I have started dropping into the library regularly in pursuit of more local knowledge for my Beating the Bounds project. The local history shelves are well-stocked with a folder of information for each village, Parish records, old tithe maps, mine surveys and countless reference books plus there is a little table over in the corner by the microfiche machine that fits me perfectly. I can also access vast online newspaper archives including The Times, from home and using my library card number, so I am in clover with it all right now.
As you would expect, there is also a jolly good shelf of borrowings on the Shire, so I carted home this great big book entitled Down the Deep Lanes by Peter Beacham, who has provided a commentary to the photographs taken by James Ravilious 1939-1999 (son of Eric).
Back in February 2010, Bookhound and I stumbled upon an exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro... James Ravilious - An English Eye, Photographic Images of West Country Life and we were entranced.
Many of the pictures have become iconic as in this one which also sits as a gift card on my shelf ...
Apropos of a minimal connection, but in the interests of full disclosure because I have found the photos in the same batch...we ate this at Charlotte's Tea Rooms in Truro on that day...
and we bought some of these on the way home...
So anyway I saw Down the Deep Lanes and remembered the exhibition, and I borrowed it before Christmas, quickly realising what a completely 'me' sort of book it is.
The book is a journey down the deep lanes of Devon, taking its title from the final line of Last Load, a poem by Ted Hughes from the Moortown Diary collection which I am also reading through this year...
... And you go, and over the whole land
Like singing heard across evening water
The tall loads are swaying towards their barns
Down the deep lanes.
This is off the beaten track Devon, not the part we live in, this is the Taw and Torridge end of the Shire, but very like it for its hidden beauty and everyday-ness.
'A single lane is a nature reserve,' intones Peter Beacham as he draws in all that is lovely, but also much that may be perceived as less so in his opening chapter. John Betjeman bemoaned the encroaching presence of the telegraph and electricity poles back in the 1930s, Peter Beacham sees them, much as we now do, as wonderful perches for birds of prey, and I am instantly reminded of my daily three mile drive with the little Gamekeeper up to the village school. We would always take bets on whether we would see a buzzard perched on the fourth, or would it be the fifth pole along as we drove up the hill, but we always saw one, every day. I am quite pleased about the poles for the broadband too; we are the furthest from the village exchange, right on the furthest boundary of the Parish, and as we follow the poles along the lane and the 'gently looping wires' that keep me in touch with all of you, we turn into our gate at the very last one and know that the signal stops here....and we also know it can all go horribly wrong if a cow decides to use a pole as a scratching post in the middle of a field.
I can't tell you how delighted I was to see a chapters entitled Lane, Farmstead, Field, Orchard, Cob, Corrugated Iron, Chapel, Churchyard, Belfry and more... a celebration of the uncelebrated aspects of ordinary life. The persistent face of rural England that remains timeless and untainted in the face of radical change. It's not about wallowing in nostalgia either, it's about what is still existing and functioning as well as it ever did, pragmatism overruling progress, and so much I recognised as I read and looked carefully at James Ravilious's beautiful black and white photographs.
So I read it twice and then the email reminder came asking for me to renew the book or take it back.
So I renewed it online and read it for a third time and dreaded the moment...
Then the next email came asking for the book back...
It was no good, I couldn't bear to part with it, so in the end I have had to buy one of my own, and I am grateful that the Beaford Arts Centre, which holds the James Ravilious archive, had some for sale, and in a sightly cheaper paperback edition.
As I said, this is not what is supposed to happen at all, I am clearly a hopeless borrower, but I will be Beating the Bounds with my own perambulations to my Wild Places alongside the inspiration that Down the Deep Lanes offers in the months to come...plenty to think about there.