Tag Archives: The Broken Road

Patrick Leigh Fermor: journey’s end book cover

plfhome2_0A short article from the Creative Review about the book covers for Paddy’s work.  A must read as it is full of beautiful pictures of Craxton book covers. Best seen on on a big computer screen.

by Mark Sinclair

The final part of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s triology documenting his walk across Europe in the 1930s was published in September. Its cover by Ed Kluz, shown left, fulfilled an interesting brief – to offer something new but to keep in mind the tradition of Fermor’s illustrated covers, designed since the 1950s by the late John Craxton…

Read the article on the CR blogsite here.

Last leg of a joyous, erudite journey

Paddy by Patrick Kidd

Paddy by Patrick Kidd

‘The Broken Road’ is brimful of the author’s characteristic exuberance, charm and erudition, with all his stylish and inimitable prose flourishes in place.

By Patricia Craig.

First published in The Irish Times, 26 October 2013.

Towards the end of her admirable biography of Patrick Leigh Fermor, from 2012, Artemis Cooper relates an anecdote. After the stupendous success of the first two-thirds of his proposed trilogy – A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – expectations were high for the final section. But something of a writer’s block had overtaken the author. Despite encouragement from every source – friends, wife, publisher, his eager readers – he found himself unable to complete the undertaking.

Then, after spending weeks in his study engrossed in some form of composition, he emerged one day clutching a sheaf of paper. “I knew it could be done!” he exclaimed to his overjoyed wife. But, alas, he went on, “I knew PG Wodehouse would translate into Greek.”

But all was not lost. The history of The Broken Road is complicated. It completes the story begun when the author, aged 18, in 1934, embarked on a tremendous journey. His aim, which he fulfilled, was to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. Years later, when Patrick Leigh Fermor sat down to make another journey backwards in time, he conceived the project as a three-volume account of his travels across Europe during those heady years of the mid 1930s. What resulted was an extraordinary feat of recollection and evocation, which placed the author among the outstanding travel writers of the 20th century. But it stopped short at the Iron Gates in Romania (the ending of volume two).

As the painstaking editors of The Broken Road recount, however, Leigh Fermor had actually written the current text as far back as the early 1960s. It, or a version of it, was lost, retrieved, abandoned, reclaimed and subjected to intermittent revision. Indeed, the author was still working on it until a few months before his death, in 2011, at 96 (PG Wodehouse notwithstanding). And, the editors say, “there is scarcely a phrase here, let alone a sentence, that is not his.”

If Leigh Fermor never brought the manuscript to a state that caused him to rejoice, it is nevertheless hard to see what there was about it that engendered so much angst. It is brimful of the author’s characteristic exuberance, charm and erudition, with all his stylish and inimitable prose flourishes in place.

The final part of The Broken Road is rather different, though, as it consists of entries from Leigh Fermor’s only surviving diary (January-February 1935), which he kept while going from monastery to monastery on Mount Athos. Immediacy rather than retrospection is the keynote here. No felicitous reflections imposed over the rough jottings, but rather a sense of the young traveller sitting down in one of his whitewashed cells each evening to write up the day’s events, the different types of monks encountered (“a surprisingly cultivated man”; “a funny little creature with a hump, very small, his frock discarded for chopping wood”), the scenery reminiscent of the Garden of Gethsemane, the hazardous walks up rocky paths through melting snow, the cypresses and orange trees and tranquil Aegean Sea.

We have the diaries and, in the middle of chapter seven, we have a short autobiographical interlude – “My childhood was spent in London, in my mother’s very exciting company” – sparked off by two letters, one from his mother and one from his father in India, which he collected from a post office on the way to Varna. Otherwise, The Broken Road is a scintillating continuation of the prodigious walk that took the young Leigh Fermor right into the heart of magically different prewar Europe and beyond, through places “teeming with history and with natural wonders”. Eleven dolphins leaping and gambolling in a bay; a wild boar in an autumn forest; black-cloaked and hooded herdsmen of a nomadic Balkan tribe. The “strange, rather sad, rather beguiling spell [that] haunted the cobbled lanes of this twinkling, twilight little town of Mesembria”.

