Bunting across the street in Hay-on-Wye, Powys
© Simon Whaley Landscapes/Alam
The Town of Books. Hay Festival
Welcome to the Town of Books, also known as the Welsh border town of Hay-on-Wye, (or Y-Gelli in Welsh). About two dozen second-hand and rare bookshops are packed into its streets. Each year, it hosts one of the world’s leading literature festivals, the Hay Festival, founded in 1987. The festival boosts this small town's economy by about £25m each year, with tens of thousands of people coming to listen to famous writers and thinkers, discover the best new books and engage in debates. One former speaker, US president Bill Clinton, memorably called it the “Woodstock of the mind”.
Hay-on-Wye, tucked away in the northernmost corner of the Brecon Beacons National Park, on the English border, has been a destination for bookworms for decades. Richard Booth founded the first secondhand bookshop, The Old Fire Station, in 1962 and headed to America, where many libraries were closing, to buy up their books and ship them home. By the 1970s, Hay had gained its Town of Books reputation. Despite fears that the pandemic might close the book on the Hay Festival, its 35th year sees its return to in-person events for the first time in two years.