London has no shortage of bookshops you can easily spend hours peacefully browsing, but there’s one – with a twist – that melts my heart a little more each time I go back to London…
You’ll find it near King’s Cross station, floating on the Regent’s Canal towpath, just around the corner from the British Library, behind the Lighterman Pub. You’ll know you’re close when you hear the gentle sound of music floating in the air along the towpath…
Welcome to Word on the Water, the London bookshop on a boat! Set in an old 19th century Dutch barge, not only is it unique in that it’s the only floating bookshop in the country; it’s also the kind of bookshop you didn’t think existed anymore – especially in an area as gentrified as King’s Cross with its converted warehouses now home to upscale restaurants and hotels, craft beer bars and hipster coffee shops.
Stepping inside, it’s like walking into a bohemian aunt’s cosy front room – lots of plants and trinkets scattered about, blankets on comfy seats, and of course lots of books, new and old, packed into shelves and overflowing onto the towpath. There’s even a woodturner to warm chilly hands, and a bookshop dog called Star, a beagle-collie who’s spent her whole life on boats.
Word on the Water was created by two friends, Paddy Screech and Jonathan Privett. They met when Jonathan was living as part of a London canal boat subculture, who berth on London’s canals for free – as long as they keep moving periodically, writes The New York Times. “Their idea for the shop from a book, of course — “Children of Ol’ Man River” about a British immigrant family arrived on the Mississippi River, homeless, living on a floating board, which they built into a theater, and then into the showboat craze of the late 1800s.”
Without a permanent pitch when they first opened in 2010, the book barge was forced by the berthing laws to move every fortnight. Often they would find themselves on parts of the nine-mile-long Regent’s Canal with industrial buildings and no customers. Eventually though, after squatting to prove a point, much persistence and support from the writing community, they were offered a permanent position.
Nowadays they’re open every evening til 7 and don’t stop at selling books, often hosting music and literary evenings on their rooftop.
Find Word on the Water on the Regent’s Canal Towpath, Kings Cross, London N1C 4BZ. Take the Tube to King’s Cross then follow the signs.