Review of ‘Peak Villages’, by Roly Smith

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Roly Smith
Published by Halsgrove
ISBN 1-84114-185-2 (2002)

With photography by Karen Frenkel and words by Roly Smith, both held in the highest regard in their respective fields, Peak Villages is certain to be one of the 'must have' books of the year. It is a stunningly visual treat.

Karen Frenkel has a gift for viewing her subjects from quite unfamiliar angles and has selected almost 170 superb photographs from hundreds of slides taken specifically for this book over a period of many months. Roly Smith is also clearly in his element once more. He calls on his deep knowledge and love of the Peak District to provide chapters on Villages in History and the Art of Well Dressing, then adds just enough text to mull over as you turn each page.

This partnership has captured moments in time for more than 60 of our most beautiful villages, with the occasional surprise when a single subject such as a humble cockerel or cow is given the star treatment - and seems to respond with pride to its proverbial 15 minutes of fame. Human subjects are far more casual as they go about their daily lives, whether the eco-warrior tying his dog to the gate of the village post office, a jolly farmer feeding her chickens or a passer-by considering goods on display in front of the village store. Detail frames the photographs from corner to corner, with flowers and heather, stone walls and shell fossils, veils of cow parsley and branches sparkling with blue-tinged frost.

Most of us have a favourite time of year and each season is here in abundance. Bakewell's medieval bridge, the subject of hundreds of photographs and paintings, has never looked more beautiful than it does here in springtime, framed by branches heavy with pink cherry blossom. To select the most memorable scenes as we move through the year is impossible but personal choices include the family paddling in the river Bradford on a summer's day, a glorious autumnal landscape in the gentle Southern Peak and two quite magical pictures taken in the Central White Peak in the depths of winter. This is one of them, in the words of Roly Smith: 'A winter sunrise paints the vast canvas of eastern skies in red and gold, and throws a pink reflection on the snowy fields around Little Hucklow'. Karen Frenkel lets darkness fall to show us Cressbrook Hall at Christmas, seemingly under a full moon which tints the snowscape an icy blue, reflecting golden pools of light from windows and from an outdoor Christmas tree topped with a star. You will not see a prettier card anywhere this Christmas.

To describe Peak Villages as a 'coffee table book' may not be to everyone's liking but why not? Published in large format on high quality paper to do justice to the sumptuous colours, it deserves to be equally admired and enjoyed.

Review by Julie Bunting

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