I love autumn, but I always feel nostalgia for the summer, and a little stab of apprehension about the dark days ahead. It feels important to have something to look forward to. And it's hard to imagine a better way to spend a few dark winter days than at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend.

When it’s on

The Winter Weekend festival is a feast of conversations, storytelling, comedy, music, and family workshops, and is a smaller version of the main Hay Festival which is held in spring. It runs for five days in November, with events taking place in venues in the centre of the town. The 2021 event takes place from Wednesday 24 to Sunday 28 November.

The town’s atmospheric market square is a focus of festivities. On Friday 26 November, the Hay Christmas lights are turned on, transforming the town into a winter wonderland brimming with festive cheer.

Two buildings at night with fair lights and a light up Christmas bow
People walking down a path past trees

Hay on Wye 

What to do locally

A few years ago I was given a wonderful opportunity: I was accepted onto the Hay Writers At Work scheme, a workshop which nurtures and supports emerging writers. Here, at the festival, I started writing my first novel, and made friends and memories to last a lifetime. I got a bit lost too, in a good way. I went to events not only to see people I knew I loved, but others who I had never heard of, who talked about things I'd never thought of. All of which taught me something new.

The Hay Festival holds a special place in my heart. It's a place where the magical and unexpected happens."

Wander. Get a bit lost. Search for treasure, in the town as well as at the festival. This is a small town with a huge heart, with over twenty bookshops. There's the gorgeous Richard Booth's Bookshop with its rich-red wooden interior, or the labyrinthine Hay Cinema Bookshop, the largest in the UK, or shops that deal in specific genres such as the delightfully named Murder and Mayhem. Search for vintage clothes and vinyl, jewellery and trinkets. Stop for lunch or drinks in the The Old Electric Shop and browse its grotto of curiosities and delights.

A book shop
A person standing outside of a book shop

Hay on Wye

What’s on

Every year the festival programme is beautifully curated, with a wonderfully eclectic choice of events.

This year, the climate crisis and the natural world are prominent themes, as is race and identity. Do browse the Hay Winter Festival programme, as there really is something for everyone.

Here are some of my picks:

'Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency' - Jonathon Porrit talks to Hannah Martin
Friday 26 November, 2.30 – 3.30pm – Llwyfan Cymru

'Gifts of Gravity and Light' - Kaliane Bradley, Jay Griffiths and Testament talk to Anita Roy
Saturday 27 November, 11.30 – 12.30pm, Baillie Gifford Stage

'The Right Sort of Girl' - Anita Rani in conversation with Natalie Haynes
Saturday 27 November, 4pm – 5pm, Llwyfan Cymru

'How Can We Overcome Unconscious Bias in Relation to Race and Class?' - Emma Dabiri and Jessica Nordell talk to Adam Rutherford
Saturday 27 November, 5.30 – 6.30pm, Llwyfan Cymru

'The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism' -John Barnes talks to Liana Stewart
Sunday 28 November, 11.30– 12.30am, Llwyfan Cymru

'Rebugging the Planet' - Vicki Hird
Sunday 28 November, 1pm – 2pm, Baillie Gifford Stage

I am a lover of the gothic and the ghostly, so I won't be missing parish priest and professional musician Father Richard Williams playing a live organ accompaniment to the classic 1920 silent horror film ‘The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari’ at St Mary’s Church, Friday 26th November, 8.30 – 9.45pm.
And on Saturday night at 8.30 – 9.30 on the Baillie Gifford stage, Jeanette Winterson will be reading two ghost stories written for the festival.

And finally, the party. On Friday evening, over music and mulled wine, Miriam Margolyes will switch on the Christmas lights at the Cheese Market. This year, 2021, is special – the first in-person programme for two years, following restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, so the lights coming on in the darkness seem more symbolic than ever.

A person standing reading a book next to a Christmas tree

Hay on Wye

The Hay Festival holds a special place in my heart, the place where my dreamed-of novel writing career became a reality. It's a place where the magical and unexpected happens. I remember Amanda Palmer coming to talk to us at Writers At Work. She was warm and generous – and then she said she wanted to sing. She put a call out for a ukulele, and to our surprise and delight a ukulele duly arrived. She sang for us, and then we all sang ‘Perfect Day’ together.
Which seems like the perfect song for this festival.

A group of people singing and smiling
The outside of a frosty window

Hay on Wye

How to get tickets

If you aren’t able to join in-person, you can watch from the comfort of your own home, as most events will also be streamed online.
All tickets for both in-person and online events can be purchased from the programme pages of the Hay Festival website.

To whet your appetite, there will also be five Winter Warmer events that are free for everyone to watch and enjoy on the Hay Festival website from 15 November.

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