Back in March I received a phone call from our receptionist, Nathan. "Hi, Ryan", he said. "There's two people here for you”. “Who are they?”, I asked. He gave me two names I had never heard before, and continued, “Oh yeah. They’re wearing cub scout uniforms”. My fight or flight instinct kicked in. “Okay…” I replied, and walked round to the front desk to be greeted by these two, peering at me.
“Are you Ryan?”, they said. “Yes”, I replied. “We’re here for you”, they said in unison, grinning and gazing into my soul. “We’ve come with a very special gift. You need to solve it, follow the instructions inside, and join us”. As I started to back away, they placed a puzzle box in my hand. I was convinced they were part of some cult that’d been inspired by back copies of Time Out, Wes Anderson, and the legacy of Baden Powell, but weirder things have happened so I returned to my desk and solved their challenge. Inside the box I found two Cub Scout badges and a scroll of paper.
The paper was an invitation to Camp Wildfire - “a 1950's style adventure camp” where “Scout Leaders encourage campers to take part in a huge array of activities” until nightfall when, “having truly earned it”, campers are invited to get “stuck in to debaucherous parties”. Essentially an adventure camp in the day, and a “wild forest music festival” with a “secret line-up of amazing bands and DJs” at night. They called it “the world’s first Questival” - an event “only for the curious”. I called it the most long-winded invitation I’ve ever received.
Although the invite felt strange - like one of those street scientologists offering the chance “to take a personality test” but for music journalists looking to "write a feature” - the festival had promised a weekend of debauchery. Am I interested in that? Hell yeah I am! So I strapped on my camp boots and headed down to the “exclusive secret Woodland location an hour outside of London”.
“Secret location” means somewhere that’s inaccessible using train, apparently, so we arrived late Friday night. Not gonna lie, the site looked beautiful. Walking through the fairy-lit tunnel felt like we were entering Narnia but with the knowledge we were carrying Sainsburys bags filled with cut-price alcohol, rather than deep onset feelings towards our siblings. Like Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund though, we too, arrived without a single roll of toilet paper. FOL for not being a fairytale.
I arrived with a few questions. Would the world’s first Questival be like a cult? Would it be a narcotic fuelled ascent into ecstatic paradise? Would I leave the experience as a new man? I couldn’t be sure, but as more Scout Leaders waited for us at the entrance, my initial suspicions about being signed up for a shared belief system seemed solidified. We were told we looked “like real trendsters” and assigned to the “fox” patrol - because we looked like “urban foxes”. It was like Harry Potter or the beginning of a frat-themed high-school film, but with bantam badgers, howling hawks, stealthy squirrels, and fearless foxes in place of Gryffindor and the Greek alphabet. We also sign a disclaimer because “that’s the sign of a good time”.
Camp Wildfire operates on a sign-up system. You arrive promptly at 5pm, walk to the “enrolment area”, choose which activities you want to participate in - of which there are over eighty - and place them in your “Adventurer’s Handbook”. Although they don’t start until the morning, a few events were planned for our arrival day. Here’s what happened:
We attempt to “Strip the Willow”; we eat some pulled pork and crackling; some DJs play an eclectic mix - “Uptown Funk” all the way to Todd Terje; a dude lights a sword on fire; our bedtime story is an explorer giving a talk around the campfire on the cannibal tribes of Papua New Guinea. I fall asleep in a bed of negligence, cursing myself for trusting the British Outdoors and bringing nothing warmer than a hooded sweatshirt and jeans.
The next morning we wake up to two messages.. The first comes booming over Camp Wildfire’s radio system from the camp leaders. “Attention, campers”, they say. “We have an important message for you”. They’re introduced by a “ding-dong-ding-ding” sound, like the Summer Camps in the American childhood I used to dream about, except it’s eight in the morning, I haven’t slept, and I’m fucking cold. The second comes from dickheads who chirpily shout “Morning” as they pass each other in the campsite. It’s like the Hunger Games crossed with the village Nick Frost saved in Hot Fuzz. I sincerely wish everyone would fuck off. I realise I hate camping and have a lie down like a war zone casualty except the only thing I’m suffering from is prolonged sub-zero temperatures and the knowledge I’m a real “trendster urban fox” aka a pussy. Near me, people meditate and bang drums.
