‘There’s something magical about a bookshop – and Britain is blessed with some of the most wonderful and enchanting bookshops in the world. To travel by bookshop is to see the best of Britain.’
So writes Louise Boland in her wonderful new book – Bookshop Tours of Britain (Fairlight Books). And few would surely disagree.
In bookshops, she says, ‘a world of enchantment is yours for the taking, from that first shudder of the door and tinkle of the bell to the warm smell of ten thousand books soft waiting’.
And in her tome she takes the reader on a journey around this world of enchantment, describing the gems she found on a countrywide tour from the Jurassic Coast of southwest England, over the mountains of Wales, through England’s industrial heartland, up to the Scottish Highlands and back via Whitby, the Norfolk broads, central London, the South Downs and Hardy’s Wessex.
Louise Boland said: ‘The beauty of bookshop touring is that no one bookshop is like any other. They might share the same ingredients – books, shelves, windows, a till or two – but they can be as different from each other as one snowflake is to the next.’
Here we present a few of her finds, including the bookshop in Bath often touted as ‘the best in the world’ thanks to its ‘Reading Spas’ and ‘surprising corners’, Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson’s quaint local bookshop and the beautiful Daunt Books on London’s Marylebone High Street.
The Eaves & Lord bookshop (aka ‘The Bookshop’), which is in a 16th-century half-timbered building in the town of Montgomery, just inside the Welsh border, is ‘an absolutely gorgeous indie’, enthuses Louise. It’s ‘very popular with the local community’, she adds, and ‘a log fire is usually burning when it’s chilly, with Welsh folk songs playing gently in the background’
Pictured is the flagship bookshop for Daunt Books on London’s Marylebone High Street. Louise says it’s the most beautiful bookshop she’s ever visited. She adds: ‘Custom-built as a bookshop in 1912 for the antiquarian bookseller Francis Edwards, its main room has a wooden, galleried interior with Edwardian skylights above, and retains the feel of an old-style club library’
The charming Book Bean & Ice Cream bookshop in the market town of Kirkham, Lancashire, is great for kids, says Louise, with its ice cream parlour and selection of children’s books, including signed editions
The Blue Bear Bookshop at Farnham in Surrey ‘is a gorgeous bookshop with a very good cafe’, writes Louise
The Bookshop in Bridport in West Dorset (pictured here with owner Antonia Squire in the doorway) is ‘small and quaint’ from the outside, writes Louise, but ‘actually a little Tardis-like, being remarkably large inside’. Plus, it is ‘nicely laid out and extremely well stocked’. She adds: ‘Do be sure to check out their window display – it is usually themed and great fun’
Fordingbridge Bookshop in Hampshire is ‘extremely welcoming’ says Louise, and ‘serves as a hub for the book-loving community’. Plus, it holds acoustic music performances and customers ‘can have a tinkle on the ivories’
This is quaint Fred’s Ambleside Bookshop in Ambleside in the Lake District. Author Arthur Ransome was a regular visitor and Louise declares it ‘exactly my kind of place’. She highlights the crooked staircase, the dark-wood panelling, the ‘maps aplenty for walkers’ and ‘carefully chosen titles for holiday reading’
At Devizes Books in Wiltshire, you can buy books and vinyl and, in normal times, attend literary lunches and dinners in the gallery (pictured). During lockdown events hosted here have been broadcast via Zoom
Louise reveals that The Edge of the World Bookshop in the heart of Penzance town centre is a ‘big shop with colourful hand-painted signage separating out its extensive ranges of fiction and non-fiction’ and that with books laid flat and in tiers on tables there are ‘plenty of browsing opportunities’. Pictured is the co-owner, James Howorth, who runs the shop with his wife, Rachael
The Dorset Bookshop, pictured, in Blandford Forum, is a ‘wonderful warren of a shop set across three floors in an 18th-century building’, says Louise. She adds: ‘It has new books downstairs but also heaps of second-hand books, antiques and curios in little nooks and crannies up the staircase and in the rooms above’
Louise thinks Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire – the start of Bronte country – is lovely and extends that praise to its bookshop, The Book Case, which stocks a ‘good range’ of fiction and children’s books, plus stationery and cards. Louise adds that the town is a great base for walks
Mr B’s Emporium in Bath – repeatedly named one of the best bookshops in the world – is a ‘must-visit’, says Louise. She writes that it has ‘an ethos of making sure every customer finds fantastic reads that are just right for them, a bespoke reading subscription service and “Reading Spas”, where a “bibliotherapist” team member chats through your reading tastes over tea and cake and draws up a recommended reading list’. The shop itself? ‘Full of surprising corners and book nooks,’ adds Louise
Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire, is a ‘must-visit’, writes Louise. She was delighted with its huge new and second-hand section, the big children’s department and the fact that it sells sheet music. And bonus points, too, for the vegetarian cafe
Much Ado Books in Alfriston, East Sussex, is ‘great fun’, says Louise. It has this cute little book hut in a courtyard as well as a collection of books in the porch and a main book room with ‘carefully chosen stock’. And when Louise visited, there were chickens ‘running free’
‘Gorgeous and well-stocked.’ That’s how Louise describes Topping & Company in St Andrews
The White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, Wiltshire, is housed in a 16th-century townhouse and as well as selling new books, it stocks rare and collectable tomes
Keen on books about vampires? The Whitby Bookshop in Whitby is the place to go. It’s a ‘delight’, says Louise, and also stocks ‘well-chosen titles on all sorts of other things’, she points out, along with homeware and vinyl
Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson is a resident in Steyning in West Sussex and its bookshop, The Steyning Bookshop, does her proud, with a large kids’ book section that includes books she’s signed and a giant red wooden train (made by owner Gudrun’s uncle Martin). Apparently, the many events held here feature home-made cake and biscuits, reveals Louise