The Book Shop

There’s a small, spooky little town in the south-west of Scotland, with rather an unfortunate history, that has become known as Scotland’s Book Town.

It’s called Wigtown and it’s home to more than 20 book-related businesses (quite impressive for a place with a population of only about 1000), many of which are second-hand bookshops. One of them claims to be the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland:

Those twisting pillars on either side of the door are made of piled up books covered in wax:

I remember the first time I went to Wigtown I had an unnerving sense of unease. I had no idea why I felt the way I did, but I had a strong impression that something wasn’t quite right. I’ve since visited it with three different friends, on separate occasions, and to my astonishment each one of them, with no prompting from me, reported the same strange feeling. My parents went there before I did and they felt it too.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be telling you this, in case you want to visit the place yourself and will now be predisposed to sensing something, but I feel I can’t write a post about Wigtown without mentioning it. If you’re curious, the explanation my parents gave me for it, and which seems quite convincing to me, relates to the story of the Wigtown Martyrs.

On to more cheerful matters – books galore! Despite the unsettling atmosphere of Wigtown, I do enjoy visiting it because of the marvellous range of bookshops on offer, and The Book Shop is definitely one of the highlights:

When I was there in April I noticed that a couple of the bookshops had closed down, perhaps due to lack of business (Galloway is a pretty quiet corner of the country and Wigtown is a very sleepy little backwater), but a fair number seem to be thriving and are still packed to the gunwhales with interesting tomes. The Book Shop has many different nooks and crannies, and books covering virtually every topic imaginable. If you like books, it is an absolute joy to wander round:

Amongst all the books, there are some curious ornaments, including a violin-playing skeleton suspended from the ceiling. I assume the poor fellow was hoisted up there after he’d passed on, and didn’t actually expire in situ, violin in hand:

Beneath the skeleton, in the bottom left hand corner of the above photo, you might make out a table with paper cups and things on it. This is a tea and coffee station, from where one is free to help oneself to hot beverages. There are a couple of comfy chairs next to it, upon which you may perch while you imbibe, and peruse a book or two. When I visited, the fire in the fireplace was blazing away and it was very cosy:

Knowing that I was bound for another bookshop that contained a more elaborate tearoom, I didn’t indulge here, but instead continued to wander round looking at books and reading messages in unlikely places:

As I say, I was saving my appetite for another bookshop that contained a tearoom. I’ll keep the details for another post because there’s quite a bit to say about it, but just to whet your appetite here’s a picture of the tasty fruit scone I had there. The jam in the background was astonishingly good. I wasn’t sure what the flavour was, but according to the waitress it was a locally made plum preserve. They had some jars of other jams on sale, but unfortunately none of the plum; if there had been any, I would have purchased one to take home:


57 thoughts on “The Book Shop

  1. Spooky indeed! But I love spooky! Quite a story out of that town and definitely explains your “off” feeling while there – at least it explains it for me. But the bookshops look like a perfect way to spend a day. (PS what’s up w/ WordPress and the Comments all of a sudden??)

    • I must admit, the spookiness sort of attracts me too, although the story of the martyrs who were drowned in the incoming tide is pretty horrific.

      I wondered about the WP thing because all of sudden I’m getting loads of comments emails that I didn’t ask for, so I did a Google search and apparently it’s a bug in the system they’re trying to fix. It’s quite annoying though isn’t it? I thought that if I was getting them from other people, perhaps they were getting them from me too.

  2. I am morbidly fascinated by ghosts. As for those books covered with WAX!! How come they don’t fall down? I first thought the planters were perched on top of the pillar (and thought “oooo nooo disaster waiting to happen”) but now I see they are hanging!! Love the skeleton playing the violin – hee hee! Old countries like Scotland are full of ghosts. India has ghosts coming out of the wazoo!! Last winter I stayed in the most haunted guest house in Pondicherry (not intentionally – I only found out later) and heard furniture moving at night!! Creee-eee-ppyyy!!

