* Prices may differ from that shown
Barter Books is one of the largest second hand bookshops in the UK. It is located in the old railway station in the centre of Alnwick, Northumberland.
The idea behind Barter Books is that you take in your old books, they value them and give you a credit. This credit can then be spent within the bookshop. If you have a rare or sought after book cash may be offered instead.
The bookshop has been going since the early 1990s and is still run by the original owners. At 32,000 square feet there is plenty to see and thousands of books to peruse. There are 3 main rooms with 23 different sections to choose from
- Paperback biography & fiction
- Music Corner
- Philisophy, Womens studies, Reportage, True Crime etc
- Gift Books, 1st Editions, Classics, Poetry, Plays, North East
- Arts & Crafts
- Transport, Maritime
- Biography, Photgraphy, Film
- Hardback Novels
- Computer Books, Business, Economics, Haynes Manuals
- Science, Social Science, Law
- Gardening, Natural History, Foreign Language
- Humour, Needlework, Beauty, Keep Fit, Diet,Health
- Antiquarian & Rare books
At the front of the shop there is a room which is where the non fiction books are located. They are sorted by author which is great if you're looking for something in particular. There is also a small seating area with a roaring fire which is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a good book. There are cookies and hot drinks available to buy at a reasonable price. I really like this room, it feels peaceful and welcoming and it's nice to relax with a cuppa and a cookie.
The central room is where the childrens section is housed along with the History, True Crime and Philosophy sections. Also here are DVDs and CDs and 2 computers which can be used to access the internet in 30 minute slots. This room is nice and airy and in a nod to the old railway station there is a model train which goes round the room on the top of the bookcases. The childrens section has books or all ages of children and teens and there are a small number of toys to keep younger visitors entertained.
The vast majority of the books are kept in the largest room at the back of the building. This room is dark, cold and has really high ceilings. Lovely in the summer, but I can imagine that it would get very cold in the winter. This part of the building always seems very austere and I always whisper as it feels wrong to speak out loud!
The toilets are located in the largest room next to the old waiting room. It was clean but of the older style, but this was in keeping with the rest of the building so it wasn't too bad.
Overall I like Barter Books, but I only visit when I'm in the area, I wouldn't make a special visit. I read a lot so I always have a stash of books in my cupboard to take up. For my books I got about £1 each in credit, these are for run of the mill chick lit books. Considering none of them were recent books plus I only pay 20-50p each as I get them second hand to start with, I thought this price was pretty reasonable!
On the other side of the coin, I would never spend 'real' money there. The prices they ask for the books are on the high side. Maybe it's due to me being able to source books very cheaply, but I wouldn't pay £3.20 for a second hand book that only cost £6.99 in the first place! There must be lots of people that think differently to me though, because the shop is always busy!
They also have a line of touristy gifts that they sell. These include a war time 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster with a matching mug, tote bag and various other bits and pieces.
Free parking is fairly limited outside the shop, but I must be lucky as I've always managed to get a space. As the shop is in the middle of Alnwick there is most likely alternative parking fairly close, but I can't give a clue where.
Open every day except Christmas Day, from April to September the opening hours are 9.00 - 7.00, October to March they are reduced to 9.00 - 5.00 with late opening to 7.00 on a Thursday.
I've marked Barter books as 3 star dues to the high prices, everything else I love!
One of Northumberlands best kept secrets is Alnwick's Barter Books. This huge collection of over 350,000 books in all shapes and sizes composes one of the largest second hand collections in Europe and it is certainly worth a visit.
Barter books is was originally opened back in 1991 by Mary Manley. It is housed in Alnwick's old Victorian railway station which gives it a quaint old feel.
When we enter we are taken first to a small room in which one finds the paperbacks by there hundreds; autobiographies, fiction, crime, romance, you name it. There are also old tapes although I havn't looked at these in any detail. A traditional open fire heats this small first room but it can get cold as you move back into the old station.
The second room contains the travel books, art, poetry and plays as well as a small section containing second hand DVD's and videos. A toy train runs along the tops of the shelves and above you you will see Peter Dodd's 'Famous Writers' Mural, a huge (38' x 16') mural comprising 40 life-size famous writers in the English language from 1800 on. There's Dickens and Salman Rushdie, Charlotte Bronte, Shakesphere, Keats and Owen, amongst many other. This second room also contains the pay till and there are usually books which have yet to be housed liberally piled up along the benches and the floor.
The main room is filled with shelves containing books on just about every imaginable subject: history, photography, law, religion, gardening, foriegn language, humour, cookery, art, music, science.... The hardback fiction books are also contained within a section right at the back where they are easy to miss. The edges of this room contain the locked display cabinets which house the rarer books, leather backed first editions and such like which are definitely worth browsing just out of interest.
Off this central room there are a number of waiting room, one leads to the toilets, another contains comfy sofas and tables for reading and yet another contains an ample childrens section with a good number of toys if books aren't enough to keep the little ones entertained!!
Fancy a Cuppa?
