Festival of Fun at the Vanilla Alternative has a reputation for being the place to go once you have earned your street cred as a ‘proper’ swinger, built your social network and want to immerse yourself in a full weekend of hedonistic frolics.
Surrounding the regular swing club of the Vanilla Alternative in Bedfordshire are acres of nearly clipped fields, river and deciduous trees casting a gentle dappled shade, which convert once a year to the Festival of Fun camping grounds. Having heard the legendary reputation of this event, I packed up my little sleeping bag and headed off with libertine friends to lose our Festival of Fun virginity together.
Easy to reach by car but not served closely by train, we all assembled for the last leg of the journey and rolled into the venue to check-in with the venue hotel before driving through a sea of tents and camper vans to be allocated a lovely little spot near the action.
One thing can be said for pitching a tent: it is start to finish innuendo. Having got our Frankie Howard on for half an hour or so and relaxing the British way (with a nice gin & tonic) we donned our bikinis and headed into the foam party, where familiar faces abounded.
I was initially baffled as to what clothes to bring, but it really is rather open. Day wear was anything from naked to shorts, to festival wear with a lot more showing than you’d normally see at a festival. Evening wear was equally diverse, with cocktail dresses and stilettos tottering on the grass, BDSM wear and I saw a couple in matching gold jumpsuits.
There were 4 showers (2 outdoor and all hot), 3 wooden, wood fired hot tubs outdoors, run by a spectacularly sweet and good looking couple, and 2 flushing toilets, which never seemed to get a queue of more than 3 people.
The camping vibe was safe, friendly and spacious, with a large grass walkway down the middle, to the main action. Having been to vanilla festivals before, I have to say the camping aspect is a massive improvement here. People would stop by and say hello, share their food, have a chat, and nobody was stumbling over your head in the night or stealing your windbreak for firewood.
There were games in the afternoon and a DJ dance party that went on till 3am. The Vanilla Alternative club building itself opened at 8pm, and is worthy of it’s own review.
If there ever were a building designed from scratch to be a swingers club, this is it. With large heated indoor pool, play space galore, a kink room, bar, dance floor with pole and all laid out on one level, it felt clean, spacious and accessible. The luxury of a bungalow-build isn’t something you’ll often see in central London, where the price per square metre of land is something more than a kidney and the soul of your firstborn, but anyone with mobility issues would find it an absolute breath of fresh air not to be stretched over 3-4 floors of stairs.
There weren’t any private play rooms, but with a hotel around the corner and a sea of tents in the field, those suffering a bout of stage-fright would certainly still have options.
Some of the Festival of Fun veterans, however, said they far preferred the vibe last year: that the line up of events flowed better, the music was better and that there were far more people there on a day pass. This year’s price hike was generally considered to blame for the reduced numbers.
What to bring to your first festival of fun:
Food and drink for in your tent. Alcohol is allowed. Bring lots of water.
A sleeping bag
Some blankets, cushions or other soft items to get your tent rocking
Money. The kiosk does a great eggs benedict and the bar does some lovely cocktails.
Toiletries (Shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup wipes, high SPF foundation/tinted sunscreen, waterproof cream eyeshadow and blush, toothbrush & toothpaste. Don’t go too crazy, it’s camping after all)
Waterproof bag to keep your phone and money in
Shoes & sandals
Fishscale glitter (biodegradable)
Lots of knickers
Festival type nightwear
Swimwear (if you feel shy at first)
Something modest to wear home
Insect repellant (Wasn’t too bad for bugs)
Condoms, though the Terence Higgins Trust was giving some out free when you do their free, on the spot STI testing service (this was the easiest place to get a test done I’ve ever found. You won’t get the results back until after the festival, though
A handsome silver fox I know, a Festival of Fun veteran, said he liked the friendly relaxed vibe, and the fact it wasn’t full of ‘channel 4 swingers’ (tourists), as well as the fact it doesn’t attract the media infiltration and attention, as well as risk of unwanted exposure like the larger festival, Swingfields.
