Travels in Spain, Then and Now – Fishing and Tourism

Guardamara Fishing Houses

“By the end…it was clear that Spain’s spiritual and cultural isolation was at an end, overwhelmed by the great alien invasion from the North of money and freedoms.  Spain became the most visited tourist country in the World, and slowly, as the foreigners poured in, its identity was submerged, its life-style altered more in a single decade than in the previous century.”-  Norman Lewis, ‘Voices of the Old Sea’.

Visiting my sister on the Costa Blanca we visited the coastal community of Guardamar del Segura.  Carried away by the unexpected good weather I packed swimming trunks and challenged others to do the same.  There wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm I have to say, Kim hid her swimsuit at the bottom of her case and claimed to have forgotten to bring it but my sister Lindsay promised to join me if I felt like taking to the water any time during the day.

As it happened the weather wasn’t nearly so good as the previous day so when we arrived and parked the car we left the costumes and towels in the back seat and went for a walk instead.

Guardamar del Segura turned out to be a fascinating place and once away from the modern concrete tourist beach front we found ourselves in an area of old fishermen’s houses, built almost a hundred years ago directly beside the caramel beach and now under daily attack from storms and water erosion as they crumble away into the Mediterranean. Some had already given up and surrendered to the inevitability of the assault of the sea.  A visual story of changing fortunes and times.

Fishing Boat Guardarma Alicante Spain

In preparation for visiting the Costa Blanca I read the book ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by the travel writer Norman Lewis who (allegedly) spent three summers in the fishing village he called Farol and where he watched, recorded and lamented as modern tourism replaced traditional rural industries and he mourned the changes that take place.

The book is an account of catastrophic social change punctuated with recollections of conversations  and stories of strange customs – such as the local tradition of drowning of a mouse in the first barrel of newly pressed grapes, walking over red-hot coals and jumping over new-born babies.   Slowly over the three sections of the book he explains how he integrated himself into a community that had barely changed for hundreds of years, where people adhered to tradition, superstitions ruled, and the ageless rhythms of the year continued as they had for centuries.

He asks a local man to explain about life and he replies: “How can anyone put it? One thing is certain – here we have always been and here, whatever happens, we shall remain, listening to the voices of the old sea.”

Torrevieja Spain

But Lewis was observing life on the verge of headlong and irreversible change, the cork forests that were the life blood of their neighbours were suffering blight, the fish were not as plentiful as they once were and worst of all, the first waves of tourism were beginning to lap at the golden shores of the Costa Blanca and a way of life was heading for extinction.

By the third season there was no turning back – the fishermen’s wives were working as chambermaids at the hotel, and even his friend Sebastian had to abandoned his ambitious travelling plans and succumbed to the inevitable and become a waiter.


We walked along the seashore and then into a pine forest, planted some time ago to protect the coast from erosion and now a site of special scientific interest.  It has done its job well because the sand dunes are piled high at the back of the beach and have stopped the encroachment into the land.

This reminded me of seaside holidays when I was a boy and we used to go to a cottage at Seaview Crescent at Walcott on Sea in Norfolk.  It was a crescent sure enough and every year that we went there were a few cottages missing as they had fallen over the cliff into the sea during the winter storms.  Luckily ours, which was owned by a man called Mr Bean (he was an old man and dad used to call him Mr has-been – well, he thought it was funny) was furthest away from the cliff edge so each year before we left mum and dad could always book a week there the following year with some degree of confidence.

Walcott on Sea Holiday Cottage

We walked right along the path though the pine woods and stopped for a while at the marina for a drink where the weather improved, the sun poked through the grey cloud and Lindsay began to panic about having to join me later for a swim in the sea.  As we left and started to walk back I think she was probably relieved to see the clouds coming back in and blotting out the sun and if I am honest so was I.

I liked Guardamar del Segura, it was good, it is a tourist/ex pat sort of place now but I could still get a sense of its history and fishing heritage.  It is a place that I would happily go back to.

Spain Tuna Fishing

I used to think that it might be nice to sell up and go and live abroad but as I have got older I have abandoned the idea.   I am English not Spanish or French and my character, behaviour and whole way of life has been shaped from an English heritage that, even if I wanted to, I could not lay aside and become something that I am not.

