Hay-on-Wye in Wales has been called “the used bookshop capital of Wales” or “the town of books,” but whatever you choose to call it, Hay is definitely a book lovers heaven. Hay has been a settlement since 1135, but it became a mecca for used books in 1961 when bibliophile Richard Booth opened his shop in The Old Fire Station. Hay now has over 20 bookshops and has become the world’s largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre.
Some of the bookshops specialise whilst others carry general stock. The shelves in some shops are neat as a pin, others are arranged in higgedly-piggedly fashion and require a root through the stock in order to find treasure. As I did decades ago when I almost literally fell upon a random stack of Annual Registers on some neglected shelves in an annex at the back of a shop. Every bibliophiles heart will beat a tad quicker when presented with the possibility of finding such gems.
Because so many of our guests on Number One London tours are book lovers and/or authors, we’ve added a full day of book browsing in Hay-on-Wye to the itinerary of our Welsh Castles Tour in June 2025. An entire day of foraging in the stacks for hidden book treasure – bliss! You’ll find the complete tour itinerary and further details here. And you can view a list of Hay’s bookshops HERE. Most of the shops are open 363 days a year.
You’ll be able to get a taste of what its like to visit Hay by watching the video below. Update to the video – Hay Castle opened its doors to the public in May 2022, for the first time in its 900-year history, following a major 10-year restoration project.
I recently visited Waddesdon Manor with a mind to adding it to the itinerary of Number One London’s upcoming Town & Country House Tour. The French Renaissance château was built in the 19th century by Baron Ferdinand Rothschild and I’m pleased to report that it did not disappoint. The house, the collections, the gardens and outbuildings combined to serve as a most unique whole. In fact, Waddesdon is now right up there beside Chatsworth House as my personal favourite country houses in England.
Baron Rothschild, a dedicated Francophile, employed a French architect who created rooms using wall panels taken from Parisian houses of the 1700s. He then filled the house with treasures that once belonged to French royalty. Rothschild lavished Waddesdon’s rooms with paintings, carpets and porcelain to rival any museum on either side of the Channel. All of which was only seen on summer weekends by a few of the Baron’s close circle. Waddesdon was never a family home, it was only ever meant to be an occasional country retreat.
On the approach to the Manor, it would be difficult not to be awed by the fabulous grounds, gardens and architectural details. Or by the attention to the smallest detail that is regularly given to the Manor, evident at every turn.
Waddesdon Manor is unique in that The Rothschild Foundation continues to manage the property on behalf of the National Trust, as well as providing the majority of the funding for its upkeep.
The interiors are likewise impressive, beginning with the dining room, which resembles Versailles in miniature.
The dinner service below is comprised of over 400 pieces of porcelain as service for twenty-four people. Although it was a gift from King Louis XV to an Austrian prince in 1766, it was used by the family until the 1980s.
With more than 15,000 works of art and objects, the collection ranges widely in date, materials and techniques, and places of production. Each of the rooms at Waddesdon serve as backdrops for the priceless pieces on display.
Something that becomes immediately apparent to visitors is that Waddesdon’s staff truly care about the guest experience. There’s at least one docent in every room . . . and they know their stuff. They are genuinely friendly and engaged. Waddesdon Manor even encourages visitors to touch, with “touch boards” dotted along the route, each focused on a different architectural component of the Manor.
As one would expect, conservation is constantly being undertaken at Waddesdon.
One of the final areas on the tour are the ornate Bachelors Quarters, where single men visitors were housed at weekends. Any gentleman who arrived alone, whether actually married or not, was assigned a room in this wing of the Manor. Very Victorian, indeed.
The present Baron Rothschild continues to collect art and porcelain, mostly contemporary. This chandelier was specially commissioned in 2003 by Lord Rothschild for the Blue Dining Room and looks surprisingly at home against the walls of 18th-century carved panelling.
