A leisurely train northwards and we arrive at a quiet and comfortable hostelry in the rugged and manly Yorkshire Dales.
Strange things to be seen in the north – and stranger weather – all four seasons in an afternoon. Toss-up in the cafe between a cream tea and a pork pie with mushy peas. But no denying the friendliness and hospitality. We share our inn with middle-aged cyclists – lycra by day, bow-ties by night – walkers, ramblers and other active folk.
A manly Yorkshire breakfast and a drive over to Ilkley, there to see Dr. Paul Williams (Fine Books at Ilkley). And the books are indeed fine – a premium on condition, everything immaculate. For all his many years in the trade, Paul can still remember a previous life as a university lecturer (organic chemistry, I believe).
A gradual disillusionment with the education system (or at least the non-teaching aspects) and a move from collecting, to dealing a little, to dealing a lot. Very strong on travel and mountaineering, his strongest areas, but much else to look at too. Some modern literature I wasn’t expecting, some uncommon crime and a nice array of children’s books. And burning bright, his passion still – the energetic and endless quest for the right books. To judge from the stock, Paul is evidently still working rather harder than most of us.
A cup of coffee – a manly discussion on braces rather than belts for the older man. A photograph or two. Some books bought and paid for (particularly like the extra-illustrated Pickwick).
Drizzling at Ilkley but the weather clears as we motor northwards to Bolton Abbey and Grove Rare Books. No denying that Anne and I have reached the prettiest bookshop and the most delightful setting we have yet encountered.
Stroll through the garden to another more than genial welcome from the business partners, Andrew Sharpe and Adam Yates. A proper northern shop – strong on the rich local history and topography – hunting, shooting, fishing and other rugged and manly things – with a burgeoning interest in military history from Adam too.
I pick up a few books and then we adjourn with Andrew to an adjacent cafe – excellent beef sandwiches for me. Another bookseller with a former life, from chartered surveying, to new books, to proper books. Very happy indeed to have found in Adam someone young enough and keen enough to take the business forward in the twenty-first century. But for all the friendliness of the welcome, Andrew is prepared with some tough questions. Quite right, too. We are not a trade that can afford complacency.
We range over some of the historic divisions within the trade, some residual and continuing bitterness no longer appropriate, the increasingly metrocentric nature of the ABA, the dearth of members in the north, the possibilities of a northern fair. Much to chew on here.
We part on the best of terms – and following his excellent directions we take the scenic route homewards, soaring over the fells, past waterfalls, narrow bridges, endless drystone walls, swollen and lush streams, and some of the most delightful countryside England has to offer. A satisfying day.