They said it was going to be sunny and warm - in April that's not to be taken lightly in this country. So on Friday, we looked up some bed-and-breakfasts, found one we liked and packed a couple of small backpacks. Early on Saturday morning, we headed northwards to Wales.
Hay-on-Wye is a small town on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It's also known as The Town of Books, and is a place I'd wanted to visit even before we'd thought of moving to the UK. Much before I started writing fiction, or knew I’d write fiction. I wanted to come here not for the love of writing or for its famous literary festival, but simply for the books. Because the thought of a hilly little Welsh village where the streets were lined with bookshelves made me go a bit mad. Shelves of books, on the street?!
I first read about it years ago, while sitting at the ad agency where I worked in Bombay. There was an article about Hay and the annual throng of authors who flew into this speck of a place from all over the world. And about Bill Clinton (I think) calling it ‘The Woodstock of the mind’. And about Richard Booth, the man who once upon a time declared himself ‘King of Hay’ and set about putting this dot of a village on the world literary map.
We spent hours in Richard Booth’s Bookshop the day we reached Hay. Two massive floors, and endless aisles, of books. Secondhand books and mint new books mixed together, and huge armchairs in which to read them. We walked out of the bookshop only to walk into another, and then yet another. Because the whole town is like a giant open-air library. Bookshops at every turn. And cafes. More cafes than there are streets. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is pretty much everything a town needs. Books and coffee.
In between all the books and the many cups of coffee, we did a few other things. We hiked up the hills of Brecon and drank from mountain streams and talked to horses. At night, after dinner, we walked back to our B&B through dark fields and over little bridges curving across streams. Everything lit only by moonlight, and echoing with hoots and howls. It was thrilling. Eerie and beautiful.
We left Hay yesterday and drove back to Cambridge with our head still full of hills, and our car stacked high with books. I’ll have to share the books with you. Once I’ve unpacked, you’ll find them in the usual places: #booksonthetiledtable on my Facebook and Instagram. I'll share more photos from our trip too.
See you there :)
PS: Places to Eat & Drink in Hay - thought it might be handy to mention a few of our favourite cafes and restaurants in the town.
The Old Electric Shop - cakes and coffee in a large warehouse-y space selling everything from candles to vintage clothes.
Tomatitos - for really good tapas, and a very relaxed, friendly space.
Beer Revolution - Cuban sandwiches, pizza and an endless choice of beers.
The River Cafe - great food, with or without the canoes they hire out. A location you can't beat. A menu full of fabulous flavours.