My Favourite Bookshops

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Mystery writer Mary Tant talks about the bookshops throughout the country which she enjoys the most.

An invitation to read…


Ashburton, Devon

Walk through the green door into The Dartmoor Bookshop and it feels almost as though you've entered the home of a book collector. The main front room opens into a smaller room at the back, and round a corner is another narrow room, all lined with bookcases filled with books of all kinds.

Upstairs there are two more floors, with one or two rooms of books. With rugs on the carpeted floors, and shabby armchairs to sit in, there is every inclination to linger here. Dartmoor bookshopAnd the breadth of interests covered by the book collection ensures that there is going to be something to linger over.

I always make for the back room downstairs. The selection of local books is there, and the older books with gilded spines glinting enticingly from their shelves.

The children's books are tucked away in a corner here, with several old favourites attracting the eye. How tempting it is to pore over these, beside the window overlooking the brook that runs by between the bookshop and the shops on North Street.

Whenever I can't resist the lure of the bookshop and stray through its door I don't ever come out without something more to read. Most recently it was a charming book by Doreen Tovey, beautifully illustrated, about a donkey. It seemed appropriate, as I had just been spending time at the Donkey Sanctuary as a volunteer. But even without the excuse I couldn't have left it behind in the shop.

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In Higher Street, aptly named as it's higher than the quayside, is the Dartmouth Community Bookshop. shop exteriorIt's small, but well stocked with fiction, although the crime books tend to be predominantly Kate Ellis's Tradmouth-based series. Not surprising, when stock has to be carefully chosen in such a limited space. The new books were an interesting variety, and there are local history and children's sections, as well as a second-hand area.

The bookshop deserves to do well. It's a chiefly voluntary operation, established after the closure of the Harbour Bookshop founded by Christopher Robin Milne in the 1950s. His memory is kept fresh with the provision of Winnie the Pooh books.

When I visited recently there were people looking at the window displays, and people inside searching the shelves. The shop itself is ideally situated. Buy a book here and cross over to the black and white half-timbered Cherub Inn, whose upper storey overhangs the narrow lane. Or go down the wide cobbled stairs beside the inn to the riverside below and settle on a bench. Otherwise do what I did, carry on along the lane, go round the church and into the Dart Café to start reading your new book.

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Moretonhampstead, Devon

Ahead the street widens, the stone tower of St Andrews church beckons beyond the flags fluttering from the front of the White Hart Hotel. Roger Collicott BooksBut before I walk any further I’m always distracted by the display in the double windows of Roger Collicott Books.

Inside there’s only just over one room of book shelves, but these line most of the walls and protrude in stacks into the open spaces. It’s the stack that faces the door that draws me the way jam attracts wasps.

The stack is stuffed with second-hand and antiquarian books on Dartmoor and Devon. Books of prints, diaries, historical surveys, maps, and much much more. Books by authors I know, like Baring Gould and Beatrice Chase. Books by authors I’m coming to know as I find myself unable to resist the lure of their works.

If I have time I settle down on one of the chairs, my pile of possible purchases on a nearby table, to work more seriously through them, hoping to whittle their numbers down. And up by the desk, below the window that looks back down the high street, lies a slender whippet on his bed, making it feel strangely familiar – even if it is usually my collie beside me as I read.

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Totnes, Devon

Totnes%20001The castle mound rises steeply up in an almost vertical green slope, crowned by the pale stone walls of Totnes Castle itself.

The street that runs below is named after it, Castle Street. It’s a quiet narrow thoroughfare winding through old houses and cottages, quite different from the bustling High Street climbing the hill at one end.

And here is the second-hand bookshop that Belle Collard founded more than 40 years ago. Belle, Book and Castle, she summed it all up neatly. Inside there’s just the one main room, with a neighbouring space like a large cupboard. It may be small, but all the categories I’m interested in are to be found here – crime fiction, history, topograhy, nature, biography. And there are also the ones that don’t draw me quite so much, like transport.

I’ve never come here without finding a book to buy, and I hope I’m going to have the opportunity to carry on doing so. For Belle Collard died recently, and volunteers still man the shop, waiting to see what will become of it, for it and the house it’s in are now for sale.

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The light bright interior of Winstone’s bookshop is especially appealing as soon as I step inside. So too is the selection of books that fills the pale wooden bookshelves lining the walls and are also piled on tables in the room. Most categories are covered, with a good general fiction section and an interesting display of local titles.

Further back in the shop is the children’s section, complete with rocking horse and toys for those who aren’t yet engrossed in books, and a soft squishy sofa to sink onto with a possible purchase. Or for more grown-up style, head for the two tables at the front of the shop to sit over a coffee and start to enjoy the book that’s just been bought.

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Walk into the Laurence Oxley bookshop, and find yourself entering straight into a narrow aisle with books on both sides. Laurence Oxley bookshop Fiction leaps to the attention at once, but edge round to the right and the full length of the narrow shop is revealed.

The shop offers picture framing and artists' material too, but there's a good mixture of old and new books on offer. Local and natural history always attract me, and although the selection here is restricted by space, still there was enough to keep me occupied for some time, and tempted too by a couple of titles.

The bookshop is part of the way down Broad Street, on the left if you come from the church at the top of the hill. It's very close to a number of cafés, including The Courtyard Café. Ideal if you want to combine reading a newly bought book and having tea too.

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