Sunday, 20 July 2008

Laurie Lee, Eric Newby, Patrick Fermor...

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A mouthwatering prospect: traveller extraordinaire Benedict Allen, has put together a TV series on three of my very favourite travel writers. I shall certainly be watching BBC 4 this week*. Here's what it's about:

This is a look at three outstanding British travel writers – from three very different traditions. Eric Newby, that very British thing the amateur traveller - someone who packs his bags and sets off (with little or no preparation) for the sheer hell of it. Preparation, he feels, rather spoils the fun. You might remember that Newby prepared for his attempt on a remote, unclimbed 20,000 foot peak in Nuristan by nipping down to Snowdonia (a hilly area in Wales) for a weekend, and was assisted by a waitress.(The adventure was immortalised in a self-deprecating book, A Short Walk In the Hindu Kush. Secondly, there’s the poet Laurie Lee – someone who meandered along playing his violin, in the tradition of a troubadour or wandering minstrel. He set out from home, walking off down the lane, and just kept walking – two years later ending his journey in Southern Spain. Better remembered for Cider with Rosie, his tale of growing up in the English countryside, this other classic account, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is my personal favourite. Finally, Patrick Lee Fermor, a man of action and also intellect. Once described as a mixture between Graham Greene and James Bond, he walked right across pre-war Europe, sometimes sleeping in haystacks, sometimes in castles; from time to time reciting from his copy of Hamlet (in German!). He recorded his experiences in two fine works of literature A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods and the Water. These three characters travelled during the golden age of travel - between the golden age of exploration and the present age of mass tourism, and mass exposure of the planet on TV. The world was now safe enough for a novice to set out alone – and he or she still might find exotic experience right on the doorstep. In Travellers Century, I examine the lives of these three characters, wondering what makes the British such inveterate travellers – is this a tradition left from the Empire Days? Or is it that we’re from an overcrowded, fairly suburban place that we need to escape? Perhaps we’re just a small island race and need to understand our more powerful neighbours!
* actually I won't be watching. I'm off to the
to be impressed by
photography that leaves me yearning to get
off the ground. But I'll watch the repeat!

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