The Kist – Wigtown

Having enjoyed years of following the life and times of Scotland’s International Booktown, Wigtown in Galloway’s south-western border region, and having spent a heart-pumping visit to its streets pre-COVID, I was super excited to see that its Autumn Festival – The Kist, was being held in October, and that my Bucket List Book Adventure itinerary could easily accommodate a visit! Memories of Reading Lasses’ home made cakes, and children’s bookstore Foggie Toddle, as well as the wit and cynicism of Shaun Bythell’s The Bookshop online sessions had helped through the dim isolation days, and the chance to return during a positive festival was too much to pass up.

So I found myself and my highschool chum from Queensland Australia, J, now a Glaswegian resident, tootling down from Dumfries on a mizzling Scottish day (which became a wild and windy day) in her shiny red sportscar. Sadly the GPS decided the scenic route through the forestry logging road was more our style, so it was more of a heart-thumping drive for the valiant J than was anticipated. Bloody great pothole and some racing driver manoeuvres later, we sat in the Riverbank Cafe in Newton Stewart watching the river rise rapidly, and enjoying a calming brew – very reminiscent of Australian comfort food and decor of the Country Women’s Association (CWA).

J’s nerves had not been calmed by the search for my pre-booked accommodation at Barholm’s at Creetown, a short distance across the water, but a more circuitous route by land. Having found the friendly Jenny to let us in to the digs, and the intrepid J set on her way back to Glasgow, NOT via the logging route, I watched the rain pelt down in this tiny corner of Scotland and settled into the cosy room. But how to get to Wigtown the next day for The Kist? The information that a fellow festival goer was also staying there sparked hope, and a note on the door of Number 4 yielded a great result. Liz, the potter, was exhibiting at the festival and was so generous in extending a lift the next day. Public transport in Creetown is like chasing unicorns, so this was a fabulous solution. Liz the Lifesaver! What a fun, talented potter, and a lover of previously lived experiences in Australia, and a lively conversationalist…..BINGO!

Wigtown boasts a wonderful array of bookshops which cater for every genre and taste for book lovers and to have access to them as well as the Farmers Market and the quality Craft and Artisan Market (The Kist) all on the same weekend was a treat of huge proportions – and almost overcame the disappointment I had when I realised that this was the closest I would get to running the hottest bookstore in the world….The Open Book. This phenomenon where you can run the shop for a week as part of the airbnb deal has seen the waiting list blow out to 3 plus years, so I had given up on this.

So to enjoying every minute of The Kist!

Seeing the absolute top quality of the goods inside the marquee was quite dazzling and my purchases were only hampered by my backpack weight limit. Congratulations to the organisers and the exhibitors…what an absolute joy to wander around the town, watch the views across the countryside, admire the architectural highlights and of course escape into its many bookshops.

Even the cancellation of a couple of my pre-booked sessions and the lingering yellow-warning weather didn’t dampen my spirits. I dropped in to see how Liz’s sales were doing during the day, admired her beautiful handcrafted pottery and its subtle cobalt blue, and found some classic silver ear rings for my family back home. The standard of the artists was outstanding.

My sessions with great authors and performers were very different across the day. The first and the last were the absolute standouts. The rush of being in a Yurt with Dan Richards listening to the frailities of human endurance and hearing Jack Kerouac’s voice come through Dan’s work, The Outpost, was such an inspirational start to the day’s program. HIGHLY recommend his works. Nice to be warm in the yurt too.

Everything throughout the day was very entertaining and thought-provoking. From the analysis of the perils of today’s political slides towards Facism Sarah churchwell’s comparison to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind , to Mairi Kidd ‘s We are all Witches lead me to seek out more writings around the witch hunts and male misongyny.

I also slipped in a pre-arranged interview with Shaun Bythell, owner of The Bookshop. Shaun was unwell, and on his birthday too, but was very generous of his time. I had my fan-girl moment, but that is all in the next blog…..

The final session I attended made my day. Harry Baker is an acclaimed poet and nationally awarded poetry slammer. I had a keen interest in this as a Poetry Slam is going to be a potential item in our Word Fest Toowoomba program for 2023. Harry is sensitive, funny, super-talented and engaging! He had overcome public transport and weather challenges to get there and was humble and appreciative of the mesmerised audience. I loved it! Once I get home I will be contacting him to see what online options we might be able to create.

Both Liz and I had bought tickets for the night time Open Mic session, but chose to eat dinner at Cobwebs cafè and our conversation over the seafood chowder and traditional battered fish and chips meant we chatted and missed the session before driving back to Creetown.

What an amazing day! Outdid all my expectations and I met an amazing new friend!