Two young men setting out on foot, nearly 80 years ago, on almost parallel journeys that would change their lives:
Both travelled on foot on what would prove to be life-changing experiences; both would write brilliantly about what they’d seen. Leigh-Fermor walked the length of Europe – from the tip of
Holland to Constantinople. The journey took him a year; but he didn’t see the white cliffs of again for three, ‘a whole life time later it seemed then – and, for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels.’ Along the way he learned multiple languages, stayed with the aristocracy of central Dover Europe, fell in love and lived the days with a thrilling intensity.
Laurie caught a boat to
and walked across the heat-stunned landscapes of the central plateau, sleeping out under olive trees, welcomed in to share the food of its peasants who were enchanted by the fair-haired stranger. His passport was his violin. In this Homeric world, he captivated the souls of the people with his music. He made them laugh, dance, cry and temporarily forget their suffering: ‘They lived hard and semi-starved lives, but if I unrolled my blanket…and they saw my violin their faces would soften and crease, there’d be a cry of Musica! Musica!...I’d play paso dobles and even the old ladies would dance a few creaky steps around the patio.’ Spain
Both men had complex, adventurous and – in ways – difficult lives after these first journeys. Laurie Lee returned to
to fight in the Civil War; Patrick Leigh-Fermor became immensely famous for his years in the Cretan mountains in the Second World War and the kidnapping of the German general there. They both drank too much, had complicated love lives, wrote too little and perhaps squandered their talents. Laurie Lee is now best known for his childhood account of the village he grew up in – Cider with Rosie (in the Spain ), but you have the feeling that nothing ever equalled the intense experiences of those early travels. And in a world in which everything can now be seen from Google Earth it’s hard not to envy their journeys without maps. US, Edge of Day
I was once tempted to send Patrick Leigh-Fermor a copy of my book on the fall of
Constantinople, as he knew the Greek world deeply and lived there for most of his life, but never did, and didn’t want to be a ‘fan’. Laurie Lee I never spoke to but knew by sight as he returned to Slad, the village of his childhood, and we live nearby. (My wife once helped him plant a commemorative tree by our village cricket pitch, which he owned: she almost had to stop the sadly decrepit old man falling into the hole dug for the planting. I once watched him shuffling off the train at the local station with a half-drunk bottle of whisky stuffed in his coat pocket.) Both men lie buried in Gloucestershire churchyards.