Laurie Lee – In Search of His Roots

First published in my original blog October 2012

Travel writer, Paul Murphy, is about to embark on an epic journey across Spain, much of it on foot. He will be following a path already trodden by one of the 20th century’s most popular authors – and over the summer I was delighted to be able to work with him, providing images that will feature in a new book about his exploits.

Paul has already spent two months during the summer travelling through Spain. He was retracing the northern section of a journey made by English author Laurie Lee, who discovered a country on the brink of civil war when he arrived there in 1935.

Slad - Rosebank and Wildflowers

Rosebank, Laurie Lee’s childhood home in the village of Slad, Gloucestershire.

Lee’s experiences were recorded in the book ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’, which was published in 1969 and is part of an autobiographical trilogy that includes ‘Cider with Rosie’ and ‘A Moment of War’.

Now Paul is heading for Spain again, escaping the autumn weather in Cornwall, where he is based. He plans to spend four weeks travelling from Madrid, passing through Toledo, Valdepenãs, Seville, Aracena, Cadiz, Malaga and Almunecar – he will also visit Granada.

He hopes to publish an account of his odyssey late next year (2013) in time for the centenary of Lee’s birth in 2014. The book will be called ‘As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee’. It promises to be a very personal and evocative account of a nation which is still affected by the seismic aftershocks of a conflict that ended over 70 years ago, as well as modern problems of unemployment and its position within the eurozone.

To help provide insights into Lee’s early life, Paul commissioned me to take photographs of the author’s home village of Slad, Gloucestershire. This required a 160 mile drive from my base in North Wales. I wanted to arrive before traffic started to build up in the village – so I set off at 3.50am.

Sure enough, at 6.40am Slad was almost unnaturally quiet. This was June, a month marked by a relentless inundation of rain – but not that morning. I was able to take advantage of crystal clear sunshine, which seemed to accentuate the timeless quality of the surrounding landscape – particularly the hedgerow trees and woodlands across the Slad Valley, as well as the wildflowers along the verges.

Slad Valley Landscape

Slad Valley bathed in early morning light

I methodically worked through a list of images Paul needed, including Rosebank (Lee’s childhood home), the old School House, the village church and the nearby countryside.

Slad - The Woolpack from Churchyard

The Woolpack, Slad, Gloucestershire, the author Laurie Lee’s local pub. Photographed from the church graveyard where he is buried.

Slad - Path to Rosebank

Rosebank Laurie Lee’s childhood home

Further down the quiet country road was Rose Cottage, the home Lee bought with the proceeds from ‘Cider with Rosie’ – and at the other end of the village was The Woolpack, his local pub.

Slad - Rose Cottage

Rose Cottage, the house Laurie Lee bought with the proceeds of Cider with Rosie, in the village of Slad, Gloucestershire.

Slad - The Woolpack

The Woolpack, in Slad, Gloucestershire, was the local pub of writer Laurie Lee. The building dates from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was immortalised in Lee’s book, Cider with Rosie.

I also visited two other local villages which had associations with the author. Sheepscombe, early in the morning, was deserted and utterly peaceful but for the bird song – a beautiful time capsule, seemingly better suited to a simpler age. There I took photos of the church and the war memorial – before moving on to Painswick, with its lovely church and attractive Cotswold buildings.

Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire

The pretty Cotswold village of Sheepscombe, Gloucestershire. The village church, St. John the Apostle was built in 1820.

I wish Paul well with his journey across Spain and hope he doesn’t have to spend too many nights sleeping rough, as Lee did – there’s a limit to the sacrifices you should make in the cause of authenticity. I look forward to seeing the photos in print as Paul plans to use them to publicise his book – and I hope they help illustrate the contrast between Lee’s gentle, rural roots and the grand, sweeping and often arid landscapes of Spain that Paul is about to discover for himself.

You can see more photographs taken on this shoot in the Towns and Villages gallery on my main website.

Postscript – As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee

I write this in August 2015 – and I’m pleased to say Paul completed his journey.  His book, As I Walked Out through Spain in Search of Laurie Lee, has been published to critical acclaim. At the time of writing it is available from Amazon UK here.

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