Best of British: Bookshops

BY Fiona Hicks

1st Jan 2015 Travel

Best of British: Bookshops

Calling all bibliophiles! Whether you’re a fan of novels, a non-fiction nut or a poetry aficionado, browse away an afternoon in these treasure troves.

Mr B’s Reading Emporium


Mr B's Reading Emporium

A huge part of the charm of this place is Mr B (or Bottomly) himself—a former derivatives trader who gave it all up in 2006 to indulge and share his passion for the written word.

He’s regularly in the shop and his enthusiasm must be contagious because his staff are all similarly chirpy, frequently hand-writing recommendations to lend a personal note to the brimming shelves.

“We make a real effort to give the shop a proper community feeling,” says one employee. “You can drop into the shop anytime for a chat, and we pride ourselves on championing lesser-known titles.”


The Book Hive 


the book hive

Stephen Fry said this shop is “the kind of place I dreamed of existing in Norwich when I was growing up”. As well as being a favourite of celebrities, this is a front-runner for the nation’s prettiest bookshop, with an expansive glass shopfront, colourful art adorning the walls and gold letters studded on the ceiling.

The three storeys are home to thousands of hand-selected titles, with an especially impressive art-and-design collection.

Proprietor Henry Layte says, “The Book Hive is like a proper old-fashioned bookshop, but it’s also contemporary, stylish and fun—like going to someone’s house with great taste, where everything is for sale!”

It’s the sort of place where you wander in to find one book and leave carrying 10 others. You have been warned…


Word on the Water


word on the water

This quirky canal boat is primarily moored near Paddington Station but has been known to take jaunts up and down the Thames. Founded in 2011 by Paddy “The Doctor” Screech and his friend John “The Professor” Privett, it roused the support of locals—along with Booker Prize winner Ben Okri—to win a permanent spot on the busy river.

Being a nautical bookshop, it’s obviously not enormous, but it’s brilliantly stocked. New and old titles abound, and thanks to donations from supporters, costs are kept down—meaning you can pick up a paperback for a mere £3.

It’s an especially cosy place to visit in winter, with mulled wine on offer and warm greetings from Paddy’s two cats, Nanny and Brubby.


Barter Books


Barter books

You’ll never have the problem of nothing to read on the train when travelling through Alnwick. Under the metal beams of the Victorian Station lie the free-standing bookshelves, homely rugs and open fires that make up Barter Books.

It’s a wonderland for both adults and kids: in addition to the thousands of second-hand titles, there are more than 40 glass cases housing rare books, along with a children’s room filled with toys.

Many a visitor can also be seen gawping at the Writers Mural—a vibrant depiction of life-size literary figures painted high up on the wall. See if you can spot Charlotte Brontë, F Scott Fitzgerald and the inimitable Charles Dickens.

What’s more, with The Station Cafe just a few steps away, you can enjoy a slice of cake to fuel your browsing!


Much More Books


Much More Books

Nestled in the high street of the market town Much Wenlock, Much More Books is the epitome of an antiquarian shop. Historic premises, an eclectic and well-thumbed collection, and even a book-finder service (for those without the web) combine to make you feel as if you’ve stepped back a few decades. 

Every genre is covered, with a good dose of local-interest titles thrown in. You can even add to your music collection with their impressive selection of vinyls and CDs. Owner Liz Challinor proudly says, “We’re a haven for all book and music fans.  Once discovered never forgotten!”

All the staff here are, by their own admission, “bonkers” about books. 


Visit Reader's Digest's very own online bookshop


Read the full list in the January edition of Reader's Digest magazine