This week is Independent Bookshop Week, and while I personally think every week is a good week to visit an indie, I do love having an extra excuse to go on a bookshop crawl.
The theme of this year's week is Bookshop Heroes, and as part of the celebrations the Bookseller's Association suggested I might want to take a trip to meet a few more of those heroes than usual by travelling around the Cotswolds. I packed my bags and my boyfriend into the car and set out on a three-day adventure.
Day oneSetting off from our Kent home, the first few hours of our Saturday were spent in remarkably clear traffic on the M25 and M4, giving us time to discuss the adventure to come and me time to psyche myself up for wearing a superhero cape in public. I may not be a bookseller but the BA was happy for me to join in with the heroic fun.
Even though I'd been there before, I was still nervous to be arriving at our first bookshop because I'm not used to being expected. It was therefore a relief to walk into The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop in Tetbury and be immediately welcomed with offers of coffee. This warm welcome and few minutes to pause and sit on the comfy bookshop sofa were exactly what I needed to recover from the long drive.
My familiarity with the bookshop meant I had more time to chat with the bookseller, leaving my boyfriend to browse and occasionally comment on how impressed he was with the choice of books on offer. The conversation included bookshops (including a recommendation of an additional destination while we were in the area), books, the Cotswolds and the reason behind the unusual name. This last part of the conversation was the reason I bought The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, but I could have easily left overloaded with other books.
Cotswold Book Room. Probably the smallest of the bookshops during our tour, the thing that made this place special was the two ladies in charge. Cheerful and friendly and obviously filled with love for their bookshop and community, we had a great conversation with them and really enjoyed the enthusiastic welcome from these unassuming bookshop heroes.
There was a limited offering of books but it still covered all the important subjects and catered for the reading children and adults of Wootton. I was delighted to pick up The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey. Cotswold Book Room, named because it had started life as a room in a house, may be small but its heart is big and the experience was that of a small community bookshop – which seemed perfectly fitting for this destination.
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop made another appearance for stop three, as we visited the sister shop in Nailsworth. I’d been expecting a slightly smaller carbon copy of the first, when in fact we were greeted by another unique bookshop, with small nods towards the style of its older sister. Both were perfect in their own way.
Louise the energetic and welcoming bookseller greeted us and all customers with a friendly smile, deftly responding to enquiries, recommending books and treating everyone like old friends. Where Tetbury had exuded reserved confidence, here the joy of books was pinned to the mast, further emphasising the different communities we were visiting. After some book discussion I selected Less by Andrew Sean Greer, because we both agreed it looked fun.
Stroud Bookshop kept being recommended. Three out of three recommendations meant we had to investigate.
Found in what I assume must be a market town because there were market stalls everywhere, my first instinct was that this appeared to be the most functional bookshop we visited. That's an observation, rather than a criticism: decor is simple and shelves well-filled. We missed the owner, but conversation was lively as we got chatting with both booksellers and customers. Stroud is clearly a place where people are willing to talk to strangers, something other towns might benefit from considering! Here I chose Elizabeth Strout’s My name is Lucy Barton.
Octavia’s Bookshop, Cirencester. “Flying” Moomins fill the window, and there’s a feeling of warmth and colour the moment you step through the door. A buzz of enthusiastic children filled the shop, which it was simply wonderful to hear.
Five bookshops down, it was time to take a break, as we headed for The Angel at Burford in preparation for the next round of adventuring.
Throw in the selection of hats for men and women and this is a bookshop you could easily spend a whole morning enjoying. We resisted the hats in the end, with me choosing Money by Emile Zola, and my boyfriend picking up David Bellos’ The Novel of the Century (which was fortunately one of the books I'd been agonising over leaving behind).
Jaffe and Neale in Stow-on-the-Wold. Being at the halfway point on our journey, this proved a welcome pause to sit and enjoy the bookshop surroundings from the comfort of two easy chairs. It turns out it's much less effort to investigate the bottom shelves of bookcases when you're already sitting comfortably!