    • Woooooooo! That sounds very creepy, did you manage to sleep with all that going on? I’d have been terrified. I don’t know how those book pillars are held together, I sort of assumed that the wax had something to do with it, but now I wonder if that’s a sort of waterproofing for them when it rains. Curious.

  3. Any bookshop with bookshelves on a curving stair is my kind of place. Just the place to find a gem of a book. *adds to list of places I eventually plan to visit*

    • Thanks Bertie, if you happen to be in the area it is well worth a visit, and I’m sure you would find something to please you as there are a lot of books to choose from! The ones at the top of the stair there are all art and crafts, I think you might find it pretty interesting.

  4. Thank you for the very “storied” post, Lorna! I, too, have visited places where even centuries later, the atmosphere of tragic death still lingers in the air. It’s a thought-provoking phenomenon. This bookshop is a treasure, and the quotes (especially Eintein’s!) are added little gems.

  5. Hi,
    Wow, there certainly are some books in the store, and I love the messages especially on the small ladder. 🙂
    The skeleton is priceless.

    • Thanks Anne, the book pillars are amazing, aren’t they? I wonder if they made one first and then did another to match, or if they did them together. They’re most unusual.

  6. I love this post and the photographs are absolutely marvelous! It’s like being right there beside you, walking through the bookstore! My first impression…it reminds me of something out of “Harry Potter”!

    The scone oh my….gorgeous picture! Now, I’m hungry…:)

  7. A skeleton playing a violin? Interesting place and I found the feel of it unsettling just from your photos. The spiraled books outside are bizarre too. On the other hand I liked the look of that plump fruit scone, which I see was a tease for another post.

  8. Okay – tearooms and bookshops. Scotland, I’m sold! Love the slight creepiness of the place, and I’m not surprised that you picked up on past energies for Wigtown. There are a few places in Australia that do that to me – Port Arthur being the most notable.

    Glorious pics, and you are such a tease with that luscious scone right at he end. Can’t wait for the next instalment. And hope your wrists are feeling better.

    Much love to you xx

    • Thank you Nicole, I think Scotland needs a visit from you! The creepiness was such a strong impression, and since it affected several other people I know as well I assumed the internet would be full of sites dedicated to the subject, but I haven’t found any. The scone was very good, and it was eaten in another interesting bookshop. The wrists are up and down, thank you, but I keep hoping they’re on the mend. xo

  9. Loved the fiddle playing skeleton. What a fantastic bookshop! A few years ago I carted many of my aged and yellowing paperbacks to a bookstore for resale. I think the Goth guy clerks were laughing at what I’d been hoarding, but I did love my books. Kept the hardcovers and some scholarly tomes, but I’m enjoying my Kindle (a gift from some piano student moms), because so many classics are available for free and at your fingertips.

    How ever do they make the scones puff like that? I’ll bet it just melted in your mouth!

    • I’m glad you wrote that Marian, because I thought of you when I put the skeleton in, I thought it might appeal to you. I find it difficult to get rid of, and stop buying, books but perhaps a Kindle would be the answer. I honestly don’t know how people make such amazing scones, but I’m very glad they do!

  10. Wow Lorna, between to ghost stories & the skeletons hanging from the ceiling I’m not sure if this place is my cup of tea, joke! Plump & luscious scones as always and I really loved the doorway frame of the waxed books, very clever. I also loved the attention to detail with the stencils on the walls. Now I want quotes all over my home!!! Lol

  11. The spookiest I ever felt was at Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.. I had a terrible sense of foreboding in one little village and left as soon as possible. A few weeks later it was destroyed in a mudslide, so very sad. I now listen closely when I get bad vibes about something!
    This was a great post, and I could almost smell the aroma of the old books!

    • Thank you! Your story is very spooky indeed. It’s very curious, I do wonder what’s at work in such situtations. There have been so many such tales that it can’t just be coincidence.

