As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning,
by Laurie Lee (1969)
The sequel to Cider with Rosie sees Laurie Lee stretching his legs somewhat as he sets out from his Gloucestershire home one (midsummer) morning in 1934 for a bit of a tramp, and ultimately winds up in Spain, just in time for the Civil War to break out.
In the best traditions of travel writing, Lee's journey snowballs from its initial goal, which is to walk to London. In fact, he immediately veers off course when he decides to pop by Southampton en route, tempted by the opportunity of seeing the sea for the first time. Once in London, he lingers doing odd jobs, wandering the streets, and generally having fun, until he gets bored and sets sail for the Spanish port of Vigo.
Though the section of the book dealing with England is peppered with delightfully poetic glimpses of a time long-past which will satisfy fans of his previous book, it is the coincidence of Lee's arrival in Spain at this particular point in its history which makes this a travel writing classic.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is perhaps the closest thing an English author has written to Ernesto "Che" Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries, which similarly captures a life-changing journey, where the author stumbles into adulthood. The class divide and hardships of the poor slowly seep into view for Lee, and consequently into the narrative for the reader. Lee comes of age and to political awareness over the course of the book, and finally resolves to join the International Brigade - which he did do until his epilepsy cut his military life short.
The great strength of this book is how we are invited along with Lee on his journey. Even with hindsight provided us, which existed of course for those reading it when it was first published as well, dramatic irony doesn't hinder enjoyment of it on any level. In fact, by experiencing through Lee the state of Spain before the violence, we come to a greater understanding than any conventional history could offer; one grounded in humanity.