This past weekend I was lucky enough to make my first visit to Hay-on-Wye, thanks to my very lovely mother-in-law. She is also a bookworm and had passed through the area a year or two ago, after which she’d said that she’d like to treat me to a visit at some point. Well, that ‘point’ was this weekend and it was well worth the wait.
The drive over from Warwickshire was beautiful in itself, but nothing could have prepared for the excitement of arriving in a town totally dedicated to books. It was initially quite strange to get used to a new way of browsing as there are very few new books on sale anywhere, so you have to approach the shops with a more relaxed mindset. Yes, you might stumble across something you’d been looking for recently (this happened to me with the enchanting ‘Fly, Chick, Fly!’, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, for example), but the real joy is to be found in just losing yourself amongst the seemingly endless shelves of books, glorious books.
My first thrill was discovering the final book in the Narnia series with the ‘right’ cover – I found the other six among my loft treasures and ever since have been searching for this one to complete the set. I found it in Richard Booth’s Bookshop, which was such a magical place. Wooden panelling and floorboards, spacious shelves, quiet but not intimidatingly silent. It reminded me of the libraries I studied in at university, but with far more interesting books 😉
However, the two shops that made me want to cartwheel with glee were Rose’s Books
which sells rare and out-of-print books and the Children’s Bookshop, which has an absolutely vast range of children’s books. Both shops were staffed by very knowledgable book enthusiasts and at the Children’s Bookshop, I was even allowed to go down into the storeroom to try and locate a Joel Stewart book that I was keen to get my hands on (unfortunately it was nowhere to be found). My VERY patient mother-in-law tolerated me oohing and ahhing over the delights that both shops held and I could easily have spent a whole day – nay, week – in each one. As the books are so precious (I got a copy of ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett that was over one hundred years old), it was easier to be visiting without C and H.
All the books in the the above shops are in immaculate condition, so although they are secondhand you shouldn’t necessarily expect to be coming away with sacks full of cheap books. I had to leave behind a mint condition ‘Happy Families’ book (‘Master Salt, the sailor’s son’) as I just couldn’t justify spending £14 on it, but I know it will be cheap at that price for someone else.
If anyone needed convincing about the pleasure of perusing a well-stocked bookshop, or the sheer joy of handling physical books (and I say that as someone who loves her Kindle) then a visit to Hay would be the prescription. There’s also something wonderful about secondhand books and knowing that others have enjoyed them before you and that the stories will continue to live on long after us as well.
My next mission is to go to Hay during the world-renowned festival, which just sounds totally amazing. On a side note, should you wish to make a trip, I can highly recommend the B&B that we stayed at – Mulberry Cottage. Hay has many nice places to eat, is well-populated with antiques stores and has lots of other interesting, quirky little shops as well. Along with the stunning countryside in which it’s situated, you couldn’t really ask for much more.
I will definitely be going back to Hay once the boys’ preferences have moved on and they’re ready for longer books, but fingers crossed I’ll be able to go back before that as well.
Here is my haul from this weekend – I can’t wait to get stuck in!