Monday, 27 July 2009

Day 15 - Scotland South West Coast - Wigtown - Half a million books, two ospreys, one whisky distillery

Wigtown is one of those places that I hoped to discover on my trip around the coast of Britain. It has a funny name (everyone wears wigs in town...only joking), it is off the main tourist track, it isn't particularly pretty (although it's in a pretty area) and at first sight, it looks kind of boring. But (a big BUT), it is full of surprises.

The first surprise is what's inside the tiny stores on the main road. Like Scotland is to whisky lovers, so Wigtown is to book lovers. Crammed into 14 book stores are 500 000 second hand books, according to Shaun Bythell of The Book Shop, the largest smallest bookshop in town (if you know what I mean!)

And the books are not the ones that no-one wants. There are a lot of valuable and much-desired out-of-print books that academics, specialists and fanatics want.

In 1997, Wigtown beat five other towns in a governmental national competition to become Scotland's official booktown, in an effort to regenerate the town's economy. Now, at the annual book festival, the town attracts up to 10 000 book lovers over a ten day period, and hosts more than 150 events. This year, the festival takes place from 25th September to 4th October.

Emma Murray works at The Book Shop in Wigtown, and on a good day, she knows exactly where each of the 100 000 books are...most of the time.

The largest, smallest second hand bookshop in Scotland...

It is a place in which to get lost for days on end...I ended up buying five or six books. simply by browsing and discovering relevant titles of travel and nature. There are also complete collections of poets, and arcane things like The Photo Atlas of the Human Body. That’s the advantage of browsing through actual book come across titles that ordinarily you wouldn’t find on Internet book sites. And Wigtown is like for used books, but in physical form.

The second surprise is Wigtown’s emergence as a place for nesting Ospreys. These rare fish eagles” became extinct from the area 150 years ago, thanks to fishermen who thought that the birds were reducing fish stocks. So when they returned of their own accord a few years ago, coming from northern areas of Scotland, everyone celebrated. In fact, whenever something special happens, like a chick is born, or they return from their migration to Africa, the town hall’s bells are rung.

And the rangers, who look after the Wigtownshire Nature Reserve (the largest local reserve in Britain), have installed remote-controlled cameras, to monitor the birds (which are in an unknown location). The live images are screened in the Osprey Room on the top floor of the town hall, and is open to visitors for free.

An image of an Osprey (with fish) from the remote-controlled video camera near Wigtown...

Ospreys are especially important, because they are their own species, separate from all other birds. And they are impressive to observe...when catching fish by swooping low over the water, they sometimes briefly submerge themselves as they grab the fish and then power off again with their wings. Find out more on Wigtown’s Osprey website.

The third surprise, especially if you’re a whisky fan, is the location of the little-known Bladnoch Distillery, just a mile or so from Wigtown. It’s the country’s southernmost distillery, just a few latitudes up from the southernmost point of Scotland at the nearby Mull of Galloway. The 1818 operation is proudly old-fashioned in its use of traditional distilling techniques, and visitors can sign up for Whisky School, a 3-day experience in which you learn how to make ‘the water of life’, or uisge beatha, as the Celts call it.


  1. They are great, I've been learning a lot about those birds because I'm an ornithologist student and they are my passion and other schemes place it alongside the hawks and eagles in the family Accipitridae—which itself can be regarded as making up the bulk of the order Accipitriformes or else be lumped with the Falconidae into Falconiformes. 23jj

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