As I walked out one midsummer morning by Laurie Lee
Anyone who’s read just one book by Laurie Lee will almost certainly have read Cider with Rosie, a favourite with GCSE English syllabuses, and a very accessible read for a younger audience. However, at the tender age of 19, in 1934, in common with Patrick Leigh Fermor who had set out on his walking adventure to Istanbul a year earlier, Lee left home in Gloucestershire with a knapsack and violin, and started walking to the south coast, then on to London.
Interestingly, he had set out on a journey of undefined length without a clear idea of where he was going. When he arrived in London, he stayed 6 months working as a builder’s labourer, but when it came time to move on, his decision to go to Spain (and not any other country) was entirely arbitrary, and founded on his unique linguistic ability to say just one thing in Spanish: “Can you please give me a glass of water”. Obviously, survival was uppermost in his mind…….
Arriving in Vigo, in the north west of Spain, the year 1935 found him walking across a country at a time when social and political ferment were the order of the day, and through the eyes of a naive young English man, we see the country rapidly sliding towards civil war, which caught him unawares down on the south coast. After almost two years on the road, he was finally rescued by a British naval frigate based in Gibraltar, but later decided to return to Spain to fight on behalf of the Republicans.
Like Leigh Fermor, amidst all the toil and suffering of travelling on foot, Lee managed to discard the shackles of his prim middle class childhood, and enjoyed many epic drinking bouts, raucous parties, sex with a variety of women, met notable people (like the poet Roy Campbell) and experienced the generosity of many people en route. More than just a long walk, his account gives us a snapshot of two countries on the brink of two catastrophic wars.