26 to 31 August 2018 – Friso goes to Paris. Part One.

Friso exterior 2Remember Friso the tjalk we had looked at two or three weeks ago and that Jill subsequently bought? Well – back at the fermette we get the news that she has mostly passed the survey needing only a few fixes before she can start her journey to Limerick. There needs to be a safety rail fitted all around the back and the oil needs changing amongst other things. Friso has been moved up-river by the surveyor to a boatyard at Migennes on the Yonne – only a couple of hours away from the fermette. We are going as far as Paris and an approximate date for leaving is given as Wednesday 29th. We will take the van up to the handily-placed campsite near the boatyard and help prepare the barge until it’s time to go. Portia will stay in the secured parking of the campsite while we sail up to Paris then get the train back to the, equally handily-placed, station. Things seem to be falling nicely into place.

We get to Camping Les Confluents in Migennes on Monday 27th. It’s a municipal so only 11€ a night with electricity, nicely kept and it has a small swimming pool – ideal for a quick cool down on a red hot day! Evans Boatyard International is a ten minute walk away and we wander over to find Jill and Friso. boatyard1What a place of wonder the boatyard is! Apart from all the boats standing high and dry having their bottoms scraped or repainted, the quay is cheek-by-jowl with rusting hulks awaiting goodness knows what, and ancient craft that Simon Evans collects. Friso is moored three deep alongside two huge rusting barges that have to be climbed across to gain access. Worth remembering not to push too hard with your feet on the deck of one boat while heaving yourself up onto another – the gap widens as you struggle:-( boarding friso

Friso is a real beauty – high at the front and wide bodied with elegant lines. A beauty in need of some tender loving care and not a little updating however. The wheel house is airy, the living area and galley are one large living space beautifully panelled and with made to measure persian carpets and runners.

There are two cabins with double beds – one at the side and one at the front. Our cabin was the size of a double bed with a couple of feet spare down one side – small but adequate – and adjacent to the loo. The loo is a throne-like construction to keep it above the water level outside and with a hose for flushing. Bizarre but functional (and normal for old tjalks).

All Friso’s systems need de-winterising, rooms and bedding need airing and everywhere needs cleaning. Jill masters the water, battery and electrical aspects of the process – some lights and sockets come on and all taps run. The gas water heater could not be persuaded to light but the immersion heater will work when on hook up – not otherwise or it will drain the batteries. Cooker works, fridge works, shower works, pump for the shower tray works (it is below water level) and the toilet works – hurrah! I sort and air bedding and degrease the kitchen while and Neil carries out various handyman fixes.

There are three bikes on board which, once pumped up, prove handy for coming and going to shops, campsite etc.  Feeling pretty chuffed we eat at Jill’s nearby air bnb flatlet and look at maps and charts. The next day – more of the same plus stocking the fridge and cupboards ready for the trip.

Friso jills bnb dinner

By Wednesday the date for leaving had been put back to Thursday but we secured the van and moved aboard  anyway ready for an early departure.  Jill was hoping for another hour or two handling instruction from the surveyor but, unfortunately, this did not materialise. The stick for the throttle/gears is small and the wheel is huge – it takes a lot of turning to manoeuvre 35 tons at the slow speeds needed for locks and docking generally. Use of the bow thruster in conjunction with the forward and reverse thrust is an art form in it’s own right. We celebrate in optimistic mood with dinner aboard.

Friso first drinks poot

Finally, on Thursday 30th, safety rail firmly welded in place, we got away and did a few graceful but unexpected pirouettes down the Yonne while Jill got the hang of the handling the barge. The sun was shining, Friso was purring and Jill steered us beautifully, if a little too fast,  into the first lock. Three hundred metres out the other side and the engine temperature soared to 190, the oil pressure dropped to zero and wispy smoke issued from below the wheelhouse deck. On about zero revs Jill steered/drifted us to the bank and made a controlled collision with a tiny, leafy fishing jetty. Fortunately it was made of concrete rather than being the more fragile, rotten wood structures you usually see tottering at the side of fishing lakes, and withstood the impact. As did Friso. All slightly unnerving:-(

Friso crash landing

We secured ourselves to the jetty and phoned the incomparable Simon Evans from the boatyard who turned up and took the relevant panels of the boat off to get at the fan belt on the front of the 1967 Mercedes truck engine.

The fan belt had snapped, the engine had overheated and the coolant had burst out into the bilges under the heat. Strangely, none of the several spare fan belts on board was the right size and one of Simon’s lads from the yard would need to go and get one. We just had to wait and smile apologetically at the hopeful fishermen who came along hoping for a quiet fish from the jetty. The sun shone, we read and looked at charts.  Six hours later, with much relief and good cheer we got away again – the worst had happened – drifting without power – and all was well again……

We made for the marina at Joigny. It turned out to be a few pontoons extending out into the water and there was more heart-in-mouth turning and priouetting in the river attempting to reverse into a narrow empty berth. After a few attempts we were directed to moor on the end of the jetty in the river alongside an empty boat and several people abandoned dinners to come out and catch ropes and fasten us alongside. Thank you fellow boating people! Ten hours, two locks and only a sorry eight kilometres. Slow beginnings. Jill has sailing experience but of sailing boats rather than barges,  Neil and I have some experience of barge holidays on English canals – not a whole lot of expertise between us.  The kitchen sink would not drain either:-(

Friso blocked drain

Friday 31st – day two of the voyage.

The advantage of going downstream is that you enter all the locks when they are full so no need to climb up slimey ladders to fasten your line to a bollard several feet above your head and set back from the edge where you can’t see it anyway. In theory you just come to a gentle stop beside the quay and loop your line loosely around a handy bollard. Coming to a standstill close enough to the bollards was not proving so easy. Neil had adopted fore and I was aft and depending which side we moored we had to rush across with ropes and fasten them around the cleats on the boat in the approved non-slip fashion before trying to lasso a bollard as we motored gently past it. All a bit heart-in-mouth.

