A couple of weeks ago, the clouds parted and the promise of a beautiful, warm, sunny day was upon us. It was an invitation I could not refuse.
So I suited up and decide to head down the coast on my motorbike.
My destination, Alnwick.
If you’ve never been to Alnwick, you are missing a trick. Not only is it home to Alnwick Castle and its stunning gardens, but it is also where you will find the award-winning Barter Books.
The second-hand book emporium was voted Vintage Shop of the Year by readers of Homes & Antiques magazine.
It may seem an odd choice for a vintage shop of the year, but you wouldn’t think that if you had ever had the chance to visit.
Set in an old Victorian railway station, the bookshop has grown from a small shop in the small waiting room to now encompass the whole building, including the ticket office, waiting rooms, and what appears to be the main platform area.
It’s the sort of place that makes you smile and relax as soon as you step over the threshold. I mean, who doesn’t love books? And this beautiful old station is packed to the rafters with every type of book. You could easily lose yourself within the rows of old wooden book shelves for a few hours.
But the books aren’t the only attraction on offer. Owners Mary Manley and her husband Stuart have lovingly revamped the building, which includes a cafe, with eating areas cosily set up in the former waiting rooms. One includes a coal fire, which, even on a sunny day, tempts you to settle down with a cup of coffee and those books you just couldn’t resist. Ironwork and tiles have been cleaned, and the station clocks have been repaired. A model train circles around the main entrance area on a track suspended from the ceiling. Sofas and chairs are dotted throughout the building, inviting browsers to stay and relax a while. So stay I did, to browse and eat, before venturing back outside to my other favourite haunt in the town.
Off to to the side of the station, you’ll find Alnwick Exchange.
Its small entrance area is deceiving, as it opens out to a larger area at the back. As well as some furniture, the exchange has a lot of smaller bits and pieces – vinyl records, jewellery, china, old tools, oil-filled lamps, and glass bottles.
While the better items are kept up front, I always like a good rummage in the back, where you can uncover some lovely items – for example, old teacups and saucers, that with a bit of a clean can be transformed into earring holders, or candles for yourself or to give away as a gift.
As always, I never come away empty handed. Fortunately, this time, I was reined in by the fact I had to get it home on the motorbike, so a small cup and saucer was my only purchase.
Barter Books, Alnwick Station, Wagon Way Road, Alnwick, tel: 01665 604888, www.barterbooks.co.uk