"Little market town to book empire" Top 5 Page for this destination Hay-On-Wye by Spincat

Hay-On-Wye Travel Guide: 36 reviews and 51 photos

Hay in a small market town that is 'on the edge', in many senses: on the fringes of the Black Mountain range, with the border of England and Wales running through it, and the river Wye alongside ... it is a place that has changed dramatically over a 30 year period.

When I first knew Hay, back in the early 70s, it was still a quiet place with its weekly market, normal, functional shops, and an occasional pony sale. Richard Booth, who was to turn it into the 'Town of Books', had just set up his first shop.

More and more shops were taken over by books. Hippies were setting up shop here too, settling in communes and tepees up in the hills and working in the town. I still have a lovely Afghan rug that my mother bought me as a present for passing some exams - this from a shop where the goods had been brought back overland via the hippy trail. There was a Health Food Shop too: and I remember thinking how odd to open a health food shop in the midst of all this fresh air and fields of raw vegetables.

Over time, you began to see 'No Hippies' signs appearing in shop windows. Richard Booth declared the place a 'Kingdom' and crowned himself King, and elegant people like the beautiful transexual, April Ashley, moved in.

Hay is a very attractive place - from certain approaches it has the look of a French mountain town with chateau. The castle is part ruin, and some of what was still standing in the 1970s was destroyed during a fire whilst Booth was living there - of course, rumour had it that the fire broke out during an orgy!

There's an old covered market, a town clock and some pretty walks along the river Wye. You'll find a Tourist Info Centre up by the main car park along with a complex of craft shops, and there are plenty more craft shops in town, some a little twee. I recommend the excellent gallery 'The Hay Makers' in St John's Place and also the chemist which has sold booze since as long as I can remember (it now sells local cider brandy).

Don't come here looking for a book bargain - whilst not actually 'overpriced' the books aren't cheap, but it is fun to browse. Some good shops to explore, but they come and go. I hope this murder mystery bookshop stays, and the poetry bookshop.

Do I often complain andsay how I wish Hay would go back to how it was? Yes, but I am talking rubbish. It is a fascinating and contrary place.

It also makes a good base for exploring Brecon Beacons National Park.

  • Last visit to Hay-On-Wye: Oct 2006
  • Intro Updated Jan 19, 2007
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