Barter Books

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My idea of heaven is to wallow in a sea of books, absorbing words from fiction, biographies, travelogues and history books like a literary sponge.

We found heaven recently, at Barter Books in the historic town of Alnwick, just off the A1 and near the bewitching and much castled Northumbrian coast.

Now based in the town's magnificent old Victorian railway station, designed by William Bell in 1887 but out of action since 1968, the owners set up a second-hand bookshop here in 1991. They have passionately embraced the original architecture and heritage of the station, and created a magical destination for bibliophiles of all ages.

Browse the main concourse area, systematically organised into genres. Marvel at the important and expensive signed first editions, safely tucked away in glass cabinets. Glance up at the not so miniature train, trundling around a track in the reception area roof-space, adjacent to a 40 foot mural of well known authors. Entertain the children with toys as well as books, thoughtfully hidden away in a separate area.

And when you've plucked a book or two off the burnished shelves, dive in to another world, over excellent food and a decent cup of coffee from their imaginative cafe, in one of the building's many inviting nooks and crannies. On a cold, rainy November day the joy of reading about Rob Brydon's childhood and early struggles to succeed as an actor, in front of a roaring fire in the cosy 1st Class lounge, sipping tea and munching cake, was bookish bliss.

If you're pushed for time, there's another flickering fire, some sofas and an honesty box for DIY tea, coffee and home-made cookies in the entrance hall.

I'm sure Barter Books is a fun destination at any time of the year, but somehow the way it wraps its literary magic around you in the depths of winter is as rewarding as a glass of vin chaud on a ski slope in a blizzard.

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