Hay-on-Wye, Wales is known as “the biggest second-hand bookshop in the world” and a mecca for anyone who loves to read. The sleepy little town in south Wales is just west of the border with England. It is a rural community out in the country with a plethora of bookshops (more than 30 of them, some quite large) covering every topic under the sun. Housed in the old fire station, a chapel, and even the castle, Hay-on-Wye is a “must stop” for many on their way to the coast and a lovely way to spend a cold rainy day – and Wales has more than a few of those! In a town where a bookshop may be bigger than a supermarket, Hay has become a major attraction for the area.
Hay-on-Wye is a little place of 1,500 people. One of the few towns without a train station, the nearest big town in Hereford (England) about 22 miles away. The market with fresh produce, antiques, fish, baked goods and flowers is on Thursday. Bookstores are open most every day. You can easily find homes to rent (some in old stone farmhouses, churches, and ancient buildings) in the $1,300 range – flats run considerably less. Before renting, make sure you can get the place outfitted for wifi as this is not always the case.
A settlement has been here sine 1050 and is the site of two castles. One of the towers is thought to be the oldest Norman tower in Wales dating t0 1070. The castles have been fought over, killed for, and passed back and forth between England and Wales who each wanted to keep the border.
Probably the most well known person in Hay is Richard Booth who, in the 1970’s, expanded his book collection throughout the town and eventually made Hay-on-Wye a tourist destination. He bought up huge private libraries in America and shipped them back to Hay to put up for sale. In 1977, Booth proclaimed Hay and “independent kingdom” and himself as king. His horse was named as prime minister. (Sounds like an interesting fellow, to be sure!)
The Hay Literary Festival brings thousands of people to tiny little Hay for 10 days in May and June. The Festival now includes music and film performances. Most visitors stay in Cardiff or Hereford. If you are a booklover and want a new home, you might want to retire in Hay-on-Wye, Wales.