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 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 which 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 one gets at Glastonbury. Here is a brief summary of a few of the other attractions which 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 she passed away 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 which transforms into the Mavericks burlesque venue in the evenings. Other attractions here in 2015 included a gypsy caravan which housed an Insect Circus, the "Anthropic Organ" and also my favourite little micro-venue, the People's Front Room. As well as all of these, there is the ever-growing army of “Demons and Doppelgangers” which are little clay images festival goers have made of themselves down the years.
Head across “Bella’s Bridge” at the bottom of the field, where numerous buskers and street performers will entertain you at The Pavement, 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 and you can see a video of some of the jaw-dropping performances which took place in 2014 HERE.
Additionally in 2015 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 festival's 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.
Glebeland had a bit of a shift around in 2013. The Astrolabe moved across the field to a position which was previously occupied by a stage called "Blazing Saddles". And in the space it left vacant a new venue called The Summer House has appeared where more theatrical and musical entertainment can be enjoyed while you sit back and relax in the surrounding deckchairs.
Also at the top end of the field you will find the Gateway Stage for even more al fresco theatrical and musical performances.
You will see lots of walkabout 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. And, if you possibly can, make sure that you catch Les and Maureen aka the Bramble FM Roadshow. I won't spoil it for you. You just have to be there!There's another great video of all the weird and wonderful goings on in the Circus and Theatre Fields from Glastonbury 2014. You can watch it by clicking HERE
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 which 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 and turn your hand to creating something from wood, metal, stone, pottery, willow or even LED lighting. You can make jewellery, learn survival skills or how to play that Didgeridoo before you buy it!
In the Green Futures field there are presentations from numerous organisations who aim to raise awareness over various environmental and humanitarian 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 culinary and medicinal uses. There is a small wooden cabin here which has an edible roof and you can also enjoy a relatively cheap vegetarian meal at the Permaculture Café which is tucked quietly 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 on the Greenpeace Stage.
At Glastonbury 2015 Greenpeace campaigned to raise awareness of the plight of our oceans. The centrepiece was a fabulous giant tuna which hosted educational lectures about over-fishing.
The Green Kids portion of the Greenpeace Field is 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 garrrs & yo ho hos between 7 & 9 each evening.
This is The Tunnel which leads beneath the disused railway track between the Greenpeace and Green Futures Fields. It's one of the many little corners of the festival which people often won't have discovered, even after several visits.
In 2013 this wonderful installation adorned the roof of the tunnel and eerie interactive echo effects added to the feeling of passing through some form of underground ice chamber.
For many years there used to be a large outdoor Cinema which showed films every night from Thursday to Sunday. Unfortunately, due to licensing issues, 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.
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 which take place there. However please note 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 please head back to the "Can I Stay In A Tipi?" Section in Part 3 for more info.
If you find your way to The Park and have a look a good way further up the slope towards the fenceline, you will spot The Crow's Nest nestled into the hillside. This is home to the Free University of Glastonbury where lunchtime lectures and discussion sessions can be enjoyed with the likes of Professor Brian Cox, before musical entertainment takes over later in the day. Some reasonably well known bands also play at the Crow's Nest and it's always amusing to watch them lugging their gear up the hill in order to play their sets there.
I always make sure I spend some time chilling with the Hare Krishnas. Their tent can be found in the "Holts" Field close to the Glade. They generate more of a celebratory atmosphere at night with crowds of people 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 faiths and spiritual 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.
In the Park there is usually very impressive exhibit of sand sculpting from Sandalism. The creations they come up with are always somehow topical to something which is happening at the festival that year.
At the southern tip of the festival site you will find the 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 and tranquil gardens around the perimeter of the Sacred Space which are perfect places to sit, relax, contemplate and generally get away from the madness and thronging crowds at the main entertainment areas.
And here is The Dragon. You'll find him cooling himself in the wooded stream which runs down between the Sacred Space and the crew camping field which 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. The fenceline was pushed back even further up the hill in 2014 so 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 2016. 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 absolutely the very 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 Spring Ground disabled camping 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. There are also a couple of ponds, including this one up near the Stone Circle. If you look very carefully you can spot a few goldfish in there.
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.
The festival announced in advance that, in the event that England were to qualify from the group stages of the 2014 World Cup, their game in the last 16 knock out round would not be shown live. This was due to the fact that the game would have kicked off at 9pm on either the Saturday or Sunday of the festival and would therefore have clashed with the headline performances on either day. As it turned out England had already been eliminated and were on their way home before the festival even started.
Previous experience has been that if England are playing at other times during the festival then provisions are generally 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, and also an area outside the fence near gate C, were 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 since the somewhat anarchic pre-superfence era, 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, Silver Hayes and the Green Fields don't really start to come fully alive until after midnight.
photograph courtesy of Wiskey
At the Stone Circle you will find groups of people gathered around fires with impromptu drumming sessions and fire poi experts showing off their skills while people wait to greet the sun as it peeps out from behind the King Oak to start a new Glastonbury day.
On the Wednesday evening there is also an opening ceremony with fireworks and in 2015 this wooden phoenix was burnt as part of the celebrations.
"Lost Vagueness” was an area which 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 politics and in-fighting. So in 2008 Lost Vagueness was replaced by the amazing concept of Shangri-La. The storyline here is an ever evolving and mutating one and in 2013 Shangri-La took on the theme of Heaven & Hell.
