Ever since we first heard about Sedbergh Book Town – England’s official book town situated near Kendal in Cumbria, we planned to make a visit. This pretty place is nestled at the foothills of the Howgill Fells and is a bit of a trek from the busy hubs of Windermere and Keswick, but is totally worth the drive.
However Sedbergh isn’t quite a Hay-on-Wye yet. It has three independent bookshops within the town itself ranging from the massive Westwood Books to the smaller Clutterbooks. What makes Sedbergh special though is that many of that many of the cafes, pubs and shops also stock books too – making it a real sanctuary for bibliophiles. Although a fair few shops were closed (even on a bank holiday Saturday!), we spent around four hours there quite happily and came back with a very reasonably-priced book hauls.
I’d recommend starting with Westwood books (which moved up from Hay in 2005) because this is the shop you’ll want to spend most time in. We parked by the church and it took about 10 minutes to walk along Main Street to the shop (it’s at the far end). Here’s a taste of what to expect:
The largest bookshop in the Yorkshire Dales, this vast store covers two floors of a converted cinema and is a sight to behold. I would recommend setting aside at least an hour to explore its many shelves. With a stock of over 70,000 secondhand, antiquarian and new books, Westwood Books requires a thorough browsing.
The groundfloor includes paperbacks, art, travel, a big children’s section plus a wide selection of other subjects. There’s also a coffee machine and a loo on this level. And don’t miss the Collector’s Bookroom which is in a separate section right at the back.
Upstairs, you will find film, sport, YA, literature, psychology to name but a few genres. When I say huge – I mean HUGE! Take a rucksack or three. Luckily if you do need to make a swift return visit, Westwood Books is open 7 days a week from 10.30am.
Dales and Lakes Book Centre
A lovely name for the Tourist Information Centre! The building is split into two halves – one side for the information part and the other for a range of secondhand books. It took us a while to work out what the names on each of the bookshelves meant until a friendly volunteer told us that each one belongs to a different book dealer. Fiction was in shorter supply here with non-fiction taking up most of the space. Another perk of this place is the public garden opposite – a perfect spot to sit and enjoy your book buys. The centre is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm, Sunday 12 noon to 4pm.
A compact community charity shop, this well-curated bookstore has a nice selection of secondhand titles. Sometimes a tighter range can be helpful and we found two books on our wishlist straightaway – Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Even better the prices were an absolute snip. Little M felt very at home and went off to read in the tiny children’s room – a sign of a welcoming book nook!
The profits from sales are funnelled into community projects so everything you buy goes towards a great cause. Clutterbooks welcomes visitors between Monday to Saturday 10am to 4pm.
Other Booksellers in Sedbergh Book Town
As mentioned earlier, quite a few of the shops were closed when we visited the town, but lots of them stock books. You can see them on this list of Sedbergh booksellers. These also include cafes and pubs. We were lucky to bag a table in the very small yet sweet Three Hares cafe which sources local produce and bakes its own delicious bread and cakes.
One place that’s always open is the cute bookish bus shelter, which is featured on the main image for this post. Visitors are welcome to take a book for free as long as they replace it with another title.
Although Sedbergh Book Town is still building its bookish reputation, the town definitely merits a special journey. We didn’t stay overnight as we have family who live fairly close-by but the area is very unspoilt and perfectly positioned between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. If you’re looking for a break in a beautiful, little-known part of Britain then Sedbergh is as good as it gets.
If you enjoyed reading this post, you might like to see our other literary travel features.