Leigh Fermor had some considerable assets to aid him on his journey. He had a knack of falling on his feet, of getting out of scrapes and overcoming setbacks. He had high spirits, hardihood and luck on his side. Whether in the streets of some unfamiliar town or halfway up a bleak mountain with darkness closing in, he rarely failed to encounter kindness and hospitality. His gift for languages enabled him to communicate even with rough Bulgarian shepherds or Greek fishermen in a cave on the Black Sea coast.

It was a time of contrasts, all of which he took in his stride: if he’s not immersed in the social life of Bucharest (for example), living it up while staying in a diplomat’s flat (after an inadvertent sojourn in a brothel), he is sleeping under the sky or in rough-and-ready peasant accommodation.

He is, by turns, gregarious – drinking, singing and dancing half the night – and of a solitary, introspective bent. The first was of inestimable benefit to him along the road, while the second came into play once he’d started retracing his own footsteps, recalling with gusto the pungency of the past, conjuring up bygone scenes, moods, crucial encounters, histories, classical comparisons, lights and shades, exotic experiences, flights of fancy, all replete with the exhilaration of travel, of setting out. From the moment he stepped ashore on the snow-covered soil of the Netherlands, back in 1934, he was in his element.

Now, although The Broken Road peters out in the middle of a sentence, his journey is complete, his worldly task accomplished, with the whole undertaking “as thick in marvels as Aladdin’s cave”.

Ignore the xenophobic hysteria and welcome our EU neighbours

Villagers in Clinceni, Romania cover a field with what they claim is the world's biggest ever flag

Villagers in Clinceni, Romania cover a field with what they claim is the world’s biggest ever flag

Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate.

By Boyd Tonkin.

First published in the Independent, 27 December 2013.

This may surprise alarmed observers in Sofia and Bucharest – or even in Westminster. But one of the best-loved British books of 2013 takes the form of a fervent and heartfelt tribute to the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania. War hero, writer and traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor died in 2011 before he could publish the third volume of memoirs about his “Great Trudge” though Europe in the mid-1930s. The Broken Road, which appeared posthumously in the autumn, takes the young literary vagabond from the “Iron Gates” on the Danube across both countries to the Black Sea coast.

Everywhere he walks, Leigh Fermor relishes the landscapes and the languages. He admires the culture and the customs. Above all, he comes to love the people of the Balkan peaks and plains: always hospitable and welcoming, forever willing even in the poorest backwater to greet this penniless young Englishman with unstinting generosity, feed him, shelter him and send him on his way with blessings – and with lunch.

Now, what would happen to a late-teenage Bulgarian or Romanian, without lodging, employment or any ready cash, who started to walk, say, from Dover to Glasgow in the spring of 2014? On the evidence of British public life just now, the result would not be a glorious trek across a land of smiles, fondly remembered from a ripe old age.

The Economist magazine has already issued its number-crunched fiat in their favour. Still, this column may count as an early squeak in the almost inaudible chorus of welcome for visitors or migrants to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania. More than a few of us belong to the open-hearted country of Paddy Leigh Fermor rather than the tight little island of Godfrey Bloom. If you wish to, fellow EU citizens, I hope that you will come. Should you choose, quite legitimately, to seek work here, then I hope that you prosper for as long as you stay. And most of all, I hope against hope that our morally bankrupt political class and ruthlessly cynical media will one day start to address the underlying reasons for home-grown fears: the living-standards crisis, deep-seated job insecurity, yawning chasms in wealth and opportunity, the greed and arrogance of a pampered “super-class”, and a chronic lack of decent homes for non-millionaires. Instead, they have set out on yet another sordid scapegoat hunt. Patrick Leigh Fermor Patrick Leigh Fermor

