Category Archives: After the Woods and the Water

Beneath the surface: Tuscany’s ancient walking trails

The sunken vie cave paths were made by the Etruscans

Our friend Nick Hunt (author of Walking the Woods and the Water and Where the Wild Winds Are) has recently written an article for the Guardian about the Vie cave network of sunken paths. Dug by the Etruscans more than 2,000 years ago, they offer a fascinating way to explore a little-visited corner of southern Tuscany. Nick has also recently published a short book – The Parakeeting of London. Apparently the skies of London have been taken over by flocks of bright-green parakeets and nobody knows how they got there. Nick tracks the progress of the parakeets from park to cemetery to riverbank, meeting Londoners from all walks of life who share their thoughts, opinions and theories on these incongruous avian invaders. Did Jimi Hendrix release them in 1968? Did they escape from a set during the filming of The African Queen? Are they anything to do with climate change? And, most importantly, are they here to stay?

First published in The Guardian

“Here there are wild boars with four legs, and wild boars with two,” says Walk Italy tour leader Roberto Carpano. We are drinking volcanic wine in the tiny village of Sovana, and he is referring to the fact that people from this forested, hilly part of southern Tuscany (50 miles south of Siena and as close to Rome as Florence) are sometimes nicknamed cinghiali (wild boars) for their stubborn, bristly nature.

Not that there are many locals about – Sovana has fewer than 100 residents, and the piazza is deserted apart from a small, self-important dog. My partner and I are here, with four others, to join a two-day walking tour of the area’s mysterious vie cave (sunken roads).

We are not exactly off the beaten track, for these tracks have been beaten since the bronze age. The vie cave are a network of paths dug by the Etruscans, the civilisation that ruled this area until 100 BC, when the last of their cities were absorbed into the Roman Republic. The ancient thoroughfares were cut into the tufo – the volcanic rock common in south and central Italy – connecting settlements, religious sites and necropolises. Some are just sunken footpaths, but others are six-metre deep ravines broad enough to drive a chariot down. In places the walls are carved with sacred symbols to protect against the pagan spirits later populations believed might haunt the trails.

Our journey begins above Sorano, at Fortezza Orsini, the 15th-century castle of the Orsini family, perched atop a tufo bluff riddled with tunnels and caves. We tour the catacombs with Sean Lawson, a New Zealander who came here on holiday 18 years ago and stayed on. He leads us through the cramped passageways that honeycomb the rock – their walls coated in saltpetre, used for gunpowder that fuelled the Orsinis’ incessant wars – and into the wooded valley, where the vie cave begin.

The sunlight disappears as we burrow into the shaded valley – the marks of 2,000-year-old picks are still visible on the walls. But soon we emerge into an open landscape of vineyards and olive groves, roads more Roman than Etruscan. Our goal, eight miles to the east, is a place of even greater mystery: an ancient necropolis called the Città del Tufo, whose largest, most majestic tomb is the Ildebranda, carved from the living rock, surrounded by hundreds of smaller burial chambers. Sean shows us the Tomb of the Winged Demons and a statue of Vanth, angel of death, pausing to chat to some local women who are picking wild asparagus – it’s perfect in risotto, they say.

The next morning’s vie cave take us south from Sovana to a place that’s very much alive: the Sassotondo vineyard, owned by wine producing couple Carla Benini and Eduardo Ventimiglia. “He is the mind and I am the nose,” says Carla, after showing us round a cellar cut deep into tufo, like everything else, and pouring glasses of red, white and orange wine as an icy wind shakes the mimosa trees outside.

The wine cellars at Sassotondo vineyard are cut deep into tufo

After a lunch of unsalted Tuscan bread and sheep’s cheese sprinkled with oregano, we are back on the sunken roads heading for Pitigliano – an unreal vision of a town with steeples, towers and defensive walls on a rocky outcrop, its terracotta rooftops circled by rooks. We pass beneath the arches of a 16th-century aqueduct into a warren of vicoli, narrow twisting alleyways. Roberto shows us the synagogue of the ancient Jewish quarter, which thrived from the 15th century but didn’t survive the 20th – its members fled or were deported, with others reportedly finding refuge with Christian families during the second world war – and is now another monument to a vanished culture.

A full moon is rising as we settle into La Magica Torre, a guesthouse with views of the old town. Sleep is a long way off, though, for something special is about to happen in the main piazza. The Invernacciu is an effigy of canes and straw, which represents the departing spirit of winter. As darkness falls, a line of flames weaves towards us along the vie cave across the valley. A procession of young men in monks’ robes staggers up the hill, trailing sparks from huge bundles of burning canes on their shoulders. Their chants get louder as they come: “’Eppe, ’eppe, viva San Giuseppe!” This festival, the Torciata di San Giuseppe, is dedicated to the town’s patron saint, but the veneer of Christianity is unconvincing. Tonight is the spring equinox, and this is a pagan celebration of the end of winter.

The monks touch their torches to the pyre and the straw man goes up in flames. A fierce wind turns the piazza into a maelstrom of swarming sparks. Chunks of burning wood rain down on the crowd, and parents brush embers from their children’s hair as watching firemen chat and smoke cigarettes. As music blasts from powerful speakers, inebriated monks dance hand-in-hand around the inferno.

It is a glorious end to our walk. Winter is truly over. By midnight the streets are deserted. We return to the smouldering heap to gather a handful of still-warm ashes to take home on tomorrow’s train – good luck for the coming year.

Jan Morris review of Nick Hunt’s Where the Wild Winds Are

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

Jan Morris’ review of Nick’s new book, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to ProvenceFirst published in The Literary Review. She is effusive in her praise, concluding …

Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

This extraordinary work is a prime example of that contemporary genre, the ex-travel book. Travel writing as such being a bit obsolete now, since so many readers have been everywhere, the form has evolved into something more interpretative or philosophical. Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence is a work of this sort – a thoughtful (and perhaps rather too protracted) relation of a journey on foot across half of Europe – and it contains much admirable descriptive writing of the old sort. It is also, however, something far more interesting than most such enterprises: it describes an expedition into the Winds!

The Winds? Yes, four European winds, sometimes with a capital W, sometimes not, into which, one by one, Nick Hunt goes. He wants to experience and explore them all. Each is rich in history, myth, folklore, superstition and effect. Many of us have travelled across Europe, but as far as I know nobody has hitherto so deliberately explored the kingdoms of the great winds. Scientists, geographers, glider pilots, artists, poets and theologians have investigated and commemorated them, but travel writers never before. Hunt immerses himself in those Windlands and manages to give his readers a blast, a sigh, a shiver of each.

He chooses four named winds out of dozens, four being a geographical sort of number. His first and smallest wind, one I have never heard of before, blows across a northwestern corner of England. It is called Helm, and its headquarters, it seems, is a desolate plateau called Cross Fell in a particularly uninviting stretch of the Pennines. Helm is the only named wind blowing across Britain. It sounds perfectly awful and its reputation is frightful: it howled for fifteen days in 1843, it demolished a castle tower once, everybody complains about its psychological and temperamental effects and for centuries the countryside it rules was plagued by vendettas, pillagings, rapes, cattle-rustlings and murders. Hunt relates an awful curse that a 16th-century archbishop cast upon the place: it ran to more than a thousand words and finally declared that the souls of the local miscreants should be condemned to the deepest pit of hell, their bodies to be torn apart by dogs, swine and wild beasts.

Of course Hunt does not blame Helm for all this, but the wind does seem to have a baleful influence upon people, even now. He never experienced it for himself, diligently though he tried, tramping the high fells in search of it and miserably camping out, but his description of the experience is sufficiently vivid. It seems to me that the whole of Helmland is blown through with scoundrels and demons.

