Friday 26 February 2016

Worth the diversion

Have you ever had one of those days where, no matter how hard you try, you just can't achieve X, get to Y or meet Z? When everything conspires against you and the only option is to give up on whatever it was and vow to try again another day.

That's exactly what I've had – through no fault of its own – with The White Horse Bookshop in Wiltshire. Only we're not talking a struggle over days, but years. It was worth the wait.

Found in the attractive market town of Marlborough, this bookshop first came to my attention in 2013, when I realised a planned journey along the M4 would take me within worthwhile diversion distance. Many of you have probably already realised what's wrong with that story: gridlock on the motorway saw me going nowhere for hours, meaning even my planned diversion was too much of a break from the journey to be followed.

"It's okay," I reassured myself, "I'll visit on the return journey."

The day of my return saw me starting out in Wales in torrential rain, accompanied by the sound of howling gales and the sight of fallen trees (many of which required me to stop while I waited for people with tractors or chainsaws to clear the road). Clinging to the steering wheel for dear life, once back in England I was too scared to leave the motorway in case I encountered any more such trees. My luck was similarly bad on subsequent trips along the M4.

Then came the end of 2015 and I once again found myself on the M4, headed to Wales. This time, nothing was going to stop me from leaving the motorway (for a diversion only marginally slower, when you consider bad traffic) to visit The White Horse Bookshop.

I left the M4 at Junction 14 and was soon winding through attractive countryside, followed by an equally attractive town. Arriving in the early afternoon, I missed out on the bustle of market day as the stalls were being taken down, but that probably worked in my favour as it meant I was able to find a parking space almost exactly across the road from the bookshop. Being in the middle of a long drive, this was some reward, as I'm sure any distance driver will understand. But the real treat was to come.

From the market place, The White Horse Bookshop is not an obvious destination. It's tucked away in a corner, across the way from what appeared to be the main parade of shops and, if I'm honest, from a distance the shop front isn't overly striking. Then you get closer and take a proper look at the windows and realise what a gem this place is, before stepping inside and understanding the bookshop is nothing like you'd expected from its unassuming exterior.

For a small market town Marlborough has a very big bookshop. Stretching far back beyond the compact shop front, I was particularly impressed by a very long wall of fiction, further supplemented by bookcases of crime and science fiction: no browser is ever going to struggle to find a purchase or five here. The only difficulty will be limiting your purchases to five.

Throw in a large children's section and good variety of non-fiction, along with two further floors – one for art supplies, one for more non-fiction – and I could've easily lost a day to browsing. And should I have tired (unlikely) the first floor opens up into a large bay window with one of the most inviting window seats I've ever seen. Enjoying a view of the market square, it offers heaven for people-watchers while also being the perfect place to sit and review your selection – as the lady pictured in my very rubbish photograph was doing during a day trip to the town.*

Not wishing to intrude too much, I left her to her browsing, returning to that long wall of fiction. Starting at the far end of the alphabet it took me all of five seconds to choose a purchase, The storied life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, before attempting to resist the rest of the treats on offer. Slowly following the shelves, I enjoyed the bookshop conversations of orders collected, recommendations made and general chatter before arriving at the till to join in and buy my book.

It's a shame I didn't manage to visit The White Horse Bookshop sooner, but the extra anticipation and the joy of finding a destination that more than surpassed my hopes meant my visit was all the more fun. And now I know how short a diversion a trip to this bookshop is, I'll be leaving the motorway traffic jams behind more often.

The White Horse Bookshop
136 High Street, Marlborough, Wiltshire, SN8 1HN
Tel: 01672 704001

*we paused for a chat and to compare notes on our enjoyment of the bookshop when I asked permission to take her picture.**
** apologies for my rubbish photography skills, the bookshop really is a bright and lovely place. One day I'll buy a decent camera.


  1. On my way to Hay-on-Wye, my friend suggested stopping off in Marlborough for lunch. I was indecisive until we went past the White Horse Bookshop and if I wasn't quite "STOP THE CAR! NOW!" it was close. There was a lovely display in the window for the illustrated Harry Potter book, which had just been published. What a beautiful shop! Independent shops are special - independent NEW bookshops are particularly wonderful. (See also second-hand bookshops for their own charms.) The long fiction floor, the travel room upstairs (if I remember rightly) and the lovely room for the non-fiction, with the comfy window seat and the tables in the middle. I bought The Bookshop That Floated Away and added several more titles to my wishlist. I THINK there might have been a basement with art supplies too, but we were running short of time and I've got all the artistic ability of a bunch of twigs, so I didn't look down there. There was also a nice stationer's/card shop on the other side of the road with a glass cabinet of all the colours of bottled ink - and I do like writing with a proper pen and ink.

    1. Ah brilliant! Thank you for sharing this Katie. I love the idea of that arrival at the bookshop! And yes, you have remembered correctly (and your artistic abilities with words have made me smile with regard the bunch of twigs).

  2. I lived close to Marlborough when I was a child - not close enough to visit regularly but close enough for it to be a real treat to occasionally go to the White Horse Bookshop. I LOVED this shop - then (a fair number of years ago!) it was mainly a second-hand shop, or at least the basement was. I still have some of the books I bought there. Thank you for this post - it has brought back some very happy memories. I can almost SMELL that shop - 40 years later and 400 miles away!

    1. I'm so pleased to have brought back happy memories for you Sally. Thanks for sharing!


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