Do you know about Richard Horwood’s map of London? Completed in 1799, it was the most detailed map of the City to date, displaying the footprint of houses, public buildings and parks, even down to contemporary house numbers. A description of the map reads as follows –
Richard Horwood’s PLAN of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER the Borough of SOUTHWARK, and PARTS adjoining Shewing every HOUSE was produced between 1792 and 1799. It consists of thirty-two printed sheets displaying an area stretching from the middle of Hyde Park in the west to Limehouse in the east and from the southern edge of Islington in the north to the southern fringes of Kennington and Walworth in the south, a zone six miles across and three miles and three furlongs from north to south. Each individual sheet is 19 3/4 inches across and 21 5/8 of an inch high; when assembled, the full map is more than thirteen feet (or four metres) across and over seven feet (2.2 metres) high. Horwood’s was the first map of London to attempt to show every individual property in every street in London, so it’s extremely detailed, even including contemporary house numbers.
Now, you can purchase a copy of the sections of Horwood’s map pertaining to the areas of fashionable London. The two large, blueprint sized sheets (30″ x 44″) show the area from Brompton Row and Southampton Row in the west to Somerset House in the east, and from Bedford Square in the north to Hans Place and Stangate Street in the south.
To order, send $34 via PayPal Friends and Family to firstname.lastname@example.org – Price includes the map (two blueprint sized sheets) and shipping. Don’t forget to provide your mailing address when ordering.
Anyone interested in Regency London will want to know about the work of British photographer Ashley Hicks, the son of Lady Pamela Hicks and the legendary interior designer David Hicks, who was granted ten days to shoot the opulent drawing rooms, halls, and corridors of Buckingham Palace. His photos afterwards appeared in his lavish 2018 book, below.
Hicks also filmed a three part documentary, Buckingham Palace: The Interiors, which likewise features many of his photos. While there have been many documentaries about Buck House, what sets this one apart and above others is Ashley Hicks. You should really watch all three parts of the documentary – Hicks’s insider knowledge and passion for the Palace’s interiors shine through and his narrative is engaging and filled with historical tidbits.
Part III will especially appeal to Regency aficianados (linked below), as it deals with the parts of the Palace interiors that have connections to both the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and to Carlton House. Hicks’s photographs of George IV’s furniture, musical instruments and objet d’art are presented side by side with contemporary drawings of the interiors of both the Pavilion and Carlton House, giving the viewer the opportunity to virtually revisit both buildings, whilst historic anecdotes abound as Hicks provides background to each of the items. Enjoy!
Vibrant, historic, unique, diverse – Lisbon. I’ve been twice in the last year, preparing for Number One London’s Peninsular War Tour in May, 2024. It’s a fabulous city, able to wow first time visitors with it’s river, hills, cobblestone streets, old town Alfama and an abundance of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As to diversity, start with transport – you can easily travel around Lisbon via their iconic trams, in a tuk tuk or by boat. Of course, you can also take a cab or walk, which is the best way to see all the nooks, crannies and history of Lisbon.
Tuk tuks are everywhere and can be booked for a tour in advance or hailed as a taxi. You’ll find tuk tuk ranks dotted around the City.
A ride on one of the iconic Lisbon trams is a must do – but avoid Tram 28 like the plague. The line uses an older, heritage tram and it’s route passes many of the popular sites in the City, two reasons for the journey having become a crowded tourist trap, more often than not operating with standing room only.
You’ll see the decorative tiles Lisbon is known for everywhere, beneath your feet, on buildings and on ceilings. The Arabs brought the tiles to Lisbon from Egypt in the 12th century. You can read more about the tiles here.
If Lisbon’s 25 de Abril Bridge looks familiar, it’s probably because it was designed by the same company that constructed the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. Standing at the southern end of the bridge is the Christ the King (Cristo Rei) monument, inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.
Among the UNESCO sites we’ll be visiting during the Peninsular War Tour is the Belem Tower, below.
A 16th century fortification, the Tower has stood through the centuries as a landmark for explorers, navigators and commercial shipping.
Nearby, we’ll find the Monument to the Discoveries, celebrating the 15th and 16th century Portuguese explorers who made Portugal the most powerful seafaring nation of the age.
But there’s more to Lisbon than UNESCO sites, history and monuments. There’s food. And drink. And we’ll be sampling both – there will be tapas!
And Pastel de Nata. A Portuguese egg custard tart created by 18th century monks who used egg whites for starching clothes. What to do with all the left over egg yolks? Viola. Pastel de Nata. To simply call them custard tarts is to do them a disservice and yet the flavour is elusive and hard to describe, though the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Phil Rosenthal have tried their best to do so. One taste and you, like me and millions of others, will be hooked.