Somehow this failed to appear, so let’s try again (and be nice and don’t mention now how the lessons are out of order!)
If you haven’t already “dropped” from all those castles and gardens and tramping through the countryside, then it’s time to shop.
Shopping malls as we know them in the US – set away from the old-style business district of a town – don’t really exist in the UK. The shopping malls in the UK are in the city centre. They usually keep the same hours as the shops on the streets around them, so they close earlier than their US counterparts. These city centre shopping malls often have a parking garage attached for the ease of their customers. You’ll find all the standard shops in the mall – clothing, shoes, books, music. Just remember that European sizes are different from the US. Shoes are easy if you’re wearing sneakers (oops, trainers) because the corresponding sizes are listed inside. When our luggage was delayed on one trip and we had a clothes allowance from the airline, we stopped at a city centre mall in Leicester. I stuck with small, medium, and large…but even those can be different from US sizes. So try on anything before you buy. Again remember that the UK system of credit cards is chip and pin, so you may need to walk the clerk through swiping your card. This is not a problem in big cities, but the smaller the town, the more likely you are to run into a clerk who doesn’t know/remember how to use a swipe card.
Smaller towns have high streets. Bigger cities have them as well, but the shopping may have moved with time toward the malls or pedestrian promenades. More than 90% of the time, the high street is called “High Street.” You’ll hear references to this in “high street fashion” or “high street prices”. What those mean is retail as compared to used or discount. On High Street, you’ll find everything from clothes to fruit to the butcher to a travel agency. You may see familiar names such as Staples…where we’ve gone to get tape for the boxes we brought to ship things home. We will bring an empty suitcase or a knocked-down box (and tape!) if we’ve got extra luggage allowance. Also you’ll see T*K* Maxx, the British version of TJ Maxx here in the US.
And you’ll find charity shops. Charity shops are a great venue for finding deals. The charity shops usually are open Monday-Saturday, but not Sundays. Each charity shop raises money for a particular charity from Oxfam for world hunger to Scopes for cerebral palsy. Some shops are well arranged. Others look like someone’s attic exploded. Some are single rooms while others go through room after room or up/down stairs. If you’re looking for used books, bric-a-brac (we decorated our pub out of charity shops), framed pictures…go to a charity shop. To find them, use Google maps. Type in the search box the town you’re visiting and the words “charity shop”. It will bring up a list of shops and their location on the map, and you’re set to go off and shop. Keep your eye peeled for special charity sales events that might be going on in the area where you are traveling. Also for specialty shops such as Oxfam Bookstores and Oxfam Furniture stores. Just be aware that used books in Oxfam Bookstores are more expensive than in most charity shops…but the choice is soooooooo much wider.
Antique shops dot the British countryside, especially near tourist areas. As always, shop with a careful eye and feel free to negotiate the price. Even a moment of hesitation can get you a few pounds off on an item. Let the owner know what you’re interested in, and s/he may have something that’s not displayed that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Antique sales are held in many communities. These are big events – often under a marquee (tent) – with an admission fee and lots and lots of dealers. If you’ve seen “Bargain Hunt” on BBCAmerica, you know what these shows look like.
Markets are a great way to spend a morning. Market towns were established in the middle ages, and they’re still around today. The DK Eyewitness Books list market days and times, or you can look online. When we last went to North Yorkshire, I typed in “north yorkshire market days”, and up popped this link: http://www.northyorkshire.org/market_days.php Market day means the main street or the town centre plaza is closed to traffic, and vendors set up their wares on tables and/or in booths. You can find everything from food (including take-away food – food to go) to toothbrushes to antiques. Wandering among the booths is great fun. Definitely feel free to bargain, and be ready to walk away if you don’t like the price. Some of the big cities – like Norwich – have markets every day and permanent booths. Other towns – like Hexham in Northumberland – have a market day with lots of vendors, but also a daily farmer’s market. Pickering in North Yorkshire has a market day once a week, and at the same time has an indoor market for antiques, books, and collectibles every day. These indoor markets are fairly prevalent throughout England and Wales.
Auctions for all of us who have seen “Cash in the Attic” have great appeal. Just be certain that you know all the costs involved, including what the buyers’ premium will be. This is a percentage added onto the price you pay. Also know how to buy at an auction – don’t get carried away on the excitement. If you’ve never been to an in-person auction before, go to watch the first time.
