As soon as we bought our very own car I was determined to go to Hay on Wye to indulge myself with abandon in book browsing and book buying. So, at the weekend we packed our bags and drove to Hay via Hereford where we gazed at the Mappa Mundi. It rained the entire time that we were in Hay but that merely added to the cosiness of the trip and meant that I didn't feel at all guilty for not marching up the Brecon Beacons (something which does not appeal to me in the slightest but Mr Bell was quite keen to break in his new walking boots - I have never been more grateful for the rain).
There are approximately thirty secondhand bookshops in Hay and I traipsed around most of them. I have to say that the majority are blatantly over-pricing books; ripping off unsuspecting tourists. For example, one shop was selling secondhand Colin Dexter books for £2.50 - these are ten a penny in any secondhand bookshop and I wouldn't pay more than 50p for an indulgent Inspector Morse session. In another bookshop I saw a very battered copy of The Group by Mary McCarthy for £4.50 - absolutely ridiculous.
So be warned - Hay on Wye is every booklovers' fantasy BUT shop around. I then went into another shop and saw The Group for £1.95 - much more reasonable. But, I still didn't buy it as I am desperately trying to use the library and keep book acquisition to a minimum. I bought five books in Booth Books which I recommend to anyone planning to go to Hay. Not only is it a total emporium but books are reasonably priced and they have delightful reading areas. I stumbled upon this very happy cat, fast asleep on the sofa.
I feel that I was really boring in my purchases as I stuck to what I know, here is the list:
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (Virago)
The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann (Virago)
Rumour of Heaven by Beatrix Lehmann (Virago)
No More Than Human by Maura Laverty (Virago)
To The North by Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin)
I just can't help myself when it comes to early twentieth century literature written by women.
As we were on the road to Oxford I saw the sign to Swinbrook so I immediately made Mr Bell do a handbrake turn into the single track road which leads to the churchyard where Nancy Mitford is buried. She has been an idol of mine for years so I was so pleased to have the chance to visit her grave. Her sisters Diana, Unity and Pamela are also buried in the churchyard. Unfortunately, Unity and Nancy's graves are covered in lichen which, whilst being very pretty, means that it is really difficult to read them. Unity has a longer epitaph and I have googled to find out that it says "Say not the struggle naught availeth" - which, when you think about it, is both touching and defensive. When it comes to sisterhood I am a teeny bit soppy so I was pleased to see their graves in a row - yes, they bickered and didn't always understand each other but the bonds held fast. Having said that, I doubt my sister would forgive me if I shopped her to MI5 thereby causing her imprisonment!