It may seem a strange thing to suggest given the vast array of musical talent on display but it is entirely possible to spend five or six days at Glastonbury and not watch a single band and yet still have the most spectacular few days of your summer. If Groundhog Day were a reality you could attend the same Glastonbury every weekend for many months & still not see the same thing twice. Glastonbury is a “Performing Arts” festival after all and as such there is none better – Anywhere! There are other so-called “festivals” in this country that will sometimes give you more bang for your buck in the way of big name headliners. But none of them can ever come close to the diversity of entertainment on offer, or the sense of escapism, or the totally immersive experience that one gets at Glastonbury. Here is a brief summary of a few of the other attractions that make Glastonbury so much more than just another Music Festival.
Next door to West Holts you will find a field which used to be known as “East Holts” but was renamed “Bella’s Field” in 2008 in commemoration of Arabella Churchill. As well as being Winston Churchill’s granddaughter, Arabella was one of the founders of Glastonbury Festival and remained a huge influence within the festival’s organisation right up until her sad death in 2007. The main attraction in Bella’s Field is the Cabaret Marquee and a visit here is a must. There is always an impressive line up of comedians and cabaret artists and the matted flooring makes this a great place to lay back, relax and enjoy the entertainment on offer.
You’ll find several additional venues in Bella's Field. The outdoor Sensation Seekers Stage is tucked away in one corner and close by you will also find the Poetry and Words tent. Other attractions here in 2011 included a gypsy caravan which housed an Insect Circus, a “Ghost Bus” and also an interactive “Sonic Forest”. As well as all of these, there is the ever-growing army of “Demons and Dopplegangers” which are little clay images festival goers have made of themselves down the years.
Across “Bella’s Bridge” at the bottom of the Field and you’ll find yourself in the Circus Field where a huge and impressive Circus Big Top is the main venue. The Big Top attracts circus acts from around the World to delight all ages.
Additionally in 2011 there was an aerial trapeze and several smaller outdoor venues where you can discover lots of entertainment from jugglers, escapologists, tightrope walkers, acrobats, magicians, sword swallowers, unicyclists, stiltwalkers and the like as well as musical entertainment from many of the lesser-known bands who tour around the smaller stages over the course of the weekend.
A quick stroll on up the hill from the Circus Field brings you into the “Glebeland” Theatre Field. Once again the centrepiece here is a large indoor venue which previously was known as the “Belle Epoque” but was renamed in 2008 as the Astrolabe. This is the only indoor venue at the whole of Glastonbury which has proper tiered seating so if you fancy resting those weary limbs while a full schedule of theatrical and comic performances roll out before you then head in this direction.
More Theatrical and musical entertainment can be enjoyed at the nearby Outdoor Theatre Stage, and also at the Blazing Saddles Stage which used to be known as the “Fire and Dance” stage but nowadays benefits from a “saddlespan” roof to cover the front portion of the audience. Looking at the Fine Guide map it appears that these venues may be disappearing in 2013 but a new venue called The Summer House will be appearing in their place.
You will also see lots of roving performers both here and also elsewhere around the site and many of these will give you a great opportunity to join in the fun and become part of the entertainment.
Glastonbury retains its environmental ethos in the Green Fields and you simply must make time to spend at least a few hours of your weekend wandering around the several fields that make up this area.
There are numerous displays of traditional trades such as wood turning and stone masonry in the Green Crafts field and you can also participate in various workshops so you can learn how to make jewellery, pottery and ironwork or play that Didgeridoo before you buy it!
In the Green Futures field there are presentations from numerous organisations who aim to raise environmental awareness issues. You can learn about renewable energy resources and observe alternative green living techniques. There are always several impressive sculptures and some of these are created during the course of the festival so you can watch them develop over the weekend. At the Speakers Forum there are speeches and debate about environmental and political issues interspersed by performances of spoken word.
