England Trip: Hay, ladies!

Haaaaay there readers. Today I am going to take you on a side trip to a beautiful little place we drove to after we left Stoneleigh. (Remember that place? It’s been a while, so I’ll give you some links to my three-part series about that visit. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.) After a harrowing journey through tiny one-lane winding roads, after which I was amazed my mother and sister were still speaking with me, we arrived at our only not-entirely-Austen-related destination of the business trip. And this destination was… drumroll please:

Hay-on-Wye, Powys, Wales.hayonewyemap

Located just inside the Welsh border, this beautiful, charming, quaint, lovely, (no, seriously, all that & more, don’t be so cynical) village holds a special place in the hearts of book nerds the world over. It’s a place to which bibliophiles make pilgrimages. Why, you ask? Why, I’ll tell you. To quote from the map they hand out to book nerds (you can find one here – warning, PDF) (I would have scanned one of ours in but we wrote all over them):

Hay was a quiet run down market town in 1962, when Richard Booth opened his first bookshop. Ten years and 40 bookshops later, the town had become a Mecca for book lovers the whole world over. On 1st April 1977 (All Fools’ Day) Richard declared Hay an Independent Kingdom and the town has been in the public eye ever since. The twinning with Timbuktu and our annual Literary Festival have also helped.

Did you see that?? A Mecca for book lovers! Hay has made its mark on the world as “that little town with hundreds of bookshops.” Unfortunately, over the last several years a lot of them have closed again, because that’s just how things have gone in the post-tabletoclyptic ebookocracy. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still many wonderful and amazing bookshops. And since the main reason for our trip was to do some much needed re-stocking of the kinds of literary treasures that can only be found in Britain, we were FORCED to SHOP for BOOKS ALL DAY!! (I know, right? You can hate me, it’s okay.)

Okay so did you also see where “Richard Booth opened his first bookshop”? Here it is. (Make sure you look really hard at the FOLIO SOCIETY READING ROOM PICTURES, OMG, I KNOW.) (And don’t forget to click to make them bigger.)

To be honest though, there is a lot of wonderful non-bookish stuff in Hay as well. Including a place that sells sheep ice cream. (No, Mrs. Doyle, not ice cream for sheep. Ice cream made from sheep’s milk! And it was like SRSLY WTH OMG ALL THE ACRONYMS.) I know the camera can’t capture the sweeping vistas of the foothills of Brecon Beacons National Park, or the sound of sheep baaaa-ing from miles away on some distant hillside, but at least it can give you an idea of the place.

We bought a few small stacks of books in little shops around town, but we ended up doing most of our best shopping at the Hay Cinema bookshop – the map I linked to above describes it thusly:

20. HAY CINEMA BOOKSHOP. Castle St, Hay-on-Wye, HR35DF. Tel: (01497) 820071. Fax: (01497) 821900. Email:sales@haycinemabookshop.co.uk. http://www.haycinemabookshop.co.uk Hay-on-Wye’s converted cinema carries a running stock of ca.200,000 secondhand and antiquarian books on all subjects. Open (inc. Bank Holidays) 9.00am-6.00pm Mon-Sat. (Sun 10.00-5.30). Easter and Summer Holidays open till 7.00pm, Hay Festival open till 9pm. Closed Easter Sunday and Christmas day. Bargain books in the sculpture garden. Picnic area. Free customer parking. theguardian ‘Independent Bookshop Directory’ (2011) ‘A cathedral of books – an enormous building, stuff ed to the rafters with second-hand books on old library shelving. We visit Hay every year for a frenzy of book-buying, and the Cinema is usually our first port of call’.

We found a ton of amazing stuff there, but instead of telling you about it, how about I stick some pictures in here at which you may gape in awe? (Or maybe just laugh at us for being tired jeg-lagged nerds.)

In between bouts of shopping, we found ourselves strolling the beautiful countryside around the town, which is famous for its lovely walks. And, like I do every time I’m in England, I found myself fantasizing about the acts of bravery and cowardice and love and intrigue that may have happened under the trees that line the river Hay. After all, the history of the place is just like all of England – castles, wars, Kings, Princes, murders… It doesn’t help that I’ve been bingeing on medieval English histories for the last year or so. Like, seriously, I just read that bit about the walled-up-and-starved-to-death lady (mentioned below) again last night, and this Richard III story popped up today, so I’m totally nerding out while revisiting my trip. Aaaand remembering how I made a bit of an ass out of myself when my friend mentioned that she’s a Catholic and I was like “WHOA, you can be CATHOLIC here?!” because I seriously forget what century I’m in whenever I’m over there. So, friend, I apologize for getting all swept away in amazing British history. But judge for yourself, I think Hay’s got a pretty cool story:

Excerpt from “A Brief History of Hay-on-Wye:”

The history of the town and the castle are inextricably bound together since William de Breos II, one of the most infamously treacherous of the Norman Marcher Lords, built the present castle c.1200. According to legend, the castle was rebuilt in one night by the wife of William de Breos, Maud de St Valery (also known as Moll Wallbee), carrying the stones in her apron.

William and his wife had the misfortune to fall foul of King John who took vengeance by imprisoning Maud and her eldest son. It is reported that, in 1211, they were starved to death by being walled up alive, probably at Windsor, but possibly at Corfe. William fled to France where he died in poverty in Normandy in 1213. His body was taken to Paris and buried in the Abbey at St. Victor.

The castle and town, during nearly eight hundred years, have suffered equally at the hands of Welsh patriots, English lords and reigning monarchs.

In 1231 the castle was burnt down by Prince Llewelyn ap Ioweth and then rebuilt by Henry III c. 1233 before being restored to the de Breos family.

Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, reduced the castle in 1265 during the Barons uprising against the king. In 1322 the castle was captured by Edward II’s forces and confiscated from the de Bohum family, then lords of the manor. In 1353 the town and castle were, once again, destroyed by fire during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr and the castle was declared to be ‘in a ruinous state’.

Sometime between 1600 and 1650 the Jacobean mansion, set within the Norman walls, was built under the ownership of the Gwynn family of Trecastle but this too fell into disrepair. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a variety of tenants leasing the castle.


We made the time to take a walk along the river itself, during which I could mull over all of the proposals and refusals, hiding-outs and turnings-in, battles and skirmishes this little bit of land had possibly seen. Or, you know, maybe not. But England is kind of like Disney for LitNerds. Can’t help it. Everywhere I look I see intrigue, mystery, “battles, barbarous and bloody.” (I mean come on, they’re finding dead kings in parking lots, it’s not like I’m that far off.)

…unless you think you’re too good for this breakfast. Seriously, you’re not. It’s amazing. Shutup and book the trip already!


In case you couldn’t tell, I highly recommend Hay-on-Wye, both for booklovers and for tourists in general. It is an incredibly peaceful little piece of country, if you can stand to drive on the roads that lead to it. (Or be smart and make someone else drive!) And if you do decide to go, I will also let you in on the secret of the most charming little B&B on the most charming little street, with the most charming little cats…

Bottom line: this one definitely goes on the bucket list. Five stars. Good show, Hay. Good show indeed.

EDITED TO ADD: Want more pictures of this charming bookish hamlet? This great little piece at Roadtrippers.com has a whole lot of them, obviously taken by people who weren’t so loaded down with stacks of books that they couldn’t get the camera out. Enjoy!

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