Hay-on-Wye – Britain’s Book Town

I was a little underwhelmed by Hay-on-Wye, probably because I was there on an ordinary day.

It’s a pretty town with a river and some nice buildings and quite a few bookshops and a lovely cafe where I had the best fried egg roll ever for breakfast. Sounds like my ideal place? It was and if it had been any other town I would have been impressed and declared it a lovely little place.

But it’s not any other town, it’s Hay-on-Wye.

Hay-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye is known as the UK’s book town. It has a reputation for having streets lined with bookshops and is where Britain’s biggest and most famous literary festival is held each year in late May and early June.

So I had VERY high expectations. Of course I knew I was unlikely to find it in the full buzz of festival spirit when there was, well, no festival going on, but I had kind of hoped …

Hay-on-Wye

I had debated whether or not to stop off here on my way to Cardiff. The sensible part of me knew it wouldn’t be anything like it must be at festival time and that I should maybe wait for my first visit until I can get to the festival. However I decided it was worth a look to get an idea of what’s what, so if I ever get the chance to come to the festival I can hit the ground running, so to speak.

So, what was Hay-on-Wye like on an ordinary Wednesday?

Well, there were bookshops, but not as many as I’d imagined. I think in my mind I had the picture of street after street lined with bookshops, but even though it wasn’t quite like that there were plenty and some of them were quirky which I always like.

Hay-on-Wye

There were bookshops of all sizes; at least one covered several large floors and one was nothing more than a narrow alleyway that had been lined with shelves.

Hay-on-Wye

When I stepped through a gate into the castle grounds I found the wall in front of the castle had been turned into a bookshop with shelves running along the wall on either side of the gate.

Hay Castle
It wasn’t possible to go into the castle as it’s currently being renovated with the aim of turning it into an arts centre. There were big ‘Danger, Keep Out’ signs all over it.

Ordinary signs like ‘no parking’ signs had been given a reading twist as well. Even if I’d never heard of Hay-on-Wye before, I would have caught on pretty quickly that this was a town that liked its books.

Hay-on-Wye

And just in case the book theme wasn’t enough the surrounding countryside was gorgeous. The town would be a great base for a walking holiday. So really it was my perfect place.

If it wasn’t for my super high expectations I’d have been moving in and never leaving.

Hay-on-Wye

I really do need to come back when it’s festival week. As I strolled round the town and browsed in all the bookshops I had to wonder how the small town coped during festival week. Maybe it’s actually better on an ordinary day like this? I could browse to my heart’s content without having to elbow people out of the way (we’re talking books here – of course I’d elbow people out of the way!).

I suppose there’s only one way to know which way I prefer it and that’s to come back during festival.

Hay-on-Wye

I’ve thought about attending the festival for quite a few years now, but it’s always at half term when I’m usually away somewhere else. This year would probably be a great year to attend as its the 30th anniversary and I imagine that would make it that little bit extra special. But I’ll be on the other side of the country in Norfolk walking the Peddars Way.

Would you like to go to the Hay Festival? Or have you already been? What did you think?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Author: Anne

Join me in my journey to live a life less boring, one challenge at a time. Author of the forthcoming book 'Walking the Kungsleden: One Woman's Solo Wander Through the Swedish Arctic'.

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