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Obituary: Jan Morris, a poet of time, place and self

Jan Morris, who has died aged 94

One of the true greats of travel writing and journalism, Jan Morris, has died. She is also known as a pioneer, changing her gender whilst maintaining her relationship with her partner Elizabeth for over 70 years.

First published on BBC News 21 NOvember 2020.

Jan Morris, who has died at the age of 94, was one the finest writers the UK has produced in the post-war era.

Her life story was crammed with romance, discovery and adventure. She was a soldier, an award-winning journalist, a novelist and – as a travel writer – became a poet of time and place.

She was also known as a pioneer in her personal life, as one of the first high-profile figures to change gender.

Born 2 October 1926 in Somerset, it was while sitting under the family’s piano – at the age of three or four – that Morris made a decision. Feeling “wrongly equipped” as a boy, there was only one conclusion. Morris should have been a girl.

Morris attended Lancing College in West Sussex and then the cathedral choir school at Christ Church in Oxford, attending lessons in gorgeous “fluttering white gowns”. “Oxford made me,” she later wrote.

The heady mixture of High Anglican ceremony and the city’s architectural majesty sensitised Morris to an aesthetic that was to influence her as both a writer and a human being.

As a teenager, training as a newspaper reporter in Bristol involved interviewing the victims of bombing raids at the height of the Second World War.

Morris tried to join the Navy but was ruled out by colour-blindness, instead joining the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers.

A spell at Sandhurst was followed by a posting as an intelligence officer that led to stints in Italy and Palestine by way of two more cities that came to be inspirations: Venice and Trieste.

Demobbed in 1949, Morris returned to Christ Church to read English, and seized the opportunity of a 12-month fellowship at the University of Chicago to visit every state of the union.

The result was a first book, Coast to Coast. “I love the idea of America,” she later wrote. “It has let itself down very badly since in many ways, but that doesn’t mean to say I don’t admire and love the core values.”

In the same year, Morris married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter. It was, they both recalled, love at first sight – and a partnership that would produce five children and last for 70 years.

Everest scoop

Upon graduating, Morris indulged a fascination with the Arab world by taking a job at a news agency in Cairo. That experience eventually led to a job at the Times.

In 1953, Morris brought the newspaper a world exclusive, travelling with Edmund Hillary as far as the base camp on Everest to witness the historic attempt on the summit.

Morris greets Edmund Hillary on his return from the summit of Mount Everest

It was a physically arduous assignment. “I was no climber, was not particularly interested in mountaineering. I was there merely as a reporter.”

When Hillary and Tenzing Norgay returned in triumph, The Times had exclusive access to the expedition – but the reporter was terrified that someone else might break the news first.

Morris sent a coded message from a telegraph station: “Snow conditions bad stop advanced base abandoned yesterday stop awaiting improvement.” Back in the newsroom, they knew what it meant.

The news was famously splashed on the day of the Queen’s coronation. The world’s highest mountain had been conquered and a new Elizabethan age had begun.

Suez shockwaves

In 1956, Morris left the Times – unable to support the newspaper’s editorial line in the Suez crisis. After joining the Manchester Guardian, as it was still called, the journalist set out to witness the looming conflict first-hand.

The reports Morris sent from the Suez crisis caused great difficulty for the British government. Allegations that Britain and France had secretly persuaded Israel to launch an invasion of Egypt had been hotly denied by all three countries. Morris discovered evidence that this was a pack of lies designed to give the two European powers an excuse to intervene and re-take the all-important canal.

Morris witnessed the fighting in the Negev desert and canal zone before flying to Cyprus to file a dispatch and escape Israeli censorship. While waiting for a flight, the writer struck up conversation with French pilots who said they had played a pivotal role in the attack.

“They told me quite frankly that they had been in action in support of the Israelis during the Negev fighting and had used napalm,” Morris later recalled. British pilots, they claimed, had also been involved.

The Manchester Guardian went with his story. It sent shockwaves through the British establishment and shamed both nations into withdrawing their forces. It was an incendiary revelation that caused huge embarrassment to Prime Minister Anthony Eden. A few months later, he resigned.

A writer who travels

In the 1960s, Morris left journalism, preferring to be simply known as a “writer who travels” rather than a “travel writer”.

Morris wrote about places that were inspirational – Oxford, Venice, Spain and the Arab world – with the dream of capturing the history, style, spirit and challenges facing every major city in the world.

Most dear of all was the trilogy on the history of the British Empire: Pax Britannica. Morris described it as “the intellectual and artistic centre-piece of my life”. Later, the author would reject the suggestion of being too kind to this period of history.

“There was a whole generation of very decent people, many of whom were genuinely devoted to the welfare of their subject peoples,” she later said. However, she conceded, the end was a mess.

In the same year, Morris began taking female hormones in the first stage of the life-long ambition to become a woman. Elizabeth, who had always known of her husband’s conviction, was supportive.

Morris had a high public profile and the publicity that surrounded her decision was stressful. As same-sex marriages were not then possible, they were required to get divorced. But as a family, they stayed together and remained tight-knit.

Jan Morris was legally required to divorce her wife, Elizabeth, but the couple remained together. Morris wrote about the process in her worldwide bestseller Conundrum – published in 1974. It describes the clinic in Casablanca where she had surgery and her subsequent adjustment to life as a woman with a female partner. She was generous to those who found it awkward and “the kindly incomprehension of sailors and old ladies”.

She was forced to ignore warnings from doctors that the procedure could change her personality and even affect her ability to write. The book was the first to be published under the name Jan. There was a sense in which all that travelling was a symptom of forces beyond her control. It was “an outer expression of my inner journey”.

The couple moved to a remote corner of north-west Wales. Jan embraced her father’s Welsh identity – becoming a convinced nationalist – and continued to write. Her output was prodigious. In all, she wrote more than 40 books – so many that she was often a little hazy about the exact number.

There were works on places she had visited, essays, memoirs and some well-received novels. One work remains unpublished because she did not want it made public until she died. “It’s at the publisher’s waiting for me to kick the bucket,” she breezily told one reporter.

On Oxford – the first city to inspire her – she wrote: “The island character of England is waning as the wider civilization of the West takes over. Soon it will survive only in the history books: but we are not too late, and Oxford stands there still to remind us of its faults and virtues – courageous, arrogant, generous, ornate, pungent, smug and funny.”

And on Venice – perhaps her most celebrated work – she recalled the “smell of her mud, incense, fish, age, filth and velvet” and predicted that “wherever you go in life you will feel somewhere over your shoulder, a pink castellated, shimmering presence, the domes and riggings and crooked pinnacles”.

Her biographer and agent, Derek Johns, described what he thought made her writing so distinctive. “She involves the reader,” he wrote, “while she remains unobtrusively present herself; who uses the particular to illustrate the general, and scatters grace notes here and there like benefactions. She is a watcher, usually alone, seldom lonely, alert to everything around her.”

In 2018 – by now in her tenth decade – Jan Morris published In My Mind’s Eye, a personal work collecting the musings of her everyday life.

The world had become kinder to people who had changed their sex, she told one journalist. Kindness and marmalade were her two essentials in life.

She was still living with Elizabeth – with whom she had entered a civil partnership – although the “subtle demon of our time, dementia, is coming between us”, she wrote.

As far as death was concerned, though, they had prepared for it. As a writer, Jan had chosen the words for their eventual headstone with some care. “Here are two friends,” it will say, “at the end of one life.”

Listen to Jan Morris discuss her classic travel book Venice on BBC Sounds.

Do not do battle with Greeks

My thanks to Stephen who added a comment a while back about Paddy’s experience amongst the Greeks, and offered an entertaining link to a rousing You Tube video which you might enjoy.

