One of Suffolk's most popular festivals returns next weekend

Weird and Wonderful Wood event at Haughley Park.

Entertainers at Weird and Wonderful Wood in 2016 - Credit: Gregg Brown

It’s been called magical, unique, and wild. And now, after a two-year forced hiatus, it’s back. 

Weird and Wonderful Wood, held on the Haughley Park estate near Stowmarket, returns on May 14 and 15, with, say organisers, something for everyone. 

The affordable family event sees craftspeople from all over the country gather together, showcasing their love of wood in all its guises. Expect free workshops, tree climbing, spontaneous street performers, demonstrations of everything from musical instrument making to tree carving, great local food and drink, wandering musicians, and an acoustic music stage. 

The woman behind it all is Tarby Davenport, who was this week finally awarded an MBE (after more than 40 years) for Services to the Arts and the Community. 

Tarby Davenport MBE, creator of Weird and Wonderful Wood

Tarby Davenport MBE, creator of Weird and Wonderful Wood - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Tarby has dedicated much of her life to supporting and creating events not just in East Anglia, but nationwide, having been involved in the early stages of Glastonbury Festival, in the Commonwealth Games, the London Craft Centre, and booking artists for the (then) Millennium Dome. 

“She’s done so much over the years and I think she’s brilliant,” says daughter Sarah Barker, who works with Tarby on Weird and Wonderful Wood, reflecting on one of her career highlights. 

“Steeleye Span had been around for a while and were doing very well in the 80s. Mum decided to book them for the Corn Exchange in Bury with Tim Hart and Maddy Prior. She didn’t know they actually hadn’t played on stage together for quite some time. The Corn Exchange was completely overwhelmed. Tickets sold out, but there were still queues of people winding through the town. It was actually quite staggering!” 

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Going on to talk about the creation of Weird and Wonderful Wood, Sarah says it’s a coming together of all her mum’s favourite things. “We were recently trying to work out when it started. It was over 20 years ago when mum moved to Suffolk. She found there wasn’t really very much for families to do, and wanted to create an event that had something for every age group. 

Weird and Wonderful Wood at Haughley Park

Weird and Wonderful Wood at Haughley Park - Credit: Heritage Snapper

Carved tree trunks at Weird and Wonderful Wood

Carved tree trunks at Weird and Wonderful Wood - Credit: Heritage Snapper

“She was a single parent and wanted to keep it affordable too. It was all about helping to keep alive crafts that otherwise would die out with modern technology. Crafts children don’t get the opportunity to see or learn, like weaving, or etching letters into wood with a chisel. The festival also became a good platform for performers like stilt walkers and jugglers...and up-and-coming musicians. Mum was friends with John Peel and he used to tell her about new local bands and singers.” 

Weird and Wonderful Wood started life at the Thornham Estate, which it outgrew within five years. “Mum then approached Haughley Park,” says Sarah, “and they were really welcoming. 

“It is the most beautiful venue. The house and grounds are absolutely stunning and ideal for hosting an event like ours. The bluebell woods are blooming, the scenery lends itself to the crafters, and there’s a beautiful lake area where audiences can sit on the hill and watch performances.” 

Sarah says more than 150 traders will be at the festival – most of them making their wares by hand, from wooden spoons to knives and huge tables and chessboards. “Anything that could be made of wood will be there, from small pieces, to artisan furniture. There will be so many free workshops as well. You’ll find, once you’ve paid the fee on the entry gate, there’s a lot to do.” 

A performer at a previous Weird and Wonderful Wood festival

A performer at a previous Weird and Wonderful Wood festival - Credit: Heritage Snapper

Jacob Lambert at Weird and Wonderful Wood

Jacob Lambert at Weird and Wonderful Wood - Credit: Heritage Snapper

That ranges from willow weaving, to lantern and papier mache making. “We’ve also got things like Monkey Do, where children can climb up into the trees into an assault course made with nets. And there are silks acrobatics workshops to learn some aerial skills.” 

Sarah’s excited to welcome acrobats, the Black Eagles, from London, and also Bridie the Tea Lady. As seen on Britain’s Got Talent, Bridie will be running around the festival (on stilts) with a trolley of tea and cake, making hilarious music. 

Talking of tea, and Sarah adds there’s something to whet everyone’s appetite at Weird and Wonderful Wood. “We’ve got a vegan café, hot dogs made in Suffolk the Little Pig Bakery from Stowmarket. Alder Carr Farm will be selling ice cream. It’s a huge range. We're told that because we’re careful about who we have come, the food on site is much better than the average festival fare.” 

What do mother and daughter look forward to most about the event?

Pole Lathes at Weird and Wonderful Wood

Pole Lathes at Weird and Wonderful Wood - Credit: Heritage Snapper

Unicyclists on stage at Weird and Wonderful Wood

Unicyclists on stage at Weird and Wonderful Wood - Credit: Heritage Snapper


Tarby says there are too many aspects to mention. “But I love the wood craft itself. Because I was on my own with four kids, that was the way I earned most of my money – having wooden furniture done up and selling to a dealer in Essex. It [the furniture] was scattered everywhere.” 

That led to a lifelong adoration of wood in all its guises. 

As for Sarah...”We’ve got an incredible guy called Steve who works in a really traditional way. He takes a tree trunk and with just a hand axe turns it into a beam for a house. He will be demonstrating over the weekend and you can watch what he’s making come to life in front of you. 

“I enjoy the chainsaw carving too. They’ll start with a trunk in the morning and by the end of the day it could be an angel or a bird. People will stand for hours watching them work. 

“This is the kind of festival where you want to be everywhere all at the same time. There’s something to see and do all around you. We’ve had an incredible response from the public. They’re really really excited to see it return and to come back to an event they’ve attended year after year and have sorely missed. It is a real celebration. We love it as a family. Mum has created something truly incredible.” 

Weird and Wonderful Wood is open from 10.30am to 6pm on Saturday, May 14 and from 10.30am to 5pm on Sunday, May 15. Entry is £12 for adults, £9 for concessions, £6 for under 12s and free for under threes. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead at all times. Tickets are available on the gate. Find out more at