Saturday, June 15, 2013

Hay-On-Wye, the town of books!

Josh and I had a wonderful road trip and day out yesterday, despite the weather not cooperating. We went to Hay-On-Wye, a tiny town near the border to England, in Herfordshire. It's about a two-hour drive eastward across central Wales, straight along the edge of Brecons Beacons National Park, so the landscape of the drive was absolutely gorgeous.

Brecon Beacons, Photo from
Hay is known internationally as the "town of books" and there's a big literature festival there every year, and I found out about this thanks to one of my professors at Iowa mentioning it when she found out I was headed for Wales. The festival itself was a few weeks ago and we initially tried to time our visit to be there during the festival, but it didn't work out. Nevertheless, we had a fantastic time. According to the Hay-On-Wye website, there are about 30 bookstores in the town. Some are genre-specific, like Murder and Mayhem (which we saw but did not enter), but the majority are massive labyrinths of books of all sorts, new and used, that you can easily wander around for hours at a time. I didn't count, but I think we ended up in and out of about 10 bookshops. We arrived around 10AM and went to a few shops, one of them being my favorite that we were in all day, Richard Booth's Bookshop. I later learned it was actually the "founding" shop of the town. The idea of the "town of books" was his brainchild as an idea of a unique trade to boost the economy in the mid-60s, and he's known as the "king of Hay". This stunning bookstore is built in the old fire station. It's three stories tall and the inside looks more like a library with its rows of floor-to-ceiling dark wooden shelves. By the time we left I was feeling light-headed and couldn't decide if that was due to hunger or being so enchanted and overwhelmed with the place! I think both of us could have spent the whole day in that bookshop alone.

We had lunch at a little cafe and it was a very British lunch--we shared a pot of tea and I had the most delicious jacket potato ever. Jacket potatoes are a very British thing I haven't really talked about, but unlike in the states, where you eat a baked potato typically with just butter or maybe sour cream, cheese, and bacon bits if you're feeling daring, over here they serve baked (called jacket) potatoes with a vast array of toppings such as baked beans and cheese, coleslaw, tuna salad, and prawns (shrimp). And it's heavenly. After lunch the sun came out for a bit, though it didn't stay out for long, and we did some more wandering. We found the Castle Bookshop, which is in a little courtyard below the ruins of a castle. It's run based on pure good faith, with signs explaining that paperbacks cost 50 pence and hardbacks are £1, directing you to pay in the boxes. I loved it!

After that it started pouring again, so we ran inside for some ice cream at a place called Shepherd's, known for their use of sheep's milk rather than cow's milk in their ice cream. The ice cream was delicious, though neither Josh nor I could taste a difference, but now we can say we've had it! We decided to head out after that around 3pm, finding ourselves a bit bookshopped-out. On our way home we stopped to see Greg and Amber for some cake, Guitar Hero, wine, and more tea, which was the perfect ending to such a wonderful day. We were both wiped out by the time we got home, but it was definitely worth the trip!

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