The grievances are genuine. But the actual culprits have got clean away. A useful watchword for 2014 might run: lay the blame where it belongs. August Bebel, a wise German social democrat at the turn of the 20th century, popularised the idea that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools”. A century on, the quarry may have changed, but not the toxic rhetoric, nor the squalid logic of victimisation. As all the 28 million people in the so-called “A2” accession countries of the EU must understand, this lather of dread has been whipped into a perfect storm by the confluence of cannily inflammatory media and the blind funk of a shaky governing party. As a result, if you’re looking for fraudulent crystal-ball predictions, outrageously deceitful hucksterism and a brisk trade in ideological scrap and junk, there’s no need to visit some mythical gypsy encampment. You can find all that and more via any visit to Westminster, TV studios and newsrooms – plus a detour, of course, to the Ukip HQ.

Crashing rollers of anti-immigrant vitriol break day after day, loud as an end-of-year storm surge, and just as implacable. Anyone who resists this tide – who says without any niggling proviso that all legal incomers from European Union member states, as from -everywhere else, presumptively deserve trust, goodwill, courtesy and fair dealing – may feel just now like the enemy within. The tone of paranoia, suspicion and targeted hatred has made British political discourse through

2013 resemble propaganda-fuelled dictatorships such as – well, let’s start with Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania and Todor Zhivkov’s Bulgaria. As regards the citizens of those states, Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate.

Plenty of the worried who fear this as-yet-phantom army of immigrants will have spent Christmas paying lip service at least to the festival’s religious roots. Presumably – and this, I’m afraid, is a rhetorical device shamelessly nicked from the works of Charles Dickens – their edition of the Bible fails to include the exhortation from Deuteronomy that insists “Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the lines from Matthew’s gospel that run “For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in”, still less the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. A few weeks ago, Nigel Farage commented: “We need a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage.” To which one might reply: precisely.

Sentimental? Impractical? Airy-fairy? No more so that than the speculative pseudo-statistics that bedevil this “debate”. As to the likely numbers involved, absolute confusion reigns. An even-handed House of Commons briefing paper recently noted that the Foreign Office’s own inquiry into probable figures (commissioned from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research) had concluded that “it is not possible to predict the scale of future migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK numerically”. The Commons paper, by the way, also shows why the often-quoted Migration Watch prediction of circa 50,000 net arrivals per annum from Bulgaria and Romania is skewed. The numbers rest on an untested forward projection from events after the 2004 EU entry of Poland and its neighbours (the so-called “A8” countries) on to a wholly different set of circumstances.

Among the factors that suggest “low levels of migration”, the Commons researchers cite the obvious fact that “all remaining transitional controls will expire in all EU countries at the same time”. Among factors that may pull the numbers upwards are “high unemployment rates … in those EU countries that have so far been the preferred destinations for A2 nationals”, mainly Italy and Spain. In short, we don’t yet know. Maybe the invading wave will be crested by some of the estimated 14,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses who have left Romania since it joined the EU in 2007. If so, then our steam-driven pundits should on principle refuse treatment when their apoplectic xenophobia lands them in A&E.

Even if the feared influx of low-skill job-seekers does occur, and does put pressure on underfunded services in certain areas, then public figures still have a choice to make. Some of the windier press invective that craven politicians have done nothing to deflate – especially against Roma people – pretty much amounts to incitement to racial violence.

Whoever wins the dismal numbers game in 2014, a failure to condemn that sort of hate speech opens the door to further barbarism in political life.

We have been here, many times, before. Back in 1517, Londoners rioted on “Evil May Day” against foreign workers. According to legend, the mob was calmed by the then under-sheriff of London, Sir Thomas More. About 75 years later, the event was dramatised in a multi-authored play about the life of More – the kind of stage “biopic” common in the Elizabethan theatre. In the second act, when he faces down the racist rioters of London, the play’s language suddenly leaps into life. More’s great speech makes the case against anti-immigrant agitation with a moral force that still sings out today.

