Jeremy Lewis

Well Met By Moonlight

Words of Mercury


John Murray 261pp £20 order from our bookshop

SEVENTY YEARS AGO, at the age of eighteen, Patrick Leigh Fermor set out to walk from Rotterdam to fstanbul, equipped – like a latter-day medieval pilgrim – with staff, sketchbook and rucksack, as well as a surprisingly useful understanding of Latin, a flair for more up-to-date languages, a seemingly insatiable curiosity and a vast store of arcane knowledge ranging from the Ostrogoths to the Uniat Church, altogether unexpected in a boy whose school record had been poor, and who had eventually been expelled from King’s School, Canterbury. In 1977 he published A Time of Gifts, which took him as far as Budapest, via Holland, Nazi Germany and Austria; this was followed, nine years later, by the even more magical Between the Woods and the Water, in which he covered a shorter distance, through Hungary, its lost province of Transylvania, and into Romania, but lingered (all too agreeably) in the ochre-coloured, book-lined country houses of Mitteleuropa, sampling the tail end of a languid, urbane and anglophile way of life that would soon be swept away for ever.

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