Less baleful, thank goodness, seems the influence of Foehn, which the novelist Hermann Hesse once described as the south announcing news of spring to the snowbound north. It is a warm wind (katabatic, Hunt helpfully explains, meaning that it blows downslope, not anabatically), and although it is said to cause migraines and depressions, it is also associated with clear skies and warmth. It sounds an ambiguous sort of wind. Our author starts his walk through its realm in Zurich in late March. He hopes to catch the wind doing what Hesse said it did, and he gives us some classic travel-book stuff on the way (‘flocks of sheep clanged their bells in a satisfyingly Alpine way’). When he gets to Liechtenstein he finds an entire exhibition devoted to Foehn. ‘We say’, announce its curators fondly, ‘that Foehn is the Oldest Man of Liechtenstein.’ This lively exhibition seems to reveal a different sort of attitude to the wind from anything Helm inspires in the bitter Pennines – more considerate, more affectionate perhaps. As Hunt walks on, though, he finds that while his front is growing warmer, his back is getting cold, and I take that to demonstrate that Foehn is a two-faced sort of wind.

It apparently is responsible for an illness of its own – Föhnkrankheit (‘Foehn-sickness’). Citizens complain of wind-induced depressions, anxieties and headaches. Farm animals grow fretful when Foehn blows and schoolchildren become uncontrollable. Hunt saw for himself a horse ‘excitedly’ performing ‘a small dance in its field’, and took this to mean that Foehn was on its way. When he told one elderly citizen that he was hoping to experience the wind for himself, the old boy scowled, tapped out his pipe on his trouser leg and simply said schlecht (‘bad’).

When our author did at last encounter Foehn in person, as it were, sure enough it was an ambiguous fulfilment. The energy of its gusts was evidently thrilling: ‘Now that I had found the wind, I had to follow it.’ But with Foehn, he says, came a powerful sensation: ‘Melodrama was everywhere: in the lake, the trees, the grass, the birds, the mountains, the sky, the light.’ He was, he says, ‘worn ragged from the struggle … I had come a long way to find the wind, but now for the first time … I had the strong sensation of wanting it to stop.’

Ah, but Hunt’s fourth wind (I will get to the third one later) is the Mistral, and we all know that one. The very name whispers holiday, art and the warm south. Van Gogh, Hunt tells us, painted his Summer Evening specifically because the Mistral was blowing through the Midi that day. ‘Aren’t we seeking intensity of thought’, Van Gogh asked a friend, ‘rather than tranquillity of touch?’ Intensity is evidently a hallmark of the Mistral. Both the French and the Spanish have warships named after it. Van Gogh himself, of course, eventually went mad.

Hunt knew all about the Mistral when he began his exploratory walk at Valence, where the wind is popularly supposed to start, and he had no difficulty in finding it for himself. It hit him in the face the moment he went out, and all around him, he tells us, passers-by ‘walked at forty-five-degree stoops, their hair-styles heading south’. Was this indeed the Mistral? he asked one of them. The reply was definitive: ‘Oui … This is the place with the most wind in France.’

He need not have asked. Throughout his stay in Provence, the Mistral was boisterously and proudly with him, and everyone talked about it. It used to be called ‘the idiot wind’, he learned. In the town of Orange in 2004 it blew for sixteen days without stopping, and it regularly blows there for one in three days throughout the year. ‘It makes us nervous – angry, even. Yes, it makes us angry! He enjoys this! He likes the passion! Me, I hate it.’ It had lately changed its blowing patterns, some said, while others suggested that in the law courts judges sentence more leniently if the Mistral is blowing hard.

One connecting theme of Hunt’s book is the subject of madness and its supposed links with particular winds. Van Gogh spent a year at Arles in Provence and painted two hundred pictures there – scenes all distinguished, Hunt suggests, by ‘the restlessness of the air’. Van Gogh himself called the Mistral merciless and wicked, but he loved the clear light of it, and it was not in Mistral country but in northern France where in the end he shot himself.

Nick Hunt reads from his new book at the launch at Stanford’s bookshop, London on 6 September 2017

I have left to the end Hunt’s second Wind, the Bora, because it is the one I have personally experienced, and because it seems to me the one most dramatically associated with a particular city. The Bora is a terrific climactic phenomenon that periodically storms down the mountainous coastline of the Adriatic and bursts through gaps in the highlands to fall upon places on the coast. Hunt calls it the ‘enfant terrible of the Adriatic’, and at its worst it can reach hurricane strength.

The Bora is intimately associated with Trieste, a city of tangled nationality, mingled fortunes and pungent character. I have known the place myself for seventy years and have written about it often, but until Hunt’s book reached me I had never heard of the Bora Museum, which is in a back street near the docks and contains 150 bottled winds from the four corners of the world.
Trieste and the Bora have become almost synonymous and they are proud of each other.

Everyone in the city has tales to tell of the wild and boisterous Bora, its rolling over of trams, its stripping of roofs and all its extravagant goings-on – such a contrast from the sometimes melancholy suggestiveness of the city itself. The Bora is fundamental to the self-image of Trieste. There is a street named in honour of it, artists repeatedly celebrate it, you can buy comic postcards of it and local historians like to claim that a nearby battle fought under its influence in AD 394 led directly to the fall of the Roman Empire. I forget exactly why.

I can myself testify that the Bora has the usual deleterious wind effects, including odd sensations of desolation or enervation. Nevertheless, after finishing this fascinating work, it seemed to me that the Bora is the happiest and jolliest of all Hunt’s Winds, the only one, perhaps, with a sense of humour.

Where the Wild Winds Are is full to the brim with learning, entertainment, description, scientific fact and conjectural fiction. It is travel writing in excelsis, and if I have judged it to be too long, that is perhaps because I have had enough of the genre itself. Hunt’s own summing-up of the whole venture expresses it better than I can, anyway. He says that he and his senses have been washed, scoured, scrubbed, frozen, heated, pummelled, pounded, downcast, uplifted and animated by the Winds.

And so, in a way, have mine, by reading his book.

Buy Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence
By Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brearley Publishing 258pp

Jaap Scholten talks about Comrade Baron

Dutch writer Jaap Scholten knows a good story when he hears one. In the early 1990s, when his Hungarian wife’s grandmother began telling him about life before communism, he was entranced. This was the beginning of the road to writing “Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy,” Scholten’s first work of non-fiction and the first to be published in English, launched May 5th.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy by Jaap Scholten

baronI am very excited about this and I know that some you will be too as you have asked about it on many occasions.

Comrade Baron A journey through the vanishing world of the Transylvanian aristocracy, is written by Jaap Scholten and will be published for the first time in English on 5 May 2016. The book was winner of the Libris History Prize 2011 and shortlisted for the Bob den Uyl Prize for best travel book 2011.

Comrade Baron will be launched at an event, hosted by BBC presenter, Petroc Trelawny, at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, London, on 4 th May. A best-seller in The Netherlands with more than 30,000 copies sold, Comrade Baron has been translated into French, Hungarian and Romanian. An extraordinary, passionate and important work, Comrade Baron is “in part, an oral history of a group we know little about, in part the account of a journey through one of the most beautiful and mysterious regions of Europe and in part a record of a Dutchman’s impressions on finding himself in an extraordinary milieu in the company of some exceptional families.”

In the darkness of the early morning of 3 March 1949, practically all of the Transylvanian aristocracy were arrested in their beds and loaded onto trucks. That same day the Romanian Workers’ Party was pleased to announce the successful deportation and dispossession of all large landowners. Communism demanded the destruction of these ultimate class enemies. Taken away with just the clothes they stood up in, what happened to these once mighty families? Their stories, as told first-hand in this fascinating and enlightening book, are ones of hardship and fear but also of determination, solidarity, family tradition, resilience and indomitable spirit…

Jaap Scholten lives in Budapest, which is where, in 2006, he first heard about the nocturnal mass deportation of the Transylvanian nobility. Fascinated by their plight, he determined to track down as many of the older members of the former aristocracy as he could, recording their stories before they were lost forever. His journey took him the length and breadth of Transylvania (a magical land that comes to vivid life through descriptions in the book), to apartment blocks, slums and ruined castles, and brought him face-to-face with a group of rare and fascinating families with an extraordinary tale to tell.

Supported by a selection of black and white photographs and told through poignant and illuminating first-hand conversations, Comrade Baron is their story – from the days that preceded communism to after the communists came to power and through to the modern day.

