Despite being a southern gal I’m a big fan of the north of England (to me The North starts just below Sheffield), having spent three years at university in York, then eight happy years living in Leeds. Leeds inspired my writing in all kinds of ways, of which more will be written one day.
Anyway, I hit the north at the end of July for a holiday in Northumberland, somewhere I’d always wanted to visit. What a fabulous part of the country it is – long empty beaches, ancient castles, huge skies, lovely people, and – naturally – great fish and chips. It also has a respectable literary history, and some of our best writers for children and young adults come from the north east. My enduring favourite (see Books I wish I’d written) is David Almond, but there’s also Anne Fine and Eva Ibbotson as close runners-up. Newcastle is home of the wonderful Seven Stories centre for children’s books, the first of its kind. Alnwick where we stayed is famous for its castle used in the first Harry Potter film – so it has literary connections once removed.
I had lots of ‘must dos’ for the holiday, but top of the list was Barter Books, which could be the best second hand bookshop in the whole country, if not the whole world. It’s housed in Alnwick’s old railway station and has a lovely little model railway running along the top of the book stacks which makes a funny rushing sound as it passes, like sudden rain on a glass roof. They’ve used every inch of the station without really modernising it much, so the waiting room, ticket office and platform areas are still fully recognisable. There are endless book stacks, and sofas or chairs strategically placed for browsing. Time usually stands still for me in book shops, but in this one it seemed to vanish like Harry Potter onto Platform 9 and 3/4 – I came up for air after about two hours only because my friend texted her fancy for a cup of tea.
I don’t think Barter Books’ website really does it justice, so with this blog in mind I took a few photos (click on them to enlarge). These don’t really do it justice either, so you’ll just have to pay it a visit to get the full experience.