It was only when I was hurtling down an extreme water slide screaming into the Kent country air that it suddenly hit me; this was getting increasingly surreal.
The same morning I’d made a tie dye t-shirt, learned how to butcher a deer and whittled a branch into a crossbow. There was also the moment I spotted a naked woman emerge from the undergrowth as a still life drawing session unfolded on the fringes of a field.
No, I hadn’t fallen down a rabbit hole but ventured to the Wildfire Adventure Camp. Pegged as a ‘half music festival half adventure camp for adults’ this get-together started in 2015 as a word of mouth event. However, like all good things, the word quickly spread and this year’s tickets were swiftly snapped up.
I’d joined 800 other happy campers for the extravaganza, taking a 30 minute train journey from London to a top secret location nestled in the English countryside. En route we’d met festival-goers from Berlin and Paris to Essex and Brixton. In true Brigish fashion, the rain had been non-stop in the run-up to Wildfire Camp. But the boggy, mud-up-to-the-shins conditions didn’t seem to bother the hardy adventurers who’d turned up.
After pitching up a tent with my friend Eoghan (a borrowed tent, may I add, which happened to be a tiny one-man abode) we headed in to the main hub of the festival. It took us 20 minutes to navigate a chocolate truffle-coloured walkway of deep mud before we finally made it to the big tent / performance area.
While the rest of my friends were out gallivanting around London on a Friday night, I’d fashioned a twig headband and was rambling around in the flora.
In the main tent, the music started to flow and more guests continued to flood in. Some enthusiastic campers had gone as far as to wear Boy Scout-style outfits, while I spotted a man in a reindeer onesie at one point. I’d opted for some hiking trousers and a long vest-jumper combination for warmth. Kate Moss-esque festival chic, this was not.
Thankfully the torrents of rain at Camp Wildfire had stopped. With everyone in party spirits, it all quickly became a haze. An unexpected rave kicked off in the main tent as the beats switched from a strum of melancholy guitar to some mean drum and bass.
Stumbling back to our one-man tent around one o’clock, we came across an outdoor movie amphitheatre. We stopped to watch a quick film about a man who’d traveled the world exploring and then a musician appeared on a small stage next to a fire to serenade us with his guitar. As the pitter patter of rain started to creep in, we finally called it a night and gently slid through the mud-filled forest to the camp ground.
A combination of bright sunlight, increasing warmth and a damp tent smell woke me to my senses around 11am the next day.
I’d pretty much missed the morning activities – including a spot of nipple tassle making – but after a quick brushing of teeth I made it to a tie dye t-shirt making class. Feeling a little flaky I didn’t put too much effort into the exercise but my design kind of worked out nonetheless. As I waited for my t-shirt to dry, I spotted a topless woman emerge from a gypsy-style tent, ready for a life drawing class going on over the way.
Over the course of the day, an equally bizarre mixture of scenarios followed. The wet, overcast weather seemed to add to the sense of disorientation.
After our course in deer butchery, and tanning deer hides with pig brains we were invited to roast marshmallows with the huntsmen around the fire. That’s when we ran into Claire and Charlie, a couple of chirpy Camp Wildfire bartenders who had been there the year before.
‘It’s really different to last year – much more people but still so much fun. It was also 28 degrees last time! Everyone’s so friendly and the venue is awesome,’ Claire told us, adding that she wasn’t working to make money, she’d just signed up so she could secure a place at the sell-out festival.
At this stage we were feeling a little chilly – me, right through to the bone. We had contemplated a dip the hot tub – yes, there was a hot tub erected in a secluded glade – but at £25 per person it seemed a little steep.
Although the marshmallows had filled a hole, our stomachs were still a bit grumbly and we headed back to the main tent where the food trucks were located. We’d tried the wood fired pizza the night before so the pulled pork and brisket stand was hot on our lips. In the long queue we stood behind a couple who’d been brave enough to bring their baby. Complete with facial glitter and wellies, the mother reassured her baby the sun would eventually come out as his face contorted into a squawk.
Due to the bad weather I was disappointed to hear that the naked poetry reading had been called off. However, the extreme water sliding was still on.
Stuffed with a warming fill of pulled pork and chunky coleslaw, I ventured over to a field where an 150ft -long slide had been set up and stripped down to my bikini. The DIY ‘ride’ consisted of a long strip of plastic sheeting, hay bales to soften the blow in case of crashes, and a topless Abercrombie and Fitch-worthy attendant holding a hose pipe.
Along with eight other people we proceeded to rip the slide to shreds. One by one – or some were brave to bash it down in groups – we surfed at high speed down the fairy liquid-soaked plastic sheeting on our backs, knees and bellies. There were also a range of inflatables to choose from, with a blow-up tyre being my chosen method of slip ‘n slide transportation.
Over the course of the event we bumped into a whole host of people we randomly knew from London and as Saturday night dawned, the festival highs kicked in. I found I’d decorated my face with metallic tattoos and made some twig head dresses for other revellers who had enquired. The mud became irrelevant and the fact my trainers were now a deep shade of brown brought a smile to my face.
Unfortunately I had to head home around 11pm on the Saturday night – a day early – as I was flying to Sweden to investigate the country’s midsummer festivities the next morning.
I bode everyone a fond farewell before catching a taxi and hopping on a train back to the dustier setting of Dalston.
Flopping into bed I was still in a haze… Maybe I had fallen down a rabbit hole. Needless to say I missed my flight to Sweden in the morning as I think my mind was still meandering in the Kent countryside. But Camp Wildfire, it was well worth it – I did also make it to Stockholm in the end but the midsummer magic had already started for me.
Asking my friend Eoghan how the rest of the festival was, he revealed there was more rain, mud and bizarre fun. Apparently the wet weather didn’t just get the naked poetry season cancelled, the bee keeping lecture was also postponed.
All the more reason to return next year – this time armed with wellies and a tent bigger than a coffin.
Camp Wildfire is now taking bookings for next year, for more information visit www.campwildfire.co.uk