Imagine walking on foot from the Netherland’s coast to Istanbul. The route itself—passing mostly through Central Europe and the Balkans—isn’t particularly exotic, unsafe, or prone to extreme weather like other written-about routes of similar distance and scope, yet the ability to pass through a dozen or more countries on foot in a relatively short amount of time is uniquely European. Enter Nick Hunt; a 20-something writer from England and author of Walking the Woods and the Water who sets out to follow the journey of famous travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and his path through Europe seven decades prior at the dawn of World War 2.
On the Trail of Patrick Leigh Fermor
Sometimes following the trail of a legend—like Hunter S. Thompson or Che Guevara in South America, for instance—serves as great source material for a travel narrative. Such is the case in Nick Hunt’s first published book, which sees the author attempt to walk the very route Fermor traversed in the 1930s and later turned into a series of three classic travel narratives—the last of which was published posthumously, and ironically after Walking the Woods and the Water.
The train pulled away, leaving me standing with a bitter wind stinging my face. The sky above the Hook of Holland was massed with cloud, boiling banks of salmon and gold punctuated by luminous rays that poured down on the sea. Everything shone with a translucence that was indefinably different to any light that would fall on London… I found a signpost to Rotterdam, 33km, further than I’d expected. That arrow was all I required. It was really that simple. I put one foot in front of the other, and began to walk.
The book is split up into three main sections with accompanying maps to mirror the different Fermor books. Credit must be given to the author for not only passing through the same cities and towns, but trying to visit specific hotels, restaurants, and landmarks to put himself in Fermor’s own shoes—even down to a reliance on strangers for room and board. Most nights are spent with fellow Fermor enthusiasts, friends of friends, or outdoors under the stars. Of course much has changed in 80-odd years and as a result Hunt’s comparisons to Fermor shine most in nature when he can really close his eyes and get a sense of the past experience.
The balance between Fermor nostalgia and Hunt putting his own stamp on a 21st-century version of the adventure is pulled off really well. Some readers may tire of the author’s continued reliance on wordy descriptions (e.g. “the sun came up like a bloody bubble”), but Hunt is still a talented writer who also chose a fascinating subject—especially for those wanting to catch a glimpse of Europe in a literal ‘boots on the ground’ sense.
Walking the Woods and the Water Review: A Final Word
Many people might stumble upon the book at Barnes and Noble or another bookstore like I did and immediately wonder if reading Fermor’s three books is a prerequisite. I don’t think so. Walking the Woods and the Water is a fine read on its own merit and includes enough quotes from the original three books to get a sense of how Fermor wrote and more importantly his reactions to the world around him. While following the footsteps of another, Hunt’s experiences are his own. More than a travel guide, the book offers glimpses into the nuances and quirks of different people and nature across the region and makes staying in hotels—or using modern transportation, for that matter—seem incredibly dull in the process.
Wanderlust Dispatch’s Walking the Woods and the Water review is solely the opinion of the author, who bought the book on his own accord with no contact with the book’s author or its representatives.