Posted: February 3, 2012 in United Kingdom
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Located just over the Welsh border in Powys, Hay-on-Wye is known as ‘the town of books’. There are over 30 bookshops in the small market town, where only 1,900 live. It’s paradise for book lovers, with many places selling discounted books or second hand books and you can happily spend an entire day browsing the many specialist, antiquarian and charity book stores.

Hay-on-Wye really comes to life during the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts, which this year is happening between 31 May and 10 June (and coincidentally will be the 25th festival). Last year featured talks with literary giants like Henning Mankell, Ian McEwan and Bill Bryson, along with Brian Cox talking about cosmology, Germaine Greer talking about the King James Bible and an acoustic set by Beth Orton. The line-up for this year’s is going to be finalised in the next few days – keep an eye on the official web site.

I like the idea of going to the festival, but ten days seems a long time to take off work, and a long time to spend with not much else to do than listen to people talk. Since the town is so small and there isn’t enough local accommodation for the 80,000 or so people who pour into the area to get their literary fix, if you don’t book super early you’re likely to get stuck with camping or in an expensive B&B a long drive away.

So, instead, I visited one day on the off season, when it was nice and quiet and there weren’t huge crowds to push through to get at the book shelves. It was very quiet, and we mused on how the book shops can possibly make enough money to sustain themselves during the rest of the year.

A few of the shops weren’t staffed, and simply had a price list and an honour box for people to pay in. This one particularly caught my eye, since it was outside, simply bookcases in a field, a very strange thing to see indeed. They are partly protected by a cover over the top, which stops the worst of the elements from damaging the books, but they still weren’t in a great condition. I really liked the idea of a 24 hour library, though. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all our public libraries were open 24 hours? I’d love to go and pore over dusty reference tomes or sit in a comfy chair and read a book there in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep.

  1. bibliopirate says:

    I’d love to live in the town of books.

  2. Siobhan says:

    It’s worth going for the day or even the weekend, honestly. I’m lucky because I grew up not far from Hay, so it’s a half hour drive and I can stay at home. There are plenty of nice places to stay in surrounding towns like Abergavenny or Brecon which aren’t far away at all. Did you see Murder and Mayhem? It’s such a cool shop.

    • I don’t think that we found Murder and Mayhem — in the end we didn’t get to go everywhere and had to go and have a nice sit down and a cup of tea and admit defeat. Is it a crime fiction book shop? Sounds brilliant — I was a big fan of Murder One on Charing Cross Road before that closed. Will check out your suggestions for good places to stay, thanks :)

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