Around now, the last piece of wood will be being carved, the last ukulele will be being plucked, and the last drop of real ale will be being drunk…marking the end of another successful WoodFest at Hatfield Forest. This was my first WoodFest experience, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable weekend of it.
WoodFest has been run for a number of years. It started small, as a showcase for showing off local woodcraft talent. Over the years it has morphed, becoming a music festival for local groups and, more recently, a chance to experience the joys of wild camping in the midst of a rare survival of an extant medieval forest. Did I mention, it is also free?
I began early on Saturday morning with a stint of car parking. It turns out that car parking at events like these is of crucial importance. Cars began arriving quite early, and were either siphoned off into the main visitor car park at Elgin Coppice, or parked in the area near the campsite (where I was helping out). Radios helped the team to stay in touch, meaning that any problems (such as over shortages for disabled parking spaces) could be addressed. Standing in a field for four hours may not sound like fun, but actually it turned out to be strangely interesting work!
Having been relieved of duties, I spent the rest of my time enjoying WoodFest with my family. We made camp in the main campsite, and then took advantage of all the delights on offer. My children enjoyed the Children’s Glade, with the chance to make models out of oddly-shaped offcuts of wood. Nearby at the timber tent, serious wood aficionados were placing orders for planks of the finest seasoned wood Hatfield has to offer.
The National Trust Essex team showed off their excellent pop-up activity tents, and the new attraction of the Wendy house. Nearby, in the main stage tent a carousel of excellent musicians entertained the crowds from lunchtime onwards.
There was much else besides – local crafts, vintage clothes, storytelling, percussion, wood turning, natural history… All in the confines of a hugely important wooded landscape – one of the rarest of its kind possibly in the whole of Europe.
I cycled back home afterwards, taking advantage of a new purchase: the Dinky Map of Hatfield Forest (a pocket-sized extract of the OS map, on tough, waterproof paper). Cycling via the Flitch Way, I made it to Bishops Stortford without needing to travel on any public roads. From here, I headed home the back way, through the delightful villages like Manuden and Rickling.
The journey was a slice of England, starting with the disused railway alongside the edge of a medieval forest, crossing over the M11 motorway under shadow of planes taking off from Stansted, and then heading through Hertfordshire suburbia before breaking into late-summer Essex countryside. There was even a cricket match under way at Rickling Green, where I stopped a while to watch ‘someone running up to bowl’. It wasn’t Whitsun, but Larkin might have enjoyed the variety of these sights, all witnessed within an hour or so of each other.
* acknowledgements to D. Jones