Bricks, Books, Wheels and Whales: My First Trip Abroad, Part 2.

Hay-on-Wye

By C.L. Bridge

Our next stop was Hay-on-Wye, the village of books. In many ways, this tiny Welsh town is an autistic haven. It is quiet, walkable, and has very little traffic (which meant I could skip, run a little, or let my gaze wander without worrying much about being hit by a car!). Unsurprisingly, I felt a bit overwhelmed by noise when eating in crowded pubs, but otherwise, I was quite calm.

The many bookshops and other shops of Hay-on-Wye are a dream come true for autistic people with very specific interests. Do you love geography? Mostly Maps sells maps from many times and places. The Poetry Bookshop sells only poetry. Most of the more general bookshops are divided into specific categories and subcategories. One shop had a room full of animal books, sorted into cat books, dog books, marine life books, and others. Several bookshops had a room devoted to science fiction, and a transportation section sorted into trains, cars, underground transportation, and more. One shop had a narrow hallway containing a shelf full of tiny books. (I love tiny books!) There were many obscure old children’s books I’d never seen before. Some were arranged by color.

honesty bookshop in hay-on-wye
Shopping at Honesty Bookshop in Hay-on-Wye

Aside from the books themselves, one of the most fun things about exploring the bookshops was finding all the unexpected nooks and crannies. At first, a book-filled room might appear small, and might appear to lead nowhere. Then you turn a corner to find an unexpected staircase or doorway—maybe it will lead to a tiny room with just enough space for you and the bookcases, or maybe it will lead to a cozy sitting room where you can read for a while.

There are also outdoor “honesty bookshops” where you take a book off a shelf and put coins in a box to pay for it. Some of these were closed due to rain, but we did get to browse a few of them. My favorites were those hidden in alleyways, especially one in which the books were arranged in a timeline from ancient history to the present (I don’t remember the exact starting date).

One shop called The Story of Books happened to have a visiting artist at the time. This artist, Tessa Waite, was interviewing people about their favorite childhood books, and what those books mean to them. These childhood memories would later be turned into mixed media art.

whalesby hanging out with his pals in the marine life section
Whalington hanging out with his pals in the marine life section

In addition to my human companions, I had a small, silent traveling companion who fit neatly in my bag—a patchwork whale pouch named Whalington. On this trip, I didn’t carry anything inside him except a card with my contact information in case he got lost. I had fun taking photos of him in different locations, some as mundane as the dryer at the launderette (which we happened to stumble upon exactly when we needed it), and some as majestic as the ruins of Llanthony Priory.

the ruins of llanthony priory
The ruins of Llanthony Priory

We took a cab up narrow, sheep-filled mountain roads to Llanthony Priory. The ruins of this 12th century monastery were fascinating to explore, and would have been great to sketch if it had not been so chilly and wet that day. (I tried sketching with my watercolor crayons anyway, curious to see what effects the rain would make on the page. Unsurprisingly, the result was a blurry mess.) Then we rode back down the mountainside, eager to get warm, and spent the rest of the day exploring bookshops and taking a damp but otherwise pleasant walk along the Wye River. I liked watching the rain make circles in the water. We also visited an art gallery where we looked into beautiful handmade kaleidoscopes.

After about three days in Hay, we left our cozy bed-and-breakfast to wait in the fierce wind for a bus to Hereford. From Hereford we would take the train back to London.

If you missed Part 1 of this 3-post series from C.L. Bridge, you can check it out here! 

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