Glastonbury, ‘the largest greenfield music and performing arts festival in the world’, returned to Worthy Farm, Pilton in 2013 after a year off (to ensure Seb Coe had enough portaloos). Widely regarded as the crème de la crème of British festivals, Glastonbury has a reputation for being a hotbed of political activism, debauched hedonism and excellent music. Pushing boundaries in recent years with headliners ranging from Jay-Z to U2, the festival is known to truly showcase the awesome breadth of popular and alternative culture. It is also known for mud, wellies and not-so-happy campers.
‘So’ I hear you ask, ‘how can I make the most of this plethora of fun whilst avoiding the pitfalls normally associated with camping in a field in Somerset for half a week?’ Well I was lucky enough to go for the first time this year with 11 other friends. What follows is my guide on how to navigate an overwhelming weekend of cultural magnificence and emerge with nothing but hazy, happy memories and a manageable hangover.
Getting a ticket
Obvs this is a pretty vital part of the process. Forget any rumours you may have heard about the fence being a doddle to hop over, or easily bribed backstage crew willing to sneak out and share their wristband: if you don’t got a ticket you ain’t getting in. Even when you are in and have collected your wristband, you still need your physical ticket to get in and out of the main site, so look after it.
Even if you haven’t gone before, you’ll probably be aware of the virtual scrum that is ticket release day (usually the first Sunday of October). I was lucky enough to have several more switched on friends ready with their laptops early that day, and only one of them managed to get through to the website. I’m not an expert on this kind of thing (servers, bandwidth, traffic etc.) but it seems if you’re on a smaller network or trying through 3G on your phone or something it can give you an advantage. Again, I don’t really know for sure, it seems mostly to be blind luck. The one thing I would say is DON’T GIVE UP. There’s an April resale and various smaller batches quietly released throughout the year, I managed to get my gf a last minute ticket in one such release. Just keep on top of it and keep pressing refresh.
For updates on ticket sales and under-the-radar releases follow: @GlastoWatch - also just generally very useful in the run up to the festival.
How to get there
There are three ways in which to make your way to Glasto:
Car: The choice of many, many people is the trusty automobile. Car parking tickets are available with your main ticket. Plus sides are that you can come and go as you please, and that there’s less restriction on how much you can bring. Unfortunately the roads around the site aren’t really designed for the amount of people travelling in and out at peak times, which can lead to delays of up to five hours.
Some of my friends decided to drive which meant leaving at approximately dickhead o’clock to get home on the Monday morning and avoid the rush. Also, who wants to drive after four/five days of not much sleep? Not me.
Train: Cheap, accessible and quick, this seemed the best option to me whilst sorting out travel arrangements this year. Subsequently, the journey there on Thursday afternoon was relatively pain free, with only a short queue to board the shuttle bus from Castle Cary (the nearest train station) to the Glastonbury site.
Getting out was another story entirely. With the majority of people trying to leave around midday, the shuttle buses were completely over-subscribed and the tiny train station organised chaos. We spent a grand total of three hours queuing with all of our bags. Luckily the weather was nice and we had camping chairs and food, but I wouldn’t like to do it again.
3) Coach: The wildcard. I think for the first time this year it was possible to buy a combined ticket/coach travel and there were plenty of National Express coaches running to various destinations across the country. Journeys are long, and you might need to organise further travel to get home, but this seems to me to be the best option. No queues, comfortable travel times and relatively cheap: if I manage to get a ticket, this is how I’ll be travelling next year.
What to bring
Ok, so you’ve got your ticket and sorted your travel, now you need to work out what to bring. Unless you’ve shelled out for an expensive tipi/campervan you’ll be camping with the general population. As someone who was in the Scouts (yeah I was a cool kid) I just kind of assume that people are aware of the basic camping essentials, but if you’re one of the lucky few who managed to escape enforced family holidays camping in the lake district, here’s a list of the essentials:
- Tent (check that its fully functional and that you can put it up before
- Sleeping bag
- Roll matt/inflatable mattress
- Baby wipes (you’ll appreciate these come Sunday morning)
- Camping chair
- Hand sanitiser
- Toilet roll
- Bin bags (for dirty/wet clothes and rubbish)
- Vaseline - to save your lips.
- A cheap phone with a long battery life
- A camera – I would recommend a disposable. They’re cheap, fun and if you know what you’re doing the pictures can look great.
- Ibuprofen – for the particularly rough mornings.
- Sun cream
Even if you do forget any of your camping essentials it’s not the end of the world, there are camping shops on site which stock most things. I had to purchase a replacement tent when I turned up and realised my tent poles were fucked. It’s pricey, but not ridiculous.
Hey guess what buddy, you’re going to a festival in the UK so you can’t trust the weather for shit. The weather is not your friend; you cannot trust it for one minute, so keep this in mind when choosing your ‘wardrobe’ at Glasto. This year, upon arriving, I was treated to the worst kind of rain. The kind that just steadily wears you down in a slow, measured downpour seemingly designed to erode your soul. Wellies and a waterproof are a must.
Following this deluge on the Thursday, we were treated to three days of wall to wall sunshine and burnt skin. The waterproof layers and wellies came off and the sunglasses came out. To return to my Scouting past again, I can only recommend to ‘Be Prepared’. Bring winter clothes, bring summer clothes and bring plenty of socks. Shorts are a great shout: if it rains you won’t be lugging around sodden trousers and when it’s hot you’re free to frolic and dance with gay abandon. Here’s a quick list of clothing essentials:
- Waterproof jacket
- Warm jumper/hoody (also useful as a pillow)
- Flip flops
- Old trainers (off-white Converses seem popular)
- Face-paint: a friend of mine asked to be a ferocious animal, so we drew a butterfly on his face.
