Ever since Oxford graduate Richard Booth dreamed of creating a town of books in 1961, Hay-on-Wye has been a magnet for artists and bookworms. Bringing together writers from around the world to share their stories, the festival has become literary haven for creative folk. Full of ‘stories, ideas and laughter’ – there is nowhere better for artistic inspiration.
Make your first stop the biggest bookstore in town, Richard Booth’s Bookshop (pictured below, 44 Lion Street, 01497 820322). Even the lift is exciting, with its display of ephemera found in old books. Also worth a visit is Hay Castle (Oxford Road, 01497 821314), a restored pile with an honesty bookshop in the grounds and more serious tomes for sale in the public rooms.
‘I came here for a dirty weekend in 1978 and never left,’ says Kemeys Forwood of Mostly Maps (2 Castle Street, 01497 820539), who started as a Booth employee before setting up alone to sell antique maps and prints with wife Sally.
Another ex-Booth’s employee to do the same is Derek Addyman, who now has three shops: Addyman Books (39 Lion Street, 01497 821136), Murder and Mayhem (5 Lion Street, 01497 821613) and The Addyman Annexe (27 Castle Street, 01497 821600), which he runs with partner Anne Brichto. Ask nicely and she’ll show you the ‘scarcest Penguin book in the world’, a much-coveted copy of Biggles Flies Again.
‘Hay is a very creative place – a bit like St Ives in the 1950s,’ says potter Pauline Paterson of Hay Makers (St Johns Place, 01497 820556), a cooperative of nine artists that runs a shop.
Over by the Butter Market, venture into the warren that is Hay Antique Market (6 Market Street, 01497 820175) and, next door, the Bowie Gallery (5 Market Street, 01497 821026), where you’ll find contemporary craft by the likes of Katrin Moye and Peter Beard.
Just out of the centre are two gems side by side: one is Marina Rendle and Sally Dlascasas’s shop The End (20 Castle Street, 07779 788520), which bursts with 1950s textiles, antique furniture and curiosities. It doesn’t have a website because, as Marina says, ‘People are so intrigued they come and discover it for themselves.’ The other is The Great English Outdoors (19 Castle Street, 01497 821205), where saddler Athene English sells Welsh blankets, hand-knitted socks and cushions.
Before you leave, be sure to visit The Shed (4 High Town, 07814 173568), ‘Purveyors of the finest junk,’ according to owners Becky Bain and Tom Murrin. You’ll find it hidden in a little courtyard up an alleyway and marked out by the large orange lifebuoys outside.
It sells everything from alligator suitcases to cigar presses and is also a key player in Hay’s Fair in the Square, a gathering of intriguing junk stalls, food and music in Hay Market Square between 9.30am and 6pm on the first weekend of the festival (24th, 25th and 26th May).
Hay Literary Festival runs from 26th May to 5th June (01497 822620; hayfestival.com)