Years ago, I read one of those slightly paranormal books, jumping between the past and the present. Something about a spooky lady from medieval times hopping in and taking over the mind of a modern-day girl. Don’t remember much else, but the author painted a fascinating picture of Hay-on-Wye and particularly Hay Castle. I remember thinking it would be exciting to try something like that myself – leaning against the walls of Hay Castle and see if a medieval soul might want to stop by my mind. In a daydream or something. What can I say: I was a teenager with romantic notions.
At the very least, I wanted to see Hay Castle. So here I was at last:
No medieval lady – or anyone else – stopped by to play with my mind, but Hay Castle did look wonderfully unearthly at night.
Hay-on-Wye: castles and books
On the English border, Hay-on-Wye – or Y Gelli Gandryll in Welsh – not only has a wonderful medieval castle. The town is also a member of the International Organisation of Book Towns. Book shops and books are everywhere! This tiny town has a population of 1 900 – and more than 30 bookshops! Every year at the end of May, the little town hosts a literary festival.
As if that isn’t enough, books are for sale outdoors, too. Along the walls of Hay Castle, in sheds, everywhere – are shelves with books. Anyone may take a book, or five, and put money in a tin – on a trust system – similar to Fjærland, one of Norway’s book towns.
Hay isn’t only about books, though. As it’s located within the gorgeous Brecon Beacons National Park, there are heaps of opportunities for the more outdoorsy type: hiking, biking, caving, horse riding, canoeing, rafting, hang-gliding and much more.
In Hay-on-Wye, we stayed at the Seven Stars, a great 16th century B&B with old creaking stairs and oak ceiling-beams. We just turned up without a reservation early in the evening and got a huge suite. Unusually for a B&B, there was a swimming pool and a sauna. The kids loved it so much, they forfeited breakfast to go swimming on a rainy Saturday morning.
Update May 2011: The 2011 Hay Festival takes place 26 May – 5 June and has a number of famous guests, including VS Naipaul, Mohammed El-Baradei, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, Paul Theroux and, for some reason, Rob Lowe. Read all about it here.
It already look unearthly by day, Sophie. And I understand this urge to feel a touzch of the unreal…I did the same at London’s most haunted house and nothing happened to me either, but still it was a thrill.
Wow! Hay-on-Wye sounds like it’s just my kind of place, since I’m never without a book. I’ll have to put it on the calendar for next year.
Hay-On-Wye looks like a great village to explore! Gotta love those names in the British countryside 🙂
How wonderful! Have you written about the Danish town, too? I know there’s at least one town in Ireland that is like that. In the U.S. I was amazed at the number of bookstores in the state of Maine, but can’t recall a particular town that had an overwhelming number.
@Vera – No, haven’t written about that. Yet. About book shops in Maine – that goes hand-in-hand with all the antique shops, I expect. Never seen so many along one road as I did in Maine.
Love the books everywhere. I think I could spend years there going through them all.
I’d love to go to the literary festival, especially having learned that Vanessa Redgrave and Ralph Fiennes will be there. What a cool B&B experience you had there in Hay-on-Wye, too!
I love the feeling of having dreamed about visiting a particular place and finally getting there and seeing in reality! Hay-on-Wye looks great!
I recently did a post about the Feria Internacional del Libro in Buenos Aires. That is when I found out that there are a lot of book towns around the world. Good to see the book is not dead!
Books and a castle – what a great way to celebrate! Looks like an awesome reason to have a festival!
This is so cool. I’m in Hay for the festival now. I adore this town.
@Louise, you lucky girl you!
I love visiting places that you’ve read about and I love that Hay-on-Wye is such a book town – 30 book stores for such a small population is impressive!
I like the book sheds and the castle is lovely. Must be a very well-read town!
This town looks fabulous – I’m adding it to my wish list of places to visit. Thanks for teaching me something new today!
Beautiful scenery! How do all those bookshops stay in business?
I love the little narrative and the information here. Books, castles, mysteries, nature, what could be better! Must get to Hay-on-Wye. How does one get there?
@Marie – I added a map to the post to give an idea of where it is.
We drove from Northern Wales, then continued on to Bath afterwards. Coming from London, I think driving would be easiest. The nearest train station is Hereford, which is about 30 km away. Then from Hereford, the bus to Brecon goes through Hay-on-Wye. A little out of the way, but very much worth the extra effort, I think.
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