Tag Archives: Nick Hunt

Remembering Paddy – Travel Writing world podcast with Artemis Cooper, Colin Thubron and Nick Hunt

Patrick Leigh Fermor – Δημήτρης Παπαδήμος,

Patrick Leigh Fermor – Δημήτρης Παπαδήμος

Perhaps you recall I introduced the excellent Travel Writing World podcast to you some months’ ago and bemoaned the Paddy deficit on the site. Editor Jeremy Bassetti has, as promised, remedied this with a 10th anniversary round table discussion with Artemis Cooper, Colin Thubron and Nick Hunt.

Listen to the episode here.

Shortlist revealed for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

The shortlist has been announced for this year’s Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year prize.

This year’s eight-book shortlist includes Without Ever Reaching the Summit by Paolo Cognetti (Harvill Secker), The Border by Erika Fatland (Quercus), Shadow City by Taran Khan (Bodley Head) and Travelling While Black by Nanjala Nyabola (Hurst).

Also in the running are Wanderland by Jini Reddy (Bloomsbury), The Lost Pianos of Siberia by Sophy Roberts (Transworld), Along the Amber Route by C J Scholar (Sandstone Press) and Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght (Allen Lane).

Part of the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards, the £2,500 prize is run in association with the Authors’ Club. The judging panel features author Lois Pryce, explorer Benedict Allen, author and past recipient of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award Colin Thubron, journalist and author Monisha Rajesh, and author Nick Hunt.

Vivien Godfrey, chairman and CEO of Stanfords, said: “We’re delighted to announce the shortlist of such varied and truly unique titles. These books act as a tonic for us all during these times when travel has been halted and adventures have been limited.

“It’s been a tough year for Stanfords and travel writers, and the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards this year are a much-needed boost to our spirits and a great excuse to celebrate what the genre has to offer.”

Held in March, the awards will also crown the Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year, from a list of four finalists who have submitted original writing of between 600 and 800 words.

The winner of the Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing Award, previously scooped by authors including Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Paul Theroux, will also be announced on the night.

Your responses – out of print travel and nature books

Dear Readers,

I hope that you are well. It is a colder day here in Winchester, with wintry showers, sleet and rain, suddenly interspersed with dazzlingly low and bright sunshine. Despite the virus, there’s a lot of activity as people in this little city prepare for Christmas. I shall be putting up the tree tomorrow.

The response to the call for your lists of out of print books produced some interesting ideas. I thought that it woul dbe useful to list all the responses. So here they are, culled from your comments appended to the post, or sent to me by email.

The sharper ones of you have already joined some dots, linking this to our friend Nick Hunt’s assignment for John Murray which may see some of these books published next year to mark the tenth anniversary of Paddy’s death.

John Monahan

I offer “Journey to Khiva” by Philip Glazebrook and “Vanished Empire” by Stephen Brook.

Robert M Davison

Xan Fielding’s Hide and Seek
Sandy Rendell’s Appointment in Crete
Mary Chubb’s City in the Sand

City in the Sand is connected because Mary was (in the 1930s) associated with the British Egyptology Society’s excavations that were led by John Pendlebury, another larger than life character in the Cretan theatre.

One more – Theodore Stephanides – Climax in Crete

Incidentally I have copies of all the books I mentioned (and many more besides) but it is sad to see them so long out of print.

Over the years, in different places, I was able to collect quite a few books related to the Cretan war – from many different perspectives. The German perspective is well (and humanely) told in von der Heyde’s Daedalus Returned.

David Sanderson

Two out of print travel books which I think Paddy in particular would approve of are Kiwi At Large and Kiwi Vagabond by E S Allison.

Errol Allison was born in NZ in 1918. He served with the 20th Battalion in Egypt, Greece, Crete and Libya. Captured in 1941 he went from prison camps in Italy to Germany. After escaping twice and being recaptured he spent weeks in a Gestapo gaol and eventually took the identity of a Belgian and met up with the Russians in action. He returned to NZ and resumed teaching.

