LONDON Now that I’m a tragically dull 27-year-old with a full-time job and barely maintained adult responsibilities, I thought that my days of going to festivals were over.
I went to Reading when I was a teenager, and I did some smaller ones like Beach Break while I was a student. At the time, they were great. Although I was never a massive fan of the camping side of things (at the end of the day I’d just much, much rather sleep in a bed), the atmosphere, the nightlife, and the live music were enough to outweigh the more grim elements (i.e. the toilets).
These days, though, I can barely function the next day if I stay up past midnight. I can just about manage the odd night out, but my hangovers tend to last two days rather than two hours. With all that in mind, when I found out I’d be going to Glastonbury for a couple of days on my own we had a press ticket, but only one I had mixed feelings about the whole thing.
How would I get on with inevitably horrendous weather? What would it be like camping on my own, rather than as part of a big group? Would I actually enjoy it?
Still, I’d never been to Glastonbury before, so it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Here are some of the things I saw and learned along the way.
1. The train is a good option.
After reading about the horrendous, 12-hour queues that people driving to the festival on Wednesday got stuck in, I was mildly apprehensive about the journey. I headed down Thursday afternoon by train, though London Paddington to Castle Cary, then a free shuttle bus to the festival ground and it was absolutely fine.
There were no queues and it wasn’t at all busy, and the only things of note that happened were an impromptu rap battle that took place in my carriage and an announcement about a forgotten quinoa salad.
At Castle Cary, even the brief wait for the shuttle bus was fun.
2. Picking the right camping spot is so damn important.
Camping-wise, I was lucky. My press ticket meant that I stayed in the private hospitality camping ground, which came complete with decent toilets, showers and actual grass.
Other camping spots weren’t so nice. The heavy foot traffic through areas closest to the main stages (coupled with the huge volume of people) meant that, by Friday, many camping areas were glorified swamps. Some tents in the most-trodden areas were literally suspended over mini mud-trenches.
The takeaways? If you can, find some space away from a path. And the higher up you are, the better.
3. As is the condition of your tent.
I got a pop-up tent because (a) I’m lazy and (b) I didn’t want to spend ages struggling to put the thing up in the rain and risk embarrassing myself in front of the other journalists. Pop-up tents are quick and easy, but choose carefully mine described itself as a “two man,” but there was only just about room for me and a couple of bags in there.
It’s also worth getting a tent with a porch somewhere to keep your mud-strangled wellies and whatever you do MAKE SURE the thing has taped seams if the weather looks suspect.
Other takeaways: try to keep your tent interior dry and clean (if there’s loads of rain it’ll be your safe haven), and don’t spray deodorant in a zipped up tent otherwise you’ll be able to taste the stuff in your eyes.
4. It’s not just tents you can stay in, either.
If you’re ridiculously rich and adverse to spending a week in a glorified canvas sack, there are other options. The site has a special area for camper vans, there are gleaming white fields of tipis, and there are even some more unusual choices like the cute little wooden houses pictured above. Pod Pads aren’t cheap, but they are rain-proof and come with their own electricity thanks to rooftop solar sunflowers.
5. They’re really not joking about the mud.
The mud at Glastonbury is hellish. This year there was a load of rain before the event and frequent showers throughout Friday, which meant the main walkways quickly became nightmarish, wellie-grasping bogs. On Thursday night I saw one man actually fall face-first into the mud. He dropped his phone in it, struggled to pick it up, and when he finally floundered back to his feet again his face was coated with a perfect brown oval.
If you don’t bring wellies, you’re an idiot. And even if you do, you still might not be safe as it gets more and more mulched up throughout the festival, the mud slowly turns into a quicksand-like substance that seems solely designed to trip people.
6. And the toilets are as bad as you think.
If you’ve heard rumours about the mud, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the infamous festival toilets. Without going into too much detail, the rumours are true the picture above (taken on Saturday morning around nine ish) shows the never-ending lines that form every a.m. as people all try and use a limited number of facilities at the same time.
You wouldn’t want to be the person at the back of that queue.
7. Everyone is really friendly and approachable.
The atmosphere at Glastonbury is very much like the atmosphere at uni during freshers’ week going up and talking to random people doesn’t feel awkward, and most people are more than happy to have a chat.
In the crowd for James I chatted to a woman who was running a massage stall in the Healing Fields; she’d wanted to come away and see James, she said, because she was friends with the lead singer and used to get up on the stage and dance with him when she was younger. Someone else in the crowd gave me one of their beers. And when I asked why the band was called James when the lead singer’s name is actually Tim, two friendly Glaswegian blokes standing in front of me were happy to tell me how the band was formed.
