Founded by Bernard de Neufmarché as a fortified town, Hay takes its name from the Norman French ‘La Haie’, meaning hedged enclosure; the Welsh ‘Y Gelli’ means copse or wooded enclosure.
Once a sleepy market town, Hay was awoken in the 1960s when Richard Booth, a young entrepreneur, scholar and iconoclast descended. He bought Hay Castle, set up the first bookshops and declared Hay an independent state. The self-proclaimed King issued Hay passports and rice paper money to residents. Unrelenting in his ambitions of putting the Kingdom of Hay on the map, Hay was transformed into the world famous ‘Town of Books’.
Hay was already flourishing as a mecca for bibliophile tourists when the Hay Festival of Literature was born in the 1980s. In the early days it was a simple affair, with tickets sold from a caravan under the clock tower and events held in the British Legion and the back rooms of pubs. The festival expanded year on year and it now attracts over 150,000 visitors and many notable luminaries. Former US president Bill Clinton, speaking at the festival, was quoted as talking of Hay Festival as “The Woodstock of the Mind”.
Hay now hosts several other festivals, such as the philosophy and music festival How the Light Gets In and Borderlines Film Festival. There is also the nearby Green Man and Nozstock music Festivals and the Royal Welsh Show.
- IN NATIONAL PARK
- LOCAL CINEMA
- WILD SWIMMING
- BOOKSHOPS GALORE
- INDEPENDENT STORES
- HISTORIC MARKET TOWN
- VIBRANT PUBS AND BARS
- FAMOUS ICE CREAM
- SPECTACULAR WALKS
- BEAUTIFUL RIVERSIDE
But more than JUST books
But Hay is much more than just books. Hay offers a wide range of attractions, from river sports to mountain walks, more medieval castles than anywhere else in the world, prehistoric sites, fascinating churches, several festivals, gardens and many other attractions.
Outdoor enthusiasts can use the town as an excellent base for walking, with two national trails, the Offa’s Dyke path and the Wye Valley Walk, passing through Hay. Then, of course, there is Hay’s location in the stunning Brecon Beacon’s National Park.
Running below Hay is the River Wye, the border between England and Wales. Canoeing is popular here and provides a great way to explore the beauty of the area. Canoes can be hired from a number of companies, including Want to Canoe, Wye Valley Canoes or Celtic Canoes.
Cycling the local countryside is also highly recommended, with knowledgeable local bike shop, Drovers Cycles, hiring out bikes, whether you’re a road cyclist or mountain biker.
Hay’s independent spirit and slightly anti-establishment mindset has filtered down to the shops. The town has shunned high street chains in favour of mostly independent boutiques, selling everything from taxidermy to Fair Trade. The town also boasts a thriving local Thursday market selling local produce, artisan food, antiques, arts and crafts. Conde Naste Traveller said of the market: “where townspeople and outlying villagers throng stalls heaped with rosy-cheeked radishes and darkly glistening cherries”.
There are a number of excellent eateries in and around Hay, whether you like your food wholesome and vegan, local and meaty, or modern and pared down you will find something to suit most palettes.