BILL ON BOOKS: Holidaying in Britain’s friendliest locations

Bill Purdue.
Bill Purdue.

Question – where do book lovers go on holiday? Well, to booktowns of course!

But, what is a booktown? Well, it’s a town, usually small and rural, which has brought together a number of bookshops and other businesses based on writing, reading, publishing and so on. In practice many of the shops concentrate on selling second-hand books.

There are three booktowns in the UK where you can indulge your passion for books – the well known Hay-on-Wye, Sedbergh near the Lake District and Wigtown in Scotland. There are also booktowns in various parts of the world, including Bredevoort in Holland, Montolieu in France and Fjaerland in Norway.

Apparently, the booktown concept was the brainchild of Richard Booth back in 1961, whose bookshop in Hay-on-Wye is now the largest in town. It occupies three floors and the number of books in stock- second hand, antiquarian and new- runs into hundreds of thousands. There’s a café and even a cinema. The Hay-on-Wye website (www.hay-on-wye.co.uk) lists a total of about 25 book dealers in or near the town. This year’s Hay literary festival finished on 2nd June by the way, but there’ll be another next year.

Sedbergh is situated in rugged countryside between the Lake District in the west and the Yorkshire Dales to the east. Here bookselling is on a smaller scale, but the Sedbergh website (www.sedbergh.org.uk) lists eight bookshops, not all of which are in the town itself. Sedbergh won’t be holding a book festival this year, but I understand that they are planning to hold one in 2015 or possibly next year.

Wigtown is in south west Scotland, just under 80 miles west of Gretna Green, and close to the picturesque Dumfries and Galloway coastline.

There are about 10 bookshops in Wigtown and the surrounding area and their book festival is planned for 27th September to 6th October this year.

If you go to a booktown, there’s no need to go on your own – if your family or friends enjoy outdoor activities, then there’s plenty to do and see in all three locations, apart from browsing in bookshops. Hay-on-Wye is on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, a great area for bird watching, visiting castles or riding on the Brecon Mountain Railway. Sedbergh is the centre for exploring the Howgill Fells, pony trekking and horse riding and Wigtown is not far from Galloway Forest Park for walks, scenic lochs, wildlife, forest drives plus the popular Red Deer Range.

On the other hand, if it’s book festivals you’re interested in, you don’t have to travel half as far. Later this month the Lowdham Book Festival gets under way (June 18th – 29th) just down the road and the speakers include Simon Mayo and crime writers Mark Billingham and John Harvey. For more information download the full programme at www.lowdhambookfestival.co.uk.

Over in Derbyshire the Buxton Literary Festival runs from 6th to 21st July. The speakers include Nick Robinson of BBC News , Roy Hattersley and the Duke of Devonshire (go to www.buxtonfestival.co.uk).

And finally crime fiction fans will be interested in the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival ,which is part of the Harrogate Festival and runs from 18th – 21st July. Special guests include Kate Atkinson, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Ian Rankin and Ruth Rendell. Go to http://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/crime/