Juliette and Lucinda’s tour of West/Central UK indies on a cold spring day!
A terribly important [wonderful] perk of the job of bookseller is having [wanting] to check out what other bookshops are doing. Lucinda and I bravely stepped up to the challenge earlier in March this year and took a very serious [jolly] business trip to some of the very best indies around to meet their teams of booksellers, swap ideas and drink copious amounts of tea.
Independent bookshops embody the character of the booksellers that own and run them and reflect back the character of the communities they serve. There’s nothing like visiting indies that are geographically quite close to each other, to see just how different and unique they can be.
Armed with a take-away coffee, we sloshed through the melting snow up the M4 to our first stop – the edge of the Malvern hills in beautiful Monmouth where Rossiter Books nestles in a characterful street in the centre of town. It provides a haven of well-curated books for locals and welcomes tourists with a fabulous collection of local history, travel guides and maps. We are greeted by massively experienced bookseller Andy Rossiter who owns, along with wife Victoria, a similarly light and airy sister shop in Ross-on-Wye. At the back of the shop, a large low-level table, with nursery size chairs keeps the younger book lovers happy. We were impressed with the great gifts and stationery there too and Andy and team have clearly established themselves well within their community with an active program of events and great customer service.
The next stop on our tour took us to Book-ish in stunning Crickhowell in the heart of the Brecons. It has recently expanded into a new property and runs a packed programme of events in their beautiful glass and wood framed new café space which extends beyond the traditional author talks. They’ve started hosting a board games evening. Tables, refreshment and ambience all provided, the punters just bring their strategic heads along! There’s also a cosy “den” downstairs where ‘8 and upwards’ children’s books can be found. It has the atmosphere of a secret club and we wish we were quite a few years younger so we could hang out there too. A little peckish by this point, we had a delicious Welsh Rarebit in their busy café which really hit the spot.
On northwards, sweeping through incredible countryside to Oswestry and the award-winning Booka Bookshop. These guys have an amazing reputation and it is well-deserved. Their stunning window displays stamp individuality onto the high street before you even enter the shop. Artistically adept Louisa hand draws designs on to the glass in what can only be described as a labour of love – all the more poignant given that her creations have a limited lifespan.
Through the windows, you glimpse the café tables and the bookshelves behind and are drawn in. Carrie and Tim Morris have created a dynamic team – who between them run a wide array of book groups for all ages and reading tastes, including the Cosy Crime club which meets in the afternoon…how civilised? Their packed event programme ensures the people of Oswestry have access to a dazzling array of authors. The café is fully integrated into the bookshop so that the person pouring the perfect latte will also be able to dispense book advice to accompany your coffee – not a bad combination!
If you ever find yourself in Shrewsbury with an under five, children’s bookshop Button and Bear is your dream shop made flesh. A dedicated buggy park and a fantastic downstairs story time space with an enchanted forest theme – replete with artificial grass flooring - demonstrate how the shop has been carefully designed with both the practicalities of family life and children’s enjoyment at the forefront. Becky and Jess at the counter were bubbling over with enthusiasm and fun that spilled out into the café and play area. As a champion for the next generation of booklovers, owners Louise and Jon Chadwick are a class apart.
Off next to Wenlock books. Nestling in a medieval high street in the picturesque village of Much Wenclock, the shop has all the wooden beams and nooks and crannies you could wish for. On the ground floor are the new books – displayed alongside quirky artworks – many given to owner Anna Dreda by grateful creatives who see the shop as a supportive hub. We love the idea of the knitting and poetry sessions where crafty types can combine pearl stitches with pearls of wisdom. Upstairs is a haven for antiquarian book lovers and there are chairs and a tea/coffee making area to aid browsing comfort. Chatting to Julie at the counter, it’s clear that Wenlock Books is as much a part of the local scene as the clock in the town square.
As we drove back to Bath after two days of browsing and chitchat we mused on the wonderful state of indie bookshops and the welcoming teams of booksellers. Their creativity, passion, individuality and warmth bring something so special to the high street, wherever their location – and they all make a mean cup of tea to boot!
In our next post – highlights from Juliette’s solo tour of some fabulous London Indies….
For a list of all of the great reads recommended by other indies on our Bookshop Road Trip, click here!