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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.

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Comments

Susan Williams Sept. 16, 2009 @ 8:44 p.m.

We've been there! Very nice story here. Read a book about Hay-On-Wye called "Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books" by Paul Collins. Really nice read. Any part of Wales is worth a visit. My favorite destination point for sure.

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MarchesTV Oct. 13, 2009 @ 2:29 a.m.

As a resident of Hay-on_Wye I can confirm that it is a wonderful place. But nothing stays the same. King Richard has now been deposed and a Commonwealth instated. There is a video report on the public execution in the town's Buttermarket here:

http://www.marchestv.co.uk/VideoPlayer.aspx?ID=40

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