Between the Woods and the Water, the second volume of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s dazzling account of his ‘Great Trudge’ from Rotterdam to Istanbul, was published in 1986. His frustrated admirers have been wondering ever since why he never published the concluding part, taking him on from the Iron Gates to the city he preferred to think of as Constantinople. Leigh Fermor was only 18 when he set out on his epic walk in 1933, and it was rumoured that he was so upset by the ruined churches and concrete tower blocks he encountered on postwar trips to communist Bulgaria and Romania that they somehow obliterated happier memories; that his loyal and ever-patient publisher, Jock Murray, published Three Letters from the Andes – far and away his least impressive book – in the vain hope that this might somehow break the blockage; that old age was taking its toll (he was over seventy when Between the Woods and the Water was published) and that he had been somehow unnerved by the rhapsodic reception given to the first two volumes and was worried that the third might not live up to expectations. Murray died in 1993 and his wife, Joan, ten years later: they had been his two great props and catalysts, and without them he was bereft.
And yet, by a strange irony, he had written a good deal of the third volume long before publication of the first book, A Time of Gifts, in 1977. In the early 1960s, prompted by an American magazine editor, Leigh Fermor began an account of the last stage of the