As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

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As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning
First edition (UK)
AuthorLaurie Lee
IllustratorLeonard Rosoman
Cover artistShirley Thompson
PublisherAndré Deutsch (UK)
Atheneum Publishers (US)
David R. Godine, Publisher (US)
Publication date
914.6/0481 19
LC ClassPR6023.E285 Z463 1985
Preceded byCider with Rosie 
Followed byA Moment of War 

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) is a memoir by Laurie Lee, a British poet. It is a sequel to Cider with Rosie which detailed his life in post First World War Gloucestershire. The author leaves the security of his Cotswold village of Slad in Gloucestershire to start a new life, at the same time embarking on an epic journey by foot.

It is 1934, and as a young man Lee walks to London from his Cotswolds home. He is to live by playing the violin and by labouring on a London building site. When this work draws to a finish, and having picked up the phrase in Spanish for 'Will you please give me a glass of water?', he decides to go to Spain. He scrapes together a living by playing his violin outside the street cafés, and sleeps at night in his blanket under an open sky or in cheap, rough posadas. For a year he tramps through Spain, from Vigo in the north to the south coast, where he is trapped by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Experiencing a Spain ranging from the utterly squalid to the utterly beautiful, Lee creates a story which evocatively captures the spirit and atmosphere of the towns and countryside he passes through in his own distinctive semi-poetic style. He is warmly welcomed by the Spaniards he meets and enjoys a generous hospitality even from the poorest villagers he encounters along the way.


In 1934 Laurie Lee leaves his home in Gloucestershire for London. He visits Southampton and it is here that he first tries his luck at playing his violin in the streets. His apprenticeship proves profitable and he decides to move eastwards. Lee makes his way along the south coast and then turns inland and heads north for London. He meets up with his American girlfriend, Cleo, who is the daughter of an American anarchist.

Cleo's father finds him a job as a labourer and he is able to rent a room. However, he has to move on as his room is taken over by a prostitute. He lives in London for almost a year as part of a gang of wheelbarrow pushers. Once the building nears completion, he knows that his time is up and decides to go to Spain because he knows the phrase in Spanish for "Will you please give me a glass of water?".

He lands in Galicia in July 1935. Joining up with a group of three young German musicians, he accompanies them around Vigo and then they split up outside Zamora. By August 1935 Lee reaches Toledo, where he has a meeting with the South African poet Roy Campbell and his family, whom he comes across while playing his violin. They invite him to stay in their house.

By the end of September Lee reaches the sea. Then he comes to the Sierra Morena mountains. He decides to turn west and follow the Guadalquivir, adding several months to his journey, and taking him to the sea in a roundabout way. Lee turns eastwards, heading along the bare coastal shelf of Andalusia. He hears talk of war in Abyssinia. He arrives at Tarifa, making another stop over in Algeciras.

He decides to stick to his plan to follow the coast round Spain, and sets off for Málaga, stopping in Gibraltar. During his last days in Malaga his violin breaks. After his new line of work, acting as a guide to British tourists, is curtailed by local guides, he is fortunate to meet a young German who gives him a violin.

In the winter of 1935 Lee decides to stay in Almuñécar. He manages to get work in a hotel. Lee and his friend Manolo, the hotel's waiter, drink in the local bar alongside the other villagers. Manolo is the leader of a group of fishermen and labourers and they discuss the expected revolution.

In February the Socialists win the election and a Popular Front begins. In the spring, the villagers, in an act of revolt, burn down the church but then change their minds. In the middle of May, there is a strike and the peasants come in from the countryside to lend their support as the village splits between 'Fascists' and 'Communists'.

In the middle of July 1936 war breaks out. Manolo helps organise a militia. Granada is held by the rebels, and so is Almuñécar's neighbour Altofaro. A British destroyer from Gibraltar arrives to pick up any British subjects who might be marooned on the coast and Lee is taken on board.

The epilogue describes Lee's return to his family home in Gloucestershire and his desire to help his comrades in Spain. He finally manages to make his way through France and crosses the Pyrenees into Spain.


An insight into the origin of the title of the book is found in the second episode the BBC Four documentary series Travellers' Century presented by Benedict Allen. In the episode, which looks at As I Walked Out..., a friend of Lee reveals that the title of the book comes from a Gloucestershire folk song. The traditional song "The Banks of Sweet Primroses" starts with the line 'As I walked out one mid-summer morning'.[1]

Critical responses[edit]

Robert McFarlane[2] compares Lee's travels with those of his contemporary, Patrick Leigh Fermor. Both walked across a Europe in political turmoil. McFarlane praises Lee's powerful use of metaphor and notes that the 'rose-tinted' descriptions of Cider with Rosie are replaced here by 'very dark passages'. Sex with several partners is described 'euphemistically'. 'Life on the road' is another key theme; 'As I Walked Out' is all about movement, where Cider with Rosie was about staying in one place.

Michael Kerr[3] says that Lee was 'hungry for experience, and often just hungry'. BBC Radio Four presented Lee's work as their Book of the week in his centenary year, 2014.


  1. ^ 'The Banks of Sweet Primroses' lyrics on Archived 3 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Robert McFarlane, book review, The Guardian, 20/6/2014
  3. ^ 'Michael Kerr's Top Ten Travel Books', Daily Telegraph, October 2011
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, Penguin Books (1971) ISBN 0140033181

External links[edit]