Hay Festival: family activities in and around the town

The Hay Festival caters fantastically for families, but if you’re stuffed to the gills with literary goodness, there are still lots of non-booky activities to keep your family entertained. Here are just 10 of them. 

Hay Festival

Hay Festival

A walking tour of Hay


Hay Tours are running five tours during the 2016 Hay festival, with variations on the theme of local history. Older children might enjoy the Armstrong Murder Trail (think CSI: Hay – investigating an illustrious local poisoner) while young ’uns may prefer the Eliza Trail, which sees the town through the eyes of a Victorian schoolgirl.

A short hop to The Warren

This beautiful river meadow and shingle beach has been Hay folk’s favourite escape for centuries. In the 1970s someone thought it’d make a nice caravan park (which it would, but that’s hardly the point), so locals clubbed together to buy The Warren and preserve it as a tranquil retreat. You can find it by following the path beside St Mary’s Church. Fair warning: in Festival week, the likes of Boris Johnson and Alan Yentob have been seen engaging in early-morning swims nearby.

Hire a canoe

If you’re going to do one non-literary thing this week, then a family canoe trip along the Wye is probably our top pick. Britain doesn’t have a prettier (or more accessible) river: the whole 100 miles from Glasbury to Chepstow is navigable. It takes four days to do the lot, but the gentle 5.5-mile paddle back to Hay only takes a few hours, so it’s the perfect half-day excursion. River Wye canoe hire and Wye Valley canoes can help with equipment hire!

Walk up a mountain

Head south down Gospel Pass, and you’ll see two striking hills ahead of you. To the left, Hay Bluff, a short, sharp 30-minute ascent that all the family can manage, with the reward of stonking views across the entire Brecon Beacons range. The bigger hill to the right is Twmpa or, to give it its English name, Lord Hereford’s Knob. We offer no further comment on this matter.

A scenic drive

If you don’t fancy mounting the aforementioned bluffs/knobs, then carry on down the gorgeous Vale of Ewyas for 20 minutes or so, and just at the point you think you’re lost, and the roads can’t get any narrower, you’ll be at the picturesque ruins of Llanthony Priory. We’re also big fans of the tiny, gorgeous church at nearby Patrishow. Ancient country churches aren’t every child’s cup of squash, admittedly, but small children still have the capacity to be wowed by the spooky beauty of the setting, and the medieval ‘doom’ paintings on the walls.

Go gorge walking

Otherwise known as canyoning, this is the ancient Welsh art of crawling through caves, behind waterfalls, up white water cascades, and then lobbing yourself off a ledge into a deep pool. Huge fun, honestly. There are lots of other wet/dry things to do at Black Mountain Activities, who are based 15 minutes away from Hay at Three Cocks.

Go underground

Interactivities is another local company that does the full monty of outdoor pursuits. We’ve picked on caving/potholing because this happens to be a really great part of the world in which to do it. Much of the Brecon Beacons is made of limestone, which dissolves in water over millennia to create an incredible maze of underground caverns. And besides, who doesn’t look splendid in a boiler suit and helmet? We know we do.

Hire a bicycle

Drover Holidays’ shop is based right in the middle of Hay, which makes it easy to pick up bikes for the family, and spend half a day (or longer) pottering around the lanes. They’ve got tag-alongs, child trailers and baby seats, too. They also do guided MTB trails if you’re into something more gnarly, to use the technical lingo

Go pony trekking

The Black Mountains make for ideal trekking country, and the saddle of a pony is a great place from which to enjoy the best of it (wildlife is far less spooked by people on horses than people on foot, oddly). These are just a couple of the trekking centres who happily cater for families and beginners: Tregoyd Mountain Riders and Grange Trekking Centre

Be like Bear

Grylls, that is. Bushcraft courses, which teach all the basic skills of survival from fire-lighting to shelter-building, are wildly enjoyable for all the family, and may actually come in handy if Wales is ever struck by a zombie apocalypse. Bushcraft is one of the many fun challenges run by local company Outdoors@Hay.