“Grant them removed,” says More about the detested foreigners. “Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,/ Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,/ Plodding to the ports and costs for transportation.” “What had you got?” he asks the mob. “I’ll tell you. You had taught/ How insolence and strong hand should prevail.” In other words, mob rule – of the kind that, these days, tries to smash international treaties and tear up EU agreements. And what if the lawless migrant-bashers had to move abroad themselves, “to anywhere that not adheres to England”? In exile, “Would you be pleased/ To find a nation of such barbarous temper,/ That, breaking out in hideous violence,/ Would not afford you an abode on earth?” Just put yourselves in the foreigner’s shoes, More counsels: “What would you think/ To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;/ And this your mountainish inhumanity.”

There used to be almost as much heated argument around the authorship of this passage (in a script known as “Hand D”) as about the imminent levels of migration from “A2” states. Now, a kind of scholarly consensus prevails. That scene was most probably written by William Shakespeare. Across the political mountains of inhumanity, let’s hope that the latest torrent, or quite possibly, trickle of “strangers” can locate and enjoy Shakespeare’s country.

Culture aside, a well-sourced report released this week by the Centre for Economic and Business Research argues that Britain will over the coming years overtake Germany as the strongest economy in Europe. And which ace do we hold up our sleeve as the Old Continent grows even older, less productive and more state-dependent? Why, “positive demographics with continuing immigration”. On which note, we should wish even the frostiest of Europhobes Chestita Nova Godina and Un An Nou Fericit!

Pure Paddy – The last book, finally

Among worldly travellers any description of improbable exploits in foreign places, ending on a note of hilarity, used to be met with the phrase “Pure Paddy!” This referred to Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, writer, war hero and raconteur, who died two years ago at the age of 96, leaving a long hoped-for final volume of his early memoirs still unpublished.

First published in the Economist, 14 September 2013.

In the 1930s, at the age of 18, Sir Patrick set out to walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (his preferred name for Istanbul). “A Time of Gifts”, his account of the first section of the walk was a masterpiece of wit and erudition. A good deal of time was taken up being passed between schlosses and castles by the crumbling remnants of the German and Austro- Hungarian aristocracy, while in the background, the Nazis loomed. In the mid- 1980s a second volume, “Between the Woods and the Water”, covered his 1934 walk through Hungary and Transylvania, where he was as much at home in hayricks as in the hovels of gypsies.

“The Broken Road”, Sir Patrick’s final posthumous volume, has now been edited by his literary executors: Artemis Cooper, his biographer, and Colin Thubron, a fellow travel writer and president of the Royal Society of Literature. It takes the author from the Danube’s Iron Gates to Mount Athos and Constantinople. It remained unfinished while he lived for several years with a Romanian princess, and then the second world war intervened. Sir Patrick’s exploits there were indeed legendary: with some friends he kidnapped a German general in Crete and drove him through numerous Nazi checkpoints before spiriting him off to Egypt.

The book brings together two texts: a detailed diary of his time on Mount Athos and a description of the journey there. This last was written up from memory in the 1960s as some of Sir Patrick’s contemporary notes had been stolen in Munich and the remainder were lodged in the Harrods Depository during the war and later destroyed, unclaimed. The pages are filled with brilliant evocations of his life on the road, none richer than the time he spent in a Romanian brothel. A flavour of the “Pure Paddy” style is his description of the high-pitched Russians who drive carriages around Bucharest. It turns out they are an obscure sect of eunuchs who believe that Empress Catherine the Great’s murdered son will one day return as the Messiah. A final notebook was handed back to Sir Patrick in 1965 by his princess, but he chose not to elide or collate it with his then written account.

The only part republished here is the full contemporary account of his time at Mount Athos. The book is occasionally interrupted with later asides by the author on the fate of particular places or people, which drain a portion of the magic out of the account. Sir Patrick’s entire life was a Boy’s Own adventure, but he was an important footnote to the literary genre of English travel writing, which began in its modern form in 1844 with “Eothen”, a hilarious account of Alexander Kinglake’s adventures from Belgrade to Cairo.

“The Broken Road” has an elegiac tone. None of the people described survives and the countries visited have undergone wars and revolutions, leaving them virtually unrecognisable. It is a fitting epilogue to 20th-century travel-writing and essential reading for devotees of Sir Patrick’s other works—though eclipsed by his earlier books and the world they conjured.

NYRB review – The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos

The US cover?

In the winter of 1933, eighteen-year-old Patrick (“Paddy”) Leigh Fermor set out to walk across Europe, starting in Holland and ending in Constantinople, a trip that took him almost a year. Decades later, Leigh Fermor told the story of that life-changing journey in A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, two books now celebrated as among the most vivid, absorbing, and beautifully-written travel books of all time.

First published in the New York Review of Books.

The Broken Road is the long awaited account of the final leg of his youthful adventure that Leigh Fermor promised but was unable to finish before his death in 2011. Assembled from Leigh Fermor’s manuscripts by his prize-winning biographer Artemis Cooper and the travel writer Colin Thubron, this is perhaps the most personal of all Leigh Fermor’s books, catching up with young Paddy in the fall of 1934 and following him through Bulgaria and Romania to the coast of the Black Sea. Days and nights on the road, spectacular landscapes and uncanny cities, friendships lost and found, leading the high life in Bucharest or camping out with fishermen and shepherds: in the The Broken Road such incidents and escapades are described with all the linguistic bravura, odd and astonishing learning, and overflowing exuberance that Leigh Fermor is famous for, but also with a melancholy awareness of the passage of time, especially when he meditates on the scarred history of the Balkans or on his troubled relations with his father. The book ends, perfectly, with Paddy’s arrival in Greece, the country he would fall in love with and fight for. Throughout it we can still hear the ringing voice of an irrepressible young man embarking on a life of adventure.

Quotes

By any standards, this is a major work. It confirms that Leigh Fermor was, along with Robert Byron, the greatest travel writer of his generation, and this final volume assures the place of the trilogy as one of the masterpieces of the genre, indeed one of the masterworks of postwar English non-fiction.
—William Dalrymple, The Guardian

Praise for Patrick Leigh Fermor:

One of the greatest travel writers of all time.
–The Sunday Times

A unique mixture of hero, historian, traveler and writer; the last and the greatest of a generation whose like we won’t see again.
—Geographical

The finest traveling companion we could ever have … His head is stocked with enough cultural lore and poetic fancy to make every league an adventure.
–Evening Standard

If all Europe were laid waste tomorrow, one might do worse than attempt to recreate it, or at least to preserve some sense of historical splendor and variety, by immersing oneself in the travel books of Patrick Leigh Fermor.
—Ben Downing, The Paris Review

Praise for A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water, the first two volumes in the trilogy:

This is a glorious feast, the account of a walk in 1934 from the Hook of Holland to what was then Constantinople. The 18-year-old Fermor began by sleeping in barns but, after meeting some landowners early on, got occasional introductions to castles. So he experienced life from both sides, and with all the senses, absorbing everything: flora and fauna, art and architecture, geography, clothing, music, foods, religions, languages. Writing the book decades after the fact, in a baroque style that is always rigorous, never flowery, he was able to inject historical depth while still retaining the feeling of boyish enthusiasm and boundless curiosity. This is the first of a still uncompleted trilogy; the second volume, Between the Woods and the Water, takes him through Hungary and Romania; together they capture better than any books I know the remedial, intoxicating joy of travel.
— Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Recovers the innocence and the excitement of youth, when everything was possible and the world seemed luminescent with promise. …Even more magical…through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania… sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away forever.
—Jeremy Lewis, Literary Review

