Monday 30 December 2013

Who needs the sales anyway?

It's cold and wet and miserable, a time to be huddled up by the fire, warming our hands and feet and generally avoiding the outside as we recover from the extravagance of Christmas and the flooding and power cuts that came with it.

However huddling up at home isn't very exciting without a good book to keep you company, and not everyone was lucky enough to get one of those for Christmas. Fortunately, this doesn't have to be an expensive thing to rectify, as I discovered when I visited the seaside town of Whitstable in Kent.

I have to admit, visiting a seaside town in the winter wouldn't be high on my to do list, but I was invited along by the town's reporter, who offered to introduce me to the local bookshops and other delights of the town, and I'm very glad I accepted.

I'd heard about Whitstable before, but not really visited properly as stories of nightmare traffic and high prices in boutique shops had put me off. Visiting on a cold Wednesday afternoon, I can't answer to any of those complaints for a sunny summer day, but the regular prices on offer in the bookshops I visited would put the sale offerings of most high streets to shame.

First stop on my tour was the independent Harbour Books on Harbour Street. Selling remainders and full price books, I'd been a little wary of visiting this bookshop because of how much I dislike high street remainder bookshops, or should that be shops that happen to sell books. I really should have known better.

As a follower of theirs on Twitter I already knew Harbour Books regularly crafts some beautiful window displays (my photo doesn't do it justice), what I hadn't expected was a shop crammed with more books than I'd seen in a long time, most of them in a space no larger than my living room. Sure, the shop includes a back room and upstairs, but it was this colourful front room that captured my heart. From recommendations and local interest to general fiction and classics - not forgetting a bright and colourful children's section - there was most definitely something for everyone. And listening into the conversation at the till where the bookseller appeared to be ordering in new stock, I was definitely in a place that appreciates a good book.

And so I appreciated their bookshop even more, taking my time to explore the books before selecting The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin for a mere £2.99.

Following a leisurely walk through the town, my next stop was the secondhand and antiquarian Oxford Street Books. In contrast to my first stop, this bookshop was massive. Sprawling through many rooms, each with a different subject, this was a shop to get lost in, and so I did... wandering from science fiction to history, to crime and even a few shelves dedicated to naval and western fiction. I picked up Stephen King's The Stand for just £1.95 and The True Deceiver by Moomin writer Tove Jansson for 95p. Yes, I failed to stick to my one book limit, but at those prices how could I do anything else?

Pleased with my purchases, it was time to take a break and go for lunch at the Horsebridge Arts Centre. A wonderful resource for the community, I enjoyed some friendly banter with the staff followed by a warming jacket potato in their cafe. Then, so comfortable was I in my surroundings (I did have a couple of good books to read too) that I decided to dawdle a while longer and sample their cakes and hot chocolate. It was during this second trip to the counter that I noticed a bookshelf by the door. While I know this technically probably doesn't class as a bookshop, I found it impossible to ignore the shelves and soon found myself picking up Danny Wallace's Charlotte Street for a mere 50p - as it's raising money for the centre I doubled my donation.

And so, for less than £7, I came away from Whitstable with a haul of seven books. Rain meant I didn't get to enjoy an ice cream by the sea, but with bookshops like this to tempt me back we all know I'll be returning for a 99 once the sun returns.

Harbour Books
21 Harbour Street, Whitstable, CT5 1AQ
Tel: 01227 264011

Oxford Street Books
20A Oxford Street, Whitstable, CT5 1DD
Tel: 01227 281727


  1. Come down to The net as well. We have some great bookshops Michael's in Ramsgate plus other's in Broadstairs Margate and Cliftonville. Plus we have the Turner Contemporary. I love Whitstable see my blog for my summer trip there.

    1. Thanks Don, I've had Tiverton in Cliftonville and The Chapel in Broadstairs recommended but do let me know of the others, I'd love to look them all up.

  2. I love seaside towns in winter - we honeymooned in Brighton in February, so that might have something to do with it. As long as you can stay reasonably warm and dry and find places for coffee/hot chocolate at regular intervals it's usually fun. Throw in these bookshops and it sounds like the recipe for a great day out.

    Not sure how easy Whitstable is going to be for us to get to now we live in the South West, but it has been on our list for a while - partly because of it's mention on QI - mention of it always brings this to mind (you'll have to cut and paste - can't work out how to make it a link!)

    1. What a great song, although it's so catchy I fear I may now be singing it for the rest of the year... I do agree with you about seaside towns, no amount of bad weather can put me off wanting to visit them and when there are bookshops to escape the rain in they're even more wonderful.

  3. We used to have another bookshop, too, the wonderful Pirie and Cavender. The owner, Tom, used to host a book signing for me every time a new book came out. And Harbour Books always has a display in the window when a new one comes out - they're very supportive.

    1. I'm sorry I was too late to visit Pirie and Cavender, it does concern me how many bookshops I'll have missed out on. Harbour Books did impress me with their local interest section, next time I visit I'll be sure to look for one of your books.

  4. I'm late to the party but just discovered your blog. We live in Broadstairs and personally i wouldn't recommend either bookshop in Broadstairs, although The Chapel is better, but Oxford Street Books is my spiritual home and i love Harbour Books too! Michaels in Ramsgate is lovely as is (I know it's a charity shop so may not count) The Pilgrims Hospice bookshop opposite the Turner Contemporary in Margate. I'm off to check out some of your other Kent visits, great blog!

    1. Thanks for your comments Bex. I've been to The Chapel once a long time ago and think I quite enjoyed it - beer and books seem like a great combination to me, but I've not yet had a chance to visit for the blog.

      And charity shops count. My priority is independent, but so long as the sales are face-to-face ANY bookshop that impresses me will be included on the blog.

      I'll add your recommendations to my list...


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