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:

Hay Castle, Hay-on-Wye, Wales

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.

IMG_4363 Hay-on-Wye, Wales

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, Norway’s book town.

Hay Castle, Hay-on-Wye, Wales Books in every shed, Hay-on-Wye. Wales

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.

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