In 1933 Patrick Leigh Fermor walked from Holland to Turkey, with a pair of hobnailed boots to charm his way across Europe, ‘like a tramp, a pilgrim or a wandering scholar’. 70 odd years later, Nick Hunt heads out to follow Patrick’s footsteps, across 2,500 miles of a very different Europe.
To truly appreciate the world around you, you need to slow down. This is distinctly relevant when it comes to travel, and travel writing (one of my favourite genres). I’ve been on long multi-day walks and many cycle touring adventures, and you miss far too much in a car or on a train. I find walking a bit too slow, and very hard on my aged body when carrying a fully laden rucksack, but cycle touring is just right. Almost 20 years ago I was planning the hike the Appalachian trail in America, made famous by Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods. I had even got as far as applying for an extended six month visa. Work commitments changed and I never went, but in hindsight I don’t think that I would have finished it. However, I have immense respect for anyone who does travel across countries or continents using Shanks’s pony.
Back to the book in question, and Nick sets off from the Hook of Holland, straight off the ferry, which is never easy. Why is it so hard to escape from ferry terminals on foot or a bicycle? He has no maps, no set route, no accommodation lined, only his old copy of Patrick’s original book, relying on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter, camping in the woods on other occasions.
His first impression is how noisy the start of his journey is, with all of the motorways, traffic and industry. Gradually over the months the landscape quietens, especially once he enter the old Soviet communist countries. Another striking facet is how many people warn him of the dangers he will face when he enters the next country, and how lucky he has been not to have been robbed or killed in the last country.
The book took me a while to get into, but I am glad that I persevered because once Nick reached Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and then Transylvania the book comes into its own. Undoubtedly one of the best walking travel books that I’ve read.