Sticky end as revellers emerge from the swamp

THE MUD BATH also known as the Glastonbury Festival drew to a close last night with thousands facing a tortuous escape back to civilisation.

Two days of heavy rain was set to cause severe delays as festival-goers tried to move their modes of transport home from fields thick with mud.

The torrential downpours also disrupted Saturday's Wimbledon and the tribute concert to Diana, Princess of Wales at Althorp Park with Sir Cliff Richard and Chris de Burgh.

But it was more than 100,000 music fans in the fields of the village of Pilton, Somerset, who suffered the worst effects of the unseasonal weather.

Some left early, while others shivered on as 100 contractors began work on a pounds 250,000 operation to dry out the site and make the exit roads usable for the end-of-festival exodus.

Yet even with nearly 700 reported crimes and drug seizures, Michael Eavis, the organiser, acclaimed the event the best yet."Wherever I go, and I've been out in the mud myself, the spirit and calibre of the people that come here means they rise above it for some strange reason," he said.

Even Radio 4's The Archers joined in. Millions last night heard the programme's rebel teenager Kate Aldridge give birth in a Glastonbury teepee in scenes recorded live at the site during the day. Two real-life labours were among nearly 1,500 cases at the two on-site medical units, run by the charity Festival Medical Services.

Ankle injuries from falls in the mud were a more common problem alongside a return of feet problems caused by the wet.

A 20-year-old woman was airlifted to Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, after suffering a severe epileptic fit.

Sunshine did break out yesterday, but it was far too late to stop the swamp-like conditions.

Similarities to a Flanders battlefield were evident. "Why are we here? I don't know. I love it and hate it at the same time," said Dave from London, suitably attired in combat boots and jacket. "It does your head in. All this marching about in mud and all this noise - we might as well be in the bloody army."

The consensus was that the mud was actually not as bad as last year. It was ankle deep in most places, as opposed to knee deep. But the rain was a lot worse.

Still, the rainbows were spectacular and people danced and smiled, despite all. Some even played football in front of the main Pyramid Stage. They got mud-smothered.

Torrential rain on Friday night did most of the damage and created the worst crisis that anyone could remember. Hundreds returned from celebrating England's football triumph to discover their tents washed out.

The Women's Royal Voluntary Service mounted an emergency operation, commandeering one of the huge performance marquees as a haven with heaters and a supply of dry clothes from local charity shops and 2,000 space blankets.

"It was the biggest single emergency I've ever seen," said Mary Tracey, organiser of 163 welfare volunteers and a veteran of 15 festivals.

Stacey, 17, did not even have a tent anymore. The friend she came with had had enough, taken it and gone.

"I stayed because I'd paid pounds 80 for a ticket and thought I'm going to enjoy myself anyway," the Hertford teenager said. "Now I feel like booking into the nearest B&B and calling my parents to come and get me.

`'I just want to cuddle my mum."