We had several locks ahead of us that day. Some were a slope-sided lock of a type with which none of us are familiar. You have to stay in the middle of the channel to avoid bashing your rudder on the stone banks as the water goes down. Some of these have floating pontoons at the side which you moor to and they slide down with the water thus keeping you and your rudder safely away from the edges.  We approached the first one and a slight miscommunication as to  whether it was port or starboard mooring resulted in a last minute change of direction and caused Jill to end up taking it sideways whilst battling with the wheel to rectify it. This alarmed the couple in the fibre glass boat already moored there – our thirty five tons of steel would fare better in this encounter. They and the lock keeper rushed to catch our lines and brought us alongside the pontoon safely.

Friso slope sided neil

Janine and Bruce were friendliness itself and we tailed them through the next few locks although they managed to get behind us at one point – maybe did not fancy being crushed after all. At each succeeding lock either they went in first and took our lines or, for odd ones too short for going end to end, we went first and they came alongside and tethered to us. In one particularly nerve-wracking lock, without sliding pontoons, the lock keeper came along and handed us long poles to use to keep the barge away from the edges. We had our own boat hooks of the telescoping variety – and they telescoped unhelpfully under pressure:-( Jill used the bow thruster judiciously and rudder and lockside did not collide. 

At the end of a day of many stressful locks, a few burst fenders from heavy moorings and peaceful gliding through beautiful countryside in glorious sunshine we reached the marina at Pont sur Yonne and found Janine and Bruce moored there already.

They introduced us to another long term bargeing couple (John and Rosemary) moored nearby in another tjalk who commented casually, over a bottle of wine, how brave we were to be taking the boat along the Seine into Paris with an inexperienced  captain with a new-to-her boat and a novice crew. Brave? Really? Gulp. John gave us a card and said to get in touch if we needed any help. They advised we should ensure the tank was full of fuel to minimise the churn caused by the passing (massive, heavy, fast) working barges and tourist boats in Paris. Churn could stir up all the debris at the bottom of the tank and block the fuel filter causing the engine to fail. Gulp. In fact, we should change the fuel filter anyway as we did not know the condition of the current one. Gulp again. We were unsure as to how much fuel we had as the fuel gauge was some kind of primitive glass tube affair which neither Neil nor Jill had fully fathomed – but it seemed to show there was some.  We would be joining the Seine tomorrow and I was feeling apprehensive.

We had decided to eat out that night and I used my phone app to find a restaurant and ring to book a table. The proprietor seemed bemused at my request but said ‘bien sur’ and took my name. It turned out to be a take away kebab shop with a couple of formica tables for those eating in! I felt slightly foolish. Ah well. The kebabs were large and tasty:-)



16 to 25 August 2018 – a little tour of municipal campsites

Anyone who has experienced it (me included) can tell you that a tin can on wheels is not the best place to be in a heatwave. This year’s canicule seemed to have no end and the thermometer pushed over thirty on and off every day for weeks.  Mooching around the fermette with the shutters closed and fans whirring was beginning to pall – even with a late afternoon swim in the lake.image

The local paper had featured a riverside municipal  campsite only an hour’s drive away – on the edge of the rolling, wooded Morvan national park, famed for its lakes. This sparked an idea – we could shake ourselves out of our indolence with a fairly local tour of those lakes – close enough to dash for the cool of home if need be. camping guideMunicipal sites are great – they tend to be nicely located and pretty cheap and a flick through the official french campsite guide revealed several sited on the banks of the lakes –  so we headed off. (The link is to Vicarious Books who specialise in camping and motorhoming guides and from whom we have received very good service in the past.)

First Brèves, on the banks of the Yonne upriver of navigation. I add that qualification because in the course of looking at barges with Jill the month before we now had inside knowledge of how the toilets worked. They empty straight into the water. Bleurrgh. This applies to all living-in sized boats on the inland waterways, not just the barges. Apparently they do all have big tanks to hold the waste but there is no national infrastructure to pump them out. So needs must and the tanks are by-passed:-( Never be tempted to swim in a canal!

Anyway. Brèves is a tiny town with a campsite in a big field next to the river.  I had taken the precaution of making a reservation at the campsite thinking it would be full after featuring in the paper and it still being holiday season. There were four other campers in the big field.  Being very hot we parked under a tree which is problematic if we also want a satellite signal. Having a roof-mounted satellite means we need to park the van so the dome on the rear end has a clear view of the south-south-eastern sky (28.2 degrees east of south to be precise, for Astra 2). With care we can get shade and satellite but it calls for some precision-manoeuvering between the branches and careful use of the compass. A free-standing satellite would be easier to position but more difficult to store. And expensive considering we already have one. We did get a signal and went off to the river for a swim. I started rehearsing for this year’s summer series of Ophelia poses.

Ophelia breves

Neil continued his retirement-snooze poses.

snooze breves

In the late afternoon groups of cyclists turned up by twos and threes and pitched tiny tents around the field. Chatting to one of them it transpired that they are on canal cycling holidays and the Canal de Nivernais runs parallel to the Yonne here just over the bridge. Burgundy is crossed by many canals and waterways and the towpaths are well maintained for precisely this kind of use. Together with France’s abundance of local campsites they make for a great and not-too-strenuous outdoor holiday.  One group is a fit looking young couple with two toddlers, two bikes and two heavily packed trailers. I know canals are flattish but, in this heat?

Next day we follow the example of our fellow campers, get the bikes down and pedal (in an electronically-assisted fashion:-) along the banks of the canal to the next little town. It’s a town where we nearly bought a house when we were looking back in 2005, so we go and see what became of it. Clearly it sold because it has been done up a bit and looks rather nice. Still too isolated for what we wanted – a local glazier had been repairing a window pane  following an attempted break in when we first viewed it:-(

The campsite is managed by a cheerful young man, Gregory, who arranges events for campers. Tonight there is an outdoor screening of Tintin – Le Secret de La Licorne (Unicorn), in French but with English sub-titles.  It’s free but with optional salad platter and dessert for €5.00.  Not to be missed! It was fun – the screen itself in a bit of a makeshift shelter. A crowd of about 12 turned up to join in and we sat around tables with food and beers. Not quite high definition or surround sound, but a great way to spend a Friday evening in summer.