In one secluded corner is a Permaculture Area where you can learn about various plants and their uses. There is a small wooden cabin here which has an edible roof and you can also enjoy a meal at the Permaculture Café which is tucked away among the trees.
In the Healing Field you can learn about different faiths, alternative medicines and healing techniques. You can also indulge in a massage to revitalise those aching limbs or start your day at one of the yoga or meditation sessions.
Greenpeace have their own field where they promote their worthy cause and there are lots of examples of how to make creative use of recycled materials. They also encourage you and the kids to get active, and have things like climbing walls and skateboard ramps - all made from sustainable timber of course - as well as musical entertainment.
The Greenpeace Field is also where you will find the "Cadmus" pirate ship. This was built in 2010 to replace the previous wooden “Rainbow Warrior” which was a permanent feature for many years but unfortunately had become too rickety to repair safely. The new ship is built entirely from recycled materials and incorporates slides and other activities for the kids between 8am and 7pm. Adults are allowed to climb aboard for a couple of hours of gahs & yo ho hos between 7 & 9 each evening.
This is The Tunnel that leads under the disused railway track between the Greenpeace and Green Futures Fields. It's one of the many little corners of the festival that people often won't have discovered, even after several visits.
For many years there used to be a large outdoor Cinema which showed films every night from Thursday to Sunday. Unfortunately the screen hasn’t been present since 2008 but there is still a large marquee known as the "Pilton Palace" in the same field as the Acoustic Tent, which shows films right through until 4am each night.
In addition the Groovy Movie solar powered cinema, shown above, may be found in the Green Fields area and there is also the Lost Picture Show in the Common which shows quirky old films in lavish, chandelier lit surroundings with a cocktail bar to boot.
On my first visit to Glastonbury I arrived with a couple of mates at about 2am on the Thursday morning. We put our tent up in the dark and decided to go for a bit of a wander before we headed off to bed. Within just a few minutes of leaving the tent we had stumbled through the mist and campfire smoke, over a little bridge and into the Tipi Field, just as the first glimmers of the new day came flickering through the valley. It was very quiet and utterly surreal and I knew at that moment that this thing called Glastonbury had well and truly got its hooks into me and wouldn't be letting go for a very long while.
In 2008 the Tipi Field was moved from the small tree lined field it had enjoyed as its home for many years in order to allow for the expansion of the late night areas. It’s now situated towards the top of Pennard Hill Ground which I have to say does make it seem rather more detached from the festival than was previously the case. You are welcome to wander through the Tipi Field and participate in the activities that take place there. However please note that that camping in the Tipi Field is reserved for people who are able to provide their own accommodation and many of the people who bring their tipis actually live in them for a good proportion of the year. If you want to experience living in a tipi for the duration of the festival but aren’t able to bring along your own then see the "Can I Stay In A Tipi?" Section in Part 3.
At the central Meeting Point, which is also known as William's Green, there is a large central screen on which passing punters can see themselves appear in a virtual fantasy land. Live sporting events, music videos and footage of some of the bands performing at the festival are also sometimes shown. Althought there was no live music venue in this space in 2011 there have been several in the past and it looks as though there will be again in 2013.
I always make sure I spend an hour chilling with the Hare Krishnas. Their tent can be found in the "Holts" Field between the Glade and West Holts stages. They generate more of a celebratory atmosphere at night with large crowds gathering to join the chanting. The words are easy to learn! The Hare Krishnas also usually have a smaller tent in the Healing Field.
You can find more details on a variety of different faith groups which are represented at the festival HERE and there is a multi-faith chapel called The Sanctuary at the top of Big Ground close to the farm, where daily services are held.
At the southern tip of the festival site you will find Kings Meadow, otherwise known as the “Sacred Space”. Here you will find the famous Stone Circle, which is a hive of activity at night but during the day it is generally a very quiet and peaceful area where one can chill out and take in the fantastic views across the site.