But, now I have another idea.  It always annoys me when I see a poster advertising something that happened last week, before I arrived, or will take place next week, after I have gone home, so I think I could be happy to live for a while, say twelve months, in a foreign country so that I could enjoy everything that takes place over the course of a year in a Spanish town or city and I would be very happy to place Quesada on my short list of potential places.

Spain Old Fishermen 1

24 responses to “Travels in Spain, Then and Now – Fishing and Tourism

  1. I think that’s a good idea, to live somewhere different for a long spell. You might even be able to do a house exchange with someone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Yvonne has just said I think the idea of living somewhere for an extended period would be a great thing to do. At this moment in time it seems like a very far off dream from our chaotic lives but hope you get to try it out.
    As to cottages falling in the sea I’d suggest looking for something back of the cliff edge. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mr Bean’s Holiday Cottage! Sounds like a remake of an old movie.
    Twelve Months in Queseda. Sounds like your next book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A year would be a nice amount of time to get below the veneer of any country!

      I will never forget Mr Bean, he used to turn up mid week in a scruffy shirt and corduroy trousers for the cottage rental – cash of course!


  4. It’s very difficult to understand. The Spanish years ago are overwhelmed by foreigners and regret losing their identity and that reaction is understandable and pretty well OK. The people nowadays all across Europe who are saying that they want to remain Swedes, Germans, Italians whatever are now the baddies because they must be racist foreigner haters. I agree with you that we are what we are, but that doesn’t mean an automatic hatred of foreigners. Indeed, I had visited most of Western Europe before I was 20 and enjoyed it enormously. I liked more or less everyone I met.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You highlight the difference between visiting and relocating. I believe that if people relocate then they should do their best to integrate. British expats in Spain create British communities, Muslims in Europe try to insist that we should change our way of life to accommodate them. If I moved to Spain I would consider it my responsibility to find a way to join in. I am thinking about Malta now because it has a very British heritage and culture.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. We are trying to fit into the way of life, and must admit as a bare minimum we avoid the ‘expat’ communities. Must also admit I hate that word ‘expat’ as only whites seem to use it for when they move to another country . . .we are immigrants! Somehow some seem to use the word ‘expats’ to justify their failure to fit in whilst bemoaning the fact back home in England that immigrants do exactly the same. Grr moan over, apologies.

    Fabulous post by the way . . I just wonder how long the east Algarve will retain its traditions. Even in the few years we have been coming for our winter stays significant changes have occurred.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I notice things changing as I travel and it is not just down to the incomers. I went to Greece this year and most tavernas and bars played modern lounge music rather than old style Greek. It was a struggle to find anywhere really traditional even on the smaller islands. There seems an indecent haste to ditch the past but I suppose we have to accept that there is a desire to move on in all societies and cultures. Poor old Norman Lewis would have had a fit! It is a good book, I recommend it, you can get it from Amazon for 1p!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am slowly getting back to reading posts after my short break, and have missed your wonderful story-telling. I think I’ll just have to plod back to December’s posts and read through it all – it will make for a good book-length read.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. That’s very true….and will do albeit probably not from Amazon as MrB won’t be best pleased (he’s an antiquarian bookseller!!)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. When I was in China in spring of 2014, everywhere we heard music, it was western lounge music or classical. Not what I wanted to hear either. 🙂


  9. I like your reminiscences, Andrew, and it does look a nice little place. How different this coast must once have been!
    Have you given up on Greece then, or is that somewhere you’d think of spending a year? Too much choice, in that respect, and certainly cool winters! Becky’s is a good point about expats, though we certainly don’t avoid them. We call many of them friends. As with most things you have to be discerning and our life in Portugal would be poorer without them. Until we get to grips with the language integration is not so easy. Any immigrant will tell you that 🙂


  10. The Norman Lewis comment intrigues me. Why “allegedly”?


    • Well, he did spend some time in north east Spain but there is no place called Farol, he wrote the book 20 years or so later from old notes and he didn’t travel independently to Spain and live a rural existence, he drove down with his family in a cadillac and stayed in a villa.
      It is rather like other travel writers in Spain, Gerald Brennan, Laurie Lee, their accounts are part fact, part fiction. It is down to the reader to determine the percentages. A lot of fiction in my opinion!


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