Hello, to PLF readers. To gain an insight into the nights in the Psiloriti mountains that PLF partook, he was inspired by its people. The Cretan musicians here play, “Do not do battle with Greeks,” played in the mountains among its people.

The art of David Walsh truly speaks to the walker in me

Across the Chalke Downs, Spring by David Walsh

One of the pleasures of running this blog is the opportunity to meet people who I would probably never come across in my day to day life. It is also quite surprising how many of them know Blandford Forum’s greatest travel writer, the ubiquitous Harry Bucknall. And so it was when a brochure for an art exhibition of David Walsh’s work dropped through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago.

I was immediately struck by how David brings real life and depth to his work, much of it being from the downland of Hampshire and Wiltshire. His skies are amazing and absolutely resonated with me as someone has walked on those same hills and Ox Droves. He also spends a lot of time in Italy and he has many works from there on display.

When I rang David to make an appointment to visit his studio we talked about how he may have come across my address and our main vector was Harry; everyone seems to know Harry!

Since then I have visited his studio and bought one of his paintings, something to remind me of the freedom, and the space and emptiness of the Ox Droves above Cranborne Chase close to where David lives. His planned London exhibition has had to be postponed due to Covid, but he is welcoming visitors by arrangement (Covid regs permitting).

If you are looking for something to remind you of better times (ironically much of his work was painted during the brilliant weather we had during the first lockdown with contrail-clear skies; probably a never to be repeated opportunity), please do drop David an email david@david-walsh.net or phone: Studio 01722 780097, Mobile 07806 750748. Do mention the Paddy blog if you do contact him. His work is selling quite quickly so do make contact if you are interested. All his paintings come framed in beautiful handmade frames by a craftsman in Florence.

Visit David’s website to view more of his work for sale as well as those he has sold. David is available for commissions.

Late Summer, Looking towards Salisbury by David Walsh

List your favourite out of print travel and nature books

Once Upon Another Time by Jessica Douglas-Home

As a fan of the Eland approach to seeking out and republishing out of print travel books, I had a recent discussion with a friend where we mused about our favourite out of print travel books. I came up with Jessica Douglas-Home’s Once Upon Another Time which is really enjoyed reading.

We thought that it might be fun to ask you to submit a list of your recommendations for out-of-print travel and environment books that you might want to see brought back into publication. The remit could include classics that have been forgotten about, to obscure works of eccentric genius that never saw the light of day. Not just old-school travel writing but nature writing also. This might be twentieth century stuff, but could be from earlier.

If you have anything that leaps to mind please email me (see About and Contact) or add a comment to this post; please say why you would like to see it published. I’ll publish a definitive list of your recommendations before Christmas. Perhaps we can have more than just recommendations for early twentieth century and late nineteenth century female travellers, mostly (for some reason) in the Middle East and Central Asia. My friend’s list appears to show that whole region crawling with intrepid women fighting off bandits, dressing as men and crossing deserts!

We are very much looking forward to your recommendations and the discussion they may bring.

Love walking? Looking for a walking related job in UK?

This may be of interest to a reader in the UK (south) who wants to work on establishing a new pilgrimage route to Canterbury.

A job for a practical Pilgrim working with the British Pilgrimage Trust. Looks good!

Click here to find out more.

Walking on

Dear Readers,

I apologise for the radio silence over the last few weeks. Things have been very busy with my walk, the aftermath of that, lots of busyness at work, my eldest daughter’s wedding, and a few Covid moments.

My thanks to those of you who offered sponsorship for my walk to Gloucester. Things went pretty well for a couple of days but then I picked up some sort of injury and my left leg basically decided it didn’t want to carry on! By day four I was making just about two miles an hour which was not enough and it was all a little painful. This was meant to be enjoyable; I am no longer as young as I once was, and no longer a soldier and decided that a pause for healing might be the best option! I was rescued and taken back home. I’m all fine now and plan to complete the last three days once the latest UK lockdown is over in December, weather permitting. A few pictures are below, and a nice proud dad wedding photo or two 🙂

In other news, you might be interested to know that Michael O’Sullivan, Paddy expert, and author of Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania was installed as a Papal Knight in October in a socially distanced ceremony at the Coronation church in Budapest – see photo. Congratulations to Micheal.

I’m looking forward to getting back into regular posts on here, and as ever, I welcome your contributions and comments.

Keep safe and well.

Tom

Dr Foster went to Gloucester

Hello all – it’s that time of year when I have holiday remaining, the leaves are turning, and I need to get a few miles under my feet before winter arrives. So I’m off walking again and raising money for Combat Stress and ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity. I’m also dedicating this walk to the late Ray Washer RE, who died suddenly last weekend. I’m walking around 110 miles from Winchester to Gloucester over six days.

My route will be the Roman road north-west out of Winchester, past Andover (Icknield Way) then to the Kennet & Avon canal, turn west for two days then north towards Stroud around Bradford-on-Avon. Passing through Laurie Lee’s home village of Slad before I drop downhill into Gloucester. I have no idea where I shall sleep but the Lord will provide! If you live along this route maybe say hello!

I hope that you might give generously to encourage me! In the past, readers of the blog have raised many thousands of pounds for these charities (and Shelter). My thanks for that and in anticipation of your generosity this time around.

The link to the Just Giving page is here https://www.justgiving.com/team/Winchester-Gloucester

All the best

Tom

 

Retracing an 80-year-old journey along the river Shannon

The river Shannon

Part of my family come from Kilrush, on the shore of the Shannon estuary (next parish New York) in south-west Ireland. This article appealed to me as many of us find that our travels are yet again being restricted by Covid-19. It reminds us that we can still travel in our mind’s eye through the enjoyment of good travel writing.

By Paul Clements

First published in The Street Journal.

The Ireland of the 1930s was an austere place in which barefoot children played in the streets of a young country where the Catholic Church was all-powerful. Electrification of farms and rural houses was still some way off, and many areas suffered badly from tuberculosis as well as mass emigration.

Despite the poverty, there was another, more carefree side to life which respected the arts, heritage and traditions. People gathered at the crossroads for ceilidhs and made the most of what they had.

This was the Ireland that captivated Richard Hayward (1892-1964), who, although born in Lancashire, grew up on the Antrim coast and became a lover of Ireland. Noted for his travel books on the country, he explored the Shannon in August 1939, just two weeks before the outbreak of the second World War. He set off from the Shannon Pot in Co Cavan in a 12-horsepower Austin car and drove the back roads trailing a caravan hired from the Irish Caravan Company at a cost of £10.

The Shannon is largely the same river that Hayward admired in Where the River Shannon Flows, published in 1940. He was one of the first travellers to write about it in the 20th century. The book’s title came from a song by James Russell, sung by his brother John. It was released around the turn of the century when the Shannon was labelled “The Irish Swanee River”. The song was later recorded by John Count McCormack and by that honorary Irishman, Bing Crosby.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present

That summer Hayward’s book was reviewed by Maurice Walsh in The Irish Times and was top of the paper’s non-fiction list under a section called “What Dublin is Reading”. A prolific author, Walsh was acknowledged as a brilliant storyteller. His novel The Key Above the Door (1927), set in Scotland, sold more than a quarter of a million copies.

Walsh’s books were popular not just in Ireland but in Britain and America. The Quiet Man was originally published by the Saturday Evening Post, for which Walsh received $2,000. It was later included in his story collection Green Rushes (1935) and became an enduring film in 1951.

There was a spirit of camaraderie among writers, who supported each other in difficult times. Walsh was president of Irish PEN and its authors adopted the organisation’s ideals to “maintain friendship between writers in every country in the interests of literature, freedom of artistic expression and international goodwill”.

