The Reading Room

Southern Spain by Eric Whelpton

Review of Southern Spain by Eric Whelpton..

Southern Spain First Edition 1964 by Eric Whelpton

Southern Spain  by Eric Whelpton was first published by Robert Hale Ltd in 1964 and was one of many travel books written by Whelpton and his wife, Barbara with a particular emphasis on the countries of the Mediterranean.

Eric Whelpton (1894-1981) was an author, journalist, poet and teacher. Married to the artist Barbara (Crocker) he was also a good friend of the author Dorothy Sayers  and it is believed she used Whelpton as the inspiration for her gentleman detective character, Lord Peter  Wimsey.  The Whelpton’s were intrepid travellers, Barbara was an accomplished landscape painter, illustrator and art critic  who, I take liberty to presume, was responsible for this glorious front cover illustration.

Southern Spain (With Chapters On The Algarve) was Whelpton’s fifteenth book and his first dedicated to mainland Spain. Whelpton was a travel author very much in keeping with the period,  he wrote politely but honestly, his subjects were always thoroughly researched and his love of local history gave his travelogues an extra dimension.  Such was his skill at portraying a place he was awarded the Italian Order of Merit for his works on Italy and its people.

Southern Spain by Eric Whelpton 1964

Reading this in the middle of a particularly wintery spell in mid-February  in harmony with Whelpton who describes leaving England for Spain  ‘in the icy grip of the worst February for years’ which I can only presume was the horrendous  English winter of 1962/63 (click here for more information) I felt a pang of jealousy as he describes landing in Gibraltar at the start of a four week  tour of Andalusia and the Algarve with stops along the coast and the inland cities of Seville, Cordova and Granada.

As someone who has also travelled along the coast road to Cadiz, Whelpton’s wonderful descriptions of the sea and the houses perched high on the hill tops struck a chord: ‘the sea was a deep purple, flecked with patches of white, ships were steaming eastward or westward and the hills of Morocco had more or less the same tints as the water’

Perhaps my favourite place in the region is Vejer de la Frontera and Whelpton perfectly captures its very essence  and its long history of the Moors and the beautiful white-walled houses in the old town. Cadiz makes way for the couple to venture to Spain’s sherry city; Jerez where he describes streets lined with orange trees laden with their delicious fruits. Here they stopped for a lunch of fish soup, full of shrimps and octopus followed by a fish and omelette course then veal (which could have been horse, he wasn’t sure!) and chips. They finished the meal off with fresh fruit, ‘a pallatable wine’ and coffee for thirteen shillings all in!

By travelling in the late winter months they swapped the better weather of the spring for the convenience of quieter streets and better service in hotels and restaurants. But by the time they reached Santa Marina they had a sense of things to come: ‘Here, even  in February, when few flowers were in bloom , we felt the enchantment of these romantic  gardens leading through grilles and archways and onto yet lovelier scented corners where the scent of herbs and ripe lemons and oranges hanging  tantalising from the shiny green leaves, and the promise of a wealth of roses , jasmine and figs. This must be a place of magic on a May evening, with the roses in bloom and the heavy scent of the geraniums and sweet basil, whilst the air is cooled by the trickle of fountains and, through the foliage, the stone of the statues shines ghostly white’

Whelpton paints a vivid picture throughout, it would have been a wonderful tonic for readers in the chill of 1960s England as it was for me this month.  This is the Spain of old, on the cusp of becoming a major package holiday tourist destination and I for one am grateful to them for capturing it in time.




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