Grand houses were exchanged for homes in cellars, attics, laundry rooms and sculleries and pleasure-seeking lifestyles for work in quarries, steelworks or domestic service. Interrogation was a daily occurrence and many were sent to hard labour in the Romanian gulags. Yet despite living under terrifying conditions, inflicted upon them firstly by Gheorghiu-Dej and later Ceauşescu, the aristocrats were leading a double life. Secretly gathering at night, they maintained the rituals of an older world – “they carried on kissing hands and using other formal gestures, their conversations were governed by long established rules… They met in cellars to play bridge, rummy and canasta. They read poetry aloud and made music. The older aristocrats taught the children foreign languages and gave them music lessons.” In contrast, as Jaap travels through Romania and observes the behaviour of the new Romanian elite –extravagant behaviour at parties and restaurants, driving their Mercedes and SUV’s – he recognizes what has been lost and consider how best to rebuild a country in a moral vacuum.

Jaap Scholten studied Industrial Design at the Technical University in Delft, Graphic Design at the Willem de Kooning Academy of Arts in Rotterdam (BA), and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest (MA). He is the award winning author of seven books, novels and short story collections. Comrade Baron is his first non-fiction book. Jaap has lived in Budapest since 2003. His Hungarian wife is of noble descent and distantly related to some of the families in the book.

“I have enjoyed this book so much – such a great tale, with brilliant original research and source material, and so many stories, tragic, humiliating, painful, yet all engrossing and highly readable” Petroc Trelawny, BBC presenter and journalist.

“This is a classic in the lines of Patrick Leigh-Fermor and it should be on the shelves of anyone interested in Mitteleuropa.” Norman Stone, Professor of Modern History, Oxford.

You can buy Comrade Baron: A Journey Through the Vanishing World of the Transylvanian Aristocracy here.

The launch event for the book, hosted by Petroc Trelawney will take place on Wednesday 4 May 2016 at 7pm at the Hungarian Cultural Centre, 10 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA. Attendance at the event is free but booking is required on bookings@hungary.org.uk.

Horatio Clare and Bill Bryson winners at Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Winners Bill Bryson and Horatio Clare at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Winners Bill Bryson and Horatio Clare at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards

Some disappointment for our friend Nick Hunt in the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, the results of which were announced at an event at London’s National Liberal Club this week. The winner was Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men, Horatio Clare’s account of the ordinary men that place their lives in extraordinary danger on container ships on the high seas.

“In selecting a winner from our wonderful shortlist, we kept in mind that one of the great litmus tests of travel writing is companionship, how much the reader relishes the company of the writer,” said prize Chair, Barnaby Rogerson. “We wanted to be led on an adventure, we wanted new doors opened, fresh horizons of inquiry unveiled, we want to be filled with wonder and enthusiasm at the dazzling riches of our world. Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men ticked every box.”

“It is a book charged full of vim and passion,” continued Rogerson. “Filled with polished, near poetic prose, it is alert to labour as well as beauty, the loneliness of long-distance sea travel as well as the communities that form below deck, and are dissipated with each new voyage.”

Chris Schüler, outgoing Chairman of the Authors’ Club, echoed Rogerson’s words adding that “Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men is a book entirely worthy of its place amongst the Stanford Dolman’s illustrious list of past victors. In this first year of our partnership with Stanfords, we couldn’t have hoped for a better choice from our judges to capture the essence of this vital prize – a work of true literary excellence and cultural importance.”

As winner, Clare received a cheque for £5,000 and a specially commissioned hand-made globe by master globe-makers, Lander & May.

Best-selling travel author Bill Bryson was also honoured at the Awards when he received the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing. Selected from public nominations by specialists at high street and independent bookshops, including Waterstones, Blackwell’s, Daunt Books and the Hungerford Bookshop, this is the first time the Award has been presented.

“I am hugely honoured to receive this award,” said Bryson, “particularly as it comes from booksellers, my favourite people on the whole planet.”

Tony Maher, Managing Director of Edward Stanford Limited, said “Bill’s elegant, witty and amiable prose has been entertaining readers for many years. From adventures walking the Appalachian Trail, to defining the British better than any Brit has ever managed, he has a turn of phrase at once insightful and hilarious.

“The beauty in his writing is often its brevity and sincerity; it is understatedly, unassumingly, powerful. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he is the first recipient of the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing, and commend the public and our bookselling partners on their choice.”

As well as receiving his own handmade globe trophy, Bryson’s name was inscribed on a commemorative globe which will go on permanent display at Stanfords, Covent Garden. The names of future winners will be added to the globe in due course.

Maher also announced that the 2016 Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards ceremony would move to coincide with the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, which will take place at the Destinations Show, Olympia in February 2017.

Stanfords entered into sponsorship of the Stanford Dolman prize earlier this year, in association with the Authors’ Club and donor, Rev. Dr. Bill Dolman, doubling its funds and adding it to the newly created Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, alongside the Edward Stanford Award for Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing.

Buy: Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men

Print

Nick Hunt shortlisted for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

award1Great news to see that Nick Hunt’s magnificent book, Walking the Woods and the Water, has been listed for the 2015 Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year. I guess there will be lots of comments about the strength of the competition but I am backing Nick to win. Let’s wish him the best of luck!

More about the award here. The Shortlist is:

The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit, Helena Attlee, Penguin (Penguin Random House)

Down To The Sea In Ships: Of Ageless Oceans and Modern Men, Horatio Clare, Vintage (Penguin Random House)

Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods & the Water and The Broken Road, Nick Hunt, (Nicholas Brealey Publishing)

Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place, Philip Marsden, (Granta)

A Journey into Russia, Jens Mühling, (Haus Publishing)

Indonesia etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation, Elizabeth Pisani, (Granta)

award2

Hachette UK Buys Nicholas Brealey Publishing

Whilst I have been busy moving house over the last month, hence the absence of posts – sorry – the publishing world has moved on. Hachette UK has acquired Nicholas Brealey Publishing in a deal that includes the company’s U.S. imprints, Davies L. Black and Intercultural Press. By the end of the summer three of Brealey’s Boston-based employees–Janet Crockett, Melissa Carl and Jen Delaney–will move into Hachette Book Group USA’s Boston offices.

Nicholas Brealey is headquartered in London and is best known for its business books list. Company founder Nick Brealey will continue to manage the firm from London as part of Hachette’s John Murray Press division, which is overseen by Nick Davies. According to HBG, Hachette UK will handle sales for all Nicholas Brealey titles. In addition to its business book program, Brealey publishes travel writing and a cross-cultural list.

Jamie Hodder Williams, CEO of Hodder and Headline (John Murray Press’ parent division), said: “Nick Brealey is a brilliant publisher. His areas of specialism–global business, personal and professional development and travel writing–are also areas of specialism for Nick Davies’ team at John Murray Press. I am absolutely delighted that Nick has chosen to come to Hachette so that together we can further develop the wonderful business he has created.

Nick Brealey said: “This is splendid news for everybody and just as an example of how good the fit is – John Murray famously publish Patrick Leigh Fermor’s classic backlist whilst one of our recent travel titles is Nick Hunt’s acclaimed Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn – a perfect piece of publishing serendipity.”

Before setting up his imprint, Brealey worked at Allen & Unwin and at Simon & Schuster UK.

Nicholas Brealey joins recent Hachette UK acquisitions Constable & Robinson, Quercus (also now part of Hodder), and the educational publisher Rising Stars.

Catch up here.

Listen to Harry and Nick

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford's Travel Writing Festival

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival

I know that many of you would have liked to have joined me and dozens of others as we listened in awe to Blandford Forum’s leading travel writer, Harry Bucknall, at the recent Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival. Along with our very own Nick Hunt they kept us entertained with stories of their travels across Europe.

Harry is author of Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome, whilst Nick has written the wonderful Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn.

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim

Walking the Woods and the Water
If you would like to find out what all the fuss was about you can now listen to a podcast of the event as Standford’s have put up all the talks on iTunes. Click here to listen to the deadly duo.

For more writers’ talks hit this link .

Nick Hunt Marking Paddy’s Centenary

Harry Bucknall, Tom Chesshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford's Travel Writing Festival

Harry Bucknall, Tom Cheshyre, and and Nick Hunt at the Stanford’s Travel Writing Festival

In response to my request for ideas as to how to celebrate Paddy’s centenary this year we have had one or two ideas, but please come forward with more. So far we have the suggestion of a special page for your comments and quotes which we shall do, as well as a big Greek style party at my flat which appears to involve mass destruction of plates, furniture and ceilings with the unrestrained use of firearms in confined spaces. I am just checking the conditions of my lease and will come back on that one.

I have the idea of a one day event later in the autumn and shortly I will be asking you to vote for a couple of options via the wonderful Poll facility on WordPress.

Meanwhile, fresh from his successful debate with Blandford Forum’s leading travel writer, Harry Bucknall (author of Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome) at the Standford’s Travel Writing Festival on Saturday, Nick Hunt will be out and about next week giving a couple of talks to mark the centenary. Nick will be in Waterstones Glasgow on 9th February and then at Hatchard’s Piccadilly on Wednesday 11th itself. Please do go along to support Nick and buy a copy of the really excellent Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. Nick is very entertaining and offers a very serious perspective on walking, Paddy, and his own personal experiences during his long walk which we did so much to support.

Like a Tramp Like a Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by Harry Bucknall

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim

One of the best travel books of the year has to be Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome by former Coldstream Guards officer, and Blandford Forum’s premier travel writer, Harry Bucknall. Recounting his pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome, it is fresh, and full of good humour.

By Tom Sawford

This is Harry’s second book. His first, In the Dolphin’s Wake, recounted a journey from Venice to Istanbul,  which is quite surprisingly a journey of more than 5,500 miles across the Aegean that included …

“the glories of Mount Athos, 36 islands, and every island chain in the Greek Archipelago. It also involved 57 sea passages on 35 ferries, four landing craft, three hydrofoils, a fishing caique, a sea plane, 11 buses, two trains, an open-top Land Rover, and a duck egg blue 1961 Morris Oxford.”

Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome demonstrates Harry’s  development as a writer since his Greek Odyssey. As a Santiago peregrino myself I instantly empathised with the motivations, the pains, the joys, and the surprises to be found on the solo journey of a pilgrim. Even when walking with others there is a solitary dimension to pilgrimage which permits the walker to observe with a detached eye the changing landscapes, the historical dimensions of the road, and the sometimes absurd characters one meets on the way: Harry very successfully brings us a gently unfolding list of observations, anecdotes and stories of friendship.

The 1,500 mile route from Canterbury to Rome is an ancient and well travelled path. Our Anglo-Saxon chronicler Bede often sent his acolytes off to borrow books from the Vatican library but never made the journey himself. One has to ask if they managed to return them in time and how big the fines may have been.

It is a long journey and one much less well-known than other pilgrim routes such as the one to Santiago de Compostela. Only a handful of pilgrims start out each day, compared to sometimes hundreds in Spain. This makes Harry’s journey all the more interesting for his readers as he encounters things new, and brings a wryly observed perspective to others more familiar.

For me the second half of the journey was the most enjoyable. As Harry enters Italy the pace and temperament changes.  Less history.  More humour.  Rather like Nick Hunt and Paddy entering Slovakia there is some invisible border on such a journey.  One of the mind or the spirit. It may be related to something physical but it is more than this. From my own experience on the Camino it is clear that a long journey has many phases each with their own character. It is in Italy that Harry finds hilarious situations despite his tiredness. He reveals to us, and calmly copes with, the frustrations encountered in a country that does not function particularly well, whilst journeying with an ever growing band of assorted and garrulous pilgrims from many nations. 

As with all good travel books the tale ends with the enticing possibility of a further journey: a next phase. I look forward to that, but in the meantime I will recall with pleasure this enjoyable book. One for the Christmas list to help stave off (or possibly encourage?) wanderlust. It is potentially dangerous contraband.

Now, where did he get that title from? 🙂

Buy Like a Tramp, Like A Pilgrim: On Foot, Across Europe to Rome

Buy In the Dolphin’s Wake

Preserving the best of Romania: Charlie Ottley and Jessica Douglas-Home on Pro TV

Capture

Watch this inspiring interview with Charlie Ottley, presenter of the Wild Carpathia series, and Jessica Douglas-Home, President of The Mihai Eminescu Trust, to find out why Romania’s heritage, natural landscape and areas of wilderness are so special and need protecting.

An interview on Romanian TV in English where Charlie and Jessica discuss the importance of preserving Romania’s wilderness and cultural heritage.

In one generation all the forests of Romania may be gone.

Watch the interview here

Jessica Douglas-Home la ProTV from Mihai Eminescu Trust on Vimeo.

Canadian Review of Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

A positive review for Nick’s book in the Canadian online journal Macleans.

By

First Published in Macleans 1 November 2014.

In December 1933, an 18-year-old Englishman by the name of Patrick “Paddy” Leigh Fermor set off to walk the width of Europe, from Rotterdam to Istanbul. He packed little more than some clothes, several letters of introduction and the Oxford Book of English Verse—to live “like a tramp, a pilgrim, or a wandering scholar.” It was a time before the horrors of fascism and Soviet-style Communism had taken hold, and much of Eastern Europe was still semi-feudal. (While he spent many nights in barns and shepherds’ huts, Paddy also enjoyed the hospitality of castle-dwelling counts and barons.) The accounts of his adventures, the lyrical memoir A Time of Gifts, and its sequel, Between the Woods and the Water—both elaborate love letters to a pre-war Europe—won him international acclaim.

Hunt was also 18 when he discovered Paddy’s travelogues and, before he’d finished reading them, “knew with absolute certainty that one day [he] would follow in [Paddy’s] footsteps, retracing his route through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, in search of whatever was left of wildness and adventure.” And so he did. In December 2011, Hunt left his own London home and, for the next 221 days and 4,000 km, undertook his own pilgrimage: “Beyond buying roadmaps and putting out calls for accommodation, I deliberately did no research into where I was going,” Hunt writes of his preparations. “Paddy’s books, eight decades out of date, would be my only travel guide. With his experience underlying my own, I would see what remained of hospitality, kindness to strangers, freedom, . . . the mysterious, the unknown, the deeper currents of myth and story I believed—or longed to believe—still flowed beneath Europe’s surface.”

On an oft-perilous trip riddled with obstacles not seen in Paddy’s time—hydroelectric dams, industrial wastelands and multi-lane highways—and despite injuries that sometimes laid him up for weeks, Hunt prevailed. “In every country of my walk,” he writes, “I encountered kindness and generosity that Paddy would have recognized.”

Is is when recounting that generosity— from the strangers who invite him into their homes, to the colourful characters who, over beer, fruit brandy or tea, reveal their grievances, prejudices and aspirations—that Hunt’s writing shines brightest. And while his descriptions of landscapes can occasionally feel as plodding as his pace of travel, some are downright breathtaking. Atop the Balkan mountain range in Bulgaria, he writes, “Here and there, the green skin that covered the mountain had pulled away, as if tugged back by giant fingers, and jumbled rock burst out like sausage meat.”

Overall, Hunt makes an enormously appealing narrator and guide on the road less travelled: curious, sharp-eyed, insightful and intrepid—not unlike his predecessor, who died at the age of 96, just six months before Hunt began his trip. Sadly for Hunt, it was before he could send the letter he planned to write “to tell him I was on my way.”

Two in one – Nick Hunt and Dolores Payas in Bristol 4 September

Nick Hunt, author of Walking the Woods and the Water is talking with Dolores Payas on the work of Patrick Leigh Fermor at Stanfords Bristol on 4th Sept at 6.30pm.

This is a great chance for those who live in the depths of the west of England to hear Nick talk about his walk to Dolores who has written a lovely volume about her time with Paddy at his house in Kardamyli. I will be reviewing her book, Drink Time, in September.

Tickets are nicely priced at £3.00 including a glass of wine. Too good to miss!

Details here.

