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Visiting Hay-on-Wye, Wales: books galore and a ruined castle

Updated on April 2, 2012
Flag of Wales
Flag of Wales | Source
The ruined castle at Hay-on-Wye, Wales
The ruined castle at Hay-on-Wye, Wales | Source
Hay-on-Wye is Wales's town of bookstores
Hay-on-Wye is Wales's town of bookstores | Source
Map location of Powys, Wales, where Hay-on-Wye is located on the Wales-England border
Map location of Powys, Wales, where Hay-on-Wye is located on the Wales-England border | Source

(Shock: there is even plenty of space to park your car...)

For some people, an ideal place to visit would be one with a historical setting, with fine old buildings, plenty of books to look at, and an unhurried environment.

Booksellers' industry

Well, Wales has exactly such a reality. The town of Hay-on-Wye (Welsh: Y Gelli ) situated in Mid-Wales, in Powys, on the border with England is a place where, if an appreciative bibliophile visitor discovers it, he or she is likely to visit again and again, if possible.

The booksellers' industry at Hay-on-Wye was developed by Richard Booth (1938-) from the 1960s onward, and following his example, many traders have established booksellers' businesses in the town. An inveterate joker, Booth proclaims himself 'King of Hay', and Hay-on-Wye's fictitious status as a micro-nation undoubtedly assists in attracting tourists.

Hay-on-Wye maintains a town 'twinning' arrangement with Redu-Libin, Belgium, which has been developed as a similar book town.

Partially ruined, stone castle

A castle structure was already in existence by 1121. The castle was later expanded by the de Braose Marcher Lords, trusted noblemen who defended the border with Wales on the English king's behalf. The last de Braose was hanged in 1230.

The castle later changed hands many occasions, until in the course of time it ceased to have any strategic value.

Part of the castle structure is now used for the thoroughly peaceable practice of selling books.

And a practical note...

Great Britain has a huge amount to offer visitors, but one of the perennial problems is car parking. Well, this problem does not really exist at Hay-on-Wye, because the local authorities — unlike so many in other places of Great Britain — have had the foresight to provide (by British standards) a huge parking lot for visitors to the castle and bookstores alike.

So for North American visitors, accustomed to good driver facilities and larger parking lots: in Hay-on-Wye, be thankful! and in so many other places in Great Britain: be warned!

Also worth visiting

In Hay-on-Wye itself, its clock tower is a noted structure.

Cusop, England (distance: 0.6 kilometres) has an old stone church with magnificent old trees in St. Mary's churchyard and a memorial to a William Seward, killed by local people in 1740, who objected to his beliefs and religious activities; he is referred to as the first Methodist martyr. In the Domesday book of the year 1086 Cusop is referred to as 'Cheweshope'. The border between Wales and England occurs at a short bridge between Hay-on-Wye and Cusop; St. Mary's church is situated some kilometres further, bearing right from the bridge. North Americans may note that at border crossings within the constituent countries of the United Kingdom there are no formal passport checks (although some ferry trips may informally demand identity documents.)

Clyro , Wales (Welsh: Cleirwy ) distance: 2.4 kilometres) had a Medieval castle, of which only earthworks remain. Its parish church, rebuilt in the 19th century, has a tower dating partly from the 15th century. In the 18th century, the Methodist leader John Wesley is recorded as having been very active in the district. Local clergyman Francis Kilvert (1840-1879) was a diarist, whose writings have been widely read.

Hereford , England (distance: 35 kilometres) is an old cathedral city on the Wye River , over which there is a picturesque stone bridge. The cathedral dates from 1061, and contains a Medieval map known as the Mappa mundi ; there is also an old chained library. The composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), known for his Pomp and Circumstance Marches , the Enigma Variations and other works, lived in Hereford. (Some Elgar trivia, which speaks volumes about past British class consciousness: Lady Elgar, prior to her husband's fame and knighthood, was disinherited by her family, because of his supposed inferiority.)


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport , from where car rental is available. London Heathrow is approximately 247 kilometres from Hay-on-Wye. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 6 years ago

      Gypsy Willow: Yes, Hay is a remarkable place. Thank-you for your comment.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      This is my old stamping ground. Such a rich area. Hay on Wye will blow your mind whether you like books or not!