Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wednesday's walk in: Hay Book Festival

As a ten-year-old, I was taken across the other side of the world, to a new town, a new house, a new neighbourhood and a new school. It was part of the adventure initiated by my father who’d organised a teaching exchange. We swapped houses, cars, and jobs with another family and for nine months enjoyed exploring the UK, while they in turn explored NZ!

Our home for that year was Hereford, nestled close to the Welsh border, a small town known for its cider, black and white houses and the Mappa Mundi. I’ve since returned to this town to visit an old school friend - yes we have stayed in touch over two decades, and as correspondence has evolved from snail mail to Facebook, so too has our friendship. 

During our four years in the UK, Hereford and my dear friend, have very much become our English family. Twice a year we’d go for weekends –once in the springtime and once at Christmas... for our English Christmas celebrations (think turkey and cranberry sauce, brussel sprouts, potatoes roasted in goosefat, trifle, Christmas pud, and mince pies).

Our Springtime visits always coincided with the Hay Book Festival. Just a 45minute drive from Hereford is the tiny little village of Hay-on-Wye, renowned for its bookstores (but that’s another post). Twenty-three years ago, this book festival began in the local school. Today, it has its own designated site just outside of the town, buses transport tourists from the festival to Hay, B&Bs are booked out months in advance, and farmers turn their paddocks into parking lots as this little village on the banks of the river Wye finds itself overrun by literature lovers.

The Hay Book Festival quickly became an annual event in our calendar. We’d download the brochure as soon as it was available, scour through the programme to see which authors, TV commentators, political figures or academics we most wanted to listen to – and as springtime arrived, so too did our anticipation.

We would pack a picnic lunch, pay the farmer his parking money, collect our free Guardian newspaper and book bag and enter the world of literary delights. Gumboots were occasionally needed but it was a more civilised festival than the likes of Glastonbury – and as we lazed in the sunshine, book in hand, sipping Pimms and lemonade and soaking up an atmosphere filled with thoughts, words, conversations and ideas, we decided this was definitely our kind of festival.


  1. Oh my goodness this sounds like such a delightful event! Also, where I can get one of those Penguin beach chairs?!

  2. It has long been a desire of mine to visit Hay-on-Wye and its many bookstores and stalls. What delightful experiences you have had there (and everywhere).

    You might like to read Sixpence House; Lost in a Town of Books, by Paul Collins. An American, it is all about his experiences in Hay and he takes us into the dustiest corners, basements, and attics in search of books and it is not only charming, but witty and fun.

    What a lovely post filled with such fond memories.