HUNDREDS of literature lovers braved the bank holiday morning chill yesterday and took part in the Swindon Festival of Literature’s Dawn Chorus.

More than 300 people swelled out Lawn Woods in Old Town at 5.30am to celebrate the start of the 21st festival in the town and watch the sun rise.

Matt Holland, festival director, who has spent nine months preparing this year’s festival, was delighted with the turnout.

He said: “I am just about speechless. It’s been fantastic.

“This year the people serving the bacon butties brought twice as much as they did last year, and they have completely sold out.

“It’s such a simple idea, just a group of men and women who have got up together to watch the sunrise together, and it really is beautiful. I am so grateful.”

Matt also introduced the red tractor, the mascot of this year’s festival, and launched a special writing competition.

Matt said: “This year we also have a red tractor, which is a Nuffield Universal 1952. “I’m hoping it will be inspiration for the imaginations of a lot of people. “There was a poet called William Carlos Williams who wrote a poem called the Red Wheelbarrow, and it’s said that it inspired many others to write.

“So instead of a wheelbarrow we have a red tractor, and there will be a red note, a £50 note for the 52 lines of writing about the red tractor, which will be judged at the end of the festival.”

Bacon butties were provided by Vowley Farm and the coffee was provided by the Coffee Gang.

The event was kicked off with a performance on the bag pipes followed by Tom and Jake the Juggler who played catch with flaming batons, followed closely by a performance from the Sun Arise Singers.

There was also storytelling from Rachel Rose Reid, performance poetry, circus skills and tricks from Pete White and tin whistling and rhymes from the colourful Rainbow Faerie, played by Andria Walton.

Old Town’s Claire Hibbert, 48, was just one of the people who had sacrificed her bank holiday lie-in to take part.

She said: “Our neighbours in South Street told us this was on so we decided to come along.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful, we were so lucky with the weather.

“It’s the first time we’ve come to anything like this and it’s inspired us to go to some of the other things going on during the festival.”

During the day a number of other events and talks rounded off an emphatic first day for the festival of literature, which will run in venues around Swindon until May 17.

This included a 5km run around Lydiard Park with Swindon parkrun followed by a talk by Alexandra Heminsley on her book, Running Like A Girl.

The broadcaster and author described how she began running and the connection she placed between physical activity and the mind.

During the afternoon visitors to the Stable Block at Lydiard House also enjoyed a storywalk with storyteller Rachel Rose Reid, while others took part in a wildflower story hunt with Hilda Sheehan in the Richard Jeffries Garden in Coate.

During the evening, visitors to Lower Shaw Farm heard from Patrick Barkham on the lives of badgers and their history in the British isles.

What's coming up

TOMORROW literature lovers can enjoy five activities throughout the day.
From 12.30pm in the Arts Centre, Bee Wilson will be talking about how we cook and eat and promoting her latest book, Consider the Fork. Tickets cost £7 and £6 for concessions.

At 6.30pm John Carey who will talk about life literature and the joys of reading.
The former Oxford don will also promote his latest book, The Unexpected Professor. Tickets cost £7 or £6 for concessions.

There is also a double ticket available for John Carey and the following event at 8pm, Gavin Pretor-Pinney and Tom Hodgkinson, for £12.
Gavin and Tom will be telling the story of the ukulele and about its role in popular culture while promoting their book, the Ukulele Handbook. Tickets cost £7 and £6 for concessions.

Then at 7.15pm in the Central Library Nigel Jones will deliver the first of a series of First World War-related talks during the festival, on the UK during 1914.
He will also be promoting his latest book, Peace and War: Britain in 1914. Tickets cost £5 and £4 for concessions.

Meanwhile, at 7.30pm in the Richard Jefferies Museum at Coate Hilda Sheehan will lead a festival reading group on Richard Jefferies’ Amaryllis at the Fair.
Tickets cost £7, which includes a copy of the book, or £3 if you already own a copy.