In its 2013 incarnation Heaven was a place for "special people" and only those who were authorised by the Admin Angels at the Desk of Judgement were allowed to enjoy the heavenly delights that lay therein. Although this apparent elitism was very tongue in cheek it did mean that very few people got to see what was going on there and so in 2014 the Heavenly Arena was opened up for all to enjoy with DJs playing through to 6am each night.
Other smaller venues to be found in this area in 2014 included the Bar of Ideas, the Kamikaze Karaoke, The Leisure Centre and a bizarre little emporium called Harvey Nipples which included lots of sexually orientated little nic nacs to purchase or you could simply gaze in awe at the "Great Wall of Vagina" (see above).
Shangri La previously had lots of little back alleys which you had to explore and knock on a few hidden doors in order to discover the nano-environments and tiny secret bars that lay behind them. But in 2014 Hell revealed a new identity with lots of hexagonal pods of varying sizes, each of which represented a different department of corporate Hades.
Several of these pods held bars, others were art installations, a few had theatrical performances of dubious nature and more still had small venues such as the Snake Pit where one has to sport a tattoo in order to gain entry. Fake tats are available for a donation to charity if permanent body modification isn't your thing.
Although a number of the bars and venues in Shangri La 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 effort which goes into creating this area.
The open air Hell Stage is a fantastic creation with some fairly big name acts entertaining the throngs into the daylight hours. There are plenty of pyrotechnics to enhance the debauched atmosphere and the stage is compered by the satanic looking gentleman in the picture above.
With a bar right next door and an impressive line up it is very easy to while away the entire night at the Hell Stage. But if you fancy a change there is always plenty of entertainment going on at the garishly painted Rocket Lounge, which is virtually right next door, and also at the adjacent Deluxe Diner, where as well as musical entertainment you can tuck into gourmet burgers and other top quality nosh served up by head chef Andy Evans.
For the last few years the original Lost Vagueness Field has been occupied by the Unfair Ground where lots of weird and wonderful funfair sideshows can be found as well as the Acid House dance venue which is hosted by Bez of Happy Mondays and Celebrity Big Brother fame.
There's loads of weird and generally very risqué burlesque type stuff going on in Salon Carousel while the Acid Lounge includes some rather lithe and scantily clad pole dancers among the entertainment.
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 latin themed "Campo Pequeno" bullring. In 2013 it was rebranded as The Temple with more of an aztec influence and some really impressive video projections around the outer walls. Thankfully they have retained the “La Tomatina” tomato fight on the Sunday evening when hundreds of people gather to pelt one another with several tons of ripe tomatoes. The most fun I’ve ever had with fruit in a non-sexual capacity!Copperdollar looks like some sort of anarchic mexican chapel with Day of the Dead themed activities going on inside and to enter The Cave (above) you have to walk behind a huge waterfall in order to discover the troglodyte venue hidden behind its watery veil.
The Rumshack is like a large wild west saloon bar with live acts and DJs playing soul and reggae tunes at ear splitting volumes. Nearby a firm but polite doorman ensures that no cameras are allowed into Los Artistas Bohemios where nude drawing classes take place. If you're feeling really daring you are welcome to pose for the budding artists.
The opening of another new field in 2010 introduced us to Block 9 where a huge 5 storey block of flats with a full size tube train apparently crashed into the front of it forms the location for a dance venue called The London Underground.
Alternatively you can venture into the recreated 1970’s gay bar at NYC Downlow where dubious facial hair is obligatory. Much like the Snakepit in Shangri-La you can buy a false ‘tache for a donation to AIDS charities.
2013 saw a new attraction appear in Block 9 with the creation of a breathtaking outdoor dance venue called Genosys. This phenomenal structure looks like a futuristic tower block which has been left abandoned to overgrowing vines and creepers.
Please note that in order to reduce congestion in the south east corner a one way system comes into operation between 10:30pm and 3am every night. Between these hours the only entrance is via Bella's Field with the disused railway only available to people wishing to exit the area.
Arcadia first came to many 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 with their gas fired apocalyptic displays. Over the following 3 festivals they upped their game even further and moved into a different location each year in order to safely accommodate the thousands of people who wanted to witness the spectacle. Finally in 2014 they relocated again to a new and apparently permanent home close to The Park.
Bands and DJs perform in the Spider's central booth from 5pm all the way through to 3 in the morning but the highlight here is the nightly spectacular show which involves a stunning combination of pyrotechnics and acrobatics. In 2015 their "Metamorphisis" show involved alien invaders springing from the arms of the giant arachnid and swooping down into the crowd below where they apparently kidnap unsuspecting members of the audience. The show culminates with an enormous explosion so don't get too close if you value those eyebrows.
photograph courtesy of P.R.O.D.
There are several further small stages with live acts 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. You'll also find a well stocked bar here with a decent selection of real ales and ciders.
On the Thursday evening the Stonebridge Bar (above) is always rammed for the Baggy Mondays indie disco and there are quirky venues such as HMS Sweet Charity (below) and also the Rabbit Hole, where you are invited to solve the White Rabbit's riddles in order to discover what lies behind the secret door.
In addition to all of the above, previously described stages such as Leftfield, The Glade Lounge, WOW!, The Blues, Pussy Parlure Nouveau, William's Green, The Astrolabe, The Cabaret Tent, The Circus Big Top, Croissant Neuf, Small World, Toad Hall, The Mandala Stage, the Beat Hotel, Sensation Seekers, The Summer House, Ancient Futures, Mavericks, Babylon Uprising 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, sun cream and condoms, the Info Teams will be happy to help you out 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 opposite William's Green 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 if you're not in a rush to get home 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.