Tuesday: The Hay Festival

The Hay Festival is an annual literature festival held in Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales. It’s usually held at the end of May. 

Hay is a cute little town, more a village really, with the remnants of a castle, the river Wye flowing by and many bookshops. In fact, it revels in the title of the town of books. 

The festival attracts big names, past speakers have included former US president Bill Clinton who famously called it ‘Woodstock for the mind.’ This year, to attract a younger audience Dua Lipa and Stormzy were speakers. 

The best way to travel to the festival and around the picturesque area, which includes the Brecon Beacons, is by car. 

By public transport from London means a train from London Paddington to Newport where you change for a train to Hereford. From outside Hereford train station, there is a festival bus which goes to Hay on Wye. Current cost is £10 per single journey or £15 for a return. The journey takes about an hour and drops you by the Castle car Park The festival site is a mile away and you can either walk along a pretty road with shops and cosy looking cottages or take the festival shuttle bus which takes less than 10 minutes. The current cost is £5 per day and you can make as many journeys as you like during the day.

The festival is hugely popular, with guests attending from around the country, and even the world. I met people who had come from the USA and various countries in Europe. So, it’s best to book tickets in advance for the talks but also everything else.

Accommodation with easy access to the festival is in scarce supply, so booking in advance is definitely recommended. Hay has a limited number of small hotels/guest houses which quickly fill up. Camping and glamping are alternatives and the sites are said to be safe and well equipped with basic amenities. The common complaint is that it is cold at night unless you are very well prepared. Outside of Hay there are guesthouses/farmhouses and small hotels in the adjoining villages and towns but the further afield you go, the greater the need for a car. 

I stayed in an idyllic farmhouse called The Draen. You can wake to the sound of bleating lambs and in the evening look out on her golden sunset over Greene Meadows but you can’t get to or from Hay without a car.

That brings me to the subject of taxis. There are about six taxis in Hay and nearby Brecon. That’s not six taxi services with a fleet of cars, I mean six taxis. And most of them are booked in advance. So, forget looking for a taxi rank, there isn’t one. Get on the Internet or pick up a taxi service card and give one of the six a call and hope that someone has cancelled.

The site has everything on it that you might need during your stay visit: to cashpoint machines, a food hall, a restaurant, bars, a few shops, including those selling fresh juice, and chocolate brownies, ice cream stalls, a massage area, a massage and meditation area, play areas for the children and, of course, several stages for the talks. The largest stage is the Baillie Gifford one.  There’s also a Wales stage. The BBC has a tent where more interactive talks take place and there is a central area where people can relax in deck chairs, picnic and listen to a group choir singing well known songs.