Thursday, 31 May 2018

What we found when we got lost

After a winter that seemed to cancel out most of the spring, with the appearance of the sun we’ve been lucky enough to do a little travelling around the country. For me, more travel means more bookshop visits.

Whenever we go anywhere, I begin by researching the bookshops in the area – which ones do I already ‘know’ through Twitter and the like; where has been recommended; and what other treats are nearby? Then I move on to the surrounding area, is there another bookshop within half an hour of travel? Before finally planning the journey.

This last stage of travel preparation is the hardest because I try to balance the number of bookshops visited in relation to miles travelled, breaks, possible diversions, four or five random routes that might appeal to either of us at the time AND to consider what we might find after getting lost. Actually, it would all be a lot easier if we didn’t both have a knack for the last two.

For this week’s bookshop it was something along those lines that saw us accidentally end up in the right place at the wrong (or right) time, as we made our way from east to west across the south of England.

I’d picked out Archway Bookshop in Axminster as a possible stop off point on our long drive home from holiday, thinking it would be a good half-way point to stretch our legs and reinvigorate our minds. Instead, we ended up finding the bookshop by accident on the way to our holiday, when a random whim saw us follow a road sign thinking we were heading to the town famous for the Hovis advert. Which we later realised is actually miles away in Shaftesbury. Geography is not my strong point. In fact, we didn't even realise we were in the wrong place until we were walking around the town and Archway Bookshop came into view across the square.

The bookshop's blue sign just poked above the top of the raised area in front of us, bright enough to catch our eye, subtle enough to blend with the historic wall it's set within. The bookshop's name comes from its archway entrance, which is believed to have once been part of the walls of the abbey. In respect of the conservation area, the frontage is understated but that doesn't appear to matter in this market town. We soon discovered Archway Bookshop is popular with local readers.

Behind the subtle exterior is a wealth of books and bookshop knowledge. The first room opens into a second, larger and brighter area, where you have a choice of continuing back to the children's area or taking a striking metal staircase to the floor above. I'd never have imagined so many books could be found inside. I wandered between those first two rooms, where various fiction selections are housed, before exploring the non-fiction upstairs and soon realising I could get carried away during what was only meant to be a brief stopping point.

A recommends table with particularly unusual stock caught my attention for some time, before I eventually returned to the general fiction to pick up Matt Haig's How to stop time. Upon arrival at the counter the good sense of my choice was immediately confirmed when the bookseller commented how much he'd enjoyed this book. It's always nice when someone starts a conversation about the book I'm buying, and this was the introduction to a very pleasant chat.

We'd already been witness to many customers popping in for a browse, chat or to order/collect a specific title, so it was nice to be welcomed as warmly as if we'd been regulars. This gave me the confidence to perhaps be nosier than I'd usually be before explaining why I was there, but I don't think the bookseller minded as he introduced me to Archer the dog and happily chatted about the history of the bookshop. Our conversation even roamed to recommendations of other bookshops to visit nearby. The nature of our journey meant we couldn't follow these up at the time, but they have been noted.

Archer was a friendly addition to the bookshop and I was particularly grateful of our unplanned arrival because it happened to coincide with the start of his shift behind the counter. Tim the bookseller did admit sometimes the customers are more interested in talking to the dog than him, but I found both to be good company. As was a random customer who joined the conversation, singing the bookshop's praises when she overheard my questioning.

It was this friendliness, from staff and customers, that I took away with me as we left Archway Bookshop to continue our journey. To be welcomed as a friend by a whole group of people who you've only just met – and may never meet again – is a rare treat, I'm very glad about what we found.


Archway Bookshop
Church Street, Axminster,
Devon EX13 5AQ
Tel: 01297 33744
@Archwaybookshop

No comments:

Post a Comment