Word on the Water, London
Bringing a little Parisian vibe to London, Word on the Water can be found on the Regent’s Canal towpath in an old canal boat, just off York Way in the rejuvenated and buzzy district of King’s Cross. I discovered it relatively recently, but it’s a great bookshop with new and second-hand titles carefully chosen by owner Jonathan. Bookshop dog Star usually keeps a sleepy eye on the passersby from her spot by the door. Visit on a sunny afternoon (it opens from 12 to 7pm each day) and combine your trip with a picnic on the embankment above or a visit to one of the alfresco restaurants and bars in the square nearby.
Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross
The Grove Bookshop, West Yorkshire
The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley is a classic-looking bookshop, with large curved windows outside and decor like an old study inside, including dark-wood bookshelves. It carries an extensive range, with tables of books laid out for leisurely browsing. You could easily lose an hour or two here: I certainly did the first time I visited. Downstairs there are globes, maps and a good-sized sheet music department – a rare find these days. Afterwards, take a bracing walk up to the nearby heather moorland for spectacular views and the chance to spot red grouse and short-eared owls.
10 The Grove
The Edinburgh Bookshop
In the city’s leafy Bruntsfield area, The Edinburgh Bookshop is a great destination for younger readers, with fun murals and snug areas perfect for story time. Marie Moser, the owner, told me the shop specialises in helping to find books for children who are struggling with their reading. It also works to support the Literacy Trust. There’s a great range of adult books too, with bookshelves that go up to the ceiling – a favourite feature of mine in a bookshop. Incidentally, Muriel Spark, author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, lived on the same road as the bookshop and attended the local James Gillespie’s High School, which must have been the inspiration for her Marcia Blaine School for Girls.
219 Bruntsfield Place
Woodbridge Emporium, Suffolk
The market town of Woodbridge is on the River Debden, close to the Sutton Hoo estate, where archaeological finds from the sixth and seventh centuries have been made since the 1930s, including an entire buried Anglo-Saxon ship and the wonderfully preserved Sutton Hoo helmet. Combine a visit to Sutton Hoo with a walk along the river, looking out for curlew, black-tailed godwit, redshank and kestrels, and then visit Woodbridge’s bookshops. As well as a good range of new and secondhand books, The Woodbridge Emporium, in the centre of the town, stocks a selection of loose-leaf teas.
Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop, Powys
In Machynlleth, close to the southern edge of the Snowdonia national park, the Pen’rallt Gallery Bookshop is a gorgeous shop stocking new and secondhand books in both Welsh and English. It also sells stationery from independent producers, beautiful editions of poetry, and many art, architecture and photography books. The shop’s window displays often contain artwork by local artists and photographers, which proves a great draw for locals and visitors alike, particularly with the Wales Museum of Modern Art just a few doors down.
Glasfryn, Penrallt Street, Machynlleth
Round Table Books, London
As the publisher of a small press, I’m always very envious of publishing houses that have their own bookshop. Born from a pop-up shop on Coldharbour Lane in Brixton, south London, which was supposed to only be there for a week, Round Table Books is now the permanent home of indie press Knights Of. The base was secured following a crowdfunding campaign that drew support from all over the world. The bookshop stocks inclusive stories for readers of all ages, including books published by Knights Of, which specialises in children’s books that look at the world from many diverse perspectives.
97 Granville Arcade, Coldharbour Lane
Book Corner, North Yorkshire
The Victorian seaside town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea has a peaceful, understated elegance, with grassy clifftops and rows of Victorian townhouses facing out to sea. The town was the vision of a rich industrialist, Henry Pease, whose family acquired the land to realise it. Below the cliffs a pleasure garden – also part of Henry’s vision – runs along the side of Skelton beck, and a water-balanced funicular, the Saltburn Cliff Tramway (temporarily closed in the pandemic) was built to bring people down to the garden. The town’s bookshop, Book Corner, is as lovely as Saltburn itself, with a great range of paperbacks, particularly contemporary fiction. The owner, Jenna, is an avid reader, so if you are stuck for what to read next, pop in and she is bound to be able to offer a recommendation.
24 Milton Street
This shop, founded here in 1879, is in the centre of Oxford, between the ancient colleges of Trinity and Balliol. Blackwell’s was originally just one small room at what is now the front of the shop, but expanded to take up the rest of the building as well as the one next door. It later dug downwards, creating the Norrington Room in its basement – at the time the largest single room selling books in the world. It’s impossible to go into Blackwell’s and not come out with a stack of books you didn’t expect to buy. Its stock is wide-ranging and carefully sourced; it supports and stocks small publishers, and has a secondhand section upstairs stuffed with classic paperbacks, as well as a rare books section, a sheet music department and, across the road, a separate store selling art books and posters that adorn the walls of student rooms all over the city.
27 Broad Street
Bookbugs and Dragon Tales, Norwich
The wonderfully named children’s bookshop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales opened in 2019 but is already an essential community hub. When able to, it runs a full and very popular schedule of children’s activities such as Little Dragons Drama Class, Babybugs Bounce & Rhyme, Storytime and Baby Signing, but there are classes for adults too – mindfulness and creative writing as well as art classes, book clubs and craft workshops. It also has a cafe with a great selection of cakes, and the walls are decorated with murals painted and designed by local and visiting artists and illustrators.
41–43, Timber Hill
October Books, Southampton
In Portswood, a suburb of Southampton, October Books is an ethical bookshop run as a co-op and owned by the local community and staff members. It has been running for more than 40 years and has a wide range of titles, particularly on world politics, and sells fairtrade produce and environment-friendly cleaning products and toiletries. At the back of the shop is a space used for community organisations, events and gatherings. There is a lot of love for this bookshop in the community – a couple of years back when it moved premises, the locals organised a chain of volunteers stretching through the streets from the old site to convey the stock to the new store.
189 Portswood Road, Portswood