Mad Quickies

Mad Quickies: Book Towns!

I am your accidental traveler today. More specifically, I fell down a rabbit hole which turned into a very pleasant experience, a possible plan for future travel, and currently the purchase of two books on the topic… and here’s what I found…

Book Towns!

I tumbled into the realization that there are self-described book towns around the world in this gem of an article: Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers

[above] A bookshop in Bredevoort, Netherlands. Archmedus/Book Towns

I found which explained:

A Book Town is a small rural town or village in which second–hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Book Towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty.

The concept was initiated by Richard Booth of Hay–on–Wye in Wales.

[above] Hay-On-Wye by Colin Spencer

And that’s where I leapt from to focus on book towns of the UK.


Hay-On-Wye in Wales looks entirely as you’d imagine a picturesque book town to look. The town hosts an annual event called the Hay Festival, a literature and arts event that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the mind.” An accompanying children’s festival is called Hay Fever. Hay-On-Wye also hosts HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s largest philosophy and music festival.

[above] Hay Festival traffic.

The town has a tourism site and a little skulking around the net reveals it is a hidden gem for many travelers. This is Hay-On-Wye on facebook.

[above] Hay Castle


From Hay-On-Wye, I skipped over to Sedbergh in Cumbria, England. Known primarily as England’s book town, Sedbergh is also known for its June music festival, scenic trails and woods, Fairfield Mill [now an art center], as well as its dark skies and minimal light pollution.

Although from 2009, this post is still relevant: The little town taking a leaf out of Hay’s bookAs Britain’s biggest literary festival kicks off in Wales, Stephen McClarence visits Sedbergh, which is busy reinventing itself as England’s official Book Town

This is Sedbergh’s tourism site with a nicely listed book page and this is a little book town page. I want to give a shout-out to Sedbergh Market Town on twitter, an enticingly lively account that noticed my interest right away. And this is Sedbergh on facebook.

Westwood Books is a noteworthy bookseller: the largest bookshop in the Yorkshire Dales, on of The Guardian‘s top 10 secondhand bookshops, and according to author Bill Bryson, a “Large and excellent bookshop.” They’re on facebook.

Here’s a charmer of a video I found on Sedbergh:


Last on our tour today is Wigtown, the National Book Town of Scotland.

You might want to check out the Association of Wigtown Booksellers for their bookshops, local history, news and [gulp] a page on the Wigtown Martyrs which has zero to do with books and everything to do with the kind of state-vs-church conflict resulting in haunted legend that we love.

The town is most known for the Wigtown Book Festival, a 10-day event every September. I first heard of the festival via the wonderful twitter account @WigtownBookFest.

Check out this sweet little sampling of Wigtown’s bookish offerings by Celeste Noche, complete with some lovely photos. Noche mentions Byre Books, seductive because it’s quite tucked away: “Up until 2000, the building used to be a cow shed (“byre” in Scottish) but is now home to a book collection centered around folklore, archaeology, and history.”

[above] Byre Books from a travelogue by Carol Henshaw


[above] Sign outside Shaun Bythell’s shop

One of the organizers of the Wigtown Book Festival, Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop which has an inventory of about 100,000 tomes. Bythell is known for The Diary of a Bookseller, his hilarious recounting of trying to make a go of the book business. I was so intrigued while researching this, I had to order this memoir. Visit The Bookshop’s facebook page, worth a frequent visit.

[above] Captain at The Bookshop

I also found this interesting bit:
Wigtown bookshop which doubles as a holiday home a hit

Jessica Fox, an American, started Open Book, an AirBnB. “Paying guests have the chance to live in a flat above the shop and run the bookshop themselves for two week stints” and they are booked until at least 2020. Here’s Open Book on facebook.

[above] Wigtown via Open Book

In General

You might want to also check out:

The World’s 10 prettiest book towns and villages

as well as

10 of the world’s best book towns

There is a wiki for an international list of book towns.

You might want to spend some time on Instagram. If you’re interested in the three towns I’ve highlighted here, simply check out the following:




Lastly, I had made a remark about book towns on twitter, and the writer Alex Johnson piped up being very droll. He’s written “Book Towns: Forty Five Paradises of the Printed Word” and yes, that’s the second book I’ve ordered.

Clearly, my next book town purchase will probably be a plane ticket.


Feature photo from a bit on Beltie’s Books and Cafe.





Geologic Universe, vault-keeper. Sheer Brick Studio, principal. Empty Set, designer. Bethlehem Mounties, media. WDIY 88.1FM NPR station programmer. Skepchick.

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