Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 01 Sep 2019

Barter Books, Alnwick, Northumberland

There can’t be too many bookshops that are tourist destinations in their own right but I would guess Barter Books in Alnwick is one of them. It’s roots go back to the early 1990s and has built in size and scope in a pretty steady fashion since then.

One of the features of the shop is its sheer size and location. Housed in the old 1887 North Eastern Railways passenger service station (the line closed with the Beeching vandalism of the late 1960s), the shop now fills the whole building offering second hand books, a café and even mural art and a model railway operating on overhead tracks.

The absence of a railway into Alnwick makes getting to the shop quite difficult unless you’re on holiday in the location and this has prevented us getting there before now. But the effort has turned out to be well rewarded because it’s really quite an experience. For a start, I’m unused to such huge numbers of visitors – many clearly there just for the experience rather than to buy books. I can quite understand that because it’s all be very impressively done and the wall murals – The Famous Writers, The Railway Mural and the Tennyson Installation – are worth seeing in their own right.

But I want to focus on the books. As you might expect, just about every subject is represented in shelving that loops and runs around the walls and which make a freestanding labyrinth that it’s easy to get lost in. All well and good – but, for me, that’s pretty much where the good news ends because, for this book collector at least, I thought the quality of the stock really didn’t match the extraordinary setting. I really didn’t expect to leave empty-handed but that’s exactly what happened because it soon became clear to me that this is all about having to keep acres of shelving stacked and this means you can’t be too selective about what you put on those shelves. And maybe collectible books aren’t what these customers are after.

The books I would consider to be interesting to collectors are relatively small in number and kept in cupboards behind locked sliding glass doors and getting to them is a bit of a faff. The couple I did finally get to examine were, I think, a touch on the expensive side for the condition.

So, despite being a little disappointed with the actual books it’s impossible to deny that a visit there is an extraordinary experience and one I’m really glad to have had.


Terry Potter

September 2019