Time-travel, or footstepping, involves recreating an earlier journey, linking the past to the present. It brings a destination, as well as another era, to life. Many writers have been inspired by shades of travellers long past and the world they experienced. Some of the most celebrated subject names that crop up in the genre include Alexander the Great, Robert Louis Stevenson, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene and, more recently, those who have followed Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trail of his long walk across Europe which started in December 1933.

The painter Cecil Salkeld, the writer Richard Hayward, the novelist Compton MacKenzie and the writer Maurice Walsh at a function in Dublin in the 1950s

My time-switching involved transporting myself back to the late 1930s to try to capture Hayward’s spirit and follow in his footsteps, tyre tracks and ripples.

One of the worst roads in Ireland then was the dirt track from Rooskey to Tarmonbarry in Co Roscommon, which had seen cartwheels, hoofs and boots. Hayward recounted the misery created by the clouds of limestone dust as his party drove along it. He wrote that they aged 30 years in five minutes because of the grime that got into their hair and eyebrows. (The road has since taken on a new lease of life and been rebranded the East Roscommon Scenic Drive.)

The timing of Hayward’s book has parallels with today, since people were not travelling because of the war, which began at the start of September 1939. One reviewer, James Stephens, author of The Crock of Gold, said of it: “For some time now we must do all our travelling by book, and this one will carry you to the real Ireland.”

This summer, many aspects of travel were thrown into the spotlight because of the pandemic. But nearly 50 years ago, in the early 1960s, Elizabeth Bishop wrote in her remarkable poem Questions of Travel about why people went abroad.

“Think of the long trip home./ Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” her tourist narrator asks. “What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life/ in our bodies, we are determined to rush to see the sun the other way around? [ . . .] And have we room/ for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?”

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder.

Few pause to explore the Shannon sunset or its in-between places, the overlooked and the marginal, known as the edgelands. At first glance there may be little aesthetic appeal in the bauxite factory at Aughinish, the cement factory in Mungret, ruined castles, derelict hotels, old quaysides, abandoned locks or corroded barges – but they all come with their own rich tapestry of history. Some of the most absorbing locations include the estuary and its unkempt mudflats, as well as the precious habitats of the callows and boglands.

The edgelands may be regarded as an eyesore, but frequently they are filled with nature and wonder, somewhere to watch birds, study wildflowers, stare into the water or perhaps just dream a little.

In his poem A Disused Shed in Co Wexford, Derek Mahon celebrates them as “places where a thought might grow – / Peruvian mines, worked out and abandoned [ . . .] Indian compounds where the wind dances”, and the shed itself, “Deep in the grounds of a burnt-out hotel,/ Among the bathtubs and the washbasins/ A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole.”

Shannon Country: A River Journey Through Time by Paul Clements is published by the Lilliput Press and is out now. His biography Romancing Ireland: Richard Hayward 1892-1964, is also published by Lilliput

Spice: The Last Believers

Thank you to James Hamilton for highlighting this short radio clip from BBC Radio 4 which is available (I hope to all) on BBC Sounds for about another four weeks. This is one of five specially commissioned tales revolving around the possibilities of the word spice.

In this story by Alex Preston called the Last Believers, the writer looks back at a visit to Corfu in his youth and the magical, mythical power of certain spices. Set in Corfu in 1978, the narrator is invited to a book festival by Larry Durrell and Paddy.

Over you you and I hope you enjoy. I shall catch up with it soon!

Listen here.

“A dangerous mix of recklessness and sophistication”: Themes of identity and nostalgic ideas of Europe in the travel writings of Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

Dear readers I hope that you all remain well. During what was almost a global “lockdown” I attempted to publish articles that might have been somewhat longer than usual on the basis that you might have more time on your hands to absorb them! I do wish that I had remembered to offer this masters thesis by Matthew Staite at the time, as it is a good read; absorbing and well written, exploring themes that make us think about Paddy’s work, the times he describes, and his own character. This is only a study of A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water and does not purport to analyse his other work. I commend it to you and hope that you might find the time to read it.

A PDF of the thesis can be found here: Matthew Staite Leigh Fermor Thesis.

Here’s how Matthew introduced himself to me back in April:

Two years ago I completed a masters degree at the University of Amsterdam in the field of European Studies, in a track attempting to study the Identity & Integration of Europe. As a British person with a love of travel writing, I chose to write my thesis on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. Very little academic scholarship exists about his writing, so I attempted to academically analyse the first two books about his European walk and look at themes of memory and how he splits Europe between East and West in the texts. I found your site very interesting and helpful when writing the thesis (I even made reference to you at one point), so I thought I would send it to you in case you found it of any interest!

If nothing else it is worth reading Matthew’s conclusion.

While this thesis has travelled across the width of the European continent alongside Leigh
Fermor, it is time for this journey to come to an end. It has been demonstrated that, while Leigh Fermor sought a Europe bound by common culture and history upon his travels, this was a nostalgic search for a Europe rooted in the past. While the texts may describe his youthful adventuring through Europe, they were written and narrated by an older Leigh Fermor who was more nostalgic for this lost past and who desperately searched for the glimpses of it that remained.

The interaction with memory that this entails proves crucial to both books. As a result of the
parallax structure, the narrative is split between the past time of his journey and the future time of his writing. As a rhetorical device it allows Leigh Fermor to jump seamlessly between the past and the present, enabling him to write in a way that both captures the younger Leigh
Fermor’s boyish charm and the older Leigh Fermor’s wisdom and knowledge. It lends narrative power to the images of lost Europe that he constructs, for Leigh Fermor has experienced this past and can contrast it with the narrative present.

The Europe that Leigh Fermor was travelling through was in many ways on the cusp of
modernity, and many of the things he describes were to completely destroyed or changed by
the effects of the Second World War. He is implicitly critical of the period under communism
that followed the Second World War in Eastern Europe; a criticism of communism (still present at the time of the book’s writing) forms the ‘elephant in the room’ of his narrative. Despite his sympathy for Eastern Europe, Leigh Fermor’s texts also conform to the tradition of writing against Eastern Europe as a backwards and savage place. While there are elements of his narrative that go against this trend, they certainly form the lesser part of his narrative.

The two tiers of class (the peasants and the elite) that Leigh Fermor encounters throughout
Europe stem from this lost past, and he only lightly deals with the contemporary changes that
were happening to the societies he travelled through at the time of his journey. Despite this
criticism, the texts remain a wonderful journey across the European continent and back into
its past. Leigh Fermor’s personality and enthusiasm for knowledge permeate the texts, and
the rich descriptions of history, literature and language that ensue read as a beautiful tribute
to European culture.

This thesis has attempted to alert scholars of the scope for analysis and research that Leigh
Fermor’s travel texts provide. However it is far from a comprehensive study of Leigh Fermor
and his writing. By conducting a close study of only A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water, it has only looked at the themes of identity and ideas of Europe that Leigh
Fermor established between Holland and Romania. Due to the complications presented by
artificially constructed nature of the unfinished The Broken Road, there has not been the space to conduct a close analysis of it within this thesis. However that book is certainly of use to scholars, for there is certainly scope for analysis as to how Leigh Fermor includes Bulgaria
within his conception of Eastern Europe, or whether he others with it alongside Turkey as a
demarcation of the orient.

I have also not chosen to incorporate Leigh Fermor’s interpretation of Greece and its
importance within Europe. The latter half of A Broken Road is set in Greece, along with Leigh Fermor’s other travel texts Mani and Roumeli. As the south-eastern edge of Europe, and a nation where he spent a significant part of his life, it would be interesting to analyse how Leigh Fermor’s depictions of Greece correspond with the same themes of identity and nostalgia for Europe’s past that this thesis has explored.

Finally this thesis has largely treated A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water
as a single and coherent travel narrative. In doing so it has readily jumped between the two
texts despite them being published nearly a decade apart. There is certainly scope for analysis
into the effect of this time on the differences of the two books.