There are several small tranquil gardens around the Sacred Space and even a pond tucked quietly away to one side near the top entrance to the Dragon camping field.
And here is The Dragon himself. You'll find him cooling himself in the wooded stream running down between the Sacred Space and the camping field that bears his name. He’s not to be mistaken with the carved wooden dragon sculpture which until recently stood shackled in chains nearby.
In 2008 the South Western fenceline was extended uphill to provide the fantastic new “Flagtopia” lounging area, where you can take in even more spectacular views across the whole of the site than those you can enjoy from the Sacred Space. If you’ve never been to Glastonbury before or if you have failed to make it to the top of the hill over the last few years I recommend that you make every effort to do so in 2013. If you can possibly resist the temptation, don’t turn around until you get to the very top and then prepare to be amazed as you take in the awesome spectacle of the whole festival laid out before you. It’s the best way to truly appreciate the vast scale of Glastonbury.
There are a couple of Nature Reserves on the site. The main one of these is next to the old cinema field and although it is fenced off to protect the flora and fauna you are able to walk the path through the cool wooded area.
This has become something of a joke question on internet message boards but every alternate year Glastonbury coincides with either the World Cup or the European Championships and naturally there will be a lot of people attending the festival who would also like to see the football.
Previous experience is that if England are playing during the festival then provisions will be made for anybody who wishes to see the game. In 2010 England’s World Cup group game against Slovenia was played on the Wednesday afternoon and a huge crowd crammed into the Pyramid Stage Field to see the game on the big screens. The same happened during Euro 2004 when England were knocked out by Portugal in a penalty shoot out on the Thursday evening.
Obviously the Pyramid Field can’t be used to show any games played on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday as live acts will be performing on those days but alternative arrangements were made in 2010 when a large area of the Bushy Ground camping field was set aside to cater for as many as 40,000 to witness England’s disappointing 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Germans.
Games involving other countries aren’t generally shown although you might find some of the bars have TV screens and you may be able to get the bar staff to show specific matches if you ask very nicely.
Despite the curtailment on late night noise in some areas over recent years, Glastonbury is still very much a 24 hour event. When the main stages shut down for the night there is still plenty of stuff going on and places like the Stone Circle, Shangri-La, Arcadia, Block 9, The Common, the Unfair Ground, the Silent Discos and some of the smaller venues in The Park, the Dance Village, the Green Fields and the Glade don't really start to come alive until after midnight.
photograph courtesy of Wiskey
"Lost Vagueness” was an area that was developed by the travelling fraternity and, for many, was the place where the traditional Glastonbury party vibe remained at its strongest. But it was getting a little long in the tooth and was the subject of some rather silly internal politics and in-fighting. So in 2008 Lost Vagueness was replaced by the amazing concept of Shangri-La. As well as the good sized entertainment venue of Club Dada mentioned previously there are numerous other places to while the night away in Shangri-La. These include the central Hub with its lazer shows and spectral stiltwalkers and also a Hotel where you leave your boots at the door in order to enjoy the massive beds and pillow fights of the Slumbarave.
At the Snake Pit you require a tattoo in order to be able to enter but temporary tats are available for a small fee if permanent body modification isn't your thing and there is also plenty of entertainment going on at the garishly painted Rocket Lounge.
There are loads of small & quirky "nano-environments" to be found in the post-apocalyptic back alleys of Shangri-La but you have to have a real sense of adventure to discover these. Many people who have simply herded through this area during the early hours over the last couple of years will have completely missed the amazing blue mermaids, the 8 man drum machine, the kamikaze karaoke, and the Temple of the Blessed Bono. Although a lot of these are only open after dark it’s worthwhile having a wander round here earlier in the day in order to truly appreciate the imagination and work that goes into this area.
For the last couple of years the original Lost Vagueness Field has been occupied by the Unfair Ground and appropriately it is here that you can see the wondrous creations of Glastonbury veterans Mutoid Waste with their chopped helicopters and a cocktail bar housed inside an apparently crashed airliner fuselage.
