Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

World-Class Shortlist Announced for the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards 2020

Whether you are looking for (very) last minute travel books as Christmas gifts, or you would like to view a selection of what are possibly some of the best travel, and travel related books of 2019, the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards (ESTWA) shortlist may be a good place to look.

There are a wide range of categories including cooking related books.

The winner of the principal category, the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year Award, in association with The Authors Club, will receive £2,500 at the awards ceremony which takes place at The London Transport Museum on 26th February 2020. The event will be compered by former Countryfile and Wish You Were Here presenter and author Julia Bradbury. You can purchase tickets if you wish to attend.

The judging panel includes explorer Benedict Allen and it’s great to see our old friend Nick Hunt also on the panel.

View the shortlist and purchase tickets for the awards here. It is worth a look just to view some of the wonderful covers!

Nicolas Bouvier – So It Goes: Travels in the Aran Isles, Xian and places in between

So It Goes coverPerhaps I have not read widely enough amongst the travel writing genre, or exposed myself to a wide enough variety of travel authors, but for my money, Nicolas Bouvier is one of the top travel writers of the twentieth century. At his best he surpasses Paddy, for he brings a rare sense of humour to his writing, something that Paddy, for all his marvellously detailed prose, is not noted for.

Some of you may have come across Bouvier by reading his best known work, The Way of the World, or perhaps you might recall a few mentions on this site, including, Armenia, Nicolas Bouvier and Paddy. It’s been over twenty-five years since a new work by Switzerland’s master travel writer has been translated and published in English. It would appear that Rose Baring, at that lovely publishing house, Eland, has made it her personal mission to get this collection of shorter travel stories published. I have enjoyed everything I have read so far, and I think you will too. Buy a copy for someone for Christmas. At 180 pages it is manageable for all. Don’t just take my word for it.

‘Nicolas Bouvier was a writer of rare grace and subtlety. Every essay here shimmers with imaginative insight and wry humour. He has long been known to cognoscenti. Now, perhaps, his stature will be more widely recognised: one of the most brilliant, penetrating and individual travel writers of his time.’ Colin Thubron

‘Bouvier writes with such verve and style and carries his erudition so lightly. This is the perfect literary travel companion for the Aran islands, Xian and point in between. The Japanese Chronicles are next on my list. Bravo Eland and Robyn Marsack for this brilliant translation.’ Natania Jansz, publisher of Sort of Books

‘Passionate curiosity, appropriate seriousness and a comic sense are kept in balance by a wide, tolerant and most unusual cast of mind. He has the intuitive gift of capturing landscapes, atmospheres and personalities in a flash, and he finds himself totally at home in the heart of heterodoxy and strangeness […] he catches scenes and atmospheres with a painter’s eye and a poet’s ear.’ Patrick Leigh Fermor in his introduction to the first English edition of L’Usage du Monde.

Rose Baring, in her publisher’s foreword to So It Goes, explains what drove her to get this lovely collection translated into English by Robyn Marsack, the final part of Eland’s homage to Bouvier:

Only twice have I read a travel book and immediately wanted to speak to the author. The first time it was Ogier de Busbecq’s Turkish Letters, and I was well aware that I would never get through to the sixteenth-century Habsburg ambassador to the court of Suleyman the Magnificent. The second time was when I finished The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier in 2006. It didn’t take long to discover that Bouvier had died in 1998, and I entered a period of mourning for this man I had never met.

Despite his brilliance, Bouvier had largely slipped back beneath the Anglophone waves. Tracking down and publishing the works which had been translated – The Way of the World, The Japanese Chronicles and The Scorpion-Fish – allowed me to spend time with his words if nothing else. I tried, and largely failed, to trace the field recordings he had made of music from Zagreb to Tokyo. I looked at the images he had collected from around the world, the photographs he began to take in Japan in the 1960s, the poetry he wrote. I watched, much more than once, the film made about him in 1993, Le hibou et la baleine, and other snippets on the internet. I still long to have met him, and feel quite envious of the translator of these stories, who did.

So It Goes is the final element of Eland’s homage to this exceptional chronicler of the world – a selection of his shorter pieces of travel writing, and an essay on the childhood which catapulted him into the world equipped with such fertile curiosity. It contains all the hallmarks of his particular genius: an acute, painterly eye for the details which escape many others, an ear attuned as much to the qualities of a wind or the soft exhalation of a carthorse as to the nuances of conversation, and a willingness to open himself totally to the experience of a place, even when it threatens to unhinge him.

