Have you ever gone walking with Patrick Leigh Fermor? When he was a young man, he decided to go for a very long walk – from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (as Istanbul was then called). He set off in December 1933, with a small number of clothes, some letters of introduction, some poetry books, and an endless supply of optimism. He slept outdoors, in barns, in castles and monasteries, and in the homes of strangers who welcomed him generously. He arrived at the end of the journey in January 1935. The result was three travel books – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road. In WWII, soon after his journey, he was awarded several honours, and went on to enjoy a distinguished literary career.
I love his ‘walking’ books and am not surprised to learn that he influenced a whole generation of travel writers – Bruce Chatwin, Nicholas Crane and Rory Stewart amongst them. Robert Macfarlane’s gorgeous essay The Gifts of Reading is about his response to Fermor’s writings. Fermor, or Paddy as his friends called him, was a superb letter writer as well, and the letters he exchanged with Debo, Duchess of Devonshire, form the delightful book In Tearing Haste.
His books about his long walk take you back to pre-WWII Europe. You share his distaste for rising Naziism in Germany, you delight in some of the eccentrics he meets along the way, and you revel in his well-constructed and truly elegant writing style. He is one of the most charming authors I know. If you have yet to go travelling with Paddy, do consider doing so soon.