      • I think some of us have fine-tuned nervous systems that tap into ‘something’ – a higher intelligence (?) — If I am extremely busy, I lose that sixth sense. When I spend a lot of quiet time – painting, drawing, gardening, it’s exactly as you said – ‘spooky.’
        I forgot to mention, I loved the photo of those spiral sculptures of books outside the door! Z

        • That’s an interesting point, perhaps we do have to be still and quiet to sense these things. Thanks for your comments, the spiral book towers are a great addition to the shop front, I think.

  12. I would have never really thought of Scotland as somewhere which would be a nice place to drink tea, but then again at the moment my world is kind of small! I love book shops, and the one you have visited looks and sounds like a truley wonderful place, I think I need to take more photos for my blog as you make yours look so wonderful with their addition!
    But as everyone else has touched on it, it would be a remiss if I did not as well, the subject of the ‘creepy’ feeling you get when you go to this town. It could be ESP (Which sounds bizarre for me to bring up I know) but as you spend a lot of your time drinking tea (Bless you) and listening to the world, as it were, your mind may just be a little more apt at picking it up! 🙂

    • Thank you for all your kind comments Daniel, I like the idea that tea drinking makes one perceptive to strange vibes. As we both know, it is a mystical drink with many curious properties, so who knows? I can vouch for Scotland being a marvellous place to drink tea. For one thing, it’s generally colder than England, so we need more tea to sustain us, and for another it was a Scottish merchant called Charles Bruce who first brought Indian tea to Blighty. He was the first chap to open up a commercial tea plantation in India, after his brother Robert recognised the quality of Assam tea. Photos are a good addition to a blog, I often think nobody would read mine without them.

      • I love photos, especially when they are taken very well, which yours evidently are! And you have a jaunty sense of melancholly purpose in your blogs, reaching almost a nostalgic level! I would read reguardless of the pictures, they simply add another layer of enjoyability to it.
        Speaking of such things however, I have to say that one of my favourate teas (Not saying my favourate as I do not know that and I have drank tea since I was very small and had to be fed with a feeder cup) of all time has to be Assam tea.
        Bless that lovelly man, Charles Bruce for bringing over a delectable tea!

  13. Another excellent post, Lorna! The bookshop sounds amazing and your photos really do it justice. The scone looks good too, and I’m looking forward to reading your next instalment. I am intrigued by the uneasy atmosphere in Wigtown, never having been there, and I was interested to read about the awful fate of the martyrs via your link.

    • Thank you Jo, I think you’d be interested in Wigtown, its many bookshops and its history. If you ever find yourself wandering a bit further south-west than usual you might like to pop in for a visit.

  14. Ooh now that is very interesting! Some places just do have an atmosphere, and as some of your commenters say, there is sometimes a ‘reason’. I’ve never been to Wigtown, and always wanted to go. I’m sure I’ll make it there someday.

    I laughed out loud at the Einstein quote. And: is ‘gunwhales’ the proper spelling of ‘gunnels’? I never knew. Learning a lot from your blog – not just about tearooms!

    • I would be very interested to hear what you think of it, if you do go. I had to check my spelling of ‘gunwhales’ and I see I have an unnecessary ‘h’ in there, it should read ‘gunwales’. Apparently a ‘gunnel’ is a type of fish, but perhaps it’s also the American spelling of ‘gunwale’?

    • Haha, I did think of you when I was taking some of those photos! There’s a pub just across the road, the Wigtown Ploughman, and what’s more it does good bar meals (and is a member of CAMRA).

  15. Wish I’d known you were in the area … we could have met up for a cuppa together! Wigtown is a great find and people come from all over the country to Scotland’s Booktown Festival.

    • Thanks Cordelia! I’ve never been to Wigtown during the festival but I can well imagine the vibrant atmosphere. It must bring some business your way too, I would think.

  16. Two other British booktowns are Sedburgh in the Lake District (North-West England) and Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh border. Hay has a literary festival that has become international and world-famous – for a little town it’s pretty good going. Sedburgh is gloriously situated in the Lake District, not far from Wensleydale, if there are any Wallace & Gromit fans among you…

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