The Book Barge

This week, Manchester was crawling with Tories but there was also a much, much more welcome visitor in the city. Walking through a strangely warm autumn wind, I wandered around the Castlefield Canal Basin (and got very enjoyably lost) looking for a barge full of books...

(that's it, under the bridge)

The Book Barge is a floating independent bookshop, stocking new and secondhand classic, contemporary and children's fiction. For its first year of trading it was moored at Barton Marina in Staffordshire, but when business slowed down, in order to save her shop and to help promote independents as a wonderful alternative to chain and supermarket book-shopping, owner Sarah Henshaw took to the waterways of Britain on a six month journey, bartering books for food and showers and hosting workshops and readings and bands.

The Book Barge is the most welcoming bookshop I've ever visited. Sarah was happy to chat about the shop and about life on the canal and offered tea, biscuits and wine. She also apologised for there being less stock than you'd find in a bricks and mortar bookshop, but I was surprised at how many books she'd fitted in. There are books tucked behind rails, books on shelves and battered old suitcases full of books.

There is even a wonderful children's section...

I found short story collections, novels in translation, poetry, books by authors I'd heard of and intriguing books by many I hadn't. And the best bit was that every so often I would become so engrossed in browsing that I'd forget I was on a barge and then the boat would move and I'd glance out of the window and see the water.

I bought two books (and had to restrain myself from spending any more money I don't have!).

Later, sat on a bench further along the canal, I opened the Katherine Mansfield collection to the title story 'Bliss' and read this:
Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at — nothing — at nothing, simply.
What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss — absolute bliss! — as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?...
And that was how I felt, walking along the towpath after emerging from the shop. I love bookshops a lot but The Book Barge is much more than a place to buy a book. And it's run by a wonderfully inspiring woman. If I wasn't tied to the life I am, I hope I'd have the courage to set sail and do something amazing like she's doing. And you can help support The Book Barge by visiting, buying and bartering on the rest of its journey (itinerary here).