Worth watching out for.
 — John Cleare

The Walker's Anthology - Further Tales

The Walker's Anthology - Further Tales

Sample 3: Preparations for a long walk, 1933

Contents | Introduction | Sample 1: Encounter with a bear, 2007 | Sample 2: The Road Not Taken, 1915 | Sample 3: Preparations for a long walk, 1933 | Sample 4: Travels in West Africa, 1894


Preparations for a long walk, 1933


After various setbacks at several schools and then being unable to settle down to writing, eighteen-year-old Leigh Fermor resolves to ‘change scenery; abandon London and England and set out across Europe like a tramp – or, as I characteristically phrased it to myself, like a pilgrim or palmer, an errant scholar’. Gripped by the idea he prepares quickly and departs in the middle of winter.

During the last days, my outfit assembled fast. Most of it came from Millet’s army surplus store in the Strand: an old Army greatcoat, different layers of jersey, grey flannel shirts, a couple of white linen ones for best, a soft leather windbreaker, puttees, nailed boots, a sleeping bag (to be lost within a month and neither missed nor replaced); notebooks and drawing blocks, rubbers, an aluminium cylinder full of Venus and Golden Sovereign pencils; an old Oxford Book of English Verse. (Lost likewise, and, to my surprise – it had been a sort of Bible – not missed much more than the sleeping bag.) The other half of my very conventional travelling library was the Loeb Horace, Vol. I, which my mother, after asking what I wanted, had bought and posted in Guildford. (She had written the translation of a short poem by Petronius on the flyleaf, chanced on and copied out, she told me later, from another volume on the same shelf: ‘Leave thy home, O youth, and seek out alien shores ... Yield not to misfortune: the far-off Danube shall know thee, the cold North-wind and the untroubled kingdom of Canopus and the men who gaze on the new birth of Phoebus or upon his setting...’ She was an enormous reader, but Petronius was not in her usual line of country and he had only recently entered mine. I was impressed and touched.) Finally I bought a ticket on a small Dutch steamer sailing from Tower Bridge to the Hook of Holland. All this had taken a shark’s bite out of my borrowed cash, but there was still a wad of notes left over.

At last, with a touch of headache from an eve-of-departure party, I got out of bed on the great day, put on my new kit and tramped south-west under a lowering sky. I felt preternaturally light, as though I were already away and floating like a djinn escaped from its flask through the dazzling middle air while Europe unfolded. But the grating hobnails took me no further than Cliveden Place, where I picked up a rucksack left for me there by Mark Ogilvie-Grant. Inspecting my stuff, he had glanced with pity at the one I had bought. (His – a superior Bergen affair resting on a lumbar semicircle of metal and supported by a triangular frame – had accompanied him – usually, he admitted, slung on a mule – all round Athos with Robert Byron and David Talbot-Rice when The Station was being written. Weathered and faded by Macedonian suns, it was rife with mana.)

Then I bought for ninepence a well-balanced ashplant at the tobacconist’s next to the corner of Sloane Square and headed for Victoria Street and Petty France to pick up my new passport. Filling in the form the day before – born in London, 11 February 1915; height 5’ 9¾”; eyes, brown; hair, brown; distinguishing marks, none – I had left the top space empty, not knowing what to write. Profession? ‘Well, what shall we say?’ the passport official had asked, pointing to the void. My mind remained empty. A few years earlier, an American hobo song called ‘Hallelujah I’m a bum!’ had been on many lips; during the last days it had been haunting me like a private leitmotif and without realising I must have been humming the tune as I pondered, for the official laughed. ‘You can’t very well put that, he said. After a moment he added: ‘I should just write ‘student’;’ so I did. With the stiff new document in my pocket, stamped ‘8 December 1933’, I struck north over the Green Park under a dark massing of cloud. As I crossed Piccadilly and entered the crooked chasm of White Horse Street, there were a few random splashes and, glistening at the end of it, Shepherd Market was prickly with falling drops. I would be just in time for a goodbye luncheon with Miss Stewart and three friends – two fellow lodgers and a girl: then, away. The rain was settling in.

(From A Time of Gifts – On Foot to Constantinople: from the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube; reproduced by permission of John Murray Press, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, London; copyright © 1977 Patrick Leigh Fermor)


The Walker's Anthology - Further Tales


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