In the heart of Wales, there is a particularly unusual little village. With over a million visitors per year (and only 1,300 inhabitants), what is the secret of Hay-on-Wye?
Hay-on-Wye lies north of the capital of Wales, Cardiff, in the beautiful region of the Black Mountains. But it is not the beauty of the landscape that creates the charm of the village and gives it its reputation. Hay-on-Wye is actually known as the “greatest second-hand bookstore in the world”! The Welsh village is indeed a huge open air bookstore.
Around 40 bookstores and second-hand booksellers are present in Hay-on-Wye to offer thousands of books, rare, old or used. The transformation of this small Welsh village into a huge bookshop began in the sixties thanks to Richard Booth, a young bookseller from Oxford. He opened an antique store in which he happened to sell some books as well. Soon enough, he noticed books were the one product he sold most and therefore decided to specialize in them. Since he had quite a collection and needed to stock them all, he purchased the former theater, the firemen’s barrack, the former hospice, the old chapel and even a castle. As his popularity was growing, he allowed himself one last eccentricity and declared Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom on April 1st, 1997.
Nowadays, as you walk through this little Welsh village, you will find shelves filled with second-hand books on every street. You can help yourself and just have to pay a tiny sum in a small mailbox depending on the type of book you have chosen. The castle is now open day and night and Richard Booth’s Bookshop is the biggest one in the town.
Since 1989, a major literary festival, which gathers many book professionals and culture makers, has taken place each year at the end of May in Hay-on-Wye.
The economic benefits for the village have been so significant that other European towns have tried to reproduce the idea of a bookstore village, for instance Bécherel and Montolieu in France.
Written by Solène Cassagneau