Tintin breves

The next site, Camping de la Chateau in St Agnan, is not a municipal but has good reviews and borders a lake. It’s in the north-east of the Morvan hills but turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. The location is appealing, on a wooded slope down to a lake below a large old building housing a bar.

It’s more expensive though and the sanitaires are tatty in a rather unappetising way – cracked and stained.  To add to that, the lake remains very shallow a long way out and is very muddy at the edges – a soft, silty sort of mud that your feet sink into in a deeply disconcerting way.  Only a couple of brave souls are swimming and, retrieving our crocs from the mud, we decide to pass on this one.

Leaving swiftly the next day we make for a lake we know will offer a good swim – the Lac de Pannecière. This is a huge reservoir we parked near for free a couple of years ago. This time we will shelter in the municipal site at Chaumard – right by the water, with tree-lined pitches. It is very hot still.  The site is cheap enough but you have to buy tokens at €1.50 for a shower:-( The manager appears in reception from time to time and is not chatty.  She says you get a long time in the shower but does not give an actual number of minutes. (It was long enough but not what I would call a long time.)

After a swelter up the slope next day to find Chaumard used to have a grocery store, we spend a second night then leave to stock up in Lidl in Chateau Chinon. Beautiful countryside around here – roads hair-pinning through woods giving splendid panoramiques over the lake. The Guide Officiel lets us down though and we end up following a very narrow road along the south end of the lake where every man and his dog and extended family has come to dawdle away the afternoon beside the lake. The promised campsite (Cabane Vert) has been converted into a holiday village of private bungalows and fences:-( We continue hopefully up the western shore to the last-but-one site on the lake – the Camp Municipal at Montigny-en-Morvan. Here we find our favourite kind of camping – in a cool, cool wood, by a lake, an informal layout with no marked pitches, the boulangère calls every morning announcing himself with a blast on his horn. And we are newly loaded with provisions – so this could be a long stay!

Portia is parked just at the top of this path in the trees….

Montigny path

…and the lake is at the bottom.

Montigny path lake

Neil gets into the Ophelia act…

Montigny Neil Ophelia

… and sinister lights show across the water in the night.

Montigny night barrage(It’s the barrage at the end of the reservoir.)

We swim, we lounge, we chat and we keep an eye on the weather. This is a beautiful old deciduous wood and we don’t want to be under the branches when the forecast storm comes through! That is the only downside of these long hot days – periodically they cumlminate in a blinding thunderstorm. We are also waiting to hear from Jill about the next stage of Project Friso – it should be happening at the end of August but things move slowly in rural France. If Friso has passed her survey and the negotiations have gone well we could be sailing to Paris soon!




10 July to 15 August 2018 – over to France and sitting out a heatwave

Despite our inclination to be economical we decided, as usual, to take the easy way over to France on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry. Weighing up the cost, with my thumb only lightly on the scales, there seems to be a saving of about £50.00 between the expense of the ferry from Hull versus the Tunnel from Ashford  once you have allowed for an overnight somewhere down south and the diesel.  The sheer pleasure of not having six or seven hours driving on English motorways and of waking up on the continent after an all-you-can-eat buffet the night before is worth more than that – so the rationalisation is not hard!

Portia follows a now-familiar route through Belgium into France taking a short stretch of A1 and A26 before turning south onto small roads and finding the free aire in the middle of Sezanne. There is free hook up too as electricity is provided for the market stalls on Saturdays – so no parking on Friday night unless you are a very early riser. This is a little town where we have stayed several times over the years in hotels – it has some charm. It has old ramparts for historic safety and the shops nestle closely up to the church – to the point of sharing a wall.


It is an auspicious night: the bartender in sports bar opposite the church has a big screen and says he will be showing the England-Croatia semi-final of the world cup that night. We walk in optimistically and are offered the best seats in the house. We walk away disappointed some time later  followed by only a modest degree of sympathy from France supporters in the bar:-(

All is pretty much OK at the fermette and the weather is hot.  One problem – the air con on Trudi is not working. Arrangements are made with Extreme Cars where the amiable petrolhead owner thinks twenty years is a bit young for the vintage of cars he deals in, and an Audi saloon a bit tame for the other four-wheel drive monsters he favours. He has looked after her before though and inspires confidence. He regasses the system and refuses payment until we have run the car for a week or two to see if it stays full. It works so we dutifully go back to pay two weeks later when he claims not to have made up the bill and to wait a bit longer. There is a chance we may forget altogether if he does not charge us soon!

We will be having visitors in the next week or two so I am hoping the heatwave stays away for a bit as the spare bedroom gets quite hot up there under the roof.  Jill is the first to arrive for a couple of nights.


She has recently moved to Ireland is searching for a barge to live on.  It seems barges for sale are more plentiful in Burgundy and considerably cheaper.  The plan is to buy one in Burgundy and  sail it up the canals and rivers via Paris to Le Havre then hire a qualified pilot to sail it over to Ireland.  The idea of a barge wallowing its way across the channel, let alone tackling full exposure to the Atlantic in Fastnet, is scary to say the least.  But apparently these thirty to forty ton barges can do it given the right sort of weather.  I will definitely not be crewing for that leg of the journey.

Barges are available at several locations near us so we all drive (with working air-con) to the canal ports of Decize, Nevers and Briare to view tjalks (pronounced cholk). These are relatively small as Dutch  barges go, with elegant lines – high at the front and wide in the body. None of them are quite right but there is another further away between us and Charles De Gaulle airport.  Jill views it externally on her way back to get her flight and we go for an inspection with the agent the following week.  The Friso is an appealing boat to look at. Tatty and in need of a lot of love and attention internally, but the price is both good and negotiable.


Jill starts the negotiating process and we casually agree to man the boat with her as far as Paris in a few  weeks when other friends can take over. Things go quiet for a few weeks while plans are put in place.

The heatwave starts getting serious. We continue mooching around in the cool of the house and going to the lake for a swim every afternoon or evening.


The following week Caroline and Hugh turn up en route to a holiday in the french alps. Caroline has recently retired and they are thinking of buying a campervan.  I am trying to persuade them to go up a step and get a motorhome. You really do need full bathroom functionality whether you are parked overnight down a country lane or in a city centre car park. So they are coming to see Portia and talk motorhome. It looks as if a panel van conversion might be the ideal compromise for them.  Good luck in the search – it is good fun. Caroline was my boss at the British Library and Jill was my boss in my last job at Europeana. My last two bosses, by chance, in one week? Good job I am not a paranoid sort or person!

