Walking with Laurie Lee

Posted on September 3, 2014 by Eleanor McKenzie

2014 is the centenary of Laurie Lee’s birth. For those of us who came across this engaging writer’s best known work, “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,” during the 60s or 70s, the revival of interest in this wonderful book evokes moments of nostalgia for the past.

This autobiographical tale of a young man who left his picturesque home in the Cotswolds in 1935 to walk across Spain—and eventually join Spain’s terrible Civil War—reminds me of the longing I had to walk out of my own small town on Ireland’s northeast coast and find the world beyond.

Evidently, there were others who felt the same. Now in his 50s, author Paul Murphy discovered Laurie Lee when he was 19 and while he briefly pursued the dream of following the road, he ultimately chose to marry and stay in England. Redundancy and divorce offered Murphy the opportunity to rethink his life and he turned to Lee’s book for inspiration.

He decided to retrace Lee’s footsteps—and his own 19-year-old ones—and capture the experience in a book called As I Walked Out Through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee. It’s a worthy companion to Valerie Grove’s biography of Lee, The Life and Loves of Laurie Lee

Murphy starts his 600-mile walk in the northern town of Vigo, in Galicia, just like Laurie Lee some 80 years before. Unlike Lee, Murphy doesn’t play the violin and so his hands instead play with the scallop shell carried by every pilgrim walking the way of St. James–El Camino de Santiago de Compostela—just like the one Lee carried as he started his journey. Lee’s dream was to “walk down a white dusty road through groves of orange trees to a city called Seville.”

Seville was the idea of Spain that Lee was in search of. He passed through its central plateaus and mountain ranges, he roved from Cadíz to Málaga but it was in Seville that he found the beating heart of Andalusia. Laurie Lee is not the only person who has enjoyed walking through Spain and there are a number of tour operators and walking guide books to inspire you.
Walking holidays are becoming quite the thing for the 50+ generation, although you don’t have to walk from one end of Spain to the other, indeed in the busy life of a 50+ person, you probably don’t have the time. And just because a walking holiday is specifically aimed at people in their 50s, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be full of grumpy old codgers who’ve forgotten how to have fun.

Walking holidays are physically beneficial and a great way to stay in shape without going OTT. I particularly like one company’s walking tours because they grade the walks according to three levels of fitness –I’m somewhere between the very basic “can walk down the road and still keep talking” and “can walk for between 4 to 6 hours and include a couple of hill climbs.” I’m definitely not an advanced walker, because the brochure says that could include some ‘jogging.’ No way José, I say!

Andalusian countryside

Walking holidays are also an excellent choice for singleton 50-year-olds because they tend to be group activities. So, while there are bound to be couples, the odds are good that there’ll be other solo walkers and you won’t feel like the odd-one-out.

It’s certainly worth making sure you’re well covered for health insurance if you’re going on a physical activity holiday. This is Staysure’s area of expertise and the team here have the knowledge to take you through the policy application process and answer any of your concerns. Don’t let a health condition get in the way of your inspiration.

And, if you’re looking for inspiration. I recommend reading “As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning”, or revisiting it if, as is the case for me, it’s several decades since you read it. Indeed, all of Lee’s books are a pleasure, including “Cider with Rosie,” which is his first book or “A Rose for Winter”, in which Lee returns to Spain, 15 years after the Civil War.

If you’re from the Cotswolds, especially Slad or Stroud, this centenary celebration of Laurie Lee’s work will have a special meaning. But, wherever you’re from, I suspect Lee would encourage you to get outdoors and walk –whether it is the leafy lanes of England or the sun-drenched paths of Spain.

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.