Weird and Wonderful Wood
I remember the first time I heard about Weird and Wonderful Wood. I had only recently started seeing Elle when she told me about it, after seeing a poster for that year’s fair in the window of the local post office. She had already been going there for a few years, and I remember clearly the impression her description made on me. It seemed magical in the oldest sense: something earthy and pagan and sacred.
To be honest, at first, I assumed she was making most of it up. It just seemed too otherworldly: a community gathering underneath the living tents of trees once a year to work ancient, forgotten crafts. It sounded like something straight out of a fantasy novel.
It just seemed too otherworldly: a community gathering underneath the living tents of trees once a year to work ancient, forgotten crafts.
And in some ways, it is: Weird and Wonderful Wood is certainly channeling a surreal, otherworldly vibe. But in fact, the fair is very, very real. Every year, Weird and Wonderful Wood brings together a collection of amazing artisans, traders, artists and performers, all sharing a deep connection with wood, trees, forests and nature more generally.
People dressed as fauns on stilts stride past a stall selling hand-carved wooden utensils and ornaments, while a willow-weaving workshop is taking place opposite. Crowds gather to watch a man wielding a chainsaw turn a large tree-trunk into a lifelike sculpture of the Green Man.
In a world that has become so unremittingly digital, there this something so refreshing about how tactile everything is at Weird and Wonderful Wood. It is a celebration of crafts and skills that can be done with your hands in the real world, away from a screen.
There is one particular stall that I always gravitate towards. It is usually found in the barn in the middle of the park. It belongs to the instrument maker, Con Rendell, and while I’m no expert in historical instruments, as well as guitars and harps, I suspect he makes lutes. On the table in front of him are an assortment of these instruments, some finished and polished, others at various stages of construction. There is something about their curved backs, reinforced interiors and smooth surfaces that look watertight, like the hulls of upturned Renaissance galleons.
Other highlights for us include the stunning willow sculptures that recline eerily and majestically on the grassy bank, the meticulously painted gypsy vardos (wagons), and a surreal insect circus we visited in 2016 (which we hope will be returning again this year!).
Weird and Wonderful Wood began in 1994, created by Tarby Davenport with the goal of being an affordable family-friendly event. Tarby also organised events at a range of national and international events, including the Millennium Dome and Glastonbury Festival, as well as being involved with Albion Fairs, and you can feel the spirit of the East Anglian Barsham and Albion Fairs (1972 to 1986) at Weird and Wonderful Wood.
Tarby was made an MBE at this year’s New Year Honours for services to Arts in the community in Suffolk. There is a fantastic summary of Tarby's career, which was originally publishing in the Bury Free Press.
Weird and Wonderful Wood has had to be postponed for the past two years due to coronavirus, so the 2022 fair is going to be a special year for them. It is also the first year with Tarby’s daughter, Sarah, at the helm, so we are very excited about returning.
Weird and Wonderful Wood will be held on 14 and 15 May at Haughley Park,
Wetherden, IP14 3JY