I can’t believe I hadn’t known anything about Hay-on-Wye until H told me about this little town. It’s only a 45-minute drive away from Rhayader, where his parents currently live. When we visited them 2 weeks ago, we made a day-trip to this gorgeous little town.
The timing was perfect, as Hay Festival was taking place at that time. We chose the least gloomy day of the week to go there, and finally went on a sunny Thursday. And while I didn’t do much at the festival (the tickets for the talks I wanted to see were all sold out), I had a blast exploring the town.
A Glimpse of Hay-on-Wye
A little warning, there’s a serious overload of photos in this post. I’ve always been strict to the number of photos in a post, but with Hay-on-Wye, I had to break that rule. This place is just too pretty.
Now, the town… Where do I start? Hay-on-Wye, as the name suggests, is located on the bank of River Wye. It’s a little market town in Wales where the annual literary Hay Festival is held. The town is the National Book Town of Wales, and as such, is commonly dubbed as ‘the town of books’. Apparently, it’s the bibliophiles’ destination in the UK.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when we arrived, much like a kid in a candy store. In the first few minutes, I knew Hay had made it into my list of 10 Favorite Towns in the UK.
And by God, this place deserves to be on that list. I might be biased since Hay is clearly a heaven on earth for bookworms, but even if you’re not into reading, I bet you wouldn’t be able to resist its charms. Imagine a town surrounded by lush, green hills, with traces of medieval era that could be found at many corners of the town. The size of the town was perfect for walking, and with independent bookshops lining the street and pastel-colored walls everywhere, exploring a town had never been more delightful. A bonus point for Hay: at the visitor center, they give you a map of the town, dotted with every bookshop in the area.
We were lucky we went here at the time of the festival, as it added to the lively vibe. We strolled around, browsing every bookshop and vintage market in sight, while the buskers serenaded us with their rendition of Bastille and Ed Sheeran’s songs.
Guess which plaque I had my eye on! (If you guess ‘Beware of the owner, enter at your own risk’, you’re right).
Something I noted while walking around the town, was that everything looked so pretty here,
including particularly the houses and shops.
I took about 36528739 pictures of houses and buildings in Hay, but you can see why…
By midday, our stomachs had started growling. We were walking along Castle Street, looking for a pub to have lunch, when we passed the castle gate and the smell of grilled food wafted in the air. As if we were hypnotized, we looked at each other and went through the gate without words. It turned out to be a good decision.
Bookshelves everywhere, even in this place.
Once we finished lunch (a shared plate of falafel, pita bread, and hummus that were gobbled down in minutes before I had the chance to take out my camera), we continued our mission to visit as many bookshops as we could. But before we get to some of my favorite bookshops, let me show you what this town has to offer. Literally, books everywhere, and each shop boldly and proudly display their quirkiness, which I LOVE. I think this is the main reason why this town is so unique and special.
Found this man on the dispay window of a vintage map shop.
The stare of this sinister man? That’s the stare I reserve for noisy children. I’m wondering if he was dealing with that thing when he was being painted.
How great are these signs? I wish every town and city had these.
Now, onto some of my favorite bookshops. There were LOTS of bookshops here, and even though the town itself is small, a day was just not enough to browse through them all (I promised myself I’d go back again soon). Like I’ve said earlier, every shop has its quirk, and going from one bookshop to another felt like going on an adventure through different worlds. You’ll see what I mean. So, here they are.
Richard Booth, or affectionately known as the King of Hay, is a big name here, as it was due to his work that Hay became the town of books. This very bookshop had belonged to him, before he sold it when he intended to move to Germany.
Richard Booth bookshop sells new and secondhand books, and compared to its neighbors, it’s significantly bigger. The building was charmingly old, with rickety floors and a cold, low-ceilinged basement (this is where the secondhand books are!). The basement smelled a bit damp and musty, but almost every bookshop here was like that. The collection of secondhand book in this basement was massive, from romance to thriller, everything was neatly organized so it was easy for me to find the books I was looking for.
Pretty tiles outside the bookshop.
Definitely a must visit.
Murder and Mayhem
From the outside, Murder and Mayhem looks innocent enough, nothing like its name. But once you step inside, that’s when the themed decor brings you to another world.
I don’t know much about thriller books (my knowledge is limited to Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Tess Gerritsen, and Gillian Flynn) but this bookshop is impressive. I spotted the books that I was familiar with (lots of them), and for the umpteenth time that day, I needed to restrain myself.
For me, this bookshop was striking for its daring theme and interior. Entering this bookshop felt like stepping inside a criminal’s lair, and I loved all the chill and thrill. I’d recommend this shop, even if you’re not a fan of thriller and crime books.
Clock Tower Books
This was the last bookshop we visited, and it stood out to me as it had a good selection of Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl’s books, my childhood favorites. H also found stacks of Dr. Who books, much to his delight. These reasons alone were enough to give Clock Tower Books a plus point, but I liked it even more when I found many hidden gems in this shop. All the antiques were also interesting to see (definitely not in our budget range, though).
After that, with our shopping bags getting heavier and our feet screaming in protest after hours of walking, we decided to call it a day and head back home.
But not without stopping a few times to soak up the beauty of this pretty little town.
And okay, on the drive back home, I told H to stop so many times just so I could take photos of the views.
But can you blame me? 😉
Ah, Hay-on-Wye. You got me.