Otherwise known as Y Gelli Gandryll, this proud Welsh town enjoys a scenic location on the banks of the River Wye. As the eastern gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park, few places are better suited to explore the great outdoors. The nearby Black Mountains are a major attraction, not to mention the two walking trails, Wye Valle and Offa’s Dyke Path. They both promise jaw-dropping scenery.
While these scenic pleasures continue to attract the adventurous, it’s the literary scene which sets the town apart from others in the region. Globally renowned for the abundance of second-hand book shops, the town is a mecca for the literature fiend. The annual Hay Arts Festival cements this reputation, once described by Bill Clinton as “the Woodstock of the mind”.
Given this growing tourism, Hay-on-Wye is surprisingly well-equipped for a small town. It offers all the convenience of city living with rural seclusion only a stone’s throw away. Aside from the many book stores, the attractive town centre is home to a selection of fashionable boutiques sat alongside antique and art shops. A tempting choice of tearooms serve up mouthwatering treats, and more hearty fare can be enjoyed at the many pubs.
The weekly market is another favourite with residents, as well as the several leisure facilities. These include two fitness centres, sports clubs and golf courses, all within easy reach. With something for all, it’s not surprising that many are choosing to relocate to ‘the town of books’.
Transportation in Hay-on-Wye
Those commuting to nearby towns have the convenience of the A438 which sits adjacent to Hay-on-Wye. This connects to Hereford in a short distance, as well as the M50 which continues to the M5. As such, the town is well placed for travel to Birmingham in the north, or Cardiff and Bristol to the south.
The closest mainline train services can be found at Hereford which lies 21 miles east of Hay-on-Wye. This station operates services between Leominster and Abergavenny along the Welsh Marches Line. Other frequent trains connect to Birmingham, Manchester, and Cardiff Central. Several less frequent services travel direct to London Paddington.
Primary and secondary schools in Hay-on-Wye
The town is well situated in a desirable catchment area for both primary and secondary schools. For the former, popular options include Hay-on-Wye County, Clyro Primary or Clifford Primary. These have all been judged ‘good’ by the government watchdog, Ofsted.
The closest secondary is Gwernyfed High, but proposals are underway to close this school, transferring pupils to a newly built development. It’s been met with criticism as the school serves a large part of the community and sits in the idyllic surroundings of a Victoria-era grade II listed mansion. Otherwise, parents have the choice of nearby Fairfield High School. It’s considered one of the best state schools in the country, awarded the top accolade of ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
Those wanting to educate privately often choose Christ College in Brecon. It’s only a short distance away which many are willing to travel given this school is amongst the top performers in the UK. It’s also the oldest school in Wales, founded in 1541.
Finally, a huge range of courses are dedicated to the young adult at Coleg Powys. As part of the NPTC group, students can pick between HNDs, apprenticeships or adult based learning.
History of Hay-on-Wye
As with many towns in the area, Hay-on-Wye is home to the ruins of a Norman castle. It’s a major tourist attraction that’s long played an influential role in the history of the region. Many battles have been fought here with reigning monarchs attacking from both sides of the border.
Despite this tumultuous past, Ham(Hay??)-on-Wye transitioned into a picturesque market town during the Victorian era. Being on the main road to Brecon, it attracted visitors and traders passing through. A handful of coaching inns catered to this small tourist trade, but the town wouldn’t gain international recognition until the 1970s.
It was during this time that the castle would impact the local economy once again. The crumbling estate was bought by a local bookseller, Richard Booth. As a publicity stunt, this bibliophile declared himself the king of this re-instated ‘independent kingdom’. Although the title never stuck, many credit Booth’s humorous exploits as a factor for the town’s growth.
Things to do in Hay-on-Wye
With such a wealth of attractions, it’s not surprising that Hay-on-Wye attracts so many visitors. From sports facilities to the weekly market and famed book shops, here are some of the highlights:
- Hay-on-Wye Thursday Market
- The Warren
- Booth’s Bookshop
- The Globe at Hay
- Hay Castle
- Summerhill Golf Club
- Gwernyfed & Hay Leisure Centre
- The Lion Street Gallery
- Hay Cinema Bookshop
- Hay Bluff
- Gym & Tonic Health Club
- Brook Street Pottery & Gallery
How to get to Hay-on-Wye
- By road: Hay-on-Wye can be reached by taking Junction 8 of the M50, following the A49 to Hereford before turning left onto the B4348 Hay-on-Wye. Alternatively, exit Junction 24 of the M4, following onto the A40 to Abergavenny. After passing the village of Crickhowell, take the A479 and Hay-on-Wye is signposted.
- By rail: The closest railway station is at Hereford which boasts mainline services to London Paddington, Birmingham and Manchester.