Alpkiteer Alastair Humphreys has recently released his new book 'My Midsummer Morning'.
In 1935 a young Englishman named Laurie Lee arrived in Spain. He had never been overseas; had hardly even left the quiet village he grew up in. His idea was to walk through the country, earning money for food by playing his violin in bars and plazas.
Nearly a century later, the book Laurie Lee wrote –As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning– inspired Alastair Humphreys. It made him fall in love with Spain – the landscapes and the spirit – and with Laurie's style of travel. He travelled slow, lived simply, slept on hilltops, relished spontaneity, and loved conversations with the different people he met along the hot and dusty road.
For 15 years, Alastair dreamed of retracing Laurie Lee’s footsteps, but could never get past the hurdle of being distinctly unmusical. This year, he decided to go anyway. He bought a violin, he found a violin teacher and he spent the next few months trying to learn to play it....
The journey was surprisingly his most terrifying yet, risking failure and humiliation every day, and finding himself truly vulnerable to the rhythms of the road and of his own life.
Here's an excerpt from the new book
But first I had to cross the mountains. Silent and still, pure as water. Sounds and movement emerged as I drew closer. Trickling springs, my breath rasping as I gained height to a new world of cowbells, solitary oaks and the smell of crushed thyme underfoot. I took a shortcut and forded a river. I took off my shoes and socks and waded across. The water was knee-deep, clear and cold, with soft sand and waving weeds underfoot. I had never crossed this stream before. I shall never do so again.
There are other rivers, of course, and I’ll cross plenty of them in my life. But for now there was just this pleasant moment.
If I stared too hard, hoping to sear it upon my retina the magic of that would disappear.
As I set down my pack to camp for the night, my shirt split right across the shoulders, threadbare from sweat and sun and rucksack rub. A bat flitted past my head in the orange gloaming. I lay on the grassy slopes of a hillside that ran uninterrupted all the way down to the plain. I thought of Laurie Lee and Robert Jordan, who just missed each other up in these mountains. In For Whom the Bell Toll the fictional Robert Jordan enjoyed a ‘walking tour’ in the Sierra two years before Laurie’s adventure. I was following the footsteps of two of my heroes, and the end of my adventure was within reach. I was in high spirits, despite having only two cents in my pocket. Tramping through Spain had everything I seek in a journey: it was challenging, it was beautiful and it made me happy. Usually, I realised, expeditions provided only the first two.
A summer of dusty tracks and a sleeping bag: I did not want or need anything more.
Busking through Spain in the footsteps of Laurie Lee was the most exciting, amusing, frightening adventure I have ever done.The book that I wrote about the journey took me on the most honest, sad journey of my life. And now it is finished at last.
I believe it is the best book I have ever written. I don't say that to boast, but as another step towards trying to learn to be satisfied with what I am. If the book is crap after such a declaration then I have noexcuses to hide behind!
It is much like playing my violin (badly) in a small plaza in Spain and declaring, 'here I am. This is me. This is my best shot.'
Alastair is launching his book in our Hathersage store this Friday, the event is unfortunately now sold out but you can buy a copy of his new book now