Alnwick II: Books, Trains and Flapjacks


If you’ve read a few of my blogposts, you might have realised that I rather like travelling. And trains. And books. Or any combination of the three. And that’s where Barter Books, the crown jewel of the Alnwick trip, comes in.

I mentioned yesterday that Alnwick had its railway service axed by Beeching. However, unlike many that had since become dilapidated, the Victorian station building in Alnwick began its second life as a commercial lot and became Barter Books, one of the biggest second-hand bookstore in the United Kingdom, perhaps most famous for its revival of the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster.

So, in my travels I encounter a giant bookstore that happened to be a former railway station: DO YOU GET MY EXCITEMENT NOW??

Officially signposted, Barter Books is arguably the most important landmark in town. Much of the station exterior has been retained: but for the lack of announcements one can be forgiven for mistaking that trains still leaves the town from the site.


However, stepping through the front entrance- more like a magical portal- I was immediately transferred into a completely different world: while the signage and other markings of its rail history were apparent, the house was unmistakably a den of literature. Sorted by different subject areas, books are everywhere: some were showcased on display shelves; some forced onto portable shelves once as the permanent once ran out of room, and even more were stacked up, high approaching the ceiling (problematic for me later). Though to remind visitors of their rail heritage, model trains run on top of the maze that are the shelves, much to my pleasure.         IMAG0305

As the arrival of our group coincided with teatime (not that it really mattered), we’ve decided to first pay a visit to the station cafe before splitting off to our favourite sections. The flapjack and catching-up with friends were great, but my attention has inevitably drawn to the tile map of the North Eastern Railway. Only a few of the original exists (One in Tynemouth Metro Station, I think), and I must say I was disappointed while researching for this post to find out that the one above was only a replica.

Back to the books: Barter Books is named so because the barter system (effectively trading items) is still in use, although cash payment is perhaps more practical for us out-of-town travellers. I spend most of my time at the (you guessed it) Transport and Travel Writing sections, where I found a catalogue of Japanese trains in the 60s, with a detailed explanation of how that then-brand-new Shinkansen bullet trains operate. How’s time changed…

In the end, I took home Behind the Curtain, a book by the journalist Jonathan Wilson on his travels and investigations into Eastern European football, post-Soviet style. Travel, books, and football, not a bad way to conclude the day eh?