Dervla Murphy’s lore

Dervla Murphy at 88

Although some have questioned why she is featured on the blog, I know that others enjoy reading about this intrepid lady, who is perhaps a more intrepid and accomplished travel writer than our very own Paddy. Her books are available via the website of our friends, Eland Publishing. Dervla celebrated her 88th birthday mid-November 2019. Isabel Conway met her for a chat about her extraordinary life and adventures.

by Isabel Conway

First published in Business Post.

I’m in Lismore, Co Waterford. A wilderness of greenery cloaks a couple of stone outbuildings that have old iron artefacts leaning up against them, behind a pair of high gates. The undisturbed scene is a flashback to the past, offering no sign at all of human occupation.

A local man gives directions, pointing towards the secluded laneway. Dervla Murphy, as he puts it, is “one of our own”, and she lives up this laneway in a collection of 17th-century buildings.

For more than 50 years, Ireland’s greatest travel writer of modern times has travelled the world, mostly alone and by bicycle, returning home from Peru, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa, India, Israel, Palestine, Laos, Siberia and many more far-flung places to write 26 internationally acclaimed books.

The indefatigable Murphy’s vicissitudes on the road are the stuff of legend. She was attacked by wolves in the mountains of Yugoslavia on that first journey by bicycle to India. Luckily, she was carrying a .25 revolver that Lismore’s gardaí had shown her how to use before setting out during one of the coldest winters on record in 1963. She succeeded in shooting one wolf dead and frightening the others off.

In her time, Murphy has been stoned by youths, stung by a scorpion, assaulted in Azerbaijan and narrowly escaped with her life after being robbed three times in Ethiopia.

Invasion by bedbugs and tick bites were unavoidable when bedding down in mud huts, kraals and doss houses, or wherever gave protection from ferocious extremes of weather and other dangers. Malaria in the African bush, dysentery in Pakistan, brucellosis in India, hepatitis in Madagascar, broken ribs in a couple of countries, a fractured coccyx and a broken foot in Romania, a new hip after a fall in Palestine.

Ever the stoic, Murphy would usually get back on her bicycle after she was patched up. It’s the measure of this extraordinary woman, called a “goddamn nutcase” by an American tourist when she refused his offer of a lift while hiking along a desert road in the burning heat.

With trepidation, I locate her back gate and follow the overgrown path to a stone structure. An admirer of Murphy all my life, I am nervous about meeting this most intrepid of travellers, who celebrates her 88th birthday next Thursday.

The much-loved author of Full Tilt, her debut remarkable story of cycling 4,500 miles from Ireland to India rarely gives interviews. Our meeting has been organised via a longtime friend of Murphy’s, based in London. They met 40 years earlier, trekking in the mountains of Peru. The friend cautions me: “You’ll find Dervla courteous and hospitable, but she doesn’t suffer fools gladly and hates being called courageous or brave.”

I arrive at a collection of several unconnected stone buildings across a cobbled courtyard, a forge, piggery, cow house and store converted into a study, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The door of the first building is ajar. An entire wall is taken up by a packed bookcase with lots more books lining smaller shelves, including more than two hundred titles Murphy read while researching her last book Between River and Sea, published in 2016 and focusing on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

The room has two desks, one on which Murphy wrote all of her books first in longhand, later typewriting before delivery to her mentor and publisher of more than four decades, John Murray in London. She acquired an electric typewriter to speed the work up a bit, but has never used a PC. A cherished old Tibetan flag that the Dalai Lama gave her in gratitude for her work with Tibetan refugee children covers the typewriter.

A sheathed dagger lies on a side table, and dotted around are handicrafts brought home from the ends of the earth. Framed photo collages of Murphy with her three granddaughters Rose, now 23, Clodagh, 21 and Zoe, 19 , have pride of place.

A sturdy, somewhat stooped woman with short white hair, wearing loose trousers, a body warmer and open toed hiking sandals crosses the cobbled yard and enters her study. She is welcoming and delivers a firm handshake. Her eyes are penetrating, those of a professional observer who misses nothing. She also has that invaluable writer’s gift of being an expert listener and communicator, one who has charmed her way into the affections of people – from influential diplomats and the like, to the poorest of the poor – who gave her friendship and assistance on her journeys.

A bench covered with a warm rug is the domain of Wurzel, her beloved elderly terrier. Two young cats streak after each other’s tails.

“I don’t know what I’d do without my animals,” Murphy says. “I used to have six or seven cats and four and five dogs at a time. I was always so delighted to see them when I came home at the end of long journeys, glad to be back in my territory and be starting on the next book.”

In her 80th year, Murphy had spent a long period travelling between Israel and Palestine researching the follow up to her widely acclaimed Gaza travelogue A Month By The Sea. Next, she switched her sights to Jordan, visiting Syrian refugee camps, as usual delving deeply into the region’s politics and history as well as its people and culture with visits to Petra and Wadi Rum.

“I had to come back after fracturing my pelvis,” she says. “It wasn’t a fall but a silly way of slipping, as I was sitting down.” Since then, a combination of emphysema and arthritis in her neck have put a stop to both her travels and her writing. “There’s no good having angst about it,” she says. “You realise these things are inevitable as you get old. I won’t be going anywhere; I might as well face it, but that’s okay.”

The only child of intellectual and unorthodox parents, Murphy’s lifelong stamina may owe something to her childhood diet, which involved plenty of raw beef and raw liver. She never saw her invalided mother stand. As if her mother foresaw that Murphy was destined to conquer massive distances and daunting physical challenge she would never know herself, she encouraged her to get out and see the world.

It was only after her mother passed away that Murphy could realise her dream to travel and write about her journeys. At 16 she was already cycling around England and, by the time she was 18, she had biked alone through post-war France along the Rhine to Germany.

She gets up at 5am, eats only once daily, and usually is in bed by 9pm. She possesses neither a TV, central heating nor consumer comforts and goods the rest of us take for granted. It smacks of a strict monastic lifestyle. “Oh, not at all,” she laughs, pouring herself a beer. “It takes me two hours to eat that one meal. I have an absolutely colossal breakfast with plenty of my own brown bread.”

I can vouch for the excellence of Murphy’s soda bread and the nourishing soup containing at least six vegetables she has made when I make a return trip a few weeks later. Since our last meeting, the British Guild of Travel Writers has awarded her its prestigious Lifetime Achievement prize.

Though she has received many awards, and can count the likes of Michael Palin among her many admirers, Murphy is visibly overwhelmed by this most recent recognition. The founder of Bradt Guides, Hilary Bradt, has hand-delivered Murphy’s framed citation from England. It reads: “Dervla is the real thing. In an age of gimmicks and promotions she has travelled for the sheer love of it, for enjoying spectacular scenery away from the crowds and for meeting people away from the trappings of civilisation.”

After lunch, Murphy sips a glass of beer, Wurzel next to her, and shares her strong opinions on a variety of topics.

She is a fervent opponent of mass tourism, pointing to its negative contribution to the climate problem with the never ending increase in air traffic. She also believes that it does little to improve the economies of formerly remote enclaves.

“Mass tourism exists for nothing else than to make profit,” she says. “It tries to sell itself as being so important to local economics. In my experience, the reverse is actually true.”

She cites Pakistan’s Baltistan as a location where so called intrepid travellers “stay in hotels staffed by people brought in from outside because the locals don’t have the training”. When she travelled to the remotest corners of the region, taking her young daughter Rachel and writing Where the Indus is Young, there was no electricity nor cash economy.

“People were advanced in other ways,” she recalls. “They had enough food and they were sustainable. Now they have little or nothing in winter when the fruit and vegetables are sold to feed tourists, and they’ve bought consumer goods that are pretty much useless with the money they earned.”

