1 May 2022 Susannah

Walking with Patrick Leigh Fermor

Patrick Leigh Fermor on Ithaca, 1946

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.

I do love to walk with writers who share their tales in their books. Do you? Tell me by leaving a comment.

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Featured image credit- Paddy. on Ithaca, 1946 by Joan Leigh Fermor, https://patrickleighfermor.org/2013/07/14/a-visit-with-patrick-leigh-fermor-part-2/

Comments (20)

  1. Penny Morris

    I haven’t heard of this writer I’m embarrassed to say but will definitely purchase the books and try him out. Thanks for the recommednation.

  2. John Wilson

    How it takes me back to hear of Patrick Leigh Fermor. First read A Time of Gifts in the 80’s. As a young Arts graduate I was amazed by his depth of knowledge about European history and geography, all with a light touch. Charming. Pleased to find that the third book in the trilogy was published after his death with the help of Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron. I would recommend any books by Colin Thubron including Behind the Wall about China in the 1980’s. Also Paul Theroux (father of Louis) in particular The Pillars of Hercules about travel around the Mediterranean. My strong recommendation is Looking for the Lost by Alan Booth about travel in Japan. He travelled mostly on foot, looking for lost Japan, away from the tourist traps meeting eccentrics, outlaws, people living traditional lives in remote corners of Japan. Not unlike the polished Paddy Fermor, passionate, earthy and insightful and sadly no longer with us.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I am so glad my post on the fabulous Paddy brought back good reading memories for you. He’s a wonderful writer. Thanks for the recommendations. I will be visiting Japan next year for the first time, so the one on Japan sounds like really good preparation for the trip.

      • Mary Lambert

        Have you come across
        Taking a line for a Walk
        Sketchbook of a Walk to Rome
        Antique collectors Club were the publishers, my late husband on an earlier walk fromNorfolk to Devon
        read ‘A Time of Gifts’ and it inspired him to walk from Le Havre to Rome and he kept a sketchbook diary..it is still on Amazon!
        Best wishes Mary Lambert

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Wow, he really was inspired! Thanks for letting me know – I will look for it on amazon.

  3. Fran Warner

    Susannah, you may enjoy these books:
    “The Year We Seized the Day” Elizabeth Best and Colin Bowles ( In 2019 my brothers, sister, sister-in-law and I “seized the day” and became Pilgrims on the Camino Frances – starting from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela – walking the full route nearly 800kms)

    “The Slow Journey South” Paula Constant. Walking to Africa – a year in footsteps

    “The Salt Path” Raynor Winn. from Somerset to Dorset -630 mile South West Coast Path.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I have read and really enjoyed The Salt Path, but thanks for the other two recommendations. They sound great.

  4. BrianDoyle

    I have a favourite travel book Empire of the Czar by The Marquis de Custine written in 1839 it’s a remarkable historical document that vividly captures Russia under czarist rule and predicts with extraordinary insight on its downfall and the biography of his life is also a really fascinating book

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh that sounds wonderful – thanks for recommending.

  5. Brian Doyle

    Several weeks ago out walking I passed a street library and a copy of Mark Twain’s essays leapt into my hand, what a treat, love love love him and yes he’s on my resurrection list

    • Natalie

      I did discover Patrick Leigh Fermor when I was young, probably as a teenager, and was definitely influenced by the romanticism, poetry, beauty and sheer simplicity of both his adventures and his writing. I could probably trace my lifelong wanderlust and desire for this sort of travel and this sort of approach to lifestyle back to his books. I imagine that he is very little known nowadays, so it was wonderful to see him commemorated and appreciated by you Susannah!

      • Susannah Fullerton

        I came to his books only recently and felt sad I’d missed out on him for so long. He writes so beautifully, doesn’t he, and captures a world on the verge of great change.

      • Tricia Koffel

        Apologies – a little late to your Patrick Leigh Fermor tribute, Susannah! However, I just wanted to add my appreciation of his books to those of the other readers above. I so enjoyed reading them some years back. What rich writing of an earlier time, what an adventure!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          So glad you also enjoy his books. I think he writes beautifully and can really make you see the places he describes.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      He’s one author I’d have really loved to meet, or go travelling with. And he adored cats and when he travelled would often hire a kitten so he had one to cuddle and play with!

  6. Brian Doyle

    Bought all these books a month ago and their sitting patiently waiting for me until I finish Mark Twains travel books, ,and what a fabulous writer and observer of humanity he is, a very witty man whose humorous observations have not dated

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I would have so loved to meet Mark Twain – he’s fabulous! And a great travel writer.
      I hope you also enjoy the gorgeous Paddy!

  7. Elizabeth Reicker

    You might enjoy Sauntering: Writers Walk Europe. Introduced and Edited by Duncan Minshull. London : Notting Hill, 2022

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It sounds wonderful and I’ve noted the name. Many thanks for the recommendation.

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