Boot sales are great fun. Think of a community yard sale in a field on the outskirts of town, and you’ve got a boot sale. The boot sale is named for the boot (trunk) of a car. However, most people will have their wares spread out on tables or on blankets. Boot sales are weekend events from early spring to late fall, and you’ll see LOTS of signs for any upcoming one. Some boot sales have a charge for parking or admission. When you go to a boot sale, bring your negotiating skills, especially if you’re interested in multiple items from a seller. Hey, what’s the worst that can happen? They say no! And we’re writers – we’re used to hearing the word “no” and persevering.
What do you do if you find something you just love…but it won’t fit in your suitcase? Have the seller (assuming you’re buying it in a shop) ship it back to the US for you. Make sure you arrange for insurance as well because items can easily be broken on the trip. It won’t be cheap, but it may be worth it to you. See below with used books for another suggestion.
If you’re interested in used/OOP research books, charity shops and boot sales are your best bet. However, if you’re *really* interested in used books, you want to visit a book town. The biggest and first is Hay-on-Wye on the Wales/England border (there is another in Wigtown in southern Scotland, but I’ve never been there, so I can’t say how good it is – check out http://www.booktown.net/ ). Dozens of shops await you in Hay. I usually give myself a day and a half to visit Hay…and I don’t try to get to all the shops. I have my favorites including the Hay-on-Wye Bookshop, Addyman’s, and Richard Booth’s. Some shops have bargain basements, so don’t miss those. Check out Hay-on-Wye at http://www.hay-on-wye.co.uk/ Obviously weekends are busier than weekdays, and I hear it’s packed during the Book Festival, so we avoid visiting at that time. At one time, Richard Booth (who established the first shop in Hay and who owns the castle and who is truly a character in his own right – as we found out the day we met him and chatted…don’t get him started on politics…although I don’t know how you can halt him from talking about it <g>) offered shipping through his shop. He goes to the US to purchase books for his shops (so be careful you’re not buying something you could get at a used book store at home) and ships them by container back to Wales. He used to ship items back to the US in those empty containers for what was a reasonable price. I’m not sure if he still offers this service. If not, there are other places that do. If you’re buying a piece of furniture or an antique, talk to the sales clerk. They’ll often know of places that will arrange shipping for you. This will mean your items may take more than a month to cross the pond to get to you, but if you’re not in hurry – or the item is cost-prohibitive to ship – consider this.
Don’t forget the gift shops at the various venues you are visiting. Most of them have excellent books on their site and also on their historical period, especially if you’re looking for recipe books or social histories.
Grocery stores – if they’re big like the ones in the US – are usually at the edge of town or set off from the town centre where they’ll have room for a car park. If you want something quick – like a bottle of water or you are in desperate need for a Dairy Milk bar (btw, the British Milky Way is in actuality a Three Musketeers – no caramel in it!) – look for Spar’s. It’s sort of a 7-11/Cumberland Farms/Circle K/bodega type of shop. You’ll find all the basic needs of life – bread, milk, candy, crisps (potato chips to Americans), ice cream, disposable diapers, and newspapers. These are also available at many petrol stations which have an attached shop as well as the welcome breaks on the motorways.
If you get sick, look for the sign with a green cross which is a chemist’s/drug store. Boots is the big chain drug store, and you’ll find them on High Street and in shopping arcades. They sell glasses, so should be able to help you if your eyeglasses are broken or lose a screw. But make sure you have all your meds with you – both prescription and OTC. Items that are OTC in the US aren’t in the UK. We ran out of Advil once, and Bill went into the chemist’s…and he had to wait until the chemist came back from lunch because it couldn’t be sold by a store clerk.
Sadly Woolies (Woolworth’s) went bankrupt and has vanished in the past year from the British town centres. There are still dollar (um…pound) stores like Poundland and Thing-Me-Bobs where you can find good, cheap stuff.
Hmmm…I think that covers shopping. Follow the same rules you do here. Retail doesn’t allow for bargaining; other shops/sales, go for it. Always greet the owner/manager of a small shop when you enter and bid them farewell when you leave. Avoid tourist trap shops unless you want a tourist item. All of their items will be more expensive than in shops away from the tourist routes.
Oh, don’t forget what you aren’t allowed to take out of England/bring into the US (and those of you in other countries, check your regulations). You can’t bring meat or dairy products – including cheeses – home. You are restricted on the amount of alcoholic beverages you may bring in (and yes, both England and Wales have some amazing vineyards…who’d guessed????). No plants of any kind. No soil…although no one at customs has offered to do laundry for us so we don’t bring in those stained jeans where we clambered through the mud.