Nick Hunt on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live

Nick Hunt and James Naughtie

Nick Hunt after his walk with James Naughtie

Many of you will now be reading Nick Hunt’s fine new book, Walking the Woods and the Water. As is usual Nick is hard at work promoting the book in a number of ways and this Saturday, 3 May, will find him on the quirky BBC Radio 4 programme Saturday Live from 9.00 am. 

He will be joined by the acerbic food critic Jay Rayner who has managed to achieve the nickname Acid Rayner due to his sour demeanor – [Edit – listening to the show Mr Rayner comes over as a pretty friendly type].

I am sure Nick and Jay will get down to discussing the quality of food on such a long journey. If you have read the book it is no surprise to say that it was extremely variable.

We wish Nick well with this excellent opportunity to let more people know about his journey and wonderful book. Brief programme details are available here.

Go east – the people get nicer, even if their dogs get nastier

Artemis Cooper’s review of Nick Hunt’s ‘Walking the Woods and the Water’. Hunt retraces the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor across the suburban wastelands of Holland to the woods of Transylvania.

by Artemis Cooper

First published in The Spectator 10 April 2014.

When Nick Hunt first read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of his youthful trudge across Europe in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, he knew ‘with absolute certainty’ that one day he would make that journey himself. When I embarked on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, I made an equally firm resolve that I wouldn’t walk a step of it. Paddy’s books had left me with a vision of a timeless Europe suspended somewhere between memory and imagination, and I didn’t want that vision distorted by layers of personal impressions.

But to Hunt the books posed a question. Eighty years on, was there anything left of the ‘gifts’ Paddy had enjoyed in prewar Europe? Was there still room enough for wildness, freedom and spontaneous hospitality? In this moving and profoundly honest book, the answer is ‘yes’.

Hunt was in his late twenties when he set out from London, and he got off to a bad start. In Holland and Germany he was obliged to walk for miles on tarmac, under motorways and across industrial and suburban wastelands. He had done no prior training — after all Paddy hadn’t, and what was more natural than walking? The result was tendonitis so severe that he was laid up for a week in Ulm, cursing his stupidity and looked after by a couple called Dierk and Dora.

He found that the kindness of strangers — who included musicians, caretakers, house-painters and Buddhist soap-makers —  was an ever recurring miracle. And like the grandees Paddy met, Hunt’s benefactors contacted their friends and relatives, urging them to help the traveller too. He found these guardian angels online, through the Couch Surfing network. Their website is designed to weed out loonies, but it still requires a high level of trust — a trust that was never misplaced. His hosts gave him food and drink, took him to the pub, lent him their laptops — and not once did he feel uncomfortable or threatened by them. At the same time, Hunt was more willing than Paddy to brave the elements. He often slept in the open, twice in sub-zero temperatures; and he became expert at ‘castle-squatting’ — finding snug holes in ancient walls.

As he walked on, the industrial sprawl gave way to landscapes that Paddy would have recognised. Hunt is often haunted by the ‘unimaginable inhumanity that lay between his walk and mine’, but at the same time many things remained startlingly similar. Swapping cigarettes is still a great ice-breaker; the sheepskin coats and cross-gartered moccasins were gone, but in a bar one morning Hunt could see that all the men there had known each other since childhood, and worked in adjoining
fields. Hungary still mourned the loss of Transylvania like an amputation, and still hated the Romanians. Just like Paddy, Hunt was told that the moment he entered Romania he would be attacked by bears, gypsies, wolves and thieves. But as the author observes, people became nicer as he travelled eastwards, although their dogs got nastier.

Hunt is not Paddy, and never pretends to be. Baroque architecture and princely lineage leave him cold, and he never plunges into historical speculation or conjures fantasies out of thin air. But one of the most moving passages in the book tells of his meeting with Ileana Teleki, the great-granddaughter of Count Jeno Teleki, one of Paddy’s hosts in Transylvania. With her, he visits a number of the country houses described in Between the Woods; but now they are gutted, abandoned or used to shelter those who would never recover from the experience of being a Romanian orphan: ‘Traumatised children,’ writes Hunt, ‘housed in the ruins of a traumatised culture.’

The reader familiar with Paddy’s oeuvre will find that something of him has rubbed off on Hunt, which is hardly surprising: he took no other books on the journey, and he feels intimately connected to his predecessor. So in walking through the wooded Pilis Hills, or in watching for changes in physiognomy as he crosses from one territory to another, he is — consciously or unsconsciously — paying homage to Paddy by absorbing his way of looking at things.

At the same time, I’ve learnt so much from the vivid way Hunt describes the physiological effects of trudging on for month after month. Sometimes it brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dreamlike dislocation, always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy’s style. Before embarking on his journey, Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book.

Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

Nicholas Brearley, pp.336, £10.99, ISBN: 9781857886177

Publication day for Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

Today marks a very important day for Nick Hunt as it is the publication day of his wonderful first book, Walking the Woods and the Water which describes his 2011-2012 journey walking in Paddy’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul.

Many of you will be familiar with the background and even supported Nick financially by donating to his crowd funding site which I publicised here under the title of “£1 a Week”. Since then we have been able to keep up with Nick following his return as he sought a new publisher and gave some thoughtful and entertaining public lectures.

I am sure Nick will now be in greater demand as this book is a gem. As I wrote a few weeks ago this is no simple homage to Paddy. It is a unique work of one man’s often very painful journey over eight months. The story is inhabited by interesting characters and is at times a very intimate work. We get very close to Nick and his thoughts during that long walk.

As a walker myself, one of the things missing from ATOG and BTWW was any mention of the pains of walking (we get some hint in The Broken Road when a hobnail from his boot puts Paddy in a lot of pain in Bulgaria). Whilst Paddy may have been lucky, it would be very surprising if he had not experienced some discomfort, and even fear, during his journey. Nick brings all this alive with gritty descriptions.

Nick does draw parallels with Paddy’s writing for his aim was to see what had changed during the last 80 turbulent years in Europe. Whilst his conclusion is that much has changed, there is also much that has not, in particular the attitudes and prejudices of the people he encounters.

I hope that there will be many positive reviews which will help Nick to achieve good sales, and it is not my intention to write a review as such. All I can say is that the book is a very enjoyable read; a wonderful read. It offers a major contribution to travel writing and it will inspire many of those that read the book to set out on journeys of their own, especially to Central and Eastern Europe.

If you enjoy reading my blog, and want to make a link with Paddy and his adventures, I ask you to buy a copy of Walking the Woods and the Water today. Unfortunately the book is only available in paperback, but I guarantee that you will enjoy it. If you don’t please contact me or make a comment, and I will surely post your comments here.

And it you doubt me, read what some others have said:

‘Nick Hunt has written a glorious book, rich with insight and wit, about walking his way both across and into contemporary Europe. He set out as an homage to Patrick Leigh Fermor’s legendary tramp across Europe in the early 1930s, but his journey became – of course – an epic adventure in its own right. A book about gifts, modernity, endurance and landscape, it represents a fine addition to the literature of the leg.’Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places and The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

This moving and profoundly honest book sometimes brings a sense of unlimited freedom, sometimes joy, sometimes an extraordinary, dream-like dislocation: always accompanied by a dazzling sharpness of hearing and vision. I see now how that youthful walk informed so much of Paddy s style. Before setting out Hunt was going to write to Paddy. The letter was never written, and by the time he set off, Paddy was dead. How touched and fascinated he would have been to read this book. –Artemis Cooper, author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure and co-editor The Broken Road

‘Vivid and hard-won’ Giles Foden inConde Nast Traveller

‘Delightful, balanced and extremely well-written…an impressive and timely effort. A worthy literary tribute to the classic of British travel writing.’ –Vitali Vitaliev, author of Passport to Enclavia

‘A most enjoyable read and a worthy tribute to the originals’ –Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller

‘Walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor from Rotterdam to Constantinople, Nick Hunt found that, 78 years later, everything and nothing has changed–Daily Telegraph interview with author

Walking the Woods and the Water is published by Nicholas Brealey (336pp), is available in paperback only and is ready to order from Amazon. Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn

Loving it! Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

woodsI have been lucky enough to receive a copy of Nick Hunt’s soon to be published book which follows Paddy’s journey all the way to Constantinople. Coming out under the title Walking the Woods and the Water, it will be published on 20 March.

