If you're new to all this festival business then the most important thing that you will have to consider is your accommodation. There is a vast and bewildering selection of tents on the market these days. Most are the nylon dome or tunnel varieties with carbon fibre poles, but they do vary hugely in size and quality and also, therefore, in price. Some will keep you safe and dry on exposed Himalayan slopes whereas others are fit for little more than children's garden play tents. So make sure you buy one which is designed for the purposes for which you intend to use it.
There are an increasing number of instant "pop up" tents on the market which initially I felt were rather gimmicky and not for the serious festival camper. However, many people do rave about them and they have definitely come down considerably in price since they first appeared on the scene, so they may be worth considering if you are happy to sacrifice a bit of space for convenience. What I can guarantee you will find is that once they have popped up they never pop down again anything like as easily and they can be quite tricky to carry too, especially if it's windy.
Alternatively you could look into a more traditional frame variety or a canvas army style or a bell tent like my mate Gareth's one in the photo above. These stay much cooler in hot weather. However don't forget that they are invariably far heavier to transport and carry to your campsite.When it comes to buying a festival tent the cheapest option is very rarely the best. Admittedly there is a good chance that it will suffer a degree of wear and tear through cigarette and camp fire burns, people tripping over guy ropes and getting it covered in mud. But I would nevertheless advise against viewing your tent as being a disposable commodity. My last one survived more than 30 different festivals and camping weekends over five summers and was still perfectly usable and weatherproof.
You will find many shops selling two-man tents for £15 or even less nowadays. But a cheap tent will invariably equate to flimsy poles, poor waterproofing, weak zips and insufficient anchorage and whilst these factors may not inconvenience you too greatly in fine weather, they certainly will if we get a repeat of the stormy and wet conditions we have experienced at Glastonbury on numerous occasions in the past. There is nothing worse than waking up in a tent which has either leaked or collapsed in the night. It can totally ruin your entire festival experience. A little extra expenditure at the outset, however, will get you a tent which will keep you dry and should last several summers of festivals with relatively little maintenance.Your tent is your home for up to five days and nights so you are generally better off buying a tent which is roomy enough for you and your partner and/or companions to be able to sleep, store your gear and move around comfortably. I know it might appear decadent but before I succumbed to the relative luxury of a campervan I often used to have this "four man" tent all to myself. It has a full 2 metre headroom and a living area that is big enough for several people to sit or stand. However once again don't forget that your ability to transport your tent is a factor in making your choice. There's no point buying a palatial tent if you are unable to carry it to your chosen campsite without giving yourself a hernia.
There is no size limitation regarding tents at Glastonbury but you should remember that if you are not arriving until Thursday evening or Friday then you will almost certainly struggle to find a patch of grass big enough to pitch a large family sized tent.
1-man is basically a nylon coffin. Avoid for festival purposes.
2-man sleeps 1
3-man sleeps 2
4-man sleeps 2 to 3
5-man sleeps 3
When you are searching the internet or browsing through camping shop brochures for tents you may well find reference to a tent's "hydrostatic head" rating. In layman's terms this basically indicates the density of the weave in the fabric and therefore how much rain the tent will be able to withstand before it is likely to start leaking. The higher the rating the greater your tent's waterproofing qualities will be. Look for tents that have a hydrostatic head rating of 2,000 or more and you are pretty much guaranteed to stay dry even if we see a repeat of the torrential downpours we've had in the past. Avoid anything which has a rating of less than 1,500 unless you derive some form of masochistic enjoyment from the sensation of having a cold shower whilst lying in your sleeping bag.
Most tents come with an outer "fly" sheet which is larger than the inner tent, thereby creating a porch at the front of the tent (and sometimes the back as well). This is incredibly useful for storing wet gear and muddy boots, so you can keep your sleeping area clean and dry, and it also gives you some additional space to move about inside your tent if the weather is wet.
Try to get a tent which is erected outer sheet first. My most recent festival tent has this advantage and it means that I can pitch it in a downpour without getting the inner tent wet. Once the outer tent is up and secured you simply clip the inner tent into place.
Look out for poor stitching both on the seams and also the anchorage points. Do all of the poles, zips, hooks etc. look man enough for the job?
