Earlier this year, I was on holiday in Yorkshire and my hubby had gone off to the bike shop leaving me to wander around the shops. Some time later I was browsing at the back of a book shop, picking up delights, when I heard his familiar voice. “Caroline in a bookshop. How unusual.” I’d lost track of time during one of my favourite occupations.
Wherever we go, I do like to explore the local bookshops. So in this month’s blog I offer you a small selection of the wonderful bookshops I’ve come across in my travels. I’m not claiming this to be an exhaustive list as I’ve not been everywhere, so I’m always open to new suggestions. My criteria in selecting this list was – if I’ve left the shop with more than £50 worth of books, then it’s definitely a success.
Oh, and I was going to include several of my favourites from my home town Edinburgh, but realised there were just too many, so I’m going to do a special blog just about Edinburgh bookshops, at a later date.
1. Mr B’s Emporium, 13-15 John Street, Bath, BA1 2JL.There is so much culture to absorb in this amazing city but do leave plenty of time to visit this fantastic bookshop. A labyrinth of beautiful rooms, I guarantee you’ll find something new.
(My special find… a paperback edition of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Loved the film, never read the book. Well these lovely bookshop people felt the same about the film, and the book was out of print so they published a copy themselves!)
2. Scarthin books, Cromford, Matlock DE4 3QF, No holiday to the Peak District would be complete without a visit to this place. Lots of reading nooks, a lovely mix of gifts, new, second hand, and music books, plus a delicious and cosy cafe. You could spend all day there. (I probably did).
(My special find -Kazuo Ishiguro – My Twentieth Century Evening, and Ted Hughes Poetry in the Making)
3. Blackwells, 48-51 Broad Street, Oxford OX1 3BQ. Do you remember the lovely independent chain, Ottakers? Was sold to Waterstones which resulted in the closure or take over of most of their premises. Well now Blackwells is up for sale, rumoured to be looking at the same fate, so this is a valedictory; not only to all the lovely stores around the UK, but in particular to the original and largest. I used to go to Oxford once a year for work, and I always made sure I had a free afternoon (and empty suitcase) to visit this store.
(My special find – too numerous to list. See above, empty suitcase)
4. The Watermill, Mill Street, Aberfeldy, PH15 2BG. Worth a detour off the A9 heading north to visit this little gem. It’s a medium size shop with a fantastic selection, well arranged, and with an excellent coffee shop downstairs.
(My special find – have to mention The Other Side of Stone by Linda Cracknell, a local author)
5. Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT. The largest bookshop in the UK, and still independent, I have a love/hate relationship with this shop going back many years. Back in the 1980s they had this weird system where they shelved books by publisher and not genre, so it was hard to find anything. Then they had a two queue system to pay, which was so annoying. I often visited but would give up and go to Compendium or Dillons instead. Now it’s run by friendly helpful staff and contains miles and miles of books, all properly arranged. An absolute joy.
(Too many finds to list, but do look at their young adult section – it’s enormous.)
6. Ullapool Bookshop AND The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool. The tiny north western town of Ullapool boasts not one, but two fantastic bookshops, and they’re both worth a visit. The Ceilidh Place is also a bunk house, hotel and restaurant, so if you’re exhausted after your shopping, you could always stay the night.
(My special finds… I usually pick up books there which coincide with the wonderful Ullapool Book Festival – held every May, so over the years I’ve bagged an eclectic selection.)
7. Barter Books, Alnwick Station, Northumberland NE66 2NP. Since discovering this place, every journey south involves stopping off here for an hour or two. (The cafe is well worth it). The system here is that you can bring a bag of books, have them valued, and then you can spend that credit in the shop (hence the name, barter). You can of course also buy things for cash. Everything is second-hand, and as it is located in former engine sheds, there is space for everything. It’s the largest second hand bookshop in the UK, really well organised and is apparently the biggest employer in Alnwick.
(My special finds – ancient Enid Blytons in hardback, some old Marge Piercy books now out of print, and an Elizabeth David cookbook)
8. Wigtown, Dumfries and Galloway. A whole town devoted to bookshops (and with an excellent book festival in September). All of the shops are different – there is even one you can book for a week to stay in and run yourself (The Open Book). Another interesting one is the sci-fi fantasy At The Sign of the Dragon which is mostly in the garage of the owner’s house but seems to have also morphed into the rest of the house, including the kitchen. Each of the seventeen or eighteen shops deserve a browse, so you’ll not get away quickly. My favourite one, last time I visited, was Well-Read Books, but as stock varies all the time from shop to shop, this could change.
(My special finds – an old children’s fairy story book from the 1930s called The youngest omnibus which has now found its way into a novel I’m writing)
9. The Wadebridge Bookshop 43 Molesworth St, Wadebridge Cornwall PL27 7DR. Every seaside holiday is going to be spoilt at some point by rain, but Wadebridge bookshop will help you out here. It’s small but with a great selection, well curated. There used to be an amazing craft shop just a few doors down – Arty Crafts, but this has been shut for a while. I do hope it opens up again.
10. The Bookmark, 34 High St, Grantown-on-Spey PH26 3EH. This is one of the tiniest on the list, but it is stuffed to the gills by the owner, Marjory, for whom this is a labour of love surely, as how can a bookshop with so much stock survive in a tiny town like this? But it does, and they hold readings and events as well. If you’re in the Cairngorms and the weather is poor, pop in for a couple of hours.
So there you have it! Oh, and I didn’t mention the bookshop in Yorkshire, did I? Kemps General Store, 11 Market Place, Malton, YO17 7LP. Doesn’t sound like a bookshop, does it? But I still managed to spend over £50. Oh dear.