Belle is the featured image for this post for one very good reason. For all things literary, she is my spirit animal.
Since I’m always buying new books or talking about old favourites, a few people have asked me what appeal I see to reading, and more importantly how I can afford to keep up the habit.
I have loved books since before I could read. I would make my family read to me all the time until I learned to do it on my own, and then there was no stopping me. It was that love that influenced me to take literature as an A-Level and eventually as a degree. So in my life, I have spent more hours in book stores than I have probably spent outdoors. I hunt these places down. I buy from market stalls, charity shops and high street stores. There are a few markets that I can’t resist peaking in at. Grainger Market in Newcastle has one of my favourite book stalls, but this post is about book stores. And while Waterstones is great, there’s something infinitely more charming about a second-hand book shop.
It could be the price tag, and therein lies the how.
It might also be because there’s something magic about those old, dusty books and the high shelves. I love second-hand book shops. Even now, with very little money to my name, I can’t resist the siren call of good book.
I am fortunate to live in the north-east. I live in a small coastal village in Northumberland, not too far from Newcastle. It’s relatively easy for me to travel anywhere. During my travels with family and friends, I have come across a treasure trove of places that I would like to share with you.
Here are my top five book stores in the north-east.
5. Bransdown Books, Tynemouth
This only ranks as fifth because of how specific its stock is. It has a good selection of generic fiction, but where it really shines is its children’s section. Bransdown Books specialises in children’s fiction, particularly books from the 20th century. I have seen a lot of really interesting books on the shelves there. I’ve also seen a girl go completely crazy over a pretty copy of Nancy Drew. Kids love it, adults love it, everybody loves it. If that’s your area of study, something you’re interested in or if you’re looking to shop for a child, then this is the place you want to go to.
Bransdown Books is in the Shopping Arcade in Tynemouth. You can also find their stall at Tynemouth market, in the Tynemouth Metro Station. Speaking of which, the final Tynemouth Book Fair will be Sunday 19th October this year. Anyone looking to score some deals should make an appearance.
You can find them on Facebook here.
4. Berrydin Books, Berwick-Upon-Tweed
We used to go to Berwick every other summer when I was younger. A few years back, I took my younger cousins with me to explore. Joshua loved it. They have a lot of local interest books, but also a lot of general fiction. Crime, romance, young adult, it was all there. It’s a small shop, and there isn’t much room to navigate, but they’ve filled every space with books. I can empathise with them. There are days I can’t get moved for books too.
They have a decent selection of academic books but it’s the generic book that you’re more likely to find here. You may end up finding a new favourite series for a bargain price. If you’re in the area, I’d recommend having a look.
Berrydin Books is on Castlegate Road in Berwick-Upon Tweed. It’s up the road from the Tourist Centre, and only a few minutes’ walk from the train station.
You visit their Facebook page here, though it seems abandoned.
3. Appleby’s, Morpeth
**EDIT: This store has now closed**
Appleby’s is the closest of these shops to where I live, but I didn’t know it existed until I started college. It’s a shame, really. It’s one of those bookshops that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. I suppose it comes with the territory. Morpeth is a historic market town, so everything is prettier. Appleby’s is the oldest bookshop in Northumberland.
You can find a lot of local interest and academic books here, as well as a more general selection of books. They offer newer titles too. I always find something of interest upstairs, and Appleby’s is different to the other stores as they offer a loyalty card in-store. If you’re going to make it a regular stop on your shopping trips, it’s well worth investing in a card.
Also, it has a coffee shop. It’s really nice, I’d recommend it. Everything about the place is really affordable, and it’s worth going in one morning and investigating. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Appleby’s is on Newgate Street, which isn’t all that far from the bus station. It’s all in the town centre, so you can’t get lost.
2. The Keel Row Bookshop, North Shields
Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday, 10am-5pm
Wednesday, Sunday, 10am-4pm
The largest second-hand bookshop in North Tyneside, The Keel Row will always house a special place in my heart. It’s the one I visit most regularly, being so close to my home town. They have hundreds of thousands of books on anything you could want. I recently visited and ended up with a 1950s edition of Penguin’s Border Ballads for only £1. It was a good day. I can happily go in and spend hours exploring all the different rooms for something cool. My favourite feature is the wall of classical literature on the top floor. Any classical book you could want is there. Ovid, Plato, Virgil, The Keel Row has it all.
The staff, too, are always really friendly. They’re always happy to help where they can and I’ve had many conversations with them about my purchases. Last time I went, the man at the till seemed shocked that they stocked one of the books I was buying. I think it speaks volumes about a shop when even the staff aren’t privy to all its mysteries. I’ve never been in there without buying something, and I’ve rarely stopped at the one.
It also may be the cheapest of all the shops on this list. It’s hard to distinguish that, as no two stores have the same stock, but I’ve never felt a book to be overcharged. This bookshop is my personal favourite.
You can find The Keel Row Bookshop on Fenwick Terrace, which is less than a five-minute walk from the North Shields metro station. It’s opposite a church and just around the corner from the library. You can’t miss it.
1. Barter Books, Alnwick
Open every day, 9am-5pm (seasonal times)
This only just claims the top spot because of its sheer enormity. Built in the old Alnwick train station, Barter Books is one of the largest second-hand book stores in England. I make a point of looking here for all my course books before looking online or in chain stores. The station is huge, big enough to host a buffet inside and still have hundreds of thousands of books around. Everything is signposted, with even a cute little room filled with children’s books. Joshua gives Barter Books a glowing review, and so do I.
Because of its size, it’s really easy to find yourself buying things you had no intention of looking for. I once went looking for Shakespeare and ended up with a book on mummification. Do I regret the buy? Not at all. But it was definitely not relevant to my search.
This is not a shop you can have a quick visit to. Unless you’ve trained yourself to be laser-focused and avoid temptation, you may very well spend hours lost in the tomes of books on offer. I say indulge, but your bank account may beg to differ. I know mine does. Luckily, Alnwick is full of other fun things to do. Make a day of it! But maybe save Barter Books for last; you don’t want to be carrying all those books around the castle. Trust me on that.
I hope you do visit these places if you ever get the chance to. They’re interesting, and above all they’re cheap. You’ll find books here that you’ll never find in a high street store. Go along some day and experience for yourself what has me going back at every chance.
And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post. Let me ask you this: have you ever been to these bookshops? What did you think? What is the ultimate bookshop where you’re from?
Let me know your thoughts.