This week I want to kick off a little thing I’m going to call Somewhere Sunday! Every Sunday I’ll write about a place I’ve been to, where I stayed, what I did, stuff like that.
This week, we’re going to Hay-On-Wye in Wales. The receptionist at the hotel pretty much summed up the town for us:
“The hotel doors close at eleven, so if you find a party and think you’ll be out late, please get the late-night key from reception. That said, Hay is a quiet down, so if you find a party, let us know.”
Wales was a little flooded at the time. Hay-On-Wye is a little town on the Wye River famous for its fishing and bookstores. It has around thirty bookstores, many of them selling specialized and antique books, but the coolest one is the castle bookstore. It was built in the 16th-century mansion, which was added onto the remains of the much older castle.
Being creative writing majors, we were more than a little excited about visiting an entire town full of books.
Me: “I’d feel like a sinner, going to Hay-on-Wye and buying trashy romance novels. They’re probably not even allowed.”
Linnaea: “They probably have a special store – Ye Old Trashy Romance Shoppe.”
And it’s almost true – many of the other bookstores are themed. There were romance bookstores, travel bookstores, and my personal favorite, Murder and Mayhem.
This store sold “starter kits” of murder mysteries for 10£, which were randomly selected sets of historical mysteries, modern thrillers, and the obligatory Agatha Christie. I wound up with a copy of Stephen King’s “The Tommyknockers,” “Octopussy,” and some sort of medieval thriller which I haven’t read yet.
I also found a copy of Neil Gaiman’s “Eternals” in Hay, along with “Dark Voyage” by Alan Furst and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which I’ve sadly yet to read. (I’m basically a compulsive book collector, by the way. I’m pretty sure I own over 100 books now. And they are beautiful.)
Maybe now you’d like a quiet place to sit and read your new books. How about a spot of tea?
I feel safe claiming this as Hay-On-Wye’s best kept secret. It’s a little tea shop called The Old Stables Tea Rooms. That’s Lady Grey tea, a scone, strawberry jam, and clotted cream. (This was the first and only time I had clotted cream, and it sort of tastes like butter with the texture of soft caramel. Yes, it’s delicious.)
Now you’ve had a long and wearisome day of book-shopping and tea-drinking, and you’re simply exhausted. Time to go back to the hotel. (A word of warning, if you’re also hungry at the end of this very tiring day: all the stores close around 4, but the pubs don’t start serving food until 6 at the earliest. Good luck with that.) We stayed at The Swan, a very cozy and respectable hotel with a sort of “country” theme. It serves a very classy breakfast, complete with light china and crystal glasses for juice. They served bacon (British-style, which is basically slices of ham), black pudding (which I didn’t try), and homemade hot croissants. Oh, and tea. Naturally.
It was in Hay where we discovered such gems of British television as “The Vicar of Dibley” and “Torchwood.” If you’ve heard of Doctor Who, you’re probably familiar with Torchwood; if you haven’t, imagine Stargate mixed with X-Files, with the secret headquarters located under a famous opera house, with a lot more makeouts and a lot less concern for gender relations. In the very first episode we saw, the hero made out furiously with Spike from “Buffy” and then fought, because they’re actually enemies. I thought it was hilariously awesome; everyone else wanted to watch the equally hilarious if much less awesome “Coronation Lane,” which is essentially a soap opera.
“The Vicar of Dibley” is quite different. It follows a cheeky lady vicar who lives in a small town. If you look on YouTube, you can find the glorious dream sequence in which Sean Bean guest stars. A sample quote from our heroine: “He got us a golf course, which we need like the Pope needs condoms.”
Obviously being in town in January impacted our perception of Hay. It was chilly and empty and nobody really seemed to know what to do with the handful of American students shivering in their stores on a winter afternoon. Still, exploring was a lot of fun, and it’s very easy to blow your life savings on books and tea (and a three-course pub meal, and a pint or two of Strongbow) here.