“I hope it’s raining at Reading festival too” — Hay-on-Wye 2011

August bank holiday weekend. Whilst many friends partied it up at Reading Festival, the boyfriend and I headed for a different kind of camping experience, which was a hell of a lot cheaper than weekend tickets to Reading; approximately £150 cheaper. Hay-on-Wye was our destination of choice. It is known as the town of books, and I’ve wanted to browse their bookshops for a while now, so what better place to go. If I had to choose between books or music, I’d choose books every time; and Hay-on-wye is the must do pilgrimage for book lovers.

As the name suggests, it is based on the river Wye. It’s along the border that separates England and Wales, right by the welsh Black Mountains. The boyfriend managed to book a pitch at a campsite for us before we went, a miracle considering everywhere gets busy on bank holidays. It was a caravan/camping site just south of Hay town called the Hollybush Inn. The website where we found the information had a mix of brilliant and bad reviews so we took a bit of a chance.

On arrival, we checked in at the site shop with this lady who seemed like she wanted to be anywhere else but there; we shelled out £42 (£7 per person/night) and went to have a look for a place to set up home for the weekend. There were a lot of people already set up, limiting space, but then we found loads of room in what was known as the overflow field. Some people were there blasting their radios but there was plenty of room at the bottom of a gentle slope. We decided to camp there, but I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t feel comfortable there at all; maybe because of the noisy neighbours; maybe because in the other fields everyone was camping on top of each other, that could happen to us; maybe because this caravan/campsite with its little B&B attached had been on The Hotel Inspector (not a good thing). So when the boyfriend mentioned that if it rains, the water will flow down the slope and soak us (as this is Wales, it will rain) we suggested going somewhere else.

Leaving the site, we headed to a campsite we passed on the way to the Hollybush. They were fully booked but were kind enough to direct us to another camping area. And 3rd campsite was a charm. We managed to get a spot in the field of a farm, and due to the place not advertising themselves as a campsite, they were a pony trekking club, we were the only ones in that field. It was perfect and at £4 per person/night it was cheaper than the Hollybush. The evening was starting to draw in when we arrived there, so we quickly set up our tent and drove back to the Hollybush to get our money back from there.

Back to our home for the weekend, we cooked up tortelloni and went to bed for the worst night’s sleep ever. We both had roll matts to sleep on but it didn’t make things any more comfortable; the hard ground just caused hip, back, neck and shoulder ache. And with very little sleep, we got up on the Saturday and headed for Hay-on-Wye town centre.

The first book shop we went in was tiny but cute, and organised very well making it easy to browse. Some of the other shops were annoying to navigate with their lack of structure. Anyway… in that first shop I purchased Oscar Wilde’s ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’, it was the

my purchases

penguin classics edition (to go with my others) which usually retails for £7. I got it for £2.50. Bargain. We also picked up a leaflet with a map of all the bookshops in Hay. And so we went… from the honesty book shop to antiquarian books; from shops with a real variety to the ones specialising in a certain genre. It was book lovers’ paradise. Dotted between these book shops were food stores, clothing boutiques, markets and numerous pubs and cafes. But the hunt for food was still a long one as we traipsed around for reasonable prices; one pub wanted over £21 for a steak dinner – the pub didn’t even look worth that much. We eventually settled and no sooner had we ordered our food in this practically empty pub, it began to fill up with other hungry shoppers; we timed it just right.

After more shops and a purchase of a blow-up mattress, we went back to camp where we drank tea and ate ice cream from atop the boyfriend’s 4×4 Land Rover Defender (the best 4×4 by far;apparently)

With not much to do when living under canvas, we went for a drive, taking the country lanes and unknown roads through fields and hills arriving at the bottom of Hay Bluff, a big hill near Hay-on-Wye, which is next to another big hill called Lord’s Hereford’s Knob (mind’s out of the gutter please). The views were amazing. You could see for miles and miles.

Horse riding in the rain was Sunday’s adventure. The horse I rode was called Tammy and liked to play follow the leader, so I didn’t have to do much, just stay upright and not fall off. Oscar was the boyfriend’s horse, who kept stopping to graze on the trees and plants we passed; he fell behind numerous times. When I looked round at the boyfriend I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself, he looked like Mr Benn in his riding hat (minus the shirt and tie though). The trek was so much fun; we trotted, galloped and saw some amazing scenery, including a wild horse and a fox.

We also saw the cloud covered Hay Bluff which we had decided to walk up that afternoon. It wasn’t a particularly long walk, just very steep in places, and being pretty physically unfit, I struggled to catch my breath and keep my legs moving onwards and upwards. Reminding myself that this was nothing compared to Scafell Pike (the highest peak in England) which I walked last year, I managed to push on, the boyfriend telling me I need to join a gym. The wind up there blew hard and fast, reminding me to invest in a hat or ear muffs. At the top we sat and looked across the land, feeling on top of the world, well, on top of wales. We saw gliders, and kites (the bird and actual kites) before starting the descent back to the car and onto the pub so the boyfriend could watch the footie, which wasn’t too bad to endure actually; plenty of goals were scored, and there was a bit of banter with other people in this tiny room where the TV was. As we were walking to the pub, we pretended to have a bit of a debate over the pronouncement of Porsche when snooty people were walking by. And there was a lot of snooty people. With their toff voices and tweed jackets, calling each other darling.

From the pub, we had a wonder down to the stables of the pony trekking club where we were camping for this horse sports evening they were having; all the typical races of sports day, egg and spoon race etc, on horses. More snooty bootys here too. The boyfriend and I now refer to them as the horsey worsey people (said with the snooty tone of course)

That night I got this familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach, like an empty feeling. I got it when I went to Malta a few years back, I got it at the lake district last year, and it’s because I know that I’m going home and don’t really want to go. I had such a great weekend, and all that waits for me at home is my current cleaning job and parents decorating our house, meaning disruption for me. I try to dismiss that empty stomach feeling, reminding myself that I am going to Italy next week.

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