Armchair Traveller: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
The stooping figure of my mother, waist-deep in the grass and caught there like a piece of sheep’s wool, was the last I saw of my country home as I left it to discover the world. … At the end of the road I looked back again and saw the gold light die behind her; then I turned the corner, passed the village school, and closed that part of my life forever.
Laurie Lee’s memoir about his walk across Spain just prior to the start of the Spanish Civil War is a classic. If you are looking to read some quality travel writing about Spain, this is the book for you. I was a recent university grad when I first picked it up, the title catching my eye because I had a strong urge that summer to go on walkabout.
Exploring the world the way Laurie Lee did rarely takes place anymore, and reminds us all that whatever inconveniences we might experience on our travels are a cakewalk in comparison to his trek across Spain. Find the weather a tad uncomfortable? Laurie Lee endured heat stroke. Don’t like the food? Laurie Lee subsisted for days at a time on wild grapes and figs. Think travel is too expensive? Laurie Lee paid his way by playing his fiddle for pennies.
Don’t like going through multiple security checks? After a year in Spain, Laurie Lee finds himself in the middle of a war and has to leave the country, with just an hour’s notice, on a British destroyer sent out from Gibraltar to pick up stranded British citizens.
Laurie Lee didn’t gloss over the poverty he witnessed and described the people he met in a non-judgmental way that is refreshing. But as the months and the miles go by, with the rumours of war increasing, you know it’s a walk that might not end well.
At the end of the summer I first read As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, I did the sensible thing and found myself a job. But the job didn’t stick and within the year, I had bought myself a rusty, years-old Honda Civic, packed it up with everything I owned, and drove across the country to start a new life.
And as I said goodbye to my mother, it was the first and only time upon leaving home that she cried.