Us bibliophiles always have favourite book haunts and I have them in all my favourite places. In fact, it’s rare for me to go on holiday in the U.K. without searching out a bookshop to visit. For me it’s part of the joy of going on holiday. Last weekend, me and my other half had a short stay in the beautiful village of Warkworth, Northumberland. We only had a three night stay so I had to edit what we would do; of course book shopping had to make the cut. As my fellow book lovers know, the best place to go for second hand books in this area is Barter Books in Alnwick.
In Country Living magazine, March 2020, a feature on Barter Books claimed that just as books transport us to another time and place, so can the best bookshops. Housed in the grand Victorian building of Alnwick’s train station, this is a bookshop the size of a warehouse! When I enter a bookshop I want the sense that time has stood still. Nothing going on outside matters in the time I spend browsing for books and whoever goes with me has to accept that we’re going to lose hours. Barter Books makes that easy because it’s such a spectacle inside. From the foyer full of paperback fiction, complete with a reading area by the fire, to the till area decorated with an incredible mural and working train set that whizzes around above your head, there’s so much to look at. The large room at the back houses huge shelves packed with books on every subject from cookery to psychology, and my particular favourite A-Z hardback fiction.
Glass cabinets running the length of the building house collector’s, first editions, and signed books. Here and there, large antique tables with comfy chairs allow you to take a break from browsing and look through your books before purchase. Next door, the station cafe serves brilliant breakfasts, snacks and cakes when you need an energy boost. I have lost whole days in this brilliant bookshop. This time I picked up a mix of paper and hard books that are new to me, a couple of books from the back catalogue of newly discovered authors and hardback copies of books I’ve had as a digital ARC or mobi file, but I’ve enjoyed them so much I need a proper copy. I have to set aside money for when I’m going up to Northumberland, everything else I do in my visit tends to be as simple as walking the dog on the beach and photographing beautiful places. So I can be sure of a little cash for books, even though I have no shelf room left.
This was one of my first trips out of the house since lockdown. We realised I hadn’t been in a shop since February. I have multiple sclerosis and a few breathing problems so I’ve had to be extra careful. This trip was incredibly daunting, I was surprised how anxious it made me feel to be near so many people when we stopped at motorway services. However, this trip to Barter Books was brilliant because customers were very well looked after without it being intrusive or alarming. For now, the coffee machine has gone from the reading area. But there was a hand cleaning station, a limited number of people in the store, everyone wearing masks and keeping their distance. In such a difficult and scary time, what I found most hopeful and reassuring was the queue of people wrapped round the station building waiting to go in. The book seller observed that it was amazing to see people willing to queue to get into a bookshop and I couldn’t agree more. We do use reading to escape, but we also use stories to make sense of our world and what’s happening within it. What a treat it is to have beautiful bookshops like this to enable that vital access to stories. If you’re in Northumberland do try to pay them a visit.