Hay-on-Wye lies right on the border between Wales and England, hugging the River Wye and nestled up to the northern edge of the Black Mountains. This small market town, which grew up around a medieval castle has made a name for itself on the world stage as a Town of Books. With more book shops per head than any other town Hay offers the perfect backdrop for a weekend of relaxing browsing. In May, the literary world descends upon this small town when the Hay Festival sets up camp just 200 metres from 3 St Mary's Villas on the Hay Festival site. Visitors can also get a taste for literary events at the annual Winter Weekend which takes place in November at various sites across town.
However, if adventure is more your cup of tea than finding a first edition Dylan Thomas, then Hay also has plenty to offer. You can go canoeing along the Wye, walking in the Black Mountains or along Offa's Dyke Path or aim a little higher with the highest peak in South Wales just 15 miles away at Pen y Fan, just outside Brecon. The great outdoors can also offer fantastic fishing, stunning horse riding, climbing and wild swimming.
Here's what the Brecon Beacons Park Authority have to say about Hay-on-Wye:
Hay-on-Wye is a pretty little town swept by the river Wye on the north, with the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons to the south and west, and the lush agricultural land of Herefordshire to the east. It is famous as the town of books, and for the annual Hay Festival. But it is also an excellent base for serious walking with two national trails, the Offa’s Dyke path and the Wye Valley trail passing through the town, and the protected countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park on it's doorstep.
In the 1960s, a young man, Richard Booth, bought Hay castle and declared the town an independent state with him as king. With his cardboard crown, and a sceptre made from a ballcock, he set out to put the town on the map. Improbably, he succeeded. He made it world famous as ‘the town of books’. Today Hay-on-Wye – or Y Gelli Gandryll as it is known in the Welsh language – is friendly, lively and vibrant and, unsurprisingly for a town with such individuality and literary associations, is twinned with Timbuktu, which itself has the oldest Islamic library in the world. Hay is used to welcoming visitors drawn by the books and by its annual literary festival. President Clinton, speaking there in 2001, called Hay ‘the Woodstock of the Mind’. There are dozens of second-hand bookshops. There is also a good range of practical shops as well as antique and high-quality art and craft shops, plus high fashion boutiques and practical country wear shops. On Thursdays the market stalls scattered about the town do a roaring trade and the streets are full of groups of people exchanging news.
Hay-on-Wye has more energetic attractions. It’s a good base for serious walking in the protected countryside of the Brecon Beacons National Park – Pen-y-fan at 886 metres is the highest point in southern Britain. Offa’s Dyke Path, which extends 173 miles along the England-Wales border between Prestatyn and Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow, runs through Hay. Then there’s canoeing on the Wye, sailing on nearby Llangorse Lake, off-road mountain biking, rock climbing, caving, fishing and gliding.
And when the sun goes down the sky is dark, the stars come out and you can actually see them. That doesn’t happen in many places nowadays.