On the wet afternoon of 9 December , the year Hitler came to power, as "a thousand glistening umbrellas were tilted over a thousand bowler hats", Paddy left London, boarding a Dutch steamer at Irongate wharf. He would not see Britain again until January , when he returned "for better or for worse, utterly changed by my travels".
It gave me a capacity for solitude and a sense of purpose. It taught me to read and to look at things.
I didn't go to university; I went travelling instead. On and off, for nearly 70 years, between other projects, Paddy worked on the trilogy. The first volume, A Time of Gifts , was finally published in For many of us, his descriptions of walking through midwinter Germany in the s have the status of sacred texts: "Sometimes the landscapes move further back in time," he writes in the unforgettable Winterreise chapter.
The snow falls; it is Carolingian weather.
The second volume of the trilogy, Between the Woods and the Water , followed nine years after the first. There then followed 25 years with no sign of volume three, the book that should have taken us to the gates of Byzantium.
This was what his brilliant biographer, Artemis Cooper, has called Paddy's "ice age": the writer, once capable of great waterfalls of words, seemed suddenly frozen, blocked, unable to produce a page of writing that he did not later tear up in despair. Then last summer, at the Hay festival, in conversation with Leigh Fermor's great successor Robert Macfarlane , Cooper announced that the long-awaited volume three was ready for the press, and would be published as The Broken Road. Paddy was meant to have delivered 4, words. Holed up on the island of Euboea in , he instead found words flowing at such a rate that by the end of the summer he had written 60, These, characteristically, he then abandoned and threw into a bottom drawer.
The other major source for The Broken Road was the last surviving volume of Paddy's original travel jottings, known as The Green Diary.
When the iron curtain began to lift, in , Paddy went to visit her, and she handed over to him the only surviving original record of the journey. These jottings, dating from when he was barely 20 years old, form the concluding section of the book, and take us from Constantinople to Mount Athos. All the old enthusiasms are there: the love of language and languages, the long historical and literary digressions, the perfect recollection of a lost, Ruritanian prewar and mostly pre-industrial world.
In part, this richness is a measure of the extraordinary gap between the experience and its narration. In the intervening decades, he had written several other books, becoming a fiercely learned autodidact and adventurer.
His exploits during and after World War II — when he helped to kidnap the Nazi commandant in Crete and deliver him to a waiting British submarine — are said to have helped inspire his friend Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond novels. As a result, the travel narratives are a kind of palimpsest in which his younger and older selves exist in counterpoint.
But he did leave a manuscript. It does not always have the gemlike polish of the first two volumes. But it is an unforgettable book, full of strange encounters with a prewar Balkan cast of counts, prostitutes, peasants, priests and castrati. His memory seems eidetic; his eyes miss nothing. He seems to carry within himself a whole troupe of sharp-eyed geographers, art historians, ethnologists and multilingual poets. For anyone who has tried to document a journey, reading him is a humbling and thoroughly inspiring experience.
They benighted the air. In some respects this book is even more satisfying than its predecessors because it is less guarded; the narrator emerges as an angrier, more troubled and more persuasive character. Where is the lust? Where is the rage? He never gives way to the curse-spitting xenophobia that overcomes most travelers certainly me at some point in their journeys. He runs into plenty of jams, and meets plenty of pretty young girls; but there is something a little too noble about him, too much of the innocent abroad.
This time things are different, and the young man seems to break free of his older narrator.
Elsewhere, he meets a spirited Bulgarian girl named Nadejda and falls in love with her; their romance, though apparently unconsummated, reeks of the adolescent emotional frailty that seemed absent in the earlier books.