Make sure the tent is well ventilated. A poorly ventilated tent will result in excessive condensation and subsequently damp clothes and bedding. Some come with a separate cowl which fits over the top of the outer tent in order to allow condensation to escape. But make sure that you don't lose this or the top of your tent will be open to the elements next time you put it up.
Make sure that the pegs are a decent length. A lot of tents come with 6" wire pegs as standard but you'll find that these could well pull loose in high winds, especially if the ground is soft. They also tend to bend very easily when hit with a mallet. It would therefore be sensible to replace these with more beefy 9" pegs for the main anchor points around the outer tent. I've actually gone one step further and invested in some pegs which are effectively 9" spiral nails with a plastic clip at the top to hold the guy ropes and elastic loops in place. I've yet to find ground too hard for them at any festival and they certainly won't pull loose in a hurry either.
Again there is a wide variety of sleeping bags available on the market and they are generally rated by the number of seasons for which they can be used in a temperate climate. A "one season" sleeping bag will only be a lightweight bag designed specifically for camping in warm summertime weather whereas a "four season" bag is likely to be bulky but will keep you toasty warm in sub-zero conditions. You may find that some camping shops give an indication of the ranges of temperatures within which you will be able to use them in optimum comfort and also the maximum and minimum temperatures at which they could be used safely.
Don't forget that although Glastonbury takes place in mid-summer it can still get very chilly at night and we have experienced temperatures very close to freezing in the past. A two or three season sleeping bag would therefore be a sensible option. You can always put additional clothes on if you are cold or unzip the bag if you get too warm. My Boy Scout training taught me that you lose far more body heat into the ground than you do into the air and so a camp bed, airbed, camping mat or blanket underneath your sleeping bag will add to the insulation as well as allowing you to sleep more comfortably on rough ground.
Also bear in mind that weight is an issue so try not to buy a sleeping bag which is too heavy. Most modern bags come with a compression sack which allows you to squeeze the air out and minimise bulk in your rucksack. Make sure you have one of these.
Some people take duvets as an alternative to sleeping bags but naturally these are far more bulky and transporting them to your camp site can be a major headache if you don't have a proper waterproof bag to carry them in. My recommendation would be to leave your duvet at home and only use it for festivals where you can camp close to your car.
I feel that ordinary feather or foam pillows are far too cumbersome to bother with but you can get blow-up or stuff pillows from camping shops. Alternatively a folded jumper does the job just as well.
Don't forget that if you arrive at the festival in the evening you may end up putting your tent up in the dark so a good torch is essential. If you don't have somebody with a spare pair of hands to hold the torch for you then one of the LED head torches you can pick up relatively cheaply from camping shops is an extremely useful addition to your kit list. And remember to take your torch with you when you head out to watch the headline acts each evening. The campsites can be very dark and negotiating the minefield of guyropes can be a serious challenge if you are unable to see.
If you do manage to accidentally leave something at home or if you need to make repairs to your tent during the festival there are camping shops on site which will be able to supply you with most things you might need. Look out for the Millets and Camping Accessories stalls dotted around the market areas and also Cosy Camper. Prices are a little higher than you might find in your High Street camping stockists but certainly aren't extortionate. For example in 2016 you could pick up a basic 2-man tent for as little as £25 or a flock airbed for £18. Cosy Camper also do a pre-ordering service so you can pick up your camping gear at the festival after you arrive. See their website for details.
Unless you plan to sit in your tent or chain yourself to the railings in front of the Pyramid Stage for the duration of the festival you will be doing a LOT of walking. So whatever you wear make sure that your feet are going to be comfortable. Sandals are OK if the weather is fine, provided you don't mind getting your feet grubby and the odd stone between your toes. Many people wear trainers although personally I wouldn't expect anybody to share a tent with me if I had them on my feet for anything up to 20 hours a day for nearly a week.
If the weather is at all inclement you are really going to suffer if you don't have a decent pair of waterproof boots.
A good pair of leather or gore-tex hiking boots will suffice for all weathers, especially if combined with a pair of gaiters or waterproof trousers when it gets wet. You can also buy army surplus boots on site. But if you're not prepared to (excuse the pun) splash out on a decent pair of boots then forget fashion and make sure you take your wellies. Wearing plastic bags inside your shoes for several days will do your feet no good at all. Wellies might not be the most sexy attire but you don't have to look like Farmer Giles and the alternative is potentially going home with a mild case of trench-foot. Again, you can buy wellies on site but be aware that the forces of supply and demand decree that prices rocket when it rains and the queues can be quite horrendous too.
