tub, and a freezing cold ice bath in a converted beer barrel. Prior to Treehouse, my only festival experience had been the likes of Reading and Leeds, and while Dave and Arctic Monkeys were not performing at this event, I did not spend 9 hours queuing. Instead, I wondered how far I could push myself to fully embrace this experience. Upon deciding to participate in an Aufguss sauna class with the Iceman, my body was pushed to extreme highs and extreme lows. An hour-long physical workshop turned out to be more of a mental challenge as our bodies were faced with 3, 20-minute sessions in a sauna reaching temperatures of 50°C whilst hot air was intentionally blown into our faces. Shortly after each session we were thrown into a 1-minute ice bath only to do the entire thing again. We started off with 10 people and by the end there were 6, myself among them. As cringeworthy as this will sound, from that moment onwards I experienced a motivation and strength, it truly felt as though if I could get through that then I could overcome anything.
Following that, a class in crochet preceding a wood fired WhiteHorsebox pizza and a campfire party underneath the treehouse with a live band concluded our evening. The list of events taking place was extensive, sadly we were unable to attend all but there was truly something for everyone. Yoga; life drawing; sauna workshops; open mic nights; meditation; hiking; creative writing; lino carving; massage workshops; fabric printing… And best of all, access to the treehouse which had never been open to the public in all of the festival’s 7 years. My boyfriend and I were lucky enough to be granted a private tour by no other than the founder and builder of the Treehouse, Tom de Wilton himself – an Oxford alumnus from Wadham College – you can read more about the tour and creation of Treehouse Festival in this exclusive interview here (published soon!)
On our third day, we participated in some sauna meditation and breath work, before trying our hand at lino carving – a craft that proved to be much trickier than anticipated but incredibly enjoyable. Our carvings were printed onto fabric before being transferred onto our own custom tote bags. Small treasure chests were hidden around the woodland with the incentive to take whatever gift was inside upon discovery and replace it with one of your own for another to find. I was among the lucky few to discover one.
There was no downside to the festival itself, although my biggest piece of advice would be to travel by car, bike or one of the Treehouse coaches if possible. There was a brilliant joy in securing a 1-hour bus from central Oxford to Treehouses’ nearest town for the low cost of £2. Sadly, this joy was cut short when various taxi companies tried to charge us between £35-£50 for a one way 12-minute drive to the campsite. Thankfully we were able to find a company that would take us there for £20 however more than we may have typically liked to spend for such a short journey. Fellow students travelling on a budget, do make sure to plan out your transportation further in advance than we did, and I promise you that the outcome is well worth it.
Before we knew it, our time here was over. I was not only sad to leave the festival, with every evening spent watching the sunset and the horses that grazed upon the hill; the ability to walk around the fields barefoot with no risk of stepping on broken glass; being the healthiest I’d ever felt with an entirely vegetarian diet; the small bursts of dopamine I’d get every time I walked past the community bins to find the recycling bin almost overflowing and the rubbish bin only a quarter full. But most of all, I’d missed the ease with which I had made friends at the campsite, many of whom had come from busy London corporate jobs. Adult loneliness is incredibly real, and Tom sees his festival as a way to change that.
De Wilton even joked about Treehouse members being of the more ‘hippie’ lifestyle, a word that initially made me chuckle. I’ll admit I am quite materialistic as I think many people are, and this festival was nothing like I had ever experienced before, but the first step to enjoying myself was to admit that I did place value in material things.
Would I come to Treehouse Festival again? In a heartbeat. By the end of my stay, I no longer described the festival to my friends as ‘hippie,’ but another word came to mind. ‘Kind.’