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Son of Booktown

In southern Scotland there's a town that's worth visiting for the name alone. Wigtown was once a royal burgh of the Machars of Galloway, which explains the grandness of this tiny town with its large central green presided over by a library. When the town's Creamery and distillery closed down some locals thought it was all over for the village. Others looked to the library.

When I visited the town had renewed itself from economic woe by becoming a booktown with secondhand sellers of every genre crowding around the green. It was an easy drive from Edinburgh and Glasgow, but also doable for the more intrepid Southerner especially if they wanted to snap up a hard-to-find comic or collectible volume. I left with volumes that would over-burden my baggage allowance and cause a frantic Heathrow re-packing.

In Australia, the small post-gold rush town of Clunes has taken a leaf out of Wigtown's folio with 2008 marking 'Back to Booktown', the second year of a bibliophilic event. We made the drive from Melbourne to just beyond Ballarat inside two hours, so Clunes easliy passes the proximity to big city test. While there were several booksellers from around the region, only a few Melbourne booksellers made the effort (the Book Grocer made the journey and had some top boutique remainders on offer).

In 2007 the one-day event attracted 6,000 visitors and some locals were still mumbling about how you couldn't move last year. There seemed a fair crowd and several of the pokier stores were cheek by jowl, but there was better preparation with plenty of grub (in the inaugral year there were reports of the tourists eating out the region) and facilities. A brass band troomphed through Beatles classics and the main street hummed with visitors bobbing from shop to shop. The There were a few earnest collectors shoving their way through the crowds mumbling about first editions (honestly how can one edition of Howl be worth $400 and another $4 - they have the same content), but all up it was a great day and we came home with even more books for our too-full shelves.

Booktowns are a smart move for a regional town with several big vacant venues. It's a big cash injection and puts you on the map for the other 51 weekends when bookish types might be looking for a place to stay. The gold rush area architecture is sweet in its peeling grandeur and you could easily escape the world here. Unlike Wigtown, though, Clunes isn't an open book year round with only a few local stores staying open. But with a few more readers, anything's possible.