Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A Weekend in Hay-on-Wye

There's a long list of places on my travel bucket list, mainly overseas and - unfortunately - not places I see myself getting to anytime soon. So I've decided to make 2016 the year I explore my UK bucket list - a cheaper and more convenient way to sate my wanderlust, plus there are a lot of places in our green and pleasant land I'd really like to acquaint myself with...Salcome, Whitstable, the trough of Bowland, to name just a few.

Hay-on-Wye was on my list too, until I had the pleasure of crossing it off on a recent trip over half term. If you have a passing interest in books, like exploring beautiful countryside and can think of worse ways to spend an evening than cosying up in a traditional pub, you'll probably love Hay as much as I did.

First, the bookshops. The place is heaving with them, but they're not like your local Waterstones. The bookshops in Hay are all independent, quirky places, filled with antiquarian delights for serious collectors as well as contemporary, first-hand books. These are places to browse for hours and pick up hidden gems, rare editions or specialist books covering every subject under the sun. If you've ever been to the delightful Daunt Books in London, that gives some flavour of what Hay's all about.

Don't miss a browse around Richard Booth's bookshop, one of the larger shops in the town, characterised by a gorgeous tile-clad facade. Inside the atmosphere is tranquil and genteel, with three floors of book-filled rooms, including a Folio Society reading area. Downstairs there's a lovely cafe - we popped in for coffee and cake but watched enviously as other diners enjoyed what looked like delicious brunch options.

Aside from bookshops, Hay's small but bustling centre is a great mix of cute cafes, gastro pubs and leftfield independents. I can't remember seeing one chain, aside from the odd building society or bank and one Spar. There is a good size Co-Op just off the main high street which is useful if you're self catering. 

If you're an urbane sort who likes to know where you're next macchiato is coming from, you'll love The Old Electric Shop, a cavernous shop and cafe filled with retro furniture, vintage clothing and the sort of curios that you'd probably pay a lot more for in Shoreditch. 

Another shop that caught my eye was was The End, a tiny, two-floor treasure trove filled with all sorts of interesting pieces for your home - I wasn't really after a massive cat head, but I was sorely temped to buy said item when I stumbled upon it, in amongst some lovely textiles, antique mirrors and edgy taxidermy.

The beauty of Hay doesn't lie solely in retail opportunities, though. It enjoys a wonderful location nestled on the Welsh borders, close to the river Wye, Offa's Dyke, the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. We were lucky to have dry weather during our stay, but it was a bit too cold and grey for any major exploration. A wander along the Wye is a lovely way to stretch the legs, and on warmer days I'd imagine this makes a great spot for a picnic.

If you're into hill walking, don't miss a trip to the nearby Hay Bluff, a peaceful spot with impressive views across the surrounding hills. It was covered in snow when we visited so we were unable to climb to its summit, but it's a wonderful place to fill your lungs with air and enjoy some unbroken tranquility. 

Post-hike, you'll want warming up at a cosy pub - we found Hay's Blue Boar the best place for this, though there are plenty of other pubs to choose from in the vicinity. For food, we enjoyed fish and chips from Terris on the High Street as well as a delicious meal at the top-rated tapas restaurant Tomatitos. The atmosphere here is informal and friendly, and the food really authentic and good value. 

Our base for the weekend was a fantastic Airbnb find - 'Haybreaks' - which was perfect for our requirements - central location, budget-friendly and equipped with everything you might need on a short break. With two double bedrooms and two bathrooms, it's a perfect base for families and is situated on the main high street so everything is within easy distance. Our hosts were lovely, leaving us chocolate and prosecco to enjoy, and the apartment was absolutely spotless and filled with lovely furnishings, toiletries and essentials. I can't recommend this place highly enough.

Next up, Edinburgh and my very first trip to Scotland...

For more information on Hay-on-Wye, visit the tourist board website here.

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