Why I ‘failed’ Greenbelt #gb11 but know it’s not the end!

Dawn over Cleve Hill, Greenbelt 27th Aug 2011
Dawn over Cleve Hill, Greenbelt 27th Aug 2011

Well I’ve been back from Greenbelt for a couple of days, in fact for 30 hours longer than orginally planned!

First I must emphasise that there was nothing wrong with Greenbelt. It is a wonderful event. It brings Christians of all flavours, as well as agnostics and athiests, together, to grappel with some of the big issues of faith, culture, society and world affairs, through the media of music, speech, comedy, and good old fashioned conversation. And it does so very successfully.

I’ve been told however, that to really experience Greenbelt you have to camp. So, for my first ever visit, I felt I had to camp. OK, it was slightly glamping, as I hired the tent and such like, but as the previous post shows – it was hardly all mod cons! I had never camped before and knew that I was pushing myself beyond my ‘comfort’ zone on this one, but felt I’d let myself down if I didn’t try.

But, perhaps I knew myself better than I was willing to admit in my efforts to conform to the stereotype of ‘festival goer’. Perhaps I should have been more honest, more humble even.

You see the first night, despite plenty of pre-planning and kit, I was frozen. I barely slept a wink even though I had a second sleeping bag to cover the first, a blanket, ear plugs, eye shade… even my socks on! It meant I was able to photograph the dawn over Cleve Hill, but it had little else to recommend it as a nights sleep! I was only thankful that the air mattress provided by Tangerine Fields was a great comfort to my notoriously dodgy back.

The second night, I doubled the layers – more clothes, one sleeping bag in side the other, a woolly hat – and yes, I was a little warmer, more comfortable. It was just that even ear plugs don’t help when teenagers race around a campsite (that isn’t their patch) at 2am+ screaming, shouting and falling onto my tent!

Apparently, that’s what teenagers do at festivals, but I’m afraid I thought it simply selfish – and I wasn’t alone. Most of my fellow TF campers were older than me, and/or visiting the UK and taking in Greenbelt as part of their holiday – and their reactions weren’t always as calm as mine.

Greenbelt 2011 sitemap

In many ways the position of the Tangerine Fields site (see site map) was ideal. We were very near the field of activity, had toilets and running drinking water very close to hand. This convenience was added to by the fact that I could enjoy acts like “Duke Special” in the ‘Big Top’ and ‘Performance Cafe’ from the comfort of the air mattress in the tent!

It was just that it seems that it also provided an easy shortcut through to the main ‘Big Top’ entrance and these facilities, for young volunteers and I presume teenagers who’d been put in “early curfew” perhaps a little against their will?! During Festival hours this was understandable, and bearable. After midnight, it was a huge nuisance.

I know I need a lot of sleep, so all this sleep deprivation started to take it’s toll on what I could take in of the talks and the music I wanted to hear at the Festival. But it also exacerbated another problem, that I hadn’t expected.

This might sound a little soppy, but I missed my man! I went to Greenbelt alone, knowing that I would meet a few people there I already knew a bit, and hoped I would meet more people (mostly ministers) that I only knew via Twitter. This proved the case, but somehow it wasn’t enough. Most of the people I saw, were either part of a group, there as a couple, or had a large group of pre-existing friends to connect with. In particular they were able to chat through their experiences or the ideas they’d heard, together afterwards.

Some of the rainbow of flags on the Grandstand at Greenbelt 2011

Without someone close there, this wasn’t possible for me, despite my poor attempts at Twitter conversation after talks. Added to which, there’s the simple fact that my husband has been my ‘soul-mate’ for the last 20+ years and it just wasn’t the same without him to share it with! (The main reasons he didn’t come were doggy logistics, and expense, since I had the privilege of being there on a First Time Christian Leader ticket that was greatly reduced in price.)

Rob Bell (and as I work through my responses to the talks I went to, his name will crop up again) spoke on Saturday morning about “knowing oneself”, about not moaning about what you’re not, owning who you are, and living the life that God has equipped you for accordingly.

It was this idea, which was hardly knew, but perhaps something I needed to hear this weekend afresh, that eventually drove me to get my husband to come and collect me on Sunday afternoon, long before I had intended. The theme of the whole weekend was ‘Dreams of Home’ and I’m afraid the theological depth of this became rather lost for me, as all I could do was to dream of home – warmth, and peace to sleep! I know I have missed out on a lot as a result, but at least I am not a total physical wreck, and am now emotionally quite happy with the decision I made.

So, sorry Greenbelt I failed to make the most of all you offered this year, but you successfully emphasised stuff I should have known better about myself. I will be back another year – but I’m afraid, I won’t be camping!

As the week progresses, I shall write a little more about what I saw and heard and thought in the 2 days I was at Greenbelt, now I’m in the warmth and comfort of my own home! At least I know, as Rob Bell put it, that “failure is not the end”!