The village summer meal and dance arrive a week later than expected and we go along to sit with half-a-dozen Dutch neighbours who have all turned up for the event. There is a raffle at the event and I win the main prize! A hamper with bottles of wine, jars of pâté, honey sweets and a whole jambon!


To serve the jambon a stand and a thin, sharp knife are needed. These cost many times more than the raffle ticket but Amazon swiftly provides and we have a ham-eating apero under the apple tree. The eating, drinking and talking extend into the night. Another great evening.


The days continue hot, the plants start to wilt despite watering, we continue mooching and the car air-con gradually stops working:-( Mr Extreme Cars cannot help immediately as he is about to go on holiday until 3 September so it is clearly time for us to take to the roads in the van and find cool beside some lakes. The Morvan with all its waterways is a mere half hour away so we decide on a little tour of municipal campsites bordering a lake or river.


9 April to 9 July 2018 – At home most of the time…

We spent the next three months sorting out house and garden – the latter which had been sadly neglected over the better part of the last two springs and summers and was looking very unloved. Everything had grown magnificently however, almost as if it preferred being left to its own devices:-( But we did at least need to be able to get into the shed and hang out the washing, so serious hacking back was called for.

We had a great day out to Barton on Humber with Corine to walk the southern banks of the estuary (in the blazing hot sunshine with no shade).


We ended up at Alkborough, birthplace of my father, where we trod the grassy outlines of the ancient labyrinth at Julian’s Bower.


This led to our next outing in Portia: to Spurn Head at the end of June with both Corine and Juha to experience the Yorkshire Wildlife Unimog Safari. This runs all the way down the peninsula to the lighthouse and beyond where the Humber joins the North Sea.


We have been a couple of times before when you could still drive the three miles down the sandy, shingly, scrubby spit of land on a rather questionable road. That question was finally settled in 2013 when a tidal surge raging down the North Sea broke through the neck of the peninsula and washed the road away. There is still a stretch of dry land linking to what is officially now classed as an island, except when the tides are particularly high, but you must either walk or take the Unimog. And be sure to get your timings right!


We stayed at the Blue Bell Pond Campsite close to the old Blue Bell café at the start of the peninsula. It is a nice site but the facilities are housed in some kind of old metal container and kept locked.  You are given a key but it is so stiff I can only just manage to get into the toilet and not at all  into the shower room. The shower costs a pound on top of the £18.00 per night, which is a bit steep, and the machine only takes old pound coins! The site owner has a stash of these apparently – if you can find him. But – it is a great location in this out-of-the-way place that feels like stepping back in time 50 years.

Corine and Juha are staying in a B&B up the road and we arrive a day earlier.  This gives us a chance to cycle electronically around the area to see what there is to see.  There is plenty! This whole area has a complex history for somewhere so isolated. Being at the mouth of a main river inlet to the country has made it an important strategic site at various points in history.  Henry Bolingbroke landed here in 1399 when he returned to dethrone Richard II and, a mere hundred years later, Edward IV made landfall after his exile. Napoleon threatened as well. The most interesting history is in the 20th century when the whole area was pressed into military service for the world wars – it was again seen as a potential entry point to England. Forts were built at either side of the river mouth for the first world war and refurbished for the second. Barracks were built at the point, a light railway serviced both them and the coastguard station.


In fact there was a whole community with a school down there for a large part of the century. All long gone now – partly claimed by the sea as the North Sea tears the sand off all the way down the east coast side and deposits it at the southern tip. A few old wartime buildings remain and, of course, the coastguard station – one of only two paid coastguard services in the UK. There has been a lighthouse here since time immemorial although the first one is now some way into the sea. Now even the second one is disused as a lighthouse but available to climb for a modest fee. (Included if you are on the Unimog Safari.)


An unusual monument stands in a field a short walk from the road. It is one of the last extant sound mirrors built during the first World War as an early warning system to detect for approaching Zeppelins and other early German aircraft. This bizarre concrete dish construction would focus the noise of aircraft engines onto a microphone thereby amplifying the sound. The relatively slow aircraft of the time could be heard and located before they came into view. This one is reputed to have been manned by J R Tolkein in 1917 when he was convalescing from Trench Fever.


Other than that we spent time enjoying all the activities York has to offer the lucky retiree – and they are many.  A programme of Free lunchtime organ recitals at different local churches for a start. The beautiful Central Methodist Church has a truly magnificent old organ with 2,500 pipes (!) suspended on the wall and the organist sits in a console sunk in the middle of the room as if accompanying a silent  movie. St Martin Le Grand is not so lucky: having been bombed out in the war only half the ancient building remains and it now has only a small modern organ “..with only 170 pipes and three stops”.  The organ was the gift of the West German Government and Evangelical Church so you can’t get nasty at that. It definitely, and perhaps unsurprisingly, had a  rather thinner sound.

I had no idea one could so quickly learn to differentiate one church organ from another! Or that we would spend some of our retirement time in several of York’s historic churches. It turns out there are concerts and not-especially-religious festivals in them all the time. A beautiful flower festival and choral performance in Holy Trinity on Micklegate and, later, a celebratory Norwegian event with a requiem by Iver Kleive in our local ancient church, St Olave’s. Our most amazing church experience however had to be the incredible light show at York Minster. Emptied of 1,400 seats, the whole length of the cavernous ceiling and great west wall were blasted with light and sound taking us from creation to both heaven and hell.

Then there was the wonderful Festival of Ideas run by the University offering dozens of talks and films and workshops at locations all over town on a huge variety of subjects – some very obscure (Gilgamesh anybody?) but nonetheless engaging. The launch was truly amazing – a performance of The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo live in the Minster. This and most of the talks were free and given by experts in their field. We went to some held in King’s Manor which is a short walk from chez nous and felt hugely privileged to be able to benefit from it.  I could go on but this is turning into a bit of a personal reminisce – it is easy to forget though so I am glad to get it written down. There were many more summer activities coming up and I felt a bit sorry to be missing them. However, Europe was beckoning and Portia was getting restless.





