What are Book Towns?

“A Book Town is a small rural town or village in which second‑hand and antiquarian bookshops are concentrated. Most Book Towns have developed in villages of historic interest or of scenic beauty.”
– from the International Organisation of Book Towns website
Alex Johnson

Alex Johnson signing his book Book Towns at the Sedbergh Festival

Book Towns were the brain‑child of book dealer and self-styled “King” of Hay‑on‑Wye, Richard Booth. In 1961 Hay became the first ever book town, and there are now well over twenty of them around the world.

Compared to Hay‑on‑Wye (which is in Wales by the way), most of the Book Towns that are to be found in Europe, South‑east Asia, North America and Australia are tiddlers. They tend to be small towns or villages located mostly in rural areas, and Sedbergh is no exception.

Sedbergh Book Town

Anyone coming to Sedbergh expecting an “oop North” version of Hay‑on‑Wye, with a dish of tripe on the side, is going to be disappointed – and not just because the local butcher doesn’t normally sell tripe.

There are only a couple of shops in Sedbergh which sell only books (however, one of them is enormous! See below). But there are book outlets in many shops such as Farfield Clothing, No 6 and Sleepy Elephant, while Sedbergh Information and Book Centre has a huge & eclectic range of books from 18 dealers, and you can find books at Farfield Mill Arts and Heritage Centre, a mile away up the road to Hawes. There are also a number of Book Cafes where you can buy books as well as great meals, teas and cakes.

Sedbergh Book Shelter

Sedbergh Book Shelter

Finally there is the new Book Shelter, a redundant bus shelter where you can take a book for free, as long as you replace it with another one.

Westwood Books, at the eastern end of Main Street is a family‑run enterprise that moved to Sedbergh from Hay‑on‑Wye in 2005. The former cinema is home to about 70,000 titles at any one time and it’s the sort of place where browsers can lose all sense of time. It’s worth a visit in its own right.

And when your bibliophilic passion is spent – or you just need a little breather – remember that Sedbergh is also a rather nice little town, with cakes and ale and stunning views. Round off your day with one of the gentle ambles described on our Things to do around Sedbergh page.

“First, a confession: I spend far too much on books. Which is why this idea of creating a Book Town in Sedbergh is a thoroughly bad idea. Until now my nearest Book Towns were Hay‑on‑Wye and Wigtown, which meant my obsessions were held in check by sheer distance. Now it’s going to be far too easy. I can already hear my bank manager turning in his vault. I won’t be able to resist. And there are thousands of other bibliophiles holding their heads in their hands as we speak. ‘Not Sedbergh!’ I hear them cry just before they get into their car and are drawn slowly but surely towards the Howgills.”
– Eric Robson, writer, broadcaster and our patron