Despite the lack of colour, you can feel the sensation of sun filtering through the trees in this image of an old man walking along a lane and stopping to stroke his dog. A common factor in the photographs of James Ravilious is that he appears to be unobserved; his subjects, in this case Archie Parkhouse, seemingly unaware he’s taking their photo. Even Archie’s dog, Sally, is oblivious to the noise of the camera shutter.
For anyone in and around Dolton, where this photo was taken, Archie was a familiar figure. How many rural villages would have similar characters like Archie, steadfastly living in their own, some would say eccentric, way? Often, they’d be people who had more of an affinity with the natural world.
Simon Berry grew up in Dolton and was himself the subject of many a Ravilious photograph. He remembers Archie as “the wise man of Dolton.” Simon describes him as “a big imposing man”. “He loved the woods,” he says, “and could tell the weather by the woods. He knew by the leaves if it was going to rain.”
It would be difficult now to get a vehicle along this lane, which today would be classed as one of Devon’s Green Lanes. “Unsuitable for motors” they are largely left for recreational use, but walking along one of them you can’t help but think of all the people and animals which have used these same paths over the centuries.
In her book, Exploring Green Lanes: North and North-West Devon, Valerie Belsey says, “When you step into the green lanes of mid, west and north Devon, you enter into a network of ways which once thronged with travellers of all kinds, both by day and by night. Most of these lanes were formed when the majority of the population lived and worked in the countryside.”
Thanks to this image by Ravilious, many people stepping along this path today will think of Archie and Sally, and perhaps of the previous generations in whose footsteps they followed.
Exploring Green Lanes and the stories they tell: North and North-West Devon, by Valerie Belsey is available from Green Books www.greenbooks.co.uk