There is real coffee brewing continuously. If you fancy a cuppa or a slection of teabags, both English and herbal. Drinks are just 20p. Money in the honesty box please. There are also homemade biscuits available for 25p.
Have a seat on the sofa next to the open fire in the first room and puruse the books you have picked out or wander through to one of the old waiting rooms where there is a selection of newspapers waiting to be read, completely free of charge.
Barter or Buy?
The last time I went to Barter books I learnt about the barter system from a member of staff. Simply take in your old books and they will buy them from you, allowing you to create an account with them. Your name and information goes in a little draw (no computers here) and when you return you can buy using the credit on your account. Previously I have only bought books so I cannot comment on the success of this system, although from what I have seen so far the shop is efficent and well run. I doubt there are any problems in this respect and I plan to make good use of the service in the future.
Prices are very reasonable and vary according to the quality of the item for purchase. I have bought a number of paperback fiction books none of which I have paid anymore than £2.50 for. I also bought a hardbacked cookery book which set me back £4.50, a substantial reduction on the original price which was something in the region of £20.
How do I get there?
Take the A1 north of Newcastle (about a 45 minutes drive in total) and take the first junction off sign-posted 'Alnwick'. Head into the Town Centre and you will pass it on your right hand side up a sloped driveway. Be warned that it is easy to miss. If you get to the Town itself you have gone too far.
Parking and other information
October to March: 9.00 to 5.00 everyday including Sunday and 9.00 to 7.00 Thursdays
April to September, and Bank Holidays 9.00 to 7.00 everyday
You can usually get a parking spot right outside although on Saturdays it is likely to be busy.
The bookshop is wheelchair friendly and there are reserved disables places right outside.
In addition to Barter bookds Alnwick is a great place to spend a day and the town it is just a short walk/drive from Barter Books. It is a quaint Market Town with a number of good shops, pubs and coffee shops. In addition there is the Alnwick Castle (where Harry Potter is, in part, filmed) and Gardens. I haven't been in the castle but the gardens are definitely worth a look. They are fantastic and contain Europes biggest tree house, some wonderful fountains and a poison garden.
Where can I find out more?
Check out the website at www.barterbooks.co.uk, they have a book ordering service and a facility which allows you to browse through the rare books collection.
Alnwick Station, Northumberland, NE66 2NP, England
Tel: International +44 1665 604888
I love this book shop. We shoot up to Anwick at the weekend every now and then and it is easy to while away a few hours in here. If you are a book lover and you are passing through the area I definitely recommend that you pop in for a look and grab yourself a couple of bargains. You won't regret it!
Barter Books is one of the largest second-hand bookshops in Britain and is located in a converted train station at Alnwick in Northumberland. Not only does this shop sell books, but also CD’s, cassettes, records, videos, maps and comics. There is a very large fiction section, sorted by Author name, and a huge selection of non-fiction books, sorted according to subject matter. The whole shop still has the feeling of a train station about it, and you are reminded about trains as there are a couple of model trains running around a train track above one section of the bookshelves near the customer service desk. Inside the entrance to the shop is a reading area set around a large, inviting open coal fire (just like we used to see in station waiting rooms). This is close to the children’s books area and it is very satisfying to see the children sitting around the open fire whilst reading books, a very homely feel to this part of the shop. Away from this area the shelves of books spread past a small, but very welcoming, coffee bar along the old station building. This part of the shop is not so homely, but much more practical, on cold days this area of the shop is not very warm, so I would recommend you wear your coat. In fact on the last day we were there in October it was very cold, with a solid floor and stone walls I think it would take a lot to heat up this part of the shop. Overall the prices of the books seem a little bit expensive for second-hand books, but there are a lot of rare and unusual books in the shop, and I think the prices reflect the variety value of these books. However, there are a lot of bargins to be found as well. You will need some patience to hunt around for the books you may be interested in, but everywhere the books are all shelved, there are no piles of books or boxes that you have to search through and the staff have ensured that all of the books are categorised correctly. The prices are clearly
marked, either by a colour code scheme, or with the prices written inside the front of the book. One thing that is unusual for a second-hand bookshop is that there is actually space to walk around and browse at the books. In a large number of other second-hand bookshops we have been to everywhere normally seems very cramped and you constantly have to be asking people to move so that you can see all of the books. That is not the case in this shop. Also at Barter Books there are seats placed around the shop so that you can sit down with a book and have a good look through it. I suggest you take the book near to the warm end of the shop though. The staff at the shop are very friendly, polite and helpful and when you do buy your books (and very few people leave without buying something), you are given a free bookmark. What more could you ask for. If you enjoy books and are ever in this part of the country then you should visit this store. It really is worthwhile. One warning though, it is like a time machine! You intend to spend, say 30 minutes in the shop, and suddenly you find 2 or 3 hours have passed. It is a very addictive shop. One fact I can guarantee is that a trip to this shop is much more interesting than buying books on-line, but if that is what you want to do then the bookshop also has a very good website and more information can be seen there, at: http://www.barterbooks.co.uk Happy hunting and good reading.