Real Hay-on-Wye

Kate Noakes
Publication Date: 
Monday, May 23, 2022
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Kate Noakes will be appearing at Hay Festival 2022 alongside Rosie Hayles on the 5th June. Find out more here.

This new addition to the Real Series explores the town of Hay-on-Wye, home to the prestigious the Hay Literature Festival and How the Light Gets In festival, and Town of Books. Kate Noakes ventures into its hinterland, which is historically so much a part of the town too. The Black Mountains to the south, the river and Clyro to the north, rural Herefordshire to the east and out towards Brecon to the west fall into her territory, a rich and varied area, which appears in so many travel guides and so much literature, and in the DNA of Hay locals as their patch.

In the town Noakes explores the Festival and the many bookshops oriented towards the visitor, which give Hay-on-Wye its rich cultural identity. But she also goes beyond, into the old town, the markets and shops of the locals and the cafés and galleries of more fashionable incomers and tourists. She discovers that Hay is a town with a split personality of rural culture on the one hand and almost metropolitan culture on the other, with its growing numbers of second homes and incoming good-lifers. Spiced by many local oddities Hay’s story is also one common of rural towns reinventing themselves in the face of general ‘progress’. There’s a sense in which Hay’s history repeats itself, the invention of the Town of Books being a response to changing times.

The beautiful countryside and dramatic mountains surrounding Hay also bear witness to change and Noakes makes her own contribution to the cultural heritage of an area which has inspired artists and in particular writers, for centuries. This has been ‘Kilvert Country’ and ‘Chatwin Country’, and has also been populated by Arnold Wesker, Tom Bullough, and Owen Sheers, and the artists Eric Gill and David Jones.

Real Hay-on-Wye is full of discoveries in a place that is familiar to many, though not as familiar as we might think.

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