3.30 on Sunday afternoon, still scorchingly hot and by this time we were all a bit de-mob happy, so this promised to be a relaxing end to the weekend.
On reflection, and a few weeks later, I can see just how much bookish ground we had covered in those nine events over three days, and now saving the biggest book until last, almost 800 pages of the new Pevsner guide to Cornwall, recently published by Yale University Press and written by Peter Beacham. Needless to say I hadn't read it cover to cover, but I had read enough to know that this had the potential to be among the most fascinating of the events, and I don't think anyone was disappointed.
Peter Beacham came to Devon in 1967 taking up the role of the first Conservation Officer with Devon County Council (as it was known then...please don't ask me who runs it now, probably about six different authorities, in six offices with six lots of staff...don't get me started). Since then Peter has also worked as the Heritage Protection Director for English Heritage as well as serving as an Anglican priest in Exeter for forty years...it is said there is nothing Peter Beacham doesn't know about a church.
Once armed with a cup of tea, Peter settled comfortably into the sofa and we were off.
After a quick potted history from Peter about Nikolaus Pevsner and the orginal series of guide books, my first question was a general one about conservation, and had we suddenly realised that perhaps we should be thinking seriously about this back in 1967, and after years of flattening and mowing over what had gone before, and what had that first job entailed.
It would seem the mid-60s were quite a turning point and when Peter arrived for work on his first day and asked to see the existing conservation files for the county, should any of us be surprised that there were about six very slim ones...and that was it.
It was interesting to compare the new and the old Pevsner guides to Cornwall and ask whether perhaps more buildings had become old enough for this second edition, because there is quite a difference in the volumes as you can see...
And the discussion ranged across preservation and conservation and nostalgia, and must buildings be preserved at all cost, especially in a county like Cornwall that may not be able to afford to do so. It is all a fine balance and often common sense must prevail.
'It deserves better...'
'It would be better served by...'
But also balanced with high praise where it was due, in this case Mevagissey..
'With little redevelopment and careful conversions of existing buildings, there is still hardly a false note in the core of this engaging place...'
It is all clearly a tricky balance and it was fascinating to listen as Peter talked about working in partnership with the planners and the architects, and home-owners, to achieve the best outcomes. His pragmatic and sympathetic approach must have worked wonders.
Our nearby shopping destination of Launceston (we are right on the Cornish border here, we take our passports and traverse Greystone Bridge on a regular basis) fares exceptionally well in this new Pevsner Guide...who would have thought it.
'Travellers crossing into Cornwall from Devon sense they are in a different county when they reach Launceston. High above the little River Kensey, its buildings gathered tightly around the castle whose motte rises improbably steeply ..it retains the air of the ancient border town that guarded the gateway to medieval Cornwall.'
I want to be fond of a place when it is described like that, yet I must confess we often view Launceston as a bit of a...well dare I say lack-lustre town, with nothing special to commend it beyond a nice old castle, but mea culpa, we have truly failed to look upwards. The wealth of historic buildings and architetural details concealed beneath and above the facades of the many charity shops are there to be discovered, and assisted by one of the regular gems in this book, the Perambulations. Guided walks around some of the towns that reveal all that it is so easy to miss, and in the case of Launceston (pronounced Larnsen to those that lives 'yere) one that has uncovered so much previously ignored. We are now spending so much time looking up we are ripe for a trip over the cobbles, or a twisted ankle on the uneven pavements.
It was however gloves off for the shambles that is Cornwall's capital and only city, Truro, apparently, in places, a sad story of missed opportunities. Oh dear, even Peter Beacham doesn't mince his words and many new developments, such as that at Lemon Quay from the 1970s, do not pass muster..
'The faux industrial style is hopelessly unconvincing, the facades dressed up with flimsy warehouse motifs like the triple shallow gables and the steel-framed bays of the corner building, the latter each incongruously sporting a small first floor bay supported on a spindly colonette...'
The verdict when it comes, on what happens to be the M&S store, is honest and withering...
'Such a prime site so prominent in views across the city towards the cathedral.. deserved far better than this clumsy monolith...'
...and if you have been there, entirely deserved. It has always felt like a souless part of the city that gives nothing back and we rarely loiter there.
We talked about wind turbines too and if we'd had time I'm sure there would have been some debate about the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of solar panels on just about every roof around us here, and great swathes of them in fields.
But we had to move on because I wanted to talk about another of Peter's books, Down the Deep Lanes which I wrote about last year. More about that (and the Knitsuke of course) in the next and almost final post from this year's festival.