Forget all the usual indications of a thriving, welcoming community, such as village stores, coffee shops or a farmers’ market; the surest signal is the presence of a bookshop.
And, much like cafes or village stores, they provide a social centre, encouraging visitors and locals to chat, browse, or find a corner and linger.
So perhaps when planning that next move, it’s worth seeking out one of the UK’s independent bookshops and the thriving community that comes with them.
Bestseller: Richard Booth’s bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, at the foot of the Black Mountains
There is no better example of how books have proved transformative in every aspect of life than Hay-on-Wye in Powys, Wales, a town renowned for its bookshops and annual literary festival.
So famed for its tomes, it is able to attract tourists from around the world, as well as former presidents, Hollywood stars and politicians.
There are other handsome aspects to the town: for one, it is perched in the foothills of the Black Mountains.
‘Once bookshops become established, they become attractions in themselves; a place to sit and read or have a cup of coffee while perusing the shelves,’ says Andrew Cronan, associate director at Strutt & Parker’s country house department.
Isle of Wight
The Goose secondhand bookshop in the village of St Helen’s on the Isle of Wight is another treasure trove.
St Helen’s is a quiet place, and there’s plenty to read once inside the haven of The Goose, the charming, low-ceilinged gem which is next to a tea room.
Barnett’s of Wadhurst is a real pillar of the community and even invites residents to drop by for a chat. The shop stocks a range of modern and classic fiction and has a recommendations service.
The market town of Wadhurst is in a popular commuter area on the border of East Sussex and Kent with the train to London taking less than an hour.
More importantly, England’s South Coast and, in particular Camber Sands, is 40 minutes away. The average house price is £532,088 but Wadhurst is included in lists of the UK’s best places to live.
It may be the fly-fishing and the hikes for some, but Leakey’s Bookshop keeps others coming back to Inverness.
Providing the most intellectual of shelters from the cold with a wood-burning stove, this bookshop — considered to have the biggest collection in Scotland — possesses a magical charm over two floors of a former church.
‘An independent bookshop adds a heritage to a place. It demonstrates the knowledge and history of a place and with this comes definite appeal,’ says Andrew.
It seems only fitting the birthplace of William Shakespeare be included when mentioning bookshop towns.
Sitting on the beautiful river in Warwickshire, this town is home to Chaucer Head Bookshop which has a medieval shopfront and deals in rare and antiquarian books.
This shop is not the only attraction, there’s Shakespeare’s birthplace, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Anne Hathaway’s cottage, all making Stratford-upon-Avon a literary enthusiast’s dream.
Walter Henry’s is a Victorian-fronted bookshop in the north Devon town of Bideford. This looks as a literary emporium should, with huge, curved glass windows and display shelves laden with new offerings.
It’s said that Michael Morpurgo often visits. Bideford is a historic harbour town on the west bank of the River Torridge. There’s a Pannier (indoor) Market and plenty of independent shops.