Updated on November 10, 2016
What I bought at epic second-hand bookshop Bookbarn International
A hidden gem in the beautiful Somerset countryside, this treasure trove of second-hand books is well worth a visit
You know when millennial vloggers do those bizarre shopping haul videos, where they basically spend half an hour showing you all the clothes/make-up/beauty products they’ve just bought? Well this blog post is going to be a bit like that – but with books, ha! And I only spent £14, double ha! (And I’m not being sponsored either, oh…)
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I hadn’t been to second-hand bookshop Bookbarn International until last week, despite it being 15 minutes’ drive from my house. But I was waiting for one of those elusive free days as I knew that, once I got there, I probably wouldn’t want to leave and I definitely wouldn’t want to rush. I was not wrong! In the end I went with my parents and children and we were there for four hours – FOUR HOURS – all happily browsing and reading and eating cake (more of which later). Seriously, what could be better?
Despite its global sounding name, there is only one Bookbarn International and it is located on the edge of the Mendip Hills area of Somerset, which looks like this:
Photograph by Paul Miles via greentraveller.co.uk
So let’s face it, you don’t need much of an excuse to go there, but if you did then this enormous second-hand, vintage and antique bookstore would certainly do the trick. This is the deal: there are thousands and thousands of books on the shop floor, both fiction and non-fiction. All adult books are £1 each, while children’s books are just 50p. For the most part they are well organised so that you can search by author (fiction) or subject (non-fiction), although the orderliness only goes so far and a certain amount of focused scanning is required. The children’s section is not really organised at all but if you like a good rummage then it’s great fun, and makes finding a gem so much more satisfying.
The stock on the shop floor is not particularly up-to-date – if you are only looking for relatively recent books then this is probably not the place for you. And the selection of classic literature is surprisingly small. But if you’re happy rootling around for a while then you will almost certainly find a fair few things that catch your eye – how could you not amongst all this?
If you’re looking for a harder-to-find book and it’s not on the shelves, there is a computerised search facility that will tell you if the book is stocked in the warehouse (same building) and how much it is. Bookbarn also deals in antiquarian, rare and collectable books, so if you’re after something really special you’ll have a good chance of finding it here. If you can’t make it to the physical store there is an online shop with more than half a million titles, and you can also phone up for help with more specialist requests.
Those are not antiquarian books by the way, just battered ones, but I love them anyway.
And there’s more! There is a children’s corner which often hosts storytellers and puppet shows, and a cosy cafe with a log-burning stove and lush homemade food, most of which comes fresh from local farms. We had a leisurely lunch followed by some amazing tiffin and Malteser cake, which was practically worth the trip alone.
But the best thing about Bookbarn is that they fully encourage you to sit down and read. There are comfy chairs and sofas everywhere and no disapproving staff lurking around to make you feel self-conscious. As soon as the children started getting restless all I had to do was whip a promising looking book off a shelf and point them in the direction of a chair and we were sorted for a while at least (although I can also recommend a visit to the playbarn at nearby Farrington’s farm shop and park as an additional bribe if needed). My book-loving parents were amazed by the lack of commercialisation, the prices, the coffee, and the free and plentiful parking (they live in London after all).
So, what was our final tally? Here’s what we came home with:
“Dido and Pa”, “Go Saddle the Sea” and “The Spiral Stair” by Joan Aiken
“The Chimneys of Green Knowe” by Lucy M Boston
“Kidnapped” by Robert Louis Stevenson
“Kim” by Rudyard Kipling
“Anastasia Krupnik” by Lois Lowry
“Home” by Marilynne Robinson
“The Iliad” by Homer
“The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins
“Mothers and Sons” by Colm Tóibín
“The Farewell Party” by Milan Kundera
“The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett
“Noah’s Ark” by Barbara Trapido
“Memento Mori” and “The Girls of Slender Means” by Muriel Spark
“The Pelican History of England” numbers 4 & 9 (to complete my collection!)
“A Short History of English Literature” by Benjamin Ifor Evans
And all for less than £15. Yup, I’d call that a pretty successful day out. Go now!