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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.

Charles Arnold, founder of Patrick Leigh Fermor Society

This is a very belated announcement to inform those who do not yet know, that Charles Arnold, the driving force behind the PLF Society, died on 17 December 2018 following a short illness.

There is little more to say at this stage as the remaining members of the Society board try to sort out affairs.

Ill Met By Moonlight in Melbournopilis, 14 May

Ill Met by Moonlight movie poster – Bogarde as flamboyant Cretan

The Aussies are getting more organised! Even more disturbing the Greek gods appear to have motivated the Melbourne Greek Cultural Centre committee, and in particular the Battle of Crete sub committee, to even more heroic feats of organisation. The screening event that we publicised has moved to a new venue and tickets can be purchased online!

The screening, to be held on 14 May, is moving from the Melbourne Greek Centre, to the Westgarth Cinema in Northcote. Tickets can be purchased here.

We all wish you a very enjoyable and successful evening.

The Cretan Runner Museum

If holidaying in Crete this year, you may wish to make a visit to the Cretan Runner Museum. The Museum celebrates the life and achievements of George Psychoundakis, and is based in his village of Asi Gonia.

It was established by his son Nikos Psychoundakis and grandsons George and Stelios Psychoundakis, in a building built by the late George Psychoundakis himself. The purpose of this museum is to exhibit and share important documents, books, photos, missions with friends and colleagues and other various personal objects of George’s with the public instead of being stored away in cupboards and boxes.

A dedication in Greek by Patrick Leigh Fermor with typical seagulls!

The museum has no website, but there is a Facebook page with further information.

Dervla Murphy honoured by British Guild of Travel Writers

Hilary Bradt (L) and Dervla Murphy (R)

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the British Guild of Travel Writers announced that they were celebrating Dervla Murphy by honouring her with a BGTW Lifetime Achievement Award for her contributions to travel writing. Dervla was nominated for this honour by BGTW member Hilary Bradt, who said of her career:

“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. Her 26 fascinating books are a secondary consideration, a natural outcome of her desire to share her experiences and political views (politics are as interesting to her as other lands and cultures).

Dervla’s rejection of comfort is well known, and this has enabled her to travel and live as close to rural people in the developing world as is possible for an outsider. In her 88th year this award is richly deserved.”

Live the Life that Paddy did

An article about the house that explains a little about how you, my dear readers, might stay there!

The house is preparing to open as a luxury boutique hotel for three months of every year. The Benaki will collaborate with Aria Hotels, a hotel and villa company that offers so-called authentic retreats in restored, historic Greek properties.

From 2020, people can rent the villa throughout the summer period in parties of between two to fourteen people. More specifically, there will be five guestrooms, each including a bedroom, an independent workplace (equipped with basic office equipment) and bathroom. Three of the guestrooms will be in the main house where the bedrooms are connected by an arched colonnade, an intentional echo of the Greek monasteries that Leigh Fermor had visited. The fourth guesthouse will be located in the studio where he used to work and write; and the fifth,, at the secondary stone house. To foster sociable interactions in the tradition of the Leigh Fermors, there will be communal spaces such as the main living room that has coffered Ottoman ceilings and ogive fireplaces inspired by Paddy’s Eastern travels. Outdoors, scattered amid the lush gardens, there will also be several scenic sitting areas – some punctuated by serpentine pebbled patterns designed by the great Greek artist Nikos Ghika. (Insider has been told that rates will range from €300 a night for the individual houses – including breakfast, concierge and cleaning, and use of the outdoor pool – and from €2,200 per night for exclusive use of the entire villa.)

Read the entire article here.

75th Anniversary of Kreipe Capture – proposed special screening of Ill Met by Moonlight

April-May 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of the ‘Hussar Stunt’, and certain events will take place in London to mark the occasion. One idea suggested is to hire a cinema or suitable location for a special screening of the 1957 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movie, Ill Met by Moonlight, starring Dirk Bogarde. It would be wonderful if we could manage this during the period of the anniversary 26 April to 14 May or thereabouts.

We are looking at the possibility of this now and what arrangements we can make, but it would help enormously if we could gauge the level of interest amongst readers of the blog. The idea might be something like the following. All subject to change!

  • Special screening in a central London location.
  • Drinks reception before the screening.
  • The main event.
  • Possible panel Q&A afterwards.
  • Further drinks and fork/finger buffet to follow

We have no firm idea of what this might cost yet, but fair to say in the range £25-£50 pp.

It would help us enormously if you can complete the above poll. There is no commitment whatsoever, and you can add comments by clicking on “comments” once you have voted. For instance, some of you might like to have a similar event in another city, in your country. Why not tell us and we can work together. Poll replies at your earliest convenience would be much appreciated.

 

Holiday Planning? Crete, between the mountains and the sea

View from the village of Kapetaniana, Asterousia.

Thinking of going to wild and rugged Crete this year? It is the 75th anniversary of the Kreipe kidnap and there will be a lot going on. A nice little article here about one family and their efforts to create a unique holiday environment in Heraklion province.

By Michael Sweet.

First published in Neos Kosmos

On the Orthodox Feast of the Holy Cross, every September 14, the faithful from villages near Mount Kofinas climb its peak to observe an ancient rite. On the summit, three small trees – a species of white-beam – bear fruit at this time of year. The fruit, which looks like cherry-sized apples, is gathered, soaked in water, and blessed, before the priest shares the tiny ‘apples’ with the worshippers. They eat them not only as a holy Eucharist, but for their believed healing properties. Predating Christianity, this ritual dates back more than three thousand years, for here at this Minoan peak sanctuary, one of more than twenty across Crete, the echoes of deep history are carried in the wind.

