I went on a day-trip to Hay-on-Wye today and thought I would write a short blog about the town for anyone who hasn’t been there or doesn’t know about it. There are also some photos for you to enjoy at the bottom of this page – I really do spoil you don’t I? 😉
Bookshops. This is the main attraction of Hay-on-Wye – although it is an attractive little town and thus a pleasant spot to visit at any time, the big selling point of this place is that it has (I believe I’m right in saying this) more bookshops than any other town in the UK and hosts the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival every year.
The literary fame of Hay first began in 1977, when a local eccentric called Richard Booth declared himself King of Hay in a publicity stunt which raised the town’s profile considerably and kickstarted the creation of several more bookshops in the town. The Hay Festival began in 1988 and is still continuing (it’s now sponsored by the Guardian newspaper). The town itself (with a population of 1,500) now has around 30 bookshops. Some of these are specialist (i.e. children’s books, natural history/gardening books) and they can be found in various different buildings around the town – the castle, the old cinema and a private house being just a few of them. The sheer volume of books in some of the shops is just incredible – the old cinema one apparently has over 250,000 – at the last estimate. The total number is not certain. In many of the shops, you can see the point at which the staff have just given up trying to place books on the shelves in any order and have begun piling them in rows on the floor. Reminds me of my bedroom at home in fact 😉 Most however are arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname – but the higgledy-piggledy nature of it all makes unexpected discoveries that much more delightful.
A lot of the bookshops have comfy chairs and sofas to curl up on, most of them have friendly and welcoming staff and a couple even have cuddly cats to stroke! 🙂 There are several places that serve food in the town – the Blue Boar is very nice – although the food is quite expensive. We usually go to the Granary, which in winter offers a delicious Hunter’s soup – perfect for warming up and refuelling before tackling more shops!
The town has also retained an old-fashioned feel in its buildings, even those that aren’t bookshops, which adds to the quaint and cosy atmosphere of the place. I personally think the town is absolutely magical, and even if you can’t make it to the Literature Festival in the summer (described by someone as “Glastonbury for librarians” -a wonderful place to meet your favourite authors, listen to talks on almost any subject you care to mention and of course buy an awful lot of books!), the place is simply crammed full of literary marvels and delights that are available all year round.
My advice for fellow bibliophiles – if you ever get the opportunity, make the pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye – I guarantee it will exceed your greatest expectations! 🙂
If you want to find out more about the town, here are some links to the official website, the wikipedia entry and also the Hay Festival website: