In Book Heaven At Scarthin Books

And no, the place isn’t haunted by the ghosts of bibliophiles past, at least I didn’t meet any while I was there. That’s me caught accidentally in the mirror, and with a daftly blissful look that reminds me of the Bisto Kid adverts wherein lads do much paradisal sniffing of delicious aromas. And of course books have their own parfum – from  well used and hypnotically musty to freshly pressed. So why would I not be looking happy in Scarthin Books? This well known Derbyshire emporium has 100,000 thousand volumes, old and new – spread over three floors (often literally) and stacked up to the rafters in 13 rooms.

The bookshop was once voted the 6th best in the world and, in  the forty odd years since it began, it has become a landmark and institution in the small Peak District village of Cromford. And if that name rings a bell, then it is the place where in 1771 Richard Arkwright built his cotton mill, thereby bringing us the factory system and all that went (still comes) with it. But please overlook that bit of unsavoury orientation. Overbearing capitalism is not the atmosphere one finds in the bookshop. Far from it. You can tell that, can’t you – even before you set foot inside.

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In fact, once in there, it’s as if time has stopped, despite the ticking of the clock. There is nothing you need do; no schedule to keep; no quota to fill or target to reach. It’s more like stepping into Looking Glass Land then.

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Do I know this man?

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Books, books and more books on every conceivable topic. You could spend days and years here. And the good thing is there’s no need to leave because they feed you too – delicious vegetarian and vegan dishes, produced from behind a bookshelf in what passes for a kitchen.

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And if the bookish experience becomes too overwhelming, you can take the air with the sunflowers up in the roof garden. What an utterly sound establishment.

And in case you are wondering which books tempted me, I bought Margaret Atwood’s Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer On Writing, which I am yet to read, but made its presence felt from a nearby bookshelf while I was eating the delicious carrot soup, and Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which so completely entranced me that, once home, I set about tracking down everything Jean Rhys had written, and so mislaid the Atwood. Fortunately, writing this post has reminded me to locate both books, so I can re-read one and make a start on the other.

The places then – both physical and metaphorical – where words take us, including the disgracefully dusty bookcase under the bedroom window. So thank you Ailsa for this week’s prompt at Where’s My Backpack. Please follow the link below to see her ‘words’ challenge photos.

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This post is for my good friend Kate who is also a devotee of Scarthin Books.

Now please watch the video which will tell you more about the bookshop, how it began and the people who love it.

Where’s My Backpack: WORDS

Rooti-toot-toot, it’s spring at the allotment: up close and vegetal

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Well the old shed has made it through another year. A couple of bits have fallen off, but last year’s application of internal bracing by the Team Leader, aka Graham, has kept its tendency to list in an easterly direction in check. Would that we all had such a bracing. Over the winter it housed a poor mummified mouse, and snails still go to roost in there. I’m not showing you the inside, though. You definitely do  not want to see in there.

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Instead, here is the ancient greengage tree with its delicate blossom. Already I’m wondering if it will give us some fruit this year. Greengages are notoriously temperamental, and after the magnificent crop in my first year of allotmenting that had us, and all our friends and relations, dribbling with delight over bucket loads of luscious harvest, it has borne very little. That was seven years ago. Maybe this year is the year then.

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There are loads of jobs to do, not least digging. The endlessly wet autumn and winter meant that winter digging was impossible, so there has been much to catch up on. Meanwhile the weeds are literally having a field day, which makes this the the season of dandelion beheading. (Sorry, dandelions). They are sprouting up all along the paths between everyone’s plots, and I’m afraid I find great satisfaction in slicing off these cheery faces with my strimmer. Their replacements are anyway there the next day, beaming vigorously.

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Then there is the comfrey forest to manage. This plant I crop and cherish. You cannot have too much of it, and it obligingly grows  itself in a huge clump beside the shed. If you cut it down after flowering, it will grow again and again during the summer.

Comfrey, as I have mentioned before, is the organic gardener’s dream plant. It comes in other shades, pink to purple through blue. Its ability to mine otherwise inaccessible  nutrients from the soil (dynamic accumulation I believe this is called) and repurpose them in its foliage make it an endless source of cost-free fertilizer. It is one of the reasons why you can’t look in my shed. I do my brewing in there. And no. It’s not what you think.

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For those who missed an earlier post on this, I stuff old compost bags with the comfrey’s  top growth, seal them with clothes pegs, cut a hole in the corner of each bag, and prop it over a bucket and wait. In the warmth of the shed the vegetation soon rots down, giving out a dark and evil looking liquid that collects in the buckets.  This stuff is pretty smelly, although nowhere near as pungent as the slimy residue left in the bag, which then ends up on the compost heap. The liquid I  decant  into old plastic bottles, and use as a feed through the growing season. It is 3 times richer in potassium that farmyard manure, but it must be diluted 1 part comfrey essence to 15 parts water.

The blurry bee above would not stay still for the shot, but that’s another good thing about comfrey. Bees like it. As I took this, I spotted at least 4 different kinds: a honey bee and three bumbles of varying liveries and sizes. Having written of the dire things that are happening to bees, it’s heartening to see so many at the allotment doing their work. Thank you, bees.

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The mild winter has meant that many crops simply kept going without dying back. Yesterday I noticed that my globe artichokes have already made globes almost big enough to eat. In May? What is going on?  But thank  you, artichokes.

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The Swiss Chard has been magnificent too and kept us going through the winter with fresh new leaves. It is only now going to seed. Nor did I sow it in the first place. It seeded itself around my plot from my neighbours’ plot. Thank you,  Pete and Kate.

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And now you can look at my Red Duke of York spuds, their foliage just pushing through the soil. I love the purple flush on the new growth.

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And next are my over-wintered field beans (rather like broad beans I am told, but smaller and tastier). This is the first year I have tried them. The metre tall stems are covered in blossom from tip to root, and the scent is glorious. The bees are busy here too.

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And last but not least, the strawberries are flowering like crazy…

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And the Welsh Onions are bursting into bloom beside the Lemon Balm, although I’m not sure whether I should be stopping them from doing this. On the other hand they will look rather splendid as the flowers open, and of course make lots more seed.

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And finally, the brightest face of all at the allotment, other than mine after too much digging. This is yet another lovely plant that grows itself up there with no help from me, and flowers into the winter. Its petals are lovely in salads, and it makes a good herbal tea that is said to improve pretty much any condition. I can believe it. Simply looking at this flower does you good: the orange goes right through your eyes and into your immune system. A big hand then, for the marigold. TARRAAAAH!

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© 2014 Tish Farrell

Please go to all these places for lots more brilliant stories:

Frizztext’s tagged ‘R’

Ailsa’s Travel Challenge ~ Close-up

DP Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Spring

Far away in Africa

Where’s My Backpack: Distance

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This shot of Kilimanjaro, which is actually miles and miles away, was taken from Kenya’s Mombasa Highway near Kibwezi just after the rains. Below it are the green cones of the Chyulu Hills on the approach to Tsavo. Like Mount Kenya, this huge old volcano is very elusive. Sometimes it will fill the sky, other times it is more like a mirage. The next shot was taken in the early morning during the dry season. The mountain often appears with the sunrise, but twenty minutes later you will see nothing at all in the space that it occupied.

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This dirt road is heading back towards the Mombasa Highway from Kenya Agriculture Research Institute’s Range Station at Kiboko. Buffalo lurk in the thorn scrub, and much else besides.

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Early morning on the reef at Tiwi Beach, South Mombasa. The dug-outs belong to the local Digo fishermen, who make a living selling their catch to tourists staying that the local beach villages. (See Beaches – Mombasa)

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Capricho and palms

A glimpse of Maweni Beach Cottages, built in the local style: coral rag walls and high makuti roofs thatched with coconut palm. Many of the local coconut plantations are ailing, due to too much tapping of flowering shoots to make the local brew tembo.

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Mara grasslands and, in the distance, the Ololua Escarpment.

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A room with a view, the ‘penthouse suite’ of the erstwhile Island Hotel, Shela Village, Lamu. This room had three whole walls of windows – the absolutely most perfect place for Nosy Writer to survey local life.

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“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

Karen Blixen Out of Africa

The view that Karen Blixen saw from the veranda of her home outside Nairobi.

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The Mombasa Highway just north of Kiboko. This shot was taken as we were heading to Nairobi about sixty miles away. The arid scrubland is part of Ukambani, home of the Akamba people, but Maasai come to trade here too. It was unusual to see the road with absolutely nothing and nobody on it.

And finally back up the Rift, north of Nairobi, a view across Lake Elmenteita of Lord Delamere’s Nose. This was the name the Maasai gave to the exploded volcano on the lake shore. Lord Delamere was one of the first white settlers in what was then British East Africa. I leave it to you to imagine what his nose looked like. Before Lord Delamere arrived to occupy this part of Africa, the hill was known as the Sleeping Warrior.

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© 2013 Tish Farrell