Norfolk is home to bookshops of all shapes and sizes, some well-known and others far from the beaten path. In time for English Tourism Week we’ve uncovered over thirty of the region’s independent bookshops (and nearby places to visit), found in the grounds of stately homes, along the beautiful Norfolk coast and nestled within Norwich, England’s first UNESCO City of Literature.
There are so many wonderful bookshops in Norwich – including The Book Hive, the region’s winner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year prize – that we’ve put together a small walking tour, taking in the city centre, the Lanes and the sights of the river Wensum.
Music by Bennet Maples.
Image: (c) Tombland Bookshop
Blickling is a small village between Aylsham and Cromer which is famous for the magnificent Blickling Hall – the first house to go to the National Trust under their Country House Scheme. The library at Blickling is ‘one of the finest country house libraries in existence’, containing more books than in all of the Trust’s properties in the whole of Wales. There are onsite eateries as well as the Bucks Arms, a 17th-century pub and former coaching inn right next door.
Have little ones to buy for? In nearby Alby, you’ll find the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre. With over 50,000 personally selected books on display, the centre is open for all; they also provide specialist advice and recommendations for teachers and schools. Nearby you can take a tranquil stroll through Alby Crafts & Gardens, and pick up some handmade crafts and art.
Dubbed ‘one of Norfolk’s prettiest villages’ and situated just a couple of miles from the golden sands of Brancaster Beach, Burnham Market is full of antique shops, eateries and galleries, including the Brazen Head Bookshop in the Marketplace. This old house is full of nooks and crannies and has a loyal following of dedicated collectors. The White House Bookshop is just around the corner, which stocks an excellent range. Stop for a bite to eat at The Hoste, which sources most of its ingredients from within a 30-mile radius and is a well-known haunt of writers.
Don’t miss: The Burnhams Flower Show and Carnival (July)
A small village situated close to the Blakeney National Nature Reserve on the North Norfolk Coast, Cley is dominated by a picturesque 18th-century windmill. It is home to the Cley Smokehouse, serving traditional smoked fish, as well as tea rooms, a pub, a deli and a shop selling hand-thrown stoneware pottery. Crabpot Books on the High Street stocks second-hand books from modern classics to rarities, including a whole host of bird and natural history books – perfect for the birdwatchers who frequent the surrounding marshes and countryside, which has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Don’t miss: Cley Contemporary Art (August)
Image: Cley Windmill and reed beds (c) Palmiped (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
Famed for its beautiful Victorian pier, home to the Pavilion Theatre, Cromer has three wonderful second-hand bookshops that are well worth a visit: Bookworms of Cromer on New Street, a quaint little shop packed with antiquarian books just a stone’s throw from the sea; Much Binding on Church Street, a family-run bookshop filled with first editions and out-of-print books through to contemporary titles; and Shiloah Books, also on Church Street, which specialises in Christian literature and gifts. Feeling peckish? Known for its fishing industry, and Cromer Crabs in particular, there are many places where you can sample locally sourced produce including No 1 Cromer, which is run by renowned chef Galton Blackiston of Michelin-starred Morston Hall just up the coast in North Norfolk.
Slightly further inland there is the grand estate of Felbrigg Hall, which is owned by the National Trust and has a wonderful second-hand bookshop specialising in cookery and gardening. While you’re there be sure to check out the library in the hall itself, which is said to be haunted by former resident William Windham III, who was obsessed with books and is purported to be working his way through all of those that he didn’t get to while he was alive…
Just a couple of miles from the Suffolk border, Diss still hosts its traditional market every Friday as well as weekly sales in the auction rooms, which are often televised. Diss Publishing Bookshop is situated right next to the beautiful six-acre mere and park, featuring a large fountain and plenty of green space in which to enjoy a stroll and a picnic. The bookshop itself houses a variety of books, stationery and gifts as well as a friendly coffee shop.
Don’t miss: Dissfest’ (July)
Holt is one of the most popular North Norfolk destinations that is not situated directly on the coastline. Known for its many retail outlets, it is home to The Holt Bookshop in the beautiful Appleyard just off the main High Street, which was opened by Stephen Fry in 2005 and has since been recognised by The Independent and The Guardian as being among the top bookshops in the country, as well as being the only stockists (aside from Persephone Books in London) of the full range of Persephone Books and products – beautiful reprints of neglected fiction and non-fiction by mostly female writers. Mews Antiques Emporium can be found just off the main High Street, and it’s Books-on-Sea you want to head for when you get there – with its constantly changing stock of interesting and often bizarre books. There is also Voewood Rare Books, which specialises in visual arts and the counter-culture in the nearby Voewood Arts and Crafts house, and is open by appointment only.
Don’t miss: Holt Festival (July)
Image: Letheringsett Watermill near Holt (c) Ashley Dace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The traditional seaside town of Sheringham boasts a family-friendly Blue Flag beach, winding streets filled with shops and cafes and the North Norfolk Railway, a steam train running to Weybourne, Kelling Heath Park and Holt. The station at Sheringham contains a children’s activity coach, souvenir shop, cafe, booking hall and ladies’ waiting room. You’ll find Peter’s Bookshop right next door, which specialises in antiquarian and collectible titles ranging in age between 10-100 years old.
A market town situated to the west of Norwich, Swaffham is full of picturesque Georgian townhouses. Famed Egyptologist Howard Carter, who uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamen, hailed from the town and you can find out more about his travels in the interactive Egyptian gallery. There are several pubs and eateries, including Strattons, an award-winning hotel, restaurant and deli. A large range of new and second-hand books are available at Ceres Bookshop & Tea Room, named after the Roman Goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships as depicted in statue-form on top of the dome in the town centre.
Wells-next-the-Sea is a harbour town on the North Norfolk coast, and is a popular spot for crabbing in the summer. It is situated within the largest nature reserve in the country, along with Holkham beach, which won the Countryfile Magazine Beach of the Year 2018 award. In the town itself, you’ll find the Old Station Pottery & Bookshop, which sells an eclectic mix of pottery interspersed between the shelves of second-hand books – make sure to look out for the distinctive Burnham Pottery cats! You’ll find Crabpot Bookshop making another appearance on Staithe Street, with the seafood theme continuing at the Wells Crab House, which serves crabs, mussels, lobsters and oysters caught by local fishermen.
Image: Beach huts at Wells-next-the-Sea (c) DeFacto (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
For a unique way to see the Norfolk countryside, it’s well worth a ride on the Bure Valley Railway, which runs between Aylsham and Wroxham, and is Norfolk’s longest narrow-gauge railway. At Wroxham Station you will find Buffer Stop Books, which has over 5,000 pre-owned titles as well as CDs, DVDs and vinyl records. The town itself is known as the ‘capital of the Norfolk Broads’ and features in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons book series.
Situated to the south-west of Norwich, Wymondham is an historic town known for its Farmer’s Market selling high-quality, local produce. Kett’s Books in Whartons Court is a community bookshop, which was shortlisted for the British Book Award’s Independent Bookshop of the Year 2018 category. Named after Robert Kett, who led a 16,000-strong revolt against the city of Norwich to protest the forced enclosure of common land in 1549 and was subsequently hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle, the bookshop maintains the same values of being of and for local people. There’s also a second-hand bookshop, M. & A.C. Thompson Books, on Town Green, with a range of books for all tastes as well as CDs ranging from folk, classical and jazz to blues, pop and audio books. Make sure to take in the magnificent 900-year-old Wymondham Abbey, and then take a rest with a bite to eat in the delightful train carriage setting of the Station Bistro.
Don’t miss: Wymondham Music Festival (July)
Disclaimer: please check the individual websites/social media pages of the bookshops to check opening times before travelling! Some may open seasonally.
What are your favourite East Anglian bookshops? Did we miss any from our list? Do let us know!