A book so good you resent finishing it.
—Norman Stone

The greatest of living travel writers…an amazingly complex and subtle evocation of a place that is no more.
— Jan Morris

In these two volumes of extraordinary lyrical beauty and discursive, staggering erudition, Leigh Fermor recounted his first great excursion… They’re partially about an older author’s encounter with his young self, but they’re mostly an evocation of a lost Mitteleuropa of wild horses and dark forests, of ancient synagogues and vivacious Jewish coffeehouses, of Hussars and Uhlans, and of high-spirited and deeply eccentric patricians with vast libraries (such as the Transylvanian count who was a famous entomologist specializing in Far Eastern moths and who spoke perfect English, though with a heavy Scottish accent, thanks to his Highland nanny). These books amply display Leigh Fermor’s keen eye and preternatural ear for languages, but what sets them apart, besides the utterly engaging persona of their narrator, is his historical imagination and intricate sense of historical linkage…Few writers are as alive to the persistence of the past (he’s ever alert to the historical forces that account for the shifts in custom, language, architecture, and costume that he discerns), and I’ve read none who are so sensitive to the layers of invasion that define the part of Europe he depicts here. The unusual vantage point of these books lends them great poignancy, for we and the author know what the youthful Leigh Fermor cannot: that the war will tear the scenery and shatter the buildings he evokes; that German and Soviet occupation will uproot the beguiling world of those Tolstoyan nobles; and that in fact very few people who became his friends on this marvelous and sunny journey will survive the coming catastrophe.
— Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

Those for whom Paddy’s prose is still an undiscovered country are to be envied for what lies ahead-hours with one of the most buoyant and curious personalities one can find in English.
—The New York Sun

Mr. Fermor…is a peerless companion, unbound by timetable or convention, relentless in his high spirits and curiosity.
— The New York Times

We are aware at every step that his adventure can never be duplicated: only this extraordinary person at this pivotal time could have experienced and recorded many of these sights. Distant lightening from events in Germany weirdly illuminates the trail of this free spirit.
—The New York Times

The young Fermor appears to have been as delightful a traveling companion as the much older Fermor a raconteur.
—The Houston Chronicle

[A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water] are absolutely delightful volumes, both for those who want to better understand what was lost in the violence of Europe’s 20th-century divisions and for those who appreciate the beauty and thrill of travel writing at its best.
—The Houston Chronicle

Leigh Fermor is recognizably that figure many writers of the past century have yearned to be, the man of action.
— The Guardian

He was, and remains, an Englishman, with so much living to his credit that the lives conducted by the rest of us seem barely sentient-pinched and paltry things, laughably provincial in their scope, and no more fruitful than sleepwalks. We fret about our kids’ S.A.T. scores, whereas this man, when he was barely more than a kid himself, shouldered a rucksack and walked from Rotterdam to Istanbul.
— Anthony Lane, The New Yorker

The Broken Road by Patrick Leigh Fermor – Observer review

The late, great travel writer’s trilogy is finally complete, with a helping hand from admirers.

by Anthony Sattin

First published in The Observer, Sunday 15 September 2013.

The final volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy is almost as hard to review as it was to write. By the time he died, in 2011, 96-year-old Leigh Fermor had acquired near legendary status. In the second world war, he assisted in a partisan mission to kidnap a Nazi general on Crete. Before that, at 18, he walked across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul (which he still called Constantinople). And he kept notes as he walked. “My whole life had seemed to revolve around those stiff-covered exercise books,” he said. “Keeping them up to date had acquired the charm and mystery of a secret religion, solemnized daily.” The books came later… much later.

In 1962, a US magazine asked him to write about walking – a 5,000-word commission that spawned a trilogy. A Time of Gifts was published in 1977. Between the Woods and the Water, which appeared in 1986, ended with the promise that the story would be continued. Rumours as to whether Leigh Fermor had managed to complete his trilogy, or whether he had even started the conclusion, have circulated for the past couple of decades.

