The Hay Festival is a huge book festival full of authors, writers and artists that takes place each year in Hay-on-Wye, nestled in the Welsh countryside. Due to its success, it was moved out of the town to nearby fields some years ago, and white tents can be seen for miles. It runs for ten days, usually the last week of May. For 2019, it starts on 23 May to 2 June.
It has expanded from authors and books to artists in general, so many creatives attend and there is a good selection of children’s authors and activities. A vast array of celebrities and famous faces can be seen such as Bill Clinton and Angela Merkel, and Paddy Ashdown. TV personalities can be seen wandering around promoting their latest biographies.
For authors, many panel sessions that take place, usually themed by genre. If you want to participate, go on the website and apply directly if you are indie or ask your publisher to put your name forward. They are keen to profile authors who have a new book out or a different angle on a theme.
Where to stay
Accommodation needs to be booked well in advance. It tends to be in the way of smaller hotels, B&Bs and AirBnB places to stay, and prices go up the closer the festival gets. There are campsites you can book nearby as a cheaper alternative, although the facilities can be limited. The town is Hereford which has plenty of places to stay, although the drive to the festival will take you around 45-60 minutes.
How to get there
The festival is a little awkward to get to by public transport, so a car is advised and there are plenty of local entrepreneurs (i.e. farmers) waving you into fields to park for around £5-10 per day. The train takes 2.5 – 3 hours from London Paddington, changing at Newport South Wales on to Hereford or Worcester. From there you can pick up a Park & Ride bus.
Shuttle buses are available at various locations, however, they are subject to the single lane roads in busy traffic and the weekends are super busy. If you have tickets, set off very early to make sure you don’t miss a session whilst sat in traffic. The festival is set up in fields, so appropriate footwear is needed and people tend to wear walking clothes. Wales is beautifully green due to the rain and can be chilly, so a raincoat and fleece is also a good idea.
Popular speakers are booked up quickly online, although you can buy some tickets on the day. You can get a guide delivered at home or buy on the day for £1. We tend to decide who we want to see and pick a couple of days to attend, then on the day buy additional tickets before and after those events if we fancy. The café and seating areas are small and get full quickly, so if you have more than an hour, walk into town.
After each session there is a signing in the bookshop area where there can be long lines of people waiting. Make sure you have enough time between sessions to get your book signed, as sometimes the wait can be 30-40 minutes depending on how popular the artist is.
Book shop around
The town of Hay-on-Wye is famous for its bookstores and there are a number of second hand bookstores that are well stocked with both old and new editions. It is especially good if you are researching for a book, as old or limited print editions can be found tucked away at great prices.
Lots of little cafes in the town are only a 10 minute walk from the festival along the main road. The house owners on this stretch set up stalls in their gardens and it’s a great way to meet the locals. TheTourist Information office in the town can give you a bookshop guide and sells locally made crafts such as glass and silver jewellery. There is a great market a couple of times a week where locals sell fresh produce and stalls of crafts, so it’s good to go on those days.
The surrounding countryside is beautiful, so if you have a car you can explore the wider area if you have time. The Wildlife Trust plays a large part in the festival and each year they have a ‘Plant a Tree’ project, where you plant as many trees as you can in your down time.
All in all, it’s a great experience if you can make it there. Plan early, book early and then enjoy being absorbed in books, books, books!