Britain is blessed with some of the most wonderful and enchanting bookshops in the world. And the best news? That so many of them are found within areas of outstanding beauty, or in towns rich with industrial, historic or literary connections.
I first started touring Britain by bookshop after founding a small literary publishing house, Fairlight Books. My travels took me to the heart of Britain, to its little towns and villages and I discovered that travelling by bookshop brings you not only to fantastic bookshops, but also to some fascinating places. Here’s my selection of just ten of them.
The Book Corner and The Piece Hall, Halifax
You could easily walk past the spectacular Piece Hall, right in the centre of Halifax, without realising it is there. Built in 1779 as a centre for trading pieces of cloth, worsted and woollen goods, the neo-classical hall is arranged around a central courtyard and houses hundreds of little rooms once used by wool merchants to transact their business. Now they are taken over by independent shops and cafés. Tucked away on one side is The Book Corner, a gorgeous little indie where the pieces sold are no longer cloth but beautiful books.
The Book Corner, 23–24 Rustic Level, The Piece Hall, Halifax, HX1 1RE
The Bookmark and Speyside Malt Whiskey, Grantown-on-Spey
Speyside is malt whisky country and has the largest number of whisky distilleries of any region in Scotland. The River Spey lies in warm, fertile countryside, and runs with soft water down from the Cairngorms, creating a light and refined Scotch. There is a Speyside Malt Whisky Trail which runs along the route of the river Spey visiting distilleries. Right in the middle is Grantown-on-Spey where you can find the bookshop, The Bookmark. With books piled high to the ceiling and a convivial welcome from owner Marjory, this one is not to be missed.
The Bookmark, 34 High Street, Grantown-on-Spey, PH26 3EH
News from Nowhere and the Maritime Mercantile City, Liverpool
Liverpool’s World Heritage Site status has ensured the preservation and restoration of its historic docks, including the Pier Head, as well as a cultural quarter and merchant’s quarter. Its iconic bookshop News From Nowhere has been run as a radical not-for-profit venture since 1974. Its stock champions black and LGBTQ+ writers and reflects the pride the locals have in Liverpool’s industrial and multicultural heritage.
News From Nowhere, 96 Bold Street, Liverpool, L1 4HY
Falmouth Bookseller and the South West Coast Path, Cornwall
The South West Coast Path, one of Britain’s longest waymarked footpaths, stretches over 630 miles around the South West coast of England. Something of a roller coaster, with high cliff passes, rocky coves and remote wooded creeks, it’s challenging but rewarding walking. The scenery through the Roseland Heritage Coast towards Falmouth is particularly stunning. Falmouth is a pretty cool town. It has art galleries and independent stores aplenty, and the whole place has a really creative buzz to it. It also hosts one branch of a very lovely little chain of bookshops in the south-west region, and Falmouth Bookseller, a gorgeous bookshop there is great for browsing, with an excellent children’s section.
Falmouth Bookseller, 21 Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG
Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop and Museum of Modern Art, Wales
It’s very tempting, when touring Wales to head straight for its mountains or beaches, but linger a little in the pretty market town of Machynlleth and visit the Museum of Modern Art, Wales. It houses a permanent collection of works from 1900 by artists living or working in Wales and a few doors down is the Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop. This gorgeous shop stocks new and second-hand books, with titles in Welsh and English plus beautiful editions of poetry, plus art, architecture and photography books.
Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop, Glasfryn, Penrallt Street, Machynlleth, SY20 8AJ
The Stripey Badger Bookshop and the Yorkshire Dales, Grassington
The Yorkshire Dales is some of the best walking country in Britain. It doesn’t attract hordes of coach-bound day-trippers like the Lakes, you can hike to spectacular scenery, and yet you are never too far from a good bed for the night. One of my favourite bookshops, The Stripey Badger Bookshop, can be found right in the heart of the Dales in the cobbled market square of Grassington. Run by James and his mother, Linda, it’s a very beautiful bookshop with lots of carefully hand-picked titles. And James’s aunt, Jackie runs the café next door offering home cooking and Yorkshire specialities.
The Stripey Badger Bookshop, 7 The Square, Grassington, BD23 5AQ
Mainstreet Trading Company and Abbotsford, St Boswells
The Scottish Borders is often called Britain’s best-kept secret. With rolling hills and a rugged coastline, it is full of historic houses, ruined castles and abbeys, speaking to its turbulent past. Abbotsford was once home to Sir Walter Scott, one of Scotland’s best-known authors, wealthy enough to afford a great estate from the success of his novels and poems.
Visitors can see the rooms where he wrote and view Walter Scott memorabilia. A few miles to the east, at St Boswells, is The Mainstreet Trading Company, a bookshop with a café and a deli selling charcuterie, cheese, craft beer and coffee. The deli and café have an emphasis on top-quality products from independent food producers and there’s also a gorgeous homeware department with carefully curated products, many from independent suppliers, global co-operatives and local designers.
The Mainstreet Trading Company, Main Street, St Boswells, TD6 0AT
Blackwell’s and the Bodleian Library, Oxford
Blackwell’s is one of the oldest bookshops in Britain, founded on its premises by Benjamin Henry Blackwell in 1879, it expanded from one room to take over two buildings. Its famous Norrington Room, carved into the basement in the 1960s was the largest single room selling books in the world at the time of its creation, with over three miles of shelving. The bookshop is surrounded by the ancient colleges of the University of Oxford and is a stone’s throw from the Bodleian, one of the oldest libraries in Britain with more than thirteen million printed works stored there. All books published in the UK must have a copy sent to them by law, meaning their exhibitions are always packed with literary treasures.
Blackwell’s, 48–51 Broad Street, Oxford, OX1 3BQ
Bookshops and Birdwatching, Suffolk Coast
The Sandlings Walk is a long-distance path that follows the Suffolk coastline. The stretch from Woodbridge to Aldeburgh and beyond journeys through purple heathland and flat open coastal lands criss-crossed by reedy canals. Along the way, there are nesting skylarks and plovers in the summer, redshanks and lapwings in in the spring, and in winter the tidal pools attract snow buntings, harriers and storms of roosting starlings. If you are there in the evening you might also hear nightingales singing in the woods. There are two fantastic indie bookshops in Woodbridge and another in Aldeburgh, and all of them will stock the odd birding book to help you identify your sightings.
Woodbridge Emporium, 66 Thoroughfare, Woodbridge, IP12 1AL; Browsers Bookshop, 70 Thoroughfare, Woodbridge, IP12 1AL; Aldeburgh Bookshop, 42 High Street, Aldeburgh, IP15 5AB
Stanfords and the grande dames, London
The centre of London is home to many of Britain’s oldest bookshops – the grande dames. There is Hatchards of Piccadilly, founded in 1797 by the publisher John Hatchard, which has been at 187 Piccadilly since 1801, and Daunt Books in Marylebone. Custom-built as a bookshop in 1912 for the antiquarian bookseller Francis Edwards, it has a wooden, galleried interior with Edwardian skylights. And of course there is Stanfords in Covent Garden. Founded in 1853 by Edward Stanford, for over 150 years it has been supplying maps and travel accessories to British travellers – from arctic explorers like Ernest Shackleton and pioneering long-distance pilots like Amy Johnson, to governments, wartime Prime Ministers and kings.
Stanfords, 7 Mercer Walk, London, WC2H 9FA
For more bookshop tours….
Louise Boland’s book ‘Bookshop Tours of Britain’ has eighteen tours of Britain that take in picturesque towns and villages, places rich with industrial, literary and historical heritage, plus a host of fantastic bookshops to try.