…will your grass be green, your sky be blue?

Leaving Durham behind, we continued northwards to Alnwick in Northumberland where we would spend our last couple of night in England before heading over the border for 10 days. We stayed in a welcoming B&B on the outskirts of the town and within easy walking distance of the gardens that were our main reason for stopping here.

I have desired to go
where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

After all the beautiful sunny warm, even hot, days of September thus far (with the exception of Norwich) the weather finally turned. We woke to thick fog and rain. With only one full day here we had no choice but to make the best of it and set off to visit the famous Alnwick Water Gardens. On the way, and in a bid to get out of the wet for a while, we popped into Barter Books, originally a Victorian railway station on the North Eastern line and now a second-hand bookshop. And far more…

…an enchanting place filled with poetry lines linking the bookshelves above your head, 40 foot murals and a model train-set in the air; a station café, free wifi, comfortable armchairs and plenty of seating.

O western wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.
~ Anon (early 16th century)

The books are almost the last thing you look at.

There were, naturally, several books in this second-hand bookshop in Alnwick Northumberland that I could have walked out with, but the thoughts of having to carry them around with me for the next couple of weeks turned me off the idea.

The thought of living in this pretty little town however…

‘He breathed in air/He breathed out light/ Charlie Parker was my delight.’ ~ Adrian Mitchell

It’s quirky, it’s rambling and it’s the most eclectic place to browse in. Set up by Mary Manley in 1991 it is a second-hand bookshop based on the swap system and called Barter Books and home of the original reproduction ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ second world war poster.

And it was very tempting to abandon the garden visit and settle in for the entire day here!

This is Peter Dodd’s ‘Famous Writers’ Mural. In brief, this is a huge (38′ x 16′) mural comprising almost forty life-size characters – specifically, famous writers in the English language from 1800 onward.

They reminded me very much of the Murals in Coit Tower San Francisco.

Finally I will leave you with this poem written by Louis MacNeice an Irish poet who was part of the generation of the Auden Group, also sometimes known as the “Thirties poets”. I find it quite poignant.

“To Posterity”

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

By: Louis MacNeice (1957)

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

32 thoughts on “…will your grass be green, your sky be blue?”

  1. What a find! No wonder you were tempted to stay. However, I’m sure I’ll be glad you didn’t. What fun choosing the poems to feature: I’ll be off to revisit a few poets.

    1. I don’t read poetry and I don’t know why not (except for being put off at school by over analysing everything), as I loved reading these snippets!

  2. Book shops are so inviting. I’m impressed by your ability to resist temptation. I bought a very heavy book at a Red Cross shop in Bath and then had to lug it around for three weeks. The funny thing was it had originally been sold in an Angus and Robertson book shop in Australia! I wondered how it made its way to England.

  3. Interesting, and prescient, thoughts from MacNeice. I’m thinking about that and hoping the answer is yes. We ‘re part way there – books haven’t seized up entirely but the easier media are gaining ground, yet here we (you) still are sharing beautiful pictures of green grass and blue skies. Not specifically in this case, I grant you, though obviously I am entirely approving of a post full of books!

      1. I haven’t! We were in Alnwick last year for the first time in decades, and all we had time for was the castle. I’d love to go back to see more.

  4. That bookshop was a rare find indeed. I visited Alnwick to see the castle, and it was closed that day! I have never forgiven the Duke of Northumberland for that…
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Closed for us too Pete due to filming, but we already knew that before we went so weren’t too disappointed. The gardens and bookshop were more than enough 🙂

  5. It’s a small world – we stumbled on this bookshop on our way to (or from) Alnwick Gardens several years ago. Bookshops like this are so precious.

  6. oooo – I love finding places like this! There is so much eye candy to look at, savour, and explore! I could see how the books themselves would be an after-thought 🙂

    1. I usually avoid bookshops, especially second-hand ones as I can never resist a book … or two, but our boot was already crammed.

  7. Fabulous post, Jude! Why have I never been inside this bookshop? If I weren’t going to the Algarve this weekend I’d be tempted to gather up an armful of books and go and play swaps 🙂 🙂

    1. Well it is a lot nearer to you than me so I expect you can pop up for a visit when you get back! How long are you there for this time? Until after Easter?

      1. No, home for Easter because I wasn’t sure who would be where when I booked it and flight prices zoom around the holidays. Home late on the 8th. Good luck with the plasterer, etc 🙂

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