Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Off the Beaten Path: Barter Books

Today, I'd like to tell you about another of my favorite bookstores that's just a bit off the beaten path for someone like me who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

I don't remember how I first heard of Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, England. I would imagine it was through one of the dozens of searches I do whenever Denis and I head for the UK. The first time we stopped in Alnwick (pronounced ANN-ick), I didn't even realize there was a bookshop in town. We'd stopped for Alnwick Gardens (loved the poison garden!) and Alnwick Castle-- not because scenes from the Harry Potter movies were filmed there or because it was Brancaster Castle in "Downton Abbey", but because one of my ancestors was steward at the castle back in the dim mists of time.

Our first trips to the UK fit a pattern: landing at Manchester Airport in the Midlands and then traveling on the A-1 up to visit a friend in Durham before continuing our journey north (and then west) through Scotland. The A-1 is the major North-South artery, the longest numbered road in the UK, and it gets a lot of traffic because it connects London and Edinburgh. You'll know why I'm talking about it in a couple of minutes.

Anyway, in preparing for our second trip, I stumbled across Barter Books in Alnwick, and I knew I had to go. The day we arrived in Alnwick, we were heading south and had just visited Lindisfarne Castle. It was an overcast, wet, and blustery day, and our first view of Alnwick Castle was a rather misty one.

Alnwick Castle in the distance on a rainy, blustery day.

 We continued on the road which went over the River Aln and right past the castle.

Getting closer to the castle and the town.

Now you'll understand why I talked a bit about the A-1 and all the traffic it has....

The original route of the A-1.

Originally, the A-1 went right through the town of Alnwick and that one-lane opening through one of the castle walls. I can see why the road was re-routed!

Alnwick is a busy little market town with plenty of interesting shops to explore, but I was on a mission: Barter Books, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in the UK. It's housed in the former railway station. Yes, Alnwick-- although small-- had its own railway station because, well, when you're the Duke of Northumberland and you live in a castle, you can have your own railway line that takes you practically right to your doorstep. Or is that portcullis?

Barter Books
The bookshop has a fairly decent-sized parking lot, which isn't always the case in the UK-- and it was packed with cars. Denis and I finally found a space about the furthest away you could get and still be in the lot.

Coffee and a fire-- perfect for a cold, wet day!

Gone but not forgotten.
Barter Books pays homage to its past by the model trains that run on tracks across the tops of the bookshelves. It also has another claim to fame. In 2000, the owners of the bookshop were cleaning out one of the storage areas and came across a poster printed in 1939 but never officially issued. They liked it so much that the poster was framed and hung on the wall by the cash register. Customers loved it... and so do thousands of people across the world. The words on the poster found in a storage room in Barter Books? Keep Calm and Carry On. Follow the link to Barter Books' website up at the top to see a short video about it.

Now I'm just going to let you wander through the building as I did. If you want to see any of these photos in greater detail, just left click on one of them, and they will magically appear in a brand-new window.

I brought my finds back to this table.

All these shelves are where the railroad tracks used to be.

I think it's probably easy to see why I didn't want to leave-- and why I'd love to go back. In fact, I wouldn't mind living in Alnwick if my SAD and recalcitrant joints would allow it. Beautiful countryside, more history than I'd know what to do with, the sea close by, and... Ann Cleeves' Vera Stanhope, anyone? This is part of her territory.

And who could resist living there with such a fantastic bookshop right in town? I couldn't. Could you?


  1. I'm ready to move right now right next door to that bookstore. I love the area, having seen it in the Vera Stanhope TV episodes. And that bookstore is wonderful -- all those shelves full of books and places to sit and read -- and coffee, too.

    1. One of the things you always see in the beginning credits of "Vera" is the Angel of the North. It's a huge statue that's right by the A-1. I love the area.

  2. Oh, what a great-sounding shop, Cathy!! I could stay there forever. And you took some lovely 'photos, too, so thanks.

  3. Ah bliss! Loved this post. Wish I could just get Scotty to 'beam me up' or get Samantha to twitch her nose. If I lived there, I would be offering to work for nothing or maybe I could be paid in books. Think that would work? By the way, I just finished my first 'Vera' book. Have watched no episodes yet, but I will.

    1. I really think you'd love Northumberland, Kay. it and Yorkshire are my favorite parts of England.

  4. My question is: Does Barter Books take tenants?

    1. I have a feeling that they do a very careful sweep of the premises each evening to avoid any such occurrence. ;-)


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