If you are of the persuasion, Glastonbury is also the perfect place to live out your most wild sartorial fantasies. Dressing up will bring hours of entertainment to your friends and anyone who sees you. My personal highlight was two men in pristine white wedding dresses wading through the crowd, pint in hand, acting as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
One of Glastonbury’s greatest strengths is its unique attitude re: bringing alcohol into the main music arena. The rules are simple: bring as much as you can carry, as long as it’s not glass. If you can make it last, you need never splash out on overpriced drinks and waste time at the often very busy festival bars. What you need is something lightweight, something convenient, something that can be drunk at room temperature for three days straight; what you need is a box of wine.
Boxes of wine are the way to go. When released from their box, the concealed sacks of wine are easily packed and perfect for decanting into a plastic bottle or conveniently squirted into the mouth. I would recommend red. No one likes tepid white.
In case you get bored of drinking red wine out of a silver sack with its own tap (unlikely I know) then cans of beer/cider or pre-mixed spirits are the other options. There was apparently a ban on bringing in booze on trolleys this year, but I saw plenty of people doing it so it’s worth the risk. A crate of beer on your back isn’t much fun.
Yes, whether you like it or not, drugs are an intrinsic part of festival culture and Glastonbury is no exception. The official line from the festival organisers, far from endorsing them, is that if you are going to take drugs, bring your own and avoid buying from strangers. Considering that the only time I was offered drugs was when a sweating, topless giant with dilated pupils pushed past me shouting ‘PILLSPILLSPILLSPILSPILLSPILLS’ in my ear, I can only corroborate this seemingly sound advice.
One of my favourite things about Glastonbury was simply the vast range of cuisine available to try from the vendors at the centre of the festival site. At Glasto you can eat food from a different continent every night: I had Caribbean curried goat, thai curry, hog roast, Mexican fajitas and the best kebab of my life. To cap it off nothing cost more than about £7. Don’t waste space in your bag or money on cooking equipment and ingredients that will go off, bring £50 and eat well. Cereal bars and a bag of fruit will get you through the rest of the day.
When to arrive
If you arrive any other time than Wednesday morning, it’s unlikely you’ll have much choice as to where you camp. I arrived on the Thursday afternoon and we ended up right in a corner on top of the hill, so not a prime location.
Other than that it’s worth arriving on the Wednesday just to get a proper look around the site before all the crowds and bands arrive. On the last day I was still stumbling into areas I had never seen before. With 1000 acres to explore, getting a head start is no bad thing.
Where to camp
There are reams written on the internet about the best places to camp at Glastonbury; my advice? Just pitch your tent and get on with it. Wherever you camp you’re going to be closer to some areas than others. We were camped on Bushy Ground, a spot in the far West of the site near John Peel and the Dance Village. Sure at night it was a long walk getting back from the South East Corner, but with a sack of wine and good friends you barely notice it.
You hear rumours of places like Pennard Hill being the big ‘party’ areas, but with so much going on at the festival all hours of the day, why the hell would you want to hang around in your poxy tent sipping Strongbow? My only advice would be to try not to pitch up next to some toilets or on a hill, but that’s just common sense.
To plan or not to plan?
That is the question. There are so many bands, so many stages and so much going on across such a massive area that it might seem tempting to work out a step-by-step itinerary timetable in a vain hope to see all your favourite artists. This won’t happen. When busy it can take up to 40 minutes to get from one stage to the other, and by the time you do get there you’ll have to worm your way through a huge crowd in order to get a good spot. Sure, make a note of the acts that you really have to see, but otherwise I would recommend having a more laid back approach. Just go where the wind takes you and drink it all in. You’ll hear more music, spend less time walking and more time dancing.
Go to the South East Corner after dark
Yes, it might be miles away from your campsite late at night, and yes you might have to queue a bit before going in, but for God’s sake make sure you check out this unique aspect of Glastonbury. I accidentally walked into a Disclosure b2b Skream set whilst wandering around ‘Hell’, and a transvestite showed me his/her breast whilst waiting in line for an area designed like an apocalyptic 80s gay bar.
In my opinion it’s the huge amount of time and effort put into the design of these late-night areas that sets Glastonbury apart from its competitors. You’d be a fool to miss out. (Although if you’re distracted by Fat Boy Slim DJ’ing inside a giant, fire-breathing robot spider on your way over, I guess I could let you off.)
Love the farm. Leave no trace
Now I’m not your average eco warrior, I’m not going to sit here and insist you throw all your cigarette butts in the bin and recycle the rain water that collects on the top of your tent, but please just take your tent home with you. It broke my heart to see so many careless sixth formers abandoning their four person tents on the Monday morning. Where do you think they go? To a lovely tent retirement home in the city? No. They’re scooped up by a tractor and dumped in a land fill. The remaining tent pegs kill a cow somehow and Michael Eavis cries himself to sleep at night. Just take it home and use it again next year.
Any more tips/ideas let me know!
*I like to think that this is not a restrictive guide: anyone can be sexy and young at heart in my opinion.
All the sexy film photographs taken by Rachael Shephard.