Welsh Witterings 13: April 2014
This week I escaped from my own Westerly corner of Wales and visited the vibrant town of Hay-on-Wye in Mid-Wales. This pretty market town is known as ‘’the town of books’’ and simply referred to as Hay by the locals although in Welsh it is known as “Y Gelli Gandryll”. Hay’s reputation for being the mecca for bookworms is justly deserved as not only are there a still a good selection of independent second hand book dealers in the town, but it is home to the Hay Literature Festival which brings some 80,000 writers, publishers and literature aficionados from all over the world.
There is more to Hay than books with lots of vintage shops, antique centres and quirky independent shops to mooch around and a good helping of history too. The 13th century ruined castle is a prominent feature in the town, like so many border castles in Wales it was significantly damaged by Glyndwr’s rebellion in 1400, after a colourful history and full of tale of battle won and lost in the 1660s James Boyle of Hereford began the construction of a new mansion on the north side of the castle, and demolished most of the curtain wall to improve the views. This Jacobean mansion built into the walls of the 13th century fortress is still used today and operates as an ‘honesty’ book shop. At the foot of the castle mansion are row of bookshelves, all unmanned, full of old books, where book hunters can take a book and pop a donation in the honesty box.
The castle is owned by Richard Booth, who also owns most of the town book shops and must be recognised as the pioneer of a great marketing campaign after opening his first bookshop in Hay in 1961 he set about getting the town on the literary map and more importantly to get those tourists calling. Dissatisfied with the local government he proclaimed the town independent of the United Kingdom and in 1977 he declared himself king of Hay. Over several decades this vibrant book dealer has conjured up legendary publicity stunts and turned his kingdom into a world famous ‘town of books’ that is now a living example of rural regeneration. It just goes to show what can be achieved with a bit of innovation and a bold attitude.
I thoroughly enjoyed pottering around the books shops and will be going back for the literary festival next month. When I arrived back home laden with second hand books and refreshed from my travels I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty for not having stayed at home and finished off all my planting out in the garden. This week’s resolution is to make amends and plant out those potatoes and get those soft fruit bushes in their prepared beds, I’ll let you know how it goes after all rules were made to be broken.
Well with deep reflections on forming my own independent town here in West Wales I must bid to you a fond farewell until next week.