The Open Book

by Colleen Morrow in ,

Yes, Monday did end up drier and it was a busier day, with lots of people through and some excellent sales but the real interesting part of the day came when Renita came in and asked us if we knew Princess Anne was going to be in town later.

We did not.

She encouraged us to come down to the church to be part of the welcoming committee and shortly before 2, we put a sign on the door that we were hanging out with the princess and locked up the shop. She was, of course, late but the local school children had all been brought out of school to meet her so they kept us entertained with their antics and we chatted with an older couple from New Zealand who were also visiting Wigtown. Renita, who does storytelling herself, did a wonderful rendition of the Three Little Pigs that was worth the delay. Soon, Anne did arrive with much security but was whisked fairly quickly inside the church. We weren't sure if we had gotten a good photo or not. But we were told she would be saying hello on her way out and we were encouraged to wait so we did. And after some time inside and a tour of the cemetery, she said hello to quite a few people. She was very focused on the person she was speaking to at any time and spent a fair amount of time making her way back to her car. I had really hoped for a good royal wave from her but if she did one, I missed it. Then we were back to the shop and closed up for the day. Dinner was at a new place this time, Cobwebs, where mac & cheese and a steak & ale pie filled us up before heading back to the flat. Our internet connection hasn't been the most stable, we've had to only connect iPads and keep to the lightest of browsing - any kind of video will cut it right off and the router is down in the shop so it's a pain to reset in the evenings. Good thing we have our books. While hunkered down with said books, there was a knock on our door and the infamous Nanette was there with shortbread she had made us. She normally comes in the shop on Tuesdays but she was going to be away so she dropped it off Monday night to us instead. And it was amazing. Very similar to my family's shortbread recipe and we enjoyed it thoroughly!!

Tuesday came soon enough and I wasn't feeling great in the morning so I got some extra sleep while my sister manned the shop on her own. When I got down a bit later, we had a steady stream of customers and a steady stream of reading before closing up and talking a walk that led us out of Wigtown to a lovely treed path before wandering around the main road into town and then onto a side road. All the cows and sheep we saw turned to look at us but none were overly interested in chatting so we just kept going, eventually getting to the martyr's stone where two women were drowned for sympathizing with Covenanters.  The path took us along the old Wigtown harbor, which now is mostly just marshland. Then, it was back up to the flat, where I promptly went to bed since I was feeling poorly again. I can only presume that my sister hit up all the late night hot spots in the town and generally caused a ruckus.

Wednesday, I was back on my feet (butt? I did a lot of sitting) and with the sun shining, we opened the shop and kept the door open all day to enjoy the warmth of the sun.  We met Joyce, one of the local book sellers, who is also active in the festival organizing committee. She was excited about our Canada jigsaw puzzle that we had out as her daughter is a bit puzzle fan. We've also had some lovely chats with customers over our few days in the shop - some knew that the book shop was an Airbnb (one had been trying to book for some time) and others didn't but were delighted to discover how we came to be at the shop. Of course, all our customers through out the week wanted to know where in Canada we were from since it was pretty clear we had a connection to the country somehow. After closing, we hit up the bookshops we hadn't seen yet, including The Book Shop, which is the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. It also felt like it continued for miles. It's so big, they've built a little loft bed in one of the rooms, in case you need a nap. We also checked out Curly Tale Books, the children's bookshop and a couple of non-bookshop shops - they do exist!

Thursday was our last day in the shop. It was hard to believe it had flown by so quickly and we were nearing the end. We met Rosemary, who owns the building, and Jessica, who was the one who thought up the idea of turning the shop into the Airbnb. Rosemary was by in the morning for the flower boxes and told us a bit about the Bride of Lammermoor.She was from the late 1600s and had to marry someone she didn't want to. Shortly after the wedding night, her groom was stabbed in the groin in their room while she cowered in the unlit fireplace. He recovered but never said who stabbed him. She refused to eat and died a short time later. Rosemary researched the story and wrote a book about it so was excited to tell us all about it. Jessica is from the States but has adopted Rosemary as her Scotland mother. While we were chatting with Jessica, Rosemary returned and kidnapped us. Don't worry, all is well now. But the castle from the story she told us is not far from Wigtown so we jumped in her car (there's an exception for the rule about not getting in a stranger's car if they are Scottish, right?) and she took us off to see what's left of the castle from the story. It sits on a private farm but Rosemary has some connections so we were able to see the old gate and the back wall of the castle, which is all that is left now. Luckily for us, Andrew, the farmer was also there and he took us on the other side of the wall, where his lambs are penned so we got to see some lambs up close and personal. Some got quite close but none would actually come up to me. I think it's because they recognized my sweater as cashmere. 

