One of my favourite places to visit in Wales is the small market town of Hay-on-Wye. Straddling the Welsh-English border, and flanked by the River Wye and the Black Mountains, the attractive town is probably best known for its many bookshops and annual literary festival, which has attracted the likes of Salman Rushdie, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton over the years.
When I was growing up, my family and I used to make an annual pilgrimage to Hay, usually the week after Christmas, where we’d wander around the town, browsing in its shops (Hay used to be home to an amazing jigsaw shop, which has sadly closed) and scouring the shelves in the many bookshops on the lookout for interesting and unusual tomes. This year, for the first time in a number of years, we decided to carry on the family tradition and paid a visit on New Year’s Eve.
We arrived in the town at lunchtime, and after parking the car, strolled down to The Granary Café and Restaurant for tea and cake. The café sells home-made traditional fare such as soups, jacket potatoes and toasties, and always has a good selection of cakes (above). The only downside is it’s often heaving, and on the day we visited, it was as busy as I’ve ever seen it, with the queue almost out the door. Luckily, we were able to get a table, and despite the huge queue, were served relatively quickly.
Refreshments over, it was time to hit the bookshops, and as an avid bookworm, I made a beeline to my favourite bookshop, Murder and Mayhem, on Lion Street. The small second-hand bookshop specialises in murder mysteries and features classics from the golden age of detective fiction from the 1920s and 1930s, American hard-boiled detective fiction, as well as popular modern crime writers such as Ruth Rendell and Ben Aaronovitch’s River of London series.
I love raking through the shelves in the upstairs room and spent ages picking out books. I ended up with a massive pile that included one of Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and a British Library Crime Classic by Mavis Doriel Hay. I also picked up a Lew Archer mystery by one of my favourite hard-boiled authors Ross MacDonald and a few novels from the Crime Masterworks series, including Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver. All in all, I was very pleased with my haul.
Laden with books, we strolled through the town, browsing in the many clothes shops, bookshops and food shops, before finishing up in another of my favourite bookshops, the Hay Cinema Bookshop, so named because it’s housed in an old cinema. The cavernous shop sells all manner of books and it’s great fun browsing the shelves, not knowing quite what you’re going to find. I ended up buying a couple of novels by Graham Greene and Alexandre Dumas that I haven’t read.
By now, we were thoroughly bookshopped out, so decided to make our way home. And I’m now armed to the rafters with enough books to last me until next Christmas.