The World Famous “Town of Books” – Hay-on-Wye
Hay-on-Wye is an attractive small town by the river Wye to the north, with the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons to the south and west and the rich agricultural terrain of Herefordshire to the east. It's well-known as the town of books, and also for the yearly Hay Festival. However, it is also an outstanding starting point for dedicated walking with 2 national paths, the Offa’s Dyke path and the Wye Valley trail that pass through the town, and the safeguarded countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park on the doorstep.
One time it was a sleepy market town known only due to Francis Kilvert, the diarist who lived close by for almost 20 years in the mid-19th century. There was also a local solicitor who murdered his wife early in the 20th century by placing weedkiller in her breakfast.
In the sixties, a young man, Richard Booth, purchased Hay castle and proclaimed the town an independent state of which he was king. Together with his cardboard crown, and a sceptre crafted from a ballcock, he started to put the town on the map. However unlikely this was, he was successful. He managed to make it world famous as ‘the town of books’.
Nowadays Hay-on-Wye – or Y Gelli Gandryll as it is considered in the Welsh language – is welcoming, dynamic and vibrant and, unsurprisingly for a town with this type of uniqueness and literary connections, is twinned with Timbuktu, which itself provides the earliest Islamic library on the planet.
Hay is acquainted with inviting visitors attracted by the books and by its yearly literary festival. President Clinton, talking there in 2001, referred to Hay as ‘the Woodstock of the Mind’. You'll find a lot of second-hand bookshops. Also, there is a good selection of functional shops along with antique and high-quality art and craft outlets, plus high fashion boutiques and functional country wear stores. On Thursdays the market stalls spread around the town do a booming trade and the streets are loaded with people trading news.
Tourist gift shops filled with trinkets are thankfully missing as are one-way-traffic systems. A variety of pubs, cafes, restaurants and take-aways are available and there is a broad choice of accommodation around the town and encompassing countryside.
Hay-on-Wye has more active tourist attractions. It’s a good starting point for serious walking in the safeguarded countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park – Pen-y-fan at 886 metres is the highest spot in southern United Kingdom. Offa’s Dyke Path, which stretches 173 miles over the England-Wales border between Prestatyn and Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, goes through Hay. And then there is canoeing on the Wye, sailing on close by Llangorse Lake, off-road mountain biking, rock climbing, caving, angling and gliding.
Transportation services are limited however with the normal bus services you are able to arrange one-way walks. During the summer you will find special Sunday and Bank Holiday Beacons buses for walkers and the entire area is electric car and bicycle friendly.
Then when the sun goes down the sky is dark, the stars emerge, and you will really see them. That doesn’t happen in a lot of places these days.