Sparkle & Ice: it turns out winter camp is cold

Friday night was not optimal tent-pitching weather but there we were – me, three Rangers and four Guides, up to our ankles in mud, in pouring rain, putting up our tents in the dark.

We’d arrived at 6pm at Girlguiding’s latest event, Sparkle & Ice, a winter survival camp happening simultaneously at three Training & Activity Centres across the UK. We’d been looking forward to it for two or three months but over the last week or two, the reality had begun to set in, starting when we practised putting the tent up in the cold and the dark at Guides the previous week. I pointed out that they knew it would be cold when they signed up but to quote my second-oldest Guide: “it sounded magical! Now it sounds horrible!”

It was pretty horrible. Well, the evenings and the nights were. Putting up a tent in the dark and the rain is unpleasant. Squelching through mud down to the tipi where meals are served is unpleasant. Getting into your sleeping bag and discovering that your bedding is not as warm as you thought it was is unpleasant. Having an attack of GORD/heartburn all night because of stress/constant bending down to put up the tent/eating the wrong sort of cheese is unpleasant. Waking up in a chilly damp tent is unpleasant. Putting on cold clothes is unpleasant. Doing it all over again on Saturday night is even worse. On Saturday night, that second-oldest Guide cried because she was so cold, damp, muddy, tired and because she couldn’t do up the zip on the tent. I had to summon up my inner children’s entertainer while I fought with the zip so she would stop crying, and I didn’t feel like a cheery entertainer because I was drenched and frozen and tired and had been halfway through getting out of my waterproof trousers when the plaintive whine came across the campsite.

However! The elements the organisers could control were good. That second-oldest Guide cited the food as one of the highlights of the weekend, the others added the archery and the ice rink. I found it hilarious watching the Guides zorb-mud-wrestling and I enjoyed learning to set fire to wire wool with a battery and to cotton wool with a firesteel. The cinema was a good theory, although apparently “you get a wet bottom” so I assume you sit on a muddy groundsheet to watch Frozen, Shrek & Alice in Wonderland on a loop. I missed the dog display but I did enjoy seeing a happy muddy Springer running around the campsite, approaching girls for attention and sneaking into the kitchen tent.

My favourite bit was the campfire. There’s something special about a campfire on a big event like this. Guides & leaders of all ages, from all over the country, gathered around the fire to defrost numb toes and sing songs. And we all know the same songs. When I first went to a big campfire, I only knew the songs we sang at my Guides, which weren’t the ones everyone else seems to sing but by now I know most of them. Of course, everyone has their own variations – for example, “we have more steps in our shark attack” – but the unwritten rule is that you more or less go along with the version used by whoever is leading the song and it was quite the novelty to find myself leading some of the songs. I always go back from a big campfire with a new song or two for our unit songbook and this camp I’ll be adding Princess Pat and Baby Shark.

However, right now the bad evenings and nights are absolutely drowning out all the good stuff. I made a cheery little video of the fun – I’m particularly fond of a shot of two of the Guides taking it in turns to jump in the ankle-deep mud by the zorbs – but I’ve spent the day airing out damp bedding and pressure-washing three tents, two of which are currently just lying on the grass in the garden because I can’t hang them up to dry until my small two-man is dry enough to take off the washing line. We will not be going to winter camp again. It’s been an experience and a half but not one I care to repeat.

We also made it onto the local news – well, our group didn’t personally but the camp did. They claimed to want to interview people who’d survived Friday night but what actually went out was starry-eyed Saturday campers still putting their tents up with no real idea how cold and wet the night was going to be.