In her ideal world, everyone would cycle and cars would be taken off the roads. “Cars are the curse of our age,” she declares, adding that it may be too late to do much about rescuing the world and reversing climate change.

As a grandmother she does not want to express too much pessimism, so as “not to depress young people too much about the future”. At a time when the vast majority of women who can afford to travel in comfort couldn’t imagine staying in hostels and cheap guest houses, these are places where Murphy has been happiest. “I loathe hotels, always have,” she shudders.

Does she believe young people today travel as she has done – curious, fearless, adventurous? “ The first thing I see them do is plugging in their laptops or getting on the phone to Mummy and Daddy at home,” she says. “It drives me insane. Why do they bother leaving home if they miss Mummy and Daddy so much? But I blame the parents too, telling them: ‘Remember now to get in touch every evening so we know you’re okay’.”

Her daughter Rachel went travelling in India at the age of 17 for six months. How often did she contact Murphy on that trip?

“Once,” Murphy replies.

A phone call?

“Oh, there were no phone calls. It was a letter.”

Murphy does, however, say that it is now more dangerous for a woman to travel solo. “It’s riskier now in certain countries where people have suddenly acquired these mobile phones and see these pornographic videos and depictions of sexual violence against women,” she says.

“And yes, there are places where I would worry about the safety of my granddaughters. It’s a great shame but, sadly, the way the world has gone. I was so lucky, but we must always believe in the goodness of people in general. Far from intending to hurt us, most people are humane, helpful and don’t intend us harm.”

Eleven of Dervla Murphy’s titles are in print through Eland Publishing, including the classic Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle, her autobiography Wheels within Wheels: The Makings of a Traveller, and her last two books on Palestine and Israel. For a full listing of these titles and for more information, visit travelbooks.co.uk/dervla-murphy

Al Hakawati الحكواتي (The Storyteller)

As ever I enjoyed the latest newsletter from the wonderful and very clever people at Eland books. They highlighted a series of readings on The HandsUp Foundation website which is a young charity raising funds and awareness for aid to Syria. They have recently launched a series of stories, read by some of the UK’s best-loved voices, including the likes of Levison Wood, Mishal Husain, Petroc Trelawny, David Dimbleby, Clare Balding (of course!) amongst others.

You might enjoy listening and perhaps contribute to their fundraising (listening is free). Start listening here.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete

Creforce book cover

I was recently contacted by Melbourne-based journalist Stella Tzobanakis whose parents are both from the Greek island of Crete. She has written Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete, the release of the second edition of which coincides with Anzac Day 25 April 2020, and the 79th anniversary of the Battle of Crete 20 May 2020. Some of you may be interested in this new book written with children in mind.

Creforce: the Anzacs and the Battle of Crete is the dramatic story of the second Anzacs and their role in one of the biggest battles in the military history of Australia, New Zealand and its Allied forces during World War II.

The book is written for children 10 and up and explores the real-life `adventures’ and misadventures of more than 14,500 young Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were sent to the Greek island of Crete – famous for myths, Minotaurs and labyrinths – under the second formation of the Anzac Corps,to help defend it against Nazi Germany.

The book includes never-before told, first-hand accounts of those that lived through the battle, and reveals the author’s personal Anzac story, discovered whilst writing this book. It also weaves in the battle stories of extraordinary and real-life `characters’ including:

Roald Dahl: the famous British novelist and children’s author who was a fighter pilot.

Charles Jager: the 20-year-old amateur lightweight boxer from Richmond, Melbourne who loved the racetrack and Greek classical stories.

Charles Upham: the educated sheep farmer turned valuer from New Zealand who was single-minded, persevering, swore a lot and hated injustice. Upham is one of only three men to have won the VC twice and his obituary is here.

Reginald Saunders: the 19 year-old soldier who was the first Aboriginal Australian to be commissioned as an officer in the Australian Army.

Horrie the Wog Dog: the little terrier who became an unofficial mascot. He was smuggled into Greece, evacuated, bombed off his ship and carried messages for the Allies.

The people of Crete: who have been likened in the book to Ned Kelly for their outlaw-style tactics as part of the Cretan resistance. The most notable is The Cretan Runner, George Psychoundakis, an uneducated, poor, young Cretan shepherd who became a decorated war hero for aiding British soldiers, including author, scholar, Patrick Leigh Fermor.

You can purchase the book at https://stelitsahome.bigcartel.com . For further information on where to find the book contact info@stelitsa.com.au or try messaging Stella via Facebook Messenger

Ten years of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog and Sex O’Clock High

Paddy by Mark Gerson, bromide print, February 1954 (National Portrait Gallery)

In all the excitement (or is it boredom) of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, I failed to complete a post I was drafting in mid-March to mark ten years since starting this blog. So here it is!

By March 2010 I had been “blogging” for a year on my other site MyByzantine. It was a new world for me and I had enjoyed seeing that site grow from four visits in February 2009 to 1,600 a month one year later (and remaining over 2,000). That site has clocked up over 460,000 visits since its launch.

During that time I had also read all three volumes of John Julius Norwich’s Byzantium history series, losing one volume into the Shkumbin river in Albania when a laden donkey fell into the thrashing river losing my baggage during my journey to find the Via Egnatia in Albania and Macedonia (you can read an account here). The insurance claim process was amusing, but I digress.

Through John Julius Norwich I had discovered Paddy and started to read and enjoy his books. Doing a little bit of Googling I found out that Paddy had no website like most other authors, and from what I read was very unlikely to start one at his age. I had also found a lot of interesting material about him, and by him, scattered across numerous sites on the web. I decided to use my “skills” from the Byzantine blog to bring all this material together into one place. The idea of the Patrick Leigh Fermor blog was born.

The first post was not about Paddy at all, but an obituary of his SOE colleague Ralph Stockbridge. This was published on 21 March 2010, and has had over 800 views since then. This was followed by a couple of obits about Sophie Moss. Many other obituaries followed of George Lane, Paddy’s wife Joan, and John Craxton. It was a “soft launch”, but visits had risen from a massive 23 in March 2010 (I recall wondering if there was any interest in this aging writer), to over 2,200 by May. Since then there have been over 1,850,000 views!

It was very sad that Paddy died in the following year. By then the blog had a strong following with over 14,000 visits on the day that his death was announced. There are now 970 posts on the blog and I do have a great backlog of genuine Paddy related material, as well as the more prosaic that I now post that is, mostly, well received by you my dear readers. You continue to send me new material, and I can’t really keep up, especially now that I have to wash my hands every five minutes 🙂 .

Thank you for your continued support. I have to say that having this “audience” during the lockdown has in some way helped me through this difficult time of being apart from many of those I love, and I do hope that the posts have in some way helped you to get through the first part of this difficult time.

I would like to finish by reposting the first article of new Paddy written material that I found and posted on 2 April 2010. It is from the Spectator and called Sex O’Clock High. Some of you may have been following from the start, others stumbling across this crazy site more recently. However long you have been reading I do hope that you all enjoy reading Sex O’Clock High. For some of you this might be the very first time you have read this amusing, and so typically Paddy piece.

Keep well.

Tom

Patrick Leigh Fermor in Crete – a reminder of better times

Members of the International Lawrence Durrell Society & Patrick Leigh Fermor Society visit Crete in 2018, following Paddy’s paths… The meeting took place in Heraklion Crete in a historical farm… and features our good friedn Chris White in his straw sun hat and white beard!

I just thought i would share this as it reminds us of those far off sunny days when we were able to travel and to share good food and drink together.

A request – download the Kings’ College Covid-19 tracker app

Hello All,

Today I’d like to share a direct appeal with you. Many of you may be aware of and are using the Covid-19 tracker app from the team at ZOE and Kings’ College London. Over 2.6m people report their health daily to the site. They are looking to increase this number and have asked that users share a request on Facebook. I thought that I would extend that request to here.

