john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    See the Lydfords no-one else has found yet

    Lydford Parish and Community Magazine,
    April 2011

    One of my favourite-ever books is An Exeter Mis-Guide, which describes itself as 'like no guide you have ever used before. To Exeter. To Anywhere'. Rather than directing the reader to the information desks of the cathedral and galleries and the tables of recommended restaurants, the Mis-Guide offers suggestions to help the user to find their own ways around the city, to make their own discoveries: 'the Mis-Guide gives you the ways to see the Exeters no-one else has found yet'.

    So from long before I even visited the place, I was using the Exeter Mis-Guide to help me take a fresh look at places I knew well, by embracing some of their suggestions: 'Take a walk along the river, canal or the railway and look for a place of shelter - where would you go tonight, if you had nowhere to go?'; 'Photograph the place where you live, starting at your front door - make a photo A to Z, for example: W = Wall, X = Crossroad, Y = yellow line'; 'Revisit scenes from your past and see how they are getting along without you. Look into the back gardens of houses you used to inhabit. Commemorate in chalk special places on the pavement where you said 'goodbye' or had a memorable conversation, or kissed. Lay a wreath on the site of a memory you want to put to rest'.

    You can see that the Mis-Guide approach is playful and imaginative, and perhaps you think it rather off-the-wall. But to the reader who is tuned in to its approach the Mis-Guide offers ways of freshening up your perceptions of the place you are in, strengthening your understanding of it and deepening your relationship with it.

    A companion book to the Exeter Mis-Guide is The Lonely Planet Guide to Experimental Travel. In it, writers Rachael Antony and Joel Henry suggest over forty experiments including Backpacking at Home which involves being dropped off at your local airport then catching the cheapest form of transport back into town, and living like a backpacker for a while: "Watch your budget, and be sure to take photographs of yourself with your new friends. When you've had enough, make your way back to the airport and ask someone to collect you to take you back home."

    Now both these books and their strategies are based around the idea of using travel as a way of unearthing stories, and creating new stories about places and the traveller's relationship with them.

    Every place has a received 'story' - good or bad. In guidebooks and leaflets Lydford tells its visitors about its Saxon roots, its Danish battles, its Stannary laws, its Watchmakers tombstone wit. But some stories are more fluid. Over drinks at The Castle Inn people tell other sorts of stories about the place, more contemporary, more rooted in the stuff of everyday life with its struggles and its little joys, more earthy when they think I'm out of earshot. Each week some of these stories will be retold, over again, and others of them may change as circumstances change. In people's homes other stories emerge - of deep and complex family histories, and sometimes of the loss of a Lydford which has altered for the occupants as people and businesses have come and gone.

    All the above affirms the observation that there is no 'one' Lydford, but as many different Lydfords as there are Lidfordians (is that the phrase?) and visitors, and their forerunners. The Lydford you think you know owes itself to the stories about it which you listen to, and tell. There are Lydfords which no-one else has found because they haven't yet heard the story.

    People assume that the Christian season of Lent should be about staying indoors and trying to be cheerless as we mull over our life stories and find ourselves falling well short of perfection. And sure, there is a place for circumspection and responding to a positive urge to change ourselves for the better. But we needn't shut ourselves off from society to do this. After all, Lent is based on Jesus spending forty days and nights wandering, purposefully, outside, considering his place and purpose in the world; and all the significant events of what we now incongruously call 'Holy Week' (when Jesus was scapegoated by the authorities, tried, tortured and crucified) took place out of doors in particular places which remain to this day deeply ingrained in the popular imaginations and spirituality of people the world over (Jerusalem, Calvary, Gethsemane).

    Consider what might happen if you took yourself out of doors into the West Devon spring for a second look at what you found out there, and how you relate to it. What might you learn by taking a Mis-Guided tour of our area, asking, 'Which places to I gravitate towards, which do I dread - and why?', 'Where are the sites of my strongest memories and how might I celebrate them (or heal them)?', 'What could I discover if I pretended to be a tourist here for a week?'

    Looking for the Lydfords which no-one else has found yet - seems like an interesting way to pass the time this Lent.

    John Davies
    Team Vicar