World Book Day: Celebrate in the Welsh capital of literature.

World Book Day aims to encourage people to get into reading. Does Wales’ national book town, Hay-on-Wye offer anything that could help you rediscover the joy of reading.

Much like its owner, Broad street Book Centre in Hay-on-Wye offers much more than what you would expect of it, so unassuming that you could easily walk past without realising. Mary Fellowes has operated her business which doubles as a bed and breakfast and fish and chip shop on the outskirts of the town for almost 25 years.

Through its Victorian-era door, you enter a silent tranquil world where a smoky vanilla scent engulfs your senses. Before you a silent labyrinth of books awaits, various nooks and crannies stocked high with relics from the past, each an adventure waiting to be embarked upon, totally isolated from the world outside.

“For many people coming in here and reading is like meditation, it’s an escape from the world and everything happening around them,” said Mary.

At first, Mary comes across as quite a standoffish and humble lady, but much like her ordinary-looking sprawling bookshop, she is very welcoming and warm, a visit feeling much more like meeting an old friend in their home as opposed to a place of business.

In a cosy oasis of stillness, you can be guaranteed to find something to inspire you in this perfect little alcove to become lost in.

“We’ve over two million books here, so if you want something, you will probably find it if you look hard enough.”

She also acts as a wholesaler for over 20 other sellers within the area, renting empty shelves to budding book traders.

Thursday 2 March is World Book Day, which much like Mary’s shop gives an opportunity for people to allow themselves to be eased into reading at their own level and comfort, started in 1995, it aims to encourage people to discover the joy of reading for pleasure.

“People often need a bit of support to get into reading and that’s what my job is,” explained Mary. “Having things like World Book Day allows people to see that there is help out there to do so at an attainable level.”

“You have to offer guidance and to point them in the direction of something they are interested in because the reality is that once you start reading, you probably won’t stop,” she said.

The benefits of reading are enormous, studies have shown that it improves cognitive ability, sleep and reduces stress levels.

“It broadens the mind but it also just allows you to switch off and go on an adventure within yourself, something that only you can see,” said Mary.

Books and reading are a way of life in Hay, sitting at the foot of the Brecon Mountains, poor phone signal and warm comfortable environs offer perfect conditions for you to become lost within the walls of Mary’s shop or one of the other 30 or more stores in the town.

“You can ask a lot of people around here and they will say ‘reading is my life,’ many might live very small and narrow lives but reading books allows them to travel in their mind and broaden their understanding of the world,” she said.

Hay-on-Wye was established as a book town in 1977 by a bookseller named Richard Booth. As a publicity stunt, he declared Hay an independent kingdom with him its king. One of the spin-offs was the Hay Literary Festival which attracts over 500,000 tourists each year. 

Arriving in Hay has somewhat of a cut-off feel, far removed from the busy streets of Cardiff with its restaurants and shop chains. Instead, you are greeted by narrow winding streets and whitewashed cottages, independent traders, and restaurants all dominated by a crumbling Norman castle, backdropped against lush green mountains.

In what feels like a sanctuary retreat, Mary’s bookshop can allow you to rekindle your childlike imagination and allow yourself to become lost in.

“Reading is just great, and there’s absolutely nothing better than having a shelf load of books, to me they’re my trophies,” she said passionately.