I’ve been to Glastonbury as part of a largish group in the past and while it’s great to have the camaraderie of sharing the experience with good friends around you, it can also encroach somewhat on your freedom to enjoy the festival as you are often restricted by other people’s tastes in entertainment and you’re constantly trying to keep the group together so that nobody gets lost.
More often than not I’ve flown solo at Glastonbury. I have several groups of friends with whom I can pitch my tent and enjoy a bit of banter round the campfire but during the day I’m free as a bird to go off and see whatever I want and I believe that I get far more out of the weekend as a result.
You certainly don’t need to worry about going alone from a safety aspect. Whilst some large festivals may have a reputation for gangs of drunken teenagers roaming the campsites, burning tents, raping, pillaging and attacking the security, this certainly isn’t the case at Glastonbury and since the superfence was introduced in 2002 I have never personally witnessed violent or abusive behaviour in any shape or form. Quite the opposite in fact and if you are in any way naturally gregarious then you will find that most people are more than happy to chat away with complete strangers and help out if you need anything.
If you don’t know anybody who is going to the festival but would like to make contact with some like minded souls in advance then can I suggest that you join one of the several festival related message boards or facebook groups on the internet. Many of these people arrange to camp together and meet up at the festival and I’ve personally made literally dozens of very close friends over the years through this medium.
There’s a popular misconception out there that music festivals are purely the reserve of those in their teens and twenties and that we should all hang up our festival boots and retire gracefully to the potting shed as soon as we hit our 30th birthdays. Certainly the television and press coverage do little to dispel this myth with pictures of youngsters in the flush of youth, wearing wellies in the sunshine and flowers in their hair.
But Glastonbury appeals to all ages and it really isn’t unusual to see 3 generations of the same family all enjoying the festival together. I’m in my fifties now and still enjoy getting covered head to toe in glitter and dancing ‘til dawn with the Tortlets, who are themselves now in their twenties I hasten to add. I’ve certainly got no intention of easing off anytime soon and I have many festival friends of a similar vintage who share my outlook.
So like all things in life, don’t allow your perception to be
swayed by what you see on the telly or read in the papers. Give it a go! You
may ultimately decide that it really is all a bit too full on for you. But
you’ll never know until you give it a try and, lets face it, the Rolling Stones turned up a few years ago and they're all in their 70's!
My personal advice is quite simply, as early as you possibly can. If you're not planning on turning up until the Friday then you will have missed out on 2 days of the festival and you will lose the opportunity to explore the site before you have the distractions of the entertainment on the main stages for the last 3 days.
More and more people arrive on the Wednesday every year. With the car parks opening on the previous evening there are thousands of people queuing at the gates before they are officially opened at 8am, and many thousands more arrive shortly afterwards. As a result there have been many stories told of people queuing for 6 hours or more without water or shelter from the blazing sunshine or pouring rain. So make sure you come prepared in case you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in this position. Having said that there have been marked improvements with the flow of people coming in through the gates over the last few festivals with an estimated 35,000 already having poured in by 10 O'Clock on the Wednesday morning and more than 100,000 (nearly ¾ of all punters) entering by 10am on the Thursday.
If you do want to avoid the worst of the queues you might want to consider arriving a little later on Wednesday or even Thursday morning. Most of the more popular camping fields will already be full but there will still be plenty of camping space available provided you don’t mind being based a little further away from the main attractions than you would be able to if you were among those banging on the gates from the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The pedestrian gates are open 24 hours a day so there is no problem with access if you arrive during the night. However if you do so then you should make sure that you are very familiar with putting your tent up in the dark. Also please be aware that the size of the festival is even more disorientating at night time and if you are new to it then finding your way to a specific camping field could well turn out be a lot more difficult than you would imagine. I certainly found this to be the case the first time I went and actually woke up the following morning in a completely different field to the one I thought I was in.
