A Time of Gifts is the first in the series of three works describing Patrick Leigh Fermor’s walk from Hook of Holland to “Constantinople” (the name still apparently used by some English-speakers until well into the 20th century). This work deals with the section of the walk up to his crossing into Hungary. Like others, I found the book absorbing (as was also The Broken Road).
Fermor had had an “interesting” upbringing, being described in one of his school reports as “.. a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness”. After studying for entrance to the Army and then trying his hand at writing, he set off at age 18 on his walk.
It’s interesting that, in 1934 the traditional custom of hospitality to pilgrims and travelling students survived; for example, in many parts of Germany, he received at the inn supper and mug of beer, a bed for the night and bread and a bowl of coffee in the morning – all on the parish. No slur was attached, the welcome was always friendly, all based on ancient charity extended to wandering students and pilgrims.. But although Fermor also slept on occasions in barns, he had some good connections! Letters of introduction to well-connected families led to generous hospitality from them, and further introductions to more friends. And when Fermor had his passport and belongings stolen in Munich, an interview the next morning with the British consul resulted in a passport being reissued on the spot, together with an advance of £5. Obviously there were fewer travellers in those days, at least to places “off the beaten track”.
He comments on the characteristics of the people, such as “the civilized Rhinelanders [and] the diligent and homey Swabians”, compared with with the perhaps rougher Bavarians. Hitler had come to over 10 months earlier and in Germany the early signs of the regime were beginning to be seen. He describes the ebbs and tides of historical conquests and the regional and sub-regional characteristics of the people, the connection between some of the places he visits and art and far, far more.
Whatever the defects in his education, he was clearly well-schooled in many respects, although some of the detail may have been filled in by him between the time between the walk and publication of the book some decades later.