Monday, 1 April 2013

Books, books everywhere........

Everyone loves a good book. Whether you are settling down into a comfy chair and becoming lost in the words.

Sitting on a beach soaking up the sun or commuting on a train into London eyes averting everyone else’s staring into the pages.

Books are our friends and fantastic opportunities for escapism and creating smile on our faces.
For as long as I can remember I have adored books. I love the feel in my hands and as my finger tips turn the page and love the escapism they offer.
I love gettting lost inside the words and pages and sitting ina  place undisturbed reading away only to discover that you have lost hours of time in a worls of your own.

Books can transport you to places and give you insight, knowledge and of course immense fun. Therefore I can honestly say that I am a self confessed bibliophile, a true lover of books.

But if a book was a person where would they live?

There is one place in the UK that I had the pleasure of visiting on raining summers day that is known as the 'town of books'. Surely if a book where a person they would live in the town of Hay-on-Wye.

Situated almost bang on the Welsh/English border this small quaint little Welsh town is unlike any other in the country.

From the moment you walk from the car park into the main street you are greeted by books, books and more books.

Hay-on-Wye has become a book lovers Mecca. Shelves in the streets, in gardens and of course in shops sell books for everyone.

In the streets out in the open there are covered book cases where the drizzle splashes off corrugated plastic roofs above. Under these roofs rows upon rows of books can be perused and bought by putting a few coins in the honesty boxes situated around the place.

The town of books cannot but put a smile on your face as you wander down the cobbled streets among the other bibliophiles popping in and out of bookshops.

Quaint tea rooms offer sandwiches and pots of tea where you can escape the summer rain and dry off.

In one such shop we sat down and took out the books which we had bought for pennies. I found an old but loved early 1970s copy of Flashman by George Macdonald Fraser.

Sipping a cup of tea  I looked through the shops windows and down the street. People were scurrying across the road in macs and umbrellas open and all were here because they shared a love of books.

Thirty odd bookshops are dotted around the town among other shops that you usually find in a town. Many sell second hand books and some are quite specialist.

The rain abated and out we ventured into the town. Not far from our little tea shop was the Castle and Mansion. A wooden staircase led up and as I entered the first thing I noticed was that this also had been turned into a book shop.

Every step you made leading up to the castle surrounded you in books. Boxes, trestle tables and shelves in the elements offered books for you to search through.
You would take a turn and there would be more books; they somehow created a feeling and a vibe. A nice vibe that cannot really be explained.

Old men and women would slowly bend down to leaf through a box of books under a table. They would put on spectacles and slowly scan shelves muttering to themselves ever so often.

I found it rather satisfying scanning the shelves for books that would tickle my fancy. Every now and then your eyes would hit a title and you would stop and reach out for it.

Inside the castle I learnt a few things about the town and the recent history is a rather charming little story.

In 1977 Richard Booth a bibliophile declared Hay-on-Wye independent from the United Kingdom. Basically a publicity stunt but in doing so created a tourist industry in the town centred around books. The castle bookshop sells his autobiography where on the front his face is superimposed onto the body of Henry VIII's, because when he declared Hay-on-Wye independent he styled himself as King Richard king of Hay! He since has been awarded an MBE for services to the town where a yearly literary festival is held which brings in half a million visitors.

However the thing that made me smile the most about Richard Booth declaring Hay independent was that he made his horse Prime Minister; brilliant, utterly brilliant and totally bonkers.

I was tempted to buy it and have a read but thought better of it as I had amassed about seven books from the street stalls.

Wandering down the high street was a pleasure. Normally you walk down any high street in the UK and they are almost clones of each other. Weatherspoons, bookmakers and shop chains and clothing brands. Hay on the other hand was different. Independently run shops and quaint looking shops selling nick nacks and of course books.

I would recommend any one who loves books to visit. The town itself is a gem and wandering around discovering it for yourself without any research beforehand is the best thing to do. I knew about the town a little before we visited but didn’t realise how book infested it would be.

For me the high light was walking into a small courtyard and just spending time staring at bookshelves in the light drizzle.

The more you looked however the more you wanted, I don’t know why but I felt obliged to buy every book that made my head turn. By now I had a carrier bag full of old well-thumbed novels.

Finally the light was fading and it was time to go. Walking back up the street I turned one last time to gaze at the castle and the land of books. I was very happy to have visited and know that this place will survive on the second hand book trade for many years to come.

Just as we were driving out of the car park Hay-on-Wye offered me one last brilliant surprise.

The town is twinned with Timbuktu in Mali. That made me drive away grinning from ear to ear.

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