Love books? Then head for the hills in Hay-on-Wye for the annual Hay Festival, featuring 10 days of exciting event and workshops, plus special guest appearances from a wealth of picture book stars keen to share their passion with the littlest of literati.
Set amid the picturesque pastoral idyll of the Brecon Beacons National Park on the Wales-England border, the Hay Festival has been bringing together writers from around the world for 27 years to debate and share stories. Celebrating great writing in all mediums, it’s a chance to listen to poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, writers, filmmakers, comedians, politicians and musicians – all on a mission to inspire, delight and entertain.
And it’s definitely not all high-brow, intellectual ponderings (though there’s always a fair amount of that). The festival also incorporates a brilliantly exciting children’s programme, Hay Fever, full of shows, talks, workshops and interactive fun designed to delight the youngest audience.
If the Hay Festival is, as Bill Clinton called it, the ‘Woodstock of the mind’, then its little sister Hay Fever is definitely Coachella, a gathering for the hip generation of Bright Young Things whose passion for the wonderful and witty world of words is just beginning
It may not have the dry desert climate to rival California – the dictum for any visit to the Hay Festival is to be prepared for dramatic gloomy skies, whilst never giving up hope of glorious sunshine, so it’s a case of packing umbrellas and sun screen – but its stunning get-away-from-it-all-and-breathe-in-that-fresh-air location is definitely part of its attraction.
Is it good for families? Yes, yes, yes! It’s BRILLIANT for families. Amazing bookish opportunities abound, of course, but there’s so much more to do at and around the festival. The town itself has a lovely olde-worlde Harry Potter feel, with quaint bookshops and cosy cafes for afternoon tea. Fair on the Square 2015 at Hay Market Square runs May 23-25, with live music, vintage market, food stalls and fresh flowers. If you want to know more about the area, there are guided history walks too, from Hay Tours.
Literary interludes Book lovers are truly spoilt for choice. There are several children’s events scheduled for every day: check the website and definitely book in advance to avoid disappointment. Here is just a teensy taster of some of the highlights:
- Picture book stars Sam McBratney talks about his classic Guess How Much I Love You (May 23), Cresside Cowell and Neal Layton celebrate the re-issue of That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown (May 23), Nick Butterworth spills the bean on his loveable alien Q Pootle 5 (May 24), and you can learn how to draw one of our favourite picture book pooches, Claude with his owner, Alex T Smith, when he talks Claude And Foxy (May 31). Fans of the finest contemporary picture book art won’t want to miss the Fab Four line-up of Rob Biddulph, Rebecca Cobb, Sophy Henn and Ed Vere chatting and doddling in Words and Pictures (May 29). Donuts at the ready for an audience with Steve Antony and his pouting panda (May 27) and there’s a chance to witness the wonderful artistry of Catherine Rayner and her menagerie of animals on May 30). Finally, we just have to mention – quietly – Chris Haughton sketching from Ssh! We Have A Plan because he is so ace!
- For animal lovers Hear wildlife TV presenter Nicola Davies talk about animal conservation (May 24) or join the collective ‘aww’ when Hobby Webb talks about The Secret Kitten and her series of best-selling animal tales. For those who like their animals extinct, Dylan’s Amazing Dinosaurs stars a herd of inflatable critters and twitchers are in for tweet (sorry) at the RSPB Workshops.
- Older readers Queen of the tweens writer Jacqueline Wilson, author of no less than 100 books, talks about her latest The Butterfly Club and gives a sneak preview of her eagerly awaited Katy (a modern retelling of 1872 classic What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge) while authors Liz Kessler, Lisa Williamson and Keren David discuss the most talked about Young Adult fiction (May 23). Meanwhile, Potter aficionados can pitch their wits against the Professor of Potter in Harry Potter: Calling All Fans! for some interactive family fun (May 27).
