by Harry Mount
First published in the Telegraph 10 June 2011
Leigh Fermor, who has just died at 96, was blessed with many gifts, among them good looks, into old age, and an admirable war record. The two attributes were reflected in Dirk Bogarde being cast to play him in Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of Leigh Fermor’s daring kidnap, on Crete, of the German officer, General Heinrich Kreipe.
But his most extraordinary gift was his writing skill. Travel writers often depend on unusual destinations – the Antarctic, or wherever – or unusual stunts – ie taking a fridge to the Antarctic. Leigh Fermor went to more conventional places, but wrote about them beautifully.
His two best books – A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – tell the story of his walk in 1933, aged 18, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. They combine total recall of events that happened half a century before, with his poetic, classical prose – itself rooted in his mastery of Latin and Greek (ancient and modern).
He is a lesson to all travel writers. It’s not enough to travel; you must be a writer, too.