12 of the UK’s best independent bookshops, chosen by readers

From old tales to new thinking, gardening to science fiction, our tipsters find literary nourishment – and cake, too – at these indie booksellers

Winning tip: Deep thoughts and homemade cake, Derbyshire

Scarthin Books in Cromford, Derbyshire, is a tall, thin bookcase of a building. Its many rooms, stacked one on top of the other, have new books, old books and every sort of reading matter in its nooks and higgledy-piggledy crannies. You can lose yourself for hours. Rest, revive and continue after a break in its cosy reading room. Try a homemade cake in the cafe upstairs (when Covid rules allow) or, for food for thought, attend a talk in its Café Philosophique. And whether you need it or not, take a peek in the authentic Victorian bathroom with literary memorabilia-lined walls.
Gayle Wood

Plant the seeds, Walton, West Yorkshire

Books on the Lane, Wakefield

Books on the Lane in Walton, near Wakefield, must be one of the least-known indie bookshops around. Situated in an old joiner’s workshop, it specialises in nature writing and gardening books – especially handy as the lovely owners also run a plant shop on site. The kids’ section is a highlight, and it’s heartwarming to know the profits all go towards supporting live music in the area. It’s on the edge of the village, and I recommend a walk in the nature reserve next door before stocking up on good reads, unusual herbs and even nabbing a cake as you pass.
Laura King

A new Chapter, Loftus, North Yorkshire

Chapter One, Loftus, N Yorks

Once lockdown eased, I finally stepped inside Chapter One. Vibrant displays, a friendly smile – I knew I was welcome. The shop opened in November, days before the last lockdown. After a nursing career, Paul Jones-King wanted to do something for his community – open a bookshop. The shelves reflect a commitment to Loftus: local authors, local history and local artwork. They also reflect social awareness and encouragement to explore the world. During the pandemic Paul has split his time between selling books and working for the NHS. Online sales, click and collect and free delivery in the area mean that everyone has had the companionship of books over a lonely winter.
Debbie Rolls

Hive minds, Norwich

The Book Hive, Norwich

In a narrow street in the winding medieval labyrinth of Norwich’s lanes, the Book Hive is an oasis of culture where you forget about the world outside for an hour or two. Browse new or secondhand sections at your leisure. A real treat is the way the owners arrange or display ever changing recommended titles by writer, category or themes, with handwritten notes on show highlighting key pleasure points of books. They can order books from indie publishers too. The aptly named Book Hive has a real time warp/through the booking glass vibe, and is open seven days a week, too.
Nigel Williams

Life lessons, Hackney, London

Pages of Hackney shelves and bags

Pages of Hackney, in this trendy east London area, is light and bright, with friendly staff and shelves crammed full of contemporary and classic fiction, travel books, cookbooks and children’s stories. The basement is a real treat, full of retro, vintage and secondhand Penguins from the 1960s and 70s, science fiction, philosophy and art books. The bookshop also hosts regular talks from indie writers, and bookclub chat sessions. There are comfy armchairs where you can read and exchange opinions on books with staff and like-minded customers. An afternoon here is not only literary leisure – it’s a lesson in life.
Julia

Basement that time forgot, Sydenham, London

Kirkdale Bookshop, London

Where Kirkdale meets Westwood Hill and Sydenham Road, on a busy roundabout that boasts a Nando’s and an estate agent, stands Kirkdale Bookshop. At street level it carries a range of new books that will please most book lovers, adults and children alike. But downstairs is where the gems are to be found: naval histories, speeches by black leaders, old cookbooks with sepia photos. It’s a place to lose time and forget about the hubbub above ground for a while.
Alice Schofield

Gaiety and laughter, Bloomsbury, London

Gay’s The Word Bookshop, 66 Marchmont Street, London

Two things kept me going through multiple lockdowns in my small London flat: laughing with fellow members of my queer bookclub, and ordering each month’s book from a friendly man at Gay’s The Word. They have even introduced an online order form for those who are phone-shy, which allows you to filter by identity and genre.
Eleanor

No plastic, no batteries, Ramsgate, Kent

Masked staff at Moon Lane bookshop, Ramsgate

A child entering Moon Lane children’s bookshop in Addington Street, Ramsgate, must feel like Charlie did when he walked through the gates of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory. Every inch is covered in children’s books and appropriate toys. This isn’t about plastic and batteries; it’s about Gruffalos and dinosaurs. Everything from rag books for tiny babies, picture books, reference books, classics and yet-to-be-discovered classics are waiting for young bookworms. The toy train that runs around the top of the wall leads into an area usually used for story readings. Even older children and teens are spoilt for choice.
Karina Barker

Fat tomes and flat whites, Bristol

Storysmith Bristol books and packet of coffee

North Street in Bedminsterr was missing a bookshop, so I was delighted when Storysmith opened. It is a real gem – such a welcoming, friendly space offering tea and coffee while you browse. It has great selection of books, and for those that are not in stock they offer a super speedy ordering service. Emily, Dan and all the staff are helpful and enthusiastic. I’ve certainly missed being able to browse over lockdown but their book subscription service is something I look forward to receiving each month.
Emily Matthews

Guilty pleasure, Penarth, Cardiff

Griffin Books, Penarth

Griffin Books is at the heart of our lovely seaside town. It is an active and imaginative creative hub with many spokes: you are welcome to browse, buy online, be part of active book clubs and online meet-the-author sessions. Owned by Mel, supported by a friendly knowledgable and creative team. It is a Tardis, full of an eclectic and wide ranging mix of books – entertaining and challenging older and younger readers alike to broaden their reading journeys.
Sally

Devon Victorian, Bideford, Devon

Walter Henry’s Bookshop exterior

Our family favourite is Walter Henry’s Bookshop in Bideford. Whenever we visit Devon on our holidays we make a pilgrimage to this gorgeous Victorian-fronted bookshop. The amazing curved glass front is only outdone by its impressive book displays. The shop is extremely child friendly (the girls love making an addition to the chalk board) and we always make an addition or two to our ongoing collection. Plus there is the bonus that you may bump into a certain Michael Morpurgo out doing his shopping!
Darren Atkinson

Glorious miscellany, Penzance, Cornwall

Barton Books Penzance

The walk up pedestrianised Causewayhead in Penzance brings you to Barton Books. Run by Barry Sinton, the bookshop is a glorious mix of art, nature and miscellany. Past purchases have reflected this mix: a Hokusai exhibition catalogue, the Salt Path and Rudyard Kipling’s The Cat that Walked by Himself. Presents have been wrapped in the bookshop’s kimono- and insect-inspired papers, memories written in Barton’s exquisite notebooks and Barry’s “Pick an animal” competitions have supported many local charities. Relaxed browsing, unusual stock and a very knowledgable owner make this bookshop an exceptional treat.
Beverley Randle

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