- Shows and Theatre The King of the Sky features actors, puppets and music in a thoughtful tale about the meaning of home and unlikely friendships. Expect some fantastical tales when the Mad Hatter is the host, revealing some insider secrets from Alice in Wonderland (May 31), while younger visitors will enjoy the chance to rub shoulders with Spot, Peter Rabbit, Rastamouse and Topsy and Tim. For the musically-minded family members, Michael Morpurgo is in tuneful mood as he is joined by actress Alison Reid, violinist Daniel Pioroand, and The Storyteller’s Ensemble quartet of strings in a haunting melee of words and music in The Mozart Question Concert (May 29).
Featured Fun There’s a great kids’ programme with something for all tastes and ages, plus lots of events with broad family appeal, including a whole section devoted to toddlers and parents. If you’re feeling adventurous, step off-site and you can walk, swim, ride, paraglide and enjoy the most beautiful countryside in Britain.
The Zones Most of the Hay Fever events take place in the Starlight Stage and Elmley Foundation Cube venues. Crafty creatives should head to the Make & Take Tent and the Mess Tent, where they can paint, stick and craft daily from 10am to 5pm. The Lovereading4Kids Book Zone is a great hang-out for book-browsing – among the selection are books for reluctant readers, dyselxia-friendly books, books for boys, classics and picturebooks – with knowledgeable staff on hand to advise and encourage.
Chill Out Time The central garden area is perfect for lazing and gazing: if you’re lucky, you might be able to nab one of the deckchairs (in an array of colours in homage to Penguin Classics) to watch the world go by. Be sure to treat the family to a delicious Shepherds Ice Cream, the original sheep’s milk ice cream and a locally produced delicacy. If you’re in the town, do visit the Shepherds Ice Cream Parlour, too.
Dining Tables The Festival Food Hall includes a smorgasbord (or whatever the Welsh equivalent might be!) of locally produced food, including Escleyside beef and Herefordshire’s favourite Butty Bach ale pies by The Bridge Inn, Buon Gusto Pizza, and seashore-inspired delights such as fish chowder with Ship’s Biscuits and fabulous Beach Brownies at Café Mor, winner of the BBC Radion Food and Farming Awards 2014 for Best UK Street Food. There’s also a chance of nibble on the finest Welsh cheese and chutney at Slate of Cheese, succulent Welsh lamb at XOX, and homemade veg and vegan curry at Lotty’s Pure Indulgence.
Accommodation There are lots of hotels and lovely B&Bs in Hay and the surrounding area. Try the very useful Find Me A Bed service on the Hay website (until May 31, £10 booking fee). The Hay-on-Wye Tourist Information Service also includes a list of accommodation in the area.
Happy Campers There are several options to sleep under the stars at nearby campsites.
- Gypsy Castle Campsite is a 2-minute walk from the festival site, and a 5 minute walk from Hay-on-Wye town centre, and offers 6 x 6m camping pitches for tents and a limited number of living vehicles, and amenities. From £6 per adult per night (min 2 nights’ stay), under-12s half-price, under-2s free).
- Tangerine Fields Campsite have a choice of pitch-your-own from £5 pp, or (rather more appealing for some) ready-erected options from plain and simple to bedouin grandeur, a Geo Dome for four, or the irrestistible Cosy Cube and Cosy Cards – perfect for Alice in Wonderland fans who like to kip quirky!
- Wye Meadow Camping Greenfield site in view of the Festival grounds for pitch-your-own tents, caravans, campervans and mobilehomes, set close to the River Wye in the beautiful countryside adjacent to Hay and the National Park. Bookings until May 14.
Now you’re in the festival mood, check out our Time To… Head to a Festival guide for indispensable tips and insider know-how, from how to locate a lost child, what to pack, how to dress and how to ensure the whole family has a rocking good time!
Pictures courtesy | Finn Beales
*** Want to see more family-friendly festivals for 2015. Check out our 12 We Love… Summer Festivals round-up ***