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The True Traveller: A Reader by WH Davies review – on the road with the Welsh poet-tramp

WH Davies may have been restless, but he also knew how to stand still and appreciate the world. It’s a good combination for a writer

The Welsh poet and author WH Davies spent much of his life on the road. There’s a moment in A Poet’s Pilgrimage, first published in 1918 and extracted here, in which the writer stops an old man who is travelling between Carmarthen and Kidwelly, some 10 miles distant, to ask if there are any inns along the way. Yes, he is told, “but if you will take my advice you will keep out of places of that kind. I have not been inside one for 13 years. If I had, I would not be the owner of this.” And he points to a rusty old bicycle, the pitiful product of 13 years’ abstinence, and rides off.

This is one of the more benign moments in Davies’ perambulations. He had by this time achieved success with his first books, The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, Beggars and The True Traveller; he was back in his native country after years of train-hopping in America and Canada, and, as he puts it, “full of joy at the thought of going on and on”. He also had, by this stage, the esteem of George Bernard Shaw, and the friendship of Edward Thomas (yet to be killed in the trenches).

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