Last week, Louis and I joined my cousin and her son Ollie at the Hay Festival in the stunning little town of Hay-on-Wye. I say stunning, but all the time we were there, a thick, angry cloud hung low, dumping fat wet rain onto us at every opportunity, so even though I know the views around there are magnificent, we didn’t see much of them.
But the weather could not dampen our spirits. Hay’s tented village is beautifully designed to shelter its visitors from everything nature can throw at it, the author talks, activities and bookshop were superb and the food tent was a gorgeous mix of artisan-produced fayre - we tried salmon-filled lavabread, handmade pizzas, vegetarian burgers, hand-cut and spiced potato wedges and more lattes than are probably wise.
Claire and I both own VW campervans so we stayed here, on a small-ish site just across the road from the festival itself. The camp site was perfect, lots of flat pitches, plenty of space for the boys to explore and hot chocolate and more fine lattes available from the little marquee in the centre of the meadow.
On our second day, we went on one of the organised Hay activities and visited the nearby Maesllwch farm. Amid pouring rain, we learned so much!
We’ve visited farms before but this wasn’t a sanitised tourist trail farm tour, it was a really good, educational trip to a working dairy farm. The local vet and farmer explained that the farm was driven by grass - how much, how good, how long it is. Everything on the farm - the welfare of the 450-strong herd, the quality of the milk, the yield - came down to how good the grass is. Louis watched the mechanised milking then had a go at hand-milking and he listened intently during the cheese-making talk. His eyes nearly came out on stalks when he saw how rennet turns warm milk solid in a matter of minutes!
We learned all about cow passports, watched the calves being fed, even watched the vet spray-paint a willing cow to show us where the stomachs reside. And then we stood in one of the pastures, surrounded by the enormous herd, and watched the mists lift to reveal the most beautiful valley. It was a really great thing to do and I highly recommend it if you visit Hay next year.
Of course, we did manage to fit in a few author talks as well. Louis and I went to see Steve Cole, Ollie and Claire saw Michael Morpurgo and I squeezed in Kate Humble. Oh, and Damian Lewis was there too.
We had a great time at Hay. If you’ve never been and find yourself at a loose end next May, I highly recommend it. The festival is free to enter, you just pay for the sessions you want to go to and there really is something for everyone. We’ll definitely be back and are already planning an out-of-festival trip to Hay to visit the town itself - so many bookshops, so little time on this trip!