Wednesday 28 October 2015

My gothic fantasy

A month or two ago some friends and I enjoyed a long weekend in Yorkshire. It was the end of the summer but the weather was lovely, the scenery beautiful, the people friendly and the beer – ostensibly my reason for visiting – delicious.

The last night of our visit was planned for Ilkley, a spa town next to the moor, of which my only prior knowledge was that it's home to a good bookshop and a Bettys.

Finding ourselves in a pub 20 minutes from the town, we somehow got it into our heads that walking the remainder of the journey was the way to go. It was a decision that would ultimately influence my whole experience of Ilkley as we skirted the moor before arriving at our hotel above the town, glimpsing dark turrets in the early evening light.

It was a massive contrast to the generic chains we'd previously visited and I'll admit the dark wooden furniture and occasional creaky floorboard might not be to everyone's liking, but to me it was perfect. I found myself wishing for wind, rain and thunder and wanting to cancel all plans so I could curl up with Northanger Abbey or Wuthering Heights. Instead I went to the pub. Which meant my actual first experience of the town involved dark streets and the susceptibility to believe anything that comes after I've had a pint or two: think Catherine Morland's gothic imaginings on overdrive.

When morning came the skies were grey and a slight drizzle hung over everything. My dreams had come true. The gothic atmosphere was slightly broken by our early morning trip to Bettys for breakfast (have the rosti, you won't regret it), but as a timely reminder Ilkley can be happy and bright I wasn't going to complain.

Then it was time to return to the glorious British weather and await the opening of the much-anticipated Grove Bookshop. I'd previously been in touch with to check opening hours, so confess to being a little disappointed when their promise of skeleton staff turned out to not be meant literally, on the plus side I did get to have a good conversation with the bookseller.

My keenness had meant I was (briefly) the only customer, so this chatter stretched around the shop as I excitedly explored, enjoyed recommendations and asked 101 questions about the bookshop, hotel, town and anything else that came to mind. The Yorkshire friendliness is well-demonstrated here.

As more bookshoppers began to arrive I left the bookseller to it while I enjoyed the gentle buzz that was developing in the room. It's hard to keep your mood in a gothic novel when young families are filling the children's section and inquisitive visitors asking about the local interest titles, and I soon realised it didn't even matter that the sun had come out.

Grove Bookshop is everything I'd want my local indie to be: spacious, busy, well-stocked and friendly, with the power to lift even the darkest of moods. (Although I did try to cling to my atmospheric imaginings when I bought Thirteen Guests by J. Jefferson Farjeon.) It's a must-visit destination on the book lovers' map and easily a good reason to visit this West Yorkshire town. And if – for some bizarre reason – you're not a fan of books, it sits above Grove Music so you can probably happily get lost down there instead.

I say probably because as it was a Bank Holiday I didn't get to pop downstairs, but that's okay. It'll be something to do another day, preferably one that's particularly dark and stormy.

Grove Bookshop
10 The Grove, Ilkely,
West Yorkshire, LS29 9EG
Tel: 01943 609335


  1. It can easily be combined with a trip to Haworth, home of the Bronte's too!

    1. Good point! And yet another reason for me to return to the area... I did look at a novel about the family while I was there (a very good recommendation by the bookseller, the name of which escapes me) but wimped out of buying it because of not knowing their works well enough.


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