Posted by: billpurdue | August 3, 2013

Scotland’s Book Town

I was in South West Scotland last week and not far from Scotland’s Book Town, Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway, so I had to pay a visit. It’s difficult to get the exact figure of how many bookshops there are in the town, but according to, there are over 20 book related businesses based in the area. Around the town centre there are about 8-9 bookshops.

Wigtown - a picturesque setting

Wigtown – a picturesque setting

There’s a book festival every year which often welcomes famous names in the book world: this year’s runs from September 27th to 6th October . For more details, go to Some of the big names at this year’s festival include Joanna Lumley, Peter Snow and Mark Lawson


We spent a pleasant morning in Wigtown, browsing in the various bookshops, mainly situated around the large town square. There are plenty of eateries for when you feel the need of a coffee or a meal and , if you get fed up with browsing, it’s a pleasant walk down to the very quiet harbour with views over the estuary. In fact just down the road is Whithorn, which has a rich history: it was the site of the first recorded Christian church in Scotland. The Isle of Whithorn, even further south, is a separate town, which is shown on 18th century maps as an island.



Anyway back to books!


Rachel Joyce-The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry I’m sure some of you will by now have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It was and still is a bestseller as the paperback was released recently along with her new novel (in hardback) called Perfect . After waiting for what seemed a very long time, I finally got my copy from my local library and really enjoyed it. In the last posting I was complaining a little about comments from reviewers, which claimed that this or that book was funny. I think that you could say that this novel is ‘light hearted’ ( and not ‘very funny’ according to one reviewer), though this in my opinion doesn’t apply for approximately the last third  of the book.


Harold Fry has recently retired from his job at the brewery and doesn’t seem to be making much of his retirement. Life with his wife Maureen isn’t very enjoyable: they sleep in separate bedrooms and there seems to be some problem with their son David, who is no longer at home. One morning Harold receives a letter from Queenie Henessy, a former work colleague of Harold’s who left her job rather suddenly some time back– we are not told at this stage why. She writes that she is in a hospice in Berwick on Tweed and wants to make contact with Harold one last time.


Harold immediately writes a brief reply and sets out to walk to the postbox, but, on his way there, decides that he is going to walk all the way to Berwick, unprepared as he is for such a long journey – he lives in Devon. Harold meets several very interesting characters along the way and whilst he walks he thinks about his past life. This is the technique by which the details of Harold’s life are revealed bit by bit to the reader. Gradually we are told why Harold and his wife are estranged and why Queenie suddenly left the brewery so suddenly and what it had to do with Harold. As the journey progressed, I kept thinking that Harold could never ever walk that far and that suddenly there will be a dramatic turn of events. There are dramatic episodes, but I’m not going to reveal whether he does eventually make it to Berwick or not  – you’ll have to read it for yourself. Definitely a recommended read.


By the way, you can find out more about the origins of the book on Rachel Joyce’s website.


Five A4s join the record breaker


MallardYes, I know I’m writing about railways again, but I can’t let the great gathering of the “streaks”, Sir Nigel Gresley’s class A4 steam locomotives, at York go by without a mention. For about 10 days all six of the express streamlined locomotives were together at the National Railway Museum at York. This included “Mallard” of course and it was the 75th anniversary of Mallard’s achievement  – setting the world steam speed record of 126 miles an hour, which has not been broken – so far. There are many books about Mallard and one of the latest is Mallard: How the ‘Blue Streak’ Broke the World Steam Speed Record by Don Hale . (He has a local connection as he was editor of the Matlock Mercury in the 1970s) This book first came out in 2008, but it has now been updated for the 75th anniversary and was published in June.


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