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Daily Journal

June 26 – A Day for a Daydream

Continuing on into the pastoral lands surrounding the castle, we cross over an old stone bridge which features a statue of the Percy lion. On the other side of the bridge and around a curve there is a pullover which affords a picturesque view of the castle. From this vantage point we see workmen busy on the grounds, preparing for Alnwick Fair, an annual medieval festival which features a jousting tournament, among many other activities.

We pass a pub in town, whose notoriety stems from having a window that has been bricked up from the inside, but still visible on the outside, since 1690. Seems that someone retrieved a bottle of wine or spirits from this window at that time and then fell suddenly ill and died. The superstitious owners of the place closed up the window to prevent this mysterious malady from befalling someone else. Dingy bottles and dusty cobwebs are visible in the window as we drive by.

Ahead on the left is a large white brick building. I see a sign "Barter Books" on the side and mentally jump up and down clapping my hands. I love books, as is evidenced by the weight that my suitcase is gaining on a daily basis, but I've yet to find either of the two books I had on my meagre list of things to buy for myself on this trip: a field guide to British wildlife and a Scots herbal. Also on this list are books by Redwall author Brian Jacques, a favorite of my son.

I remember the first time I took my son, who I am pleased to say has grown to be quite a bibliophile himself, to Barnes and Noble. With my hand on the brass door handle I looked at him and said, "You're getting ready to enter the Disneyland of bookstores." I was wrong; Barter Books is the Disneyland of bookstores.

One of Britain's largest secondhand bookstores, this particular store is housed inside an old railway station. Complete with decorative wrought iron, freshly painted benches and tubs of bright flowers, the exterior is inviting. It needn't be; the real treasures are inside.

I find a book on British wildlife, but it's an oversized hardback, encyclopedic. The pictures and text are marvelous, but I know there's no way it will fit into my suitcase. I regretfully place it back on the shelf. In the art section I find another oversized book on illuminated manuscripts. It looks like new, as if the previous owner never turned a single page. But it's so heavy ... back on the shelf it goes.

In addition to second hand books, Barter Books also offers antiquarian and rare books; some of which are on display in glass cases. One price tag reads £485! Whew.

The regional section is comprehensive; the shelves are filled with books covering the history, landscape and lore of several northern counties and books on Scotland as well. I don't dare pull any of these from the shelf; I know myself and would never be satisfied with just browsing through them.

I can barely believe that I'm leaving here empty handed. I can't pick just one, and there is no feasible (or affordable) way of transporting thirty or forty hardback books. I could spend many hours here. I could spend the entire day – and hundreds of pounds.

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