A Short Trip to Sedbergh, England’s Book Town

We’ve finally completed the ‘Triple Crown’ of British book towns: Hay-on-Wye in Wales is one of our favourite places and we’ve visited seven or more times over the years (the latest); inspired by Shaun Bythell’s memoirs, we then made the pilgrimage to Wigtown in Scotland in 2018. But we hadn’t made it to Sedbergh, England’s book town, until this past week. A short conference my husband was due to attend in the northwest of the country was the excuse we needed – though a medical emergency with our cat (fine now; just had to have an infected tooth out) shortened our trip and kept him from participating in the symposium at Lancaster.

Sedbergh is technically in Cumbria but falls within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The book town initiative was part of a drive to re-invigorate the local economy after the 2001 foot and mouth disease outbreak. It’s a very sleepy town, more so than Hay or Wigtown, and only has two dedicated bookshops. The flagship store is Westwood Books, which was based in Hay until 2006 and occupies a former cinema / factory building. It is indeed reminiscent of Hay’s Cinema Bookshop, and is similar in size and stock to the largest of the Hay shops.

The only other shop in town that only sells books is Clutterbooks charity bookshop, where we started our book hunting after we left the car at our Airbnb flat on the Wednesday. With everything priced at £1 or £1.50, it tempted me into my first six purchases. Next up was Westwood, which opens until 5, an hour later than some other places. I bought a couple more books (delighted with the pristine secondhand copy of Julian Hoffman’s first nature book) but also resold them a small box of antiquarian and signed books for more than I could ever have hoped for – covering all my book purchases for the trip, as well as our meals and snacks out. On the Thursday we had a quiet drink in a cosy local pub to toast Her Majesty’s memory.

Various main street eateries and shops have a shelf or two of books for sale. We perused these, and the Little Free Library in the old bus shelter, on the Wednesday afternoon and first thing Friday morning. I added one more purchase to my stack – a paperback copy of Fire on the Mountain by Jean McNeil for £1 – just before we left town. In general, there weren’t as many bookshops as expected, and lots of places opened later or closed earlier than advertised, presumably because it was off season and rather rainy. So, it was a little underwhelming as book town experiences go, and I can’t imagine Sedbergh ever drawing us back.

However, we enjoyed exploring the area in general, with stops at Little Moreton Hall, and Sizergh Castle and Chester, respectively, on the way up and back. As part of the conference, we joined in a walk from Grange to Cartmel that took in an interesting limestone pavement landscape. It was my first time in the Dales or Lake District in many a year, and a good chance to get back to that pocket of the world.

29 responses

  1. I had no idea England had a ‘book town’! We could do with another more to the south though – Abingdon where I live, not a big town, has two independent bookshops, and good used selections in some of the charity shops…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love there to be a book town closer to home. Abingdon does sound like a good option! I guess Oxford and London, what with all their new and secondhand bookshops and charity shops, fill a similar role.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, my neck of the woods (Dales), and I confess that despite having driven through Sedbergh many times I have never stopped to explore it.
    I HAVE explored Wigtown and was so disappointed with Shaun Bythell’s bookshop – grubby verging on just plain dirty, dusty and very unappealing. Excellent cake shop in Wigtown called Reading Lasses!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was going to reply similarly Penny. Who knew that Sedbergh was a Book Town? Wigtown didn’t disappoint, either in the book or the cake department, though I don’t remember the name of any of the shops.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Sedbergh has a number of pubs and cafes on its main street, so you could easily pass a pleasant afternoon there (but beware early closing times — lots of shops don’t stay open past 4).

      Sorry to hear you were underwhelmed by Wigtown. When is it you went? We had a great time there in April 2018. Reading Lasses was an excellent coffee and cake stop, and there were another good few shops besides that and The Book Shop.

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      1. We liked Wigtown itself but not Bythell’s book shop – I had read and enjoyed his book diary. We have been in 2020 and 2021 – we often holiday in that part of Scotland.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I hope to go back to Wigtown sometime. Maybe for the festival one year.

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  3. We found Sedbergh relatively uninteresting for booklovers in comparison to Hay-on-Wye. We go to Hay regularly but have been to Sedbergh only four times and never found more than 3 to 5 books we are interested in.
    Have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would agree with that. Were it not for my good haul at the charity bookshop where we stopped first, I would have been disappointed with my purchases.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, I loved The Carhullan Army and that’s the exact edition I have – I also love the cover.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was so pleased to find two of her novels at the charity bookshop. I’ve been trying to find them for ages. Now I own three unread books by her (including Electric Michelangelo), so I’d better get cracking!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You found a Thomas King book!

    I’ve never heard of Sedbergh. Maybe it’ll grow to have more book shops someday. It sounds like a nice trip anyway!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did! Quite the surprise to find such a niche book. It’s a short story collection, so I’ll see if I can get to it this month.

      Sedbergh definitely needs a bit of a revival campaign.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a fun trip – thanks for sharing for those of us armchair travelers. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe you’ll get to Wigtown one of these days 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A nice haul, even if the place itself was a little underwhelming!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I was pleased overall. Since we were going to that part of the world anyway, it was worth stopping.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve heard tell of England’s book town but never been – and it does sound like one proper secondhand bookshop… did there use to be more? I went to the alternative Welsh one a couple of times, Blaenavon, but it didn’t last very long. They seemed quite surprised when I said I was there specially for bookshops – so if that was unexpected, I’m not surprised it didn’t last.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know if it used to have more shops at the start. You’d think so, to call itself a book town! It was at least nice that all the town eateries try to join in with a shelf of books for sale — cookbooks in the Italian restaurant; fishing books in the chippy!

      I’ve not heard of Blaenavon.

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  9. Some nice purchases there Rebecca!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have the 2 short NF reads earmarked for November!

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  10. I mean, Kings Heath, Birmingham could qualify as a book town, then, with The Heath Bookshop, The Brave Wren and an Oxfam Books! I have read that Pearl Cleage, a good read, I seem to recall, and the Morris was a timely find for these days. Glad puss is (relatively) OK.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be a great choice of book town, actually, for being nice and central and thus easily reached, including by public transport. I’ve never been to Birmingham.

      I’d heard of Cleage’s memoir but not this one. I couldn’t resist the title, though!

      He’s doing fine. The ulcerated tooth was stopping him from taking pleasure in his food, so we’re glad he’s back to his old snacky self again. It’s always a worry putting an older cat under general anaesthesia, but all was well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Any time you fancy a trip up, just let me know and I’ll be delighted to meet up and be your guide around our mini-book-town!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Calling this a book town is ridiculous if it’s based just on the presence of two bookshops. Even with a large number of closures in recent years, Hay has easily more than a dozen.

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    1. I don’t know if it used to have more in its heyday. There are a lot of shops that at least sell some books.

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      1. Oh well, I can’t fault the town for trying to boost its footfall

        Like

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