The evening gets under way with a display of mutant vehicles. Mad Max style machines that appear to have been inter-bred with dinosaurs power around the field.
There are also lots of weird and wonderful sideshows as well as the Acid House dance venue which is hosted by Bez of Happy Mondays and Celebrity Big Brother fame.
Tucked away in the top corner of the field, you will discover this stone which is a permanent memorial to Joe Strummer, the legendary leader of The Clash. And immediately in front of the stone is an area known as Strummerville where bands play on what is probably the smallest stage at Glastonbury while the audience enjoy comfy sofas and a roaring bonfire. Despite the miniscule size of the stage Mumford & Sons played a secret gig here in 2011.
Arcadia came to most people’s attention in 2008 when they provided the pyrotechnic centrepiece for what used to be known as Trash City and in 2009 they were deservedly given their own field in order to spellbind us further with their gas fired apocalyptic displays. In 2010 they upped their game even further and numerous guest bands and DJ’s performed on the huge central rig over the course of the weekend. It became so popular that in 2011 they moved again into the largest field in the South Eastern “Naughty” corner of the site so that even more people could enjoy the spectacle.
The highlight here is the nightly “Spider” show which takes place at midnight and involves a stunning combination of flames and fiesta. In 2010 this included a breathtaking appearance from the Lords of Lightning who stood above the crowd on live tesla coils and threw lightning bolts at one another.
Arcadia also played host to an indoor bar and live music venue called Chai Wallahs in 2011. These guys have been at Glastonbury for many years and you will also catch them at numerous other festivals over the course of each summer. The line up here often includes some excellent ska, balkan music and beatboxing to dance the night away to.
The Common had an amazing new venue as its central focus in 2011. Some disused lock gates from the Kennet and Avon canal were donated to the festival and these were used to create the Campo Pequeno bullring. There were lots of latino orientated events like Mexican wrestling & fiestas happening here but the highlight of Glastonbury 2011 for me was the “La Tomatina” tomato fight on the Sunday evening when about 300 people gathered to pelt one another with some 2 tons of ripe tomatoes. The most fun I’ve ever had with fruit in a non-sexual capacity!
Bassline Circus is housed in a geodesic dome and thunders out dubstep and drum & bass into the early hours and the Common is also home to an incredible heart-in-the-mouth Wall of Death motorcycle display.
The opening of another new field in 2010 introduced us to District 9 where a huge 5 storey block of flats with a full size tube train apparently crashed into the front of it formed the location for a dance venue called The London Underground.
Alternatively you could venture into the recreated 1970’s gay bar at NYC Downlow where dubious facial hair is obligatory. Much like the Snakepit in Arcadia you can buy a false ‘tache for a donation to AIDS charities.
Please note that in 2011 a new access route into all of the late night areas in the South Eastern corner of the site was introduced via a track leading all the way down from a point close to Pedestrian Gate C. All other entrances into the area officially became exit only between 11pm and 4am to prevent some of the overcrowding and bottlenecks we have seen over the previous few years.
There were neon signs along the route showing an estimate of how long it would take to get into Arcadia although, from the reports I have read, it seems that these times were rather over-stated. But in order to appreciate this area fully my advice would always be to give the main stage headliners a miss for one evening and get there early before the majority of the crowds arrive.
But having said all that it seems that there are some big changes afoot for the "Naughty Corner" in 2013. The word on the street is that Arcadia will be moving to a new location in the Other Stage field and the one way system will be shortened so that access to the late night area will be via Bella's Field near the Cabaret tent. Shangri La have also used the year off to send their creative juices into overdrive and present us with something completely new and different. So all of the above can really only be used to provide a flavour of what to expect because there will be a whole new late night playground to discover when we all go back to Worthy Farm in June. That's the real beauty of Glastonbury. Nothing ever stays the same. It's in a constant state of flux and evolution.
photograph courtesy of P.R.O.D.
