There are a couple of problems with this post. The place I’m writing about today doesn’t really fulfill the brief I set myself when I started this blog which was to share good days out in the North East of England. For a start, it’s a bookshop. Which, even if you love books as much as I do, probably isn’t going to occupy a whole day. Secondly, it’s in Scotland. But if you bear with me, I hope you will come to appreciate why it is worthy of inclusion.
The A68, which winds and climbs its way through Northumberland National Park and then crosses the Scottish border, is a stunningly scenic drive, its every curve and camber familiar to me from my many journeys to and from Edinburgh where I was a student. At that time, the only place en route you could get a coffee and lunch was the cafe in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Jedburgh, a rather stuffy and oppressive homage to all things cable knitted. Had The Mainstreet Trading Company been around when I was making that journey regularly, I think I would have graduated with an even bigger student debt.
Six years have lapsed since my graduation, and now, the Borders aren’t just a place to be passed through on the way to the bright lights of the Scottish capital (more of which later this month), but are a destination in their own right. The picture postcard village of St Boswells has been a regular haunt of mine in recent years. This is because it happens to be not only the home of a very dear friend, but also of Mainstreet Trading, a bookshop which the author Maggie O’Farrell has described as “so perfect you might have dreamt it”.
In these days of Amazon and e-readers, where books can arrive at our fingertips without any of the inconvenience and hassle of actually leaving the house, some might argue that the bookshop is soon to become another casualty of the digital age, heading in the same direction as teletext, pay phones and those little black and grey plastic cylinders that you kept your Kodak films in. As a recent Kindle convert, I can attest to the fact that if I am going to spend money in a bookshop, it has to offer more than tables turgidly stacked with identikit paperbacks on 3 for 2 and endorsed by some grinning hosts of daytime television. And The Main Street Trading Company does offer more.
It has a bustling yet serene cafe, all minty greens and duck egg blues, which serves a simple menu of soups, salads and delicious sandwiches made from soft hunks of brown bread. There is an idiosyncratic selection of antiques to rifle through and a gorgeous range of gifts, cards and stationery (do not underestimate a teacher’s passion for stationery). The window displays are striking, imaginative and timely, and the staff are passionate and helpful. And then there are the books.
Big, glorious, glossy books, rich with all colours and textures, adorn the tables and shelves and are displayed in a way that manages to convey both a sense of reverence and of tactile accessibility. Once you have spent a few peaceful moments within its walls, it will become clear why this place won the Scottish Independent Bookshop of the Year 2011 and 2012 and, earlier this year, came first in the Bookshop category of the Telegraphs’ Best Small Shops Awards. One of the best things about having a child has been rediscovering children’s literature, and the children’s section here is particularly delightful. Perusing it feels as if you have exclusive access to a personally handpicked and curated selection of the best the children’s publishing world has to offer. My purse has taken a hit here on more than one occasion, but Mainstreet’s participation in the Guardian’s Love Your Indie reward scheme means you are not penalised for eschewing high street book retailers.
Of course, if you wanted to make more of your trip to the Borders you could combine a visit here with a trip to Jedforest Deer Park, a look around Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre in Jedburgh, or a stroll through the well heeled towns of Melrose or Kelso. But as a stand alone destination, The Mainstreet Trading Company is good enough for me. Browsing in bookshops is always a pleasure, but here, it is a gorgeous, blissful indulgence.