Hay-On-Wye: The Welsh Town That Puts Literature Back on the Map

Books on display in Hay-on-Wye
Books on display in Hay-on-Wye
Hay-on-Wye, a destination for bibliophiles in the United Kingdom

The fact that we live in a fast-paced and technologically advanced society becomes more apparent with each passing year. However, there are still some areas of the globe where the allure of creative thinking and the celebration of art—particularly, literature—is still a priority. Bibliophiles: take note!

Nestled on the English-Welsh border sits the quaint and delightful town of Hay-on-Wye, an absolute must-see destination for readers, printmakers, poets, collectors of ephemera, and just about anybody else with exquisite taste.

The idea to stockpile and suffuse this fairy tale village with books as far as the eye can see began in 1962 when local proprietor, Richard Booth, opened the first second-hand bookshop. As a result of the boom in business, nearby retailers followed suit and began stocking their shelves with literary works of all types. Eventually, the books made their way out of doors and into makeshift cupboards and wall units lined along the streets. Ever since, Hay-on-Wye has literally been teeming with books.

wall unit with literary works in Hay-on-Wye
Wall unit with literary works in Hay-on-Wye
Vintage books on a window display at Greenway's Corner Bookshop
Vintage books on a window display at Greenway’s Corner Bookshop

As for the residents, being a lover of the written word is not a requirement—but it certainly helps, as massive tomes and diminutive pamphlets are as familiar a sight as leaves on the trees.

The jewel in the center of the town’s dazzling crown is the world-famous Hay Festival—an annual gathering of local and international artisans and writers showcasing their talents for other worshippers of words via workshops, film screenings, public forums, and live readings. Past speakers have included luminaries like Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Christopher Hitchens, and Desmond Tutu. In fact, the event has become so influential, various cities throughout the world host their own Hay Festivals and Forums—from Peru to Mexico; Spain to Dubai. The influence of one tiny Welsh town. Who would have thought?