After our adventure, we headed back to the shop to do our final tally and tidy. It was sad to close up shop but it was a great week. I feel like we were just getting into the swing of things when it was all over, though. We boxed up the jigsaw to take to Joyce's daughter and then locked the door one last time. Then, it was off to one last fish & chips dinner before turning in for the night.  

Friday ended up coming with an unwelcome surprise. We had a fairly lazy morning as our flight to Rome wasn't until 4 so we got up and packed and tidied and then headed off. About 1/3 of the way to Edinburgh, we got a flat. We had no spare. So we settled in to wait for roadside assistance, because of course, we were in the middle of nowhere. Despite our best efforts, we just missed our Rome flight so had to reschedule and ended up in Rome about an hour later than expected. We were certainly happy to see our hotel and get some sleep before our big Saturday plans - the Vatican and Borghese Gallery!   

In all, our week at The Open Book was a delight. We met some great people and had a lovely time minding "our" shop. I know they are booked up until 2020 but it's really worth it, if you can hold out that long!


From the Big City to the Book Town

by Colleen Morrow in ,

We spent one last morning in Edinburgh on Saturday, visiting Craigmillar Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots went when she was depressed and where the plot to kill her husband was hatched. So you know, a very cheery place.   

The castle was left to fall into ruins in the 1700s but the ruins have now been restored and it's a lovely site to tour around. Much of the tower house is open to the elements so there were a lot of nesting birds and roofless rooms as we explored. It was also quite maze-like, it was hard to tell sometimes if we had seen a section or not, with the multiple staircases running through it. It drizzled for most of our touring time, turning to rain near the end and navigating with an umbrella was tricky at points. On more than one occasion, my umbrella was too wide for a passageway and I had to turn it to the side to get through. 

After heading back into the city centre, we picked up our bags and headed back to the airport to pick up our car and make the drive to Wigtown. The drive was on the rainy side, as expected in Scotland, and we were mostly on highways, instead of the motorway.  It was easy enough to adapt to driving on the left - though it took a while to adapt to the rear view mirror on the left. Aside from that, driving was smooth sailing, until I tried parking and ran into the curb. But that happens enough when I drive in Canada that I'm still calling the whole thing a win. 

When we arrived in Wigtown and found our bookshop (The Open Book), we met George, who showed us around the flat and the bookshp. It was late enough in the day that we didn't open but rather wandered around the little village. After an early dinner at the infamous Craft (fish & chips, obviously) we picked up a few necessities at the local co-op and settled in for an early night. 

Sunday morning rolled around soon enough and we got the bookshop open around 9, adding our Canada paraphernalia around the shop. It was a slow day, with only five customers and two sales - though we exceeded last Sunday's sales. We also met Renita and her lab, Bonnie. Renita is part of the organizing team for the annual book festival and runs the event in The Open Book during festival time. She and Bonnie were an excellent welcoming committee, with stories about The Open Book and some of the other bookshops and people in the village. Bonnie spent most of the visit looking for crumbs or leaning against us, demanding pets, which reminded me of someone else I know back in Canada (Penelope, I mean you...)

We closed up shop around 3 so that we could check out some of our competition (Byre Books, Reading Lasses, The Old Bank Bookshop, and Beltie Books.) Reading Lasses and Beltie Books had lovely little cafes as part of their shops and Reading Lasses had a room dedicated to female authors, which was lovely. The Old Bank went on for ages, I was beginning to think it was the never-ending bookshop!! They also made really good use of their high ceiling with bookshelves towering over us. And Byre Books was hidden in a back garden, making it such a delight to find.  

Then it was back home for some snacks before heading back to Craft for their Sunday Roast dinner, featuring turkey roast, so it felt like Thanksgiving. I left feeling like I had just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, too.  

Today, we're back in the shop and it seems like the rain may have let up for the day already. We'll see if it stays dry - I think we'll have more customers if it isn't raining! 



by Colleen Morrow in

Hello from Edinburgh! Or, as the Scots would say... Hello from Edinburgh! 

We've arrived, albeit later than anticipated. After a flight straight from hell (Newark wouldn't let us leave Toronto, our flight from Newark to Edinburgh had a total of 9 delays & left over 5 hours late, and my bag was one of 25 that the Edinburgh luggage people said hadn't been put on the plane) we dropped the stuff we did have with us at our hotel and headed up the Royal Mile to see Edinburgh Castle. It looks pretty much the same as it did the last time I saw it (in 2001) but I'd forgotten so much, it might as well have been my first visit. After that, it was back to the hotel to get checked in and changed for dinner and our whisky tour. Happily, my bag that was supposed to still be in Newark for another 12 hours had been delivered and I was reunited with my toothbrush.  

Dinner was at the Witchery, which was such a delightful little spot, it felt like we were in Harry Potter. It was also very busy and we barely had time for our pudding selection before going next door for our tour at the Scotch Whisky Experience. Our tour started with a barrel ride, which explained the whisky process and then we learned about the five whisky regions in Scotland, complete with a scratch & sniff card. Then, it was on to tasting. We started with three whiskys - Lowlands, Highlands and Speyside - learning about legs and finish and why a Glencairn glass is the best for drinking from (hint: it's very hard to spill anything out of one.) Then it was on to the world's largest private whisky collection and a taste of a whisky from Campbeltown before finishing up with an Islay and a parting gift (a Glencairn glass!) Then, we headed off down the Mile to a whisky bar recommended by the front desk clerk where I had a Taste of Scotland flight to end the night.

That, of course, led to a slow start for me today. But, soon enough, we were heading down the mile to the Scottish Parliament for a tour. It was a really interesting building, with themes of openness and transparency running throughout and symbols of Scotland everywhere you turned. The architect designed everything himself, including the carpets. You'd think he'd have delegated some of that stuff away but nope, he did it all. After a stop for a snack in the cafe, we strained for a glimpse of Hollyrood, which is closed right now because Princess Anne is arriving for a stay tomorrow. Then, it was up to the top of Carlton Hill for the best views in the city. And they were excellent! The hill is the highest point in the city so you could see everything for miles. After that, it was off to the National Museum to take in their Scottish History galleries, which were packed with everything you could possibly think of from coins from when Romans lived here to clips of KT Tunstall singing. That worked up our appetites so we had an early dinner, followed by some time with our feet up before heading back out to get some takeaway dessert (yum, strawberry tart!) and now it's time for bed.

Tomorrow, we're visiting Craigmillar Castle before picking up our car and making the drive down to Wigtown. Let the bookish adventure begin!! 


 The Witchery - so pretty!! 

The Witchery - so pretty!! 

 No blend for us, just the first five.  

No blend for us, just the first five.  

 Yeah, we get it, Edinburgh, you're gorgeous. You can stop showing off now.  

Yeah, we get it, Edinburgh, you're gorgeous. You can stop showing off now.  

Fulfilling my life-long dream of running a bookshop...

by Colleen Morrow in

Yep.  For a week in May, I'm going to be running a bookshop with my sister in Scotland.  Back in 2015, we both heard of this cool Airbnb in Wigtown, where you get to run The Open Book, a bookshop in Scotland's National Book Town where there are 10 bookshops and 1000 people.  And since that's pretty much the most Morrow Sister-y thing that could possibly exist, we booked ourselves a week. (I think the only more Morrow Sister-y thing that could exist is an Airbnb where you run your own winery for a week.  If anyone knows of one of those, kindly let me know.)

We're flying in a few days early to spend a bit of time in Edinburgh before renting a car and driving down to Wigtown.  Once at our bookshop, we'll get to make our own displays, set our bookshop's hours, and meet all the locals that come to check us out.  We stay in the flat above the shop and have lots of time to check out the local pubs and other bookshops.  After our week at The Open Book, we're going to spend a couple of days in Rome, which should be very tasty as I think we'll be spending ~50% of our time eating & drinking.  Then, it's back home to Canada to resume our boring regular lives in financial services & healthcare.  

We've been waiting for this trip for a long time now but I think the next two months will go pretty quickly.  We've acquired some fine bookish apparel and a couple of bookish flasks so we're pretty well-prepared for running a bookshop.  We're also getting into the details of what we'll see in Edinburgh & Rome - we're definitely going to the Vatican (that has been booked for a while already) and we're making our list of castles, museums & gelaterias to hit up.  It's shaping up to be a pretty awesome trip.

(If you're interested in doing this yourself, better hurry - they are booking into 2020 already.)