The title, So It Goes, is a phrase which crops up like a mantra throughout the book. Bouvier borrowed it from Kurt Vonnegut, whose writing he hugely admired. In Slaughterhouse Five (1969), the phrase implies that even faced with the horrific destruction of war, no good will come of shirking the truth. Bouvier is as good as his word.

Rose Baring

Extract from So It Goes
Scotland: Travels in the Lowlands

‘I ate some mussels with French fries in the dimly lit saloon bar, back turned on a huge pool-table where three couples were playing, their laughter high-pitched and loud, as though the inn belonged to them. The women, absurdly made-up for such an out-of-the-way place, pocketed their balls, fags in their mouths. The owner and his wife, who seemed to know them well, greeted each win with smarmy compliments. After a bit they came to my table with a bottle and three goblets. They seemed more fragile than the glass. I said, ‘A nice place you have here,’ meaning, ‘The natural surroundings are enchanting.’ She leaned towards me and whispered in my ear, ‘They kill me – this whole damn business is killing, simply killing,’ and disappeared into the kitchen, dabbing her eyes with her white apron. He remained. He told me he’d been trying to put the place back on its feet for several months, without success, and that his wife couldn’t stand it any more. Then, I don’t know why, he talked about the death of the poet Robert Burns (that colossal genius whose eyes shone with drink) in the doll’s house that the Customs administration, by whom he was employed, had offered him in Dumfries as a mark of their esteem. As he spoke, big tears rolled down his cheeks. I know that Burns makes the whole of Scotland cry, but there was something more going on here. I instinctively touched the back of his hand with my fingertip; he clasped mine and held it between his enormous paws for the time it took to swallow back something rising in his throat. What was he struggling against? I remembered the unexpected scene from several hours earlier: those two lost and frantic girls, their hair crested with red, opposite the unsightly woman calmly making an effort to set them back on their feet. Precarious, flawed little lives beneath the sky, a glittering sky tonight: theirs, hers, mine too. All looking, with what help we could find, for an honourable way out. So it goes.’

You can purchase So It Goes from Eland here. Why not treat yourself and buy The Way of the World at the same time?

To celebrate the publication of Nicolas Bouvier’s So It Goes Eland will be hosting a seasonal pop-up shop from 5pm on the 28th November, to be followed by the return of the Travellers’ Film Club at 7pm. They will be showing a film which they feel honours the spirit of Bouvier, The Lovers’ Wind by Albert Lamorisse, an extraordinary film, shot entirely from the air in Iran in 1970. Join them at The Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 24 Exmouth Market, EC1R.

Watch Bouvier talk about his favourite books in 1993.

Walking the Ridgeway

I’ve just been tidying my garden in preparation for the winter. It is a lovely English autumn day and I have sat down with a cup of tea after my labours. My body is still recovering from my 90 mile walk of the Ridgeway long distance national trail, and now it has stiffened further after the gardening! So I have time to share a few thoughts about the Ridgeway walk I have just completed.

Following a route used since prehistoric times by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers the 90 mile long Ridgeway passes through ancient landscapes through downland, secluded valleys and woodland. It is a trail of two contrasting halves, separated by the Thames. The western part of this National Trail largely follows the route of a prehistoric ridge track along the crest of the North Wessex Downs and passes many historic sites, including Barbury, Liddington, Uffington and Segsbury Castles (hill forts), Wayland’s Smithy (long barrow) and Uffington White Horse. Near the western end start of the route, that is at the Sanctuary, is the Avebury World Heritage Site (a joint Site with Stonehenge).

The eastern part at Streatley crosses and then follows the River Thames for five miles before heading east into the Chiltern Hills, mainly along the north-western escarpment. The walking on the eastern half is more varied, along tracks and paths, across open downland, and through farm and woodland, passing Nuffield, Watlington, Chinnor, Princes Risborough, Wendover and Tring, ending up at Ivinghoe Beacon.

Whilst generally fairly level, the walk can be deceptively hard, as on a couple of days one needs to walk around 30km to find accommodation that is on, or very close to the route. I did not want to travel 2-3 miles off the route to find bed and breakfast. This is particularly true of the western half between Avebury and Streatley.

