MY PICK OF THE BEST
Wigtown was once the chief town of Galloway with considerable strategic and commercial importance. Today most visitors are drawn by its many book shops and annual book festival.
It is a great example of a historic Scottish town that has reinvented and regenerated itself in the face of an economic downturn. Wigtown harbour once thrived with coastal trade until new road and railway networks were built which bypassed the town and inevitably contributed towards a decline in prosperity and population.
In 1998 Wigtown was designated Scotland's National Book Town and this has led to a general revival, with many buildings refurbished and new businesses opening.
As someone who has always rejected electronic reading devices in favour of paper and print, I was pretty excited to spend a day in this paradise for book lovers. I visited all but one of the main book shops in the town as it was closed at the time and thought I would share a round up of my top picks. Each book shop has its own charm and unique speciality so it really is worth setting a full day aside so you have plenty of time to browse around each one.
Some of the bookshops in Wigtown have cafes and most of the town's cafes have books so there are plenty opportunities to grab a refreshment, with or without some reading material.
I was also delighted to see that several of the shops had signs saying that they welcomed dogs which is a bonus for owners like me that sometimes struggle to find dog friendly indoor activities on holiday. I must say that so far, I have found Dumfries and Galloway to be the most dog friendly region in Scotland and this is one of the reasons I keep going back. On a side note if your business welcomes dogs, a sign on the door is really helpful as dog owners aren't mind readers! I can guarantee that if I can take Willow somewhere with me, I will visit and spend money - other dog owners will do the same which can only be good for your profits.
Anyway I digress, as promised, here is my pick of Wigtown's book shops...
This is Scotland's largest second-hand bookshop and the oldest in Wigtown, with approximately 100,000 books spread over a mile of shelving! I could easily have spent days browsing the row upon row of books on every subject. Had the fire been lit to combat the chill, I might even have been tempted to move in permanently.
While the books take centre stage, their theatrical setting wouldn't be out of place in Diagon Alley. Wandering through the tardis of rooms is like stepping into a magical book filled world with a flying violin playing skeleton to welcome you and lots of quirky nooks and crannies to discover or hide away in! Needless to say I couldn't resist the temptation of so many wonderful reads and left with my bag a good bit heavier and my purse a good bit lighter.
The Old Bank Bookshop
The former Customs House and Bank is now home to another of Wigtown's book shops, with five large rooms to browse through. The building has an interesting history and is another place you could lose time as there are so many titles and subjects to discover including a room dedicated to sheet music. Owners Ian and Joyce are both musicians which explains the musical theme in the shop.
I was immediately drawn to the table by the front door with local interest books and picked up an unusual local history read to add to my Scottish collection. I also had a nice chat with the owner Ian who was really helpful in providing me with information about the town and the Wigtown Book Festival.
As I walked down the pathway to Byre Books, I was greeted with a strange mist swirling around the building, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. It seemed a strange coincidence that this was the only pocket of fog in the town as this secondhand bookshop specialises in Folklore and Mythology!
Although one of the smaller book shops in Wigtown, it also stocks titles from Theatre, Film and TV, Archaeology, Poetry and books of Scottish and Gaelic interest and again I left with another really interesting and unique read which lightened my purse even more!
Curly Tale Books
Curly Tale Books is a small independent publishing company specialising in books for young children. They now have their own book shop in Wigtown which is a great place to buy a wide range of children's books including beautifully illustrated tales based in Galloway and a series featuring Big Bill the Beltie Bull There is also a range of gifts, toys, cards and local book merchandise.
This is a cheery shop filled with lots of colour which made me wish I was a few decades younger so I could sit on the mini chairs and let my childlike imagination run away.
Beltie Books and Cafe
With a selection of books in the front shop and a cafe at the rear, Beltie Books is a good choice for a quiet refreshment between browsing. There is a range of speciality Scottish titles, including books on the Covenanters which have particular relevance to the town.
A group of five local Covenanters who were executed for opposing interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland became known as the 'Wigtown Martyrs'. Tourist signs in the town will direct you to relevant sites including a local monument erected in their memory; their graves next to Wigtown's Old Kirk and a stone stake which commemorates two female martyrs who were tied to wooden stakes in Wigtown Bay and allowed to drown by the rising tide.
If you are interested in this period of Scottish history, this is your place.
The Open Book
At first glance, The Open Book seems like quite an ordinary bookshop with a general range of titles and subjects, but it is actually very unique as it is apparently the world's only holiday bookshop. Yes, if you've ever dreamed of running your own bookshop for a week or two, this is your place. Unfortunately you will have to join a very long queue as it is booked up for the next few years through Airbnb.
For a low fee you get to stay in an apartment above the shop and receive support from local volunteers, there are even bicycles supplied so you can do a bit of exploring. The best bit of course is you can live out your romantic dream of running a bookshop in a pretty Scottish town, as holidays go it is certainly different!
It has proved such a popular model that the owner has been contacted by companies in Asia that are looking to replicate the idea.
ReadingLasses Bookshop and Cafe
This is quite a large shop with a series of cafe style spaces where you can chat about everything literature related over a coffee and some home-baking. Of course there is plenty of reading material to choose from and ReadingLasses specialises in books 'by and about women'. In fact the entire front sitting room complete with comfy leather chairs is dedicated to women's books. They also stock Persephone Books, a publishing house that specialises in reprinting neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century female writers.
The middle room stocks a wider range of subjects including travel and social science.
One book shop that was closed during my visit was 'At the Sign of the Dragon' which specialises in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, Crime and Fiction. It did look like it was part of someone's house which strangely seemed to fit in with the general quirky themed bookshop spaces around the town!
I also popped into The Book End Studio which has some lovely gifts and a small selection of books at the back and I picked up some nice local gifts at the Wigtown Festival Company. Being Scotland's National Book Town means that just about everywhere you visit fits in with the theme. Whether you pop in to a cafe, hotel or gallery you are likely to come across a captivating read or if you're lucky, a book related event. Just remember to bring plenty of money!
Wigtown Book Festival
The Wigtown Book Festival is an annual event that takes place over 10 days each autumn (last year it started on 22nd September). It offers over 200 events for all ages including literature, music, film, theatre, arts and crafts and attracts a variety of well known authors and speakers. It's a busy event so book ahead if you plan on attending.
What else to do
If books aren't your thing or you just need a break from browsing then take a stroll down to the harbour and the largest Local Nature Reserve in Britain at Wigtown Bay. There is a bird hide, picnic areas and an abundance of pretty scenery. I really loved taking a quiet amble along the estuary which was the perfect antidote to all that shopping!
If you have the time I also recommend heading further along the coast to explore the beautiful Rhins of Galloway which is home to Scotland's most southerly point at the Mull of Galloway, one of my favourite parts of the country. Or check out my other recommendations of things to do in Dumfries and Galloway.
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