In short, going to see a band on your own is no big deal plenty of people break off and do it during the day, and everyone seems keen to chat and make some new friends.
8. But if you’re coming on your own, it’s good to have others to meet up with.
Luckily, I wasn’t completely on my own at Glastonbury. Although I travelled down on my own and camped in a tent by myself, I also knew quite a few other people who were going I met up with them on Friday afternoon and ended up spending the rest of the day with them.
Although chatting to new people and doing your own thing is fun, it’s also nice to have different groups you can meet up with throughout the festival.If I’d been at Glastonbury by myself and hadn’t known anyone else going at all, the whole thing would have been a lot less fun.
9. It pays to go exploring.
Once Friday rolls round and the main lineups get underway, it’s easy to get sucked into a rhythm of bouncing between the big stages from one band to the next. If you can, though, it’s worth carving out half a day or so just to go wandering.
After I’d set up my tent on the Thursday I spent the rest of that day and night walking to as many different areas on the map as I could. Here’s just a small selection of the things I saw.
10. There’s loads of cool stuff happening away from the big stages.
The areas away from the main stage Green Futures, the Healing Fields, etc. are packed full of smaller tents and stages that host singers, poets, speakers, and a whole range of other performers (another reason to visit as much of the festival ground as you can you never know what you’ll see along the way).
11. There’s a ton of great artwork hiding around the festival.
If you like colourful banners and wacky illustrations, Glastonbury has plenty of both. When you’re wandering from place to place keep an eye out for artwork there are loads of hidden gems.
12. The whole thing is truly enormous.
If you get a chance, it’s worth climbing to the top of the biggest hill in the festival ground so you can take in the sheer scale of the whole thing. The site which sprawls over thousands of colourful acres south of the village of Pilton, in Somerset looks pretty spectacular from up high.
13. But the crowds can be borderline dangerous in places.
Having well over 100,000 people at one festival is pretty awesome, but it can lead to problems. After Muse had finished playing on Friday night and I was heading back to a friend’s campsite, we got stuck in a throng of people at a jam-packed crossroads. People coming back from the Pyramid Stage were melding with people travelling east along the embankment to get to the festival’s biggest area for nightlife; there were people waiting for their friends outside some busy toilets, there was a hell of a lot of deep mud, and it wouldn’t have been hard to imagine someone falling over and injuring themselves in the resulting crush.
If you don’t like busy crowds, you’re claustrophobic, or you’re at the festival with small children, it’s best to avoid the main pathways in the aftermath of a big headliner’s set.
14. Prepare to cover some serious ground.
As a slovenly Londoner who gets the Tube pretty much everywhere, I essentially tripled the number of steps I take on a typical working day while trudging around Glastonbury. It’s tiring, but on the plus side it means you can glug your cider and chow down your burrito safe in the knowledge that you’ve probably already burned the calories off.
15. There is no typical Glastonbury festival-goer.
I approached quite a few random people at Glastonbury to ask them about the most essential item they’d brought with them, but the main thing I was struck by was just how many different types of people all different ages, from a range of different backgrounds there are that go to the festival.
Alice Lock, 70, was on her fifth Glastonbury trip; she said her wellies were the most important thing she’d brought. Her companion, meanwhile 62-year-old Denise Hipwell was on her third visit. “It’s either my husband or handgel that are the most useful,” she laughed.
Elsewhere, 24-year-old Poppy Terry said her hat was the most essential thing “to cover my disgusting, greasy hair” and 22-year-old James O’Connell went with toilet paper (“you’re going to need it,” he grinned).
16. It’s worth getting to the front for at least one headliner.
You’re never more immersed in Glastonbury’s manic atmosphere or more aware of the sheer volume of people than when you’re in the middle of the crowd for a headliner. We got fairly close to the front for Muse, and it was brilliant. The crowd were chatting between songs and going crazy during the big hits.
Top tip: if you’ve got someone who’s willing to put you on their shoulders, make sure you do it. The view across the crowd especially if you turn around and look back over the sea of people behind you is mesmerising.
17. You won’t be able to see everything.
I was only at Glastonbury for a couple of days in the end, but I got the sense that, even if I’d been there for the whole time, I’d only have been scratching the surface.
The place is so big, and there’s so much random stuff going on that it’s impossible to cover everything.You might get round to all the areas at least once, but the sheer volume of performances, songs, workshops, readings, parties and God-knows-what-else means that it’s impossible to see everything.
The strange stories, the secret gigs, the micro-cultures and the hidden gems are all part of the festival’s charm and probably a big part of the reason so many people keep going back.
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