One evening in the beginning of the summer, on a bus back from London, I got into a conversation with a friend of mine about books. It wasn’t long before we discovered our mutual adoration for second-hand shops and she said to me “Oh, you absolutely have to go to Wigtown!”
Now, I’ll be honest. I’m not one to take other people’s suggestions for these types of things. I get instantly skeptical and usually just nod and smile and think to myself “I absolutely have to go where I want to go, thank you very much” (but that’s because I’m inherently a grumpy old witch just waiting to retire to my creaky house on the hill). But I took the bait. I listened as my now very dear friend told me more and more about Scotland’s National Book Town and by the time we got back to Cambridge she had convinced me. I resolved that at the end of August I would make a voyage out of Wigtown.
Getting to Wigtown is not easy. It’s in a southern region of Scotland (think way southern, like practically England southern) known as Dumfries and Galloway. To get there you have to take a train, or as I found sometimes two, and two buses. I like adventure and all but no way was I going to drive myself there. So a family friend dropped me off at Glasgow Central at 9am and I set off on a train with no more than 15 people on it for a little town called Barrhill.
When I say ‘little’ I am not exaggerating. This place was a 10-house town and I was the only one getting off the train for it. Thankfully the people in the UK are very nice and willing to help an American girl who is clearly far from home and her mind for coming to a place like this. With some direction from the locals, I stumbled my way down a winding abandoned road to get in to the village and find my bus stop. I had quite some time to wait before the bus actually came so I sat next to a little burn (aka stream) to bide my time with reading and laughing at the overall hilarity of this journey. I had never been to a smaller town in my entire life, and here I was doing it for the first time all on my own. I kind of wished I had a travel buddy so we could walk around saying “Are you seeing this???” to each other – but I’ll settle for having you, my dear reader.
The bus to Newton Stewart finally arrived and I boarded to find I was only the second passenger. It remained that way for the next 45 minutes in to town. The driver and elderly woman (passenger #1) chatted away while I sat laughing to myself in the corner. Seriously! I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Once I got to Newtown Stewart it was just a switch over to the final bus that carried me on to Wigtown (there were a total of 3(!) people on this one).
Upon arrival in the National Book Town, I took advantage of the unusually beautiful Scottish weather and went out to walk around a bit. I could tell that this was the type of place most people could crush through in a quick day trip, which meant it would be perfect for my leisurely exploration over the next two days. Huge emphasis on the leisurely.
Note: this voyage was by no means meant to be action packed. I was there to shop for books, yes so action-filled, but also to relax and recharge and have time to myself before heading off to America and thus back to school. I needed a few days to laze around as much as my little heart desired so what I’m trying to say here is don’t expect any pictures of cliff-jumping in this post. Okay, back to it.
Rolled out of bed late Tuesday morning and decided I deserved some cake for breakfast. After stopping by one of the darling little cafes, I hit up my first bookshop right across the street.
I discovered The Open Book was run by a woman from Lexington, Massachusetts! Imagine my surprise, you can’t, at finding a person from my home region tucked into the middle-of-nowhere, Scotland. We chatted for a bit about how to combine my soon-to-be-had Finance degree with the wonderful world of publishing. Scored a few books here and then decided on the brilliant idea to make the walk a mile out of town to visit the Bladnoch Distillery and a sci-fi/fantasy bookshop.
Unfortunately, I found both were closed down but it wasn’t for nothing. I had quite the time walking out on the thinest sidewalks I’d ever seen and back on no sidewalks at all. I took two different roads there and back – both of which were very fast-going highway type things on which I happened to be the only foot traveller… more laughing to myself ensued.
After I made it back into town without being mowed down by a cattle truck, I stopped for some lunch to reenergize for the rest of my bookshop tour. This was where the serious shopping began. I strolled my way through seven different second-hand shops throughout the course of the day and ended up splayed across my bed clutching my new books with tears of joy. Then I crawled into bed to watch Coronation Street reruns, my fave.
On my pack-up-and-go-home day I started to feel the weight of the fact that I had been abroad for 2 whole months and the travel ahead of me back to Glasgow wasn’t even the last I had to do before I could finally settle in and stop moving about for a while. In fact, my trip home to the States wasn’t even going to be the end of it. My exhaustion at the mere thought of all this coaxed me into spending my morning reading and drinking tea and eating scones – which I tried for the first time on this trip and learned that I LOVE! Why don’t people eat more scones?
All of my traveling directions were written on the backs of little slips of paper with the names and addresses of all my relatives in Scotland on them. Guess who left those directions at Reading Lasses when I finally accepted the fact that my trip was over and it was time to head out for the bus? To revisit that whole nice-people-in-the-UK point, one of the waitresses tracked me down at the bus stop and gave the papers back to me just before I realized they were gone. Those trusty little slips of paper got me pretty far! Who says you need a Google-Maps-equipped-cellphone to have a good time?
The travel back to Glasgow felt long and exhausting but when I finally stumbled off the train with a backpack full of books and pockets full of mint humbugs, into the arms of my beloved family friends, it finally hit me that my time in the UK was officially up. My study abroad in Cambridge had finished, my adventures off in the lowlands of Scotland were done, and it was time to finally go home.
Thankfully, I had a beautifully illustrated copy of Wuthering Heights and the fondest of memories of my summer voyages to keep me company on the trek.