There are several further small stages and DJs playing tunes in the Park. The Bimble Inn is a huge elongated tipi with a stage at one end and oversized versions of games like Jenga and Connect 4 available for all to play. On the Thursday evening the Stonebridge Bar (above) is always rammed for the Baggy Mondays madchester revival. And there are quirky venues such as HMS Sweet Charity the Rabbit Hole, where you are invited to discover what lies behind the tiny secret door.
In addition to all of the above, previously described stages such as Leftfield, The Glade Lounge, WOW!, The Pussy Parlure, Magic Bubbles, The Astrolabe, The Cabaret Tent, Small World, the Beat Hotel and the Avalon Café all have live entertainment and DJ’s playing long after the midnight curfew on the main stages.
Yes you can certainly have a fire in most of the campsites although they are not allowed in the main arenas or the disabled camping area for safety reasons. Firewood is supplied in piles dotted around the site although these tend to disappear very quickly on the Wednesday.
If you don't manage to get hold of any wood then there are a few stalls where you can buy bags of firewood. Please don't resort to burning plastic. The smoke is toxic and it stinks! Even paper drinking cups are covered in wax which is pretty unpleasant when it burns.
A team of hard-working and friendly volunteers, recruited from members of the local CND, run six Information Points around the site. Their positions are indicated on the site maps. As well as supplying the free daily newspaper, toilet rolls, bin bags and condoms, the Info Teams will be happy to help you with bus and train times and assistance in locating pretty much anything you need to find on the site. They are also the first port of call for lost property although any items which are handed in will eventually find their way to the Waggonshed Welfare area at the Farmhouse.
The main Information Point, can be found at the central Meeting Point. This is open 24 hours a day from Wednesday morning right through to Monday evening. You will find additional Information Points to the left hand side of both the Pyramid and Other Stages, in the Park, close to the entrance to the Greenpeace Field and also at Pedestrian Gate A near the Bus Station. These are open from 8am until midnight from Wednesday to Sunday.
There is also a further Information Point in the Greenfields which gives specific information about all the things to be found within that area of the site.
You won't want to leave but all good things must come to an end. Some people leave on the Sunday evening and by all accounts get away fairly quickly. Most of the buses for people who bought coach package tickets are scheduled to leave early on the Monday morning in order to keep traffic disruption to a minimum.
But there is still plenty of entertainment and partying going on throughout Sunday night and the majority of punters leave it until the Monday to make their return to reality. As a result the queues, both in the car parks and for the free bus transfer to Castle Cary station, build up very quickly on the Monday morning and I've personally been stuck in the car parks for more than 6 hours before I could finally start making my way home.
Traffic management does tend to be a lot better nowadays but many of the stalls stay open on the Monday until at least lunchtime and there are some bargains to be had so it’s worthwhile hanging around for a while in order to avoid the worst of the queues.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you've found it to be useful and informative and that it helps you to get even more out of your Glastonbury experience.
My huge gratitude goes out to Paul Holmes for ensuring that these FAQs live on as part of his stunning GlastoEarth project and I’m very proud that he has asked me to present my own contribution to the Glastonbury community in tandem with his remarkable work.
I would also like to give a special mention to Stephen Abrahall aka Infoman, who gave nearly 30 years of loyal service to Glastonbury Festival and who helped countless thousands of people by applying the personal touch for anybody who had a question to ask about the festival. Stephen taught me most of what I know about Glastonbury. Without his knowledge and guidance these FAQs would never have been possible and I consider myself to be deeply honoured and privileged to have known and worked with Stephen for several years.
Finally, if you've really got too much time on your hands, click the link below for lots more photos of Glastonbury and some of my other favourite festivals. I hope they give you some inspiration for alternative festivals in case you're not lucky enough to make it to Worthy Farm this year or possibly additional events to attend if Glastonbury gives you a taste for the unknown.