HAY-ON-WYE, WALES – I gave up an opportunity to travel with friends to beautiful Cornwall for the chance to head to the Hay Festival – all on my own. I picked the later. I admit I’ve never travelled alone before. But I wasn’t so nervous about it, well, only a little. A friend assured me that I would meet “lots of people” and that going solo wouldn’t be an issue at all. He was sort of right.
So what is the Hay Festival? It’s a nerdy festival for bookish people who want to think about and discuss the the issues of the day while listening to interesting thought leaders who have books to flog. It’s all about books and it attracts some top names to the small town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales.
This year Eric Schmidt from google appeared and was grilled on the company’s tax (I missed this lecture because the bus took too long). There was also Carl Bernstein (remember Watergate?) and another big name was Jack Straw (UK Foreign Secretary during the Iraq Invasion). Tickets for each lecture range from £6-£10. It can add up fast if you want to attend all the big names.
I travelled by train to Hereford (3 hours) and then took a bus to Hay (50 minutes). There were a lot of women and few of us were travelling alone. I remember seeing two women in the same boat as me and they both looked a bit frightened and unsure about what lay ahead.
I chatted to a pensioner, Judith, as we travelled to Hay and she explained that she’s been going for eight years as it’s a firm part of her social events calendar. She said that it’s just getting bigger and bigger every year. It’s attracted some big sponsors including google who had their own tent, Barclays and Sky TV.
As this is a small town, accommodation was limited. I struggled to get a room and ended up in Tangerine fields with a small 2 man tent. You rent it for the night and it comes with an air mattress. You have to bring your own bedding or buy from them. I bought a sleeping bag from them and also brought my new wool blanket that I purchased in Scotland.
That first night was memorable. Never ever in my life have I been so cold that I couldn’t fall asleep. That’s exactly what happened. I tried and tried to get warm but I was constantly cold. It set in and wouldn’t go away. I finally fell asleep at around 4 am and throughout the next day I was constantly yawning through all the lectures. Luckily though, the second night was better as I got the organisers to throw in an extra sleeping bag for me. It’s sort of put me off camping for a while.
What they don’t tell you
Two things really stood out to me. 1. This festival is very pensioner friendly. In fact, from what I saw, half the audience were retired. Be prepared for slow moving people and several wheel chairs. 2. There are more books to buy in the town of Hay than at the festival. There was an Oxfam book stand, which my bus friend praised highly, but it really wasn’t that impressive. And then there was the festival book stand which sold all the books that were presented. It too wasn’t that big. I honestly thought that all the major publishing houses would be present with rows upon rows of books to choose from. But that’s not how it is at all. But Hay is a book town and there are plenty of book shops to get lost in. Also, if you don’t want to book shop, the Hay Festival has other vendors as well to entice you to part with some cash.
Would I go again to Hay? Yes. And I’d love to explore the country side as well. It was so serene and green. Would I travel alone again? No. It’s not that great. The pros are, you can come and go as you please and you never have to compromise. But then, you don’t have anyone to bandy ideas with and have a natter about the days events.