(Taken from the dust jacket)
In 1954 he embarked on the travels described in Kiwi at Large. Leaving home with £80 he wanders 22,000 miles alone in twenty countries, to see places he had a lifelong curiosity about, and to satisfy his longing to see places where he had fought. He travels rough in seamy third class Indian trains, in crowded Arab coaches, on donkeys and on foot. His bed, sometimes under a tree or in a Persian stable, is more often in peasants’ cottages, in Greek monasteries, in Arab dives, in cheap hotels of shady character, in deserted ancient cities – though occasionally in wealthy homes.

Kiwi Vagabond is the sequel, telling of the journey from England across Europe and Asia.

I read both books some time ago and loved them. They are little known and deserve to be read by a much larger audience. I believe Errol subsequently worked at a quite high level for the Red Cross. He comes across as a marvellous individual. Highly recommended.

rlindsaybrown

Anything by John Hillaby, who I think has been rather forgotten since his death in 1996, but a big favourite travel writer of mine in my childhood and teens. Slow burn and not so showy, but a genuine love of outdoor and place comes shining through in his writing and a rare focus on the local when exotica was the thing.

Dr JP Simpson

One of the most interesting travel books I have (and it took some getting) is ‘John Blades Currey: Fifty Years in the Cape Colony’, one of 1,000 copies superbly edited by Phillida Brooke Simons and published by the Brenthurst Press, South Africa in 1986. Brasenose, Oxford-educated Currey’s account of his travels in Outeniqualand and Namaqualand and his involvement in the Eighth Frontier War cover the period 1850-56 and are immensely enhanced by his watercolour illustrations. The book is remarkable for its balance and impartiality at a time when the indigenous inhabitants, Boers and British were increasingly pitted against each other for rich farmland, gold and diamonds. The book is historical “gold dust” because Currey was private secretary to Cecil Rhodes. In the flyleaf of my copy is a handwritten copy of a letter dated March 27th (1902) from the Archbishop of Capetown to Currey that reads in part: “….So our friend is gone from us! It was like him that being owner of large mansions and estates he should die in a simple cottage. He was in death what he had been in life. Now that he is gone, I trust the rancour of his enemies will cease to pursue him. I am dreadfully grieved that I never was allowed to visit him and pray with him and that Jameson did not keep the promise he had conveyed to me through Michell.”

antoon van coillie

Black Lamb & Grey Falcon , Rebecca West : such an incredible book on the lost world of Yugoslavia just before the Second World War & any of Freya Stark’s books….

John Rigby-Jones

George Bean’s books on Turkey

Stefan

What a wonderful idea. I have spoken here before so some will know that I’m a bookseller and book collector. I’ve managed to travel fairly widely in my seventy-odd years and I’m still a bit fit. I always said you travel to faraway places only to see if it’s worthwhile going back again. There are five places on earth which I hope to see again before I die. Only one concerns us here. I lived in Crete in 1977. We rented a house in Xaniá on Psaromilingon St which cost us all of 2000 drachs a month— about thirty quid. I wonder what the rent would be now, just off the harbour. I have managed to pick up a good collection of Crete and PLF but I’ve never been able to afford a decent Pashley: Travels in Crete or Spratt’s Travels and Researches…

In my opinion the best modern writing about Crete is still Llewellyn Smith’s The Great Island. It did get a second edition and you can pick it up at a reasonable price. Do so, because you will never prise my own copy out of me. Some people read Tolkien every year. I read Crete. Another excellent work is easier to find and cheap: Gail Holst’s Road to Rembetika. I had been back to Crete (I’ve been back many times) with a party of four and we walked from Chora Sphakion to Xania via Pachnes. It was only February and what a February we picked. I have never seen such snow. The locals in Chora Sphakion said we could do it in day. But you don’t believe Cretans, do you? Four days later, we came down with broken backs and broken tents, exhausted, to a small spring in the woods below the snowline. We knew we must be getting close. We were soon in Zoúrva. My diary at the time got stolen so I cannot recall the name of the kyría who served us. She was wonderful. There were no tourists at that time of year. Three of us were vegetarians but that was no problem. We intended to continue our journey but large amounts of krasí and retsína meant we camped overnight. Later, we were back in the kafeneion. Zoúrva is still only a tiny village but that evening, with only four tourists, some old men walked in. They had the lyra and bouzouki and one was playing some kind of drum. Yes, they were playing for us but, somehow, they seemed far away and were playing themselves into some kind of mesmerism.

I am not particularly interested in the Minoan and archaeological stuff although Dilys Powell, The Villa Ariadne, is superb. The dark ages are not well covered in Cretan literature but by the time we get to the Turks and Venetians we are starting to hear Cretan voices. This was when Cretans became Crete and there are lots of titles to read.

A work of fiction, Prevelakis’s The Sun of Death, ought to be on the pantheon of world literature. It is apparently not so much fiction either.

There is a little-known work by Tasos Dourountakis: Anezina and Me: A True Cretan Story. It’s a family history of the kind all too prevalent in the English-speaking world but not often found in Crete. It would be for the better of all if Cretans, however old or young, started writing their family histories. You don’t have to write well; you just have to write. Go for it!

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
You mentioned Dilys Powell in a post. Is her ‘An Affair of the Heart’ still in print? I re-read my copy almost annually!

Stefan
In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
Yes, that’s another excellent work. It’s still available in those wretched print-on-demand things but decent first editions are still inexpensive.

Stefan

I’m back again. I shall mention another area I’ve been fortunate to spend quite some time in—Ladakh in the far north of India in the Himalaya.

Most of the old travel books can be found in the print-on-demand industry but I much prefer “real” books. Where Three Empires Meet is by E.F. Knight (not a female). It’s Victorian but is immensely readable and was very popular. It went into many editions. A first is becoming expensive but some of the later editions are reasonable. Get one with the author’s photographs.

Lieut-Colonel Torrens’ Travels in Ladâk, Tartary and Kashmir is another surprisingly readable Victorian work. If you can afford it, make an investment and buy yourself a first edition.

And the book that set it all off for me was Zanskar: the Hidden Kingdom by Michel Peissel. All his books are worth reading.

You mention nature books too, Tom. So, closer to home, I have to admit I was very late stumbling across John Wyatt’s The Shining Levels. What a superb piece of writing! All of these books and many more still continue to bring joy as you get older. I shall confine any future post to just a list of titles.

Dr JP Simpson

In reply to Stefan.
‘Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh’ by Helena Norbert-Hodge… the humanism of old ways? Would that be a fair summary?

Stefan

In reply to Dr JP Simpson.
She gave me a lift once when I was on my way to Choglamsar. I found her intellect intimidating but I would say “the humanity of old ways,” a superb expression, thank you. I think Tom, and PLF, would understand. In 1986 I had befriended a Tibetan refugee. We did some serious drinking together. In 1989 I tracked him down. He was in a broken condition with an older wife and a very young child. I got him out of the gutter and he acted as guide and interpreter for my wife and myself for a few months. In 1998 they were all doing fine and their young girl was growing to be a proud Tibetan. She spoke Ladakhi, Tibetan and English (as well as I! Albeit with a US accent).

Modern travel narratives on Ladakh tend to be the “look-at-me”, Lonely Planet stuff. Nevertheless, two works on Alchi stand out:

Alchi: Treasure of the Himalayas. Ladakh’s Buddhist Masterpiece by Peter van Ham, Amy Heller & Likir Monastery; Hirmer Verlag, Munich; 2018. This is outstanding and cheap! Publication was heavily sponsored. (Available in English language edition).

Alchi: Ladakh’s Hidden Buddhist Sanctuary. The Sumtsek by Roger Goepper; photography by Jaroslav Poncar; Shambhala Limited Editions, Boston, 1996. 1500 copies. This will cost you a few bob more but don’t bother with the later New Delhi paperback imprint.

A slightly dry, but still fascinating work is A History of Western Tibet, A.H. Francke; Partridge, London 1907.

We ought to include also some biographies. Nicholas Shakespeare’s debunking of Chatwin. I don’t mind reading Chatwin but I am aware that some (a lot?) is fiction. Julian Evans’ biography of Norman Lewis: Semi Invisible Man: the Life of Norman Lewis is superb.

Dr. JP Simpson

Well, Stefan, your memories of Ladakh brighten a dull Irish Sunday evening! I think Helena Norbert-Hodge self-publishes now but it was her editor and friend of 30+ years ago, Tessa Strickland, who put me on to her. And, yes, Nicholas Shakespeare’s QUALITY biography of Bruce Chatwin scrubbed the scales from off my eyes but even so, I cannot ‘diss’ him, just as I cannot ‘diss’ T.E.Lawrence.

Stefan

In reply to Dr. JP Simpson.
I knew, but forgot to point out, that it’s “Norberg”.

Chatwin will be worth reading for generations to come but I fear readers will be lovers or haters. My own sister is a bookseller in the north of England. Her husband is a book tragic also. He is a PLF fan (and has a collection I envy) but my sister thinks PLF is awful. She thinks Chatwin is the bee’s knees. Her husband doesn’t and I don’t.

I read Lawrence about 45 years ago and found him hard going. I still have a copy somewhere so I shall go rummaging. He is not the flavour with bookbuyers at the moment because of his prejudices so collectors (and booksellers with nous and shelf space) should be snapping things up.

Do you know what?—I have never finished Byron’s The Road to Oxiana. I have tried and tried but it’s boring. His story is tragic, yes. In my opinion his achievement was a seemingly trivial guide he wrote in the 1930s for London Underground for London’s sightseers.

Tom has invited us to dine on on travel, environment and nature. This is probably half the British Library but I think many more of the PLF subscribers should be helping Tom out with his list here.

Stefan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beneath the surface: Tuscany’s ancient walking trails

The sunken vie cave paths were made by the Etruscans

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

First published in The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wine cellars at Sassotondo vineyard are cut deep into tufo

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

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

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

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

Patrick Leigh Fermor – the journey continues

From time to time, the Benaki Museum publishes a supplement to its regular journal, and the 9th Supplement is a masterpiece dedicated to Paddy’s life.

Well bound, and coffee table book sized, there are over twenty new articles exploring a range of topics including Paddy’s intimates and friends, his walks, the Cretan resistance, wider discussions of Greece, Paddy’s writing and of course the house.

The Benaki have assembled a remarkable collection of writers including Hamish Robertson, Cressida Connolly, the Marques de Tamaron, Nick Hunt, John Kitmer, Chris White, Colin Thubron, John Julius Norwich, Adam Sisman, and Roberto Calasso amongst others.

The supplement is available from the Benaki Museum shop for 18 Euros plus worldwide DHL shipping.

Details of the contents are here.

Nick Hunt weathers the storms of Europe

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt

It’s good to see that people are still enjoying Nick Hunt’s book and finding a resonance with recent weather events. An article from The Spectator.

By Kathleen Jamie

First published in The Spectator

Irma, the storm that recently caused such damage in the Caribbean, was the ninth named tropical storm of the 2017 season, hence the initial I. You can while away a fascinating time on Wikipedia, learning how storms area named, when and why and by whom. There is, of course, a committee: the hurricane committee of the World Meteorological Organization. A list of names chosen by them operates on a six-year cycle. Since feminist protests in the 1970s, male names are also included. Later this year the tropical Atlantic region may be threatened by a storm called Sean. As in Connery. And as the season closes, Whitney. Quite a party. Next year we might meet Patty, which sounds more like the touch of an annoying breeze. Non-meteorologists have also taken to naming storms. In 2011 the great gale that hit Scotland was dubbed Hurricane Bawbag, not a name that features on any officially sanctioned list.

All of this is a digression, although one that exposes how the skew of our times and media means we in the UK now know more about seasonal tropical hurricanes than we do about the named winds of old Europe, which have shaped our cultures, architecture, and even our personalities and mental health. Perhaps we are too confined to cars to be wholly wind-aware. Indeed, until I opened Nick Hunt’s book, I hadn’t known there is a named wind in England: the Helm of Cumbria.

Read more here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where the wild winds are

Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence by Nick Hunt

If some of you are wondering what is happening with Nick Hunt’s new book, I can offer you some very good news.

First, it exists! I have a copy in proof form with a delightful new cover (see picture). Second, launch events are planned for September; I will update you where I can. Finally, Where the Wild Winds Are: Walking Europe’s Winds from the Pennines to Provence, is available for pre-order from Amazon.

I am currently with Nick battling the only named English wind, the Helm, as he struggles to find shelter in a bothy on the Pennine Way. Wind walking could be the next big thing.

The gravitational pull of a unique personality

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

Patrick Leigh Fermor, left, met Heinrich Kreipe, his former captive, at a reunion in Greece in 1972 which included the famous Greek TV show

We all discovered Paddy by different routes, but if one follows the thread of certain ideas, one can often find it leads to Patrick Leigh Fermor. My own journey started with my interest in Byzantine history; the link with Constantinople and Steven Runciman being my link. It was therefore a great joy to hear from a former colleague with whom I had lost touch some years ago. Chris Wares has discovered Paddy through his interest in the work of Antony Beevor, and after finding this blog he wrote to me explaining his own Paddy journey. He has agreed to me publishing it here. How did you first encounter Paddy? Maybe you can tell us in the comments section.

by Chris Wares

Unlike probably everyone reading this I have yet to actually read any of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books. In fact I’m ashamed to say that a year ago I hadn’t even heard of the man. But over the past twelve months I have found myself being inexorably drawn towards the man and his books. Unknowingly at first and then, after what I can only describe as a sort of literary epiphany, I realised that I was in the gravitational pull of a unique personality, a name that kept turning everywhere I looked. Gradually I came to terms with the realisation that I would be compelled to read his books.

I am sure everyone has their own story on how they became acquainted with PLF but, as I stand on the precipice of opening one of his books for the first time, I thought I would describe how I arrived at this point.

It all began about a year ago when I read Crete: The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor. Beevor is one of my favourite authors and so, while not being especially interested in the war in Crete, I was confident that my investment would be rewarded. Amongst the broad sweep of battle Beevor describes the tale of a British SOE soldier who possessed a larger than life character. A man who captures a German general from under their noses and then marches him across the mountains with half the German army on his tail. It was a scintillating story but the name of the hero didn’t particularly register in my mind.

A few weeks later I read Natural Born Heroes: The Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance by another of my favourite authors, Christopher McDougall. McDougall’s stories of long distance runners provide great inspiration for those that are needing motivation to get down to the business of training for a marathon. In the book McDougall writes of ancient Greek demigods who had discovered the secrets of endurance running. Switching to the twentieth century, he describes in reverential tones the superhuman endurance of a British soldier called Paddy who possessed the same qualities. It’s the same guy.

OK. So it’s a good tale and worth retelling but surely this was just coincidence. Sure, it’s a great yarn about the Battle of Crete and it also works as a modern day fable about god-like feats of endurance. But this was just one of those things right? The sort of tale anyone writing about Crete includes.

Then several months later I booked a romantic weekend in Brasov, Transylvania, for my wife’s birthday. A rare opportunity for us to get away without the kids and visit somewhere slightly off the beaten track. To get to know the place better I decided to do my homework and read up on Romania. These days, tied down by kids and mortgages, my wanderlust is largely restricted to armchair adventures. Travel books and histories providing an enjoyable way of vicariously travel the world.

I picked up Anthony Eales Blue River, Black Sea, a light and enjoyable read recounting his journey by bicycle and boat from the source of the Danube down to the Black Sea. Eales opens by describing how he decided to emulate the journey some guy called Patrick Leigh Fermor made in the 1930s down the Danube who also happened to kidnap a German general in Crete…. Hang on a minute? Kidnapped a German general in Crete? This can’t be the same bloke can it?

It’s at that point I turn to Google. Who was this guy? A good story can be a matter of circumstance; a combination of events that a person can just be caught up in. But appearing heroic in two separate dramas suggests a character that possesses something special. A man who “drank from a different fountain” as some might say.

I quickly found myself getting up to speed on the basics – SOE, renowned travel writer, author of three books about walking across Europe in the 1930s, the last of which was edited by Colin Thubron and Artemis Cooper. This was sounding good. I like Colin Thubron. And Artemis Cooper? That’s a name that rings a bell? Of course! – she co-wrote Paris After the Liberation: 1944 – 1949 with Beevor (which I also just read).

Another Google search and I realise that Beevor and Cooper are married and obviously share an admiration for PLF. And – just to reinforce the impression that everything was in some way joined up and connected to the man – it turns out that Cooper is the daughter of John Julius Norwich whose A History of Venice I read in August. I was beginning to get the feeling that Patrick Leigh Fermor was something special. I was in the orbit of something that deserved further investigation.

My armchair exploration of Romania continued through the Autumn and it soon felt as if all roads led to Patrick Leigh Fermor. The author Nick Thorpe talks about him in The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest while travelling along the Danube in the opposite direction to Eales. Nick Hunt follows in his footsteps in Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn. William Blacker quotes him extensively in Along the Enchanted Way: A Story of Love and Life in Romania (which incidentally is one of the loveliest books I have read in a long time) and Dervla Murphy contrasts 1990s Romania with his descriptions of the 1930s in Transylvania and Beyond. Georgina Harding quotes him in In Another Europe: A Journey to Romania. At times it felt as if everyone who had ever visited Romania in the past 40 years had read his books.

With his writing venerated by so many, the signs were clear that I needed to read him for myself. Here was someone who is not only considered one of the best travel writers ever but someone whose books inspired so much else that I read and enjoyed. My curiosity piqued I enthusiastically went on a bookstore spending spree and purchased all three books of the trilogy as well as his biography.

The books have sat patiently on my bedside table for some time now, but the moment of turning that first page is fast approaching. Logically the trilogy should form part of my Romanian literary journey but I have purposely set them aside and held back until the moment is right. The books may be the finalé to my Romanian odyssey but I feel as if they may also be first steps of an entirely new journey.

It’s rare to have such a sense of anticipation ahead of reading a new book. Such a build up runs the risk of the reality failing to live up to the expectation and I am nervous that perhaps I may not find his books as exquisite as I have come to imagine them to be. But on the other hand I am reassured with the knowledge that I am following in the footsteps of many others.

And now to turn that first page and follow path that is well trodden; one which all of those who are reading this will have already travelled….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Print

Nick Hunt shortlisted for Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year

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

More about the award here. The Shortlist is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

award2

Hachette UK Buys Nicholas Brealey Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catch up here.

Patrick Leigh Fermor Society events March and April

We seem to be turning into a classified ads section for Paddy related events at the moment. It’s one announcement after another. Sorry about that but it just shows that there is a lot going on and it is only fair to give due warning so you can schedule your diaries or even your trans-Atlantic business trip if you happen to be coming this way. The PLF Society have two more events coming up which remain open to non-members in March and April.

