It’s bloody in-tents: Britain’s first ‘horror camp’

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Under a blood-red sky in gentle Lancashire, a band of eager victims have come to experience Horror Camp Live, a gore-tastic camping night incongruously pitched at a working dairy farm near Blackburn, home of Mrs Dowson's Ice Cream. I have arrived late.

A cocktail of medicines with which I am treating a stomach bug start to take haphazard effect on my body. "I think I'm a bit high," I whisper to my companion, Emily.

This does go some way to stilling the riptide of anxiety I've been feeling since reading the event's website, in particular the small print. "You may be forcibly handled, bound, hooded, chained and subjected to simulated torture," it says. In addition to "strong verbal and graphic visual sexual content", I'm told to expect the use of "total darkness, water spray and splash, crouch spaces and latex".

It sounds like 50 Shades of Guantanamo Bay. The website also has a convoluted back story about a cannibal neurosurgeon called Lockjaw which I don't understand at all, but it doesn't seem to have much bearing on the experience anyway.

On arrival we find the Horror Camp team have helpfully pitched the guest tents around a huge campfire in the farm's large parkland. Beyond us in every direction roll the beautiful fields of Clayton-le-Dale. We briefly introduce ourselves, before moving into a dim shed for burgers and (very) local ice cream at 9pm. We also watch a horror film, Scarezone, which feels unnecessary – everyone really wants to get on with being terrorised by strangers in makeup.

Scarezone's teen-American spunkiness is also ill-suited to the very British camp-ness of the night, which manifests itself in jokey transvestism and saucy innuendo, traded relentlessly by our grown-up scout guides Davey and Dawny.

"Are we in Skegness?" Emily asks me early on. Eventually, however, as the night draws in, man-eating Lockjaw wrests control of our night from the adults in shorts, and the games begin.

Far from the solitary nightmare I was expecting, the evening is a rambunctious, group-bonding jolly. Among the 30 horror fans here are a paranormal investigator and a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary. The female-weighted group immediately gets into the spirit.

I had anticipated running scared through the woods, but we spend most of the night in the screening shed, where a virtual Lockjaw growls at us via a projector. He seems fixated less on sweet flesh than on setting up his own misguided Duke of Edinburgh scheme: we're sent striding around the farm with maps, and conga-lining through grimy tunnels.

After each mission he rewards us with DVDs and Toffifee sweets. Proceedings veer close to a comedy night in a working men's club thanks to the quick wit and foul mouth of Dybuk, an "old fortune-telling Irish Gypsy" who harangues each team at length between their 20-minute excursions. I wince slightly at the "Gypsy" description, but leave political correctness at the door; she's a far more rounded and charming character than the other guides and ghouls.

Emily, whom I have tricked into coming, is dressed inappropriately, tramping through cowpats in hotpants and ballet flats. She's quite angry with me, but I'm starting to really enjoy myself. There's a creepily beguiling doll who silently beckons us on masked dates. We visit a twisted surgeon in an outhouse who sounds like he has throat cancer. We're kidnapped, bundled into vans and driven to seances and Satanic masses, all the while singing The Farmer Wants A Wife. We happily eat insects. Around us, the cows low non-judgmentally. It's like a Halloween hen night, though for safety reasons the beers are restricted to two per person, and running is not allowed.

Scare attractions are a growing trend in UK entertainment. Atmosfear, the entertainment group behind tonight's fun, will run a larger Halloween "scream park", a sort of Crystal Maze of terror, on the farm in October and November, with a larger cast of scare-actors and more zones of political incorrectness to navigate – Inbreeds Impound, Gaunt Hill Asylum …

The Horror Camp is a more intimate thrill, though sensation junkies might find insufficient threat here (aside from Dybuk's deliciously close-to-the-knuckle verbal abuse). Blindfolded in the back of a van, I listen with bemusement to the plaint of a female camper beside me: "I was told I'd be hooded and bound. I'm not bound!"

The schlocky shenanigans "end" around 2.30am, and we retire to our canvas sanctuaries. But don't count on a quiet night. One after-hours prank – enacting every camper's worst nightmare – succeeds in scaring me stupid. Ripped from sleep, I wake to my own screaming. If that sounds like your bag, you know where to come.

As I've failed to organise our travel with any degree of sense, bespattered Emily and I are ferried back to town the next morning by Mr Dowson, a farmer definitely not in want of a wife – her name adorns the signs around us.

After all the monsters, it's nice to put a human face to Hawkshaw Farm. We talk about how falling milk prices impose a harsh choice on UK dairy farmers: branch out or shut up shop.

"For most, diversifying means getting a yoghurt counter," he says. "We've tried to be a bit more creative."

I listen to his gruesome ideas for how Horror Camp can go much, much further. The organisers, who are planning to develop the night, should listen to him, too. My stomach, dormant until now, has started to lurch again.

• The next Horror Camp Live (0845 519 4271, is on 29 September, 8pm-9am, ?85pp. No under-14s, under-18s must be accompanied by an adult. Buffet dinner and breakfast included. Tents included, but bring your own bedding

Zombie bootcamp
"Use your brains and have an undead good time!" suggests the bookable experiences website Its zombie bootcamp (?79pp for the day) involves military training and learning how to fight off a rampaging horde of zombies with "blood balls" and fake grenades in a warehouse in Droitwich, Worcestershire. Alternatives include fighting zombies in a shopping mall in Reading (?139pp), or in a remote manor house near Manchester (?99).

Horror films in the forest
In the same way that Jaws made everyone terrified of swimming in the sea, The Blair Witch Project put a generation off going to the campsite loos in the middle of the night. But braver film fans might dare attend an evening screening of the cult movie in the Lake District's Grizedale Forest, on 22 September. Tickets ?11pp (over-15s only), through Picnic Cinema (

Terror mazes
Thorpe Park (, the Surrey theme park, has hosted Halloween "Fright Nights" for more than a decade, and they include some rather horrible horror maze rides, with strobe lights, scary noises and actors jumping out at visitors. Those who dare enter the Saw maze are screamed at by chain-rattling, chainsaw-wielding blood-covered murderers, while the Asylum is rather more distasteful, with "lunatics" chasing willing participants around a building which smells disgustingly of (fake) vomit and urine ... pretty offensive to anyone with mental health issues, we thought. All the details of this year's Halloween events (12 October-3 November) have yet to be confirmed, but it's unlikely they'll involve nursery rhymes and fluffy bunnies.
Gemma Bowes

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