Sleeping in a library! | A Stay at Gladstone's Library, Wales
(My stay was complimentary but all opinions are my own. Thanks to Christy Ku for taking both photos of me!)
Arriving in the little Welsh village of Hawarden for the first time, my friend Christy and I stumbled upon a grand looking building while looking for our bookish B&B, Gladstone’s Library. I blinked, and looked down at the map on my phone: ‘that is the library!’
Nestled on the border between northern Wales and Cheshire, Hawarden houses the UK’s only residential library, filled with books collected by the former Prime Minister William Gladstone. It’s the place of every bookworm’s dream; a beautiful, expansive library filled with old books and a number of cosy bedrooms upstairs. There’s a dining room to refuel readers with hearty home cooked food and a more relaxed sitting room, fitted with a shelf of modern fiction books.
Wandering along the corridor to our shared bedroom, Christy and I exchanged an excited glance - we felt like characters in an Enid Blyton novel, living in a boarding school and about to fill our hours with adventure and mischief. I was so pleased with our cosy little room. It was simply decorated with all of the essential items, including twin beds, a desk for reading and writing and our own little kettle with a selection of teas. We also had a little en suite bathroom, clean, modern and just for us. To our delight there was a vintage radio on one of the bedside tables, although we couldn’t actually figure out how to tune it properly (typical millennials).
While the bedrooms themselves were lovely, what we really came here for were the Reading Rooms. Holding around 150,000 books and other reading materials, the rooms are literally lined floor to ceiling with tomes. Desks are scattered around the space, which is completely silent except for the quiet tapping of fingers upon laptop keys. Guests visit the library to work, read or write in this beautiful and inspiring space. I made sure to spend some time hunkered down at a desk with my laptop, working on this very blog as it’s the perfect place to get some work done. With such a studious atmosphere I imagine it would be ideal for students who are writing essays or studying for exams.
Although the Reading Rooms occupy a very special place in my heart, one of my favourite moments from my stay was an evening spent in the sitting room. Illuminated only by a number of strategically placed lamps, us guests sprawled on cosy armchairs and sofas reading late into the night. It was the sort of peaceful, blissful experience that made my bookish heart feel whole.
Getting to Hawarden
We arrived in the village by train. Depending on where you’re coming from there are a number of routes that you can take, but but we managed to get the ticket price down significantly by using this ticket splitting website, bagging ourselves a return journey from London Euston for £33 each (in comparison, the faster route was more than £100 when I looked it up on the National Rail website). It did make for a longer journey, 4 hours in total with 3 changes, but saved us enough money that it was more than worth the effort.
You can of course drive if you prefer - there’s a free car park nearby for residents to use - and a local bus service operates from the nearest town, Chester. You can catch the 4 or 4X opposite Chester train station.
Although our stay at the library was complimentary, the rooms are very reasonably priced and I would happily return in the future using my own money. A standard single room for one night starts at £69 with a continental breakfast, and the most expensive suite is £131. There are a number of other options in between; have a look at the different options on their website.
If you’re lucky enough to live locally, you can actually visit the Reading Rooms themselves free of charge! I’m incredibly jealous of the Hawarden residents.
Things to do
While the library itself is the main attraction, the village is also lovely and I would recommend doing some exploring during your stay. Just down the road from the library is a smattering of local shops, including a sweet little post office where I bought my boyfriend some jam, a boutique clothes shop and a cake shop. If you want somewhere to eat, there are a number of different pubs that you can try and a sweet little place called the Gallery Coffee Shop. We opted to eat our meals in the library but there’s definitely choice available if you fancy dining elsewhere.
My top recommendation however would be the Hawarden Estate Farm Shop. It’s about a 20 minute walk down from the library and sells a huge selection of local produce and goods, has a good sized cafe, and fields where you can go out and pick your own fruit. What you can pick depends on the season, but I walked away with a punnet of sweet plums and red currents as well as a delicious chocolate brownie that I bought from the shop.
Events at the library
I love that Gladstone’s Library is a community hub, and they hold a number of events for readers and writers throughout the year. In September the library hosts Gladfest, an annual festival that brings writers together from all over the country for a series of interesting talks. They also run an amazing writers in residence scheme, where every year a small selection of writers are given the opportunity to stay in the library for an extended period of time.
Something that’s run a lot more regularly are the library’s Glimpse tours. These are held in small groups three times a day, where one of their knowledgable members of staff gives a short talk about the library’s history. I thought that it was fascinating and would highly recommend attending one during your own stay.
What I read
I just couldn’t end this blog post without letting you know which book I brought with me to read during the trip! I went for It All Leads to You by Nina LaCour - a young adult contemporary novel set in LA. The story follows Emi, an 18 year old girl who’s just finished high school and is trying to break into the film industry. After discovering a mysterious letter at an estate sale while hunting for props, Emi inadvertently opens up a mystery that leads her to a girl called Ava. It was such a good read and I completely devoured it - it’s definitely one that I would recommend.
It probably won’t surprise you that I really didn’t want to leave Gladstone’s Library at the end of our two night stay. Rather than feeling like a dusty old building, this wonderful library was a welcome home, a safe haven at the end of a bookish pilgrimage, waiting for us with its arms outstretched. It’s a special place that I hope to visit for many years to come.
Find out more about this wonderful library on their website.