Tag Archives: A Time of Gifts

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

Paddy after the war in Byronic costume – Benaki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter – the bridge at Esztergom, and Between the Woods and the Water free audiobook

Crowd river watching Esztergom  1934

A happy Easter to you all wherever you are and however much space in which you have to move around; I hope that you remain well. The weather here in England is lovely. The South Downs, which are a short run away for me, were soggy and treacherous for runners just four or so weeks ago. Now, after a number of weeks of dry sunny weather, the chalky soil has drained, and is even cracking apart it is so dry on the surface.

The South Downs, and Chilcomb church at Chilcomb near Winchester, England, UK, Easter 2020

Back to Paddy. At Easter time we always find we have left him mid-stream on the Mária Valéria bridge which joins Esztergom in Hungary and Štúrovo in Slovakia, across the River Danube. The bridge, some 500 metres in length is named after Archduchess Marie Valerie of Austria, (1868–1924), the fourth child of Emperor Franz Josef, and Empress Elisabeth (now she has a sad tale to tell).

Paddy crossed into Esztergom and watched an amazing Easter service led by the bishop with crowds nobles, soldiers and their ladies dressed in their finest clothes and colourful uniforms. A sight that will never be seen again.

This Easter I offer you a selection of photos of Esztergom, some from 1934, and the Audible audiobook of Between the Woods and the Water, to complement that of A Time of Gifts which I posted a couple of weeks back.

Enjoy this strange Easter as best you can. Please keep inside, safe and well, so that your medical services are not stretched to the point of collapse by this terrible virus.

Solvitur Ambulando – A Time of Gifts audio book

A Time of Gifts, 1977

Hello dear readers. I hope that you and your families are well, but I am guessing that some may have been hit by this dreadful virus and I wish you a speedy recovery. I am hunkered down in Winchester with my youngest daughter and my five month old grandson. It is a rare opportunity to for a grandpa to spend so much quality time with a grandchild; there are some blessings in all of this.

For us in the UK, this is the end of the first week of our soft “lockdown”. Perhaps further measures may come depending on the figures. Some of you will have been in a harder lockdown for longer in places like Italy and Spain. These measures will continue for some time and we all have a lot more time on our hands, so how about listening to A Time of Gifts as an audiobook? It is available on Audible if you have an account, but also it is freely available on You Tube but who knows for how long? You get two free downloads using a product like Airy https://mac.eltima.com/youtube-downloader-mac.html .

I hope that you enjoy listening. If Solvitur Ambulando, the Latin phrase which means “it is solved by walking”, is true, then perhaps some virtual walking may help us all at this time.

Repeat – Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen

I guess that many of us enjoy the chapter in A Time of Gifts when the eighteen year old Paddy spent two nights in Stuttgart with two very pretty nineteen year old German girls, Lise and Annie. It was Epiphany, 6th January 1934, and they went to a party where Paddy had to pretend to be Mr Brown, a family friend. He particularly enjoyed singing a song about the Neckar Valley and Swabia. Paddy could not remember all the words but his stunning memory recalled most of them (page 66).

As we approach that time of year I thought we ought to share this delightful song. It is one of my favourite posts, so here it is again!

Even better James has found it on You Tube 🙂

Here is a link to the music sung by a German choir. The words are below so that you too can sing along! Let’s hear it now, one two three ….

  1. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
    Das schönste dort am Neckarstrand?
    Die grünen Rebenhügel schauen
    Ins Tal von hoher Felsenwand.

Refrain:
Es ist das Land, das mich gebar,
Wo meiner Väter Wiege stand,
Drum sing’ ich heut’ und immerdar:
Das schöne Schwaben ist mein Heimatland!

2. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Mit Wald und Flur so reich bekränzt,
Wo auf den weiten, reichen Auen
Im Sonnenschein die Ähre glänzt?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .

3. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Wo Tann’ und Efeu immer grün,
Wo starke Männer, edle Frauen
In deutscher Kraft und Sitte blühn?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .4. Kennt ihr das Land im deutschen Süden,
So oft bewährt in Kampf und Streit,
Dem zwischen seiner Wälder Frieden
So frisch die deutsche Kraft gedeiht?Ja, wackre Deutsche laßt uns sein!
Drauf reichet euch die deutsche Hand;
Denn Schwabenland ist’s nicht allein:
Das ganze Deutschland ist mein Heimatland!

Travellers’ Century: Patrick Leigh Fermor on YouTube


Posting the Stanford awards notice the other day, made me think again about Benedict Allen’s profile of Paddy on the Travellers’ Century series which is available on You Tube.

Whilst relaxing with your loved ones over the festive period, or at any other time, why not take an hour out to watch this lovely little documentary? Perhaps it’s an opportunity to introduce the family to this mysterious Patrick Leigh Fermor. A good entry point for the uninitiated.

Robert Macfarlane reads from ‘The Gifts of Reading’

Robert Macfarlane is a splendid writer, and a great admirer of Paddy. His books are always worth reading. His latest, Underland: A Deep Time Journey is published today.

But I wanted to highlight a little known work of his. Called The Gifts of Reading. This essay is a joy in itself celebrating the enjoyment of reading and inspired by Macfarlane receiving a copy of a Time of Gifts as a gift. This little pocket sized book is an ideal little present for those you love, just to show that you care and wish them to share in your joy of the gift of reading. The Gifts of Reading

Setting out: Siân Phillips reads from A Time of Gifts

Today marks the 85th anniversary of the start of Paddy’s journey on 9 December 1933. Sian Phillips reads an extract from A Time of Gifts covering his departure “from the heart of London”.

The anchor-chain clattered through the ports and the vessel turned into the current with a wail of her siren. How strange it seemed, as I took shelter in the little saloon – feeling, suddenly, forlorn; but only for a moment – to be setting off from the heart of London! No beetling cliffs, no Arnoldian crash of pebbles. I might have been leaving for Richmond, or for a supper of shrimps and whitebait at Gravesend, instead of Byzantium.

. . . The reflected shore lights dropped coils and zigzags into the flood which were thrown into disarray every now and then, by the silhouettes of passing vessels’ luminous portholes, the funereal shapes of barges singled out by their port and starboard lights and cutters of the river police smacking from wave to wave as purposefully and as fast as pikes. Once we gave way to a liner that towered out of the water like a festive block of flats; from Hong Kong, said the steward, as she glided by; and the different notes of the sirens boomed up and downstream as though masto­dons still haunted the Thames marshes.

. . . A gong tinkled and the steward led me back into the saloon. I was the only passenger: ‘We don’t get many in December,’ he said; ‘It’s very quiet just now.’ When he had cleared away, I took a new and handsomely-bound journal out of my rucksack, opened it on the green baize under a pink-shaded lamp and wrote the first entry while the cruets and the wine bottle rattled busily in their stands. Then I went on deck. The lights on either beam had become scarcer but one could pick out the faraway gleam of other vessels and estuary towns which the distance had shrunk to faint constellations. There was a scattering of buoys and the scanned flash of a light-house. Sealed away now beyond a score of watery loops, London had vanished and a lurid haze was the only hint of its whereabouts.

. . . I wondered when I would be returning. Excitement ruled out the thought of sleep; it seemed too important a night. (And in many ways, so it proved. The ninth of December, 1933, was just ending and I didn’t get back until January, 1937 – a whole lifetime later it seemed then – and I felt like Ulysses, plein d’usage et de raison, and, for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels.) But I must have dozed, in spite of these emotions, for when I woke the only glimmer in sight was our own reflection on the waves. The kingdom had slid away westwards and into the dark. A stiff wind was tearing through the rigging and the mainland of Europe was less than half the night away.

Extract from A Time of Gifts, with thanks to John Murray Publishers. Artwork, The Pool by Charles Edward Dixon, 1904.

Robert Macfarlane: When I first read ‘A Time of Gifts’ I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles . . .

On 9th December 1933, Paddy set out on the journey that would change his life, and those of many others. Today we have Robert Macfarlane and his reaction when first he picked up A Time of Gifts. 

A Plan Unfolds: Siân Phillips reads from ‘A Time of Gifts’ by Patrick Leigh Fermor

To mark the 85th anniversary of Paddy starting his “great trudge”, I would like to share some readings over the next few days. We start with Sian Phillips describing the moment that inspiration for the journey came to the young, bored Paddy one desultory November day in 1933.

About lamplighting time at the end of a wet November day, I was peering morosely at the dog-eared pages on my writing table and then through the panes at the streaming reflections of Shepherd Market, thinking, as Night and Day succeeded Stormy Weather on the gramophone in the room below, that Lazybones couldn’t be far behind; when, almost with the abruptness of Herbert’s lines at the beginning of these pages, inspiration came. A plan unfolded with the speed and the completeness of a Japanese paper flower in a tumbler.

To change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp – or, as I characteristically phrased it to myself, like a pilgrim or a palmer, an errant scholar, a broken knight or the hero of The Cloister and the Hearth! All of a sudden, this was not merely the obvious, but the only thing to do. I would travel on foot, sleep in hayricks in summer, shelter in barns when it was raining or snowing and only consort with peasants and tramps. If I lived on bread and cheese and apples, jogging along on fifty pounds a year like Lord Durham with a few noughts knocked off, there would even be some cash left over for paper and pencils and an occasional mug of beer. A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!’

Extract from A Time of Gifts, with thanks to John Murray Publishers.

Leave thy home, O youth, and seek out alien shores . . . Robert Macfarlane reads Petronius

One of the first things Patrick Leigh Fermor is given in A Time of Gifts is a book: the first volume of the Loeb edition of Horace. His mother (‘she was an enormous reader’) bought it for him as a farewell present, and on its flyleaf she wrote the prose translation of an exquisite short poem by Petronius, which could hardly have been more appropriate as a valediction to her son, or indeed to anyone setting out on a voyage into adulthood:

Leave thy home, O youth, and seek out alien shores . . . Yield not to misfortune: the far-off Danube shall know thee, the cold North-wind and the untroubled kingdom of Canopus and the men who gaze on the new birth of Phoebus or upon his setting

The journey of A Time of Gifts is set going by the gift of a book—and it is a book that has in turn set going many journeys. The edition of A Time of Gifts that Don gave me that day in Cambridge had as its cover a beautiful painting by John Craxton, commissioned specially for the book, and clearly alluding to Petronius’s poem. It shows a young man standing on snowy high ground, puttees on his ankles and a walking stick in his right hand, looking eastwards to where the sun is rising orange over icy mountains, from which runs a mighty river. Black crows fly stark against white trees: there is a sense of huge possibility to the day ahead and to the land beyond.

Extract from The Gifts of Reading , Robert Macfarlane. First published in Slightly Foxed Quarterly. Continue reading

A Great Adventure

‘When I first read A Time of Gifts I felt it in my feet. It spoke to my soles. It rang with what in German is called Sehnsucht: a yearning or wistful longing for the unknown and the mysterious. It made me want to stand up and march out – to walk into an adventure.’ Robert Macfarlane

Andrew Merrills finds himself betwixt the woods and the water in this charming piece from Slightly Foxed Issue 38.

by Andrew Merrils

Few people living at the time would have regarded the early Thirties as a golden age, nor has posterity been kind to the period that W. H. Auden described as ‘a low, dishonest decade’. In 1933, the Japanese invaded Manchuria, Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich, and the first stirrings of the Spanish Civil War were felt in Catalonia. While hindsight bathes 1914 in the gentle summer glow of a prelapsarian world, the early Thirties seem autumnal and telescope all too easily into the bitter winter that was to follow. But for one man at least, the cold months of 1933–4 provided a still moment in time, which he would remember with fondness for the rest of his life.

In late December 1933, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out on foot for Constantinople (as he anachronistically termed it). Recently expelled from school for the unpardonable crime of holding hands with a local girl, and insufficiently inspired by the prospect of Sandhurst and a career of peacetime soldiering, the 19-year-old decided to head east on foot. His backpack was evidently stuffed to the brim, with a greatcoat, jerseys, shirts (including white linen ones for dressy occasions), puttees, nailed boots, a selection of stationery, a copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse and the first volume of the Loeb Horace. The clothing was soon lost but was replaced as he headed east by many generous donations from hosts and chance acquaintances. The literary ture was a more permanent part of his baggage; though he lost his Oxford volume, this was complemented by a vast corpus of writing in English, French and Latin that he had committed to memory. A little over a year later, the young traveller arrived at the Golden Horn.

Writing the account of the journey would take much longer. The first of three projected volumes, A Time of Gifts, was published in 1977, when the author was 62; the second, Between the Woods and the Water, which traces the journey from the Hungarian frontier (where the first leaves off) to the Iron Gates in Romania, came in 1982. The third book remained unfinished at the time of the author’s death in 2011.

Between the long adventure itself and its eventual publication, Patrick Leigh Fermor had led an improbably rich and full life. He was famous for his wartime heroism in occupied Crete, where he lived as a shepherd among the resistance fighters in the mountains and masterminded the daring abduction of the German garrison commander. These actions were commemorated in the memoir Ill Met by Moonlight by his colleague Sandy [sic] Moss, and his own role was played by Dirk Bogarde in the 1957 Powell and Pressburger film of the same title. In the decades that followed, Leigh Fermor produced some of the finest travel writing in English. His published books included a seminal study of the Caribbean in The Traveller’s Tree, a reflection on the monastic life in A Time to Keep Silence, and two remarkable books on Greece, Mani and Roumeli.

Much has been written about him since his death, and each of his books has its own admirers. But for those new to his writing, there is no better place to start than with A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, as an introduction both to the young man on the brink of a great adventure, and the mature writer at the height of his powers. While both shine through in these two books, it is the former who strikes the reader most forcibly. Almost immediately, we are confronted with the extraordinary personality of the young man who wanders across their pages, and it is easy to imagine how this spirit must have charmed and delighted those with whom he came into contact.

His was a well-populated road, from the two German girls in Stuttgart who swept the young ‘Mr Brown’ into an exhilarating tumble of drinking, singing and Christmas parties, to the lugubrious Frisian in Vienna who shared his poverty and some ingenious schemes for generating money before disappearing into the murky world of saccharine-smuggling on the Middle Danube. And these are some of his less remarkable social successes. By the time he reached Mitteleuropa proper, Leigh Fermor had become the darling of the fading imperial aristocracy. We read of raucous games of bicycle polo on the lawns of castles, of horses borrowed for a few days’ ride across the Great Hungarian Plain, and a seemingly endless succession of benevolent Anglophiles who welcomed the dusty young traveller with food, alcohol and the free run of their libraries.

Even if we sometimes feel a tinge of envy at the ease with which the young Patrick drifted into this travellers’ inheritance, it is hard to begrudge him it: the same easy charms that won over the inhabitants of central Europe in the 1930s can still delight a reader eighty years later.

Leigh Fermor has always been loved for the richness of his prose, and both books do full justice to the deep romantic undercurrents of the rivers along which he was travelling. Yet even in his most purple passages, he has a peculiarly literary sensitivity; he writes, not as a traveller in uncharted lands, but as one who is acutely aware of the many writers who have come before him. Nor is this simply the prerogative of the adult writer, usurping the fresh observations of youth with his own literary stylizations. The wide-eyed observer at centre stage also views the world through the lens of his reading. Take this account of Wachau in A Time of Gifts:

Melk was the threshold of this unspeakably beautiful valley. As we have seen by now, castles beyond counting had been looming along the river. They were perched on dizzier spurs here, more dramatic in decay and more mysteriously cobwebbed with fable. The towered headlands dropped sheer, the liquid arcs flowed round them in semicircles. From ruins further from the shore the land sloped more gently, and vineyards and orchards descended in layers to the tree-reflecting banks. The river streamed past wooded islands and when I gazed either way, the seeming water-staircase climbed into the distance. Its associations with the Niebelungenlied are close, but later mythology haunts it. If any landscape is the meeting place of chivalrous romance and fairy tales, it is this. The stream winds into distances where Camelot or Avalon might lie, the woods suggest mythical fauna, the songs of Minnesingers and the sound of horns just out of earshot.

If anyone was attuned to the mythic properties of Old Europe it was the knight errant of 1934. Leigh Fermor gazed at the unfolding landscape with a romantic longing inflamed by a short life stuffed with literature and history. When he passed through the Low Countries, he looked through Bruegel’s eyes; his view of Vienna was a palimpsest of Ottoman armies and Habsburg emperors, against which the complex realities of the mid-1930s were not always visible to him. And when not prompted into reverie by the landscapes around him, he turned inward to the rich body of literature that he had committed to memory. The list of these works is among the most famous passages of Leigh Fermor’s writing. I won’t cite it in full here, since it runs to several pages, but it includes (among many other things) Shakespeare, Spenser, Keats, ‘an abundance of A. E. Housman’, the Sitwells, Norman Douglas and Evelyn Waugh, ‘large quantities of Villon’, and a respectable body of Virgil, Horace, Catullus and Lucan.If a love of literature brightened the colours of Leigh Fermor’s world, it also created a deeper yearning, and this is perhaps his most appealing trait, at least to me. Time and again, he writes of the fervour with which he engaged in spirited conversation with his learned hosts or plunged himself into their well-furnished libraries. Here, he gulped great draughts of European history, poring over details of Germanic folklore or piecing together the complex literary heritage of the world through which he was passing, and which was soon to be lost forever. In recounting these moments, his prose reaches its sublime best, as when he talks about the libraries of Prague:

Where, in this half-recollected maze, do the reviving memories of the libraries belong? To the Old University, perhaps, one of the most ancient and famous in Europe, founded by the great King Charles IV in 1384. I’m not sure. But I drive wedge-shaped salients into oblivion nevertheless and follow them through the recoiling mists with enfilading perspectives of books until bay after bay coheres. Each of them is tiered with burnished leather bindings and gold and scarlet gleam on the spines of hazel and chestnut and pale vellum. Globes space out the chessboard floors. There are glass-topped homes for incunables. Triangular lecterns display graduals and antiphonals and Books of Hours and coloured scenes encrust the capitals on the buckled parchment; block-notes and lozenges climb and fall on four-letter Georgian staves where Carolingian uncials and blackletter spell out the responses. The concerted spin of a score of barley-sugar pillars uphold elliptic galleries where brass combines with polished oak, and obelisks and pineapples alternate on the balustrades.

The conceit which underscores this passage – the image of memory as a library – is a key theme throughout both books. Not only does this recall the prodigious literary memory of the young man, it also reminds us of the act of memory that went into the composition of the books themselves. While A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water do an exquisite job in representing the world through the eyes of a 19-year-old, the reader never forgets the mature writer who acts as mediator and amanuensis. For the successful travel writer, war hero and beloved raconteur who wrote these books, these are stories of a half-remembered youth as well as a half-forgotten Europe.‘For now the time of gifts is gone’ runs the line from Louis MacNeice that provides Leigh Fermor’s first title, and it is this faint melancholy which makes both books so powerful. These are the memories of a lifetime, and in writing them down, in revisiting the notebooks and the maps that had lain untouched for years, the writer creates them anew. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the conclusion to the most intimate episode of the sequence. For a giddy chapter, the traveller had careered around Transylvania in a car with his close friend István, and with Angéla, something of a kindred spirit. The reader is caught up in the breathless pleasure of the episode, which climaxes in a manic motor chase with a west-bound train, but which deflates as the companions consider their parting:

The reader may think that I am lingering too long over these pages. I think so too, and I know why: when we reached our destination in an hour or two, we would have come full cycle. It wasn’t only an architectural world, but the whole sequence of these enchanted Transylvanian months that would come to a stop. I was about to turn south, away from all my friends, and the dactylic ring of Magyar would die away. Then there was István; I would miss him bitterly; and the loss of Angéla – who is little more than a darting luminous phantom in these pages – would be a break I could hardly bear to think of; and I can’t help putting off the moment for a paragraph or two.

Everyone has their favourite sections of these extraordinary books, whether they are drinking songs in snow-bound Germany, the majestic descriptions of pre-war Vienna, or the madcap charabanc rides through Transylvania. Mine comes at the beginning of the narrative. The account of the Groote Kirk in Rotterdam isn’t as succulent as some of the richer morsels later on – the young traveller had only just entered the continent, and both he and his older self were keen to get on. But it captures the themes of the book perfectly:

Filled with dim early morning light, the concavity of grey masonry and whitewash joined in pointed arches high overhead and the floor diminished along the nave in a chessboard of black and white flagstones. So compellingly did the vision tally with a score of half-forgotten Dutch pictures that my mind’s eye instantaneously furnished the void with those seventeenth century groups which should have been sitting or strolling there: burghers with pointed corn-coloured beards – and impious spaniels that refused to stay outside – conferring gravely with their wives and children, still as chessmen, in black broadcloth and identical honeycomb ruffs under the tremendous hatchmented pillars. Except for this church, the beautiful city was to be bombed to fragments a few years later. I would have lingered, had I known.

‘I would have lingered, had I known’: these are books for readers, for poets and for travellers. But most of all, they’re books for lingerers.

Easter 1934 Paddy arrives at the Danube read by Siân Phillips

An Easter treat for you. Siân Phillips reads from page 277 of A Time of Gifts (paperback) as Paddy arrives at the Danube, spots Esztergom, has his passport stamped by the Czechoslovakian border guards, and lingers ‘in the middle of the bridge, meditatively poised in no man’s air.’

‘The air was full of hints and signs. There was a flicker and a swishing along the river like the breezy snip-snap of barbers’ scissors before they swoop and slice. It was the skimming and twirling of newly arrived swifts. A curve in the stream was re-arranging the landscape as I advanced, revealing some of the roofs of Esztergom and turning the Basilica to a new angle as though it were on a pivot. The rolling wooded range of the Bakony Forest had advanced north from the heart of Transdanubia, and the corresponding promontory on the northern shore – the last low foothills of the Marra mountains, whose other extremity subsides in the north eastern tip of Hungary – jutted into the water under the little town of Parkan. Reaching for each other, the two headlands coerced the rambling flood yet once more into a narrower and swifter flow and then spanned the ruffie with an iron bridge. Spidery at first, the structure grew more solid as the distance dwindled. (Twenty miles east of this bridge, the Danube reaches a most important point in its career: wheeling round the ultimate headland of the Balcony Forest and heading due south for the first time on its journey, it strings itself through Budapest like a thread through a bead and drops across the map of Europe plumb for a hundred and eighty miles, cutting Hungary clean in half. Then, reinforced by the Drava, it turns east again, invades Yugoslavia, swallows up the Sava under the battlements of Belgrade, and sweeps on imperturbably to storm the Iron Gates.)

In an hour, I had climbed the cliff-path into the main street of Parkan. A little later my passport was stamped at the frontier post at the Czechoslovakian end of the bridge. The red, white and green barrier of the frontier post at the far end marked the beginning of Hungary. I lingered in the middle of the bridge, meditatively poised in no man’s air.’

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

A funeral at Melk

The abbey at Melk

The abbey at Melk

Paddy described it as a “quinquireme amongst abbeys”. It is a benevolent sleeping giant above the little town of Melk and the Danube. To the east lies the Wachau, one of the most magnificent stretches of river scenery in Europe, and the eastern foothills of the Alps, to the west, Mauthausen and Bavaria. The huge and imposing Abbey at Melk continues to fascinate.

By Roslyn Jolly

First published in The Saturday Paper

This sure is a quiet town.” I’m almost whispering, unwilling to have my voice ring out in the silent streets. “Where is everybody?” It’s about seven in the evening, and as we climb the zigzag pathways to the great church on the hill, there is scarcely another soul around.

We’re going to a funeral. My friend saw the notice pinned unobtrusively to a post in the hotel bar: There will be a service at the abbey tonight for one of the monks, who has died suddenly, before his time. A popular man, a local favourite, highly regarded, sadly missed, the notice says. The community is invited to pay its respects.

We are not of the community, but we are curious, so through the dark streets and up the stone staircases we go. I haven’t yet connected the desertion of the town with the funeral at the abbey. As we approach the elegant arched entrance to the monastery precinct, we see fire engines crowding the forecourt. My friend interprets the scene better, and more quickly, than I do. I’m thinking, “A fire at the abbey? During a monk’s funeral? How very Umberto Eco.” But my friend has lived long enough in Austria to understand that not a Gothic but a civic explanation is required.

The people of Melk and all the parishes of the surrounding Wachau district have turned out in force, in uniform, through whatever structure of collective identity they can call upon, to mark the passing of their brother. Every club, team, order, guild, society, brotherhood, sisterhood, Bund, Verein and Gesellschaft is here. Not just represented here, but actually here, in body, en masse. Every fireman, policeman and Boy Scout wears his uniform; every teacher, nurse and union official is badged. The farmers are here, and so are the municipal councillors from nearby villages. Their gleaming trucks, cars and engines, freshly washed and highly polished, identify the various communities, trades and professions to which these people are clearly proud to belong.


This is the guard of honour outside the church. We walk through it. At the church door, uniformed officials keep watch. I would have turned away, but my friend is unabashed. His six years’ residence in Vienna probably helps. “We’re here for Brother A—’s funeral,” he says confidently, I forget whether in English or in German. The young man in his uniform scrutinises us for a second or two, then opens the door and gestures for us to proceed.

Inside there is colour, gold, incense, music, faces, voices, more gold. The Stiftskirche is a baroque jewellery box, glorious in candlelight, vibrant with song and incantation. There is only standing room. The service is already under way and, of course, being neither Austrian nor Catholic, I understand very little of what is being said or done, but experience the funeral as a dance of feeling between priests and townspeople. A modestly draped coffin is the focus for the energies of community expressed in music and liturgy, which, soaring, match the visual splendour of the scene.

Tomorrow we will come back, and we will see the abbey as the guidebooks and the travel writers promise it. We will see the palatial exterior, painted in sunny Schönbrunn yellow. We will see the beautiful rococo courtyard, with its palms and fountains, and think of it as a prettier Versailles. We will see the famous library with its ancient books, and peer into the pastel-coloured whorl of the shell-like spiral staircase. We will stand on the terrace and gaze at the lovely view of the Danube Valley. We will do all that a visitor to Melk is supposed to do, and it will be wonderful, but it will not be like this.

Patrick Leigh Fermor, in A Time of Gifts, called Melk Abbey the “high noon” of Europe, the highest point of the “high baroque style”. The prose he used to describe it is sunshiny and light-saturated. He even makes noon at Melk his hour of epiphany as well as his key metaphor: “Meridian glory surrounded us as a clock in the town struck twelve.” But I’ve fallen for Melk Abbey at night – not at midnight, the Gothic hour when romance writers find dark mysteries in conventual spaces, but at a civil hour, between seven and eight in the evening, when the river cruisers have gone back to their ships and the people of the town may come out, after work and an early dinner, to interact with the real working life of the monastic order that has existed here for more than a thousand years.

The funeral ends and we file out with the hundreds of mourners to watch the coffin carried to a vehicle that will take it to a burial ground beyond the monastery walls. My friend is troubled by the seeming severity of this custom. “But he would have served here his whole life,” he says. “Why can’t he be buried here too? It’s as if, at his death, he’s being expelled from the religious community.”

We puzzle over this and can’t really do anything with it. It feels harsh. The coffin looks very solitary as it waits to be conveyed through the gates into the darkness beyond. After the uplifted atmosphere in the church, the mood in the forecourt has become sombre, almost austere. All stand in silence, many with heads bowed. We – my friend and I – watch our unknown brother set out for the undiscovered country.

After the coffin has left, the firemen return to their trucks, the policemen to their cars. The Boy Scouts form lines and leave under the supervision of their troop leaders. We depart through the same archway by which we entered. At first we’re part of a throng, but the crowds quickly melt away. No one walks the same path as we do, the path that leads down stone stairs and through narrow alleys to the main street, where the hotels and restaurants are.

Melk will glow tomorrow in autumnal sunshine and we will see all that should be seen by a visitor to this beautiful mediaeval town. But tonight we’ve seen something different. We have interloped. We have slipped through the net that keeps tourists within the spaces designed for them. We’ve found our way to the secret life of a town. Just for an hour, we have gone to the other side.

Twelfth Night by Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice

We all know the line “For now the time of gifts is gone” but are we familiar with the full poem? Louis MacNeice wrote Twelfth Night shortly after the end of World War 2. It is one of a group in which MacNeice records the loosening of the social bonds that bound British citizens, and the armed forces in particular, during the war.

Twelfth Night by Louis MacNeice

Snow-happy hicks of a boy’s world –
O crunch of bull’s-eyes in the mouth,
O crunch of frost beneath the foot –
If time would only remain furled
In white, and thaw were not for certain
And snow would but stay put, stay put!

When the pillar-box wore a white bonnet –
O harmony of roof and hedge,
O parity of sight and thought –
And each flake had your number on it
And lives were round for not a number
But equalled nought, but equalled nought!

But now the sphinx must change her shape –
O track that reappears through slush,
O broken riddle, burst grenade –
And lives must be pulled out like tape
To measure something not themselves,
Things not given but made, but made.

For now the time of gifts is gone –
O boys that grow, O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill –
Here is dull earth to build upon
Undecorated; we have reached
Twelfth Night or what you will … you will.

Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen

One of my favourite posts from 2011. I thought I would share this one more time at this Christmas time. A Merry Christmas to you all and I wish you a peaceful 2017. Thank you for supporting the blog during the course of another year. Please keep sending in your contributions and comments; they keep it lively …

I guess that many of us enjoy the chapter in A Time of Gifts when the eighteen year old Paddy spent two nights in Stuttgart with two very pretty nineteen year old German girls, Lise and Annie. It was Epiphany, 6th January 1934, and they went to a party where Paddy had to pretend to be Mr Brown, a family friend. He particularly enjoyed singing a song about the Neckar Valley and Swabia. Paddy could not remember all the words but his stunning memory recalled most of them (page 66).

As we approach that time of year I thought we ought to share this delightful song.

Here is a link to the music sung by a German choir (it should download the file to your computer which is harmless and does still work). The words are below so that you too can sing along! Let’s hear it now, one two three ….

  1. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
    Das schönste dort am Neckarstrand?
    Die grünen Rebenhügel schauen
    Ins Tal von hoher Felsenwand.

Refrain:
Es ist das Land, das mich gebar,
Wo meiner Väter Wiege stand,
Drum sing’ ich heut’ und immerdar:
Das schöne Schwaben ist mein Heimatland!

2. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Mit Wald und Flur so reich bekränzt,
Wo auf den weiten, reichen Auen
Im Sonnenschein die Ähre glänzt?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .

3. Kennt ihr das Land in deutschen Gauen,
Wo Tann’ und Efeu immer grün,
Wo starke Männer, edle Frauen
In deutscher Kraft und Sitte blühn?
Es ist das Land, . . . . .4. Kennt ihr das Land im deutschen Süden,
So oft bewährt in Kampf und Streit,
Dem zwischen seiner Wälder Frieden
So frisch die deutsche Kraft gedeiht? Ja, wackre Deutsche laßt uns sein!
Drauf reichet euch die deutsche Hand;
Denn Schwabenland ist’s nicht allein:
Das ganze Deutschland ist mein Heimatland!

175 years of the Red Ox Inn, Heidelberg

Red Ox

Immortalised by Paddy who stayed here in the winter of 1934, the Red Ox Inn is celebrating 175 years managed by six generations of the same family. They say they are looking forward to the 200th anniversary. It is always worth a visit if you travel to beautiful Heidelberg.

In German, and I should warn you there are scenes of hearty German food and large glasses of beer, but fortunately no flash photography.

This does not appear to play in Firefox. It works in Internet Explorer. Click on the image to play.

The 80th anniversary of the Great Trudge – Paddy’s Romania tour?

Something like the opening line to Sergeant Pepper, it was eighty years ago today, that Paddy Leigh Fermor was on his way, setting out on the journey that more than anything else was to define his life.

I have written about this once or twice before – Nice weather for young ducks – but this time it is different. This is the start of a number of major anniversaries, including the 70th, next year, of the abduction of General Kreipe.

For some time I have had an idea to arrange a tour, In The Steps if you like, of Paddy’s Romania. Much of Between the Woods and the Water, and the recent Broken Road are taken up with a country that Paddy once said was second only to Greece in his heart.

The idea is to get together a party of around twenty people for an 8-10 day tour of Romania next September, 2014. I am planning this with an experienced tour company. The general idea is to meet in Bucharest, then follow Paddy’s Transylvanian route, including stops in Cluj, Sighisoara, Sibiu, and Hunedoara. If possible I would like to include a visit to Baia Herculene and the Danube at the Iron Gates. It would also be great to include a visit to Baleni where he lived with Balasha. It is a little out of the way but may be possible once we look in detail at the itinerary.

Romania is a beautiful country, and Transylvania is very special. We will include visits to the Saxon villages with their fortified churches. Accommodation and food will be good, as will the company.

In order to proceed all I need at the moment are expressions of interest. There is no commitment beyond that. Costs are likely to be around £,1500 per person excluding flights to and from Romania. But this may change. If you are interested all you have to do is drop me a line at tsawford[at]btinternet.com .

The following slideshow gives you an idea of some of the things we night see. These are my own personal pictures and some are of an area to the north of Romania called the Maramures which will probably not be included (the wooden churches in the main).

“Now That the Time of Gifts Is Gone”: Poetry In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Books

The following article was written by Clarissa Aykroyd on her blog, The Stone and the Star. There is something for everyone in Paddy’s books, and here Clarissa discusses his references to poetry.

By Clarissa Aykroyd

First published on The Stone and the Star, 12 August 1013.

In December 1933, a young man named Patrick Leigh Fermor left England to travel on foot across Europe. Alternately sleeping in barns and in stately homes, he travelled from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (he always calls it Constantinople, although it was Istanbul by then.) He wandered in a leisurely manner through what now seem to be the dreamscapes of Mitteleuropa before World War II. Decades later he wrote about his travels in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. Leigh Fermor died at an advanced age in 2011, but the final book, The Broken Road, is being edited posthumously and will appear later this year.

A great deal has been written and said about Leigh Fermor. He had an incredibly adventurous life which included the capture of a leading German commander in Crete during World War II. With a remarkable personal charm and magnetism, Leigh Fermor seems to have been a sort of cross between Casanova and James Bond.

I have just been re-reading A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. It is not so surprising that Leigh Fermor spent decades crafting these books – there really isn’t a word out of place. The prose is like crystalline mosaics or frescos, hovering on the edge of the unbelievable and fairytale-like, but still believable. It’s entirely possible that Leigh Fermor embroidered after the fact, but his tales of mountainscapes, of dream cities and kind eccentrics are so beautiful that I don’t really mind either way. The books certainly conjure up a world that disappeared – Leigh Fermor repeatedly comments on how, particularly with the rich and titled families who gave him hospitality, the people he met disappeared into darkness during the war and only sometimes emerged. It is true that this is also a world which is rather class-ridden and occasionally interspersed with casual racism, not to speak of the terrible looming shadow of Nazism in Germany. But so much of the books’ poignancy comes from the awareness of the awful storm that was to sweep over Europe, leaving so many scars and in many cases total destruction.

I wanted to write a little about the presence of poetry in these books. In some ways this, too, evokes a world that has disappeared or at least altered beyond recognition. A Time of Gifts is named after a line from a poem by Louis MacNeice, ‘Twelfth Night’:

For now that the time of gifts is gone –
O boys that grow, O snows that melt,
O bathos that the years must fill –
Here is dull earth to build upon
Undecorated […]

In A Time of Gifts, Leigh Fermor writes at some length (several pages) about his “private anthology” of poetry that he had memorized and would recite to himself while alone and walking. “The range is fairly predictable,” he says, “and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiasms and the limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up.” The “private anthology” included Shakespeare as well as bits and pieces of Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Kipling, Wyatt, Marvell, Carroll and Lear, among others. “No Yeats later than the Ronsard paraphrase and Innisfree and Down by the Salley Gardens; but this belonged more to singing than reciting.” He then mentions that he wasn’t interested in Pound or Eliot but enjoyed Edith Sitwell. From other languages and cultures, he mentions a little Baudelaire and Verlaine, and Romans such as Virgil, Catullus and Horace.

Particularly in Between the Woods and the Water, in Hungary and Romania, poetry and poets dog his footsteps. In Hungary he mentions “the southern parts of the Cuman region celebrated by [Sandor] Petőfi – it is strange how the names of Hungarian poets cropped up the whole time in conversation and books!” He later mentions Ferenc Békássy, who studied at Cambridge and was “a friend of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey and especially Maynard Keynes” – this young poet died in battle in Bukovina in 1915. Later, in Romania, he comes across the oldest poem in Romanian, the traditional epic Mioritza. At the Baths of Hercules, an “ornate and incongruous watering-place” in a wild Romanian valley, he meets a young woman who quotes Kipling’s ‘If’.

All of this struck me, not just because my ears are pricked for poetry, but because it all seemed so much of another time. What young man (or woman) would now set out to travel across Europe with a memorised library of poetry to call upon, let alone all the multitude of cultural references that Leigh Fermor seemed to have at his fingertips even as a teenager? It just wouldn’t happen – even a poetry lover probably wouldn’t have more with them than a poetry app on their smartphone. Then, too, there were so many young poets who were also soldiers and who were destroyed in the wars. It seems to me that what started to be broken in World War I was irretrievably broken (in so many ways) in World War II, and this might include the idea of poetry as a sort of force for salvation.

On a more personal note, re-reading these books made me want to go back to Vienna, no small feat because it’s not one of my favourite cities. They also set up in me a longing to go back to Germany, to Prague, and to travel more extensively in Hungary and Romania particularly. I also had a strange experience while reading A Time of Gifts. Leigh Fermor praises the beauty of the German city of Regensburg, and writes about one of its sons, Albrecht Altdorfer. When he wrote about Altdorfer’s famous painting The Battle of Alexander at Issus, something swept over me – I had almost forgotten that I owned a small copy of it, from the gallery in Munich where it hangs. It is a remarkable painting and I think the feeling I had (and still have) for it ties into my fascination with certain types of fantasy landscapes – the first edition I owned of The Lord of the Rings featured cover art which now looks very Altdorfer-esque to me. Writing about the landscape depicted, Leigh Fermor said:

It was the valley of the Danube in the throes of one of its hundreds of battles. It must have been. But, on this first visit, how could I have realized it? The battle in the painted canyon is fought out under a lurid October sunset and the rival armies, like windswept cornfields bristling with lances and poppied with banners, collide in an autumnal light. Whereas the battlefield on my first encounter was dulled with snow, with all contours muffled and fanfares hushed. (from A Time of Gifts)

Here is Yeats’s The Lake Isle of Innisfree, cited as part of the “personal anthology”, and perhaps also appropriate for its final lines.

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE (William Butler Yeats)

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo: Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

Ryan Eyre lives in Seattle, and took a journey to Kardamyli to meet Paddy in 2009. He has written this article for the Journal of the Book Club of Washington, and has asked to publish it here as well. Ryan tells us, as many others have done, about Paddy’s remarkable memory, which he utilised to the full to write A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. I have seen evidence of this myself. On a recent visit to Cluj I was able to enter the public rooms of the fabled Hotel New York (Continental) clutching a copy of BTWW and marvelled at the accuracy of Paddy’s description of its decor … but the cocktail bar was closed!

Update: I met Ryan last month (5 June 2013) in London and was able to show him the site of the original John Murray publishing house at 50 Albemarle Street. Ryan was on a holiday from his post in the Republic of Georgia where he is teaching English. He reminded me of this article which was posted in the week following Paddy’s death. It may have got lost in all the high frequency posting at that time, so I promised him that I would give you all another chance to read his account.

Meeting Patrick Leigh Fermor

by Ryan Eyre

On a February evening in 2009 I alighted from a bus in the village of Kardamyli, in the Mani region of southern Greece. I had arrived at this remote corner of the Peloponnese with one purpose: to meet the celebrated English author Patrick Leigh Fermor, one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century and arguably far less well known than he should be. Now in his nineties, Paddy (as he is known by his friends) still divides his time between England and his adopted home of Greece, where he lives in a house he designed himself in the 1960’s on a headland just south of Kardamyli. Patrick Leigh Fermor (PLF) has had an extraordinarily full and remarkable life.  For the sake of some background for those unfamiliar with him I provide a brief biographical sketch:

Born in 1915 and educated at the King’s School in Canterbury until he was expelled at the age of sixteen, he was preparing for the entrance examinations for Sandhurst when a sudden inspiration came over him. He decided to walk across Europe, with the final destination point as Constantinople, living, in his words, “like a tramp or a wandering scholar.” It was December 1933 and he was eighteen years old. He set out almost at once, catching a tramp steamer from London to Rotterdam and beginning his walk from there, passing through the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and European Turkey before arriving in Constantinople on New Year’s Day, 1935. His experiences on his thirteen-month peregrination later provided the material for his two most celebrated books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, which were first published in 1977 and 1986, respectively.  These two volumes recount the first two-thirds of his amazing journey by foot from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. Richly descriptive and full of historical and literary allusions they provide a portrait of a pre war Europe long since vanished.  Apart from the extremely high standard of prose and the author’s obvious enthusiasm for history, literature and art, perhaps the most appealing aspect of his account of this remarkable journey is that it was completed on foot. It has been said that the human mind can only properly absorb its surroundings at a walking pace.   The gradual transitions of landscape, language and culture were carefully observed by PLF because of the patient, unhurried approach that he took; a faster form of travel would have failed to capture nearly as much of the richness and complexity of the lands he passed through.

After completing this walking journey, he spent the next couple of years in Greece and Romania. He was romantically involved with the Romanian princess Balasha Cantacuzene, living with her on her estate in Moldavia until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, at which point he returned to Britain to enlist in the army. During the war he served with distinction in Greece, both during the German invasion of 1941 and afterwards during the occupation.  As a SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent he helped coordinate the resistance movement on Crete. The highpoint of his war was the celebrated kidnapping of the commanding German general Heinrich Kreipe on Crete in 1944, which he and a fellow British officer devised and accomplished with a band of Cretan partisans, abducting the luckless general from his car outside of Iraklion and spiriting him away into the mountains and eventually Egypt. After the war and in the company of his wife, the late Joan Eyres-Monsell, he travelled all over Greece, exploring the most remote rural areas on foot or mule, and developing a deep appreciation of the folk customs, dialects and traditions that have in the last half century largely vanished (see his books Mani and Roumeli).  His travels and books have never been limited to Greece, though:  his first book The Traveller’s Tree (first published in 1950) was written after an extensive journey around the West Indies in the late 1940’s.  Possibly his best book (according to New Yorker columnist Anthony Lane), A Time to Keep Silence, explores the nature and meaning of silence as he experienced it living in various French monasteries.  Whatever topic PLF has written about, his natural enthusiasm, curiosity and exquisite writing make it compelling reading.

Several years before I had been travelling in Romania and by chance a fellow American in the hostel had shown me a copy of Between the Woods and the Water, in which PLF recounted travelling through the same area in the 1934. Intrigued when I returned to Seattle several months later, I had checked A Time of Gifts out from the library and was instantly enthralled by it. The subject matter, the style and the sensibilites were immediately appealing. I can state unequivocally that PLF’s writing had a powerful influence on me. He seems almost the embodiment of an ideal-the literary man of action. Highly erudite but also a man of the world, unapologetically articulate and learned but with enough graciousness and charm to avoid being a pedant, equally comfortable with the humble as well as the high born. I’m not the only one who views him this way – Bruce Chatwin, Colin Thubron and William Dalrymple have all cited PLF as a major influence on their writing and lives. From PLF I developed a deeper appreciation of art and literature, and renewed an interest in history-particularly European. Because of him I also became a better traveller– by slowing down, more closely observing my surroundings and immersing myself in the history of a place before I visited.

I became determined I had to meet this man. I knew he was old and in declining health so time was of the essence. In January of 2009 I was in England visiting relatives and went to his literary agent’s offices in London hoping to get a formal letter of introduction. I only spoke to a secretary, who passed on an email address to which I wrote but predictably from which I heard no reply. My cousin said “The only way to meet the blighter is to show up where he lives-I’m sure you’ll be able to meet him.” I decided to take his advice and hope for the best.

Thus a month later I arrived in Kardamyli with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, after having travelled over land and water from Portugal all the way to Greece. I had done my homework: I knew his former housekeeper (a woman named Lela) ran a taverna with some rooms in the town-that seemed the obvious place to stay.  Before my arrival I had telephoned and had spoken to her son Giorgios (Lela spoke no English).  In the winter the taverna was closed, Giorgios explained, but they would make an exception for me and at a reduced rate. Giorgios, a moustachioed and world- weary but courteous man in his fifties met me when I got off the bus, and after introductions were made, he walked me to Lela’s a few blocks away. It was a simple two story building by the sea, with a restaurant on the ground floor and a few rooms upstairs looking directly out on the sea. Lela appeared from the kitchen, in her seventies but still sprightly, with a craggy and quintessentially Greek face. After showing me to my room she and Giorgios disappeared quickly, leaving me as the only guest. Strolling out from Lela’s along the water onto a jetty and looking up towards one of the clearest starlit skies I had ever seen, with the only sound coming from the waves crashing against the rocks, I understood immediately why Patrick Leigh Fermor had decided to settle here years before.

The next morning I awoke early and walked along the road going south from Kardamyli. A Greek man out in his garden saw me and gestured for me to come inside. Without asking any questions he sat me down in his kitchen and served me coffee; this was exactly the type of hospitality towards strangers that PLF had described in his books on Greece.  Somewhat timorously I broached the subject of Patrick Leigh Fermor (known as Michalis by the locals) and asked where he might be found. He gesticulated southwards, saying in broken English that PLF lived a short way down the road, in the next cove known as Kalamitsi. I thanked him for the coffee and continued walking. I had with me an anthology of PLF’s work titled The Words of Mercury, which included an article he had written on how he had designed his house in Greece.  He described it as resembling a faded Byzantine monastery, with a view framed by cypress trees overlooking a cove with a small island offshore. Down a path and through an olive grove there was a house that closely resembled this description; in fact, it had to be his residence as it looked far older than any other house in the vicinity.

Emboldened by this discovery I walked back into town, just as the villagers were exiting the church service on a Sunday morning. Approaching Lela, I tentatively mentioned PLF’s name and pointed to The Words of Mercury, with a photograph of PLF in the 1940’s on the cover.  She gave Giorgios soon appeared and I explained that I had come to Kardamyli to hopefully meet PLF, and handed him a note of appreciation that I entreated to pass along. Giorgios told me that PLF was in England at the moment, but would be back by Tuesday and would gladly give him the note once he saw him.  So my timing had been providential!  Now I simply had to wait.  I spent the next couple of days either reading (finishing War and Peace to be exact) or going on long walks exploring the myriad of small coves and hills. The Mani is very quiet in winter and felt refreshingly unexplored. Each evening I would go to the kafeneon to sit with the local men as they chatted and watched football on the television. Giorgios would be there every evening and he was quite friendly and talkative to me.  Every evening I would tactfully bring up the subject of whether or not he had seen PLF. Each time he responded he hadn’t yet.  One evening as I was returning to Lela’s she insisted on cooking me a meal in the kitchen, sitting me down in a table in the restaurant and plying me generous portions of pork, potatoes and vegetables. On a table in the corner was a pile of black and white photographs; examining them more closely I saw they were informal snapshots of Lela and her family from the 1960’s with a younger looking Patrick Leigh Fermor in a number of the them. Seeing these candid photographs gave my purpose a lot more immediacy.

Taking the bus one day into Kalamata (the nearest city-some 20 miles away) I fell into conversation with a local woman about my age. I explained that I had come all the way here to hopefully meet PLF.  She raised her head backwards and clicked her tongue, the universal Hellenic gesture for disapproval. “The Patrick Leigh Fermor is very old man, many people, journalists come here to meet him, they have to book appointment…it’s not so easy to see him.”  Discouraging words and with each passing day I realized that Giorgios was probably protecting PLF’s privacy…it was perfectly understandable but I made up my mind to take a more direct approach. I wrote another, longer letter of appreciation (I wrote about eight drafts before I was satisfied) and screwed enough courage up to go to what I was almost sure was PLF’s house to give it to whomever answered the door.  Just as I was about to knock an Englishman in his forties opened the door and walked out to the driveway. He introduced himself as Hamish Robinson and confirmed that PLF did indeed live there. Hamish added PLF wasn’t very well at the moment but he would gladly pass on the note of appreciation and went back inside. I decided to walk south several miles to the next village called Stoupa. I had done everything realistically possible to meet PLF and if I wasn’t able to at this point I accepted that it just wasn’t to be. Walking along the coastal road with its stupendous views of the Messenian Gulf to the west and the snow-capped Taygetus Mountains to the east, I felt fortunate and privileged to be there at all.

Returning to Kardamyli later that afternoon in a state of calm resignation, my interlocutrix from the bus the previous day came running down the road. “Ryan, where you been? We been looking for you all day. Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with you but we couldn’t find you.”  Patrick Leigh Fermor wanted to have a drink with me? Suddenly a car pulled up. It was Hamish. “We were looking for you earlier today –come round for lunch at 1:00 tomorrow,” and then drove off. I couldn’t believe my luck…all the persistence had paid off…I was actually going to have an audience with Patrick Leigh Fermor after all — it was more than I could have asked.

Paddy on his 94th birthday (February 11, 2009)

The appointed hour couldn’t come fast enough and it was in state of mild disbelief that I found myself being admitted into PLF’s house by his housekeeper and into the sitting room (which doubled as a dining room), with prodigious book shelves on three sides.  I found myself standing in front of a distinguished, slightly frail looking man wearing a blazer and a tie. It was Patrick Leigh Fermor.  Shaking my hand, he briefly mistook me for somebody else before apologizing with, “I’ve got this blasted tunnel vision and I can’t see that well…so you’re the young man…so glad to meet you.”  His hearing and his eyesight were poor and I had to speak loudly to be heard. Hamish Robinson was there as well (his presence helped facilitate conversation) and for the next two and a half hours the words flowed, abetted no doubt by the several vodka and tonics that were consumed as well as the generous glasses of retsina that accompanied lunch. Conversation ranged from Lord Byron (PLF: “I didn’t care for him much when I was younger but now I adore him”), the Greek Orthodox Easter service, and the fate of King Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066-to name a few of the topics discussed. When I told him I had visited Romania several years before he asked me, “Did you go by foot?”  Unfortunately, of course I had to answer no.  He also asked me questions about Seattle (“Where does the name come from?”). He had only visited the United States once -when he was invited by a Cretan-American association in New York as an honoured guest to commemorate the anniversary of The Battle of Crete.

PLF’s short-term memory was a bit faulty at times, he would forget the course of the conversation a bit but if I asked him about something from decades past or a literary reference he could recall it with instant clarity. For example, I showed him my copy of   The Words of Mercury and asked him the significance of the title.  “It’s from Love’s Labour’s Lost. You know that in the last act there’s a play within the play that’s performed for the amusement of the King of Navarre and the Princess of France. At the end of it they receive news that the King of France has died and the Princess and her entourage must leave. The last line of the play is ‘The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo’. It’s rather a strange play.”

Surprisingly he seemed a little fussier and more self-deprecating than I would have thought. When I quoted from his writings a couple of times he responded, “That’s a bit fruity” or, “What absolute drivel.” I mentioned that I had tried to contact his literary agent in London but without success. His reply: “Oh do you know, I’ve never met him either.”  Time passed quickly and after the meal was finished we walked onto the terrace of his house, overlooking the sea. I thanked him for the invitation.  He replied, “If you’re ever in these parts again, do come round.”   And then he retired for his customary afternoon nap, “Egyptian PT,” in his words.  Hamish showed me the adjacent building where Paddy does his writing, giving me a recent photograph of him taken on his 94th birthday as a memento, and then with good-byes and sincere thanks, I gracefully made my exit. I felt a mixture of elation –having the extraordinary privilege of actually being a guest of the celebrated author in his home — and a bit of melancholy in seeing him in his twilight years.  It was surely the only occasion I would meet him, and there was so much more I wanted to ask that would never be said. I also suppose, perhaps there was the realization that for all this accomplishments and marvelous writing he was  still human after all.

The next day I left Kardamyli. Spending even a week in the Mani gives Patrick Leigh Fermor’s life and work so much more immediacy. When I read a passage in Mani describing the view looking out towards the Messenian Gulf with “dragon headed capes in the distance,” I know exactly what this looks like because I have seen this view myself. That means almost as much as having met the man, and both memories will last for the rest of my life.

Related article:

Images of Iasi

A quinquereme among abbeys

‘This year marks the millennium of St Coloman’s martyrdom in 1012 and his feast day of October 13th, Kolomani, will be marked with celebrations in Melk’. Above, the abbey at Melk, Wachau Valley, Austria. Photograph: Elfi Kluck/Getty Images

Irish saints and the Abbey of Melk. Surely there is a link to Paddy? Of course he visited here in 1934 and wrote about it at length in A Time of Gifts pp 154-158.

By Alexander O’Hara.

First published in The Irish Times, October 9 2012

The Abbey of Melk sits like a benevolent sleeping giant above the little town of Melk and the Danube. To the east lies the Wachau, one of the most magnificent stretches of river scenery in Europe, and the eastern foothills of the Alps, to the west, Mauthausen and Bavaria.

This Baroque pile, a Benedictine monastery since 1089, is one of the most recognisable attractions in Austria. The Anglo-Irish writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who died last year, memorably described it as a “quinquereme among abbeys” in his 1977 classic A Time of Gifts, a wistful memoir of his travels by foot through Central Europe on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 when he was 18. He captures the awe of approaching Melk in the snow and seeing the Abbey rise up on its limestone bluff above the Danube valley. Most of the tourists who now visit the Abbey church (which, with all the gold, has been memorably likened to being inside a giant rapper’s mouth by AA Gill) – probably take little notice of a side altar and Baroque tomb to the left of the high altar. This is the tomb of St Coloman, an Irish martyr and the first patron saint of Austria. This year marks the millennium of his martyrdom in 1012 and his feast day of October 13th, Kolomani, will be marked with special celebrations in Melk.

How did an Irish man come to be patron saint of Austria? The story begins in the autumn of 1012 when an Irish pilgrim named Colmán (Coloman is the Germanised version of the name) was on his way to Jerusalem following the old Roman road along the Danube towards Vienna. He was on the overland pilgrimage route, an ancient path that followed the course of the Danube valley through Hungary. This had been reopened following the conversion to Christianity of King Stephen of Hungary in 997 and the destruction of the Holy Sepulchre by Caliph Al-Hakim in 1009 had provoked an upsurge in pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Coloman only made it as far as Stockerau, a town 30km to the north west of Vienna. He had unwittingly entered a war zone in what was a borderland known as the Bavarian Eastern March, a strategic frontier wedged between the Magyars or Hungarians to the east and the Moravians to the north. The Babenberg margraves, the rulers of the March, were in the process of extending their control and territory in this colonial land.

Stockerau stood on the borders of the March and was subject to frequent raiding. The locals were in no mood to welcome exotic strangers, and garbed as a pilgrim and speaking Gaelic, Coloman clearly stood out. According to a near-contemporary account, the locals suspected him of being an enemy spy and summarily lynched him from a tree (on dying for the cúpla focal see Frank McNally, An Irishman’s Diary, March 16th, 2012).

The exact circumstances of Coloman’s murder will never be known, but following his death, miracles began to take place – the dead man’s hair and nails continued to grow, the dead tree on which he was hanged began to bloom, and people were healed who came in contact with his body. News of these miracles came to the attention of Margrave Henry I at Melk. One of the powerful Babenberg dynasty who were to rule Austria from 976 to 1246, Henry recognised the power of this new saint and sent his soldiers and clerics to take the body from Stockerau to his residence at Melk which later became the famous monastery we know today.

The Austrian Babenbergs traced their descent to the Franconian Babenbergs whose fortress at Bamberg in Germany gave the dynasty its name. The patron saint of Franconia was (and still is) St Kilian, another Irish man who was martyred in 689, and whose relics lie in the cathedral of Würzburg. It is noteworthy that both Henry I’s father and brother were both buried in the same cathedral where Kilian’s relics were kept. By promoting the new Irish martyr Coloman as a dynastic and regional patron for the region that would become known as Austria, Henry may have hoped to shape a spiritual landscape for this new land that drew on common cultural traditions of Bavaria and Franconia where there was a strong tradition of veneration to Irish missionary and martyr saints such as St Kilian.

The new cult of St Coloman became a vehicle for the Babenberg margraves, which they were keen to latch on to from the beginning in order to cement their new power base in the Eastern March and to bring cohesion to this frontier region. In time, Coloman came to be venerated as the patron saint of the historical core of Austria, Österreich ob und unter der Enns, from 1244 until 1663. Today Coloman is the patron saint for convicts who are hanged, passengers, and livestock as well as being one of the many ironies of history. As an eminent Austrian historian remarked, “It might seem particularly ironic today that the first Patron of Austria had fallen victim to Austrian xenophobia; something which nobody could have foreseen”.

Coloman’s feast day this Saturday (13 October) will be celebrated in Melk, the millennium anniversary of the death of the unfortunate Irish pilgrim who became Austria’s first patron saint.

Visit Saint Coloman’s Wikipedia page.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s archive acquired by the National Library of Scotland

From a National Library of Scotland press release dated today.

The archive of one of the most important travel writers of the 20th century and a war hero whose exploits were made into a major film has been acquired by the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

Sir Patrick (Paddy) Leigh Fermor, who died last year at the age of 96, is regarded as a central figure in understanding and appreciating mid-20th century culture.

To describe his life as colourful does scant justice to the reality. At the age of 18 he set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul , a year long journey described in his books A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. The Independent described the former as “rightly considered to be among the most beautiful travel books in the language.”

His war record is equally impressive. After the fall of Crete in 1941, he was sent back to the island to organise guerrilla operations against the occupying Nazis. He spent much of this time disguised as a Cretan shepherd, living in freezing mountains caves.

In 1944 Leigh Fermor organised one of the most daring feats of the war when he kidnapped the commander of the German garrison on Crete . This was made into a film Ill Met by Moonlight in 1956 starring Dirk Bogarde.

The archive consists of literary manuscripts and typescripts, correspondence with leading figures including the poet Sir John Betjeman, photographs, passports, portrait sketches and personal papers including visitor books and various honours awarded to Leigh Fermor. One of the star items is the only surviving notebook from his youthful trek across Europe .

It offers an unrivalled insight into his life and writings and adds to the wealth of travel literature at NLS. Acquisition of this archive is seen as helping to establish NLS at the forefront of 20th century travel literature research collections

“This is a fantastic collection which will be made available at NLS,” said David McClay, Manuscripts Curator. “We hope it will excite people who know of Paddy and introduce him to a whole new generation of people who may not be aware of his work.”

Its arrival at NLS comes just before a new biography of Leigh Fermor by the British writer and family friend Artemis Cooper is to be published.

Leigh Fermor died before he could complete the third volume in his travel trilogy. Artemis Cooper has worked on the uncompleted manuscript and this third volume – entitled The Broken Road – is expected to be published in 2013. This will all add to the interest in Leigh Fermor’s life and in the NLS archive.

The archive has been bought with a grant from the John R Murray Charitable Trust which assists NLS in the care and promotion of access to the Library’s John Murray Archive. Leigh Fermor was published by the Murray family.

The connection with the Murray publishing house was one of the reasons NLS was chosen by Leigh Fermor’s executors as the home for his archive. He also knew the Library, having donated his wife’s photographic collection to NLS just before he died.

NLS has also taken possession of the personal archive of Leigh Fermor’s close friend Xan Fielding, an author, translator and traveller who also fought in Crete . This has been donated to the Library by Fielding’s family.

Volume Three of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy to be published in Autumn 2013 and called The Broken Road

We have waited a long time, and now like London buses, or English summer rain, it is all coming at once. Following on from her work on Patrick Leigh Fermor’s biography, An Adventure, to be published in October 2012, Artemis Cooper will pull together Paddy’s work on Volume Three ready for publication in autumn 2013.

The book will have the title The Broken Road. If you Google that you will find a catchy country song by Rascal Flatts. In fact the title has been taken from the sixth volume of Freya Stark’s letters. I am told that everyone concerned with the publication is agreed that it “sets up the right resonances, because although The Broken Road completes the story, the text is taken from more than one unpublished source.”

It is perhaps not well-known that Paddy started to work first on the events of Vol 3. Much of it was written before his defining work on A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the other two volumes in the trilogy.

Artemis Cooper tells me that although “it does not have their high polish, it does provide an extraordinary insight into Paddy the writer, and the interplay of his memory and imagination.” and whilst “it’s not going to sound like ATOG or BWW”, I am sure it will be one of the most anticipated publication events of next year.

Whilst we wait we can sing along ….

Literary and Historical References – A Time of Gifts

The second in the series which presents the work of members of the Royal Geographical Society which analyses chapter by chapter, literary and historical references from some of Paddy’s key works.

This was presented at the RGS in the afternoon talk on 12 December 2012,”Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Appreciation by Alexander Maitland, FRGS”.

My thanks to the Royal Geographic Society for permission to present this.

Download a pdf of this document here.

Related article:

Literary and Historical References – The Traveller’s Tree

Patrick Leigh Fermor: We May Just Forget to Die, an essay by Margot Demopoulos

This is the probably most significant full length profile of Paddy that has appeared since his death. It is by Margot Demopoulos a writer who lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Mondo Greco, The Athenian, and other publications.

The interesting aspect of this profile is an extensive exploration of the events surrounding the Kreipe kidnap with particular attention to the contentious subject of post-operation reprisal by the Germans.

The subject line appeared in an earlier blog post from June 2011 where I highlighted Diana Gilliland Wright’s correspondence with Paddy.

On to the profile ….

“Englischer Student . . . zu Fuss nach Konstantinopel…” eighteen-year-old Patrick Leigh Fermor told the kindly woman sewing by the fire that snowy night at Heidelberg’s Red Ox. He sat at a nearby table, recording the day’s events in a notebook, hunting for German words in a dictionary, consulting maps for the next leg of the journey, “thawing and tingling, with wine, bread, and cheese handy,” as melting snow pooled around his boots.

“Konstantinopel?” Frau Spengler said. “Oh Weh! ” O woe! So far!

Far indeed, especially in the snowdrifts of mid-winter, but there he was — undaunted, spirits high, finally setting out on his own path — nearly two months into his journey to cross Europe on foot, with Constantinople the terminus. Nearly forty-five years later, he would publish the story of that journey in A Time of Gifts. Read More ….

Access the pdf of the article here.

£1 a week – Surprisingly easy to Hungarian padded hands

Nick Hunt by the Danube

Nick Hunt by the Danube

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

March 2012 – Nick reaches the bridge at Esztergom

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

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

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

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

Related article:

Easter 1934 – Paddy reaches the Hungarian border at Esztergom

Patrick Leigh Fermor The Art of Travel broadcast c.1990-1992

A recording of a BBC Radio 4 programme entitled “The Art of Travel” (broadcast c.1990-1992) in which Annette Kobrak interviewed PLF for about 26 minutes concerning his early life and his journey to Constantinople. There is some good discussion about his travels after Between the Woods and the Water, about Bulgaria and into Constantinople.

I am indebted to David Turner for taking the time to convert this to digital and very successfully too – the sound quality is excellent!

You can listen online or download (press the downwards pointing arrow on the right hand side menu bar of the player).

I have updated the Video and Audio page with the programme. Don’t forget to visit to find more interviews with Paddy.

The remains of a BBC interview with Paddy from 2004

The incompetence or just downright negligence of the BBC in relation to their archive never ceases to amaze. In 2004 when Paddy received his Knighthood he made the ‘Faces of the Week’ page on the BBC website. They also included a snippet of an interview with Paddy where he describes the loss of his rucksack in Munich in 1934. I have asked the BBC if they have a copy of the remainder of this interview (date of interview unknown), but their reply was that they had either lost it or it had been erased.

You can listen to the interview on the BBC page here but you will need RealPlayer (remember that?).

Click here to play the interview straight off.

Colin Thubron recommends reading A Time of Gifts for 2012

A Time of Gifts, 1977

In the December edition of The Browser, Paddy’s good friend Colin Thubron talks about why A Time of Gifts remains one of this favourite travel books…

This is the first volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s journey in 1933-34 from the Hook of Holland, as he called it, to what he insisted on calling Constantinople [Istanbul]. It was to be in three volumes. This one takes him beyond Vienna. The second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary to the Balkans. The third volume was going to get him across Romania to Istanbul, but he never wrote it.

Like many people, I love the idea of this young 19-year-old gypsy going off on foot on his own, with just a pound a week, footloose and fancy free, full of delight at the world and fascination at where he’s going. That’s one of the lovely things about the book. It’s beautifully written, very rich prose. It’s model was Norman Douglas – rich in language, vocabulary, scholarship. It’s rather an acquired taste, and may seem old-fashioned to a younger generation.

I love the delight in everything, with all its byways in history or folklore, and the people he meets are so marvellously and generously described. He had such a big heart, a generous spirit. You feel he must have been a delightful companion for anyone to meet on the road. Some people find it a little bit showy-offy, because of all of the stuff he quotes as having by heart – but he did, it’s perfectly true. He had an excellent memory, and into his old age he was a great raconteur.

I know that you knew him quite well. Will you tell us about his character? He died not long ago of course.

Yes, he died [last June]. Well, he was what you would expect. In some ways, he was rather an innocent. He wasn’t an intellectual, but he loved facts and data and history and architecture. He also loved show, and a good story. He was a delightful companion, very funny, and he was a bit original. He would sometimes say something rather fanciful, he had a marvellous imagination. But there was this innocence about him.

It’s as if he was in a time warp, and in rejoining his youth in these two books he was rejoining somebody he still was, in a sense, his sensibility was so young. He hadn’t changed in many ways, he hadn’t been disillusioned. They are very “illusioned” books, if you like. It’s a very wonderful idea to go back to who he was, because he could so easily enter into the spirit of that liberated delight in the world which he kept with him always. He was very frail when he died, but he still kept that with him.

How does travel change a person? It’s a platitude that a physical journey is also an inner journey, but some platitudes are true.

I don’t know really. It’s supposed to broaden the mind. If I look at the travel writers I know and have known, there’s a certain breadth of knowledge. One would hope there’s a breadth of understanding or of sympathy too. Of course, it makes you a sort of amateur. You’re a free agent, you’re the oddball. One can understand why dictators find travellers a threat – you’re not beholden to anyone and you’re doing what you want, which is a marvellous privilege. But what it does to you character-wise, I don’t know.

The title A Time of Gifts comes from a line of poetry by Louis MacNeice …

“For now the time of gifts is gone / O boys that grow, O snows that melt.”

That certainly hints at growth of character.

Yes it does. This was his great extended epiphany, to be suddenly going out travelling. That was the time of gifts for him, when the world opened to him. He was obviously ready for it. He was always on the wrong side of authority in England, and he was expelled from school. He got into a rather posh artist society in London and he was enormously entertaining and fun, and very handsome as a young man. But he hadn’t travelled anywhere. So suddenly to loose yourself on the world was surely his time of gifts.

I love Leigh Fermor’s motto. Solvitur ambulando.

It is solved by walking

£1 a week Hook of Holland to Constantinople: Where is Nick?

Since his departure on 9 December we have heard little from Nick Hunt. He did post a short piece describing his departure from Hook of Holland on his blog, but since then silence.

However, it appears that Nick is making good progress and on 28 December he was in Bingen near the end of the Rhine. It was here that Paddy celebrated Christmas 1933 staying with an innkeeper and his ‘pretty daughters, who were aged from five to fifteen …’ (A Time of Gifts p53 in the John Murray paperback). This is pretty good progress seeing as Paddy had earlier taken a trip on a Rhine barge.

Skip over to Nick’s blog to read about one of his first walking days in Holland.

Stop Press! – open the comments section of this article below to read a further update from Nick as he tells us a little more about his walk down the Rhine. He is now at Heidelberg .. the Red Ox beckons (ATOG p 56 if you are keeping up!).