STARING at a mesmerising sunset from the famous Stone Circle, high at the southern end of Worthy Farm, feels reassuringly familiar yet eerily different in 2021.
On many previous visits to this spot we’ve gazed in wonder at a vast landscape of vibrant colours, 1,100 acres of stages, tents and flags, home to 200,000 people enjoying unbridled freedom.
And sound – so much sound, from a rock giant’s power chords on the Pyramid Stage to the warm applause for up-and-coming acts at The Park, and the screams of delight from old friends reunited by chance as they queue for the loo at West Holts. A swirling soundscape of DJ beats and fire-breathing robots peppering the Somerset mist. Hippies drumming, lovers laughing. The sounds of Glastonbury Festival.
Today though, the fields below us are largely empty except for a few dozen neat rows of pastel-coloured tents. And the only sound is the hushed chatter of parents regaling children with their favourite Glasto memories.
The Covid pandemic has scuppered two festivals in a row. The only music played here was for a poignant live-streamed event last May which saw acts such as Coldplay, Damon Albarn & Kano performing at the deserted site.
So to recoup lost revenue, keep crew employed and give fans a much-needed Glasto fix, founder Michael Eavis and his daughter Emily have turned the most famous farm on earth into a family holiday destination, Worthy Pastures. And my family, including two teenagers and my Glasto-loving mum, were among the first to arrive.
The metal skeleton of the iconic Pyramid Stage stays up all year, and the route to the campsite brings us in beneath it. For Glasto veterans, this is spine-tingling. We pull over and run to where the stage would be, standing where Bowie, Beyonce, Springsteen and the Stones performed legendary headline sets.
We survey the huge field in front of us, where millions of revelers have had the time of their lives since the festival began in 1970. It’s impossible not to feel the “energy” Glastonbury is said to radiate, whether or not you buy into all the mystical stuff about ley-lines and King Arthur.
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'A blissful and nostalgic weekend'
Generations of festival-goers may have come and gone – “leaving no trace” as requested in the festival’s perennial anti-litter message – but their high spirits still dance in the breeze.
The man who’s been there for it all, Michael Eavis, trundles past us in a Land Rover, giving a cheery wave while stewards direct us to our designated camping spot.
Guests can stay from three to five nights in pre-erected tents of various sizes, or bring their own campervan. But unlike at the festival, campers can’t pitch their own tents, ensuring a Covid-compliant, colour-coordinated site which is a world away from the organised chaos of the festival. The five-night limit means the farm is emptied of people once a week, enabling thorough cleaning.
Tents are spread out in several fields which will be familiar to Glasto regulars, centred around a food hub at William’s Green, normally home to the festival’s Meeting Point and one of the many smaller music stages.
All tents are unfurnished so you need to bring bedding and anything else you might need, including cooking equipment. There is a small selection of food stalls, including breakfast, burgers, pizza, pasta and veggie fayre. Prices range from £4-£12 so food costs can quickly mount up for a family. There’s also a bar open from 12-10.30pm (£4 a pint, £7 cocktails) and a grocery shop selling basics and camping supplies.
As our 19-year-old daughter is disabled we have a campervan pitch in the accessible field, close to the centre of the site. It has excellent hot showers, and the compost toilets are a great improvement on the famously foul festival facilities. They even have loo roll!
Tents are spread out in several fields which will be familiar to Glasto regulars.
It must be stressed that Worthy Pastures is NOT a music festival. There is no live entertainment, and the only music we hear all weekend is the Black Sabbath playing on repeat at the pizza stall. There’s nothing to stop campers playing their own tunes, but quiet is expected after 11pm. A far cry from the madness of the festival’s all-night Shangri-La area.
But despite the calm, and relatively tiny 3,000 capacity, Glastonbury Festival still manages to be the star at Worthy Pastures. As a campsite it’s spacious and pleasant, but most guests are there to see Glasto in a new light, stumbling across familiar areas, spotting where stages would normally sit, retracing steps from previous visits without having to fight through crowds.
There is none of the famous mud when we visit – despite thunderstorms and heavy rain overnight – thanks to a fraction of the usual number of wellies and vehicles churning up the ground.
Young kids are well catered for, with a giant pirate ship and castle for little ones to clamber around on, although those with disabilities have fewer options, the best being the story-telling area and some quaint outdoor games.
If festival sightseeing sounds a tad too niche, Worthy Pastures is a great base from which to explore a beautiful part of England.
A Joint Charities Field hosted by Greenpeace, Water Aid & Oxfam spotlights climate change and water poverty, encouraging children to learn about the planet.
It is also home to BEAM, a wooden art installation which was the setting for some of the live-stream performances in May. If festival sightseeing sounds a tad too niche, Worthy Pastures is a great base from which to explore a beautiful part of England.
There are plenty of places to visit within a 20-minute drive, like the quirky village of Shepton Mallet, Wells Cathedral and the town of Glastonbury itself, steeped in history and mythicism, and home to the famous Tor, sitting on a hilltop high above the Vale of Avalon. The caves at Wookey Hole and Longleat safari park are also close by and well worth exploring.
As we leave the site after a blissful and nostalgic weekend we drive back past the Pyramid Stage frame, sitting like a modern-day Stonehenge with holidaymakers posing in front for selfies.
Proof that whatever Covid throws at us, it will never defeat the spirit of freedom synonymous with the world’s greatest music festival.
- Worthy Pastures is open throughout the school summer holidays. Accommodation starts at £195 for a three-night stay for two adults and two children. Book at WorthyPastures.com.
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