If you get through the gates early on the Wednesday morning you will have the pick of the camping spots and once you've got your tent up you will just be able to kick back and watch the festival build up around you. You'll have time to explore the Green Fields and the extensive markets and generally familiarise yourself with your surroundings. Most of the bars and stalls will be open and you will be able to participate in some of the many workshops which take place in the Green Fields.
On the Wednesday evening there is an opening ceremony with fireworks. This originated in the King's Meadow near the Stone Circle but it became so popular that in 2016 fireworks were simultaneously let off at 3 separate locations along the southern portion of the site in order to prevent over-crowding.
Although there is no live music on the main stages there are scheduled performances at lots of the smaller venues and there is a real party atmosphere, especially at The Cider Bus, The Brothers Bar and up at the Stone Circle. The vast majority of people will welcome you round their camp fires for a chat and a cider.
In 2014 these friends of mine celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary by renewing their marriage vows at the Cider Bus on the Wednesday night. We had cake & fizz!
It is absolutely imperative that you have your ticket with you before you arrive at the festival site. It will be virtually impossible to find friends at the gates and you won't be allowed onto the buses or into the car parks unless you can prove that you are a genuine ticket holder. If your ticket has been posted to somewhere other than your own home address then make sure that the person who has your ticket mails it on to you by recorded delivery or arrange to meet up with them en-route to the festival so that the ticket is safely in your hand when you get there.
There are four main pedestrian gates dotted around the fence and these are open 24 hours a day from 8am on the Wednesday morning, although they sometimes open a little earlier to alleviate congestion these days. Gate A in the north-west corner predominantly serves the festival bus station. Gate B is mainly used as a pedestrian access from Pilton village and the staff car parks and camp sites to the north-east but it also is closer to the eastern car parks which are colour coded purple on the site map. Gate C provides access from the majority of the eastern (blue) car parks and campervan fields and Gate D for most of the orange, pink and yellow car parks to the west.
In addition people staying in the western campervan fields have their own access gate which is shown in the picture above. There is also Pennard Hill Gate at the southern end of the site which affords access to the Worthy View boutique camping area. All of the numbered gates which you will see marked around the fence on some maps are for vehicle use only and pedestrians aren't allowed to get in or out through these.
When you reach the gates your ticket will be checked to ensure that you are the person whose photograph is printed on it. No other form of identification is required apart from the face which matches the photo, although it would be sensible to carry some other form of identification with you if your appearance has changed considerably since the photo was taken.
Your bags might be searched before you are allowed to enter to make sure you are not carrying any illegal drugs, weapons or glass items. See the piece about glass bottles in "Can I bring my own booze?" in Part 4 but also bear in mind that other glass items such as bottles of perfume, jars of food and mirrors may also be confiscated if they are found.
It’s none of my business if you do intend to bring illegal substances with you and I’m not in the business of advising people how best to do so, but suffice to say having your bags searched is an inconvenient and time consuming experience. The only time that I have ever been searched at the gates was in 2010. The guy who searched me was very professional and pleasant about it but by the time he had gone through my bag and my daughter’s plus all the gear I had on my trolley we had wasted a good 15 minutes of valuable tent pitching time.
You will then pass through a turnstile which allows the stewards to keep an accurate check on how many people are on site at any one point in time. Don't worry if your gear is too large to pass through the turnstiles. The stewards will direct you through a wide access gate and ensure that an accurate count is maintained.
Yes you are free to come and go as you choose. There is a pass-out system which consists of a wristband, your ticket stub and a separate pass-out ticket. Do not lose these! When you return to the pedestrian gate there is a fast track lane for re-entrants so once the initial rush has died down you won't have to queue up again with all the first time arrivals.
If you want to leave the site altogether you can use the free shuttle bus services to Castle Cary Station and the Bath and West Showground. There are also scheduled buses into Glastonbury town and Shepton Mallet. The Information Points will be able to give you details of when these run.
If you are driving you will find that cars are parked in well regimented rows and there should be no problem with getting your car out if you want to. However be aware that until Saturday you will be moving against the flow of traffic so it may take some time to get away from the site and you certainly won’t be able to return to your original parking spot when you come back again.
They are FREE! Or at least that is to say, they are included within the ticket price. Your programme is handed to you when you get through the turnstiles, which is a bit of a pain really because you will have more than enough to carry already and I really wish they'd introduce a voucher system so you can pick it up later at your leisure. Additional copies of the programme can be purchased from the Information Points around the site but they are very pricey (£25 in 2016) so make sure you pick yours up at the gate when you arrive and don't lose it.
