Walking the Woods and the Water by Nick Hunt reviewed

Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn Book Cover Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's Footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn
Nick Hunt
Nicholas Brealey Publishing

In 1933, the eighteen year old Patrick Leigh Fermor set out in a pair of hobnailed boots to chance and charm his way across Europe, like a tramp, a pilgrim or a wandering scholar. The books he later wrote about this walk, A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water, and the posthumous The Broken Road are a half-remembered, half-reimagined journey through cultures now extinct, landscapes irrevocably altered by the traumas of the twentieth century.

Aged eighteen, Nick Hunt read A Time of Gifts and dreamed of following in Fermor's footsteps. In 2011 he began his own great trudge - on foot all the way to Istanbul. He walked across Europe through eight countries, following two major rivers and crossing three mountain ranges. Using Fermor's books as his only travel guide, he trekked some 2,500 miles through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. His aim? To have an old-fashioned adventure. To slow down and linger in a world where we pass by so much, so fast. To discover for himself what remained of hospitality, kindness to strangers, freedom, wildness, adventure, the mysterious, the unknown, the deeper currents of myth and story that still flow beneath Europe's surface.

I thoroughly enjoyed Patrick Leigh Fermor’s original books relating to his walk from Holland to Istanbul 80 years ago. I was delighted to have the opportunity to read this book by Nick Hunt even if I was a little unsure quite what to expect. It is never easy to recreate something that happened some time ago and was well received in the main. Initially the book did not really grab me and the walk through Holland I found less than interesting. Approaching Bavaria Nick Hunt decides to use a bicycle for a while partly because his physical fitness to walk was not good. In practice the section relating to Bavaria actually got and held my attention – I enjoyed the piece and it felt it better reflected the approach of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s original story. Certainly an issue here, in trying to recapture Paddy’s original journey, is that the world, and life generally, has changed significantly in 80 years. Inevitably this is a modern version; the use of the Internet to arrange accommodation is an example of this.

As the walk progressed I became increasingly caught up in the journey. It was fascinating to see through Nick Hunt’s eyes the things that have changed and sometimes why over the 80 years,  and equally things that have stayed almost strangely the same.  In the main this was more noticeable the further East the book was in Europe particularly. I found the writing became increasingly evocative both of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s books and in its own right too. Probably a very good choice for Paddy’s fans however equally good for those with an interest in stories from outlying parts of Europe. Visiting cities and truly remote places, with a fair amount of places in between, I did enjoy this narrative. Nick Hunt met fascinating people and had experiences enviable and unenviable but almost always interesting.

Note – I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review