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Visiting Wigtown, Scotland: the National Book Town, with much history also

Updated on February 25, 2016
Flag of Scotland
Flag of Scotland | Source
Wigtown Bookshop
Wigtown Bookshop | Source
Map location of Wigtown, Scotland
Map location of Wigtown, Scotland | Source

Come buy, go read

This remarkable town on the Solway Firth, Scotland, has a concentration of bookstores, the haunt of many a browser and collector. The presence of the book industry on such a scale has warranted the town being given the sobriquet 'Scotland's Book Town'. The proximity of the ferryport of Stranraer, through which much of the district's through-traffic passes, has undoubtedly contributed to the coming of a significant proportion of Wigtown's visitors.

Wigtown was formerly the seat of a country which took its name; the town is now part of Dumfries and Galloway region. The former County Buildings, dating from 1862, at the picturesque Square in the Downtown area give evidence of the administrative rĂ´le that Wigtown once fulfilled. Indeed, the town was designated a royal burgh in 1469.

In any case, a Book Town it now is. At one point, the town could boast about 20 bookstores. The number of these establishments has, however, tapered off in recent years, with the result that the number was reduced to 12.

The town is now the hub of an annual Book Festival. A dozen bookstores can, certainly, still contribute a lot to such an event!

With its profusion of bookstores, Wigtown resembles Hay-on-Wye, Wales, and Redu, Belgium. However, Wigtown's inception as a book town happened differently from events in Wales that led to Hay-on-Wye's similar status. In the latter borderland town in Mid-Wales, an entrepreneur invested a lot of his money and time into bookstores in the town, and, together with a cultivated and endearingly eccentric character which aided his publicity efforts, he caused the town to become more well-known, and other book businesses became established, also, and gradually the town became a literary haven.

In Scotland, however, nationwide efforts were made, sponsored by the authorities, to see which among many options would make a good venue for a book town which might become a tourist attraction for an area in need of development.

Wigtown won.

April 25, 2012

Also worth seeing

In Wigtown itself, as well as the many bookstores there are various noted structures, including the Mercat Cross, the County Buildings (see also above) and the Parish Church cemetery contains the graves of Covenanter women deliberately drowned in 1685 by Royal troops (yes, really!).

Newton Stewart (distance: 11 kilometres) has some prominent structures, including an old bridge over the Cree River; the local Machermore Castle (not open to the public) is a senior home.

Lockerbie (distance: 107 kilometres) has a fine, 19th century Jacobean-style town hall, with a distinctive tower.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Glasgow Airport, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 5 years ago

      Gypsy Willow: Actually I would blame the abuse of religion, rather than religion itself. Thank-you for your comments.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      More brutality in the name of religion! When will it end? Sad reflection on human beings if you ask me! Thanks for the education. Happy travels,

    • MJFenn profile image

      MJFenn 5 years ago

      Wigtown (and Redu, Belgium) is a book town well worth visiting, as is Hay-on-Wye. To answer your question about the Covenanter women, they wanted to worship Christ without the 'help' of the King, who headed the Episcopalian church system. For this they were brutally executed. Of course, no one group can claim a monopoly of either brutality or victimhood. Similarly, my Hubpage on Bishop's Bridge, Norwich, also talks about the women executed at the hand of clergy there. I think a tradition of freedom of conscience has been a very costly thing, and we owe a lot to such tough-minded, God fearing women who were less willing than some of their menfolk to be pushed around.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 5 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I have visited Hay on Wye many times for its wonderful book shops. Now I will add Wigtown to my must visit list. What did the Covenantor women do , poor things?