Camp Wildfire 2018 - Zombies go scouting for geeks and hipsters

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It was as I was sprinting through the thick woods pursued by a phalanx of blood-bespattered zombies that it dawned on me I was loving Camp Wildfire. Okay, my hamstring was painfully tweaked and my unfit muscles aching like mad, but hey, I was having a whole heap of innocent, throw-away-cool, young-again fun.

The festival bills itself as a mix of music and adventure, but mainly it’s a place to forget the burdens of adulthood for a weekend and return to the simple and wholesome pleasures of childhood, unselfconsciously building camps and rafts, climb walls, hurtle down water slides, throw axes, take part in bow and arrow battles, and attend beekeeping, screen printing, circus skills and a host of other classes…see The level of challenge isn’t all that high but then why would it be? The aim is to play, meet other people, and simply have child-like fun.

This feels so much not on trend that it is, somehow, right on trend (don’t come along expecting anything ‘cool’ though). As such, Camp Wildfire attracts a mash-up of geeks, norms, hipsters and festival groovers who are informally divided into four competing teams– squirrels, badgers, hawks and foxes – for the duration. You win points for your team primarily in the weekend-long generic Patrol Games, which include such schooldays classics as the three legged race, dodgeball, egg and spoon race, wheelbarrow race…you get the picture. There’s no compulsion at all to join in these games but many do.

There was a fair smattering of adult fun to be had too. The festival is for 18 years and above – the great majority are 18-35 – and the cupids club made it easy for singles to meet the love of their lives (or their weekend) while studiously making nipple tassels, or over a game of spin the bottle, or even in the over-priced, over-small, but lovely spa area. There was a decent line up of, to me, unknown bands too (Son of Kong, Tugboat Captain, Shaka Loves You, anyone?), and late night DJs and, oh my golly, even a bar serving real grown up alcohol. Bring your own cup with you though as you have to buy them for a fiver each onsite as plastic mugs and glasses aren’t provided – excellent for the environment, I’ve never been to such a clean and tidy festival, but not so good when you’re buying a round.

Bizarrely, and it turns out for no particular reason, the fashion item of choice at Wildfire is the scout uniform. Okay, there’s a kind of scout camp vibe to the whole shebang, but the festival didn’t grow out of the movement. It adds a little frisson to things mind you as some of the outfits are, let’s say, a tad sexier than the scout uniforms I un-fondly remember. It’s not an imperative to wear them of course, wear what you like, it’s just that a fair few do, most particularly the 500 staff and volunteers and a small but significant percentage of the many festival returners. Wildfire is growing each year by the way – this year (its third) there were 1200 attendees and more are expected next year.  

A few gripes: there was, inevitably, the usual festival problem with loos and showers, ie. not enough, not always clean, and too often long queues (are they so expensive to hire?); there was only a small selection of food stalls – and there could have been more on offer for vegans, gluton frees, etc; there was only one sizeable performance tent, which felt modest to me; the camping was cramped as is always the way; and, well, someone said to me that the grass was too long (now that’s just being picky!). The site is pretty enough – a lovely 200 metre walk through the woods leads to small open area set amongst a substantial collection of pines – but for a country boy frequent-festival goer such as me it lacks significant views (other than from the arse-end of the carpark). Having said that attendees down from nearby fume-choked London found it utterly magical.

The vibe though is exceptional. I’ve not been to a more friendly, relaxed and innocent-fun filled festival. I felt a fish out of water when I arrived though, being a good deal older than 99% of attendees, but other than an initial, unwitting and brief bout of casual ageism everyone treated me in a very inclusive and natural way. I started off with a bit of sun printing, which was underwhelming, so I cranked things up with some vigorous zorbing, a scavenger hunt, drumming, capture the flag, sun viewing (far more interesting and far less foolish than it sounds), and the previously mentioned zombie run. I topped this off with a lovely relaxing hour or so in the spa’s hot tub and sauna.

All in all then Camp Wildfire is an excellent and unusual bijou festival, a whole lot more like PGL for adults than the alcohol fuelled lost weekends or healing field love ins I know so well and love. Unusually, and rather wonderfully, it’s great to go with friends and also great to go on your own – either way you just can’t help but meet a whole load of people. I’m planning to go along again next year.

Published on 01 October 2018 by Neil del Strother

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