I’m lucky enough to work in the heart of Bloomsbury – Virginia Woolf territory – in London, so spend virtually every weekday there. Within a stone’s throw is a Dickens plaque, a Woolf statue, a Jerome K Jerome plaque, the Gower Street Waterstones and slightly further away are the Dickens' museum, the aromatic Treadwell Books and the gorgeous Persephone books.
But for now, I want to take you on a not untypical lunchtime perambulation, starting at the Brunswick Centre and ending at Camden lock. Let’s call it a chunky one hour walk, plus let’s say another …three(?) hours for browsing, all in all a round four hours!
> Start: The Brunswick Centre is the home of Skoob Books www.skoob.com/ - the cave of organised wonders which has shelves of vintage Penguins, Everymans, Folio Society books and pretty much everything else you might want or need. The staff there know their stuff and will help you find what you are looking for. This is the place I go to find the second hand book I want rather than to hopefully browse.
> Wandering two minutes up Marchmont Street - possibly sticking your head into the diversity-celebrating community bookseller Gay’s the Word www.gaystheword.co.uk - brings you to the smaller Judd Books www.juddbooks.com/ – smaller on the surface at least, it does have a TARDIS like basement. It also has an ever changing population of bargain books out the front, one for £1.95 or three for £4.50. I’ve snaffled the odd book from those boxes, I will admit.
> Five minutes further and across the main road brings you to the awesome British Library. Monolithic towers of priceless books call to you from behind glass cabinets as far as the eye can see. If you just want to look in wonder, this is the place for you. They also do a decent lunch.
> Barely three minutes further – with a possible detour through London’s most beautiful train station, St Pancras, and a nod to the statue of Sir John Betjeman – brings you to the re-imagined Kings Cross Station. Bless them, they have a display at Platform 9¾ complete with trolley and owl cage halfway through a wall. I’ve never braved the queue of tourists to have a picture, but it’s sooo tempting…
> Heading out of Kings Cross and turning left towards the Caledonian Road, after about four minutes you find yourself passing a bookshop that’s easy to miss. Housman’s Radical Booksellers is a bit different. It’s very right on and sells all the right kind of books, along with some great merchandise. It also has a £1 basement in which I have found some absolute gems – penguin poets, VMCs, classic old hardbacks – all sorts.
> Take a deep breath, we have almost seven minutes walk until the next stop. We’re heading north to the Regents Canal and the unique, quirky and magnificent book barge Word on the Water. The first time I found this place I was drawn by the sounds of a Tom Waits ballad (the whole album was played), and greeted by the Ancient Mariner more or less, in full skipper’s attire. Their stock of new and old books is high quality, and the whole experience is completely alternative. You walk up the ramp and duck under a doorway, past the wingback armchair and pot plants, down three stairs and meander through the barge to the very end with the wood burning stove. An unmissable London experience.
> Emerging from the barge, you can enjoy a longer stroll, twenty minutes of canalside towpath taking you to the eclectic bazaar that is Camden Market. To me, only the Stables Market is really amazing, the rest is just common or garden chancers selling mostly tatt. But the Stables Market is a Moroccan souk. It is a maze. So much so that I only find the rambling, ramshackle underground book market about 40% of the time! And last time I went there I wanted to buy a book but could not find anyone to pay!! It is broadly ordered though and has thousands of great second hand books.
And there you have it. Phew! Forty brisk minutes of walking, or an hour’s slow stroll, plus as long as you can manage in the bookshops! Perhaps I should conduct book tours?