You know when people share their favouritest place with you, and you’re afraid you’ll hate it and that it will cause problems between you and all that? Helen Grant has been going on and on about Innerpeffray Library – almost in the middle of nowhere in Perthshire – for so long, that I thought she might, just possibly, be deluded.
Dear reader, she’s actually right. Innerpeffray is the place to go (especially if it doesn’t rain) for the library experience with a difference. (Pardon me if I sound like an advertisement.) It’s a beautiful old building, next to an old chapel – with graveyard – in the loveliest of settings; green fields with sheep in, a grassy ‘drive’ covered in tiny daisies, lovely plants along the path there, future nettle soup on the side, and a warm welcome when you arrive.
The librarian is called Lara, and I have rarely had such a fantastic guide anywhere. She talked history with the Resident IT Consultant and Helen, while I listened to these well educated, knowledgeable people, pretending I was too. For any little topic that came up, she found the book to illustrate it. (It’s almost as if Lara reads the books they have in there.)
She found me a Swedish book. They have two, but the other proved elusive when searched for. There was a book on witchcraft, which I gather is the vilest of crimes, trumping everything else. Hmm. This year’s exhibition is on crime, since that’s what we mere mortals like.
Lara climbs on the exceedingly tall ladder as though she was born to it. Apparently you have to go on a ladder-climbing course before you can work there. (Very relieved to hear that volunteers aren’t allowed to. So I could volunteer…)
They do events. Helen Grant did something spooky there recently, and has vowed to return for Halloween (which sounds great; if a little scary). Alexander McCall Smith is appearing at Innerpeffray to play very bad music. In fact, this coming weekend is full of fun sounding things to do. At one point Lara had to go off to see to some champagne. Later there was smoked salmon business needing her attention.
And even though it is now in a deserted corner of Perthshire’s lovely fields, when I asked that most commonly asked question ‘why is it here?’ I learned that when it started, it was a very busy part of the world, what with the river below, and all sorts of things.
People came to borrow books, and you can see the register of borrowers, which includes servants, and I found ‘a serf’ as well. This freedom with the books remains today. Unlike other museum type places where you can touch nothing; here you are allowed to. (Only not if your fingers are covered in clotted cream.) In the end I was frightened I’d tear one of the pages, so hardly dared to leaf through the witchcraft tome.
So, I can totally identify with Helen who comes here a lot. She suffered over the winter when they were closed, and could hardly wait to pop over when the library winter came to an end.
And you know, somewhere that has a purple panelled toilet, as well as a chapel where you can get married, beats a lot of places you might visit. If you can find it. You go down that road, and then you take that almost invisible turning, and later on you go left, follow the winding road and at some point you turn down some other road, at the end of which you will find you’ve arrived.
Unless you approach from some other direction.
Only politeness made us leave when it was Lara’s lunch break. That, and the fact that we too needed lunch. We went back to Schloss Grant and shared bread and cheese and salad, with fresh strawberries (which were very nice), and after that we actually ate some Battenbergs too. We talked books and publishing. The cats were woken so they could say hello.
Helen told me something I mustn’t repeat, which I won’t, because not only am I nice (so so) but I have forgotten what it was. She gave me her new collection of short stories, which I hope won’t scare me too much (I’ll get back to you on that) and then she showed us the door. Very politely.
I would recommend this outing to anyone. Unfortunately, not all of you can do the last part, but Lara and the library are waiting for you. Perhaps get married there, and provide them with some essential, financial support!
(My apologies for the numerous photos. It’s the kind of place where you just can’t not take pictures. Besides, Adèle Geras has demanded them. I’d recommend going now. It’s sunny, and nature is at its prettiest.)