Welcome to Wigtown: A Photo Tour of Scotland's National Book Town

Photo by Celeste Noche
Photo by Celeste Noche / Photo by Celeste Noche

If you've ever dreamed of running your own bookshop in a picturesque town full of bibliophiles, now's your chance. For anyone curious about the life of a bookshop owner, The Open Book in Wigtown, Scotland, is open for bookings. More of a residency than a straight rental, the Airbnb experience allows renters free rein of the bookshop with accommodations in the apartment directly above. In exchange for a $38 per night rental, guests get the chance to manage the day-to-day operations of the bookshop with responsibilities ranging from bookkeeping to decorating.

With a team of volunteers and fellow bookshop employees for support, the residency aims to celebrate and encourage education in running independent bookshops. "The bookshop holiday provides a creative, social, energizing holiday for both seasoned booksellers or novice bookies (like me)," says Margi Watters, who took over the shop for a week all the way from Philadelphia. "The ability to make the shop one's own encourages each new visitor to invest in the project and put his or her personal stamp on the shop."

But the area offers plenty of other things for book lovers to do that don't require ringing a register. In 1998, Wigtown (population: 900) was designated Scotland's National Book Town and is now home to more than a dozen book-related businesses, in addition to the annual Wigtown Book Festival, which this year runs from September 23 to October 2. Here are some of Wigtown's highlights.


Formerly the Customs House and Bank, The Old Bank Bookshop is now home to five rooms full of secondhand fiction, local history, antiquarian titles, and, most distinctively, a room full of sheet music and art history. 


While ReadingLasses offers a variety of new and used titles, its first distinguishing feature is its charming cafe. Whether stopping in for lunch or a spot of tea, you can get cozy in the back cafe or in the front reading rooms surrounded by books. The cheery pink store also sets itself apart from the rest of the town by specializing in books "by and about women."


The Glaisnock is Wigtown's three-for-one, offering books, bites, and board all in one place. While their book collection is small and comprised mostly of secondhand fiction ($1.50 paperbacks!), their diverse, locally-sourced menu is a bit more wide-ranging. Here you can try traditional favorites ranging from fish and chips to haggis, neeps, and tatties, followed by a decadent selection of cakes and sweets. On the first Saturday of each month, they also host Drink, Read, Relax, which offers special deals on its drinks, treats, and books.


Curly Tale Books

, the town's newest addition, appeals to Wigtown's youngest visitors. Functioning as both a publisher and a brick-and-mortar shop, the store has an extensive collection of children's and young adult books, including their own titles. They also often open their space for readings and children's activities.


Almost completely hidden from the town square, Byre Books is off the beaten path and almost completely overtaken by greenery. Up until 2000, the building used to be a cow shed ("byre" in Scottish) but is now home to a book collection centered around folklore, archaeology, and history.


The largest and perhaps most well-known of Wigtown's bookshops is The Bookshop, simply named and most reminiscent of the Hogwarts Library. With more than 100,000 used books, The Bookshop is Scotland's largest secondhand bookstore and home to a maze of an ever-changing selection and an owner who will shoot your Kindle on sight (not really, but he does have footage of burning Kindles in mock emulation of Amazon's "Kindle Fire"). From the rows of Penguin classics, to the rustic ladders for help reaching higher shelves—not to mention the lofted bed nook and the comfy recliners in front of the fireplace—this bookshop is every bibliophile's dream. Did we mention the spiral stairs? And if you want to take a piece of The Bookshop's magic home with you, sign up for The Random Book Club, where you'll be mailed one random secondhand book each month.


Wrap up your tour of Wigtown's bookshops with a stop at Beltie Books and Café. Beltie's has a small selection of secondhand books, mostly nonfiction, and many with a focus on all things Scottish. Enjoy coffee and tea in the cafe alongside art on display—most of it astronomical photos of the night sky taken from the Galloway Forest Park.


If you've checked into all of Wigtown's bookshops but are still hungry for more, don't forget to stop into the Wigtown Community Shop—a charity shop across the street from The Open Book. While you're sure to find the typical thrift store odds and ends, they also have a smaller second room piled high with book donations, categorized by genre, with all proceeds going to local Wigtown organizations.

When your eyes are tired of scanning row upon row of books, you can take a break and visit Craigard Gallery, The Bookend Studio, and Historic Newspapers for a change of pace that's still on-theme. While these shops aren't centered around bookselling, the majority of their goods are all book- or print matter-related. From The Bookend's jewelry made of old book pages to gorgeous letterpressed journals, each of these shops finds a way to continue the bibliophilic love of the town. Even the local pub has a small corner of books!

Finally, our last and most unique stop on the tour is a visit to Christian Ribbens's, a local book binder. Ribbens began restoring bindings of old books as a hobby and, just as he came to Wigtown, the current book binder of the time was just about to retire. He bought her supplies and set up his own home workshop, where he restores book bindings for customers all over the UK. Although most of his business happens to be the preservation of heirloom family Bibles, he also restores antique books.

While most of these businesses are open year-around, the town's main attraction is the Wigtown Book Festival, which runs for 10 days each autumn. Each year, thousands of visitors come to Wigtown to attend events centered around literature, music, film, theater, and other arts, with guest authors and speakers from around the world. But no matter what time of year, there are plenty of places for every book lover.

All photos courtesy of Celeste Noche.