There will be time to offer a more in-depth review but I have to tell you that I am absolutely loving it and have done from the introduction which is a lot shorter than Paddy’s; no letter to Xan, not even to me!

The basic premise of Nick’s walk was to see if the prediction by Paddy’s Polymath had come true. What had happened over the last 70 years? Has it all changed since Paddy’s day? What remains? As Nick calls it the Persenbeug Prediction is this:

‘Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power-dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They’ll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the east, they would never come back. Never, never, never!’

I am not going to spoil anything but what I can say is that Nick offers us a very entertaining narrative of his journey; a very personal account which exposes a lot more about Nick’s character than Paddy ever really let us into. It is not an homage to Paddy. It is in no way just a simple update of Paddy’s experiences. It is a fresh and very modern account of a momentous journey, one that will stand in its own right.

We do get to understand a lot about what has changed, but also there is much that remains. It is a story of fascinating characters, interspersed with lovely vignettes, and insights into our wonderfully diverse continent. A sign in a bar, in a town, on the way to Budapest informed us that the town has been variously colonised by “Scythians, Celts, Romans, Avars, Magyars, Turks, Serbs and Artists”; that’s what it is all about!

There was one particular story about his experience at the former kastely of Baron Pips von Schey – Kovecses-Strkovec – in what is now Slovakia that brought tears to my eyes. Indeed, as I detect with Paddy, after Nick crosses the border into Slovakia, the east, everything changes. He is more animated. There is much more to discover. It is all different, and Nick writes about it beautifully.

I am now with Nick as he is about to start his journey into the Retezat mountains in Romania, a hazardous journey which will lead Nick to Baile Herculane, the Roman spa town close to the Danube. As he prepares to step out he tells us:

‘It was like taking a breath before plunging underwater. I was deliriously alone.’

Nick will be accompanied by Artemis Cooper at the official launch of his book which will be on Thursday 3rd April, at the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury. You can find out more here.

The book is available in paperback only and is ready for pre-order from Amazon. Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn

Walking the Woods and the Water – Nick’s book cover revealed

Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

After a lot of labour, a change of publisher and book title, Nick’s book is finally to be published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing in March. Many of you will remember that two years ago Nick walked Paddy’s great trans-European walk, taking about the same time, using only Paddy’s books as a guide, and visiting many of the houses he stayed in en route.

Nick wrote to me saying “The cover has been designed and I’m very pleased to tell you it’s by Ed Kluz, the same artist who did The Broken Road. Looks very different of course, and not (as I was worried it might) overly derivative of the style of Paddy’s books. But a nice continuity.”

It will be interesting to see what you all think about that. As soon as I have further news I will update you. I do know that Nick will be giving some talks to support the publication and I will pass on these details as soon as I have them.

The Broken Road: retracing the steps of a wild adventure

Walking in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor from Rotterdam to Constantinople, Nick Hunt found that, 78 years later, everything and nothing has changed.

Interview by Adrian Bridge

First published in the Telegraph, 12 Sep 2013

Walking through the continent, Nick saw the scenic beauty of Transylvania

This month the last volume was published of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s epic walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople, a journey he undertook in 1933/34. But how much has changed since Leigh Fermor’s day? Nick Hunt, a modern-day adventurer, is in a good position to say because he has recently retraced Leigh Fermor’s footsteps. This is what he found:

Why did you want to undertake this journey?

I was given A Time of Gifts when I was 18, the same age as Leigh Fermor when he set off on his journey. He was describing exactly what I wanted to do, which was to go out and have adventures and explore the world. I decided I’d do that journey one day: and 12 years later, at the age of 30, I did.

What was it about the route itself that appealed?

The books conveyed a great sense of freedom and wildness, mystery and wonder. The Europe of those books is a very magical place and I wanted to see if that magic still existed. These days we assume that Europe has become homogenised and dull; that it is a very tame continent. People go away to the other side of the world – that’s what I did as well – seeking this wonder out there somewhere, and I really wanted to see whether it is still possible to find it in Europe.

And is it?

Yes. I was amazed by how quickly things changed across borders: borders that are unmanned and unguarded. The most amazing crossing was at the border between Austria and Slovakia, when immediately everything was different: people smelled different, looked different; roads were different and buildings were different. For 50 years this was the crossroads between East and West, and it is still the place where you move between the Germanic and Slavic worlds.

Paddy’s first passport photo

How long did it take you and what did it cost?

I set off on December 9, 2011 – exactly 78 years to the day after Leigh Fermor did – but whereas it took him 13 months, I completed the walk in seven. I gave myself a budget of £50 a week – the equivalent of the £1 a week Paddy allowed himself back in 1933. In total I walked some 2,500 miles through eight countries: Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.

So initially you were walking in the winter?

I wanted to walk through Germany and Bavaria in snow – that seemed to be the truest manifestation of that kind of fairy tale. Walking on dry snow is quite pleasant, and you don’t get too hot and sweaty. Of course it got dark early and night times were hard.

Were people you met aware of the Leigh Fermor books and still interested in them?

Before I left I was shocked to discover how well known he was. People from all over the world wrote to offer support and encouragement. Many said they had dreamed of doing something similar: there was a lot of vicarious enthusiasm for what I was doing. Once I was on the road, people were very curious about this account of their village written by an English writer who came through it nearly 80 years ago. One of the things I enjoyed most was showing people the passage in the book where their village was mentioned and reading it aloud.

What did you find that chimed most with Leigh Fermor’s account?

There was a lot more continuity with Paddy’s journey than I expected, especially in terms of how kind and generous people were. There was also continuity in the landscape. Even in Germany, walking along the Rhine is still quite special. There may be a big road running alongside it now, but it is still possible to see this older, wilder Europe.

The Rhine

I was also amazed by how little people’s prejudices had changed, especially in the east. Some of the things Slovaks were saying about Hungarians, Hungarians about everyone, Romanians about Hungarians, Romanians about Bulgarians – it could have been cut and pasted from the pages of the books. People have long memories.

Were you, like Paddy, entertained by counts?

No, but I did experience extraordinary hospitality. For the early part of my journey I stayed on people’s couches (arranged through the couch-surfing website). I was constantly amazed at people’s generosity, and the farther east I went the friendlier they became: in the latter stages of the journey it became common for people to say, “I’ve got friends in the next village, I’ll give them a call,” so I started staying with friends of friends rather than booking.

I had a tent with me, and once the weather turned warmer I began to camp out. Towards the end I struggled to spend my £50 a week: transport was covered, I hardly ever had to pay for accommodation; it was just food and occasional chocolate treats.

What was most different from what Leigh Fermor experienced?

Right away you see the impact of the war, especially in Holland and Germany. Rotterdam was flattened – one of many cities whose medieval hearts had been wiped out and turned into corporate, commercial hubs full of the same shops you can see in London.

Rotterdam

Farther along the route the hydroelectric dams on the Danube summed up for me the process of industrialisation that has tamed so many of the wilder parts of the continent’s rivers. Also, although I didn’t stay with a count, I did meet one of the descendants of one of the families that hosted Paddy. Their country home, once a place of dinners and dances, had been nationalised after the war and turned into a psychiatric hospital. That spoke volumes.

What were your favourite parts of the journey?

Walking through Transylvania and the Carpathian Mountains: the culture was warm and generous and I loved the fact that people still have time for old-fashioned courtesies. I was amazed at how little impact Ceausescu’s attempts to remodel that society had. It was in the Carpathians, too, that I felt completely alone. I was quite high, above the snow line, and not altogether sure about what I was doing. In terms of the adventure, that was pretty wonderful. Earlier on in the journey I had fantasised about the baths of Budapest: they didn’t disappoint.

And the not-so-good bits?

I didn’t enjoy trekking through miles of suburbs. Or walking on tarmac. In the southern German city of Ulm I had to stop for three weeks because of an Achilles tendon injury. On the plus side, I discovered the wonder of the German health service, but it was frustrating. Getting attacked by stray dogs in Romania was pretty hairy – as was coming face to face with a wild boar.