I completed the walk in five and half days last week. I love walking in England in the autumn. There was some rain, but the worst part was the very soft going underfoot which made it quite tiring at points, particularly as I was carrying a large pack. If you do decide to walk the route and don’t wish to carry everything with you, there are bag carrying companies that will take your large bags to your next BnB enabling you to walk with just a day sack.

A few tips from me if you want to walk this lovely route across southern England:

Given the sparsity of on the route accommodation, it may be best to plan the route a little more than I did (I just set off with no forward planning!) and then to choose and book BnB places; at busy times of the year, finding somewhere may be hard to find.

Buy a copy of The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas by A-Z. It has the whole route in Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 mapping in one map sized book that is easy to slip into and out of your trouser pocket or waterproof jacket map pocket (I had plenty of practice). It is all you need map wise and is designed to last at least one walk of the route. Buy The Ridgeway Adventure Atlas

Avoid The Ridgeway: Trailblazer British Walking Guide. It has lots of information and may be useful for pre-planning, but it is useless on the route. I carried it for 90 miles and did not open it once.

Research the route on the National Trails site and the Long Distance Walking Association site.

My route and accommodation:

Start point was at Ivinghoe Beacon. I stayed at a hotel near Tring (direct train from London Euston) and took a taxi to the Beacon in the morning.
Night one I stayed at the Red Lion in Wendover.
Night two at England’s Rose pub in Postcome which is about two miles off the route, but if you call the landlady, Shelia, she will collect and return you to the route.
Night three was a stay at The Swan in Streatley which was very good.
Night four at Hill Barn BnB right on the route at Sparsholt Firs.
Night five at The Sanctuary in Ogbourne St George.
End point at the Sanctuary (Overton Hill near Avebury) and then walked to the Red Lion at Avebury for lunch. I was collected but there is a regular bus service direct to Swindon train station.

A few photos to review if you have nothing better to do on a Sunday evening!

Summer’s lease is over

Representation of the entrance to Khiva, Uzbekistan

The more attentive amongst you will have noticed that there has been a little pause in my blog activity over the summer. I do wish I could attribute this to some sort of long sojourn in a house somewhere in the Tuscan hills that had no internet connection (one can dream!), but that has not been the case. Life has been busy, and I suppose I needed a little break as well.

I did manage a little travel with quite a lot of variety. From the imposing mountains of Scotland (when the temperature was over 30 degrees!) to the deserts of Uzbekistan (where it was even hotter). I managed to achieve a lifetime goal to visit Samarkand and to follow in the footsteps of some of the players of the Great Game. In between, I managed a further trip to Albania, visits to London, and walks in southern England, including some spectacular vistas on the South West Coast Path between Weymouth and Poole. Sleeping out on Lulworth Cove beach was a highlight.

It’s back now, with a line-up of new stories, articles, photographs, and news for you all about Paddy, his friends, the house, and other matters that are directly, and sometimes quite indirectly, related to this great travel writer. Watch out for news about the 2020 World Nomad Games! It’s good to be back.

The Slightly Foxed Podcast Episode 8: Leaving that Place called Home

The lovely team at the unmissable Slightly Foxed, Hazel, Jennie and host Philippa, explore the art of travel writing with the acclaimed author and biographer Sara Wheeler and Barnaby Rogerson of the well-loved independent publisher Eland Books. Buckle-up and join them on an audio adventure that takes in a coach trip around England, an Arctic sojourn, a hairy incident involving a Victorian lady and her trusty tweed skirt, and a journey across Russia in the footprints of its literary greats, with nods to Bruce Chatwin, Isabella Bird, Norman Lewis, Martha Gellhorn and Patrick Leigh Fermor along the way. There’s also their usual round-up of news from back home in Hoxton Square and plenty of recommendations for reading off the beaten track.

Listen to the podcast here.

Link to Eland Books (lots of lovely reprints of classic – and often little known – travel books)

British Ambassador Kate Smith CMG visits the Peloponnese

HM Ambassador Kate Smith CMG at the Fermor house

A little snippet of news about HMG’s ambassador to Greece and her travels throughout the Peloponnese in April, meeting with local authorities, businesses and British nationals living in the region. She made a visit to Paddy’s house. They manage to describe Paddy as a ‘philologist”. An interesting if not confusing description and essentially wide of the mark. There must be a prize for the best suggestion as to who wrote this convoluted tripe!

