Book-ish, 18 High Street, Crickhowell, Powys, NP8 1BD
Earlier this summer, making my way slowly from Abergavenny to Hay-on-Wye for the Hay Festival, I decided to opt for slow travel, meandering my way through the Brecon Beacons on foot and bicycle, along canals and public footpaths. It was a beautiful and unseasonably warm week at the end of May. One day, I ended up in the town of Crickhowell, buried deep in the Brecon Beacons National Park. It is an oasis of a town, the perfect place to stop mid-hike for a drink in one of its many comfortable pubs. Or perhaps a cream tea; in general the town veers towards the twee. And nothing could be more twee than a little country bookshop, in a beautiful old building in Wales.
The glass windows at the front of the shop are speckled with advertisements for events, readings and classes, and in May, were beautifully decorated with swirling letters, delicate plants and curlicues, which were promoting an upcoming Calligraphy workshop. Whimsical, literary and fun, I can’t imagine who could possibly walk past this shop without stopping.
Inside, Book-ish feels spacious and modern, but is certainly not without charm. Its clientele seems to be a mix of local families hikers or holidayers who are either just stopping in to enjoy the space, or are desperately trying to find their next read, realising they didn’t pack enough books! But what is most noticeable, is that it is a child-friendly space. Normally, the chidren’s section is tucked away at the back, but here, even in the front room, you find that children’s books and grown-up books are given pretty much equal amounts of space, and presented alongside each other, which is probably why there are so many families inside. Unlike the browsers who come and go, many of the families look like they are setting up camp for the day, because turn the corner and there’s even more to discover; a whole children’s room with books from floor to ceiling reveals itself. No adults are allowed, so mums, dads and other guardians will just have to sit and have a coffee and a Welsh cake in the charming cafe at the back.
But of course the kids can’t have all the fun. Aside from this one room to which they lay claim, the rest of the bookshop is ripe for discovery, and encourages the browser to pick up something they’ve never heard of before. With an admirable collection of local and Welsh writers, it’s a great opportunity to delve into a literature you might not be familiar with. There is also a good selection of literary and popular fiction and some fascinating non-fiction titles, mainly in history and culture. I can imagine this would be a boon to anyone headed to Hay but concerned they’ll not look the part without a hefty non-fiction tome.
The selection is good; it’s not the most high-brow and it’s not the most wide-ranging, but there are two things I love about Book-ish. First, there is something for everyone. You could bring the whole family and every person could find something to curl up with, from toddler to teenager, the fiction-lover to the Welsh-language enthusiast, the home cook to the gardener, from your Corbynista cousin to the Leave-voting great-uncle who you’re starting to wish had decided to skip the family holiday this year. Secondly, it is a genuine delight to spend time here. The kindness of the helpful staff, the smells from the cafe, the beautiful, clean design of the shop and the presence of many species of books combine to make it somewhere that I could gladly have spent hours in. In some bookshops, it’s not about getting in and finding the perfect book for the rest of your holiday, it’s about being in a place that excites, delights and inspires, or perhaps just soothes. On a sunny day in May, the place was beautiful, the sunlight pouring in through the wide glass windows and a soft breeze dancing in through the open door. But I can imagine it would be just as pleasant in proper Welsh wet weather, where it would keep the outside world and the inside world inspiring.
On this occasion I left without a book, perhaps conscious that I was on my way to Hay on Wye where I would undoubtedly see my wishlist double in length and spend a fortune trying to keep up with the onslaught of recommendations. But next time I’m in the Brecon Beacons, I know exactly where I’ll go. You’ll find me in Crickhowell, with a cup of tea and a new book, spending the better part of an afternoon in the cafe at Book-ish. As long as you don’t talk to loudly, please come join!