Next stop, Barter Books


No towers of books on the floor. The books are placed on the shelves in this neat secondhand book shop.. Labels announce the categories: science fiction, fiction, romance… In the corner, a coffee pot and an honesty jar serve thirsty customers. My boyfriend who disappeared to the back section of the shop returns and tugs my sleeve, ‘You really should come over here; so far you have seen about five percent of the whole bookstore!’

I knew that Barter Books is one of the biggest second-hand bookshops in the UK, yet I didn’t expect it to be so great. The bookshop takes over a good portion of a disused railway station in a town called Alnwick, near Newcastle. The rest of the station serves as storage where piles of books are waiting to get on display. Inside the building, there is also a café, but it can be considered to be part of the book shop. After all, you can have your lunch on the tables located in the middle of the bookshop and drink your coffee while deciding which book to buy.

As much as I love the atmosphere in overflowing little antiquaries, the dustiness and lack of space often make me want to escape the shop to get some air. Barter Books doesn’t trigger asthma or anxiety, it is spacious and well organized. Yet, the atmosphere of this bookshop is strange. The light is dim, murals decorate the walls, and rare books rest in glass boxes. All the while it is busy with people reading, dining, and searching for interesting titles.

For some reason, I think of Hogwarts. Maybe the association is enforced by the spell-like poems on the corridors or by the miniature train that travels overhead from one section to another. And, you can’t be quite sure what you’ll find from the shelves labelled as ‘New Naturalist’ or ‘Scandinavian Languages’. The books come and go. I check the travel section first thing when I arrive, but by the time I am leaving the shop, new books have appeared on the shelves.

If you are in the area and get excited when you are surrounded by books, make sure to pop by. Although, I do have to warn you that this is not a hidden gem. The bookshop is popular and busy. It is visited by locals, tourists, families, and dogs. Indeed, several furry friends wander between rows of books with their owners when I stroll through the shop.

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