HM Ambassador Kate Smith then visited the landmark Patrick Leigh Fermor House, once the home of philhellenes, British philologist Patrick and his wife, Joan Leigh Fermor, who donated their house to the Benaki Museum in 1996.

Read the full article here on Gov.UK site.

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.

Underland by Robert Macfarlane review – a dazzling journey into deep time

Limousis caves in Languedoc-Roussillon, France. Photograph: Alamy

Robert Macfarlane has done a lot to keep Paddy’s name and writing style alive and current. His new book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is one that offers a new perspective on the human impact on our planet, is receiving rave reviews.

By William Dalrymple

First published in The Guardian.

Stories of human journeys into the Underworld are as old as literature itself. But few of them are happy tales. Old Babylonian cuneiform tablets recording the Epic of Gilgamesh were first incised around 1800BC. These tell of the Sumerian hero Enkidu who reappeared from a long imprisonment underground in the Netherworld, during which he had to sail through storms of hailstones that struck him like “hammers”, and surfed waves that attacked his boat like “butting turtles”. Gilgamesh questions him: “Did you see my little stillborn children who never knew existence?” “I saw them,” answers Enkidu.

Similar journeys end as darkly for Orpheus, Hercules and Aeneas as they do for their direct counterparts in Finnish, Inuit, Aztec, Mayan and Hindu mythology. In Greek mythology tales of haunting journeys down the rivers of the dead are sufficiently common that they have their own collective noun: katabasis. But for every Theseus who enters the labyrinthine darkness of the Underland to triumph against the Minotaur there are many more Eurydices who never return. Such fears, Robert Macfarlane points out, are embedded deep in our language where “height is celebrated but depth is despised. To be ‘uplifted’ is preferable to being ‘depressed’ or ‘pulled down’.”

There is throughout a transcendent beauty to Macfarlane’s prose, and occasional moments of epiphany and even ecstasy – such as when, somewhere below Trieste, he abseils “into an immense rotunda of stone, cut by a buried river and filled with dunes of black sand”. Nevertheless, his journeys deep into the earth “far from the human realm”, are usually melancholic and claustrophobic, and are occasionally properly frightening.

Some of this comes from the danger and difficulty inherent in underground journeys. In a cave system in the Mendips, a rope thrown down as an escape route becomes entangled behind the belay boulder; only the necessity to regain the surface forces Macfarlane to risk his life climbing up it. Under Paris, he nearly becomes stuck in a narrow vertical shaft as “the stone that encases me, the stone that is measuring me up like a coffin, starts to vibrate … The thought of continuing is atrocious. The thought of reversing is even worse. Then the top of my head bumps against something soft … ”

As in his first book, Mountains of the Mind, Macfarlane remains obsessed by the fear and fascination generated in the human heart by extreme landscapes, and he clearly savours the adrenaline rush – what Al Alvarez calls, in his classic essay on climbing and fear, “feeding the rat”. “I have rarely felt as far from the human realm,” Macfarlane writes, “as when only 10 metres below it, held in the shining jaws of a limestone bedding plane first formed on the floor of a warm Cretaceous sea.”

When not getting stuck himself, he regales us with tales of some of those who never returned: in the Mendips we hear “a story that some people in the Peak District do not like to discuss, sixty years on”, of the caver Neil Moss who became wedged in a limestone shaft and, despite a countrywide rescue effort, suffocated before he could be hauled out; he was later “sealed by cement in the fissure that had killed him”. In Italy we are told of “the fallen angel of French speleology”, Marcel Loubens, who winches himself into an abyss only to have his belt clip snap. His injuries, “a broken spine and a fractured skull”, are so severe that he dies in the dark, 36 hours later.

But as always with Macfarlane’s books, the tales of adventures are only a takeoff point for discussions of deeper concerns: the relationship between man and landscape, the instability of time and place, and perhaps above all, the fragility of all we are and all we create. These are concerns that run like dark seams of glittering ore throughout his writing, across several successive books. In his early masterwork The Wild Places he wrote how “the wild prefaced us, and it will outlive us. Human cultures will pass, given time, of which there is sufficiency. The ivy will snake and unrig our flats and terraces, as it scattered the Roman villas. The sand will drift into our business parks, as it drifted into the brochs of the Iron Age. Our roads will lapse into the land.”

