Between The Woods And The Water

Its Easter 1934 and 19 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor is standing on a bridge looking over the Danube at the old town of Esztergom. Picking up at exactly the point where we left him in A Time Of Gifts, the first volume of his travels, this second volume follows him across the Great Hungarian Plain, Transylvania and Rumania on his way by foot to Constantinople.

Observation and conversation are his charm as he meticulously transcribes words phonetically into his notebook; finding connections between people, their culture and their language. The tribes of Europe, Dacians and Goths, Gepids and Lombards, the Huns and the Mongols, Magyars and Kabars; bears and wildcats, foxes and golden orioles, shepherds and woodsmen, innkeepers and rabbi’s; everyone and everything is fascinating to him. Friends he’s made along the way give him introductions to their friends so that he passes from travelling rough to Count to Baron and back again; sleeping in barns with animals or manor houses with libraries, he’s always open for conversation and game for anything.

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Wheels within Wheels

Beginning on her birth day November 28th, 1931 this wonderful memoir covers the first 30 years of Dervla Murphy’s unusual life. Her parents Fergus and Kathleen Murphy had arrived in Lismore, County Waterford on their wedding day with all their possessions and a golden haired collie called Kevin in the cab of a lorry. They rented half a decaying mini-mansion and Fergus became the county librarian. As Dubliners the locals were already suspicious, that they were penniless and displayed eccentric bourgeois tastes the reception was hostile and resentful. But that doesn’t seem to have mattered a jot, Fergus and Kathleen travelled together around the county setting up branch libraries, sleeping in the small mobile library van to save money needed to buy more books. When the Doctor arrives at the library to tell Fergus he has a baby daughter, Fergus wraps up the 9 records of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony and walks 4 miles to the hospital in Cappoquin, where with a borrowed gramophone they start family life.

The essence of this memoir is answering the question ‘who makes us what we are?’ what is the series of intricately connected events, plots and circumstances that influence each other and decide who we become? The countryside around her, her insatiable love of books, her richly unconventional home and her republican relations, all gather in her determined, strong-willed self.

For my tenth birthday my parents gave me a second-hand bicycle and Pappa sent me a second-hand atlas. Already I was an enthusiastic cyclist, though I had never before owned a bicycle, and soon after my birthday I resolved to cycle to India one day. I have never forgotten the exact spot, on a steep hill near Lismore, where this decision was made. Half-way up I rather proudly looked at my legs, slowly pushing the pedals round, and the thought came -If I went on doing this for long enough I could get to India.’ The simplicity of the idea enchanted me. I had been pouring over my new atlas every evening travelling in fancy. Now I saw how I could travel in reality – alone, independent and needing very little money.

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A Time Of Gifts

In 1933, 18 year old Patrick Leigh Fermor decides to leave London and England and set out on foot across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople, living as a tramp or pilgrim.

Written in 1977, A Time of Gifts tells the first part of his journey from the Hook of Holland to the middle Danube. Starting with his original diaries and notebooks he expounds on the history of Europe, through its artists and music, architecture, languages and dialects and the movement of its tribes and sects.

Able and willing to talk to anybody and sleep wherever he could, it’s his encounters with other people that I enjoyed the most. There are lots of barn floors covered in hay and a blanket for the night, sent on his way with a cheery wave and a thick slice of black bread and butter and drunken evenings in bars and on boats with the locals. Or my favourite, Konrad, who he meets in the Salvation Army hostel in Vienna, when he notices him reading Titus Andronicus and for a while they become as tight as (almost) thieves! But he also has a letter of introduction to a Baron in Munich who then goes on to write letters to his friends across Europe, so that every so often Paddy has a bath and a dressed up night on the town. And we get the wonderful contrast caught in lines like:

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A Moment of War

This is the third part of Laurie Lee’s autobiography that started with Cider With Rosie, looking back at his childhood in the Slad Valley. At the end of the first volume in 1934, he leaves his home on a bright Sunday morning in early June. He’s 19, ‘still soft at the edges, but with a confident belief in good fortune’ and jumps straight in to the second volume, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, (which I read but I’m afraid never got around to reviewing). With a tent, a change of clothes and his violin he ends up in Spain in 1935 and wonders through the country, a hapless young troubadour until he returns to England on board a Naval destroyer in 1936, just as the civil war is spreading.

At home, ‘deep in the grip of a characteristic mid-thirties withdrawal, snoozing under old newspapers and knotted handkerchiefs’ , he begins to feel shameful at having left Spain so readily and decides to return as soon as possible. He begins his journey on foot and steps straight in to volume three.

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The Salt Path

the salt path

Within a week in 2013 Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their home and livelihood and receive the news that Moth has a rare and terminal illness for which there’s no cure ‘Don’t tire yourself, or walk too far, and be careful on the stairs.’

Instead they pack their rucksacks and walk and wild camp The South West Coast Trail, England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath, 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset along the coast of Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

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Cider With Rosie

cider with rosie

If reading could make you fat then this is the book to do it, every paragraph is so dense and luscious in its descriptions, we’re as enveloped in a world of marmalade colours as the baby Laurie in his mother’s arms.

Written in 1959 Laurie Lee is remembering his childhood in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, where in June 1918 at the age of 3 he is set down by the carriers cart at a cottage on a steep bank above a lake; there are frogs in the cellar, rooks in the chimneys and mushrooms on the ceiling.

One of 8 children he lives with his three older sisters all ‘wrapped in a perpetual bloom’, his three brothers, younger sister and their mother in a chaotic, giggling flurry of activity, while their absent father ‘in his pince-nez up on the wall looked down like a ‘scandalized god’.

‘When the kettle boiled and the toast was made, we gathered and had our tea. we grabbed and dodged and passed and snatched, and packed our mouths like pelicans.’ Continue reading “Cider With Rosie”