Hay-On-Wye, a small village in Wales, is an unlikely bibliophile’s paradise.
Nestled along the river Wye just across the Welsh border from Herefordshire, England, Hay-On-Wye boasts nearly 40 secondhand bookstores. There are no Borders or Barnes & Nobles within the village confines.
With used bookstores in the U.S. going out of business at a rapid pace because of the competition from large chains and online booksellers, Hay-On-Wye stubbornly bucks the trend, holding onto its proud tradition as “the town of books.” The village hosts an annual 10-day literary festival, which attracts bibliophiles from throughout Europe.
Strolling through the narrow streets I encountered one gem of a shop after another, each with its own unique flavor. There's the Honesty Bookstore with no clerk on hand but a notice to “please put money in the letterbox opposite” after you’ve made your selection. There’s a poetry bookstore, a cinema bookstore and a bookstore where each book is just one pound.
In the center of town is the 800-year-old Hay Castle, crumbling after invasions by Normans and others. It’s also now a used bookstore with rummaged-through bookshelves flanking its entrance.
The town was transformed into a literary haven by an eccentric booklover named Richard Booth. In tongue-in-cheek fashion, Booth declared Hay-On-Wye an independent kingdom with himself as monarch. His autobiography is prominently displayed around town with its striking cover photo of Booth in royal garb sitting on his throne alongside a stack of tomes.
Hay-On-Wye is a lovely Welsh community blessed with picturesque scenery and an abundance of bed and breakfasts. Even non-readers would find it a pleasant stay. But for the passionate bibliophile who laments the passing of his favorite haunts, such as Wahrenbrachs or Duttons in L.A., this little village is well worth a special journey.