The app can be found on Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store. Follow the link here (from your phone)

Free listening

It is quite amazing how quickly we humans adapt. Almost within hours of lockdowns starting around the world, individuals and companies were going online. Everything from yoga classes to virtual drinks parties. Technology has enabled much of this and I have to say the situation would be harder to bear without the internet.

There is much talk of people spending their days on sofas watching endless box sets on Netflix or Amazon Prime, but the television is a problematic medium. It requires one to sit still and do little else. Radio and audio on the other hand enable us to do other things at the same time, and to me, there is little to equal the sound of a good story being narrated well.

I am sure that you will have been bombarded through emails and social media about all sorts of free stuff, but I wanted to share a few that I am aware of. If you have some good suggestions please add to the comments section of this post so we can share with others,

A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water audiobooks

These are available for free listening at the moment. See my recent posts.

Gresham College

Gresham College is amazing. Founded in 1597 it has been providing free lectures within the City of London for over 400 years.

The College was established out of the will of Sir Thomas Gresham, one of the most influential and important men across the Tudor and Elizabethan periods. As well as founding the Royal Exchange, Sir Thomas left proceeds in his will for the foundation of Gresham College.

Today the College upholds its founding principle in maintaining the highest possible academic standards for all of its appointed Gresham Professors, Visiting Professors and visiting speakers. In recent years three additional Professorships have been added in Business, Environment and Information Technology.

The College’s 130 annual lectures and events are free and open to all. There are now over 2,000 lectures freely available online on the College website and on its YouTube channel.

Artemis Cooper giving the 2014 Stavros Niarchos Foundation Lecture at Yale University.

Audible children’s stories

During the crisis, Audible is making a number of children’s stories free to listen. All stories are free to stream on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet. They include Winnie the Pooh and Harry Potter as well as many more new and classic reads. They are in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, and Japanese. Have a look here.

Paddy’s account of the kidnap

Anyone who has sent me an email knows that I am notoriously slow in responding and the same sometimes goes for displaying material sent to me on the blog. I have actually been “saving” this item for a suitable occasion since it was sent to me by the ever patient Alun Davies in February 2014. Alun has probably forgotten about this now, but I thought that now really is the very best time to publish this as many of you will have a little more time on your hands if confined.

Please do also read the comment below by Chris White (co-author/editor) of Abducting a General for further information about this draft, and the others.

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

Alun emailed me as follows:

I had an email from Chris P*** this week asking me to send him a copy of Paddy’s personal account of the kidnap of General Kreipe. Paddy had sent it to me in 2005 when I first told him we were going to walk the route. I had his rather rough notes typed up in Cardiff and sent a copy to Chris P*** at the time. Chris has apparently lost it – and needs a copy as someone is (you may well know this) publishing another book about the Kreipe story and Chris wants to ensure that they have Paddy’s version. [Ed – I expect this is Chris White’s Abducting a General: The Kreipe Operation and SOE in Crete]

In any case as it is on my screen this evening I will send you a copy – just in case you have not seen it before.

Best wishes

Alun

You can read the pdf document here – Abducting a General by PLF – typed July 2005

 

The Passion of Christ goes digital – from Athen’s Byzantine and Christian Museum

I first discovered Paddy through my interest in Roman and Byzantine history. In fact through the excellent three volume work, Byzantium, of Paddy’s great friend John Julius Norwich. Some of you know that I run a parallel blog about Byzantium, and I thought that on this occasion I would share a recent post; I wondered how both Paddy and John Julius might have enjoyed it, and so, I hope, do you. If nothing else the music is sublime

In time for this (Orthodox) holy week period, the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens is offering a digital tour of some of its best works. 

This gold-embroidered Epitaphios (liturgical vestment) dated to 1751 from the famous workshop of Mariora in Constantinople stands out among other exquisite works of art in this digital exhibition which draws on the collections of the Byzantine and Christian Museum in Athens. Hidden in its linings, conservators found the original signatures of the embroiderer and of the person that donated it – Mariora and Timothea. The masterpiece of Byzantine art is a long-term loan from the Exarchate of Jerusalem in Athens.

The digital exhibition, which visitors to the museum’s website can view this week, is a 33-minute video featuring 95 works from the museum’s collections on the Passion, Burial and Resurrection of Christ, and is accompanied by some wonderful music.

This unique digital presentation of museum objects of different places, eras, styles and materials aspires to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the centuries-old illustration of the leading events of the Divine Economy, as described in the Scriptures. The works, mostly portable icons, are thematically distributed according to the chronological sequence of historical events and their theological symbolism, beginning with Lazarus’ Sabbath and ending with Easter Sunday.

 

Teach yourself map reading

For the times to come, for when we can get outside, being able to read a map well is a skill that can be as important, and more fun, than being able to swim. The UK’s Ordnance Survey have produced a teach yourself map reading course and it is here in this pdf.

For the walkers and the virtual walkers here I hope that you enjoy it and find it useful.

map-reading

Update – The Transylvanian Book Festival 4th Edition

A message from Lucy Abel-Smith to update all on the situation re the Book Festival and Covid-19, with an appeal to let her know – lucy@realityandbeyond.co.uk – if you are thinking of attending just so they can get an idea of numbers; no commitments.

Bron Riley and I thought we would write to everyone involved in the Transylvanian Book festival in September – to all our speakers, musicians, hosts and patrons – and the wonderful team who help with the smooth running of the festival, welcoming everyone, creating delicious meals and providing beautiful venues and excursions.

We are still planning to go ahead with the festival with the hope that the virus and its effects will be clear by September, one of the best months to be in Transylvania, when there is usually golden early autumn weather. We will make a final decision at the beginning of July.

As with past editions the programme is varied, relevant and stimulating.

We strongly suggest that you do not book your flights for the moment (although recent experience has shown that most airlines are being flexible at present). We will keep your deposits safe and our wonderful travel manager, Laura Vesa, will retain all our bookings in the local accommodation. So do let us know whether you are thinking of coming so that we can get an idea of numbers.

As usual, we promise good cheer.

In addition, Bronwen Riley is leading a visit to the outstanding Romanian painted monasteries immediately after the end of the festival. We will be delighted to arrange any specialist or private tours before the 10th of September and will shortly be sending you details of a thrilling new tour to Serbia planned for October.

We do hope that you all keep well and remain in good spirits in these strange times and very much look forward to seeing you in September, if not before.

Lucy
lucy@realityandbeyond.co.uk

Pilgrimage – the road to Istanbul

Some of you, at least in the UK, may have watched the previous two programmes of BBC’s Pilgrimage series, and might like to watch the third installment which has just started on BBC2.

Hot on the heels of their predecessors, who journeyed to Santiago and Rome, seven new celebrities are set to embark on their own journey of discovery – this time to Istanbul. I’m not sure this is an actual pilgrimage route as such, but what the hell. It runs through a beautiful part of Europe and it features Dom Jolly who is always fun.

Taking part is journalist Adrian Chiles, a converted Catholic; former politician Edwina Currie, a lapsed Jew; Olympian Fatima Whitbread, a Christian; broadcaster Mim Shaikh and TV presenter Amar Latif, both Muslims; and two confirmed atheists, comedian Dom Joly and actress Pauline McLynn.

Donning backpacks, the group will spend just over two weeks living as simple pilgrims following an ancient 1,000km military route, which has been transformed into a modern-day path of peace.

Starting in Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, the pilgrims will travel through Bulgaria and the mountainous Balkans, before crossing the border into Turkey, with their goal of reaching Istanbul and the Suleymaniye Mosque.

I have yet to watch this and don’t know which old route they may have followed, but some of it will probably cross places visited by Paddy, and they may even use parts of the Via Egnatia that I started to walk ten years ago; I must finish it sometime!

