I spent a lot of time thinking about the last post in this series and there were a few candidates. I did think about the Kennet Valley and the Avebury complex which is where I live, rediscovered cycling and brought up two children; not to mention being one of the founding members of the Village Cricket Team. But, while the 26 years I’ve lived here (equidistant in travel time between the Cardiff Rugby Grounds, the Royal Opera House, and Heathrow Airport) have in general being positive there are also bad memories and the odd ending or two so its not really a sacred space. I realised that if I moved it would have no stronger memories That Bristol, St Albans and Send where we have lived before. I then toyed with the idea of Wales as a whole: A country small enough to be known in one lifetime to quote the famous Welsh Journalist Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. Who incidentally has the best memorial I can imagine: a toposcope on the mountain road to Staylittle which points towards Snowdon. But that was too much and then I realised that it was obvious, and wondered how I had missed it as it is one of my delights to visit and represents various aspects of my life. So I chose the town of books: Hay on Wye.
Richard Booth, known as the King of Hay opened his first bookshop there in 1962 and now this small town, population less than 1500 just inside the Welsh Border and overlooked by Hay Bluff, has over two dozen selling specialist and second-hand books. It has hosted an annual literary festival since 1988 and, since 2010 HowTheLightGetsIn a festival of Philosophy and Music. It is at the intersection of two long-distance footpaths and, as the name suggests, is on the River Wye which manifests at its most scenic above and below the town. I’d visited it on a day trip to two to look at the books and have a pub lunch. It wasn’t really on the map for walking as I would normally approach its hills, the Black Mountains from the south, while it is a canoeing location. The River Wye has several companies who will drive you and a section of canoes up river and let you paddle back to the starting point. It is a great day out and I have done various sections to Monmouth over the years. But the section that passes through Hay is an interesting one and navigating the Hay bridge and shoals (pictured above) can cause problems if you don’t have an experienced crew. I remember multiple involuntary immersions when my sister and I with three children navigated it one year. I also walked through it on my Wye Valley walk, the first long-distance track I did. I walked to it from Hereford over two days, staying overnight at Red Lion in at Bredwardine. A favourite lunchtime stopping off place on one of my many routes from Lockeridge to my parents in North Wales. Then headed north to Builth Wells a few weeks later. On my Round and Through Wales walk it was in the first section namely the Offa’s Dyke path in good spring weather. I’ve taken both my bespoke bikes over the Gospel Pass without having to push and wended through the town many a time.
All of that is part of what Hay is, and I would love to live there. But the reason to pick it is HTLGI. That festival started in 2010 but I wasn’t aware of it but I noticed an advert in the Guardian and booked in the next year. The festival is held in tents (the top of one is my other picture taken in 2011) and every hour you get a panel of philosophers, scientists, and politicians in what is the richest intellectual melange that I have ever experienced. A lot of my ideas have started with ideas and interactions at the festival. It is noted or the fact that the audiences can be intimate and often more knowledgeable than the speakers. The food is interesting and in the evenings there is music. In 2012 I wrote a series of blog posts reflecting on the learning and that was the year when I hired a cottage. It didn’t take place in 2013 and 2017 but I have attended each year and hired houses of varying sizes where I am joined by good friends. We are creating a real community and 2020 is already booked and planned. There is no greater delight than meeting friends over breakfast and cooking dinner together with the conversation taking place in the context of the event we have all attended over the day. It performs the role of a retreat that keeps me interested and alive and ‘enlightened’. The ability to walk the hills during the week and the beauty of the location even during rain is all part of the experience. I’ve also started to take in the main literary festival as well as which runs for ten days, while HTLGI is now confined to four. If you don’t know it go, if you want to be on the reserve list for accommodation get in touch. They also have a weekend event in September in London and I have been to all of those, with many of the same friends.
So Hay is intellect, the black mountains and cycling, it is a special place.
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