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Wigtown

This last week I made the trek from Casablanca to Wigtown, in Scotland, for the literary festival there. Anyone who knows my views on writing and the world of books will be well aware of my aversion to Lit Fests, as they’re known in the trade.

I can’t stand them.

This is because I don’t believe authors should be congratulating each other or being applauded by audiences. They should be writing instead. I believe strongly that the moment an author puts down his pen, or pushes back from his keyboard, he’s not a writer, but a bum.

If there is an exception in the Lit Fest calendar, it’s Wigtown. A gloriously eccentric backwater of delight, it’s one of those places that captures the imagination and the heart. The longer you spend there, against a backdrop of grey granite stone and autumnal skies, the more you come to understand its gentle perfection.

Wigtown is one of those destinations that calms the soul, and reminds jittery authors that they are a fragment of a grand tradition. It’s the self-styled Scottish town of books. And what could be better than a remote corner of the British Isles dedicated to leather-bound editions, Beano annuals, and forgotten volumes on sheep-shearing and cooking with tripe?

Much of my time at Wigtown was spent caressing the cases of leather-bound books at The Bookshop, owned by the inimitable Shaun Bythell. Words can hardly describe the jewels on offer, from eighteenth collections of Highland poetry, to volumes in French devoted to early rambles through the Orient.

Down on the margins of the water there’s a stone to which martyrs were once trussed, to allow the incoming tide to drown them. And, through the nearby forest of oak saplings and elm there are waterfalls, where the River Cree tumbles out towards the sea.

A handful of days later, I have found myself back in Casablanca, the shantytown brooding around us, murmurs of demolitions back on communal tongues. I’ve been sitting here wishing… wishing I could click my heals together and be back in Wigtown, running my fingers over the speckled calf bindings once again.

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