Friday 21 February 2014

Ferreting out a good cultural destination

A weekend away with a friend was supposed to take in a variety of cultural activities, some beautiful countryside and a couple of good places to eat.

The views and the food were pretty much a given, but what my friend didn't consider while we drove towards the south coast was the power of my bookshop homing beacon.

They soon learnt.

A chance decision to go on a detour to Arundel Castle on the Sunday afternoon was where it all went wrong (or right), with our lack of preparation revealing the castle to be closed and instead leaving us exploring the town. Where we found two bookshops on one road.

My friend was remarkably composed as I skipped away to explore the first one, leaving them in the street looking at... well... something that wasn't a bookshop. I'm sure it was interesting too, but I had The Book Ferret in my sights.

With large, welcoming windows and a colourful display, this bookshop called to me more than any historic castle, and while it may not have had the turrets and dungeons to get lost in I certainly found plenty to explore, without the need for an entry fee.

From the spacious front room, to the colourful children's area - complete with friendly Moomin - there were a wide variety of period and modern features and all the charm you'd expect in any historic property, not forgetting the wide selection of books to keep me entertained. Which was possibly a little unfair on my friend, who eventually found me nose-deep in the fiction.

Picking up We, the drowned by Carsten Jensen I resisted the urge to read in the shop (not for too long, anyway) and took one last look around. Fully intending to leave and resume our tour of the nearby historic attractions I went to pay, which is when I threw all consideration for my friend out the window (sorry) as I realised the woman behind the till was reading a Tove Jansson. We soon launched into a mutual appreciation of her writing as the bookseller became my tour guide through the works of this wonderful author.

The quiet of a Sunday afternoon was ideal for this visit to The Book Ferret, which perfectly balanced open space with good quality books and friendly staff, but if it's a crowd you're after perhaps a walk down the street would be more to your liking.

Crammed with something like 30,000 secondhand books, Kim's Bookshop was a complete contrast to the calm, open space I'd left behind.

I forget how many stairs I climbed and floors I wandered as I took in the enormity of the Tardis-like shop. With  crowds of books to hunt through this was a maze to get lost in, and it was with some surprise that - clutching a copy of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas - I eventually stumbled across my friend in the history section. Also a reader, they'd come to appreciate the different cultural angle our tour had taken by buying a book, albeit a more intellectual choice than mine.

Yes, it's a bit of a shame we missed out on the castle, but thanks to two bookshops we were still able to enjoy a couple of hours of discovery - and I'm more likely to read these two purchases than any guide book.

The Book Ferret
34 High Street, Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9AB
Tel: 01903 885727

Kim's Bookshop
10 High Street, Arundel, West Sussex, BN18 9AB
Tel: 01903 880680

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