We eat breakfast and await our first activity of the day. As we eat, a Camp Leader talks over the radio system - which is playing Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” - and says vaguely dampening things like “if you’re bored while waiting, why not challenge another camper to a race” in a radio voice that sounds like he’s in a 1930s "Keep Calm and Carry On" British infomercial about war rationing.
In the list of activities on their website, Camp Wildfire says “Oh my giddy aunt, you might want to start getting really excited…” and quite frankly, I am. Over the weekend I indulge in the following intrepid pursuits in the name of adventure:
I lean back, like the Terror Squad demanded, and launch myself off a wall. This is my John McClain moment. Yippee Kiy Yay motherfuckers!
I hang the fuck out in a corn field.
I relive every family BBQ and bang out some swing ball. I accidently hit myself in the face as standard.
I give my balls a good service off the back of a hot trot and realise people who own horses put ‘em on everything - mugs, tea towels, calendars, hand-drawn paintings, anything that allows adornment. They adore the four-legged hair-do creatures like their unborn grandchildren. I’m having a great time among fun-loving people. Questival has got it right. This is a utopia! Then something traumatising happens…
I get my face painted.
And I skin a rabbit, with my face painted.
I should say now, this little beauty had been hit by a car a few days earlier so, in the back of my mind, I keep telling myself that carving up the cast of Watership Down is kind of okay. I mean, cutting up and eating roadkill is probably a much cleaner, ethical way to eat meat - they’ve been hit by a car, sure, but that beats being packed into a cage made to sleep on a bed of faeces and disease. That didn’t stop me from feeling sick though. I love animals. Plus - do you guys know how much shit is inside a dead animal? Honestly, I’d never thought about it before but the answer is a lot. Sadly, there’s no internet access here so I am unable to access repentyoursins.com - a now defunct website I genuinely used the only other time I’ve dissassembled a rabbit. Fuck my life for the second time this weekend.
To calm down, I paint a watercolour picture and receive delayed satisfaction from my A-Level in Art. It was everything my mother would have hoped for and I achieved inner-happiness as a result. Later the rain ruined my painting. Fuck the rain.
We reach nightfall and for the first time this weekend, we’re ready to see what “an evening of debauchery entails”. First up is Clarence Clarity - an artist who, according to an article I appear to have written, “invokes the sort of pleasure usually derived from sadism”. Then we come to the the next act - The Keston Cobblers Club - who are launching their album. I ask our photographer Jake what he thinks about the vibe. “It’s happy and energetic” he replies. It’s hardly Glastonbury but it’s definitely a nice change from the normal festival experience.
The next day it’s more of the same. We make some masks; we learn how to light a fire; we watch a pig get rotated around on a spit roast and eat some more food. There’s a water fight. Someone has a tug of war. Y’know, general adventure camp shit.
Throughout the festival, each patrol scores points - for doing well in activities, winning water fights, etc - and at the end, the patrol with the most is awarded a trophy. The foxes win and we feel like the baddest motherfuckers in the entire camp. Jake holds the trophy aloft like a true badman.
Just look at that. Look at all that happiness. I went in expecting Camp Wildfire to be weird, lame, one of the WOAT experiences but essentially it’s like nothing else I’ve experienced. It’s like the last three days of school, or a scout camp, but with the added awesomeness of drugs and alcohol - and unlike any other festival. It’s a moment to seize adventure and to try something new. In a festival landscape that’s packed with events doing the same thing, booking the same bands, and providing the same experience, it’s a #rare, new event. I arrived feeling like I was being inducted into a cult. I left with an experience. If you’re not bothered about seeing Kasabian or The Who or Metallica for the second time, then I don’t think there’s anything else you want from a festival really.
They even had some VIPs in attendance. Here is Daniel Bedingfield’s brother in all his glory.
I bet he gets that all the time.