Find out more and watch (if your location permits) here. If you use a VPN package like Nord VPN (which is top grade VPN) you can connect to the UK.

It’s been a while … can you help us with information about Sydney Greaves SBS

Hello dear readers. It’s been a while since we posted. And what times we live in! The news here in the UK as elsewhere is basically all gloom, and the weather is just awful. With the prospect of us all having to put in some “social distancing” (and many of you in Italy or Spain already locked down), or even worse, self-isolation, this year is not working out so great. 

It is at times like this that we have to be positive and try to lift our spirits. Some of you may have seen the delightful videos of Italians singing from their balconies to maintain contact with each other. Go for it Italy and well done. Even the dogs are joining in.

As I sit here looking at the rain and low cloud over the South Downs, I am enjoying some peaceful music and also looking at the flowers that I buy myself each week. If you are feeling a little worried and fed up I encourage you to buy yourself flowers, or buy them for someone you know. It will cheer them up.

I have also received a message from Rachel Vowles who is seeking information about her grandfather, Sydney Greaves who was SBS and died on active service in WW2. Rachel and her mother would like to know more about what activities he got up to and ‘how he lived’. If you can help, please message me (see about and contact) and I shall pass on the information to Rachel. You can also post it directly on the Patrick Leigh Fermor Facebook page where I shall add a similar request.

Given that we are all likely to have more time on our hands I shall step up posting on here as there’s quite a lot of back material as ever. If you do find yourself in isolation and don’t just want to watch endless Netflix box-sets, why not have a good trawl through the blog? Do a search or press on one of the tags or categories (scroll down they are on the right hand margin). If you are also interested in reading more of Paddy’s books I have a number of first editions that I need to clear from my bookshelves. Get in touch. I shall post up some information and pictures in due course.

And if you want to keep up with the UK’s Coronavirus staged response, the team from Yes Minister have a simplified version for you …

Can you help? Who is Dana…?

Between the Woods and the Water

Blog correspondent Chris writes …

Hi Tom –
I have recently bought a copy of Between the Woods and the Water which has an inscription from PLF as follows: “to Michael and Dana___ with love from Paddy”. I can’t work out the second name, but it is 6 or 7 letters long and is something like Danari or Danavi. Just wondering if this might ring a bell for you? Perhaps someone will recognise who this might be?
Many thanks.

Does anyone have any ideas? Add a comment or email me – details in About and Contact. Someone has suggested it may be the travel guide author Dana Facaros.

Travellers’ Film Club, Spring Season

An update for you all on the Travellers’ Film Club showings in Feb and March.

Thursday 13th February
Assignment in Vietnam (1969) directed by Richard Taylor, with cameraman Chris Menges. This award-winning film from the BBC’s World About Us strand follows three long-serving journalists, each respected for their independence of mind, as they seek to report the war in Vietnam at a time of stalemate. One of the earliest colour documentaries put out by the BBC, the golden touch of Chris Menges can be felt in the camerawork. The director Richard Taylor made over 60 documentaries in his career, driven by a mission to give a voice to those who were rarely heard. His son Ben will be present at the screening to flesh out the film and its context.

Thursday 12th March
Man with a Movie Camera (1929), directed by Dziga Vertov. The great classic of Soviet modernist documentary making. Revolutionary and inventive, it shows urban life in the Soviet city in a way that it had never been thought of before. Often cited as the best documentary ever made.

Holy Redeemer Church Hall, Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QE

Free entry with a pay bar

Doors Open: 6.00 pm
Film showing: 6.30 pm

Holy Redeemer Church Hall
Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE

2020 Year of Pilgrimage – to be a pilgrim in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Land

Walking routes are being launched next year that track ancient paths of pilgrimage to the nation’s cathedrals. Let’s all get out there to lose ourselves, make exciting new discoveries and find peace. After all, Solvitur ambulando. Or looking at it another way:

‘The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.’ G. K. Chesterton.

Taken from the Times, September 21 2019 Bess Twiston Davies

A man was recently observed in tears in the nave of an English cathedral. “I am a secular person,” he shouted. “But something about this place has got to me.”

Surveys of the 10.5 million Britons a year who visit England’s 42 cathedrals suggest that such a reaction is not unusual.

“Frequently people are almost ambushed by the atmosphere,” said the Rev Dr Dee Dyas, director of York’s Centre for Pilgrimage Studies.

Dyas has researched medieval English cathedrals and the ways in which visitors respond to them; awe at being in a 900-year-old building and marvel at the craftsmanship are typical responses. According to an Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) poll, only 10 per cent arrive intending to pray, yet nearly half unexpectedly find themselves lighting a candle or leaving a written prayer. Last year 240,000 people lit a candle in York Minister.

“The overwhelming comment in cathedral visitors’ books is: I have found some peace here. People talk incessantly of the spiritual experience they have had in cathedrals,” said the Very Rev Adrian Dorber, dean of Lichfield Cathedral and chairman of the AEC, which has decreed 2020 the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage.

This nationwide celebration is inspired by several significant anniversaries: next year is the 800th anniversary of the consecration of the shrine of St Thomas Becket, while Bury St Edmunds is honouring the millennial anniversary of the founding of the Benedictine monastery St Edmund’s Abbey. Handbooks will detail symposiums, lectures on relics, workshops exploring saints and miracles, night-time cathedral events, concerts and plays including TS Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Dorber hopes to showcase the “hidden gems” of lesser-known provincial cathedrals off the tourist track.

“There are places with Saxon foundations like Lichfield, while Chelmsford Cathedral is a treasury of modern art,” he said.

Indeed, visitors have a unique chance to “touch things such as an [ancient] carving or a piece of wood in a cathedral in a way that you never could with objects on display in the Victoria and Albert Museum”, said Diana Evans, the head of strategy for places of worship at Historic England. Definitions of who or what a pilgrim is are changing, she said: “There’s an increasing realisation that you don’t have to sign up to the faith of a building to go there as a pilgrim.”

What is beyond doubt is the growing popularity of cathedrals among pilgrims. “We’re noting a huge increase in the numbers of people walking purposefully with a spiritual agenda,” Dorber said.

Of 1,300 people who recently downloaded a walking route from the British Pilgrimage Trust (BPT) website, 60 per cent were first-time pilgrims. The aim of the walks, also printed in English Heritage handbooks, is to make pilgrimage paths more accessible. “People are reconnecting with the ancient tracks walked by their ancestors,” said Guy Hayward, a co-founder of the BPT.

So what is driving this uptake in pilgrimages? “The top reason for pilgrimage is emotional well-being,” Hayward said. He views this as part of a broader sociological trend. “The rise of pilgrimage is part of the shift from the age of knowledge, which has dominated the past three centuries, to the age of experience.”

This move away from an enlightenment model of acquiring knowledge links into developments in neuroscience, Dyas said. “Research in America suggests that emotion is the main trigger for reasoning and a change of behaviour,” she said. “Therefore, the ways that buildings make people act is very important.”

In 2014 Dyas conducted a project to explore the design and purpose of medieval cathedrals. “We recreated in digital form what the pilgrim experience would have been like in Canterbury with help from archaeologists, architects and social scientists,” she said.

The pilgrim left a grey-toned world to enter a sacred space filled with glittering jewel-like colour in glass, painted tombs and stone. “Medieval cathedrals were designed to reveal a sense of God’s majesty to the pilgrim,” Dyas said.

Their beauty was intended to inspire pilgrims with a glimpse of paradise or to prompt a spiritual encounter. Pilgrims were also drawn to the tombs of saints such as Becket in the hope of obtaining a miraculous healing.

