On April 1st, 1977, a new independent kingdom was declared in Wales right on the border with England. But unlike most kingdoms, they didn’t claim riches or great tracts of land. No, the new ruler, Richard Booth, was the self-proclaimed monarch of a Kingdom of Books! So, how did he turn this tiny market town into one of the world’s most sought after book lover destinations? Come along and find out.

On this Saturdays Around the World adventure, we’re off to Wales to explore the small town of Hay-on-Wye. With a population of just 1,500 people, it’s currently home to nearly 20 independent bookshops with an estimated 10 million books between them! 1

So, pack an extra big bag for your new literary treasures—and don’t forget your glasses! We’re about to take a little journey to a town that was saved from obscurity by the power of books.

Image: Outdoor bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Source: Wikimedia

A Kingdom of Books!

Over the course of its 1,000-year history, the village of Hay-on-Wye grew into a sleepy, unassuming market town headed for obscurity and economic hard times like so many other small towns. That was, until 1977, when Richard Booth— the owner of a bookshop in town—declared Hay-on-Wye an independent kingdom of books, and appointed himself its king. 2

Donning a handmade crown, his eccentricity caught the eyes of Britain, and eventually the world. And by the 1980s, Hay was home to over 30 book shops and had made a name for itself. 3

What started as a publicity stunt to help put a small town on the map has become a bustling tourist business, even in the age of e-readers and online media.

Bibliophiles from around the world stream into Hay to experience its wonders and wander through the shelves of unique bookshops specializing in everything from crime, to poetry, to rare books.

Though Richard Booth passed away in 2019, his legacy still lives on in Hay. Let’s go take a look at this little gem of a town with the help of Atlas Obscura:

If you want to check out more great highlights from around the world, go check out Atlas Obscura’s YouTube Channel, website, or follow them on Instagram! They explore all corners of the globe and are a great place to see some of the world’s hidden gems.

If you want to see more from Bridget Barbara and The Curious World, you can check out her YouTube Channel and Instagram! There you’ll find her other pieces highlighting interesting travel destinations around the world.

Oh, and if we’ve inspired you to go pick up a good book, I highly suggest you check out the following article that changed many of our lives here in the EWC office! It’s a great exploration of how easy it is to build a reading habit into our ever so busy lives.

40 minutes

The Simple Secrets to Finding Time to Read More!

Here's an awesome little video that gives us a few — surprisingly simple — tips on how (and why) reading more books can change the future for each of us!

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Book Towns!

Hay-on-Wye has inspired other towns to become book towns! Other communities around the world are coming together to celebrate books in all their forms. Many of them are united under the International Organisation of Book Towns, and are scattered across the globe for you to visit! You can check out a list of just 10 of them in this great piece from The Guardian.

Whether or not you are a book lover, there is something lovely about the idea of book towns. These are places where people come together over the written word, to share knowledge, stories, and art. Books are a beautiful record of our history, and they help us imagine unexplored futures. For a community to come together to support that kind of spirit speaks to the potential that so many communities could have if they found ways to embrace what makes them unique.

Hay-on-Wye is more than a story of books, it is a story of possibility; of what can happen when somebody has a crazy idea and brings it to life. And, that’s how so many great innovations happen. All it takes is a visionary (maybe a few) and a coalition of the willing to make a change that could have a positive impact for generations to come!

Stay beautiful & keep laughing!

-Liesl

Dive into more wonderful corners of the globe!

Explore the world from the comfort of your own home. We’ve written articles about the tallest mountains and the deepest oceans, and said hello to people living all over this planet. Journey with us by checking out our full Saturdays Around the Globe library!

Saturdays Around the Globe

Notes:

  1. Rech, Dominic. “The ‘mini Trump’ Who Built a Kingdom out of Books.” CNN, CNN, 31 Aug. 2019, www.cnn.com/travel/article/richard-booth-books-hay-on-wye-intl/index.html. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  2. Balch, Oliver. “Richard Booth Obituary.” The Guardian, The Guardian, 22 Aug. 2019, www.theguardian.com/books/2019/aug/22/richard-booth-obituary. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  3. Rech, Dominic. “The ‘mini Trump’ Who Built a Kingdom out of Books.” CNN, CNN, 31 Aug. 2019, www.cnn.com/travel/article/richard-booth-books-hay-on-wye-intl/index.html. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.
  4. Atlas Obscura. “The Tiny Welsh Town That’s Brimming With Books | Atlas Obscura.” YouTube, 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3WK4v1MITk. Accessed 31 Jan. 2020.

Liesl Ulrich-Verderber

COO of Ever Widening Circles, Founder of EWCed

Since 2015, Liesl has been a writer, editor, and the COO at Ever Widening Circles. She is a life-long camera-toting traveler, a global story seeker, and an aspiring—but more often floundering—outdoor enthusiast. She can be found on Instagram @Liesl.UV