Walking across Europe in Paddy’s Footsteps
DATE: Monday 9th March 2015
TIME: 7:15pm
LOCATION: Great Hall, Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington St, London W1U 5AS
Writer and storyteller Nick Hunt, author of Walking the Woods and the Water,
recounts his modern day ‘great trudge’, walking in Paddy’s footsteps from the Hook
of Holland to Istanbul.
RSVP info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org

and …

In association with Pro Patrimonio, The Patrick Leigh Fermor Society presents
A Romanian Romance: Paddy in Transylvania and Moldavia A journey through time
DATE: Thursday 16th April 2015
TIME: 7:00pm
LOCATION: Romanian Cultural Institute, 1 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8PH
Alan Ogden, author of Romania Revisited, will introduce the evening and briefly describe Romania in the 1930s.

Michael de Styrcea, nephew of Marshal of the Court Baron Ionel Mocsonyi-Styrcea, will then discuss Paddy’s time in Transylvania and the former Banat with illustrations from the Mocsonyi family archive.

The second part of the evening, led by Serban Cantacuzino C.B.E. (the founder of Pro Patrimonio) and his sister, Marie-Lyse Ruhemann, will be devoted to the story of Balasha Cantacuzino, her sister Pomme and Paddy.

RSVP info@patrickleighfermorsociety.org. Please note that the RCI has a capacity of 90 seats.

Listen to Harry and Nick

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

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

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

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

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim

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

For more writers’ talks hit this link .

Nick Hunt Marking Paddy’s Centenary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like a Tramp, Like a Pilgrim

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

By Tom Sawford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, where did he get that title from? 🙂

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

Buy In the Dolphin’s Wake

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

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

By

First Published in Macleans 1 November 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

Salmagundi Magazine special feature on Patrick Leigh Fermor

Paddy at BaleniI am grateful to Marc Woodworth for sending me this feature about Paddy posted in Salmagundi Magazine.

It includes excerpts from three essays:

  • Joanna Kavenna on memory and the past in A Time of Gifts
  • George Prochnik on Byzantium and style in Mani
  • Bina Gogineni on exoticism in The Traveller’s Tree

Plus exclusive online contributions from Nick Delbanco, Nick Delbanco, our very own Nick Hunt (Following Fermor in Romania)
and a Micro-Anthology selected by Michael Ondaatje, Thomas de Waal, Michael Gorra, Andrew Eames and photographs of Kövecses by Andrew Hillard.

Download the pdf here … salmagundi magazine

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

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

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

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

Details here.

Nick Hunt on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live

Nick Hunt and James Naughtie

Nick Hunt after his walk with James Naughtie

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Artemis Cooper

First published in The Spectator 10 April 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt

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

Transylvania Diary

Bran Castle — but don’t mention Dracula

A gentle and humorous review of the very first Transylvanian Book Festival.

By Thomas W. Hodgkinson

First published in The Spectator 21 September 2013

Ehe-Gefängnis. The word, strictly speaking (which is how one should always speak), means ‘marriage prison’, and refers to an austere cell maintained in some of the magnificent fortified Saxon churches of central Transylvania. When a local couple decided to divorce, they were first locked in this narrow room for several weeks. There was only one bed: single. There was one chair, one plate, one knife, one fork, one cup. The result was that within a few days, the couple would realise they didn’t actually need a divorce after all — not because they wanted to escape the hell of enforced proximity, but because they had fallen in love again.

I’m here in the pastoral heart of Romania, attending the first ever Transylvanian Book Festival: a three-day extravaganza of talks, tours and readings, featuring bitter poets, wry novelists and rueful academics, and all of them what you might call professionally interesting. This sets the conversational bar pretty high over lunch, I can tell you. For one thing, since arriving in Romania, I’ve learnt that you should never, under any circumstances, mention Dracula. I mention him once, but I think I get away with it. Then up steps Professor Roy Foster, warily, wearily perhaps, to speak of the unspeakable. And of course he turns it around, delivering a vampirically mesmerising talk, showing how Bram Stoker’s masterpiece is ultimately all about Ireland. And transgressive sex.

