Hay-on-Wye is famed for its literary festival, abundance of independent bookshops and stunning location on the Welsh borders.
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, with him as king and issuing Hay passports and rice paper money to residents. Unrelenting in his ambitions of putting the kingdom of Hay on the map, King Richard succeeded; Hay was transformed into the world famous ‘Town of Books’.
Hay was already flourishing as a mecca for bibliophile tourists when the annual 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 proved popular and expanded year on year. It now attracts over 150,000 visitors and many notable luminaries every year – former US president Bill Clinton, speaking at the festival, was quoted as talking of Hay Festival as “The Woodstock of the Mind”.
- NESTLED IN NATIONAL PARK
- LOCAL CINEMA
- WILD SWIMMING
- BOOK SHOPS GALOUR
- INDEPENDENT STORES
- HISTORIC MARKET TOWN
- VIBRANT PUBS AND BARS
- WORLD FAMOUS ICE CREAM
- SPECTACULAR WALKS
- BEAUTIFUL RIVERSIDE
But more than JUST books
But Hay is much more than books and the Hay Festival. Hay offers visitors’ access to 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, with the Brecon Beacon’s National Park on its doorstep.
Hay is on the banks of the River Wye, the border between England and Wales, and canoeing also provides a great way to explore the beauty of the area. Peddling around the local countryside is also highly recommended, with an excellent and knowledgeable local bike shop, Drovers Cycles hiring out bikes for those that like to explore on two wheels, whether road cyclists or the more adventurous off road mountain bikers.
Hay’s independent spirit and slightly anti-establishment mindset has filtered down to the shops, with the town shunning 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.