I can’t say I liked the “Sunny Beach” in Bulgaria between Varna and Burgas. Paddy described this stretch of coastline as one of the most delightful – offering solitude and peace, space and silence. Today it is just a long strip of concrete: one hotel after another.

Is walking the best way to go?

Absolutely. When you walk you are exposed to everything. You feel everything – the weather, you absorb all the atmosphere of the place around you – and you notice things that in a car would just be a blur. That said, much of the route I took was not pretty.

Paddy on horseback in Moldova

My advice to anyone doing a trip of this kind would be to try to find interest in everything you see. When I was in Budapest and said I was heading for the Great Hungarian Plain I was told to prepare for the 10 most boring days of my life. It is true the plain is no longer the wild place that Paddy described. But I found it quite extraordinary just having this space and silence, huge empty horizons, dust and heat. It felt a bit like walking through a desert. I’d advise avoiding tarmac (even walking through leaves and mud is preferable). And I’d advise taking a very good pair of boots.

What was the most important thing you learnt from your walk?

That the woods are not full of axe murderers and that people are generally quite kind and helpful and hospitable. That was heart-warming, and that was what I had wanted to believe. I also learnt how to slow down. At the beginning I got frustrated at how slowly I was travelling. It took a while to shake off the mentality of having to get somewhere quickly and to realise that I wasn’t trying to get anywhere in a hurry: that the destination was much less important than the getting there.

Are we going to have to wait 80 years for a full account of your walk to appear in print?

No. The book will be out next spring.

* ‘Walking the Woods and the Water: in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn’ by Nick Hunt (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) is due out in spring 2014.

Transylvanian Book Festival final programme and bookings

Richis banner
The programme for the very first Transylvanian book festival has been finalised. The event will run in the old Saxon villages of Richis, Biertan and Copsa Mare in the beautiful Carpathian mountains of Romania from 5-9 September. The festival programme includes lunches and dinner and some great excursions. How Paddy would have enjoyed the talk and the company!

There is still time to book your place by visiting http://www.transylvanianbookfestival.co.uk/ or contacting the organiser, Lucy Abel-Smith direct on +44 1285 750 358/888 or email: lucy[at]realityandbeyond.co.uk

The line-up is varied with a range of talks, discussions and music.

  • Michael Jacobs.  Memories of Transylvania and other writers.
  • Jessica Douglas Home Once Upon Another Time. The threatened destruction of Transylvanian villages.
  • Tony Scotland A Journey through Eastern Europe before Christmas 1989
  • Nick Hunt Walking the Woods and the Water
  • Michael Jacobs will be in conversation with Beatrice Rezzori Monti della Corte and William Blacker.
  • Professor Roy Foster “Transylvania Is Not England”: Bram Stoker and the location of Dracula
  • Hans Schaas and Sara Dootz in conversation with Caroline Fernolend and Andrea Rost about life in the Saxon Villages before the early 1990s.
  • William Blacker Along the Enchanted Way.
  • An evening of the poetry of Stephen Watts and Claudiu Komartin.
  • The Medias Choir singing some music from the Siebenbürgen and from Georg Meyndt, (1852-1903) from Richis.
  • A recital of music by Enescu and Bartók by Carina Raducanu,  Eugen Dumitrescu with violinist Ioana Voicu.
  • Countess Salnikoff will talk about her grandfather, Miklós Bánffy whose trilogy the Writing on the Wall must rank amongst the greatest works of 20th century literature. In conversation with publisher of Arcadia Books, Gary Pulsifer.
  • Jaap Scholten reads from Comrade Baron, and then in conversation with some of those with first hand experience of the early fifties in Communist Romania.
  • Artemis Cooper will talk about the subject of her recent biography, Paddy Leigh Fermor, whose writings of pre-war Transylvania, in Between the Woods and the Water influenced many of this festival’s authors.

£1 a week – Nick’s talk at Up Down and Across

Some audio for you to enjoy from Nick Hunt’s recent talk at Up Down and Across.

He says on his blog:

My talk was a rambling exploration of Europe’s invisible pathways, its not-so-invisible motorways, ancient borders, modern-day myths and the multiple layers of story that lie beneath every walker’s boots. Unfortunately my digital recorder died after 20 minutes, but I went on to talk about dogs, dragons, devils, pilgrimage, the meaning of arrival and other obsessions of mine. All these things, and more, will work their way into my book. So stay with me. The story is coming, layer over layer.

Listen here…

Up Down and Across part 1

Up Down and Across part 2

Up Down and Across part 3

Transylvanian Book Festival – so much better than Hay; are you joining us?

Lit fest authors

Arrangements for the Transylvanian Book Festival are proceeding apace. This will be a truly wonderful event and I want to encourage as many of you as possible to come along during 5-9 September. Look at it as a holiday in itself, spending five days in the most beautiful setting, a region lost to time, that reflects the history, culture, and architecture of one of the last untouched Medieval landscapes in Europe. A chance to talk to the authors and like-minded folk in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.

The line-up of authors is growing all the time. More details can be found on the website here.

The following have confirmed:

  • Artemis Cooper: An Adventure, the biography of Paddy Leigh Fermor
  • Professor Roy Foster: Bram Stoker, Ireland and Dracula
  • Jessica Douglas Home: Once Upon Another Time
  • William Blacker: Along the Enchanted Way
  • Michael Jacobs: Robber of Memories but will talk on Starkie or von Rezzori
  • Caroline Juler: Author of the Blue Guide to Romania
  • Jaap Scholten: Comrade Baron
  • Nick Hunt: After the Woods and the Water
  • Andrea Rost: on the biography of Hans Schaas
  • Sarah Dootz: Her autobiography
  • Countess Elizabeth Jelen Salnikoff: talking about her grandfather Miklos Banffy
  • Others to follow

You can make a reservation and book online here.

Unlike other book festivals this will be a relatively small and intimate affair. The authors will be living in the same villages and mixing with all those attending in a relaxed atmosphere. All food is included and we can expect some magnificent meals and picnics under the warm Transylvanian sun, with just the sounds of horse drawn carts, cows going to and from the fields, geese and ducks filing along the dusty roads, and our own animated conversation in English, Romanian, German and Hungarian as we reflect on the day’s events.

In addition there will be excursions included into the woods and countryside surrounding Richis so we can all get close to the land which is one of Prince Charles’ favourite spots. There is a lot included for the money which does not happen at other similar festivals.

If you want to know more please get in touch with me. I am happy to advise on travel options, flights into the country, car hire, and possible extensions to your visit so that you can visit some of Romania’s other wonders, many of which are just 1-2 hours away from Richis. There are already plans for extensions to turn your visit into a longer stay if you wish.

Romania is a very safe country for travellers with a good infrastructure. If you hear things from others that put you off, like the state of the roads, or are deterred by its very mysteriousness, please be assured that none of this is remotely true, nor should it be a barrier to you having a great time.

Don’t forget to visit our Facebook page. I am looking forward to seeing as many of you there as possible. Perhaps this medley of images may tempt you to come along by making your booking here 🙂 Some of these you may have seen before; many others are new. I promise!

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£1 a week – Up Down and Across

Nick Hunt will be giving a talk about his epic walk in Paddy’s footsteps from Hook of Holland to Istanbul at London’s Westminster Reference Library on 11 May, and will be joined by other adventurers in an evening of talks, performances and art about walking.

Find out more on Nick’s blog, After the Woods and the Water here.

Nick Hunt outside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

Nick Hunt outside the Hotel New York (Continental), Cluj

£1 a week – Nick to talk about his journey, Saturday 1 September in London

After a short period of adjustment to ‘normal life’, and, I dare say, some personal reflection, Nick has contacted us to say thank you for the support you gave to him and to announce that he will be giving a talk about his walk on 1 September.

Dear everyone,

Thanks so much for all your support before and during my walk to Istanbul. Knowing that people were following me, reading and enjoying my blog, made a lot of difference on the rocky, rainy days.

