'After the Woods and Water' reached its funding goal on 19th August 2011, exceeding its £1,500 target by raising £1,750 from 45 donors.
In 1934, the late Patrick Leigh Fermor walked across Europe from Holland to Istanbul, later documenting his travels in two beautiful travel books, 'A Time of Gifts' and 'Between the Woods and the Water.' On his journey he slept in cowsheds, taverns, Gypsy encampments, mansions and castles, equally at home in the company of tramps and aristocrats. He documented the last days of an ancient, feudal Europe that was soon to disappear in the obliteration of World War Two, and some of the kingdoms and cultures he observed now seem as remote as fairytales.
On December 9th 2011 I will set out in his footsteps, searching for the ghosts of this vanished Europe, and exploring what has grown up in its place. Using his writing as a roadmap, a point of comparison between then and now, I'll walk the same route through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. My journey will be documented through audio recordings and through writing – to produce a series of short radio programmes, and a book of travel journalism, on my return to England.
'Paddy' walked through a time of gathering changes. His journey was made when Eastern Europe was still a semi-feudal society, before Nazism and Communism had swept across the continent, destroying entire communities, cultures and ancient patterns of life. It was made before the era of mass consumption, before motorways, supermarkets, suburbs, cheap flights and the internet – before the structure of modern life, the Europe I recognise today, had come into existence.
My work will explore the ways in which Europe – and the experience of walking it – have changed since he made this journey.
Obviously towns and cities will have grown, villages will have been swallowed by roads, and certain landscapes will have been altered beyond recognition. But as well as these physical changes, I will explore the deeper changes to cultures, traditions, attitudes and identities. My journey will come at an interesting time, with Europe still undergoing great changes, new patterns of migration and fusions of different cultures, as well as facing great challenges – from the uncertainties thrown up by the economic crisis to the ominous resurgence of right-wing movements across the continent.
‘Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power-dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They’ll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the East — they would never come back. Never, never, never!’
This prediction was made by a man Paddy met in Persenbeug, Austria, lamenting the passing of an older Europe, full of wildness and mystery.
Much of the reason for me making this journey, almost 80 years later, is to see if these words became true. Has Europe been tamed? Has everything vanished?
The total distance is roughly 2,000 miles (3,217 km). Walking 15 miles a day, the journey should take around six months. Paddy managed to fund his journey on £1 a week, which works out at about £50 today. As far as possible I would like to stay within a similar budget, but much will have changed... including attitudes to hospitality, and prices! Your funding will help me complete the journey, and to write my first full-length book, which I hope will be published on my return to England.
I'm a freelance journalist and fiction writer. My journalism concerns climate change, language loss, biocultural diversity, politics and travel, and my articles have been published in The Guardian Travel, New Internationalist, The Economist, Resurgence and other magazines. My short stories have appeared in Succour and Dark Mountain – 'a new cultural movement for an age of global disruption.' Last year I made a documentary for BBC Radio 4 about Indian migrant workers in Dubai, and since then have been working on various audio projects of my own.
The rewards offered to 'After the Woods and Water' funders were:-
A postcard from the road- £10.00
Story postcards from all eight of the countries I visit- £20.00
A present sent from a country of your choice- £30.00
3 Postcards & a hand-stitched book of writings and illustrations- £50.00
postcards, a hand stitched book and a CD of audio recording- £80.00
The rewards above, plus a thank-you in (and free signed copy of) the final published travel book- £100.00