Two perfectly-filled rooms mean this was one of the smallest places we visited but it kept us the longest. This was partly because of conversations with the bookseller, partly because I was enjoying how much my boyfriend was enjoying the bookshop and got distracted from my own mission of buying a book. Stock includes a range of unexpected titles, small publishers and a good mix of translated fiction, so we ended up leaving with three books here. I chose The Infatuations by Javier Marais, while he picked Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich and Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth.
Completing our day with a glimpse of the previously-mentioned palace, we drove to nearby Oxford to spend the night in a Fuller's pub which gave us 15 per cent off because we booked direct – further proof the internet isn't always the cheapest option.
Day 3It was an early start on Monday, as I dropped my partner in bookshopping at the railway station so he could go to work, before setting out on the final day alone. Not that I ever really felt alone with all the bookshop hero booksellers to keep me company.
Jaffe and Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, another place I'd previously experienced. Enjoying a second breakfast of tiffin and coffee, I chatted with the booksellers and found out more about their bookshop, other bookshops and books in general. This is a cheery, bright destination and I particularly enjoyed seeing their upstairs reading room, which another browser had already made herself comfortable in.
Hearing the bookseller talk about his love for his current favourite book, I found myself compelled to buy The Overstory by Richard Powers. That said, there was an understated conviction in his words about every book discussed, so I could easily have left with an entirely new library if I'd had the car space and money.
I was given a quick tour and a coffee and let loose to wander, taking in a good selection of history and biographies and enjoying the variety of small publishers mixed in among the big names. After some discussion, I was again easily convinced to choose a book loved by the bookseller, this time buying Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.
I explored the lot before settling next to the fiction, being tempted by each of the books highlighted by handwritten recommendations attached to the shelves. Most of these titles were unknown to me, meaning all were very tempting, with a conversation with the bookseller helping me to narrow it down to the one chosen book: Together by Julie Cohen.
This seemed like a lovely town to explore but at this point I was on a time-limit: I had to find a convenient, safe, place to pause for an interview live on air on BBC Radio Gloucestershire. It was a brief chat about the importance of supporting independent bookshops, with local bookshops being interviewed throughout the week. I'm always happy to help remind people of the value of these community gems and I do hope some of the listeners took note.
You don't have to visit 12 bookshops in three days, but letting bookshops inspire you to visit new places (in the real and imagined world) is definitely a recommended experience – and one that will make you a bookshop hero too.
Day 1The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
21 Church St, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8JG
Tel: 01666 500221 @YLBookshop
Cotswold Book Room
26 Long Street, Wotton-Under-Edge, Gloucestershire GL12 7BT
Tel: 01453 843140
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
17 Fountain Street, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire GL6 0BL
Tel: 01453 832555 @YLBookshop
23 High Street, Stroud, Gloucestershire GL5 1AJ
Tel: 01453 756646 @stroudbookshop
24 Black Jack Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 2AA
Tel: 01285 650677 @octaviabookshop
Day 2Madhatter Bookshop
122 High Street, Burford, Oxfordshire OX18 4QJ
Tel: 01993 822539 @madhatterbook
Jaffe and Neale
8 Park Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1AQ
Tel: 01451 832000 @jandnstow
The Woodstock Bookshop
23 Oxford Street, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1TH
Tel: 01993 812760 @WoodstockBooks
Day 3Jaffe and Neale
1 Middle Row, Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire OX7 5NH
Tel: 01608 641033 @Jaffeandneale
The Borzoi Bookshop
Church Street, Stow on the Wold, Gloucestershire GL54 1BB
Tel: 01451 830268 @BorzoiBookshop
39 High street, Broadway, Worcestershire WR12 7DP
Tel: 01386 858588
The Suffolk Anthology
17 Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 2AE
Tel: 01242 361362 @CheltAnthology