I hope you all got your postcards. Some of you are also due a handmade book, and/ or a CD of audio recordings from the journey. I will get round to these as soon as possible — be patient, they will come!

I’ll be starting work on the book very soon. It will hopefully be published next year — you can sign up for updates on my blog, if you want to be kept informed.

For anyone in London, I’m giving a talk about the journey at the Globetrotters Club, who also funded me. It’s on Saturday September 1st, around 3.00pm, here:

Church of Scotland Church Hall,
Crown Court,
London, WC2B 5EZ

I think it’s £5 or £6 on the door, but they normally have an enormous array of free biscuits. Come if you can.

Thanks again for all your support!

Nick

Here is a useful map!

£1 a week – Nick has arrived in Constantinople!

He left England on a warm and balmy December 8 2011, and has today, 17 July 2012, arrived in the hot and bustling melting pot of Istanbul as we in England endure the foulest, accursed summer weather.

Nick’s boots, which he had just had repaired by a Romanian cobbler in Turda when I met up with him in Cluj in May, have finally collapsed, and it appears that his emotions are about to undertake a twisting, heaving, never experienced before maelstrom of sweet contradictions as he comes to terms with the conclusion of so much commitment, planning, and effort.

Link to here to read his immediate thoughts and follow him in the coming days as he tries to come to terms with his next steps.

As we discussed in Cluj, he could not see how after reaching his goal he could just jump on to the next plane home; and why would he want to? He faces the ‘plan your journey’ congestion of the Olympics and rain, and floods, and worst of all … normality.

Paddy would have been very proud of him; I am sure of that. And we all are.

Well done Nick!!!!

£1 a week – (not so) Sunny Beach

Last Saturday I was listening to From Our Own Correspondent on BBC Radio 4. One of the packages was from Croatia and concerned the tug of war between environmentalists and business people about controlling and ‘improving’ yet another stretch of the Danube. It reminded me so much of the Persenbeug Prediction in A Time of Gifts. The forecast of the taming of the Danube which now appears to be entering its final round on the Croat-Serbian border.

In his latest dispatch from his epic walk to Istanbul entitled Summer Metropolis, Nick Hunt encounters more uncontrolled development and taming of nature along the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and reflects on how many of us perhaps fail to find the happiness and fun that we seek in our modern world ….

I wandered inadvertently into an all-inclusive resort. Everyone apart from me was wearing coloured plastic wristbands to demonstrate their allegiance to a particular package deal, like some form of indentured servitude. The broiled bodies on the beach didn’t look particularly happy – in fact most of them had the frowns and down-turned mouths of deep dissatisfaction, as if they didn’t quite know why they’d come here or what they were meant to be doing.

His latest article is very good (Nick’s writing seems to be improving with every piece) and shows just how much things have changed since Paddy walked along that same Bulgarian coastline, encountering Greek fishermen in 1934.

Read Summer Metropolis here.

£1 a week – Rendezvous in Cluj

My visits to Cluj are always a pleasure, notwithstanding the need to get up at five o’clock in the morning to catch an early Wizz Air flight. However, as I prepared for my last visit, there was an extra dimension to my anticipation.

If you have been following Nick Hunt’s journey on his blog and the occasional updates here, you will know that he arrived in Romania in early April and was making good but steady progress in the Mures valley visiting some of the houses that Paddy had stayed in, including Istvan’s kastely. As I prepared for my visit it became clear that there was a chance that Nick and I might meet up in Cluj as he, like Paddy, had decided to complete the ‘Transylvanian Loop’ by motor; getting lifts from people he had met or just hitch-hiking.

As the last week of April arrived Nick was staying at the house of a Romanian philanthropist in Turgu Mures. We corresponded and Nick told me that he would be getting a lift to Cluj on the Monday, the day of my arrival. I was able to arrange some accommodation for him through a colleague at work and suggested that we meet at the Hotel Continental (aka the New York) in the main square in Cluj after I had finished work.

This, therefore, is how we managed to meet after five months and, for Nick, over 1,300 miles of walking. He arrived at the Continental looking slightly bemused, carrying his quite small rucksack, sporting a well-developed beard, and wearing the most battered pair of walking boots I have seen for a long time (they are his original pair and a recently ‘serviced’ by a cobbler in Turgu Mures). Despite our pleading the security guard at the locked hotel would not let us in, and any thought of having a cocktail diminished.

Later we had a few beers and some food whilst talking about his journey. He is clearly enjoying it all and making daily discoveries. Whilst he is following Paddy’s route, and this provides an inspiration and an anchor, it is clearly very much his own expedition which he will tell in his own words in the book which will be published by Arcadia, possibly in 2013. Whilst Nick has as yet no definitive structure for the book he is making comprehensive notes every day and being very careful to guard his notebooks!  From what he told me I think it will be enjoyable, and having read some of the longer pieces on his blog it will be well written and easy to read.

I asked Nick if he was missing home. Only his girlfriend, he replied, and they keep in regular contact via email. Perhaps the biggest difference between his journey and that of Paddy is the ability to keep in touch using modern communications including the essential mobile phone. A striking comment that Nick made was that whilst the first part of the journey through Germany was to a degree well planned, the further east he has gone he has had to make arrangements for accommodation as he has gone along bringing a higher degree of spontaneity. “It is as if there are dark places on the map ahead of me that gradually illuminate the further I proceed, becoming brighter and more defined as each day passes.”

Nick is now somewhere in the heart of the Carpathians on his way to Baie Herculaneum and the Danube. We joked that he must take care to avoid the bears and wolves in the mountains and he promised he would keep a good look out. In two to three months his journey will end and I asked him how he will return home. He answered, after a long pause, that he does not know, but he is sure that he cannot just jump on a plane and return to London in one day, even mentioning the possibility of walking around the Black Sea. There was a certain wistfulness in his eyes as he answered, and it struck me that this may be the hardest part of the journey; giving it up and returning to what we call reality.

Related article:

An eye for detail and the memory of the Hotel New York in Cluj

£1 a week – Surprisingly easy to Hungarian padded hands

Nick Hunt by the Danube

Nick Hunt by the Danube

Nick has been making quite an impact with the local press in Austria and Hungary. In a recent piece on his blog entitled “Surprisingly easy to Hungarian padded hands” you can find links to some interesting articles and an explanation of that title.

Urgent! Can we help Nick locate Istvan’s kastely?

I know I could open BTTW but I might still find that I don’t know the answer so I thought in this electronic age the best thing would be to go viral with the question Can we Help Nick Find Istvan’s Kastely?

I received this note from Nick just an hour or so ago …

Tom

Thanks so much for your support with reposting some of my articles. I’m glad people seem to be finding them interesting. I’ve got one question about the Romanian leg of the journey — do you have any idea where Istvan’s kastely was? It’s somewhere east of Zam, near the river Mures, but there’s nothing more specific than that. I’ve had a lot of help on the other kastelys from someone called Ileana who works for this organisation – http://monumenteuitate.blogspot.com/ – involved in restoring and preserving historic buildings in Romania. She contacted me having found my blog somehow, and is really helpful. I’m not sure if she has any more clues about the location of Istvan’s place.
Hope all is well with you. Have you been travelling recently? Best wishes from Budapest… and soon from the Great Hungarian Plain.
Nick
Any clues or answers please email me or add a comment. I am sure we will crack this so thank you in advance!

March 2012 – Nick reaches the bridge at Esztergom

Imagine Paddy standing in the middle of this bridge looking at the cathedral

It took Paddy until Easter 1934 to get to this bridge. Nick is moving well now. The bridge at Esztergom was one of my first blog posts back in April 2010!

The bridge linking Slovakia and Hungary, between the towns of Štúrovo and Esztergom, also links A Time of Giftsand Between the Woods and the Water. Here Paddy paused both in his walking and his writing, ‘meditatively poised in no man’s air,’ before crossing into Hungary and the second phase of his journey.

I reached that bridge a week ago (or rather the reconstruction of that bridge — the original was destroyed in 1944), and in a rather unbelievable way came to the very last page of my notebook standing above the Danube … read more

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom