Judging by the response to my Facebook check-in, most people don’t know about one of my favourite places.
Of those who have visited Barter Books, a fair proportion do seem to love it. It only seems fair to share.
The organisers of our Reading Group introduced us in 2005. We had been drawn to weekend in Northumberland by Alnwick Castle and Gardens, literally using the excuse that it was where some Harry Potter scenes were filmed.
After buying magnificent witches hats from the shop in the treehouse, we had fun scaring the bejesus out of small children. But those wise women knew there was another fantastic attraction just a few hundred yards away…
In essence, Barter Books is ‘just’ a secondhand bookshop. Albeit one of the largest in the country, with an online catalogue and shipping around the world. But for booklovers and bookworms, it’s a joyous place.
Much of the atmosphere no doubt comes from the architecture. Based in an old Victorian station building, it retains high ceilings, neat tiling, and open fires.
Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf look down from a mural of famous authors. A toy train trundles overhead in one room, ensuring there’s never a library-like silence.
Then there are, of course, seemingly acres of books, categorised into subjects some of which you’d forgotten existed. Religion alongside Haynes Manuals. Interior Design tomes not far from Beano Annuals. Books for a couple of quid or thousands of pounds.
It’s a place to marvel at the diversity of human knowledge. And the history of that knowledge – how much we’ve learnt and how times and fashions have changed. Many 1970s Chinese cookery books grace the bargain shelves…
Here, you can browse, and read, and lose hours, for next to nothing. Have coffee or tea in front of the fire and you’ll be asked to donate 30p. Dunk a ginger or chocolate chip cookie and you’ll still have change from a pound.
There are bookmarks, which are promotional but also free and lovely. And if they do mind you taking ten for your Reading Group, they are too polite to say so.
No one notices how long you wander; knowing perhaps that one volume or another is likely to prove irresistible. Even then, popular paperbacks cost less than the Amazon delivery charge, and there is a discount of 10% if you spend more than £30 on books.
Revisiting for the first time in a while recently we prepared to leave our dog in the car, with a casual lie of ‘we won’t be long’. It turned out even dogs are welcome, with treats and water supplied.
The calmness of the place somehow rubbed off on him and he patiently followed us around the bookshelves. That is, until the smell of bacon butties reached his nostrils, and we were dragged towards the station buffet.
Barter Books is also home to the original Keep Calm and Carry On poster. Found in a box of books bought at auction, it was framed and put up above the cash desk, where it can still be seen. The video below explains.
Where are your favourite places? Share them by writing for Henpicked.
Find out more…
Barter Books can be found in Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 2NP.