Camp Wildfire Review: Updated for 2020Jan 31, 2020
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There is a magical place in the woods near Sevenoaks and I have just returned home the better for having visited. Camp Wildfire, hidden away on the St Clere Estate, in Sevenoaks, Kent, UK is billed as a half music festival and half activity camp for adults. Yes, it meets the criteria on both points but if you are looking for a Reading or Bestival vibe you will be disappointed. The feeling you are left with after a visit to CW is one of family, of belonging to a patrol of your choice, and of happiness for having visited. You will also be aching, possibly injured in some way and full of knowledge of new stuff and pride in having tried something you thought was beyond you.
At Wildfire you are encouraged to choose a patrol, either Badger, Squirrel, Hawk or Fox. You may feel an affinity for one or the other but if not, there are handy hints to help you choose the right fit for you. Most people throw themselves wholeheartedly into their patrol. You can earn patrol points at different activities to help your patrol win the cup. Last year Squirrel patrol cheated their way to the cup but this year it went to its rightful owners, Foxes! (It was a fair win; our poor Squirrels could not build a solid catapult to save their lives! – Robin)
A couple of weeks before your arrival you are given a schedule of activities that you can enrol in. Then at a specified time, it is every man for himself booking the time slot of your choice before all spots are gone. Given that we live on a farm with limited internet, this was a bit of an issue but both years we got most of what we wanted. 2019 saw the scaling servers HQ had implemented fail to scale, so the website fell down hard. Fortunately, the Camp Wildfire Attendees group on Facebook kept everyone in good spirits, sharing stories, jokes, GIFs and more – the Camp Wildfire spirit starting well ahead of the event (and continuing on).
On my first visit last year, at the ripe old age of 47, I was not sure whether Wildfire was my kind of thing – I mainly booked because it is run by Julia Lowe of Keston Cobblers Club, one of our favourite bands. I visited with my eldest daughter (20) and left my other two girls at home with the husband. I decided to stretch myself, knowing that an operation in 2019 would put an end to throwing caution to the winds and myself over obstacle courses. With the reckless abandonment of someone with private health insurance, I jumped from towering platforms onto a huge cushion, swing danced with a man dressed as a squirrel, ducked and dived at archery battles as well as taking time to listen to great bands, eat fantastic food and meet new people. Every day was interesting and fun-filled and every evening I returned to my tent exhausted from dancing but happy.
This year was more sedate, acrylic jewellery making replaced obstacles, axe throwing replaced high jump, but I still managed, amongst other things, tree climbing, paddle boarding and archery battles and again returned to my bed exhausted from dancing!
Some basic information about the camp. It is plastic-free, heading toward fully eco-friendly. You are encouraged to bring your own water bottle and cup or buy a logo/patrol one there. Food is available whether you are carnivore, vegan or coeliac/DF. Yes, the toilets are sometimes backed up and there can be a queue for the bar but generally, everyone is in such good spirits that it’s not as huge a deal as it would be at other festivals. The management team of Lee Denny (Neverworld and THAT Android ad), Julia Lowe and Charlotte also have a camp council on Sunday where people can raise issues or ideas to improve the next years camp. The festival also has an extremely active Facebook page and patrol FB pages as well as the other usual social media outlets.
Camp Wildfire is a festival that inspires a devoted following. People dress in patrol colours, wear homemade tails, ears and wings, anything goes. The sense of family and inclusion means that both my 20-year-old daughter and an old bird like me feel welcome and part of something wonderful. Obviously, we are already booked on for 2020 ready to help Fox Patrol win the cup again. It’s not a festival for everyone; those expecting to get high and dance till 6 am will not find what they’re looking or here. But for those with a sense of adventure, sharing, and fun… hopefully we will see you there!
In 2019 Camp Wildfire upgrades from ‘Coaching for Geeks Recommended’ to ‘Coaching for Geeks Essential’.
