Well over a year ago, my friend Mel invited us to visit Wigtown, Scotland with her. Mel and her husband had booked The Open Book for a week, the bookstore you may have read about, the one where part of the deal is you get to run the attached bookstore during your stay. Did we want to come along?
Of course we did.
The trip was planned for December, not for any strategic reason, but because when Mel and Dave first discovered The Open Book, they were eager to book the first available slot … and that was December 2018, years away. (Though compared to the current waiting list, that was a short wait!)
Since 1998, Wigtown has been Scotland’s official book town, which simply means a town or village with an unusually large number of used or antiquarian bookstores. (It also hosts a huge literary festival each fall, which the locals told us we needed to come back to experience for ourselves).
But about those bookstores: “unusually large” only begins to describe the literary bookselling scene here. From where I’m standing in the above photo, you can see EIGHT bookshops, plus the entrance to an ninth.
This photo above takes you inside The Open Book, where guests-turned-booksellers are completely free to shuffle the inventory around any way they’d like, creating special collections, display windows, featured titles … whatever you’d like. Here you can see Mel hard at work creating book pairs.
December turned out to be a lovely time for a visit. It was chilly and so, so windy, but Scotland’s temperate climate meant that even though it was winter, the window boxes were still in bloom outside. And when you’re cold from walking about town, what better respite than to pop into a lovely little bookstore?
Beltie Books, named for the Scottish Belted Galloway breed of cattle, takes the prize for most adorable sign. (If you visit when it’s a little warmer, don’t miss the beautiful gardens out back.)
Their collection features many beautiful classics. I wanted to take this entire shelf home in my suitcase. (Space being an issue, we bought coffee here instead.)
This is just one of many rooms of The Bookshop, made famous by owner Shaun Bythell’s memoir The Diary of a Bookseller, which you can see tied with ribbon and stacked up for sale under the tree above. The Bookshop holds more than 100,000 books—including the most extensive collection of vintage Penguins and Pelicans I’ve ever seen—on a mile of bookstore shelves.
This pretty green building is home to Number 11: Wigtown Festival Company Book & Gift Shop. So as not to compete with the used bookstores, it’s the only place in town that sells new books.
My favorite shop was the newest: Well-Read Books of Wigtown, owned by a spunky retired attorney who is coming soon to a podcast near you. (When I met Ruth, I was so thankful I’d packed my recording equipment just in case.) I’ve never seen such a fantastic collection in a used bookshop, and Ruth’s love of books was evident in both what she said and what she stocked. (Look at those boxes and bags of books everywhere!)
A close second in the favorite bookstore competition is Reading Lasses, which also serves delicious lunch in the back, and a nice assortment of desserts I’d previously seen only on the Great British Bake Off. I wish I’d grabbed a photo that did justice to their cheerful pink façade!
When we weren’t out exploring, we were running The Open Book. (Though let’s be honest: Mel and Dave did most of the work.)
This photo shows Will logging a sale. As you can see by the sales ledger, I wasn’t kidding when I said Wigtown is quiet in the winter. But that gave us an excuse to pop across the road to Café Rendezvous for cappuccino, plus time to get out and explore …
This photo is from our very windy walk down to Wigtown Harbor. Isn’t it gorgeous?
We so enjoyed our time in Wigtown. It was a delight to spend time in a community so thoroughly centered around books, and we knew it was a good sign when we kept meeting locals who’d initially visited for holiday and finally fulfilled the dream of moving to Wigtown one day.
When our time in Wigtown was over, we traveled back up to Edinburgh, which was very different from this small book town and completely delightful. (Maybe another post is due about literary Edinburgh?)
When I shared posts about Wigtown on Instagram (some of which are saved in my highlights), I was surprised how many of you had visited! Have you been to The Open Book, or would you like to visit in the future? What should I see in the area if/when I go back? I’d love to hear all about it in comments.
P.S. These bookstore photos I shared are just a few of Wigtown’s literary offerings: check out the full current list here.
P.P.S. If you’d like ideas for Scotland-related reading, don’t miss this post, including the comments section.