Northumberland is a breathtaking county with incredible scenery, fascinating history (notably Roman) and a collection of amazing independent bookshops. One of the main charms of this part of England is that it isn’t over-touristy, but this also means that although there are fewer bookshops than in some parts of Britain. However, those that do exist have really special atmospheres and go the extra mile to offer outstanding customer service.
We spent a week in this part of the UK in 2020, and have listed the bookstores that we visited. We’ve also included other Northumbrian bookshops that we hope to explore on future holidays. It would be nigh on impossible to tour all the bookshops in Northumberland in one day. Instead, we recommend that you build an excursion around each one (you can see other local attractions under each entry).
To make life easier, the listings also include the address, parking information and whether the shops are dog-friendly. At present, we have left off the opening hours as these are subject to COVID-19 variations so check individual websites and social media pages before visiting.
All photographs taken by The Book Family Rogerson unless stated in the caption.
- A Guide to Bookshops in the Peak District
- 11 Bookish Places to Stay in the UK
- 14 Brilliant Children’s Bookshops in Britain
Barter Books in Alnwick is justifiably one of the most famous bookshops in Northumberland, if not the UK – for it’s warm welcome and magnificent interior. Located in part of Alnwick’s Victorian Railway Station, this immense cathedral of secondhand books has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
There are seven rooms in all, which have all been creatively converted into different spaces – the entrance (formerly the Station Parcel’s Room), the Station Buffet with a series of three smaller rooms to eat in, the Children’s Room, the cosy Old Waiting Room and the spectacular Main Hall. If you’re not already convinced, how about adding neon artwork, beautifully-painted quotation signs and a model railway running between bookshelves to the mix? Yes, this place is the stuff of literary dreams and you’ll probably never want to leave.
As you’d expect from such a bookish giant, Barter Books stocks used books in all genres, as well as gift items, which can be bought online. Interestingly, the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ slogan trend started here when owner, Stuart Manley found an original World War Two poster in a box he’d found at auction. He and co-owner Mary, his wife, have used the substantial proceeds to restore and protect the Grade II building.
It’s a really friendly place and everyone is welcome, including dogs. If you’re planning to go, we’d recommend getting there early as there can be long queues, especially now that capacity is controlled for social distancing. It’s an experience worth waiting for though.
- Address: Barter Books, Alnwick Station, Northumberland NE66 2NP
- Online Shopping: You can purchase gifts on the website.
- Parking: There is limited parking onsite,
- Toilets: Yes
- Dog-Friendly: Yes
Other local attractions: Alnwick makes a great base for a holiday as there’s plenty to do. Other places to visit include Alnwick Castle and Garden (used in the filming of Harry Potter), Bailiffgate Museum and Gallery and the Aln Valley Railway.
Cogito Books in Hexham has just won the North of England Independent Bookshop of the Year at the 2021 British Book Awards. We popped in on a drizzly October day to find an utterly cosy retreat full of well-curated books.
The bookshop has two rooms, one with a comfy sofa, but what makes this bookstore stand out is the range of helpful services that the team offers. Children are encouraged to join book clubs and storytelling sessions; the booksellers eagerly volunteer for rare book scouting missions and you can organise personal book consultations for yourself, and as gifts. Events are on hold at the moment, but there are three online book groups (fiction, crime and children’s).
Despite its relatively compact size, there are actually 10,000 books in stock and we found everything we were searching for when we visited, as well as some nice surprises such as Slightly Foxed editions. If you’re short on inspiration, you can check out their book recommendations.
- Address: 5 St Mary’s Chare, Hexham, Northumberland, NE46 1NQ
- Online Shopping: The website doesn’t have an e-commerce option, but you can order via email and phone.
- Parking: There isn’t any parking onsite. Hexham has a bizarre parking system, which involves £1 parking discs and is a bit of a faff so your best bet is Wentworth Long Stay (about 10 mins walk from the bookshop).
- Toilets: No (public toilets at the carpark)
- Dog-Friendly: Not entirely sure of policy. They let our well-behaved dog into the shop!
Other local attractions: Hexham has a good share of things to see and do. The majestic Hexham Abbey dominates he town centre. There’s also the Old Gaol Museum and access points to the Hadrian’s Wall UNESCO World Heritage Site are nearby.
As with some of the best bookshops, Forum Books is tucked down a picturesque little alleyway in the market town of Corbridge. Opposite the historic Pele Tower (which is also a pub), the bookstore is housed in a converted chapel and has some lovely architectural features. These include a pulpit, which is used for events and also doubles up as a kids’ reading area.
Forum Books only sells new books, showcasing these by theme, genre and subject. Much to our delight, we found huge wall of signed copies as we walked into the shop. The layout is fresh and open, with a large sign printed with the words ‘Read On‘ dominating the large one-room bookselling space. This is a bookshop that actively encourages discovery.
In addition to books, customers can also purchase cards, wrapping paper and gifts. The team offers an online ordering service (we used this while on holiday and our book arrived the very next day!). The shop prides itself on holding vibrant events and has continued an online series with 3 other bookshops AtHomeWith4Indies during lockdown.
- Address: Forum Books, The Chapel, Market Place, Corbridge, Northumberland, NE45 5AW
- Online Shopping: You can order books online through an ecommerce system.
- Parking: Parking can get busy in Corbridge but there are lots of pay & display options nearby.
- Toilets: No (public toilets on a nearby street).
- Dog-Friendly: Yes.
Other local attractions: Corbridge is a pretty market town with plenty of cafes, pubs and independent shops. It has been popular since Roman times and you can visit the Corbridge Roman Town attraction to find out more about the history of this historic settlement.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is the northernmost town in England and sits very close to the border with Scotland. We didn’t have an opportunity to visit during our holiday, but it’s firmly on our wishlist, especially as it has two bookshops, and is right by the coast.
We’re starting this section with Berrydin Books. The unusual name isn’t Northumbrian or Scottish as you might assume, but refers to the fact that the bookshop owner is usually ‘buried in’ books! There isn’t a lot of recent information on the internet but it looks as if this rare and secondhand book dealer has lots of fans. Although the website is down, you can see the latest updates on their Facebook page.
- Address: 18a Castlegate, Berwick-upon-Tweed TD15 1JT
- Online Shopping: There isn’t a website. The bookshop will send books by post if you contact them.
- Parking: Castle Gate Car Park is very close by.
- Toilets: No (public toilets available in town)
- Dog-Friendly: Unknown although there is a picture of a dog in the photograph!
Slightly Foxed sells a wide range of quality second-hand books for adults and children, both fiction and non-fiction. They also sell original vintage movie posters and stock a selection of L.S. Lowry fine art prints for sale. The bookshop has a website (see link in header), but I’m not sure how up-to-date it is so it’s probably best to check out their Facebook page instead.
Again, judging from social media and testimonials, it looks as if the bookstore is well-loved and appreciated by local customers. It can be found near the Old Bridge.
- Address: 31 Bridge Street, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1ES
- Online Shopping: Unknown.
- Parking: No onsite parking. There are public car parks nearby.
- Toilets: No (public toilets available in town)
- Dog-Friendly: Unknown.
Other local attractions: Berwick-upon-Tweed has occupied an important site between Scotland and England for centuries so it has plenty of historic locations. You can walk the Elizabethan Walls, visit Paxton House and make the journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne.