THE director of the Swindon Festival of Literature hailed this year’s opening event as the best ever.

About 300 people arrived in Lawn Woods at 5.30am yesterday to watch the sunrise at the first event of the 20th festival, the Dawn Chorus.

Matt Holland, who started setting up for the event with his team at 3am, said they could not have asked for a better morning.

“It was phenomenal, it was like a dream come true. It’s the 20th anniversary and we wanted something special,” he said.

“We had a huge crowd and we were basked in sunlight. It was the best weather we have ever had and as a result everybody blossomed.

“It was a wonderful morning and we saw the sunrise over Queens Drive and Park South. The birds sang and the performers were brilliant.”

The event included singers, jugglers, poets and maypole dancing.

There was a Roman statue that stood still for 45 minutes before bursting into life and quoting Shakespeare, and a man who balanced contact balls all over his body.

“Everything you could wish for was there. It was the most perfect start one could imagine. It’s really the stuff the dreams are made of,” said Matt.

“I have imagined it being like this for many years but it usually rains or a cloud gets in the way of the sun or the equipment breaks down. This morning, however, the sky was sky blue and the sun rose and the birds were singing.

“People were gasping with the beauty of it. Somebody said to me they couldn’t believe this was the sun over Swindon.”

Yesterday also included a storywalk with storyteller Chris Park, and a 5k run and an illustrated talk with adventurer Jason Lewis.

Today there will be a talk from former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, at the Arts Centre at 12.30pm, and a talk from Jon Cannon on cathedrals at Christ Church at 7.30pm.

Esther Rantzen will be at the Arts Centre today at 6.30pm and former director of MI5, Stella Rimington, will be at the Arts Centre at 8pm.

Tomorrow, P D James will talk about her latest book and the novels of Jane Austen at the Arts Centre at 12.30pm, and Martin Palmer will talk about Britain’s history through its rural and urban landscapes at 7.30pm at the Central Library.

Also tomorrow, Kate Humble will talk about wildlife and rescuing a farm at the Arts Centre at 6.30pm and Jimmy Pearson will talk about the creation of comics and graphic novels at the Arts Centre at 8pm.

On Thursday, Judy Finnigan will be talking about her move from broadcaster to writer at 12.30pm at the Arts Centre.

Matt announced yesterday that Judy’s husband and television presenting partner, Richard Madeley, will be interviewing her on stage.

For more information phone 01793 466454 or visit www.swindonfestivalof