This idea is developed at much greater length in Underland: A Deep Time Journey, as premonitions of our present apocalyptic Anthropocene close in around Macfarlane like the shades of Hades around the backward-looking Orpheus. For this book is also about man’s almost incidental place in the world when seen from the perspective of geological time. It is above all a journey into darkness, and the omens are not good. The climatic consequences of human actions are now, he believes, beyond our control. One hundred thousand years ago, three river systems ran across the Sahara. In around 5bn years “the Earth will fall dark when the sun exhausts its fuel”.

A 50m-deep sinkhole in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia. Photograph: Tass

A 50m-deep sinkhole in the Nizhny Novgorod region of Russia. Photograph: Tass

In between these two markers, the signs of our own self-destruction are becoming ever more evident. Philip Larkin thought that what will survive of us is love. Macfarlane is more pessimistic. What will really succeed us, he fears is “plastic, swine bones and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain”. “What does human behaviour matter,” he asks, “when Homo sapiens will have disappeared from Earth in the blink of a geological eye? Viewed from the perspective of deserts or oceans, morality looks absurd, crushed to irrelevance. A flat ontology entices: all life is equally insignificant in the face of our eventual ruin.”

Early in the book we visit a laboratory under the Whitby coast where scientists study the traces of dark matter formed at the birth of the universe. Later we ascend from the forests of the Carboniferous period to the wastelands of the Anthropocene. The final sections concern Macfarlane’s visit to what is to supposed to be the most secure place on Earth – beneath Olkiluoto Island on the Bothnian sea off Finland, where nuclear waste will be buried until it becomes safe at the end of its half-life, millions of years from now. Here we catch a glimpse of our “nuclear futures of an Anthropocene-to-come” where “the timescale of the hazard is such that those responsible for entombing this waste must now face the question of how to communicate its danger to the distant future. This is a risk that will outlast not only the life of its makers but perhaps the species of its makers.” After this last quest is completed, the final pages of Underland record the author’s return home, where he takes his young son in his arms and holds him close, as if to protect him from the gathering shades he has learned to converse with and which he cannot now un-see. It is a moving end to a most unsettling quest.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey is, as its title suggests, “a book about burial and unburial and deep time”, “the awful darkness inside the world”, “of descents made in search of knowledge”, to study the places where “we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save”. If fear is a constant companion on such journeys, for the reader at home there are many pleasures, most notably the armchair exploration of a far more benign landscape: the interior of Macfarlane’s magnificently well-furnished mind. For the darkly tangled path this book takes through the labyrinth of history and memory, literature and landscape, high-flown prose and underworldly observation are illuminated by Macfarlane’s inventive way with language. At its best, this has an epic, incantatory quality. There is a rare gift at work here: chiselled prose of such beauty that it can, on occasion, illuminate the darkness below ground as startlingly as a Verey light sent up into the vaults of one of Macfarlane’s subterranean stalactite cathedrals.

Like WG Sebald, another teacher of literature, Macfarlane brings the full weight of his erudition to the table. He quotes a dazzling range of poets and novelists and great galaxies of writers on geology, archaeology, mythology, morphology and glaciology, as well as on nuclear science, “dark matter” physics and art history. We swing from the thoughts of Rainer Maria Rilke on the Orpheus myth to the latest discoveries about “hyphae” – “the superfine threads fungi send out through the soil” – then move from learned opinions on Neanderthal rock art dating from around 65,000BC to Sir Thomas Browne (a particularly Sebaldian moment) to HG Wells, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino and Cormac McCarthy.

Underland: A Deep Time Journey is, unquestionably, his magnum opus, a work that has taken him nearly 10 years to complete. Though darker than his earlier books, it is as rich as anything he has ever written, blessed with the scholarship of Sebald, the stylistic felicity of Bruce Chatwin and the vocabulary and syntax of Patrick Leigh Fermor. It contains the summation of his most important ideas.

Nearly 40 years ago, the critic Paul Fussell wrote that with The Road to Oxiana, Robert Byron had done for the travel book what James Joyce did for the novel with Ulysses. This is the flame that Macfarlane has now carried into a new century. With Underland he has written one of the most ambitious works of narrative non-fiction of our age, a new Road to Oxiana for the dwindling twilight of the Anthropocene.

Buy Underland: A Deep Time Journey here.