Two Middle-Aged Ladies In Andalucia, By Penelope Chetwode

Just 50 years ago, rural Spain was another, medieval world.

Of the army of Britons annually drawn to the south of Spain, only one has produced a classic work of adventure and humour. Penelope Chetwode had several advantages in writing this little masterpiece. She was a companionable eccentric, obsessed with horses and Catholicism. She undertook her month-long journey in 1961 when rural Andalusia was in many respects medieval. She travelled alone – the other "middle-aged lady" is La Marquesa, "a mule foal ... more or less equivalent in horse age to my 51 years."

Chetwode's trek took place 100 miles inland from the Mediterranean. She meandered on mule tracks between a series of posadas, "an inn with stables", where humans and equines entered through the same door and shared the same toilet facilities: "When you enter the stable to attend to your horse, you open the door with a smile on your face... When you wish to enter it for the other purpose, you go with a look of grim determination and slam the door hard behind you." The appearance of a solitary Englishwoman was such a novelty that Chetwode gathered a Pied Piper train of children in many villages. In one, an athletic urchin observed her breakfast through a high window and commentated to "the inquisitive crowd" below. "The woman eats! The woman reads! The woman writes!" When Chetwode complained, he merely continued, "The woman speaks!"

She was touched by the generosity of her hosts, though a breakfast liqueur was poured "into a handy pot of geraniums" and "many is the fish soup which I have cleared up with the aid of the posada cats". Even so, the robust food sounds tempting, even fashionable, especially the "superlative" bread. One compensation for travelling in chilly late autumn was the annual pig slaughter and the consequent feast with "purple serpents" of black pudding.

Though she noted drawbacks ("The Spaniards possess a great variety of talents but plumbing is not one of them"), this acute and amiable observer concluded that the setting was like "the garden of Paradise before the Fall." Anyone planning a visit to post-lapsarian Andalusia should pack Chetwode's magical diary.