9 March to 9 April 2018 – fermette, Folkestone, fermette, Cherbourg….

I once again find myself in despairing catch-up mode with the blog. At the time of writing (August 2018) we are well into our summer trip but the blog is still mired in the depths of  winter 2018:-( This edition is therefore a race back to the UK covering nearly a month of actual travel.

First stop on leaving the olive farm was the Orange shop in Perpignan to get our phone and mifi fettled for France. Orange offer really bad value per gigabyte compared to other providers but we no longer have internet via a landline so are reliant on the mifi and a poor rural signal. Louisa is heading off for the south of France but accompanies us to the shop before the parting of the ways:-(

We stick to the motorway across the south-west corner of France and join the magnificent and free A75 that swoops northwards across the Massif Central and curves gracefully across the Millau Viaduct (12€). We stop for the night before the viaduct at a small place with the curious name of La Cavalerie.  Expecting a typical village we find instead a fortified medieval village complete with massive walls and ancient stone buildings. It is wonderful. It was established early in the time of the crusades by the Knights Templar and fortified three hundred years later by the Knights Hospitaller.  And still a living town today. Amazing what fabulous places are littered across the countryside.

cav barn

The aire is less appealing, being of the commercial sort that are apparently springing up in communes across France. Shame – we like the free ones. But don’t really mind paying a bob or two for an overnight. This one is poorly designed: the barrier across the entrance offers confusing instructions on an almost illegible, tiny, faded  computer screen facing directly into the low winter sun.  It transpires that your credit card is not enough – you have to pay a sum on your credit card which is loaded onto another plastic card that you then use to open the barrier.  The charges were not comprehensible so I now have a card with a couple of left-over euros in case we come across another aire of this sort. Ah well.

Next day we detour briefly off the motorway and stop promptly at noon to take our seats in a village auberge offering a 12€ Menu du Jour. We have learned from past experience that you need to take your seat on the dot or risk not getting one at all. From being empty at 12.00 a local restaurant can be full at ten past. This happens here – a whole gang of workmen taking up half the tables and passing travellers the rest. Then onto a familiar aire at St Pourçain-sur-Sioule where we get a riverside spot and nab one of the few electric outlets. St PourcainNot so full at this time of year but several other vans roll up as the afternoon turns to evening. This aire has the most off-putting service point where the clean water hose hangs inside a rather smelly coin-operated locker which also houses the black water drain.  True, there is a separate cassette-cleaning hose but the proximity of the one to the other and the smell – forget it!

Back at the fermette to find the area has experienced more rain this year than in living memory and we battle to heat it up after four months of winter lock-up  The tiled floors get slick with condensation as the wood burner heats the air and the old stone walls. It takes four days to get toasty throughout.  In the meantime I slip on the steep tiled steps inside and scrape the skin off my forearm in a rather nasty way:-(((( What’s more, I landed right on the corner of a step right on my hip bone but it did not break! I take this as good news! The purple bruise fades but a purple scar remains. Must get anti-slip strips for the stairs – such things do exist it seems.

A tunnel crossing to Folkestone is booked to get the car MOTed. It fails – master brake cylinder seized – work can’t be done until next day:-( My optimistic overnight ticket is void and we need a second night in a hotel. If there is a next time I will …. do it differently. The weather is nice though and Folkestone beach is well worth a wander.

After a successful re-test we are late away and once back in France book a night in a budget Ibis half way home – cheap, clean, comfortable, efficient – and treat ourselves to moules-frites in the Belgian restaurant opposite.

Another couple of weeks at the fermette sitting in front of the fire while it rains and rains and rains some more. The critters skype with friends from Guernsey while a comforting boeuf bourguignon gently stews on the fire.

Crits skype

Third of April and fully packed up we are off again to catch a ferry in Cherbourg heading homewards.  The crossing to Poole is rapidly becoming our favoured route home as it means we can call into Bristol to see the aged parent. We stop first in the Loire valley in a little car park in the centre of Amboise and walk down the winding streets to see the magnificent chateau beside the river. Slightly unnerving narrow streets in the van but manageable.

Amboise chateau

It was a bit of a grey day….

Amboise streetThen we move onto the Normandy coast at a barely-open campsite which promises a heated, covered swimming pool from the first of April.  They lied of course. And the wifi did not work either. And the woman on reception was decidedly on the grumpy side – probably fed up with all the complaints! Did not stop them charging full price though. Boo. The walk down to the beach was nice though.

Normandy neil

Finally onto the free parking near the ferry port and straight into the market to find some nice goodies to take home. We got a big, round, bright orange Mimolette cheese last time but that stall was not there this time, sadly. There was a cheerful marketside café though with a tasty pork fillet in sauce with chips on the lunch menu.

Cherbourg luncg

It is a late afternoon sailing from Cherbourg meaning we don’t disembark until nearly ten at night – dark in April. I have now confirmed that you can park overnight on the dockside for five pounds. Toilet and shower available! Handy. After only one wrong turn off the ferry (bad signage) resulting in an awkward, bendy reversing operation between concrete barriers, we find the spot and pull into the lee of a huge terminal building where we share the night with a couple of other vans. The warden bangs on the door next morning to get the money – no danger of sleeping through that request. Hordes of vehicles had arrived, queued, embarked and sailed on the early ferry before we emerged to find the little café offering bacon sandwiches had closed:-(  Lovely view though!

Poole view

Then a night in the road outside my mother’s home in Bristol and a couple more in the CL near my sister for some family time. Back up to York and after three months away we decide to park outside the house for a night for a thorough unpack and clean of the van before returning her to storage. The road is not great for a van this size and requires a visitor’s parking permit but once in a while we think it is OK. We are unloading after all.

That’s it for the next three months. We need to spend some serious gardening time at the house – the last couple of springs/summers away have wrought havoc in the borders and on the lawn – there is only so much you can expect of house-sitters and passing guests!


4 to 8 March 2018 – hop, skip and jump back into France.

