- A life on Exmoor in an epoch of change'
The Seven Fables' Walking Book Club with Catrina Davies - a wet, summer walk into the woods of Dulverton.
I'll let writer James Canton introduce the book as readers local to Exmoor may recognise the 'good ol' country boy as Ralphie, Hedley Ralph Collard...
'Once Upon a Raven's Nest is a genuinely captivating tale of rural-lore - told through the thrilling narrative of one man's life; a good ol' country boy, a right character whose scraps and scrapes litter the pages. Chainsaws and tractors and torn love affairs fill the book, as Tommy's story is laid bare in a series of episodes and fractured snapshots carefully scattered within a timescale of environmental decline. There is a tough, brutal beauty here in Davies' depiction of the ways of the British countryside but love, and delight and the best of humanity, too.'
It was a day of two events...
In the morning visitors joined Catrina 'in the kitchen' at Seven Fables, many of whom were relations of Ralphie and already knew Catrina who first met him in 2014 while out walking when house sitting in Wales. She enjoyed the familiarity of his West Country accent and their common love for the outdoors and surfing, so Once Upon Raven's Nest grew naturally from their friendship. Ralph would frequently recount memorable episodes from throughout his life, and Catrina felt strongly that these unique anecdotes should be recorded. Rural life has altered dramatically during Ralph's lifetime - how land is managed, how people are employed, communities and villages subtly changed. Exmoor's landscape and wildlife may appear wild and untouched to the uninitiated, but it has of course been impacted. Some key species are now known to be extinct in the park. *These include iconic upland birds such as lapwing, and ring ouzel, butterflies such as pearl-bordered fritillary, and mammals such as water vole, while other species including curlew, merlin, and marsh fritillary are now in low numbers. *2013
In the afternoon our Walking Book Club headed into Burridge Woods. The rain formed a soft mist around us as we sat at the den, surrounded by the trees and bracken, and as the conversation and discussion evolved it transpired that we were of course in a wood that Ralph would have managed closely, even felled the logs we were sitting upon.
It must be noted though that Once Upon a Raven's Nest is fiction, the title says it all - 'Once upon a time.' It is not a biography, or a bid to return to 'rosier' days - Ralph, hunts, shoots and poaches creating an interesting dynamic with animals that shifts with the course of time. A fellow bookseller described him as an Errol Flynn character referring to his sense of misadventure, oblivious to peril.
I did not know Ralph personally, I have friends who worked alongside him, but whoever talks about him does so with a smile. Catrina has written a truly beautiful book, the first chapter weaves folklore and landscape so deftly it draws you in. Even if you do not know Exmoor or of course Ralph, I am certain that you will be engaged by her captivating writing and the West Country rhythm in which the recollections are told, and yes they may be embellished, it is a story after all, for how big, truly is a raven's nest?!
Catrina is also a songwriter and musician, Cabbages and Kings was written in honour of Ralph, and when she sung it that day, I could see many were moved...
Hedley Ralph Collard 1953 - 2021
The figure behind the tales and escapades of Thomas Hedley, the central figure in Once Upon a Raven's Nest...
'This is a rich, beautiful and deeply moving book. I read it in one sitting, then was sorry that I had not drawn it out for longer, as I enjoyed it so much.' George Monbiot
Signed copies of Once Upon a Raven's Nest are available to purchase from Seven Fables, in store or via our website here
Delivery within the UK £4.00
Signed paperback copies of Homesick - Why I Live in a Shed are also available.
Christopher asked Catrina to sit for a portrait with his scratch built large format camera, he had two shots, one was totally black but here is the other...
All images Seven Fables except for those of Ralphie,
with thanks to his family and Quercus Publishing
Notes* Exmoor Wildlife Research and Monitoring Framework 2014 - 2020