Alongside my series featuring quirky and wonderful places to read, I want to share some of the best places to find books to take on your adventures. So where better to start than one of Britain’s largest secondhand bookshops, housed in a former railway station? Last year, I went on holiday to the beautiful Northumbrian coast and discovered that, to pretty much everyone I know, a visit to the medieval market town of Alnwick is synonymous with visiting Barter Books (as at least 10 people told me in hallowed tones).
Thus spurred on by all my friends, I was very pleased to find that its fame is richly deserved: as the Northumbrian rain hammered on the ceiling, we were safe and warm by a log fire exploring several large rooms of books, with places to sit and digest them and a cafe serving drinks in the richly decorated former station waiting rooms. Oh yes, and there’s a train which drives around the top of the bookcases, with a different bridge type at each gap.
There is a good range of books (as you would expect for a place so large) and it’s particularly good if there’s something specific you’re looking for. While searching round the office for a large heavy book to use as a murder weapon (don’t worry, it was only a play!) my colleague showed me his Barter Books stash with pride. He’d found two books with photos from the 1840s to 1880s showing how nearly every tunnel and embankment on the Midland Mainline was built and explaining the difficulties faced during construction, which is incredibly useful when you’re trying to look after those same structures today!
Other attractions in Alnwick include Alnwick Castle and its award winning gardens, while if you’re looking to conserve your book budget, I recommend the Old Schoolhouse art gallery at Alnmouth, beautiful walks or cycle rides along the coast using the Sustrans Coast and Castles Route and a whole host of restaurants selling freshly caught fish (as Amble harbour has just reopened its fish sales!) Alnmouth Friary is also worth a visit, especially if what you’re looking for is a bookish retreat (more on that idea another day).
Where do you think I should go next in my search for the best bookshops in Britain? Leave me a comment and if I can, I’ll come and visit! I might even manage further afield…
- Places to Read: The Perky Peacock and Walmgate Bar in York
- Blood in the Ballroom: A Murder With Books?
- Barter Books also pops up in Caroline Robert’s ReadRegional book “The Torn Up Marriage”, which is set in Alnwick. Review to follow…