Insider’s guide to: Hay-on-Wye

Fran Hughes 14 May 2014

Hay-on-Wye is a small, eccentric town perched just over the border in South Wales, set against the backdrop of the Black Mountains. Twinned with Timbuktu, Hay-on-Wye used to have a self-declared ‘King’ who named his horse 'Prime Minister'. King Richard Booth was ‘beheaded’ in a staged public execution in 2009, although he continues to deny that he is dead, seeing as the executioners used a life-size model as part of their violent protest and not him. 

Hay-on-Wye maintains a slightly odd sense of humour to this day…

Why should you go?    It is well known for its Literary Festival, which sadly always happens during Easter term, just when we are all traipsing into exam halls.  However the character of the place is truer to itself without the tourists milling around the roads and filling up the pubs, when the only traffic blockages you have to worry about are farmers moving their sheep.  The vast majority of shops in Hay are second hand book shops, and although I realise appealing to everyone’s bookish urges might not be so successful during revision, the smell of Hay’s dusty books, pints of Butty Bach and fresh air is enough to make anybody revive their love for the written word.  If the stress of the library has resulted in a pronounced fear of book stacks, you can always go and get battered by the elements up in the hills, or float down the river in a canoe.  Be warned that cycling here is not quite as stylish and flat as in Cambridge. There will be sweat. 

What to do?  Mooch around the bookshops, especially the recently renovated Booth’s Bookshop, and the more characterful Addyman Books.  For some all-day outdoor pursuits, walk up Hay Bluff, along its ridge and down towards beautiful, ruined Llanthony Priory, or hire a canoe from Wye Valley Canoes and paddle from Glasbury to Hay.

Where to eat? Tomatitos Tapas Bar for a relaxed atmosphere and amazingly good food to share.

Where to drink? For a warm pub atmosphere head to the Blue Boar, and for a large, summer beer garden pop along to Kilverts.

Where to go out?  The night life in Hay is not exactly booming, but there are frequent music nights and unusual performances at the Globe, so keep an eye out.  A better plan would be to wrap up warm, get a disposable BBQ and head down to the Warren for sausages on the banks of the River Wye watching the sunset.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is an ideal place for those seeking a relaxed, rural experience, perfect for lazy summer days or a secluded escape in the winter months. So if you are looking for a weekend away with books of a different sort this exam term,  Hay-on-Wye is the perfect place for you