Taking a site plan of the pitches at Los Pinos so we could book a good spot for next year, we left the campsite and headed north. About this time last year we had followed much the same route south in a dash to find some heat which meant we missed a lot of interesting things. Not far north of Denia is an interesting-looking delta, famed for rice growing and flamingos – two good reasons to call in this time. The Parc Natural del Delta de l’Ebre stretches flatly and wetly out into the Mediterranean having been built up on soil washed-down over the centuries. It is crossed by branches of the Ebro draining into the sea (dis-tributaries?) and man-made irrigation ditches. There are apparently two moho aires on the delta, one a long way out in the sea, nicely placed adjacent to a fish restaurant and free to park. No brainer! We bounce down the rather rough roads which are also rather narrow but, given the nature of the terrain, you can see anything coming for miles. IMGEbro flatEbro flatness

The aire is large and nicely laid out. There are services which are chained off and you need to get a key from the restaurant to use them. For a few euros. They are badly placed so that anyone queuing to use them blocks the exit for everyone else – a problem that only becomes apparent the next morning. We go for a flamingo-spotting walk which is a success, but only with the eye of faith!flamingo

The white spots across the middle of the photo really are flamingos – with binoculars they look a very pale pink. Obviously they are not getting enough prawn cocktails:-( This prompts thoughts of seafood and we make a reservation at the restaurant – it is not big and several more vans have turned up! In the event there are only half-a-dozen tables taken when we eat the most delicious fish supper later on – charcuterie and salad is followed by a platter two different fish, the catch of the day. We are also given a tiny packet of rice and bottle of oil to take away as a taster of the region – amazing how much pleasure such a small gesture gives.

The threatening skies of the evening do not develop into a storm and after a peaceful night and a bit of a wait to get out (without using the services) we continue an hour or so north to Camping Miramar at Mont Roig del Camp – on the sea. The ACSI card proves its value here as it seems to be quite an expensive site even though half closed, and it charges the exorbitant sum of €6.00 per day for a wifi connection on top! Enough moaning! Our pitch is one of several right behind the small sea dune with crashing waves a few metres away.

mont roig dune

Too cold and windy for a swim unfortunately, even though sunny.


The rental caravan opposite which clearly has not moved for several decades is painted a cheery pink with white spots reminding Neil of Mr Blobby.  Not a colour scheme we have encountered before on a van but clearly a favourite around here –  the adjacent one was red and was in process of being adorned with white spots. Forgot to take a photo sadly:-(

It gets even windier and we are buffeted a bit in the night – grateful there is a bit of a dune between us and what sounds like the raging sea. We had been expecting Louisa to catch us up after she had made a detour to see friends in Valencia, but she had been held up by van problems that could not be sorted out on the Sunday. She rolled in on our second evening and learned the benefits of ACSI the hard way – especially galling when you arrive late and leave early:-( My fault really – I had chosen the site without realising she was not a member.

This was our last night in Spain. We knew from last year that most of the little resorts further up the coast were battened down for the winter. Many paying aires are open but the associated towns tend to be tourist type high rise developments waiting for the summer hordes.  I am  sure there are some delightful places to be found – the beaches we saw are lovely and the promenades elegantly paved and lined with palm trees.

We had stayed in one or two very satisfactory aires tucked in the back streets of such places last year as we got our bearings in a new country but, at this time of year, they are not quite appealing enough to go back to. Accordingly I had planned a three hour motorway trip over the Pyrenees and back into la belle France to a spot we know just south of Perpignan.

The journey has some nice views which I cannot remember in detail apart from the series of twists and turns to get off the motorway once in France and onto the side roads to Trouillas. Here at Les Oliviers de La Canterrane, just below the Pyrenees, is a business-scale olive farm with many ramshackle outbuildings alongside which you can park up and make use of the facilities. How does France manage to be so casually welcoming to motorhomes? (And why can the UK not be the same?) One of the buildings is a barn of a place that is obviously used for local gatherings whenever the need arises.

TrouillasIt is equipped with many trestle tables and chairs and a dart board, with blunt darts, hangs tiredly on the wall next to a mammoth scale paella pan. At one end is a tattyish kitchen area with microwave ovens, much appreciated by me, and various other handy facilitites – such as a sink with hot water, much appreciated by Neil. Everything works. There is a free shower and toilet in another building close to some washing machines. This place is wonderful.

Louisa had texted that she was en route having loyally followed her sat nav on the goat track route over the Pyrenees for several hours – not altogether intentionally! I find the man who seems to belong to the place and say we are expecting a friend after barrier-closing time. He says not to worry, I live right by the barrier and will listen out for her and let her in when she arrives. He does so. What a nice place this is. We show our gratitude in the beautiful on-site farm shop by buying some speciality olive oil.Trouillas shopWe also buy a sticky-back plastic donkey to start our collection of animal silhouettes on the back of the van. We neglected to get a cockerel in Portugal, or a bull in Spain this time round. Some intrepid people even have a camel! I wonder if there is a country that has a snail as an emblematic critter?image

21 February to 4 March 2018 – beside the seaside ♬ beside the sea

We left the hospitable aire at La Castalla and headed east to one of our favourite campsites near Denia on the Mediterranean – Los Pinos, near Denia. I think it  is in the ACSI book but does not seem to be ACSI any more.  We stopped in last year for a night or two and stayed a few more before heading off inland to meet up with some U3A contacts.  This time we planned to stay longer to enjoy proximity to the sea, the coast path ride to the shops and market in Denia and the sociability of the squashed little bar in the evening.  It is the grounds of an old farmhouse set back about 50 metres from the sea. This is the palm-lined path to the water.


On arrival we had to take a pitch in the shady part of the site, which we would kill for in the summer, but in winter the sun is just fine! After a day or so the obliging lady in the old farmhouse offered us a prime pitch in the sun that someone was just leaving – right beside the path to the sea. Yay! Full sun, full satellite connectivity. The campsite is popular with over-wintering visitors but some leave at the end of February having been there since November. Many more left during our eleven day stay and many tourers came and went.

The local wildlife posed photogenically around our pitch. We love red squirrels!