What attracted the Minoans to settle at this sacred place is what brought the founder of Thalori Retreat – Marcos Skordalakis here: a spiritual energy which weaves its way through the peaks and passes, before sweeping down to the beaches that lie a dizzying thousand metres below.

The village of Kapetaniana, perched high on the western approach to Kofinas, is where Marcos began building (or rather rebuilding) Thalori in 2001. For six years the former restaurateur set about transforming a dozen ruined houses into some of the finest holiday accommodation available in Heraklion province. Combining rustic authenticity with contemporary comfort, Thalori opened in 2007 and today comprises 20 houses, a restaurant, and a working farm with riding stables.

“It was my dream to make a place that felt like a home, for my family and for my guests,” says Marcos, as we talk at one of the restaurant’s exterior tables and look out to the Libyan Sea. “I wanted it to be a place where guests could explore nature – all the special things the mountain and the sea has to offer.”

Below Thalori is the village of Agios Ioannis. Connected to Kapetaniana by an 8 km dirt road that spears downwards in a series of hair-raising bends, it’s a journey not for the faint-hearted. This is where Marcos keeps his boat, and it’s the set-off point for the remarkable cruises he offers along this wild shore. For adventurous types, in the summer he’ll even take you to your own beach (with cave) for the night, and pick you up the next day. [Read more]

The late Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1 Royal Irish and the epidemic of PTSD

Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1 R Irish

It is the time if year to thank you once more for supporting the blog and keeping interest in Paddy very much alive. A time also to wish all dear readers a very merry Christmas and a happy New year.

Many of you have got in touch commenting that I have not been on my annual charity walk this year; you seem to have missed my pleas for money! There are many reasons for this. The main one being that the subject of veteran mental health in the UK is reaching some sort of crisis point, and I don’t think that my time is best spent on just a simple fundraising exercise. I am exploring other ways of helping that may address the fundamental issues of supporting veterans.

This Christmas l ask that you consider making a donation to Combat Stress, the UK charity focused on veteran mental health and about to mark 100 years of support to veterans in 2019.

The importance of this issue is highlighted by the sad story of Sergeant Fraser Stirling, 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, who, it is believed, killed himself on September 26, 2018. Sergeant Fraser Stuart Stirling, 1 Royal Irish Regiment, was just 30 years, and a fine soldier. He was the dearly loved son of Fiona and the late Karl Stirling, with a brother Eoghan, and devoted fiance Valeria. He was known as a loyal friend and colleague. Fraser was a veteran of three tours to Afghanistan, and rescued colleagues involved in an IED incident. Stirling, from Buckie in Moray, had offered to help other soldiers who were struggling with trauma-related disorders.

“He was helping me to help people with PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder],” says Trevor Coult, a former Royal Irish colour sergeant who campaigns for better mental health care for veterans. “He had reached out to say, ‘Trev, I’ll give you a hand’, but he hadn’t said: ‘I need a hand.’”

Fraser’s death is just one of an estimated more than 50 veteran suicide’s this year. The true number is unknown as the NHS and MOD do not keep any accurate records. This report in the Daily Record indicated that one veteran committed suicide every 6 days in 2018.

The subject of veteran mental health is one that is pertinent to this blog. There is a strong belief that Billy Moss suffered some form of PTSD. I am sure many others from SOE will have experienced issues. It is much more likely that non-commissioned soldiers take their lives as research shows that not all have the strong support networks that many officers have.

The video attached to this story graphically shows some of the dreadful emotions felt by these soldiers. Jamie Davies, 4 Scots, the Highlanders, was a father of two, who killed himself in August during a period of almost an epidemic of suicide amongst Scottish soldiers. Before he died, Jamie filmed a powerful video detailing his post-traumatic stress disorder hell.

Donate to Combat Stress here.

Thank you and a Merry Christmas to you and those you love. Keep them close and support them.

Tom

Paddy arrives in Cologne: “I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe . . .”

The west front of the completed Köln cathedral in 1911

A further extract from A Time of Gifts to mark the 85th anniversary of the “great trudge”.

After a first faraway glimpse, the two famous steeples grew taller and taller as the miles that separated us fell away. At last they commanded the cloudy plain as the spires of a cathedral should, vanishing when the outskirts of the city interposed themselves, and then, as I gazed at the crowding saints of the three Gothic doorways, sailing up into the evening again at close range. Beyond them indoors, although it was already too dark to see the colours of the glass, I knew I was inside the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Except for the little constellation of tapers in the shadows of a side chapel, everything was dim. Women knelt interspersed with nuns and the murmured second half of the Gegrusset seist Du, Maria rose in answering chorus to the priest’s initial solo; a discreet clatter of beads kept tally of the accumu­lating prayers. In churches with open spires like Cologne, one could understand how congregations thought their orisons had a better start than prayers under a dome where the syllables might flutter round for hours. With steeples they follow the uprush of lancers and make an immediate break for it.

Tinsel and stars flashed in all the shops and banners saying Frohliche Weihnacht! were suspended across the streets. Clogged villagers and women in fleece-lined rubber boots slipped about the icy pavements with exclamatory greetings and small screams, spilling their armfuls of parcels. The snow heaped up wherever it could and the sharp air and the lights gave the town an authentic Christmas card feeling. It was the real thing at last! Christmas was only five days away. Renaissance doors pierced walls of ancient brick, upper storeys jutted in salients of carved timber and glass, triangles of crow-steps outlined the steep gables, and eagles and lions and swans swung from convoluted iron brackets along a maze of lanes. As each quarter struck, the saint-encrusted towers challenged each other through the snow and the rivalry of those heavy bells left the air shaking.

Beyond the Cathedral and directly beneath the flying ­buttresses of the apse, a street dropped sharply to the quays. Tramp steamers and tugs and barges and fair-sized ships lay at anchor under the spans of the bridges, and cafes and bars were raucous with music. I had been toying with the idea, if I could make the right friends, of cadging a lift on a barge and sailing upstream in style for a bit.

I made friends all right. It was impossible not to. The first place was a haunt of seamen and bargees shod in tall sea-boots rolled down to the knee, with felt linings and thick wooden soles. They were throwing schnapps down their throats at a brisk rate. Each swig was followed by a chaser of beer, and I started doing the same. The girls who drifted in and out were pretty but a rough lot and there was one bulky terror, bursting out of sailor’s jersey and wearing a bargeman’s cap aske on a nest of candy-floss hair, called Maggi – which was short for Magda – who greeted every newcomer with a cry of ‘Hallo, Bubi!’ and a sharp, cunningly twisted and very painful pinch on the cheek. I liked the place, especially after several schnapps, and I was soon firm friends with two beaming bargemen whose Low German speech, even sober, would have been blurred beyond the most expert linguist’s grasp. They were called Uli and Peter. ‘Don’t keep saying Sie,’ Uli insisted, with a troubled brow and an unsteadily admonishing forefinger: ‘Say Du.’

This advance from the plural to the greater intimacy of the singular was then celebrated by drinking Brüderschaft. Glasses in hand, with our right arms crooked through the other two with the complexity of the three Graces on a Parisian public fountain, we drank in unison. Then we reversed the process with our left arms, preparatory to ending with a triune embrace on both cheeks, a manoeuvre as elaborate as being knighted or invested with the Golden Fleece. The first half of the ceremony went without a hitch, but a loss of balance in the second, while our forearms were still interlocked, landed the three of us in the sawdust in a sottish heap. Later, in the fickle fashion of the very drunk, they lurched away into the night, leaving their newly-created brother dancing with a girl who had joined our unsteady group: my hobnail boots could do no more damage to her shiny dancing shoes, I thought, than the seaboots that were clumping all round us. She was very pretty except for two missing front teeth. They had been knocked out in a brawl the week before, she told me.

Extract from A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, with thanks to John Murray Publishers

An exciting new travel writing talent?

It is rare for writers of the stature of Susan Hill to say “I was knocked sideways by this book”. Author Kamila Shamsie thought Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey, the debut book by young writer Adam Weymouth, “Dazzling, often in unexpected ways, Adam Weymouth is a wonderful travel writer, nature writer, adventure writer”.

Travel author Adam Weymouth has scooped the £5,000 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award for Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey (Particular Books), about his four-month canoe trip through an Alaskan river’s remotest reaches, following “strong, excited consensus” from the judges.

The author who lives on a 100-year-old narrowboat on the River Lea in east London was announced as the winner on Thursday evening (6th December) at a ceremony at the London Library. His debut, Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey, follows his four-month “canoe odyssey” along Alaska’s Yukon river and the salmon who return to it, published by Penguin imprint Particular Books in April this year, after being bought at auction in 2015.

“The result is a captivating, lyrical portrait of the people and landscapes he encounters – and an elegiac glimpse into a disappearing world,” prize organisers said, with judges comparing him to Patrick Leigh Fermor and author Robert Macfarlane.

Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate, revealed he had failed to spot Weymouth and believes fellow journalists also missed a trick. “It feels as if we have found, ready minted and hidden in plain sight, a really outstanding new contemporary British voice – one who literary editors (myself included; I plead guilty) almost completely failed to spot on publication.” the judge said. “I’ve never seen such a strong and excited consensus among the judges for a winner.” Kings of the Yukon has so far sold 1,365 copies in hardback according to Nielsen BookScan.

The debut beat off competition for the £5,000 prize from the Women’s Prize for Fiction-shortlisted novelist Imogen Hermes Gowar for her debut The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (Harvill Secker), Laura Freeman for her memoir about recovery through literature, The Reading Cure (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and the Man Booker-shortlisted Fiona Mozley for Elmet (JM Originals), her Yorkshire-set debut about a family trying to find their place at the margins of society.

Author Kamila Shamsie, who was also on the judging panel, said: “Dazzling, often in unexpected ways, Adam Weymouth is a wonderful travel writer, nature writer, adventure writer – along the way, he is also a nuanced examiner of some of the world’s most fraught and urgent questions about the interconnectedness of people and the natural world.”

Fellow judge, writer Susan Hill said: “I was knocked sideways by this book and quite unexpectedly. Adam Weymouth takes his place beside the great travel writers like Chatwin, Thubron, Leigh Fermor, in one bound. But like their books this is about so much more than just travel.”

Holgate said: “Weymouth combines acute political, personal and ecological understanding, with the most beautiful writing reminiscent of a young Robert Macfarlane…He is, I have no doubt, a significant voice for the future.”

Sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the Young Writer of the Year Award runs in association with the University of Warwick. In addition to the prize money of £5,000, the winner is also awarded a 10-week residential course with the programme. All shortlisted authors receive overseas exposure through the British Council, the international partner of the prize.

Sounds like this could be an ideal surprise Christmas present. Buy Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey

Joan – a blog review

When Simon Fenwick, a professional archivist, was asked to sort Paddy’s papers at Kardamyli after his death in 2011, one would imagine that it would be the illustrious Paddy who would fire Simon’s imagination to write a book. But, as Simon worked his way through the accumulations of a lifetime, it was Joan, the woman who lived in Paddy’s shadow who started to fascinate and inspired him to write Joan: Beauty, Rebel, Muse: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor.

Although Joan’s money enabled Paddy to write, and she accompanied him on many of his post-war journeys, there is barely a mention of Joan in Paddy’s work. Simon’s painstaking research has resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable biography that gives Joan real shape and depth. Not only has Simon managed to produce a book about a woman who barely left any archive of her own (a diary from 1936 and some letters from John and Penelope Betjeman is about it), he has a very engaging and entertaining style.

Paddy of course features prominently in the latter half of the book, but Simon is careful to retain the focus on his subject. We do, however, learn a lot more detail about Paddy to supplement Artemis Cooper’s 2012 biography Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure. Simon has had the benefit of access to a very wide range of different source information, and dare I say, material that now is much better organised than when Artemis was writing.

Simon Fenwick is very candid about the lifestyles and affairs of Joan, Paddy and their assorted friends. It was Joan who was friends first with Cyril Connelly, Maurice Bowra, John Betjeman, Patrick Kinross etc, and introduced Paddy into their world where he found immediate acceptance. There is a degree of honesty about his work which will appeal to those who want to know what the lives of these people were really like. We may think that we know them, but Simon Fenwick truly brings a new perspective and introduces us to new material. It is certainly a good read, and in paperback, an ideal stocking filler for Christmas.

Buy Joan: Beauty, Rebel, Muse: The Remarkable Life of Joan Leigh Fermor

The return of the Travellers’ Film Club

Those lovely people at Eland Books who publish the most amazing range of classic travel books have announced that the Traveller’s Film Club is to return!

Previously held at Waterstones, Piccadilly, the film club will be relaunched in the hall of the magnificent Holy Redeemer Church on Exmouth Market on Thursday 6th December.

The first film will be Night Mail, a 1936 black and white classic that documents the nightly postal train operated by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. Narrated by John Grierson and Stuart Legg, the film closes with the much loved lines from W. H. Auden with a score by Benjamin Britten.

‘This is the night mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque
and the postal order.’

The film is widely considered a masterpiece of the British documentary film movement.

Entry is free. 6.30pm drinks and pop-up bookshop

8pm film showing (The film is 23 minutes long)

Dear Mr Murray

David McClay is the former curator of the John Murray archive located at the National Library of Scotland which includes Paddy’s papers which were donated to the archive by Paddy in his will. This book may be of general interest to some of you.

by Rosemary Hill

First published in the London Review of Books

Some things in the relations between authors and publishers never change. Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher, edited by David McClay, a collection of letters written to six generations of the Murray family, is full of familiar complaints. Jane Austen was ‘very much disappointed … by the delays of the printers’. Maria Rundell, author of A New System of Domestic Cookery (1805), was furious about misprints in the second edition, including an unfortunate mistake in a recipe for rice pudding. Byron objected to cuts in his work, as did David Livingstone, who also took exception to the ‘absolutely abominable’ illustrations of his Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, in particular the scene of his own encounter with a lion: ‘Everyone … will die with laughing … It’s like a dray horse.’ On the other side of the editorial desk successive John Murrays had their own difficulties. Rundell’s editor, Murray II, told his wife that ‘her conceit surpasses anything.’ Whitwell Elwin, the reader to whom Murray III sent the manuscript of On the Origin of Species, wrote back that, despite ‘the very high opinion’ he had of Darwin, he felt the book lacked substance. There was no proof of the argument. It would be better, he thought, to concentrate on one species, such as pigeons: ‘Everybody is interested in pigeons.’ Fortunately for Murray’s reputation, Whitwell was overruled.

Murray I began life as John McMurray in Edinburgh in 1737. On a friend’s advice he dropped the ‘wild Highland Mac’ when he came to London, setting up business in Fleet Street in 1768, at a time when publishers, booksellers, journalists and printers were often the same people. It was the age of Grub Street, of Boswell and Johnson, coffee houses, clay pipes and gallons of port. In 1812 Murray II moved the firm to Albemarle Street in the more respectable West End, where it remained until the seventh John Murray sold up in 2002. Here Murray’s built a list that included some of the best and most popular authors of their day, from Byron and Walter Scott to Patrick Leigh-Fermor and Freya Stark. It was Murray’s reputation for solid, conservative values that led both the geologist Charles Lyell and then Darwin to publish their potentially disruptive theories under its aegis. No. 50 Albemarle Street became famous for the great writers who passed through its door and notorious for its drawing-room fireplace in which Murray II burned Byron’s memoirs. Byron had wanted him to publish them but they were destroyed in deference to the family’s feelings about what David McClay refers to laconically as the ‘many ups and downs’ of Byron’s career.

McClay is an exasperating editor, vague about dates and details. The book is arranged thematically so that authors often feature in more than one section, but without an index it is hard to follow them. While he makes no claim to have done more than pick a few cherries from a vast archive, he seems unsure who they are for and the book is neither serious history nor stocking-filler. The reader who needs to be told that Alexander Pope was ‘an early 18th-century poet’ cannot be expected to know who ‘dear old Panizzi’ is in the same letter. His is one of many un-glossed names, some of them important. The ‘Owen’ referred to by Joseph Hooker in a letter to Murray III about Samuel Wilberforce’s hostile review of Origin of Species is Richard Owen, the palaeontologist who coined the word ‘dinosaur’, and who disagreed with Darwin about the transmutation of species. Hooker’s suggestion that Wilberforce, who is too often cast as merely a bigoted reactionary, had been ‘made a tool of’ by Owen for his rival evolutionary theory, is therefore significant. It is also interesting that the article, which sparked widespread controversy and led several months later to the famous debate on evolution between Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley at the Oxford Museum, appeared in the Quarterly Review, which was published by Murray’s. The editor was John Gibson Lockhart, but we aren’t told why he chose to commission what was guaranteed to be a savage review.

The Quarterly was founded by Murray II in 1809 when publishers’ operations in the last Georgian decades, if they were not as multifarious as in the first John Murray’s day, still extended beyond books. Archibald Constable, Walter Scott’s Scottish publisher, was also the publisher of the Whig Edinburgh Review, edited by Francis Jeffrey with the frequent assistance of Sydney Smith. The Quarterly was intended as a Tory rival and enjoyed Scott’s close co-operation. After an erratic start, its middlebrow conservatism built a large and loyal readership. The correspondence suggests, however, that as with books, a lot of time was spent on complaints: a subscriber cancelling because the titles chosen for review were so ‘utterly destitute of interest’, or a furious James Hogg in Edinburgh alleging Anglocentric bias in a review of Scott’s second novel, Guy Mannering: ‘How I do despise your London critics.’ Murray II sent a reply that was even-handedly disparaging of reviewer, author and complainant: ‘Our article is not good, & our praise is by no means adequate, but I suspect that you very greatly overrate the novel.’

In the days of anonymous reviewing editorial standards of impartiality were often compromised. Scott’s authorship of the Waverley novels was an open secret in the literary world but in 1816 Murray co-published his collected Tales of My Landlord, which carried no claim to be ‘by the author of Waverley’. Murray was sure it was ‘either by Walter Scott or the devil’, but Scott assured him it wasn’t and ingeniously suggested he should prove the point by reviewing it himself. He did and found he didn’t like it much: ‘unusually artificial; neither hero nor heroine excites interest of any sort.’ The piece concluded with a hefty hint that the author was his brother, Thomas Scott. The subterfuge worked and Murray was convinced, ‘to within an inch of [his] life’, that it was true.

The 19th century was Murray’s heyday, culminating in a selection of The Letters of Queen Victoria, which appeared in 1907, after the many exasperating delays and alterations attendant on all royal publications. As the editor A.C. Benson wrote to Murray in the course of a letter threatening to resign, ‘Royalty have no conception how much trouble they give.’ With the new century the correspondence changed in various ways. Telegrams began to appear, film rights became a consideration and so did commercial sponsorship. NBC paid $1000 for a radio adaptation of Beau Geste to be broadcast in the Campbell Soup Hour and Murray VI got his Oxford friend John Betjeman’s poems published by promising his uncle, who was then at the helm, that he would underwrite them with his own shares in Bovril. ‘I do appreciate the charity,’ Betjeman wrote when the book appeared, ‘for I can only call it that.’ In fact it was an instance of the benign self-interest that makes a far-sighted publisher succeed. As poet laureate Betjeman was worth his weight in Bovril.

Over its long life John Murray produced not only new books, but whole new genres. The famous red Murray’s handbooks were the original foreign guidebooks, a model for Baedeker. Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help of 1859 has had many successors. But this somewhat haphazard collection, intended as a tribute, has more the air of an obituary, and a lacklustre one at that.

Buy Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher

Edit 19 Nov – it has been brought to my attention that David McClay is the former curator of the John Murray Archive. More positive reviews of Dear Mr Murray may be found in the Scottish Review of Books and a 5 star review in the Telegraph.

https://www.scottishreviewofbooks.org/2018/11/correspondence-course/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/darwins-pigeons-inventing-self-help-book-john-murray-letters/

When our King went forth on pilgrimage

King George V address at Terlincthun

“It was our King’s wish that he should go as a private pilgrim, with no trappings of state nor pomp of ceremony, … to visit the tombs … of his comrades who gave up their lives in the Great War,” so began my Great Grandfather, the Australian War Correspondent, Sir Frank Fox, in the opening lines of his endearing 1922 book, The King’s Pilgrimage, about a simple three day journey by train to the War Cemeteries of France and Belgium in May 1922 by George V, the King Emperor; a man of great humility, modesty and wisdom.

by Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes DL

About ten million combatants lost their lives in the First War, but it is the concentrated nature of the ‘14-‘18 conflict combined with the horrors of trench warfare, losses on a scale never experienced before and its wide reporting through the novel media of film that mean its effects are still felt to this day.

Despite the fact that nearly double this dreadful figure were to be killed in the Second World War twenty years later, a far larger war conducted on many more fronts, it was as a result of the First War and remains to this day, commanders primary concern to minimize losses because of the negative and damning consequence such news and figures would have on morale at home and hence political will to see an operation through to its rightful end.

There is no one alive in this country today from that generation who so readily gave their lives in the Great War for our freedom today. It was a marker that would set the precedents for the Second World War and the principles of liberty by which we stand today. But, we cannot possibly comprehend the enormous sense of grief that cast its shadow across Europe for a lifetime. It was in recognition of this great collective sorrow that the King undertook his humble pilgrimage, following his State Visit to Belgium in 1922. It may seem strange that it took nearly four years to make a journey of such importance, but the numbers of dead were on such a scale that it took time to agree the manner and locations in which they were to be honoured; again the first time that the nature and manner of burial was to play a significant role in war, largely due to the work of Sir Fabian Ware, one time editor of The Morning Post which latterly became The Daily Telegraph, whose lobbying led to the establishment by royal charter of the Imperial War Graves Commission, now the Commonwealth War Graves Comission. By 1922, construction of the War Cemeteries was advanced enough to enable the King to pay his respects and see progress for himself.

Frank Fox, an experienced and tenacious journalist, had been reporting from battle fronts since the Boer War where he wrote of the controversy that created the Australian folk hero, Harry “Breaker” Morant; much of his work was for The Morning Post and it was his friendship with Ware that secured the invitation to accompany the monarch on this unique visit to the former Western Front. Fox was well qualified for this most sensitive of assignments, having been involved in many aspects of the Great War from its very outset when he was attached to the Belgian Army as The Morning Post’s War Correspondent when the Germans invaded Belgium in August 1914. For three months he reported the gallant Belgian resistance that culminated in the vital defensive action fought at the Battle of the Yser, which prevented the Channel Ports being overrun. On return, shocked by the atrocities meted out to the civilian population by German soldiers, he sought a Commission – at a relatively advanced age – and was sent to France as an officer in the Royal Field Artillery. In 1916, Fox was blown up in the quagmire of the Somme, taking him a year to recover from appalling wounds that left him almost totally deaf, with a shattered left arm and stump of a right foot. After convalescence, during which he worked for MI7 (Military Propaganda), he wangled his way back to France to serve on Field Marshal Haig’s staff in his GHQ at Montreuil-sur-Mer, where he assisted in the planning of the final offensive against the Germans.

It was in this nonchalant manner that my Great Grandfather, the Australian war correspondent, Sir Frank Fox, described in his diary, the appalling wounds he received in the quagmire of the Somme in 1916. It has yet to be explained what a 42-year old Artillery Officer was doing at the very apex of the Front Line.

“I was blown up in front of Le Sars by a salvo of shells. I refused to die on the battlefield. The gallant stretcher bearers got me in. I spent the next year in hospital.”

It was the King’s express wish that the nature of the Pilgrimage be low key, with the minimum of fuss, entourage or the usual pomp and ceremony that were the natural accompaniment to an official visit by the Sovereign; further the journey was undertaken in the workman like order of khaki service dress, then the equivalent of combat clothing worn by soldiers in the field today; the King keen to be seen and identified in the uniform that his soldiers had fought and died in. It was very much a working visit, void of the formality, scarlet and gold of the previous few days in Belgium.

On 11th May, the King left Brussels on board a special train that would be his home and transport for the three day journey, accompanied by a small party of five that included Field Marshal the Earl Haig, Sir Fabian Ware, Sir Frederick Ponsonby (Keeper of the Privy Purse), Colonel Clive Wigram (Equerry) and Major Seymour (Assistant Equerry). Later, he would be joined by Queen Mary and Admiral the Earl Beatty and at various points by representatives from countries of the Empire who played a vital role in the victory, Rudyard Kipling who was literary advisor to the Imperial War Graves Commission and had lost his only son, Jack, in 1917, while serving with the Irish Guards.

The port of Zeebrugge, was the first stop, where His Majesty was briefed on the daring raid to block the harbour by the Royal Navy in early 1918. After, it was to the Cemetery at Tyne Cot on the Passchendaele marshes, a name synonymous with appalling casualties and the largest British Military Cemetery in the world, at that time the place was a building site, home to gangs of veterans preparing the ground, masons, architects and all manner of site labourers and gardeners drawn from the local populace. Yet, wherever the King went, despite his wishes to the contrary, crowds of well-wishers gathered, singing the National Anthem, children bearing posies of flowers, gifts of thanks and messages of condolence. It was the spontaneity of incidents such as this that make this pilgrimage such a unique royal journey, like no other, and for George V, it must have been a most moving, touching and humbling experience.

At each cemetery, welcomed by local dignitaries, the King would dutifully inspect graves and a wreath would be laid before moving on. At Menin Gate, Ypres, he examined plans for the memorial to those who have no known grave; Vlamertinghe, Hop Store, Brandhoek followed until Lijssenthoek, the last cemetery in Belgian.

Arriving on French soil, the King was met with considerable ceremony at Notre Dame de Lorette – guards of honour, colour parties and much of the French General Staff, led by the grand old Marshal Foch.

‘“I have come”, said the King as he took Marshal Foch by the hand, “to lay a wreath in homage on the tombs of the French heroes who have fallen for their country,”’ Fox wrote and, after the two minute silence, noted how the King, and those around him was deeply moved at the sight of ‘row after row” of French gravestones and the loss of “a complete generation … in defence of their country.” Later, the King, turned to Foch, in animated conversation with his old friend, Haig who he had endured so much with and asked, “Always good friends, yes?” The old Marshal grasped Haig’s hand in response and replied fervently, “Toujours, toujours” (Always, always). At which point, the King too joined in placing his hand over theirs.

Queen Mary would join the entourage outside Boulogne at the final cemetery, Terlincthun, overlooking the English Channel, where 4,378 Commonwealth War Dead, including service personnel from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, New Foundland, the West Indies and South Africa are laid to rest. The Royal Party was greeted by a large delegation of French military and civil officialdom, whom the King officially thanked for their donation of land as burial grounds, support in construction of the cemeteries and sympathy for the great sacrifice made for French liberty.

In his moving speech before leaving on board ship with an escort of French destroyers to cross the English Channel, the King described the War Cemeteries as “potent advocates of peace upon earth” that would in time he prayed “serve to draw all peoples together in sanity and self-control”. In the words of Field Marshal the Lord Bramall, The King’s Pilgrimage marks the full stop to the Great War and its message of hope, succinctly summed up in George V’s closing words will ensure that as long as the graves stand, not one life lost in that war will have been in vain. (1509)

The Event

Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes invites you to the re-launch of this book at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EE on Monday 5th November 2018. His his Great Grandfather, Sir Frank Fox OBE, British War Correspondent was attached to the Royal Party and wrote this account of the events.

RSVP flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

Drinks 6.30 – 8.30pm
7pm In conversation with Harry Bucknall
NOTE: FOR SECURITY REASONS, PLEASE REPLY BY 30th OCTOBER – I am sure this can be waived a little, but please RVSP asp.

Purchasing the Book

If you can’t make the event you can still purchase the book at Amazon: The King’s Pilgrimage: An Account of King George V’s Visit to the War Graves in Belgium and France

Notes

“The King’s Pilgrimage” by Sir Frank Fox, OBE, first written in 1922, is republished with the blessing of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to mark the Centenary of the 1918 Armistice by his Great Grandson, Literary Executor and Wiltshire resident, Dr. Charles Goodson- Wickes.

Dr. Charles Goodson-Wickes, served in The Life Guards in British Army of the Rhine, Northern Ireland and Cyprus. In 1991, while Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, he re-enlisted in the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel to participate in Gulf War 1 for the Liberation of Kuwait. Dr Goodson-Wickes, who lives in Bulford, was a driving force behind the reintroduction of the bustard to Wiltshire, is a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London and the last sitting Member of Parliament to have seen active service.

At 6.30pm on Monday 5th November, Dr. Goodson-Wickes will talk about The King’s Pilgrimage, at Sarum College, The Close, Salisbury. To attend please email flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

The King’s Pilgrimage is available from amazon.co.uk & sirfrankfox.com

 

The King’s Pilgrimage and event in Salisbury 5 November

King George V at Etaples Cemetery

King George V at Etaples Cemetery

Whilst I have been away for the last few weeks on my own pilgrimage (again!!) to Santiago de Compostela, my good friend Harry Bucknall sent me some information about the republication of a book about a personal pilgrimage of King George V in 1922. It is now almost lost to the sands of time that our King, George V, went on pilgrimage to pay homage at the graves of the million or so war dead who not only gave their lives for our freedom but whose loss would scar a generation with grief.

This humble journey, recorded by the great war journalist, Sir Frank Fox, was written up in a little known but touching, moving and delightful book, The King’s Pilgrimage, which has been beautifully and faithfully reproduced by Fox’s Great Grandson, Charles Goodson-Wickes especially to mark the centenary of the Armistice in 1918.

“In the course of my pilgrimage, I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace … than the massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.” King George V, France 1922

This is a special book, and one as a former soldiers, Harry and I believe, every household should own … lest we forget.

The Event

Dr Charles Goodson-Wickes invites you to the re-launch of this book at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury SP1 2EE on Monday 5th November 2018. His his Great Grandfather, Sir Frank Fox OBE, British War Correspondent was attached to the Royal Party and wrote this account of the events.

RSVP flora@medarc-limited.co.uk

Drinks 6.30 – 8.30pm
7pm In conversation with Harry Bucknall
NOTE: FOR SECURITY REASONS, PLEASE REPLY BY 30th OCTOBER – I am sure this can be waived a little, but please RVSP asp.

About the Author

Sir Frank Fox (1874-1960) was an Australian born Journalist, Soldier, Author and Campaigner who lived in Britain from 1909 and wrote over 33 books.

Having warned on public platform and in the press of an impending war, he was appointed to the Morning Post and sent as their war correspondent to the Balkans. He was then attached to the Belgian Army and recorded the German invasion of 1914 in The Agony of Belgium. After being wounded, Fox served on Haig’s staff, which he wrote revealingly about in GHQ – both books recently republished.

Motivated by the atrocities he witnessed in Belgium, Fox was commissioned into the British Army at the age of 41. Appointed an O.B.E. (Military) and Mentioned in Dispatches, he was knighted by King George V in 1926.

Purchasing the Book

If you can’t make the event you can still purchase the book at Amazon: The King’s Pilgrimage: An Account of King George V’s Visit to the War Graves in Belgium and France

“Marks the full stop to the Great War. It is a very special book”
Field Marshal the Lord Bramall

“No better way to commemorate the Centenary of the Armistice than this account of King George V’s homage to the Fallen”
The Rt Hon the Lord Astor, Former Defence Minister
and grandson of Field Marshal Earl Haig

A Review of Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania

From the July 2018 edition of the Hungarian Review. Gordon McKecknie reviews the recently published Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania by Michael O’Sullivan. “… he has (…) also given us, through personal and often tragic histories, poignant insights into the enormous social changes that Hungary underwent in the middle years of the twentieth century.”

In December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor, then 18, set out from Hook of Holland to walk to Constantinople. It was the first year of Nazi power in Germany, and the last days of the old romantic era there and in the former Habsburg realms of Mitteleuropa, an era that had not quite been swept away by the First World War. Of course, the Second World War – and, for many of the countries that Paddy travelled through, the subsequent dark years of Communism – did sweep the old order away. Since then the landscapes that Paddy tramped through, and the populations he met, have undergone the further, and not-always benign, influence of the ubiquitous automobile, instant global communications, hordes of tourists, a camera in every pocket, the spread of English as the modern lingua franca, and cheap clothing made in distant sweatshops. The old aristocratic way of life that Patrick Leigh Fermor, also known PLF to his numerous friends, saw in its dying days, and nowhere more clearly than in Hungary and Transylvania, vanished not long after his “Great Trudge”.

PLF’s first volume describing his journey – A Time of Gifts – was published in 1977. It became an instant classic among travel books. In painterly and sometimes almost absurdly lyrical language, A Time of Gifts told of his travels through the winter landscapes of the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, and took him as far as the bridge across the Danube at Esztergom on Holy Saturday 1934, at the beginning of a magical spring and summer spent in Hungary and Transylvania. We had to wait until 1986 for Between the Woods and the Water recounting those Hungarian days. The third volume of the trilogy, The Broken Road, was pulled together from Paddy’s notes by Artemis Cooper (his biographer) and Colin Thubron (a fellow travel writer) after PLF’s death in 2011 at the age of 96. It appeared in 2013.

As PLF wrote in his introduction to Between the Woods and the Water, he had set out “meaning to mix only with chance acquaintances, but almost imperceptibly by the time I got to Hungary and Transylvania I found myself having a much easier time of it than I had expected or planned: ambling along on borrowed horses, drifting from one country house to another, often staying for weeks under patient and perhaps long-suffering but always hospitable roofs”.

Sometimes in his books, PLF tells us what became of the people he met on his 1930s walk across Europe. Fritz Spengel, son of the proprietors of the almost medieval Red Ox in Heidelberg “was killed in Norway (where the first battalion of my own regiment at the time was heavily engaged) and buried at Trondheim in 1940, six years after we met”. The Jewish, Proust-reading Baron Fülöp (Pips) von Schey de Koromla left his country house in Slovakia “when things began to go wrong in Austria and Czechoslovakia”, settled at Ascona on Lake Maggiore, and died in 1957 in Normandy at the home of his daughter, Alix, who had married into the French branch of the Rothschild family. But now, for a more comprehensive view, we have Patrick Leigh Fermor: Noble Encounters between Budapest and Transylvania.

In his very enjoyable book, Michael O’Sullivan follows PLF from the moment he was standing on that Danube bridge, with a letter of introduction to the mayor of Esztergom in his pocket, to Budapest, across the Alföld (the Great Hungarian Plain) and the Bánát region, and into Transylvania. On this part of his journey PLF was the guest of the aristocracy of the land. Continue reading

Faraway Greek fun in the third largest Greek city

It appears that the most fun is to be had in Melbourne these days. A report by Brent McCunn of some highlights of the recent Greek Week which included talks about Paddy and his Cretan links. Be like Brent; send in your thoughts and articles (no matter how obscure) to share with fellow Paddy enthusiasts in our community.

by Brent McCunn.

Further despatches from the Hellenic outpost of Melbourne-iniki!

What a week of Greek! I remind readers that Melbourne is the third largest Greek city! Our Grecian week started with the inaugural Rebetiko Music Festival at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a prestigious venue!

After recovery, Friday night offered a performance of Cretan music from the visiting Xylouris brothers from Crete. Saturday afternoon saw a lecture by Chris White at the Greek Culture Centre in Melbourne – the topic being, ‘The Resistance of Grete’ during WW2 and in particular the history of Patrick Leigh Fermor, Billy Moss and the SOE. Of particular interest to the audience were the unique collection of ‘then and now photographs’, collated, researched and photographed by Chris White and his brother.

At this point it is important to illustrate the global reach of the PLF Blog. As a result of this correspondent’s earlier post (to this blog), advertising the above lecture, Melbourne subscribers did indeed turn up!

Chris enthralled all with his unique collection of images and has been invited back to present again to a wider audience drawn together by the cultural centres head of lectures – watch this space! I, Brent McCunn then presented details related to the main books on the Subject – Ill Met by Moonlight and Abducting a General – and how to purchase copies.

We then attended the Messines Community’s Greek Independence dinner and dance (Once they found about the lecture it was compulsory for us to attend this event – how Greek!) – Messines is the region where Paddy and Joan’s house was located. Whilst at the Messiness dinner your correspondent spent quite a few minutes on Google maps, with locals, being shown the family village and its relationship to Kardamyli!

One for the road in Greece means an impromptu music session at a local Greek restaurant! Katerina Douka, a well known Rebetiko singer from Thessaloniki, who appeared at the Rebetiko festival with her band, was still in town and gathered some local musicians and presented an enthralling session of northern Greek music. Food, wine and beer flowed of course.

Chris’s lecture became a feature story (by Jim Clavens) in the local Greek newspaper which is published in both English and Greek. A main thrust was to seek out decedents of the villages featured in the Kreipe kidnap and SOE operations. They have been asked to make contact and add their histories.

Your Philhellene correspondent in Melbourne,

Brent (alpopolous) McCunn from Passport Travel.

The ANZAC Cretan theme continues in Melbourne in the month of April with a lecture by Professor Peter Monteath. Entry is free.

When: 19 April 2018 at 19:00
Where: The Ithacan Philanthropic Society, Level 2, 329 Elizabeth Street
Synopsis: In the Second World War many thousands of ANZAC’s were sent to mainland Greece and then Crete in the hope of preventing German invasion and occupation – but to no avail. After the Battle of Crete hundreds of ANZAC’s were stranded on the island and spent weeks, months and even years trying to get off it.

This presentation looks at the experiences of those ANZAC’s who found themselves trapped, but who also discovered the extraordinary hospitality of Cretans, who offered the ANZAC’s shelter even when they themselves were enduring great hardship and danger.

Beyond that, the presentation looks at the collaborative efforts made to evacuate these ‘stragglers’ from the island, and how those efforts evolved into a series of ‘special operations’ to resist a brutal German regime of occupation. The person who occupies the centre of attention here is the Tasmanian Tom Dunbabin, an important and influential figure in the resistance in Crete through to the last weeks of the war.

Peter Monteath was born in Brisbane and educated in Queensland and in Germany. He has taught previously at The University of Queensland, Griffith University, Deakin University, The University of Western Australia and The University of Adelaide. He has also been Adjunct Professor at The University of St. Louis Missouri and the Technical University of Berlin, where he was an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow. At Flinders University he is Professor of Modern European history. His research interests span modern European and Australian history. His latest book, Escape Artist: The Incredible Second World War of Johnny Peck (New South 2017), is about an Australian who spent time in Greece and Crete in World War II.