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.
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.
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.