The vibe with the campers was certainly relaxed and friendly, though those arriving on the day pass seemed less approachable and seemed to stay in couples or groups they came with. A darling outgoing friend of mine, one half of everyone’s favourite hotwifing couple, said it was the first time she’d ever tried to chat to women on the scene and found some of them to be absolute bitches. Jealousy is a terrible thing, and looking as stunning as she did in her see-through off the shoulder dress, curves in all the right places, I’ve no doubt that was the issue. Nonetheless, a good time seemed to be had by all and it was wonderful to meet so many happy, comfortable, friendly swingers from all over the country.
😊 ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE (lots of toned silver foxes and slender, well maintained ladies of all ages, however there is no specific look, age or size criteria, and the natural vibe of camping means you’ll see a lot of nudity from people with all body types. I saw one BHM in the club take pleasure with a string of ladies in succession. Great place for body positivity and inclusion)
😊 GUESTS ARE APPROACHABLE. The campers were very approachable, though I felt less able to chat and approach in the evening when lots of new people showed up on the day passes.
😊 KINK FRIENDLY. Kink wear was worn by some and there is a dungeon play room in the club itself
😊 TRANS-INCLUSIVE. Most of the guests were hetero cis couples, though there appeared to be a fair amount of cross dressing
😊 BODY SHAPE INCLUSIVE. There are lots of body types, ages, races, all happily intermingling here. If you ever feel like the swing scene doesn’t appreciate your natural aesthetic, this is the place to come.
😊 AGE INCLUSIVE (adults only, anything from people in their 20s to their 80s, average age probably about 40, but very mixed and wide ranging)
🤔 COUPLES – there is a mix of couples, singles, poly groupings, and every other arrangement one might imagine. There is couples-privilege pricing, as you get best value tickets attending as a couple
😊 SINGLE WOMEN (mostly people attend as groups of friends or in couple pairs, whether they are single or not, but as they are largely experienced swingers without too many qualms and hang ups, the single status is less meaningful
🤔 SINGLE MEN (allowed, website says they must book in advance, but there is stacked gender pricing for entry. For a day pass, you can come with a woman for an extra £5 instead of £55 for just you
🤔 AFFORDABLE AND VALUE FOR MONEY – Entry is pricey, and once you factor in camping (£170 for a couple to camp) or hotel room costs for the without-camping offer, plus trains or fuel, drinks, food and other bits for the weekend, it would be easy to spend around £250 or more. You can, however, camp from the Thursday to the Monday in theory, though events are really just Friday and Saturday. You get free entry to the Vanilla Alternative club itself, which is normally £80 for a couple to attend on a Friday and Saturday together.
😊 SAFE (Staff, stewards on site, good vibes abound. How many festivals can you attend without leaving someone to guard your tent?)
😊 SPACIOUS (the club itself is well laid out with lots of play space. There was Only a shortage of play space inside the club at about 2am. The camping area was a good size and not overcrowded)
😊 SWINGING FRIENDLY (It is the swingerest of swingers events)
😊 WELL EQUIPPED (heated indoor pool, outdoor hot tubs, hot showers, flushing toilets, sinks, bar indoor and out, hot food kiosk, dance tent, DJs, kink play room, sexual play rooms, outdoor tables and chairs, slip n slide)
😊 ROCK UP LAST MINUTE WITH A FRIEND? We did. Book in advance if you can, though the credit card system went down and it was all cash only. Restrictions on walk ups for single men.
☹️ EASY TO GET A TICKET? Not that easy, though I tried for a week to clarify some points about price tiers and options, timings, etc and to book, I didn’t get a full response and the best way to talk to them is to phone, though this is time restricted and often not answered. In the end we just showed up and everything was fine. The staff were lovely and it all kind of made sense in the end. Communications were not the clearest and for an event of this size it makes it seem less organised than it really is.
🤔 TRANSPORT (It’s not in London. There is a train to Sandy or St.Neots, then you’ll be looking at a taxi for a good 20 mins each way. If you drive it’s a breeze, right off the A1 but no traffic noise or anything overlooking the event once you are in the camping grounds)
😊 ACCESSIBILITY – it’s a really accessible club and camping venue, probably the best I’ve seen for those who don’t need to deal with stairs in their life.
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