A trip to Hay on Wye

Booth Books
As soon as we bought our very own car I was determined to go to Hay on Wye to indulge myself with abandon in book browsing and book buying. So, at the weekend we packed our bags and drove to Hay via Hereford where we gazed at the Mappa Mundi. It rained the entire time that we were in Hay but that merely added to the cosiness of the trip and meant that I didn’t feel at all guilty for not marching up the Brecon Beacons (something which does not appeal to me in the slightest but Mr Bell was quite keen to break in his new walking boots – I have never been more grateful for the rain).

There are approximately thirty secondhand bookshops in Hay and I traipsed around most of them. I have to say that the majority are blatantly over-pricing books; ripping off unsuspecting tourists. For example, one shop was selling secondhand Colin Dexter books for £2.50 – these are ten a penny in any secondhand bookshop and I wouldn’t pay more than 50p for an indulgent Inspector Morse session. In another bookshop I saw a very battered copy of The Group by Mary McCarthy for £4.50 – absolutely ridiculous.
So be warned – Hay on Wye is every booklovers’ fantasy BUT shop around. I then went into another shop and saw The Group for £1.95 – much more reasonable. But, I still didn’t buy it as I am desperately trying to use the library and keep book acquisition to a minimum. I bought five books in Booth Books which I recommend to anyone planning to go to Hay. Not only is it a total emporium but books are reasonably priced and they have delightful reading areas. I stumbled upon this very happy cat, fast asleep on the sofa.


I feel that I was really boring in my purchases as I stuck to what I know, here is the list:
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago)
The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann (Virago)
Rumour of Heaven by Beatrix Lehmann (Virago)
No More Than Human by Maura Laverty (Virago)
To The North by Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin)

I just can’t help myself when it comes to early twentieth century literature written by women.

We left Hay in brilliant sunshine and stopped off in Tewkesbury for a look around the Abbey which not only boasts the largest Norman tower in Europe but also a rather delicious Mulberry tree in its grounds.

As we were on the road to Oxford I saw the sign to Swinbrook so I immediately made Mr Bell do a handbrake turn into the single track road which leads to the churchyard where Nancy Mitford is buried. She has been an idol of mine for years so I was so pleased to have the chance to visit her grave. Her sisters Diana, Unity and Pamela are also buried in the churchyard. Unfortunately, Unity and Nancy’s graves are covered in lichen which, whilst being very pretty, means that it is really difficult to read them. Unity has a longer epitaph and I have googled to find out that it says “Say not the struggle naught availeth” – which, when you think about it, is both touching and defensive. When it comes to sisterhood I am a teeny bit soppy so I was pleased to see their graves in a row – yes, they bickered and didn’t always understand each other but the bonds held fast. Having said that, I doubt my sister would forgive me if I shopped her to MI5 thereby causing her imprisonment!

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16 thoughts on “A trip to Hay on Wye

  1. Fantastic – I've never been to Haye, though I think it would be dangerous. You've got some good VMCs there, although I was disappointed by the BEatrix Lehman. I've not read the Elizabeth Bowen, though I like her very much and always think she should be a Virago author!And of course Swinbrook is a must visit! Can't believe you've only just been there 🙂

  2. WAVES of jealousy are washing over me…I want to go to Hay, I want to go to Swinbrook, I want to buy books and look at medieval manuscripts. Frankly you should have taken me instead of Martin! Shame no one is looking after those Mitford graves. You'd have thought they'd have had them made of marble for posterity, wouldn't you?Nice book acquisitions, though I would have been fuming at the prices. Not the best place for bargains it would seem – probably because the booksellers know their stuff. Not that I advocate ripping unsuspecting charity shop old lady volunteers off, but that is how you get the bargains.

  3. I have been planning a trip to Hay for some years, I just need someone who will not sit and moan about 'is it time to leave yet?' becuase it's nice to have company but they have to want to do the same thing. There is an excellent second hand bookshop in Cheltenham that keeps me happy for the time being. Love the sofas though, nice that they create an atmosphere where you are allowed to linger, not trying to rush you through and take your money.lovely post, thanks for sharingmartine

  4. I would if I had been up to what she had been up to!I love Hay, I have even added a few beloved authors to the collection that i had not even known about until books of theirs caught my eye in Hay.Abs x

  5. I love living in the American South, but I have to say a major drawback is the paucity of used bookstores. It's so damp down here that books often do not last to become old. Hay on Wye sounds incredible.

  6. JEALOUS. I love Hay on Wye – been there four or five times, I'll be going once Project 24 is over, and buying armfuls of books. Years of experience have taught me which bookshops to go to, and which to avoid – although I've never found any of them too overpriced, compared to Blackwells in Oxford or Charing Cross Road shops, anyway! It's such a fun day out.And Tewkesbury is about 6 miles from where I used to live…How amusing that you made a hand brake turn at Swinbrook, as it's exactly what Hannah Stoneham reported doing! I definitely want to go there too… maybe on my Hay on Wye trip. But who'll go with me? Last time I went to Hay I went with a friend who spent even longer in each shop than I did, so we only managed about seven shops… (oh, and my brother, who bought a paper and retired to the car after about an hour and a half)Next time I might try and stay somewhere in Hay…

  7. Oh! You've chosen two of my favourite authors in the world, Elizabeth Bowen and Rosamond Lehmann. Not boring at all – I'm sure you'll love them. Will we hear what you think of them later?I'd love to go back to Hay but I'd have to travel on to the wild and wonderful Brecon Beacons, one of the most beautiful places in the UK.I'm glad to have found you through Rachel's site.

  8. I must go to Hay one day, for the VMCs alone! I feel guilty but I can rarely justify the cost of over-priced secondhand copies of books when I know I can find them on Amazon cheaper. The Virago edition of The Group new would even be cheaper (or thereabouts) than the first one you came across!

  9. So glad that you went to Swinbrook too – it is becoming quite a place of pilgrimage… Did you go inside the Church? I found it fascinating in there – the memorial to the father and brother and the list of benefactors that was up at the back – When i am old I feel sure that I shall write local histories…. Lovely post – thanks for sharingHannah

  10. I love Booths but my favourites are Sensible (always find so much in the £1 basement!) and Cinema, both outside and inside. I'm only allowed to go to Hay every other year. I've been with Mr LyzzyBee but the best times are when I go with the girls, 4 of us in an estate car and a scary picture of an overstuffed boot at the end of the day!

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