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. He was searching for adventure and chose Spain simply because he knew one phrase in Spanish – ¿un vaso de agua, por favor? His idea was to walk through the country, earning money for food by playing his violin in bars and plazas.
The book Laurie Lee wrote – As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning – is my favourite travel book of all time. It made me fall in love with Spain – the landscapes and the spirit – and with his 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 I have dreamed of retracing Laurie Lee’s footsteps, following his route and seeing his Spain with my own eyes. I knew that it would be a fascinating journey. It would make a lovely story, both as a book and as a film.
But there was one massive obstacle standing in my way. I cannot play the violin, nor any other instrument. A large part of the appeal of Laurie Lee’s experience was that he was singing for his supper, living from hand to mouth, with little idea of when he would next earn some money to buy his next meal. For my own story to feel authentic, I needed that uncertainty in my walk.
And so, for many years, my fantasy about undertaking this journey lingered as nothing more than a dream.
This year I decided to do something about it.
I bought a violin at Christmas, and began learning to play. I have never played music in front of an audience, and it is one of my deepest fears.
I am appalling at the violin! It promises to be a hungry, and deeply embarrassing journey!
This week I head to Vigo in northern Spain to begin following Laurie’s route, on foot, through Spain. I will play my violin to earn the money I need for food.
But is the essence of adventure not to seek out that which scares you? To risk failure and uncertainty? I will not carry the safety net of spare money or credit cards: it is the violin or bust.
I am more excited and more frightened about this adventure than anything I have done for many years. That is a good start to an adventure.
You can follow the journey on Instagram (@al_humphreys) and Facebook (Alastair Humphreys)