The near-mythical status of Hay-on-Wye is founded more or less on the reputation of its eccentric "king", Richard Booth, who also owns several of the bookshops in the town, including one bearing his own name. This, when combined with the magnitude of its yearly literary festival, leads visitors to expect that they are getting something unique. However, even though parking and tourist information are both plentiful, the town is still something of a disappointment.
I appreciate that we visited on a not-too-summery day in July, and that the place may well be more exciting when the festival is actually on. But given the town's propensity towards bookselling, one is expecting to see bookshops literally everywhere, with books almost spilling out of the town's every nook and cranny. However, what we saw was just an ordinary town that just happened to have a few more bookshops than average - and that was only when you had walked down a few streets. We weren't hit with the immediate feeling of "wow, look at all these bookshops!" that we had been hoping for - and sadly, neither did this feeling develop gradually as we wandered through the town.
But surely the bookshops themselves would be vast treasure troves of bargainous bookish buys to suit every interest? Not really. Many of them just seem to be general bookshops, rather than tailoring stock to suit different topics, so there is a feeling that once you've been in one of the bookshops, they all look pretty much the same, and while the proprietors attempt to organise their books by topic within shops, there again is still a feeling of getting lost amongst books in a negative way. There's the kind of purposeless browsing where you feel you may find a rare pearl at any moment, and there's the kind of purposeless browsing where you lose motivation and think "what's the point? I haven't got a hope of finding the kind of thing I want or like amongst all this".
Even the bookshops' architecture lacked character. Of course there was the blurred vision of the creaky-floored, faux-Tudor establishment, but many of them look like this, meaning that the overall effect is homogenised, not characterful (even though that doesn't seem to stop the hordes of foreign tourists - particularly Americans - being attracted to it and coming and loving it year on year). Equally, the one shop I really had hope for in terms of a memorable experience - the bookshop that used to be an old cinema - had ripped out all of the original features of the building that would have made it unique, leaving you to browse a soulless warehouse.
|the book in question|