Top 10 Tips for Making the Most of Hay

It’s day one of the 25th Hay Festival and we thought we would share our thoughts and experience on how to get the most out of the event whether you are a day tripper or you are in residence for the full 10 days.

1.  Book early – book often

Select some key events and book ahead (OK I’m a little late with this advice) and allow for some serendipitous choices too.  Many of my favourite Hay experiences have been chosen on the fly.

2. Footwear choices

When it rains at Hay it may not reach Glastonbury or, despite what Clinton experienced, Woodstock mud levels but when there’s a downpour, the walkways around the site can get wet and the sections in between get muddy quickly.  So wellies or walking boots for the wet and comfortable shoes for all that walking around on dry days.

3. Make a  beeline for the box office

Make it the first thing you do on arrival at the site and get there early to avoid the queues.  Ask about returns for sold out tickets as they quite often have some.

4. Wardrobe

Hay can feel like winter or summer this time of year and the effect is magnified because you’ll be outside a lot.  The weather can change in a trice, as we’ve seen so many times at Hay so take a big bag and pack for every outcome.

5.  Park and ride

There are good charity car parks in fields by the site but you should also consider parking in one of the car parks in or on around the town.  You avoid site traffic and there are shuttle buses that take you to the site.  On foot its a nice stroll and only takes 10 minutes.

6.  Make time for Hay

Hay-on-Wye is world-famous for its secondhand bookshops. There are about thirty bookshops in the town, only one Pembertons sells new and they have a big shop on site.  There are cafes, other interesting shops, don’t miss out.   Update 30.5.13: Pembertons no longer runs the Festival bookshop, through there still is one and Booths also sells new books.

7. Eat when you are hungry 

Don’t stick to meal times if you want to eat on site.  Lunch time is incredibly busy especially at the weekends.  It can be expensive too so make it a mid-week treat.

8.  Eavesdrop

Listen to what people are saying in the Friends cafe, bars and out on the walk ways.  You’ll get ideas about who to see.  If you are a twitter user electronic eavesdropping using the hashtags #hayfestival or #hay25 is a good idea too.

9.  Be ever vigilant.

One of the real beauties about the Hay Festival is that the writers, artists, politicians et al wander round the site.  You might just see Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa sharing a joke with Stephen Fry.

10. Buy a Book (or three)

If you like signed copies you are in monikered book heaven. If that doesn’t move you you should still buy something from Pembertons, find a deck chair and read it on site.  There is nothing quite like looking up from text to see the author striding past.

Philosophy and Music at HowTheLightGetsIn

How The Light Gets In

While the main Festival gears up for its 25th year the fringe festival celebrates its 4th birthday and is bigger than ever.  Last year there were over 350 events, mixing leading thinkers with an eclectic music programme, this year the total is just short of 500.  HowtheLightGetsIn is a philosophy festival and music that takes place within walking distance of the main Hay Festival – to be fair Hay-on-Wye is no that big.  It is housed in and around the delightful Globe building near the town centre.  A small tented village appears that is more bohemian and left field than its older cousin.

Last year names like Philip Pullman, Vince Cable and Will Hutton were there.  This year Brian Eno, Nigel Lawson and David Aaronovitch are amongst the many appearing.  Though distinct and different there’s a definite cross over and many of the great minds at HTLGI have previously graced the pavilions of the official Hay Festival.   One suspects that they find it difficult to stay away from the town of books during the first week of June.

Hay Panorama #1

During last year’s festival I took several panorama shots of both the town and the festival site.  This one is from the top of the main car park looking out towards the Black Mountains.  It’s such an expansive view that no photograph can do it justice but it calls out for a panoramic view.   Click the shot for a larger image.  Better still go see for yourself.

History of the Hay Festival – In The Beginning

The world was very different when the first Hay Festival took place in 1988.  Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States, we had Thatcher and the arrival of the world wide web was still five years away.

In a sense the deep origins of the Hay Festival of Literature & Arts go back a bit further.  In 1961 Richard Booth opened Hay’s first secondhand bookshop in the town’s old fire station.  In 1965 he bought the local Cinema and turned that into a bookshop too.  The town of books was born.  In a few years Hay became home to over thirty second hand bookshops and one vendor of the new.

The Festival was conceived around a kitchen table at the home of actor and theatre manager Norman Florence,  his wife the actress Rhoda Lewis, and their 23 year old son Peter.  It is said that the original funding came from £100 won in a game of poker but Peter Florence has never either confirmed or denied the story.  Norman Florence had worked with Sam Wanamaker on the Globe project and had ambitions to create an event of national and global standing.  Rhoda Lewis wanted a party.  The character of the Hay Festival was born.

Among the artists at the first festival was the playwright Christopher Fry.  Norman and Peter had not long before commissioned and produced a musical version of his 1938 play ‘The Boy with a Cart’.   The following year Peter  persuaded American playwright Arthur Miller to be the star guest.  In discussions Miller famously asked what Hay-on-Wye was “is it some kind of sandwich?”  Nonetheless he came and was asked perhaps predictably about his former wife Marilyn Monroe.  Also there for the 1990 Festival, housed in a couple of marquees by the river, was author and poet Owen Sheers. He was then aged just 15 and was there to collect his £100 prize in a short story competition for young Welsh writers.  The organisers also secured the sponsorship of The Sunday Times that year, a major boost to the events credibility and a guarantee of the oxygen of publicity.