Useful note: we have acquired a large mat for outside the van having learnt on our last long trip that everything outside the van can tread in otherwise. It is well worth having  and this one only cost an arm and a leg from the September motorhome show in Lincolnshire. So we really made ourselves at home with it and broke out the elephant sheet as well for a bit of barbequeing shade.


The coast here has not been swamped with high rise holiday development because it is a rocky beach not really suitable for children to play on all day.  Shame:-)  Lovely for a swim though and a snorkel. Now we need the temperature to reach 20 degrees on land which will trip our must-go-for-a-swim switch no matter how cold the water. It is only a few days wait but the window is narrow – the day heats up until about one o’clock and starts cooling down again about two thirty.  On the 26th of February the stars align and in we go! Briefly. I have discovered that even if it is a bit agonising getting in the first time you can get out, maybe to have your heart restarted, and then go back in again with remarkably little pain! IMG_1566Otherwise we spend a lot of time on the beach searching for sea glass – my collection is growing well and one day I really will make some jewellery out of it.  Two different friends have pretty examples so I know it can be done.

This area of coastline was apparently given to Germany by Franco for their help in supporting the Nationalists in the Spanish civil war.  Maybe that is another reason it has not seen the high-rise despoliation other areas of coast have. There is development all the way along the coast but mostly of individual homes or blocks of half-a-dozen or so flats. Some of the houses are eye-wateringly modern, all sharp white walls and acres of plate glass window. I expect the prices are equally eye-watering! The coastal path has  been kept up and is well enough surfaced to cycle the beautiful five kilometres into Denia.  Not all sections are as well maintained as in the pictures but with a little dodging and weaving through the rough patches where the path dips into a dry river bed, it is a lovely ride and definitely beats the weekly drive to Sainsbury’s to get the shopping in.

Along the five kilometres there are a couple of relaxed restaurants clinging precariously to the edge of the land. Mostly they serve meals, almost exclusively fish, but you can stop in for just a drink along the way.

When we did not have our bikes with us last year we walked the path into town and caught the hourly bus back to the top of the road. Denia is a pretty stylish town  – a busy port with a marina and a ferry terminal for the Balearics. Add plenty of eateries, a castle, two Lidls and a great weekly market and it is a perfect town to stay near for a couple of idle weeks. After the walk a small brunch was reasonable and for a couple of euros you could have a garlicky bruschetta and a glass of fresh orange juice. Strangely, we do not seem to have any decent photos of Denia so here are a representative couple  found on the internet (with thanks (take down policy operates:-)).

Last year we spent our first couple of hours waiting in the Orange shop to get hold of a data-only SIM.  Why is this so hard in so many European countries? Portugal is an honourable exception. So is the UK actually! This year we had acquired a Vodaphone sim in Seville and it had worked well – even streaming radio. Now only a couple of gigabytes in and it refused to acknowledge our existence – but we knew the top-up shop was in the paper shop down the road! Topped up. It still refused to acknowledge even its own existence. The Three chip went back in the mifi and worked fine!  I hate Vodaphone. MontgoThe  campsite wifi is rather hit and miss, the explanation being that Montgo, the modest mountain that towers a bit to the south of us, necessitates a  big satellite dish and this gets knocked out of alignment by the winds that swirl around the tops. Feeble excuse. We also discovered that our Virgin phone packages worked  well and allowed tethering! Great news – we have been largely wasting our monthly data allowances up to now. You can even use a lightning cable to link the phone to the TV and stream  live UK TV if you want! Amazing.

This blog relates the end of February and beginning of March 2018. I am writing it in early July 2018 and we are preparing to go off again on a long trip. So I am rushing on to try and jump ahead a month or three.

We spent our days on the beach, in town or hanging around the campsite reading. We spent our evenings in the little bar barwhere custom dictated one should foregather at 18:00 hours and drink a convivial glass or two before the wind whipping through the cracks in the plastic walls defeated the patio heaters’ attempts to keep it warm. The nights were decidedly chilly! The picture is poor quality but shows what I mean. It was a little bit cliqueish. Those who had been there three months reluctant to yield space to us newbies who had to squeeze around the edges. This improved when several of the clique left for the UK and we expanded our clique with the welcome arrival of Louisa and the presence of a couple from the posh flats on the beach path. At the end of several days we were incorporated into the depleted long-stay clique anyway.

Now we were on a new countdown. The car in France needed taking to Folkestone for an MOT before 5 April:-( We wanted to do all the travelling involved in a leisurely fashion and spend some springtime at the fermette getting her opened up after four months shut down over the winter. We foolishly thought Burgundy in March would offer benign weather for airing and a spot of light gardening. To be fair, in some years it would have. Anyway – I am getting ahead of myself.  It was now 4th March and time to follow the littoral back to France. cropped-snails-poor.jpg


18 to 21 February 2018 – through the sierras to the sea

Still in history-viewing mode we left our lovely parking spot in Seville and headed south-east towards the mountains and the ancient town of Antequera. It has been occupied by Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and and Moors in its time but it is the remains of the even older, third millenium BCE, population that I wanted to see.  I had found a reference to dolmens on a search – which to me means standing stones.  Those in Antequera are apparently also burial barrows which I would expect to be mounds of earth.   So – it would be interesting to see these hybrid monuments.

Again we just followed the main road but this time the passing scenery got more interesting as we approached more mountainous territory. Once we reached Antequera some really high sierras could be seen in the distance. The aire is free and nicely placed in the lee of the wall of the football stadium a short walk from the centre of town.  I knew the dolmens were at the other end of town, but I had not realised quite how hilly it was.  _DSC4198 Why did we not get our e-bikes out for that distance in this heat? Not sure – we certainly should have – but, joy of small joys, there was a little tourist tuftuf that did a circuit of the town and you could jump off at the far end to look at the dolmens.   _DSC4193 Disappointment followed joy as the tuftuf driver explained the dolmens were shut on Sunday afternoons:-( Not to worry I said, what time do you start in the morning? They are shut on Mondays as well it seems:-(((  How do you shut a bronze age burial barrow-cum-dolmen in a field?  We decided to walk over anyway to see what we could see.

