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Entertainment, Regional Blogs

Anyone want to buy a castle?

Only 800 years on the clock from new… Hay Castle’s had a bit of a chequered past.

Castle for sale: Hay's king to sell Castle (Photo: Steve Parker)

This year is actually the 800th anniversary of its completion – and 20 years after that, Prince Llewelyn burned it down.

It’s a border skirmish thing.

But there aren’t many Marcher fortresses for sale these days: it’s unlikely that the Earl of Powis or the custodian of Ludlow Castle are going to pop down to the estate agents and ask them to measure up the curtains, or the drawbridge.

The man selling up – Richard Booth, who four decades ago arrived in a charming village on the Powys/Herefordshire border and gave it a new business: selling books.

Now Hay, if you love books and the written word, is a capital of literature. Around his bookshops, others grew: the village possibly has more books than the entire British Library. I’m not willing to count either to make sure, though.

Hay Castle was also the site of an alternative coronation: on April the first, 1977, Richard Booth crowned himself the King of Hay and declared the village – which has a foot in both England and Wales– independent of either.

You can still buy Hay passports, though they don’t enforce the border controls. And running one of his bookshops from the castle, he opened up the site to the public: now it has a smattering of shops and the wonderful Honesty Bookshop, where they trust you to pay for your volume on applied mathematics or Jackie Collins without anyone to actually check that you do so…..

So it isn’t just the biggest landmark right in the centre of town, it’s a symbol of the way Hay’s opened up to the rest of the world.

You can walk the parapet: I’ve even had my fortune read in the castle grounds. It’s a very democratic fortress. One group –SaveHayCastle– have a Facebook campaign going to try and raise the £2million asking price.

Rumours are flying that the ever reclusive street artist Banksy could be involved with their bid to buy.

The Hay Festival have told us they aren’t one of the potential purchasers – the site, whilst huge for any one person, isn’t big enough for the city of tents on the outskirts of town that the Festival now is.

Ask around, and the one common theme is this – now that the castle’s been opened up in some measure to the public, it would be a big ache for the town if the doors were to be shut again.

Apparently, a deal is imminent. So watch this space.

As for the King of Hay – well, there’s one stipulation you don’t often find in the estate agent’s details. The property deal specifies that one spot in the castle be left as the site for a possible statue of Richard Booth – who can keep a watch on the town he helped transform.

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