Friday, 7 August 2009

Hay-on-Wye - a book lover's heaven

Have just had a wonderful few days in Hay-on-Wye, a small town just feet over the English border into Wales. This is a town that all book fans should visit at least once in their lifetime as it is filled with second-hand bookshops, in which you’ll find all types of fiction and reference books; this town really is a book lover’s heaven.

The town produces a handy map that shows where each shop is situated.

Some of the shops have their books in author order, and others break this down into genres, but a few have their stock of fiction all mixed together in jam-packed mazes of bookcases and small rooms, many having more than one floor including basements. Many an hour can be spent just perusing one shop.

Prices range from pence to hundreds of pounds, depending on condition and rarity, as would be expected, and some shops specialize in specific genres, such shops #11 Murder and Mayhem (part of Addyman's), and #5 Rose’s Books which sells only rare and out-of-print children’s books – talk about a trip down memory lane…

When asking in shop #8 The Sensible Bookshop, why they didn’t have a western section, we were told he did have a shelf full until a man came in, saw it, picked up the entire collection and bought the lot – who says westerns don’t sell! The shop did have a few western books upstairs and in the basement, including a handful from the Piccadilly Cowboy authors, a couple of Wilderness books and a number of stand-alone titles. It was here I picked up a copy of February’s 1951 edition of Exciting Western and March’s 1951 edition of Thrilling Western.

Shop #18 Greenways Corner Bookshop has its westerns in their own section, two shelves containing a good mix of English and American publications from a variety of authors, most of the books being paperbacks.

The Hay Cinema Bookshop (#24) carries at least 200,000 books covering all subjects. As the name implies this shop is a converted cinema that has its stock on two floors and has even more books outside. They have their westerns in a separate section on the first floor. If you’re looking for (at the time of writing this) books by the Piccadilly Cowboy authors, particularly those in the series’ Hart the Regulator and Jubal Cade, then this shop could be worth a visit. They also had a good number of books from Louis Masterson’s Morgan Kane series. It was also surprising to see a Black Horse Western in paperback. The stock also contained some quite recent American publications.

But by far the largest selection of western fiction – and reference books on all types of western history – can be found in the castle itself: shop #17 Hay Castle Books. There’s a whole area set aside that carries a wide variety of hardbacks and paperbacks, two shelves set aside for just Zane Grey books and another two shelves containing nothing but Max Brand’s work. You definitely need to put aside an hour or so for your visit to this section alone. If you’ve time it’s worth checking out the hundred’s of books that are outside, lining the castle walls, all selling for £0.50p each and payment is made directly into an honesty box.

Having visiting Hay-on-Wye some years ago I was looking forward to searching through Richard Booth’s Bookshop (#9), which supposedly carries a stock of 500,000 books, and is/was the largest used book store in the world. Unfortunately, during our visit, much of this shop was closed for alterations and repairs, meaning the western section was not accessible. From what we were told Richard Booth has sold this shop to an American lady and she is in the progress of updating it and planning to include a reading lounge and cafĂ©.

Having such a large collection of westerns already I didn’t really expect to come home with many additions to to it and this was how it turned out but these are what I did buy:
Exciting Western: Feb. 1951 – Vol. 1, #3 – British edition.
Thrilling Western: March 1951 – Vol. 4, #5 – British edition.
Zane Grey’s Western Magazine – Vol. 1, #3 – undated
Ace Double: Legacy of the Slash M by Ray Hogan / Tracker by William Vance
Song of the Cheyenne by Jory Sherman
Hanging Judge by Elmer Kelton
Spectros #3: Natchez by Logan Winters (not pictured)
The Man in Black (Clayburn series) by Marvin Albert
Northwest Destiny #1: Distant Trails by Bill Gulick
The Last Snow by John Messmann
Ten Thousand Dollar Bounty by Jack Giles (hardback)
Arkansas Breakout by John B. Harvey (hardback)

And, yes, we did come back with a selection of non-westerns too.


Matthew P. Mayo said...

Hi Steve,
Nice commentary on your visit to Hay-on-Wye. I've long wanted to get there ... and will one day. After reading your post, I'm more determined than ever to spend a few days there!


Joanne Walpole said...

I see you got to pursue your other favourite hobby as well. Nice photos and I enjoyed your narrative. :-)

Peter said...


I've been wanting to tour Britain for a long time. You might have just nudged me a little closer to doing so. But I'd probably end up spending all my time in Hay-on-Wye. (There a town name you won't find in Colorado!) Hey, why don't we meet there for an ale? How's the beer in Wales?

Great article!

Pete Brandvold

Jack said...

Hay is book lover's heaven. I could live there - I'd never get anything done nor would I be 'at home'.
Got so wrapped up in your 'travelogue' that one item made me yell out with surprise. No prizes for guessing what - just enjoy.

Chap O'Keefe said...

This post makes me REALLY envious! NZ has nothing like Hay-on-Wye.

RJR said...

The only city in the U.S.I know of that has a map of bookshops is New Orleans. I envy you your trip!


Steve M said...

Glad you've all found this post of interest.

And, Pete, if you make it over here - even to Hay - let me know and we'll definately meet up for a beer, or three. The beer in Hay is good.

AndyDecker said...

This looks like a dream come true :-) A city of books. Unbelievable. This must be heaven.


Sorry I've been too busy to meet up when you were over Steve - but glad you enjoyed Hay - it's a great place and not too far from me so I tend to go there a few times a year. And I agree with JO - Some great pics.


OH and Peter - the BEER in Wales is thick, warms and strong. Just as it should be.

Steve M said...

No problem Gary, I'm sure we'll find ourselves in the same area again, sometime down the line. :)