Wigtown - Scotland's Book Town


Writers who don't live in Scotland should take an annual trip to the country. I've just been back there after too long away. Life was already slipping into perspective as the train shunted me across the dark broad hills of north of England, from Newcastle to Carlisle. Solid stone houses and freshly painted ironwork showed signs of life still breathing outside of the throttlehold of new technology that has taken such a grip elsewhere.

I was heading for southern Scotland, and the town of Wigtown out in Galloway. Wigtown reinvented itself as Scotland's Book Town five years ago. Buildings were refurbished, many of them converted into bookstores, and the the town is now a very trim Georgian assembly around a main square, ranged across a hill with the bay shining as a backdrop some way below. Once a year a marquee goes up beside the bowling green and the town hosts a literary festival.

My own event twinned me with the mountaineer Hamish Brown, a tribute to this International Year of the Mountains. A separate marquee was built into the gardens of The Bookshop, Scotland's largest used bookstore. It was fun to have an audience lit by natural light, an overflow ranged across the lawn, birds singing accompaniment to my presentation. Fun as well to tell some of the stories from On Sacred Mountains and find their effect registering on people's faces. All of them beautiful, open faces too.

Scotland brought me to my first understanding of mountains twenty years ago. The landscape is strong. It makes the busyness and self-importance of city life seem somehow flat and petty. Such bold and undistorted sweeps of hills, sky, clouds and sea, all streaming with weather, are the ideal reflection of what books can be at their best. It has been a treat to share a weekend among booklovers in such a place. It has served to set my own writing life back on course.

England, I'm afraid, does now seem miserably flat in comparison.

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