It turns out there was a manuscript and it picks up where the previous one ended – at the water, the Danube, and the Iron Gates, a gorge at the Romanian-Bulgarian border. It takes Leigh Fermor not to Istanbul, the intended final destination of what he called “the Great Trudge”, but to Burgas, 50 miles from the Turkish border.

Although Leigh Fermor was still rewriting the manuscript shortly before his death, the work was problematic, for reasons Artemis Cooper makes clear in her brilliant recent biography of the man. Now she and the travel writer and novelist Colin Thubron have prepared the work for publication. This, clearly, has involved more than spell-checking, although they claim that “there is scarcely a phrase that is not his”.

The first two volumes were a joy to read, not least for Leigh Fermor’s ability to recapture in later life the intense excitement of being a young man lighting out. The latest book offers similar joys. His allowance of £1 a week – bank notes arriving like manna at post offices along the way – was enough to live modestly. Travelling mostly on foot, in leather jacket, knee breeches and puttees, with backpack, Hungarian walking stick and “uncompromising” boots, carrying two books of verse in the backpack and a head full of literature and history, he has his fair share of luck and adventure in a continent that was still a mystery. There are nights in shepherds’ huts, down-at-heel hotels, palaces, and a brothel he mistook for an inn. And while his older self clearly enjoyed writing about the nights of revelry around campfires with belly-dancing Greek fishermen and other wild characters, he was also happy to laugh at the young Leigh Fermor – for not realising that the woman who welcomed him so warmly into the brothel expected more from him than his head on a pillow.

Also evident are another of the joys of the earlier books – the pyrotechnics of his writing. Exuberance is expressed in heightened suggestions: a cat is panther-like, a silence falls “like angels flying overhead” and swifts make a sound like scissors in a barber shop. The descriptions of waking in unfamiliar places are so seductive that even the most home-hugging reader will long to wake somewhere unknown. And some of the evocations of landscapes and views will live long in the memory, including one of a muezzin calling from a mosque and another of the town of Tirnovo, with its “winged insurrection of houses plumed by belfries and trees”.

The first two books were written without the help of original notes, which had been lost; The Broken Road is based partly on a diary that was returned to Leigh Fermor in 1965. So instead of writing what the editors call “memory-spurred recreations”, we see the older man trying to guess what his younger self did or why he did it. There is also retrospective comment on Europe between the wars from an author who knows that the rise of the Nazis and the coming cold war are about to transform the lives of most people he meets.

Leigh Fermor completed his physical journey in Istanbul on the last day of 1934, then continued to the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece. The literary journey concludes without reaching its goal, hence the book’s title. The editors have included sketchy diary entries for Istanbul and more fully written descriptions of Mount Athos, although Leigh Fermor was not convinced about putting them in his story, and with good reason.

The bulk of The Broken Road was written 30 years after the journey. I am reading it 50 years after it was first put down. While it is not the literary masterpiece it might have been had Leigh Fermor been able to work his magic, it captures the joy of the open road, the fresh view he gives of Europe as it began to show the stresses that led to world war, and the glimpses of a long-lost life and innocence.

The Scotsman review of The Broken Road

In December 1933 the engaging 18-year-old drop-out Paddy Leigh Fermor set off to walk from the Hook of Holland to the city which, as a lifelong philhellene, he would always call Constantinople.

First published in The Scotsman.

With many diversions and congenial breaks in the company of woodcutters and aristocrats, the journey took him a year. Decades later it became apparent to Leigh Fermor and others that he had not only crossed the continent on foot; he had traversed a Europe which was on the brink of irreversible social and political change.

It nonetheless took him a while to write about it. Patrick Leigh Fermor’s literary career was delayed by his characteristically flamboyant wartime activities with the Special Operations Executive. After the Second World War he spent time in the Caribbean. He published his first book, The Traveller’s Tree, about the West Indies in 1950, when he was 35 years old.

