I had borrowed the book from the library in the midst of last year's Beating the Bounds (which I plan to resume on here this autumn) and in an effort to cut back on my book-buying. All to no avail because to see is to covet; I quickly ordered a copy of my own, and the book became my guide for spotting the beauty of the everyday around here which it is so easy to walk past and miss.
At first glance the book could be shelved under 'Nostalgia' but look more carefully, as I did, and it becomes clear that much still exists...the cob, the belfry, the barns, the corrugated iron, the quarries. This is rural Devon with all its mud and manure, the minor, the obvious and the eccentric captured in the photographs, and beautifully described in Peter Beacham's words. We had seen the exhibition of James Ravilious's photographs in, of all places Truro Museum. Fortunately. according to the Pevsner, 'the interior is remarkably intact,' and this 1845 building seems to have escaped with its integrity preserved.
How sad to hear of the death this week of Candida Lycett-Green, a good friend of the Festival and prevented by her final illness from attending Port Eliot where she was to judge the flower show...but I quoted her introduction to Down the Deep Lanes, which she had called a revelation...
'It is not the stuff of ordinary guide books eulogising the familiar front of Devon...it is a beautifully painted portrait of the back...the terrain of Devon dictates the way men fashion it. Its ten thousand miles of lanes cannot easily be tidied up with kerbstones and widened to suit Euro lorries, for their paths are too sinuous and the hills over which they snake too steep.'
And what a joy it was to see Peter Beacham not only holding and signing my copy of the book (he uses a fountain pen for everything) but also telling us of its genesis in the last days of James Ravilious's life.
Desperately ill with cancer, James told Peter he felt his life and all his work had been wasted... all these photographs...what was the point...who would ever see or be interested in them. Rallying to the cause Peter reassured James that good things would happen, that there was a book in all this, that he, Peter, would write a series of essays to accompany the pictures, and thus Down the Deep Lanes was begun. Sadly no publisher would take it, and James Ravilious died without seeing this collaboration find its audience.
Fast forward to the Millenium when Devon County Council approached Peter Beacham about the possibility of a book celebrating the Shire...
'Well here's one I made earlier,' said Peter brandishing the ready-made and most perfect answer, and thus was Down the Deep Lanes published to much popular acclaim...and I at least had a tear in my eye at this point, at the thought that hopefully James Ravilious was up there somewhere, looking down on us all admiring his handiwork, and us all declaring it to be something very special indeed.
Time was really definitely up now, we had overrun, the book shop next door were ready for Peter's signing and so it was Knitsuke time... what better than a Cornish pasty, some scones and a notebook...
...plus a little yarn-bombed house for Peter's lapel, made by the Knit Angel while he had been talking..
Ron in the bookshop next door had, at my behest, gone to the ends of the earth to be sure to have copies in stock and I felt a tinge of pride that people were buying it and getting it signed and taking a wonderful slice of the Shire home with them. The signing queue was moved to the sofa and Peter took his time, talking to everyone as he signed each book.
A really special final event... we couldn't have wished or planned for better.
Thank you Peter.