My favourite part of Hay is going home, by Laura Bates in Segovia

My favourite part of Hay is going home, by Laura Bates in Segovia

My favourite part of Hay is going home. Not, for one moment, because the buzz of the festival and its brilliant mixture of ideas and world views and disciplines isn’t utterly engaging. Not because the events themselves aren’t invigorating and surprising enough to give you thoughts for days. But because at the end of the festival, you find yourself travelling back to the station (or airport) in the same car as a wonderfully eclectic variety of other writers from all walks of life. It’s a bit like a Russian roulette version of that game where you’re asked to list your ideal dinner party guests; because in this case you have neither choice nor foreknowledge of who your companions will be. I won’t embarrass mine by revealing their identities, but on each of my trips to a Hay festival, the ride home has made me realise how extraordinarily lucky I was to be able to participate in an event that brings together such a wonderful mixture of people.

There’s something so special about the experience of participating in a free exchange of ideas with an actively engaged and probing audience. (When you’ve walked out onto a school stage to address a group of teenage boys who wolf-whistle deafeningly before you can even start talking, you’ll never take a sympathetic audience for granted again.) To do it in a place like Segovia is an even greater thrill.

Having arrived in torrential rain just before midnight on the eve of my event, and with my flight home booked precariously close to the end of the book signing, I was determined to seize my only window of opportunity to explore, even if it meant getting up at 7am. Discovering the unassuming beauty of Segovia’s towering aqueduct, peaceful tree-lined squares and almost absurdly Disneyesque cathedral and castle more than made up for the early start.

And of course, I was able to enjoy the journey home enormously, safe in the delicious anticipation of coming back again.