Like all book lovers, I have the problem of buying too many books. If I walk into a bookshop, or any shop for that matter, if it has books, I will find them. In my teenage years I spent a lot of time hunting through the shelves in the big chain bookshops like WHSmiths or Waterstones. I would disappear during family supermarket shopping trips to hunt down the one aisle with books. I was also a frequent visitor at my school’s library, where I first discovered Terry Pratchett.
My parents like some books, but they’re not particularly bookish people, and due to overwhelming social anxiety, I didn’t discover other book buying options until I was well into adulthood. Though you can probably imagine my surprise and excitement when I discovered independent bookshops all over the place and even towns dedicated to books!
Now that I’m a bit more worldly, I am going to share with you my favourite places to buy books….
1) Book Towns.
I never knew that towns dedicated to books even existed but there are three right here in the U.K. and dozens more worldwide. Hay-on-Wye is the official Welsh book town and arguably the most famous in the U.K. With over a dozen bookshops, it all started with a man called Richard Booth in 1962. The town now has an annual literary festival known as Hay Festival. Bookshops in and around Hay-on-Wye
Wigtown is Scotland’s official book town, and was planned to regenerate a depressed town. It’s first annual festival was held in 1999 and it is now home to several bookshops and book cafes. The now famous ‘The Bookshop’ owned by Shaun Bythell, author of ‘A Diary Of A Bookseller’, boasts over a mile of shelving with approximately 100,000 books. Bookshops | Wigtown Booktown (wigtown-booktown.co.uk)
Sedbergh in Cumbria became England’s official book town in 2003. Though not as well-known or as big as its U.K. counterparts, its books, rustic charm, shops and walking trails draw people in from all over the world. Home to a couple of bookshops (one of which is enormous), shops and a few book cafes, you can find books hidden all over this rural town. Our Book Town Story – Visit Sedbergh
The great thing about book towns is the choice. There’s always several different shops to explore and to buy books from. Most of these shops tend to sell new and second-hand books for ridiculously good prices. There are also specialists with antiquarian gems you may want for yourself or to gift to others. An overnight stay in a book town is well worth the trip, just make sure you have an empty suitcase for all the books you’re going to buy!
2) Independent Bookshops.
Independent bookshops can be new bookshops, second-hand bookshops, or both. There’s literally hundreds of them in the U.K., a quick google search will tell you where you can find them. Run by hardworking individuals and families, independent bookshops will often stock popular authors as well as lesser known authors. Independent bookshops tend to be part of the community, many host events and book signings. I personally love searching for second-hand, independent bookshops, because you never know what you will find.
3) Book Fairs.
Another thing that I sadly missed out on my youth, but have discovered as an adult. There are dozens of annual book festivals and fairs up and down the country. From the major book festivals in York, Edinburgh, Hay and Wigtown, to the smaller book fairs in towns and village halls. Depending on the size of the venue, there may be a dozen or several dozen book dealers with a selection of their books for sale. It’s a great opportunity to find rare books, as well as general books. At big book fairs you may have talks from renowned authors and book signings, at smaller book fairs you may find tea, coffee and lunch available. I enjoy small book fairs and have found books by well-known authors and authors I had never heard of before. Book Fairs in the UK | Rare and Vintage Books | PBFA
So, if you’re planning a trip, or visiting a new town or city in the U.K., be sure to look out for independent book shops and local book fairs.