Hay-on-Wye, which is renowned for its bookshops, is one of those places I have long wanted to visit. I don't think I've ever quite come to terms with the fact I once had to turn down a generous offer to go to the Hay Literary Festival to blog about it for the Sky Arts website, because I had other commitments. That was back in 2007 — and I've been kicking myself ever since.
So, when I was invited to my friends' wedding in Herefordshire, in the Welsh Borders, last month I was delighted to discover the venue was just 30 miles or so from Hay. That meant we could go to the wedding on the Saturday and then, on the return drive home on the Sunday, make a quick diversion to Book Mecca for a little look around.
Unfortunately, when Sunday dawned I wasn't in quite the right frame of mind to go book shopping. I was very tired and very hungover (it was a great wedding!) and it did cross my mind that perhaps we should skip the visit and just head back to London (a four to five hour drive away). But Mr Reading Matters knew I'd regret it and insisted it had to be done.
So, ignoring the drizzling rain, my weary body and the alcohol still sloshing through my system, we went to Hay to satisfy my long-standing curiosity. I dragged three non-bookish people around with me and I have to be honest and say what we saw didn't blow my socks off. Most of the book shops were shut (there are supposedly more than 30 of them in town) and I only ventured into one, but didn't buy anything. (My friends, on the other hand, went to an antique store and came out with an exotic oriental lamp — as you do.)
The highlight of the visit was a feed of (fairly average) fish'n'chips and a pint of coke at one of the pubs!
It's certainly a pretty little town (even in the rain) and I enjoyed a quick wander around with the camera. But next time, I'd make sure to visit on a day when all the shops were open, I'd take along a list of secondhand books to source so I knew what I was looking for and I'd keep up my stamina by indulging in cake or a cream tea at one of the very many establishments offering such treats.
I can't say it was a brilliant visit, but I'm glad I took the time to check it out.
Have you been to Hay-on-Wye or any other literary tourist attraction? Did it live up to expectations?