The book-lovers that visit Hay-on-Wye aren’t just from the United Kingdom, they come from all over the world. In the past couple of days, an American student visited our quaint town, and wrote about her experiences below. It’s International Bookseller’s Week, and there’s nowhere better to reflect on than Hay-On-Wye.
We started our drive from London on a unsuspecting Sunday afternoon. I had never visited Wales before, and being a absolutely mad reader, Hay-On-Wye was top of my list of places to spend time at. I had heard things about the Hay Literary Festival, and researched all of the amazing bookshops in the town, but that really didn’t prepare me.
What they can’t seem to get in writing on all the tourism pamphlets is what a great place it actually is. For me, being in a town full of second hand bookshops was like dreaming, I felt as though I had left our world and entered another. The signs proclaiming “No Kindles allowed” made me smile, because yes – I will always prefer real books, the intoxicating smell of paper and ink, to electronic format, no matter how convenient it is.
Day 1: Sunday
Although we arrived late on Sunday, I chose to explore the quiet town armed with a camera. The streets looked untouched by anything other than time, and the sounds of nature infiltrated the corners and alleyways. Most of the shops were closed, but I didn’t really mind. It gave me the chance to see the town of Hay-On-Wye for what it was without all of the bookshops, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
I stayed at The Swan at Hay and couldn’t have picked a better place. With its comforting and friendly feel, I always felt welcome, and the food was absolutely amazing. Though I ate there only a few times, I will not forget my Full Welsh Breakfast or the delicious dinner.
It is a small town, of course. But that is what makes it so great for anyone, all of the great local places you would never find upon visiting someplace larger like London or Bristol make it faultlessly unique. They make it someplace you will never forget.
Day 2: Monday
Luckily, Monday was much more book-oriented. I tried to visit every single bookshop that I could find, whether it was the popular Hay Cinema Bookshop or the slightly smaller (but no less fantastic) Murder and Mayhem. Perhaps this is solely a British trait, but I have never been to a place with so many bookshops that seem to all have great selections!
For food and nourishment, I tried to find the stores hiding in the small sides of town. The Sandwich Cellar is extraordinarily hidden, depending on which way you decide to head, but their food is amazing. And the Fudge Shop I found the day after had some of the best maple fudge I think I have ever tasted. Richard Booth’s Café was also absolutely delicious, who knew that toast and lemon curd could taste so good with English Breakfast tea?
And, if you know Hay, then you know that I visited Shepherd’s Ice Cream. Made with Sheep’s milk, I couldn’t resist having this classic treat one afternoon, and make no mistake, I do not regret the tastiness for a second.
Day 3: Tuesday
We did leave on the early side on Tuesday, and for that I am a bit sad. There was so much more to do, so much more to explore. Visiting a place full of books can be frustrating for someone who loves to read, because for every bookshop, I want to spend hours, even days, just going through the shelves and finding that one treasure that you will hold close for the rest of your life.
Out of all of the incredible things I experienced at Hay, I think one of the most memorable is just the sheer amount of books that found homes in dusty shelves and loyal caregivers. Walking through aisle after aisle of elderly paperbacks and bravely bound hardbacks reminded me that reading, it’s more than just escaping into a world that an author creates. It’s that special relationship that forms between the ink on the pages and the reader, that the 26 letters of the english alphabet or any other language can be formed to make words, sentences, heart-wrenching stories – ones that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
But if I had to choose just one thing to tell others (besides just rambling about how amazing books really are) it would be to take your time. Really look at the town for what it is, all of the special bookshops and the cafés that you really won’t find anyplace else. It will be worth it when you leave.
Words By Gabriella Gricius