Booktown Richmond


October 6, 2018.

Dear All Richmond Readers,

Darryl and I have just returned from a most wonderful week in Scotland, courtesy of Scotland’s National Booktown; Wigtown in Galloway in the south west of Scotland is a very picturesque wee village surrounded by stone walled lush green fields of grass and sheep and cattle grazing on an endless dinner plate. The village was once a derelict forgotten and abandoned dorp, with most buildings boarded up and abandoned. The now beautiful community centre building, was before the advent of Book Town, set for the demolition teams wrecking ball. Bring on Bruce Springsteen the town cried!

We were hosted in a fantastic setting of a dozen quaint little book shops and one grand old lady the Book Store, a three-story old building filled with books old and new of every genre.

As soon as we had announced our arrival we were registered and given passes to every event for free. Just about every talk or event incurred a fee of from £6 to £14. At 20:1 this was a wonderful offer! Thanks to the last 20 years of governmental incompetence and dereliction of its fiduciary obligations and just plain state theft, we are now reduced to begging bowl Third World paupers when we travel overseas. Very sad but onward ho to Wigtown.

Immediately after registering we were shown to the writers’ / presenter’s retreat, the upstairs, large dining room of the Book Shop where food and beverage were available from early morning to late afternoon and the offerings included Scottish salmon and lobster!


Wigtown Book Town is heavily sponsored by government al organisations, banks, and businesses and the operate with a wonderful budget. But the pre-Book Town Wigtown was in far worse straights that pre Booktown Richmond from what we gather. I think that is fair to say that in both cases book and the idea of a Booktown / Book Town have brought real change and a new life to two towns that were in decline to a slow death.

the purpose of our invitation to Wigtown was to speak on the idea for a Booktown in the Karoo evolution to the present day Booktown Richmond. Darryl spoke on his perambulations around the length and breadth of South Africa and his ultimately settling on Richmond for not much more reason that a “feeling in his gut.”

I continued with the story, and (we both admitted that we were very nostalgic to the good old days when things were a bit simpler), of the development of BTR over the ensuing 10 years. We showed plenty of slides and I think that the Scots and Pommies in the audience were given a very good idea of just what a Karoo is and the challenges of establishing a Booktown in such a remote village as Richmond. The people present just could not imagine a village being 70 km from the next nearest village. Wigtown is “remote” and has a village three times its size….12km down the road!

On the first evening of our stay they hosted us at a “banquet”…really just a wonderful piss-up held in the stables of very grand manor house called Garlieston House. It was a very raucous affair and set the tone for the entire rest of our time in the delightful Scottish town. 

The start to each day was at the very respectful hour of 09:30 at one of the hotel / pub lounge rooms and was hosted by the husband and wife couple who sang self-composed folkish songs and played guitar, ukulele and cello. They had writers at each breakfast and asked very expansive questions in which the writer /presenter basically gave a resumé of what he / she was speaking about. I was guest at one of the breakfasts and it was a delightful start to the day. Everyone wanted to hear the story of the world’s most isolated Booktown, situated in the middle of something called a Karoo.

The main talks and presentations all started and the various venues at 10:30 which was a very fine hour indeed. It allowed a little sleep in, a bite of breakfast and a third cup of coffee. It was a good idea we will incorporate into the BTR routine. This year we will start at 09:30 so no big rush in the morning. BTW (Book Town Wigtown) however had its last event of the day at 9:30pm…. which was a suitably entitled Bedtime Stories session held in one of the smaller more intimate book shops or other small venues, accompanied big steaming mugs of hot chocolate.

Talks were held in several venues, from the large top floor of the community building to smaller tents and a main, massive tent…. heated nogal! the centre of the village green. There was a large vendor’s tent and every shop got into the swing of Book Town with specials and bunting and bannering promoting the 10-day event. Every shop in town was welcoming to all visitors.

Talks were an hour long and most if not all, were really interviews hosted by a variety of interviewers, in the main journalists and writers. They were all really top drawer and knew their subjects extremely well and it was obvious that they had read the books in question, down to the finest detail! One journalist by the name of Stuart Kelly did 6 interviews during the period we were in town, so was a wreck on the Sunday when the curtain fell on the event.

Evenings centred towards the few pubs and bars in the village and the local Wigtown Craft Beer was more than acceptable, but as a Guinness boy I must say that black beer from just across the Irish sea was a big treat. Eating and drinking were for the poor Sefricans, a nightmare, a pint of brew was R80. The Rand was worthless sadly.  

Wigtown Book Town was a village affair and they had the luxury of 150 unpaid volunteers from all walks of life. Many came from far afield……some from London England, Edinburgh, and one couple from Amsterdam! They were on hand at every venue checking tickets and seeing that there was adequate seating for the masses. Every venue had full AV setups and show time lighting. They manned the HQ building and gave visitors welcoming information handouts.

Wigtown Book Town belongs to the town because they wanted to see it succeed. Booktown saved their town and they will ensure its success into the future. Most of the volunteers were retirees with no shortage of energy and enthusiasm.

The volunteers also organised the entire children’s programme which included their own Big Top tent and an entire programme which paralleled that of the main events. The local school was a major contributor of the skills and personnel to ensure the success of the kids’ programmes.

Darryl and I agreed that it was one of the very best weeks in our lives and certainly on the re-do bucket list. Highly recommended.