2018 Review: 30 Minutes to Adventure at Camp Wildfire
30 minutes from London and we’d arrived at Camp Wildfire. A mere few minutes later and we’d signed waivers, chosen our patrol, got our wristbands and were setting up camp.
Glastonbury this is not. A quick estimate of the field size placed it between 1000-2000 people and the lack of queuing to get in was the first joy of the weekend.
Spoiler; we had an awful lot of fun but want to fix some of the admin and organisation.
“Sure Bates” I hear you say “that’s exactly was an adventure camp needs – more red tape” and I reply with an emphatic yes! I’ll come back to that, let’s start with the basics; Camp Wildfire bills itself as half music festival, half adventure camp all set in the beautiful surrounds of the Heritage Pine Forest in Kent.
Think Kellerman’s from Dirty Dancing, without the backstreet abortion and more quad biking and booze.
No kids, and no single use plastic allowed – bring a tin cup for the bar and any other drinks.
A mix of pre booked and walk up activities ranging from the classic wall climbing, to butchery, quad biking, and first aid awaits. Not forgetting the wide range of crafts on offer, and the scout camp team games.
This is Camp Wildfire, where only the curious are invited to get their adventure on for a weekend.
Cor that’s a harsh heading, but for a festival pitched as half music and half activities, well, someone needs to go to maths camp. Music started around 8:30pm in cute little marquee with a cute little bar at the back. When we realised that this was indeed it, the fear set in a little, and those fears were realised when on Friday night bar wait times reached an hour. The ‘bring your own tin mug’ system caused big waits (the mugs on sale couldn’t quite take a full pint, drinks couldn’t be pre poured, about 3 people not enough serving) and the plastic bottles of wine were all gone before the final acts took to the stage.
The soundsystem was adequate if unimpressive, and the small range of acts included Heir, Keston Cobblers Club, Son of Kong, and Norman Jay. A slightly odd mix which resulted in some strange transitions – top tip for the organisers, announce the acts when they go on stage. Oh! And not forgetting DJ Luck and MC Neat, bringing 1999 back with aplomb.
Music generally started out folksy and got dancier as the night went on, though wrapped up at around 1am leaving lots of people looking for a party, and creating it back at camp.
Some smaller parties in the woods would help keep the night owls entertained while us squirrels could get some sleep. Despite all this, everyone found creative ways to ensure a supply of booze – the bar was out of plastic wine bottles on Friday but you can fit a whole one into a water bottle.
Not quite the ‘wild woodland parties’ promised, but good fun.
Probably less so for the band that were up against the evening ‘patrol games’.
Patrols and Camp
Squirrels, Badgers, Foxes, Hawks. Four patrols to which you’re supposed to be able to choose, dress in your patrol’s colours, and boom! Instant friends. It didn’t quite work like that, with one of party being made a Hawk as there were too many squirrels already, but that didn’t stop him joining us at any point.
Patrol leaders are a little like the 18-30 reps, but with less emphasis on drinking and shagging, more on acquiring points for the team and leading activities. Each evening the teams gather for some knockabout fun – egg and spoon races but you have to spoon someone the whole way (Ok it is a bit more 18-30 at this point), dodgeball, sack races; it’s all a bit sports day/scout camp and serves as a focal point; teambuilding, chanting, patrol handshakes, songs and camaraderie.
Some people REALLY get into this, so if you are flying solo you are sure to make plenty of friends simply by virtue of your patrol. It’s super friendly already, and I’ve never seen a more welcoming festival (other than maybe LeeFest 2011).
It’s fun, and chaotic, and with someone managing it a bit better (running out of games, forgetting what was next, unclear rules were a common theme) it could be something phenomenal; though is already a highlight for vast numbers of campers.
At the end of the weekend the patrols face off at the assault course with a time bonus for their patrol points, with the Squirrels taking the 2018 cup.
