Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011) wrote three volumes that chronicled his 1933 walk across the spine of Europe to Istanbul: Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986), and the posthumous The Broken Road (2013). I have read the first two, and when I have read the third– in my literary preparation for my walk–I will write about the lot.
Inspired by “Paddy” Fermor, much as I have been by Herbert Welsh, young British journalist Nick Hunt walked the same route from Holland, up the Rhein River, across the Alps, and down the Donau to the Black Sea and Istanbul in 2011. Hunt walked and wrote Walking the Woods and the Water (2014) to see what had been lost since 1933, and what remained.
An astonishing change in Europe in those 78 years is that post-WWII Communism came, and then went. Hunt sees that the rise and fall of the “Iron Curtain” was, in fact, a brief intermission, hardly an act or even a scene, in the drama of European history. The eastern legs of his journey are the most fascinating, witnessing the survival of folkways that were ancient on Paddy’s day, the ruins of “socialist utopias,” and return of Ottoman Islam to Europe.
Like many who walk long distances (I have experienced this as well as studied it), Hunt sometimes wanders into a realm of hallucination, where he wonders if he’s entered real danger or just, for once, a real life.
Perhaps all adventures are like this: flirting with the wilderness but knowing that we can’t truly enter it, wanting to lose ourselves in imaginary realms like we once did in childhood stories, in the part-remembered,part-confabulated landscapes of Paddy’s books, but being afraid to go too far in , so far we might not comeback.
Walking the Woods and the Water is a wonderful read, a model of both a walking book and a walking-in-another’s-footsteps book
In answer to the question, “Why walk?,” Hunt cites Fermor, whose simple three-part goal should inspire all who walk and write:
“A new life! Freedom! Something to write about!”