  1. hello there – so much of what you say resonates with my early experiences of Greenbelt. I am about to sleep but will comment more soon and maybe even find you on Twitter!


  2. And Rachel, it was so good chatting with you in the time you were there …

    I was in the Early Curfew section (and yes, there were a few reluctant teenagers there; and yes, some of them clearly chose to return to the family tent in the early hours – probably via the TF site) so I managed to get a little more sleep …

    It’s worth coming again, giving it another try.
    It’s one of the few Christian events with so much breadth – something to please and irritate everyone! And however good Church is at home, there’s always a part of you which you can’t let out there. One of the pluses about going alone to GB (the minuses are just as you say) is that you really, really can be yourself …



  3. well done for ‘going for it’……… we are rather die hard ‘non-campers’ as well……..and I think you were very brave going on your own and giving it a go!!!! thanks for the feedback 🙂


  4. I don’t think you could accuse yourself of any type of ‘failure’ at all. You tried something out of your comfort zone and you realised that it wasn’t for you. I love camping but I don’t think that I could cope with teenagers running round at night as I need my sleep. I hate being cold too. When camping I have been known to put my PJs on over my clothes and then put my coat back on and then get into my sleeping bag. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep then nothing is good. You’ve pointed out some excellent bits of information – we’re planning on going to Greenbelt next year so we’re forewarned. (I certainly wouldn’t go without Jerry as I’d miss him too much so I think that you did really well.)

    We’re booked to go to Spring Harvest next year. That’s way out of my comfort zone. I really am not sure that I will enjoy it. However I won’t know until I have been. Crowds and loud noise are my issues and I am sure that both Spring Harvest and Greenbelt will be full of them. I’ll fill you in when I’ve been. Remember that we only fail when we don’t try something!


  5. Never believe anyone who says ‘the only way to really experience Greenbelt is ……’ There’s nothing wrong with staying in the offsite accommodation, unless you’re someone who can’t drive, likes to drink, or prefers staying up all night to going to talks, which is why the campsite is full of teenagers…..


  6. So much I want to respond to here…for now I’ll just endorse the last comment, that you “failed” not one jot…As you’ll know, I’m wildly passionate about Greenbelt, but nonetheless parts of your experience resonated with me. I’m hoping for space and time to blog my own festival reflections very soon, which will include some of this, but meanwhile I’m just sad to have missed seeing you, having pushed so hard for you to come and join the party. Thank you for being there, and for writing so honestly


  7. Hello again – and so lovely to see my dear friend Kathryn commenting too – seems we have a mutual friend! I was amused about the comment on offsite accommodation as I don’t drive and love a glass of wine but for the past few years have stayed at the Thistle Hotel! As a contributor/partner I have been able to take advantage of the shuttle bus and/or drivers for which I am most grateful, it may be worth you exploring other options as camping can be cruel if it is not your thing.

    I can identify with wanting to share my experience with someone – I used to feel very alone in the midst of thousands of people. This year for the first time I felt very at home and secure in my own skin. Perhaps because I was working with my own team from CA, but also because I constantly bumped into friends from all over my life – some very special meetings and conversations took place in queues for pizza and red wine! My youngest son volunteered for the first time this year which gave me freedom from childcare – made such a difference to my Festival experience.

    I’d urge you to try again – and for me it has often been only with hindsight that I’ve realised how much I enjoyed or gained from Greenbelt. This year I feel more refreshed than ever before and cannot wait for the next time!

    Linda xx


  8. I am deeply moved by all your comments. It seems my experiences have struck a chord with other Greenbelters, and I do indeed feel encouraged to try again another year – but not camping. Next year however may not be possible due to family circumstances, but I feel sure it won’t be long until I go again.

    It is also wonderful, that through blogging my experiences I am ‘meeting’ yet more fascinating, caring and lovely people, than K and others that I met there. Thank you so very very much.


  9. Sorry there were one or two disappointments to your first GB experience. Make sure you take your bloke next time you go. No matter what time we arrive we always end up camped up at the far end of the field…just about as far as the eye can see! The advantage is that it is nice and quiet. Although it is the designated general camping and youth group area, I think everybody is worn out by the time they have walked back! I hope you are not put off coming again. 🙂


  10. Oh ny goodness! Thank you so much for having the courage and honesty to blog your experiences. So much of this resonates with me, too having left hubby at home this year. Noise and lack of sleep did not leave me at my best emotionally, add the lack of a group to feel ‘at home’ with, and by the Monday night I was wandering round the festival village in tears, with wonderful 21 year old son and the beloved counselling me long distance over my bog-standard Nokia. (No tweeting here, I’m afraid). 😉 And it’s so easy to feel that you’re the only soul feeling that way isn’t it? If only I’d known… Yet having put a few days between myself and the festival, I’m already able to reflect on the more positive memories of GB and there were a good few!

    Please don’t for a moment think you’ve ‘failed’ Greenbelt. Like the other commenters here, I’d say give it another go…when you’re ready to.


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