In Hereford Cathedral lies the shrine of St Thomas de Cantilupe, who died in 1282. Seven years later the Welsh outlaw William Cragh marched into the cathedral holding a noose that had been used to hang him. Witnesses alleged that Cragh had died on the scaffold, only to come back to life after his parents prayed to Cantilupe. In July 2018 Hereford launched the St Thomas Way, tracing Cragh’s journey from Swansea, and next year Cantilupe’s skull will be held at the cathedral. “You might say relics aren’t a very Anglican thing, but they are to do with the human body and remind us that saints were flesh and blood,” said the Very Rev Michael Tavinor, dean of Hereford.

Relics were swept out of England’s cathedrals by the Reformation. In 1538 King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell banned the pilgrim practice of “wandering unto shrines”. The resulting decline of pilgrimage lasted until Victorian times, when its resurgence was linked to the beginnings of tourism to the Holy Land. Since then pilgrimage has evolved and it is no longer seen as an exclusively religious phenomenon. Indeed, Hayward says that pilgrimage can be a “container practice” including “yoga, chanting and holding stones”.

Next year pilgrims can trace their predecessors’ routes to cathedrals on tracks old and new. They can even start the road to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela from Co Durham. From next Saturday the route known as El Camino Inglés (the English Way), from the Galician coast to the shrine of St James, may start with an initial 22-mile hike through the county.

Those who don’t make the journey to Spain can obtain a “pilgrim passport”, which throughout 2020 can be bought at cathedral bookshops and stamped at each cathedral visited.

Highlights of the Year of Cathedrals and Pilgrimage:

Spring 2020 Six Northern Saints routes will be launched, including four to Durham Cathedral.

May Pilgrim walks will be launched in Ely and St Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk, to follow the path of medieval pilgrims to Bury St Edmunds. The town will host an exhibition of manuscripts from the Benedictine monastery, which had been kept in Cambridge for the past 500 years.

July Canterbury Cathedral marks the 800th anniversary of the translation of the body of St Thomas Becket to a new shrine.

August 1 Cantilupe Capers, a day of medieval-themed activities in Hereford.

October 2020 to February 2021 The British Museum holds an exhibition on St Thomas Becket.

November 2020 Lincoln Cathedral marks the 800th anniversary of the canonisation of St Hugh.

Committing once again to their own personal adventure

A thoughtful little piece published recently in The Irish Catholic about the benefits of walking and how medieval friars got around.

By Fr Conor McDonough

The New Year brings with it a barrage of holiday offers. Travel agents and airlines know that the depths of winter create in us a desire for the delights of summer, and they know how to capitalise on that desire: leave behind the clouds, the rain, the gloom and head for the sunshine!

For me, the idea of a sun holiday holds no excitement but there’s something universally appealing, I think, in the idea of exploring a new place, new tastes, a new perspective. It’s not always a matter of mere escapism. We’ve all experienced the spiritual difference that a holiday can make. Someone might be in a bit of a rut at home, head away for a few days, and come back ready to face their challenges with renewed energy.

T.S. Eliot put it well in his stunning long poem, ‘Little Gidding’: “We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time”.

Bookshops
As a book lover, reading travel literature has almost the very same effect. And there must be lots like me, because the travel writing sections of our local bookshops are overflowing with new publications, as well as reprints of classics of the genre. To read Patrick Leigh Fermor is to be with him, on the same road, wandering through 1930s Europe, ready for adventure.

To read William Dalrymple is to be in old Delhi with eyes wide open. To read a compilation like The Oxford Book of Exploration, as I am doing now, is to be at frontiers everywhere, from Arctic wastes to African jungles. I open these books out of curiosity, but by the time I’m finished them, I’m usually readier to live out my own adventures as a Dominican friar in Dublin 1.

It seems earlier generations of friars understood this secret too, because they played a key role in the production of early travelogues.

The 14-Century Italian Franciscan, Oderic of Pordenone, accompanied by James of Ireland, travelled as far as China. The account he wrote of his travels, including detailed descriptions of Sumatra, became wildly popular.

Prison
Around the same time, a Dominican friar, Jordan of Severac, was writing a description of the people, customs, and landscapes of India, where he had been made bishop. And we have, too, the travel diary of two Irish Franciscans – Simon and Hugh – whose journey in 1323 from Clonmel to the Holy Land included an unwelcome delay in a Cairo prison.

Even the Venetian merchant Marco Polo, according to recent research, seems to have worked closely with Dominican friars in compiling and publishing the story of his travels in the East.

Friars didn’t just produce these works, they copied them, translated them, and used them in their preaching. We can see this in medieval Ireland: the Limerick Dominicans had in their library an account of travels among the Mongols; the Franciscans in Timoleague, Co. Cork had an Irish translation of Marco Polo’s travels; and the Franciscans in Kilcrea, Co. Cork had an Irish version of the semi-fictional travels of Sir John Mandeville.

We could put all this down to mere curiosity, but I think there’s a spiritual point to it too. Preaching friars had one major task: to help all their listeners on the personal journey to heaven. Think of a friar preaching in, say, Sligo in the Middle Ages. His hearers might never have left their parish, but if he could tell them a good story about adventures in Mongolia or India, it might spark in them the desire to commit once again to their own personal adventure, to step out bravely on the road to the heavenly kingdom, whose wonders “eye has not seen nor ear heard” (I Cor 2:9).

At the start of a New Year, the same road stretches out before us too. Ar aghaidh linn!

This
 Boots 
was 
made 
for
 walking
How did friars get about in the Middle Ages? Well, unless they had special permission to ride horses, they were meant to walk, just like Jesus did, just like the apostles did.

The great 13th-Century Dominican scientist and theologian, Albert the Great, was so dedicated to this aspect of evangelical poverty he was given the nickname ‘Bishop Boots’.

At one gathering of friars, he waited on the road to surprise the brothers arriving on horses and carriages…if you’ve got a step counter for Christmas and need a bit of courage to stick to your New Year’s resolution to get walking, ask for the intercession of Bishop Boots!

Travellers’ Film Club: The Epic of Everest, Thu 16 January 2020

Next in the series of the amazing Travellers’ Film Club run by Eland.

The Epic of Everest is John Noel’s extraordinary documentary about the 1924 attempt on Everest in which George Mallory and Andrew Irvine lost their lives. The film includes incredible early footage of remote Tibetan communities as well as nail-biting coverage of the ascent itself and masterly capturing of the chillingly beautiful environment. Shot on a hand-cranked movie camera in brutal conditions, it is a masterpiece of early documentary making.

The Epic of Everest
(1 hour, 25 minutes)

Thursday 16th January
Doors Open: 6.00 pm
Film showing: 6.30 pm

Holy Redeemer Church Hall
Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QE

The Lovers’ Wind

A Happy New year to all readers! At the recent launch of the English translation of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes, our friends at Eland also marked the return of their Travellers’ Film Club by showing a film about Iran of which ‘Nicolas would probably approved’. If you have read Bouvier’s wonderful The Way of the World, you will know that Bouvier, and his artist friend Thierry Vernet, were forced by deep snow to over winter in the mountains of Iran. The Lovers’ Wind is a truly amazing film showing off a stunning and beautiful country with so many varying types of landscapes. Take an hour to watch it on your laptop, or, if you have a smart TV, you may find that you have the You Tube app available and can watch it on a larger screen.

The Lovers’ Wind (French: Le Vent des amoureux) is a 1978 French documentary film directed by Albert Lamorisse about the landscape of Iran. It was commissioned by the Shah of Iran as an exercise to show off the progress of his country, it certainly shows what a beautiful place it is. I wonder how much it has changed in those 40 years? Lamorisse was killed in a helicopter crash while filming some of the final scenes of the documentary near a dam. His widow and son completed the film, based on his production notes, and released the film eight years later in 1978. It was nominated for a posthumous Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.