Along with war, one of the great narrative themes (laying aside, for a moment, transgressive sex) has always been the return from war, and returning home generally. The Odyssey and other stories about the Greeks returning from Troy, collectively known as nostoi, set the tone. Our word ‘nostalgia’, referring to a painful desire to return, can extend to the pain felt when you get home and find it isn’t what it used to be. Nostalgia is also a theme of this festival. The villages where we’re staying — Richis, Biertan, Copsa Mare — were built by Saxons in alien Romania in the 12th century, and sustained until 1990. Lured by the promise of a better life, many modern Saxons then moved to Germany. They called it ‘going home’, though often their new lives were in concrete blocks, while their derelict farms fell apart. Now, with the help of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, and in co-operation with the Saxons who remain, these old buildings are being restored. I had an idea of writing a spoof travel book, detailing my ten years spent living among the people of Chiswick. Or possibly even ‘amongst’ them, which always sounds like a more profound level of integration. But what I’ve seen here is curing me of the conceit.

A night on the tiles with William Blacker. His book Along The Enchanted Way, about his years living ‘amongst’ the people of northern Romania, also describes his passionate relationship with a gypsy beauty named Marishka. After midnight, we enter a bar in Richis, which is packed with gypsies, including brooding boys and a girl with what I can only call a bluge (my invented word for a cleavage that defies gravity). The place falls silent as we come in. Should I lose the straw hat? William has a discreet word with the barman, who slips on a CD of gypsy music, and soon the dance floor is all movement: clicking fingers and smacked thighs. I tap my foot dexterously to one side. Wine, then beer: oh dear. Beer, then tzuika (the local brandy): eureka!

My fiancée and I have the occasional argument, shall we say. Anya, who languishes in London while I whoop it up in Richis, is Russian, and her deadpan manner can be disconcerting. I asked her recently what kind of man she found attractive. ‘Clowns,’ she replied. While I’m here, lawyers push the sale of our flat in Chiswick, which is the size of an Ehe-Gefängnis. We’re after something bigger, within striking distance of central London. Hold your sides, if they hurt from laughing.

But I mustn’t complain about property prices, with so much of interest going on around me. Artemis Cooper speaking about Paddy Leigh Fermor; Jessica Douglas- Home on the Mihai Eminescu Trust, which she runs; young Nick Hunt reading from his forthcoming book about following in Leigh Fermor’s footsteps; and all presided over by the seraphic Lucy Abel Smith, mistress of ceremonies. This has been, quite simply, the best and most inspiring literary festival I’ve ever attended. But more even than the readings, what has made it special has been the beauty of the countryside, the warmth of the locals, and — dare I say it? — the incredible cheapness of Romanian beer, which in a bar sets you back about 50p a bottle. All of which has persuaded me I’ve no choice really but to move to Romania. Now I just have to tell Anya.

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

Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walking the Woods and the Water

Walking the Woods and the Water

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

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

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

The Broken Road: retracing the steps of a wild adventure

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

Interview by Adrian Bridge

First published in the Telegraph, 12 Sep 2013

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

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

Why did you want to undertake this journey?

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

What was it about the route itself that appealed?

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

And is it?

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

Paddy’s first passport photo

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

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

So initially you were walking in the winter?

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

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

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

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

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

The Rhine

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

Were you, like Paddy, entertained by counts?

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

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

What was most different from what Leigh Fermor experienced?

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

Rotterdam

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

What were your favourite parts of the journey?

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

And the not-so-good bits?

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

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

Is walking the best way to go?

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

Paddy on horseback in Moldova

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

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

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

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

No. The book will be out next spring.

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

Transylvanian Book Festival final programme and bookings

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

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

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

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

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

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

He says on his blog:

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

Listen here…

Up Down and Across part 1

Up Down and Across part 2

Up Down and Across part 3

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

Lit fest authors

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

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

The following have confirmed:

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

You can make a reservation and book online here.

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

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

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

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

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

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