Al Verey's Lakeland library
(6 minute read)
Al Verey’s lakeland library
Drawing on his lifelong love of words, Al Verey of Pooley Bridge’s new indie bookshop Verey Books recently restocked the Another Place library with a curated selection of 100 books.
We spoke to Al about compiling the list – which spans mythology, art, poetry, foraging, fairy tales, stargazing, wild swimming and more – why independent bookshops matter, and his favourite Lakeland writers…
Al Verey has trodden many paths – academic, literary guide, teacher and poet. But all roads ultimately led back to books for this self-confessed bibliophile, and, in 2021, Al realised a boyhood dream and opened his own independent bookshop.
Set on the shores of Ullswater in Pooley Bridge (just a five-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Another Place), Verey Books offers all the cosy nostalgia of a local indie bookshop, crammed with a considered assortment of reads. But it’s also a dynamic hub of ideas, hosting regular writers’ workshops, ‘walking’ book clubs, poetry slams and storytelling events. Bookworms can continue the conversation over coffee and cake in the shop’s welcoming café.
With the choice of lands to get lost in from your fireside armchair now including a Transylvanian castle, the Cairngorm Mountains, the streets of Dublin and the Himalayas, a stay at Another Place can stretch well beyond Cumbria – as well as opening up new perspectives on the fells, farms and lake outside your window.
You’ve said that running your own bookshop was a long-held dream. What sparked your interest in it?
An enduring love of books, reading and bookshops is definitely at the root of it.
To me, bookshops have always felt warm and welcoming. Exciting too – because you’re constantly searching for the book that will whisk you away on your next adventure.
What do you think makes a great bookshop?
Besides a thoughtful selection of books, a general sense of quality and a great café, I think it comes down to the atmosphere and feel of the place.
There was a study done recently in America where they asked schoolchildren, ‘Where would you go if you were lost?’ and the local bookshop was one of the top answers. I think there’s something in that, that bookshops are perceived as friendly and safe spaces. I hope Verey Books is seen that way and that we continue to grow with that sort of reputation.
Do you have any favourite bookshops?
I visited a bookshop called Mainstreet Trading in St Boswells on the Scottish border last year. It’s a beautiful building with lots of natural light, and a really well curated section of books…not many, but you feel every title has been thought about and chosen with care, and you trust that any book you pick up in there will be interesting and of value. Plus, they’ve got a lovely café attached.
I interpreted the brief as inspiring fireside adventures and books to stimulate you to get outside and try new things, like swimming or stargazing…
Tell us about choosing the library books for Another Place – what was your brief and how did you find the collaboration?
As a newbie on the block, I was very touched that Another Place reached out to Verey Books. I’d never curated a library before, so it’s been a brilliant learning experience and a wonderful thing to be asked to do.
The brief was to restock the Another Place library with 100 or so books that we felt guests would enjoy.
It’s a beautiful hotel in a beautiful location right on the lake, so they wanted books that would reflect their place by the water and the incredible landscapes all around – some outdoorsy books, some to entertain guests on a wet winter’s afternoon, and some children’s books. I interpreted the brief as inspiring fireside adventures and books to stimulate you to get outside and try new things, like swimming or stargazing.
To keep that sense of place alive, we’ve included books that talk about Ullswater and the Lake District, like Amy Bateman’s Forty Farms, which tells the stories of farms all around Another Place.
Was it difficult to edit your list of titles down to the final selection? How did you go about it?
I was quite slow and deliberate in my approach. The hotel gave me a list of books that they already had in the library, so I started off thinking, ‘What’s missing? What else is new? What’s come out since the library was last restocked?’. It was a collaborative effort. I picked the brains of different people to get their thoughts, like my mentor, Patrick Neale, and publishers’ reps.
You’ve got some great classics in your selection…
I feel like a library should include some literature, so I was keen to put a few classics in there, to give it a true library feel and to offer the reader the possibility of internal adventures.
Classics have proven staying power, whereas if I’d included the number one bestseller of the day then it could start to look dated pretty quickly.
What makes a great bookshop? Besides a thoughtful selection of books, a general sense of quality and a great café, I think it comes down to the atmosphere and feel of the place.
What about the children’s books, what shaped that side of the library?
Having been an English teacher, and banging my head trying to get children to read, I felt that, first and foremost, the kids’ books should be fun, accessible and interesting.
It varies according to age range, but we’ve got books on dinosaurs, books on the universe, books on war. There’s lots of playful books like the latest Julia Donaldson, but there are also books like Stargazing for Children and books about forest school – titles that are aimed at getting kids to think about and get excited about the outdoors.
Had you spent much time at Another Place before this collaboration?
We’ve been going there for meals as a family for quite a few years, so it felt familiar and right away, I could imagine the kind of books they were after.
It always feels like a bit of a treat, going to Another Place. The food’s really good and they do amazing outdoor activities like night swimming under the stars.
What are your impressions of the Another Place library area?
It lends itself perfectly to reclining on a sofa or relaxing in a comfortable chair with a good book, and it’s got lots of natural light. It feels like the heart of the main building – a place where families can meet to mark the beginning or end of the day.
The Another Place library lends itself to reclining on a sofa or relaxing in a comfortable chair with a good book. It feels like the heart of the building – a place where families can meet to mark the beginning or end of the day.
There’s such a strong heritage of writers in the Lake District, from Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter. Tell us a bit about your connection to Lakeland writing culture…
I’ve always had a family link with a village called Dacre, just off Ullswater. So I’ve been visiting the lakes for most of my life, and then we came to live here in 2016.
When we moved here, I went to work at the Wordsworth Trust. I was a guide at Dove Cottage for a couple of years, so I learned a lot about that particular set of poets – Wordsworth, Coleridge, Robert Southey – and their connection with the Lakes and all the different writers that came to visit them. And a bit about Beatrix Potter, of course!
Pooley Bridge is not far from Grasmere, where Wordsworth lived. And he and Coleridge wrote about walking through Dacre in the 1800s. So I definitely wanted Verey Books to have a link with historic Lake District writers, as well as being a proper modern bookshop, too.
Do you have many international writers on your shelves, as well as more local authors?
Yes, we do. I always wanted the bookshop to be a useful store that reflects the wider world but is also connected to our location. I realise that people coming to the Lake District are probably more likely to be looking for a Wainwright Guide than they are the translation from English to French of the latest Nobel Prize winner. But I wanted my bookshop to offer both.