I'm afraid it's only the paying punters who receive a free programme. If you are working at the festival you will have to buy one.
You will also receive a convenient Guardian Guide which you can hang in a transparent lanyard around your neck and which includes the line-up times for the main stages and a simplified map of the site, albeit that the one which appeared in the 2014 guide was actually a year out of date. Additional copies of the guide can also be obtained from info points free of charge.
You can also get details of any changes to the line-up from the Glastonbury mobile phone app or from the festival radio station, Worthy FM (87.7 FM) as well as hearing music and interviews from many of the artists who are performing at the festival.
Are you mad???!!! Actually, I've been shot down before for suggesting people are a bit daft for not wanting to stay onsite so I'll put a small caveat in by saying that, unless you have some form of disability which means that camping is impossible, it is far too much hassle to stay off site. All local B&Bs will be booked choc-a-bloc many months in advance and I have heard of people commuting daily to the festival from as far away as Bristol which just seems absolutely bonkers to me.
But on top of a fairly long drive don't forget that you will be parked in the outer car parks and will therefore probably have a mile walk to and from the car each day just to get to the gates. The main stages don't close until midnight so it's going to be well into the early hours of the morning before you get back to your accommodation. And you'll have to set off again by mid-morning if you want to catch the earlier entertainment each day. Add to that the security issue of wandering around car parks at the dead of night and trying to find your car amongst thousands of others in the dark. Well all in all it doesn't really seem like such a good idea now does it?
But the main reason for staying on site is if you don't you will miss some of the best parts of the festival. Areas like Shangri-La, Arcadia, Block 9, The Unfair Ground, The Common, The Silent Discos and the Stone Circle don't start to come fully alive until after the bands on the main stages finish. See more about these under “What Happens At Night?” in Part 6. The Brothers Bar and the Cider Bus are pleasant congregating points which seem to stay open all night. And you get to meet so many great people just wandering around and stopping off at cafes and camp fires. There's a great community spirit and I for one love the feeling of getting in through the gates on the Wednesday morning and knowing that I don't have to worry about what goes on in the outside world until I leave again on the Monday. Camp! You know it makes sense.
In 2016 there were 20 different operations who offered "glamping" options at local farms close to the festival site. However you need to be aware that the enterprises who run these campsites don't generally have any official links with the festival. In 2011 an organisation called Myhab went bust shortly before the festival and if it weren't for the fact that Michael Eavis stepped in and provided alternative accommodation at the festival's expense, many punters would have been left without accommodation and out of pocket.
However the growing popularity of offsite camping hasn’t gone unnoticed by the organisers and, for the first time in 2013, they provided a variety of official tented accommodation for 4,000 people outside of the main festival site. Capacity here has subsequently been increased significantly to something like 10,000. So if you want to have the convenience of a ready-pitched tent close to where you park your car then you may consider these advantages to outweigh the increased cost involved and the long, steep uphill slog to get home each evening. The new area is known as Worthy View and is accessible from the main site via a the Pennard Hill Gate beyond the Stone Circle at the Southern end.
If you are feeling really flush then you might like to look into the possibility of hiring a tent or a yurt from one of the unofficial accommodation providers. None of these appear to be particularly cheap and some are eye wateringly expensive but if you really feel that you can't slum it with the rest of us for a few days then you might like to see if any of the following fit your needs and budget:- Tangerine Fields, Land & Sky, Pennard Orchard, Ashcombe Farm, Pennard Hill Farm, Love Fields or Cockmill Hideaway.
Fly Glastonbury will even helicopter you out of the festival on the Monday to avoid the traffic queues and those with even more serious money to burn may like to consider Camp Kerala who will provide you with luxury Shikar tents, posh nosh, spa treatment, shuttle transport and backstage hospitality. Prices in 2016 started at a mere £7,500. No that’s not a typo – Seven & a half grand!
Some motorhome hire companies also provide a service whereby they set up their vehicles onsite ready for punters to move in but I understand that in 2017 this option will only be available at the offsite Campervan area at the Bath & West Showground.
Go to Part 3