Leigh Fermor settled in Greece and his next two books of serious note, Mani and Roumeli, were gorgeously articulated expressions of his love affair with his adopted country.

They also took an ominously long time to write. Mani was published in 1958 and Roumeli in 1966. That was partly due to Leigh Fermor’s painstaking search for stylistic excellence – Melvyn Bragg would later suggest that he was “trying to write the perfect book”. It was also because the author was at least as interested in living the perfect life, which involved heroic quantities of wine, women and song.

A further 11 years lapsed before he considered his account of the first third of his pre-war walk to be fit for print. A Time of Gifts took him from Holland through the simmering early months of Nazi Germany to the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The second volume, which walked from Czechoslovakia to the Danube’s Iron Gates gorge between Serbia and Romania, was titled Between the Woods and the Water and published in 1986.

The exuberance, off-the-wall scholarship, characterisation and teenaged derring-do of those two books initiated and rode the high wave of the 1980s travel writing boom. Patrick Leigh Fermor was garlanded with praise and internationally recognised as one of the greatest of 20th century authors.

The world, not least that part of the world occupied by his publisher John Murray, held its breath and waited for the third and final volume. Leigh Fermor was 71 years old in 1986. But he enjoyed robust good health in his Peloponnesian retreat and he had written on the last page of Between the Woods and the Water the three promising words “To be Concluded”.

There seemed at first no reason not to hope. Only slowly did it become apparent that one of the saddest cases of writer’s block in recent times had descended on that villa in the Mani. Patrick Leigh Fermor had a towering pile of notes and draft manuscript covering his passage from the Iron Gates to Constantinople, but he was unable to convert them into the book which satisfied his own unique standards.

John Murray persuaded his author to publish collections of letters and essays. As the years passed it became clear that those were pale substitutes for the completion of what would have been an immortal trilogy. Patrick Leigh Fermor died in June 2011 at the age of 96 years. He left no third volume. He did leave the pile of notes and first-copy manuscript.

They have been worked up by his friend and biographer Artemis Cooper and his friend and fellow travel writer Colin Thubron and published as The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos.

The editors’ title, an acknowledgement that Leigh Fermor’s literary journey was unfinished, is perfect. In their introduction Thubron and Cooper are honest to the point of apology in admitting that this story cannot reasonably compare to the finished product of Patrick Leigh Fermor in midseason form.

The sentences are almost all Leigh Fermor’s, and usually recognisably so. But as Cooper pointed out in her biography, part of the brilliance of the first two volumes lay in the fact that Leigh Fermor novelised his travels. That is not to say that he made much up. It is to say that he constructed and polished his narrative; he expertly conflated characters and relocated incidents. From the fertile ground of his own irrepressible self and his glorious adventures he cultivated an astonishing Bildungsroman in a world so lost that it may as well be fictional.

The Broken Word, on the other hand, remains a draft, albeit a draft edited by skilled and sympathetic hands. It is also a Patrick Leigh Fermor draft, which makes it superior to the finished work of most other writers. The youthful joy shines through, and the deep cultural learning that was superimposed in later years is there in sufficient quantity to lend wonder to this fragmented tale.

The book is rarely less than invigorating. At times, as when our hero finds himself riotously overnighting by the Black Sea with a congregation of Bulgarian shepherds and Greek fishermen, The Broken Road has all the verve of the finished article.

It strides towards an ideal conclusion – not in Constantinople, of which Leigh Fermor mysteriously left few accounts, but on Mount Athos. There we find the boy who would come to know Greece better than most Greeks first grasping with delight the modern vernacular and the traditional ways of a land that never ceased to captivate him, and through him, his readers.

This will be the last full book by Patrick Leigh Fermor to appear in print. Anybody who loved its two preceding volumes will fall upon it hungrily. Anybody who has not read the two preceding volumes should do so without delay.