Thursday 16 June 2016

Finding the right moment

You know that thing when you plan to do something but you can't do it yet because it's not quite the right time to do so?

Either you're too busy or not in the right frame of mind or – in my case – totally ignorant of how close a bookshop is to where you live. So the thing stays in the shadows, waiting for the right moment, even if that moment is more than two years in the making.

For the past couple of years a woman I work with has been nagging, ordering and begging me to visit this week's bookshop, telling me it's nearby and one of her favourites. Her encouragement has ranged from polite to bossy, descriptive to abrupt, and always my response has been: one day.

It's not that I didn't want to visit, this particular colleague's praise is reserved for only the best of things and her descriptions were certainly appealing, but as I've said before, there are lots of bookshops in the world and I can't keep prioritising the South East.

Also, this particular bookshop is across the border in a different county and so there was no way I could believe it might actually be nearby. Map reading isn't one of my strong points.

Then one day someone took me for a walk in Tunbridge Wells and suggested we take a drive to Barnett's of Wadhurst.

The first thing I learned that day is how very close Wadhurst is in relation to where I live, meaning – embarrassingly – it's taken me two and a bit years to visit my official most geographically-local bookshop.

And what a local bookshop it is.

The two rooms are small but wonderfully filled, with a bright and colourful children's section (complete with blue sky and pirate ship lamp shade) at the back and lots to occupy the grown-ups in the front.

Although the children's section is at the back, a busy front room meant we'd walked straight through to explore this area first, and for a small market town the young readers of all ages are remarkably well catered for. It's a lovely, cosy space where I can imagine children settling down to play or read in safety while parents browse in the front of the shop. I later learned this is a big part of the bookshop's success, with young readers walking home from school dropping in to ask about jobs and gaining valuable experience of work in this wonderful setting. Not forgetting one young writer who's now been snapped up for her first book deal.

Returning to the front room we met the bookseller and one of his bookselling assistants. Possibly one of the loveliest men I've ever met, I was torn between wanting to stop and chat to him all day and continuing to explore the bookshop. Fortunately, he had exactly the right balance of knowing when to talk and when to leave us browsing, while also sharing the story of the bookshop and his fascinating life and making me feel like a valued, long-standing customer even though this was only my first visit.

Even if you don't talk to the bookseller, the bookshop itself tells its own story. A wealth of fiction and non-fiction cover the walls and ensured a steady stream of bookshoppers dropped by during our visit. The fiction section covers just one and a bit walls but spans what appears to be every continent, ensuring a rich variety of treats to tempt and delight.

Enjoying what is obviously a very carefully considered selection, I decided to make the most of the bookseller's knowledge and ask for a recommendation. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is not a book I think I'd ever have come to by myself, but the conversation with the bookseller meant I trusted his opinion implicitly: part-way through the book I'm pleased I did because it's proving to be a remarkable, consuming read.

Barnett's of Wadhurst is everything a local bookshop should be and then some, with a friendly welcome, energy and a great selection of books to suit all tastes. Not forgetting a selection of evening events to meet authors – something I can't wait to experience for myself.

I'm ashamed of myself for having not visited sooner but some experiences have to wait for the right moment, and this visit on this day was certainly it.

The second thing I learnt that day: I was on a date. This one's a keeper.

Barnett's of Wadhurst
Gordon House, High Street, Wadhurst, East Sussex,
Tel: 01892 783566


  1. You have to watch these ones who take you on a date without telling you that's what it is! I've been married to mine for 24 years now. Ours wasn't a bookshop but we have always shared a love of reading.

    1. haha! Thanks for the warning. Although the fault is all mine - I'm rather clueless!

    2. Mine wasn't obvious - there were other people there too!

      Are you making your trip to Bath soon? Let me know if you need any help tracking down all out bookshops - you may need a longer visit!

    3. I'm visiting Bath next week! Think I've got most of the bookshops worked out, but if you want to meet up send me an email as I'm always happy to re-visit them.

  2. Oh no - just seen this and realised we will miss you as we are on holiday at the opposite end of the country - Northumberland and Edinburgh. I hope you had a fab time and found all our wonderful shops - including some great second hand charity ones.

    I will try and find some (one) shop to write about for your guest blog section. There - I've said it now so I will have to!

    1. Sorry I missed you but yay for a guest blog. I visited most of Bath's bookshops (as you'll find out over the coming weeks/months) but am always happy to feature other people's opinions about bookshops I've visited. Or if you're volunteering to write about somewhere from your travels that's even more welcome as my northern coverage is sadly lacking at the moment...

  3. Thank you so much for writing about our shop, but unfortunately the telephone number provided is incorrect: it should be 01892 783566

    1. My goodness I'm sorry! I've now fixed the number. It took me three or four readings to realise where I'd gone wrong.


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