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Hay-on-Wye – The Little Book Town!

By Holly Presswell and Tamara Yamamoto


Hay-on-Wye may just be a small quaint town, only spanning around one kilometre, located on the border between England and Wales, however, it is the dream of literary lovers and the home of a great number of bookshops. Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed “King of Hay,” opened his very first second-hand bookshop in Hay-on-Wye in 1961 called The Old Fire Station and then went on to set up half a dozen more bookshops in the town. Others soon followed his lead, and by the late 1980s, Hay-on-Wye, with its population smaller than 2,000, boasted more than thirty second-hand bookshops. Richard Booth helped establish this town as a hub for the second-hand book trade and helped foster an exciting literary environment in which the annual Hay Festival of Literature and Arts was founded in 1988.


Each year, the Hay Festival is held in the little book town of Hay-on-Wye, situated just on the edge of the stunning Bannau Brycheiniog (formerly known as Brecon Beacons National Park). From Nobel Prize winners and novelists to scientists, environmentalists and musicians, there is a huge range of people taking part in the festival’s global conversation and sharing the latest thinking in the arts and sciences with curious audiences. Bill Clinton, having attended the festival in the past, called this festival the “Woodstock of the mind.” You can also partake in a number of interesting workshops this year from morning yoga to developing your illustration skills in a fun collage workshop with the illustrator Beth Suzanna. In 2023, the festival is taking place on Thursday 25 May to Sunday 4 June.


Here are some of the bookshops we recommend visiting:


Murder and Mayhem – 5 Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye, via Hereford HR3 5AA


Photo by: Hay-on-Wye website

If you are a fan of true crime and murder mysteries, then this is the shop for you. The shop is decorated with crime-themed displays and decorations throughout – see if you can spot the dead body outline on the floor! Spread over the two floors is an impressive collection of crime and thriller books, ranging from Sherlock Holmes to ghost stories. There is good news if you are an Agatha Christie fan as they stock an immense archive of her work.


Richard Booth’s Bookshop – 44 Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye, via Hereford, HR3 5AA


This is one of the biggest shops found in the town; stretched over three floors, this bookshop holds over a thousand books. Richard’s will have you covered no matter what you read; they stock books from literary fiction, culture, fashion to politics and much more. These come in new, second-hand or antiquarian books as well all ranging in different prices. They have a lovely cafe offering drinks and lunch, a little spot to stop and have a read of that new book you bought. They also have a studio which holds events and classes for everyone. Check out their website for more information.


The Poetry Bookshop – The Pavement, Cranbourne House, Lion Street, Hay-on-Wye, via Hereford, HR3 5BU


If you are an avid poetry reader or poet yourself and are looking for a joyous experience, then wander into The Poetry Bookshop. It is home to a brilliant and vast collection of contemporary, second-hand and antiquarian poetry. The shop was set up in 1979, and since then collectors and poetry lovers from all over the world have made the journey to browse the shelves. It is the largest bookshop in the UK devoted entirely to poetry. The shop is also always interested in purchasing good quality second-hand poetry books if you would like to bring any in to be viewed (although contact them first). If you would like more information, please visit their website here.


Mostly Maps – 2 Castle Street, Hay-on-Wye, via Hereford, HR3 5DF


Photo by: Hay-on-Wye website

If you are a fan of maps or not getting lost, then this is the place for you. This bookshop specialises in maps – old maps, new maps or antique maps, they have them all. These prints and maps are dated from the 16thcentury all the way to the 20th century from all over the world. Most of the maps are available to view and buy online if you cannot make it into the store. However, it is an experience looking around the shop – finding the map of your town and seeing if your house is on there. The owners are happy to help with any queries you may have whether it be in person or over the phone.


Hay Cinema Bookshop – Castle Street, Hay-on-Wye, via Hereford, HR3 5DF


Once an old cinema in the heart of this town, it has now been transformed into a second-hand bookshop. It opened its doors in 1965 and has never closed them since, being a busy tourist attraction for book lovers every year. They stock over an impressive 200,000 books from art, music, fashion to crime, starting at fifty pence and you can grab some good bargains here. They also offer books for decorative purposes, such as furnishing a home or shop.

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