My Midsummer Morning by Alastair Humphreys – Review
By Ryan Madin
In 1935 a young Laurie Lee left the familiarity of his Cotswolds village and set out on a journey which would see him tramping his way across Spain on a slow but epic adventure, with only his violin to earn him a crust. The book he wrote about his time in Spain, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, has ignited wanderlust in thousands of souls since its 1960’s publication, and is as relevant today as it has every been. Fast forward more than a few decades and Yorkshire adventurer Alastair Humphreys, in the hopes of rediscovering adventure, set out to recreate the spirit of Laurie’s trip, walking from Vigo to Madrid with only a violin to earn his food – but without Lee’s musical talent.
My Midsummer Morning begins with Alastair’s first busking experience in Spain. His fear and vulnerability are palpable, but his need for a different kind of adventure, a different sort of suffering to what his usual feats of endurance give him wins out and he steps up to play his first tune in a busy plaza.
Six months before his departure date, Alastair sent an email enquiring about violin lessons, having never picked up the instrument before in his life. With grand visions of Dylan and Springsteen songs working up the crowds into a fiesta, he soon realised what a daunting task he had set himself. With just five simple tunes in his arsenal (one being The Muppets theme) he set off in the footsteps of Laurie Lee.
“Change in his outlook”
What follows is a slow journey, not just through northern Spain, but through the mind and heart of an adventurer turned family man, battling against the notion of the pram in the hall putting a stop to a life of adventure. This is Alastair’s first big trip in a decade, having previously cycled around the world, crossed the Empty Quarter on foot, rowed across the Atlantic, walked across India and walked/pack-rafted across Iceland, as well as many more big scary accomplishments, and it signifies a change in his outlook on what living adventurously really means to him.
The battle between being a father and husband, with the wanderlust for travel, suffering and adventure weaves its way in and out of this trip. The writing is poetic and rich with colour, and the short sharp paragraphs flit from vulnerable internal monologues to musings on an adventurous life, from his journey through Spain in the 21st century, to Lee’s own journey in the 1930s. Spain is portrayed both romantically and realistically, woody green Galician mountainsides transition into industrial outskirts and suburban sprawl. Panama hatted pensioners give hard earned coins and wisdom, where sharp suited business men walk by without a second glance. The richness of the landscape contrasts with the poverty of many of the towns and villages, the sweetness of a fresh peach on a successful day is savoured after three days of hunger.
“A professional adventurer with real life responsibilities”
The interjection between the walk at hand, the real life that he has left behind and the future he hopes to have, sew a narrative that is unique in many books within the genre. This is not a suffer-fest, not a challenge of human endurance. He knows he can walk the distance, survive the heat and camp wild every night, but can he make enough euros to eat, standing up in front of strangers over and over, with five songs to hand, vulnerable and at their mercy?
Alastair’s books never fail to ignite the spark for travel in me, but this one is my favourite to date. Not only does he tell the tale of a beautiful and epic human-powered journey, but he opens up to the reader what it’s really like to be a professional adventurer with a family and real life responsibilities. We see the gritty reality of the toll that months and years or travel take on a family man torn between his two greatest loves, as well as a front row seat to the kindness of strangers, to the beauty of the wild and the power of music (even when played badly).
Make sure you (re)read ‘As I Walked Out’ right before My Midsummer Morning to make the most of this beautiful book, and look out for Alastair’s other book titles hidden away within the paragraphs like Easter eggs.
Alastair Humphreys’ latest offering shows how everyone can have an adventurous life if they want it enough.
‘My Midsummer Morning: Rediscovering a Life of Adventure’ by Alastair Humphreys is published by William Collins, £14.99 hardback, ISBN: 978-0008331825