But look – if you are going to have people compete in anything ever, have someone watching the finish line. Which leads nicely into…
OK let’s let it all unravel a bit before pulling it back together. The organisation of the event is a bit rubbish. Many activities had to be pre booked online; booking opened at 7pm a week before, most of the activities were fully booked by 7:05pm. If you weren’t available then, well you’re out of luck camper.
The booking system continued to play up, bumbling people around activities, saying they were on waiting lists, deleting whole schedules. It was stressful, and not all of our group got on the same things – when you’ve paid in advance for a premium activity, you kinda want to get the one you wanted. Similarly, first evening, patrol induction was supposed to start at 5, no one on site knew what was going on and people got a bit frustrated, there was an air of annoyance over the site and a bit of info would help.
Most of the info was delivered by loudspeaker over a tannoy system, with not enough speakers or power; the plumiest of voice actors was delivering the lines in a such an over the top BBC Received Pronunciation that we couldn’t understand a damn word he was saying.
Activity leaders hadn’t been given attendee lists and when they arrived they were in reverse order, maps were eventually found from someone handing them out in the forest, we were told to take showers off peak, only for them to be locked at 9, and there aren’t quite enough toilets, bar staff, or places to eat.
In only its fourth year, perhaps Camp Wildfire has grown a little too fast and the team could do with assessing the impact of the increased numbers on the overall experience of being there.
Sure, I’ve been a bit negative so far, because Camp Wildfire has so much promise that is partially unmet at present. So it is up to the activities to burden the weight of the weekend.
And what a great job they do.
My first activity was quad biking at 9am on Saturday. Starting off just beyond the campsite we spent 20 minutes quad biking through the forest and countryside, taking in some slower sections, opening it up on the straights, and taking in some gorgeous view of the countryside. The session had been advertised as 90 minutes, we got a briefing and 20 on the quads. Some people had to wait over an hour to get their turn – if they were a little cleverer with the booking, and honest about what you were getting, then it would have been a 5 star activity. Similarly with hovercrafting (which was on grass); one go and that was it, as the space they’d been given was causing the craft to break down. It’s not a cheap weekend and here’s where some proper admin would give people back time so it doesn’t feel wasted.
Wilderness First Aid was just first aid in a forest – another naming mishap which meant the group was mostly qualified first aiders doing the recovery position on nettles. Our friends loved shelter building, were left exhausted by zorbing “it was races, not rolling down a hill, I’m dead”, and made nipple tassels to be proud of.
Raft building was the highlight; the only activity we were able to book as a group, and we took home a point for the squirrels for being the best (the other rafts may accuse us of cheating, but they started it and also blows raspberry). It felt a little rushed due to the long, slow, drive in the back of a tractor to get to the offsite lake, but with great instruction from the activity leaders we were able to get a raft on the water in about 20 minutes.
Many of the activities were walk up with the climbing wall and freefall tower offering some thrills for those who didn’t have anything to do, along with some gentler crafts and boardgames.
Things we didn’t get to do; butchery, leathercraft, birdhouse making, capture the flag, zombie run, spear making & throwing, pioneering, beekeeping, wood whittling, escape cabin, and loads more besides so next year, maybe next year I’ll tackle some more strenuous activities.
Is it worth it?
If you’re going to throw yourself into the activities headfirst, a huge yes. While they’re just taster sessions, that’s 8 taster sessions you likely wouldn’t be doing over the first weekend of September.
A ridiculously friendly festival, and despite all of the admin issues, Camp Wildfire has won a place in my heart.
If you are expecting a music festival, there are better places you can go to get messed up in a field.
Here’s hoping they take stock of 2018 and come back even stronger next year.
Camp Wildfire gets a Coaching for Geeks Recommended.
Camp Wildfire 2019 takes place Friday 30 August – Monday 2 September 2019
Be prepared. Register for tickets and get £10 off with our special Camp Wildfire ticket link.
We paid for our own tickets, travel, food, everything, this isn’t a promo, we just want you doing more stuff.
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