In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

And no, the place isn’t haunted by the ghosts of bibliophiles past, at least I didn’t meet any while I was there. That’s me caught accidentally in the mirror, and with a daftly blissful look that reminds me of the Bisto Kid adverts wherein lads do much paradisal sniffing of delicious aromas. And of course books have their own parfum – from  well used and hypnotically musty to freshly pressed. So why would I not be looking happy in Scarthin Books? This well known Derbyshire emporium has 100,000 thousand volumes, old and new – spread over three floors (often literally) and stacked up to the rafters in 13 rooms.

The bookshop was once voted the 6th best in the world and, in  the forty odd years since it began, it has become a landmark and institution in the small Peak District village of Cromford. And if that name rings a bell, then it is the place where in 1771 Richard Arkwright built his cotton mill, thereby bringing us the factory system and all that went (still comes) with it. But please overlook that bit of unsavoury orientation. Overbearing capitalism is not the atmosphere one finds in the bookshop. Far from it. You can tell that, can’t you – even before you set foot inside.



In fact, once in there, it’s as if time has stopped, despite the ticking of the clock. There is nothing you need do; no schedule to keep; no quota to fill or target to reach. It’s more like stepping into Looking Glass Land then.



Do I know this man?


Books, books and more books on every conceivable topic. You could spend days and years here. And the good thing is there’s no need to leave because they feed you too – delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes, produced from behind a bookshelf in what passes for a kitchen.



And if the bookish experience becomes too overwhelming, you can take the air with the sunflowers up in the roof garden. What an utterly sound establishment.

And in case you are wondering which books tempted me, I bought Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, which I am yet to read, but made its presence felt from a nearby bookshelf while I was eating the delicious carrot soup, and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which so completely entranced me that, once home, I set about tracking down everything Jean Rhys had written, and so mislaid the Atwood. Fortunately, writing this post has reminded me to locate both books, so I can re-read one and make a start on the other.

The places then – both physical and metaphorical – where words take us, including the disgracefully dusty bookcase under the bedroom window. So thank you Ailsa for this week’s prompt at Where’s My Backpack. Please follow the link below to see her ‘words’ challenge photos.




This post is for my good friend Kate who is also a devotee of Scarthin Books.

Now please watch the video which will tell you more about the bookshop, how it began and the people who love it.

Where’s My Backpack: WORDS

46 thoughts on “In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

  1. What a fabulous response to Ailsa’s challenge, Tish! I confess I saw it and mumbled ‘words’ to myself a few times without anything significant happening. Budge up! I spied a table setting that would do me nicely. 🙂 🙂

      1. Ah, Kate, you found it. Was going to share on FB. I should’ve realised you had such ambition re the 100,000. You’re doing pretty well so far 🙂 🙂

  2. Oh, wow, I might have to make a pilgrimage….. It looks just marvellous. Apropos Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea was her best, absolutely brilliant, spare prose. She makes every word work, but take a look at Good Morning, Midnight….

    1. Oh yes, Good Morning, Midnight, I have it. I find she re-writes her own life over and over in many fictional versions. It’s almost as if her life away from Dominica is subject to the same tragic, if not so fatal outcome, as Mrs. Rochester’s. The endless sense of not fitting in and being cold. I think Wide Sargasso Sea is probably the best book I have ever read – for its sparseness, and because it reaches down into the heart of matters that even now we don’t care to discuss or wholly address in a grown-up way. And it truly does add an extraordinary dimension to Jane Eyre.

  3. What an utterly enchanting place. I love the owner’s line that it’s “a library you can buy a bit of, or a museum where you’re allowed to take away the exhibits.” 🙂 Fab post Tish.

  4. Your photos are wonderful, really capturing the atmosphere of the place. It’s so delightful. I would love to go for a poke around, and a meal, and another poke around, and . . . . .

  5. What a fantastic bookshop. I love the photo of the man in the mirror. The whole sequence of photos of words fits in beautifully with a wonderful novel I am reading at present – ‘The Sacred Combe’ by Thomas Mallory. Much of the story is set in an old library in a mysterious old house in England. Some of your photos could work as illustrations for the tale.

      1. I wrote the wrong name – the author is Thomas Maloney (not Mallory). I’ve read more since and it’s proving to be truly excellent.

  6. Such a pertinent contribute to Ailsa’s theme!
    I’d never heard of this bookshop nor had seen a similar one , before…
    I’d spend there , weeks and weeks…..
    Awesome photos and video , absolutely love this , thank you for this share!!!

  7. Oh, Tish! Your delightful post made me so happy. I love to hear that there are still bookstores like these. What a lovely place, I could spend days lost in those imaginary worlds! 😀 Thank you for the lovely write.

  8. Cracking post. Who could not love such an establishment?
    And …. believe it or not we have one here in Commissioner street in Johannesburg.
    Not better but most definitely bigger! I shall do a post quite soon.

  9. What a totally delightful post: a magical place through your appreciative eyes. I love the two circular images. How come He-who is clear as, and you’re blurry? There’s food for metaphor. You’ve prompted me towards Jean Rhys – a second rave in a matter of weeks from two women of immaculate judgement, whom I’m lucky to know in such different ways.

    1. I’ve just picked up Wide Sargasso Sea again – a slim volume with HUGE content. Definitely well worth reading. I think He who is clear was standing still for longer than she who is fuzzy 🙂

  10. What a wonderful place! I read Wide Sargasso Sea (and other books by Rhys) years back and loved them. Thanks for reminding me – I will definitely be revisiting her books.

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