Making Hay… in rain and sun

Paul Merton (right) and his Impro Chums perform in the Barclays Wealth Pavilion at Hay. (Photo: CLARA MOLDEN, The Telegraph)

‘Good books, good friends and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life’. Said by Mark Twain and echoed by all of those who troop to Hay each May for the Book Festival.  So much more than books these days, now including comedy, workshops, film and outdoor fun.  The nearest to a rock festival that I’ll ever get, though you still need wellies as most events are held in tents in fields, muddy after a short downpour.  An orderly and ‘self-policing Glastonbury’ as Chris Evans, one of this years speakers described it.  Hay attracts people of all ages but what makes it so attractive is the fact that everyone there reads. Bill Clinton, one-time visitor and rumoured to be one of next year’s 25th anniversary guests, described it as ‘the Woodstock of the mind’. There’s something for everyone and as frequent visitors over the last 10 years we have never been disappointed.  This year was an eclectic selection for us, we saw Paul Theroux, Nigella Lawson, Jenni Murray, Germain Greer, Paul Merton, Dara O’Brien, Sandi Tostvig and more … Our friends saw Brian Cox, Michael Wood, Jo Brand, Chris Evans and more.  There is something and someone to suit everyone’s taste.  And the whole thing is so civilised and so much fun. To secure your tickets buy online in advance. There are no numbered seats and no hierarchy but there’s a Ryanair-type queueing system that gives preference to ‘Friends of Hay’ (for which you pay a little more). Every talk or interview lasts 45 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of unscripted questions from the audience.  Often the best bit as people are off their guard.  Aside from the festival Hay is a glorious spot in the Brecon Beacons.  Yes it is Wales, one of those towns that has changed its allegiance over the years.  There is plenty of accommodation though you have to book early.  We stayed in a converted barn on a working farm. It’s good to go with friends as you see different people and then compare notes on who was good and why. (Try to avoid non-media trained academics, although media greats aren’t always scintillating). Hay has more books shops than anwhere outside of Central London – over 50 I think. And it’s so small.  It also has great individual gift shops, wonderful food shops, restaurants and cafes, real ice cream, no Tesco, Body Shop or MacDonalds … I could go on.  Fancy going and meeting up next year?  Remember what Mark Twain said about friends and books.

Hay on Wye

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