chestnut book blog

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We went for a short break to Northumberland last week and had a thoroughly relaxing time. I also managed to get a slight suntan in the far north of England which I consider to be an achievement I will dine out on for years to come! Today I thought you might like a few small stories about our trip away. I’m going to have to rely on word pictures and any images I can snaffle free from the internet though I’m afraid as I was awaiting a new memory card so took none of my own photos (an excuse to go back I  think!).

First stop, the picturesque town and castle of Alnwick, seat of the Dukes and Duchesses of Northumberland, and location of Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films. I did find a Creative Commons image, isn’t it beautiful?

Alnwick Castle: Creative Commons

Alnwick Castle: Creative Commons

Whilst we were there, the castle was being prepared for a wedding, that of Lady Melissa Percy I believe and I can’t think of a better venue. One place to avoid if you’ve had a few drinks is the ‘Oubliette’ though. From the french word meaning ‘to forget’, this is little more than a deep hole in the ground on either side of the interior gatehouse where prisoners were put in days gone by. It is very easy to believe that they then would be just forgotten about. A harrowing fate I think, even for lawless times, especially as the drop appeared deep enough to break several bones but probably not kill you outright when you were chucked down there. The information board did say people were sometimes lowered down with ropes though I should explain. The ‘sometimes’ in the sentence is revealing!

Almost as interesting for me  as the castle though was the short wander into the town of Alnwick itself, where I stumbled across an Aladdin’s cave of books. Marketing itself as ‘the British Library of second-hand books’, Barter Books is a revelation. Based in Alnwick’s old station building, the magic begins as you step inside into a delicious smell of loved books and the chug-chug and whistles of a model train weaving its way around the rafters. I don’t think I’d see everything they had to offer even if I spent a week there, the selection was so diverse, from the modern (I did see a Fifty Shades of Grey lurking in one stack) to the almost priceless antiques in glass cabinets. Given that selection, I was remarkably restrained in my purchases. At one point while drooling over a signed edition of Great Expectations I had to remind myself that I buy books to enjoy and read, not as a collector, but it was very tempting! In the end, I left with a nearly new copy of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which has been on my ‘To read’ list for a while. For £2.50 I felt I had bagged a bargain! I’ll let you know what I think of it in a future post. One final interesting fact about Barter Books is that is the place the craze for the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ typographic poster was born. The owner found a wartime original that has since spawned countless copies and tapped into a slightly strange ‘state of the nation’ zeitgeist, love it or hate it.

We had a wonderful few days. The people were friendly and there were the kind of big skies and big landscapes that just feel good for your soul. Combine that with the best second-hand book shop I’ve ever found and lots of history and you have the recipe for my perfect short break!