I’ve been sitting on this draft for almost a month. I am painfully aware of each day that passes and that I don’t write. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly what is causing this despair (I’m dramatic, deal with it), but I think I got it. I miss Hay. I miss Hay the way I’ve only ever missed one other place. Mallorca. Home.
After 11 years of elbowing a space for me in London, the UK presented a home in an unlikely remote village in Wales. I’m in love.
There’s something about villages in those weeks coming up to winter. When the mist is settling in like a blanket over the stone cottages. When the fog rolls in every morning clouding the day with an air of mystery and solemnity. When the world falls into a quiet, deep slumber.
I arrived somewhat late with the kids that were rushing home from school in Hereford. It was dark, it was freezing, and the hour-turns-hour-and-a-half ride on the public bus had shattered me.
I dragged myself to The Swan, ready for a lengthy check-in process. A lovely receptionist simply asked me to sign a form and walked me to my room. 10 minutes later she called me, “Just wanted to say that breakfast is included!”. For any travel addicts out there, you know those words bring more happiness than “Coffee’s ready”.
The next morning I decided to take a walk. I was feeling shy and none of the shops were open. My feet dragged me to The Warren, a privately owned land open to walkers and hikers.
The second my boots felt the crunch of the fallen leaves, I was me again. A small forest towered above in orange and red hues, opening up to a meadow I’d only imagined in Victorian literature. As the morning rolled onto the early afternoon, the silence of the countryside was only interrupted by the Wye river. In the meantime, Hay-on-Wye had come to life.
All the independent and locally owned stores, cafes and bookshops were bustling with locals rushing to work and getting the town ready for Hay Winter Weekend. First, I explored the town. It took me all of 20 minutes to get my bearings. Then, it was time to get lost in the bookstores.
Hay Castle Bookshop is one of the most famed stores in town. Set under the impressive Hay Castle, shoppers are asked to pay via an honour system and choose the books they like.
Then, I met some of the booksellers from The Clock Tower Booksellers. This little shop is co-owned by 10 sellers, each with their own section full to the brim with books on any theme you could imagine and of any kind you could imagine. New books, old books, antiques, novels, biology, sociology. I was on the look out for a Welsh mythology book and two of the sellers helped me until I found the right one. It was a great start.
I could continue listing all the different shops and bookshops that greeted me with warm smiles, but I’d never end. My requests to take images were often received with giggles, “Nobody even bothers to ask!” and pleasant recommendations.
However, there is one shop that stole my heart completely. Addyman Books (please, have you seen their Instagram? Anne really has got life on point!). Not only did she let me roam for an eternity from room to room, but when I attended the Bookstagrammers Brunch the next day I was introduced to lovely bloggers and treated to great coffee.
Hay Winter Weekend was a weekend full of incredible events. From a run-in with Horatio Clare, to fantastic talks from Mary Portas, Kate Humble, Jeannette Winterson and lovely Welsh music to end, I was smitten.
The beauty of the Town of Books is not just that the traveller is suddenly surrounded by books and nature. The beauty of Hay lays in its community. How fiercely the locals have fought to keep the town just the way they want it. How welcoming they are to foreigners. How everyone in town seems to be inspired.
When I went to Hay, I was intellectually challenged in every single event I attended. But I was also inspired to write. To pursue what I love. To love what I do.
I can’t wait to go back.