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In the footsteps of... Laurie Lee

Last year was the centenary of Laurie Lee's birth, while 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of his eminent arrival in Spain. We retrace the steps of the author

Published 10 Jan 2015, 10:00 GMT, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 15:32 BST

One of the greatest walks of the 20th century began in 1934, by the award-winning poet and author Laurie Lee, best known for his autobiographical trilogy of Cider with Rosie (1959), As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) and A Moment of War (1991). Having set out from his Gloucestershire home with little more than his violin, he arrived in Spain a year later, to walk through a country on the brink of civil war. Later recalled for in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, it recounts the kindness of strangers, draws a vivid portrait of an as-yet unshattered landscape and lends an innocence to the narrative of this treasured travelogue.

Lee began his epic trek in Vigo, Galicia, walking south to Almuñécar on the Granada coast (then a modest fishing village, which he named Castillo to protect the characters he wrote about). You'd be hard pushed to walk the entire 620-mile journey, from Vigo via Zamora, Valladolid and Segovia to Madrid and then south to Malaga via Toledo, Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz and Gibraltar. But one of the highs, literally, has to be crossing the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains north of Madrid.

His journey's end, the resort of Almuñécar — now utterly reliant on tourism — was, back then, unrecognisable: a struggling two-hotel town reliant on a failing sugar cane industry. 'But the land was rich compared with the sea,' noted Lee. 'Which nourished only a scattering of poor sardines.' And of Almuñécar, Lee wrote, after returning to the city in the 1980s: '[It is] a concrete cliff of filing cabinets for tourists, It's one of the worst things that could have happened, next to a nuclear war.'

Learn more about Laurie Lee

Chris Baxter recreates Lee's journey, from Stroud to Spain, for a BBC radio programme made for the centenary of his birth, last year.

Several of Lee's books have recently been reissued, including As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning. Unicorn Press has released the new book, Laurie Lee: A Folio, featuring recently discovered paintings and sketches by Lee and an essay by his daughter Jessy. RRP: £24.99.

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Published in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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