The streets wound up and downSatsuma in Anteq, many lined with satsuma trees covered in bright ripe fruit. Many were lying on the ground – why did no-one harvest them we wondered? When no-one was looking I picked a low hanging fruit and shuffled around a corner to taste it. Wow – what a mistake! So sour and sharp it was like an electric shock. Spitting in the street is so inelegant:-(  So now we know why the enticing fruit just hang there and fall unwanted to the ground. A pity they did not plant edible varieties. This is the tree that nearly killed my taste buds.

dolmenIt was hot by now and there was a long downhill drag to the dolmens. We plodded optimistically on and reached the seriously unfriendly fence surrounding this UNESCO Heritage site of mounds and stones. The panels were so arranged that you could not get a good look at the monuments until you were quite far away. My photo shows this. The photos below show what we could have seen thanks to an anonymous camera person who was lucky enough to be there on an open day and kind enough to post them on the internet.  Definitely not what I had expected and definitely one to go back to. Mid-week to be on the safe side!

Monday morning and on again down the motorway heading for the town of Velez-Rubio – for no particular reason than it was on our route and had a free aire. Now we were passing over and around some big mountains – the (original) snowy Sierra Nevada loomed in the distance. Lovely scenery with acres of almond blossom just coming into bloom and intriguing dwellings cut into the cliff faces.  Many houses were just a normal looking house front built up against the rock – presumably with caves hollowed out behind for rooms. The photos snatched from a speeding van do not do justice to the place. Another area to come back and explore rather than just pass through.

Velez-Rubio was a pleasant, well looked-after town with a historic centre where we had a quick walk around, ate, slept and left the next day. Good aire though – positioned on the outskirts of town with a nice countryside view. Several other vans joined us for a chat later on – thanks citizens of Velez-Rubio!VelezIt’s now 20th February and we were pretty much just focussed on getting to the Med. We could have done it from Velez-Rubio but the campsite near Denia was booked for 21st so another night in a free aire was called for. There is one in Castalla that, like many others, is sited next to the town sports complex. This one was great as it had a few electric sockets in the periphery wall – free if you were sneaky because there was no-one around – or €3 if you waited until the gym and pool opened later on.  Being good little motorhomers we went and paid. Our reward was to be offered free showers in the changing rooms if we wanted! With all this sun the solar panels keep us all charged up but having the electricity saves gas on water heating and lets us use the microwave to easily heat up lasagne, for example. It can be a slow and messy job in a pan! We gave up using the oven some time ago considering it a bit wasteful, but it makes a handy extra cupboard.

Castalla is aptly named for its castle. This towers above the town on a rugged pimple which pretty much demands to be climbed.CastallaIt was hot. We would make a start and allow ourselves to give up if necessary. As it happens we kept going right to the top! Castalla viewOn one pinnacle was a burnt cross with a view.IMG_1532There were water tanks cunningly cut into the rockface fed by other channels cut into the rock to gather rainwater in time of seige. Or maybe just to save trekking up and down to town every day for a wash.IMG_1536

Information panels related the now-familiar story of successive waves of occupants in the town. Culminating in a line of diverse motorhomers quietly spending  the night and enjoying the sights. A nice visit – thank you Castalla.

Tomorrow – one of our favourite campsites on the Med. Fingers crossed for a sunny spot!


16 to 18 February 2018 – near to the walls of Sevilla…

Time to say goodbye to Portugal. Having neglected to write the blog up any sooner (it is May 2018 at the time of writing!) I now don’t remember much about the journey out of Portugal to Spain. We went east along the coast road as far as possible then cut up to the motorway which leads to the bridge across the river into Spain. We hoped that the 10 euros we had put on the Tollcard had not run out. (Checking online weeks later we discovered we still had a balance of €1.21.)  Once in Spain the trip was mostly through scrubby, but not unattractive, countryside on the toll free motorway – which is the only road that actually goes this way. Stella let us down as we approached the turn to the aire.  It is a “Spanish” left turning off an urban dual carriageway which means to turn left you have to move into a distinctly dubious-looking third lane on the right and wait  for a separate light to turn left across all the lanes of traffic. Stella picked the turn before the one we needed and stranded us in a builders yard with no way out other than driving all the way back to the last roundabout and trying again. This time we determinedly ignored Stella when she tried to pull the same trick – she does not learn! Fortunately, we do. Mostly.

There is a choice of three aires in Seville and I had selected the small one furthest out of town in the river marina at Puerto Gelves. It is a secure place to park with a regular bus to the centre of Seville. We had a lovely spot on the banks of the Guadalquivir.Gelves viewThere were boats to watch coming and going and the marina had all the facilities to look after itinerant sailors and landlubbers alike  – chandlery, low key restaurant, clean toilet and hot showers.Neil gelves

After wandering off site to check out the bus timetable and location of the bus stop to get into town on Saturday we spent a quiet afternoon footling around the marina in the sun.

The bus came on time and for a couple of euros delivered us close to the centre of Seville. I had chosen two things to go and see if time permitted, the Cathedral and the Alcazar. Before that though we needed to acquire a local sim card for the wifi.  We took passports, birth certificates, inside leg measurements etc as we knew from last year they did not part willingly with sim cards in Spain. Forty-five minutes wait in the Vodaphone shop and we were fully equipped to go! On the way to the phone shop we had seen the queue to get into the Cathedral – this is mid-February and yet the city is pretty full of tourists – and mostly not retired people like us. How does this happen? We withdrew into a narrow side road full of restaurants to eat before we queued. The platter of fried fish for two came with a jug of sangria and olives to start. A lovely meal of different types of fishy delights (which I forgot to photograph). Neil lunch seville

The queue for the cathedral moved quite fast – probably because it is immense and so can accommodate many people. It is so wide that until you get your bearings, it is difficult to recognise the traditional shape of a church. It was built on the site of a huge mosque and despite remodelling and rebuilding over the centuries some elements of it still remain.  The courtyard with the merciful shade of many orange trees was part of the mosque and the magnificent bell tower actually incorporates the original minaret. GiraldaI cannot do justice to all the things to see in such a renowned historic building so these  few photos will have to do. Other pictures are available all over the internet.

The tomb of Christopher Colombus may or may not contain his bones: he seems to have travelled about as much after his death as he did in his lifetime, crossing the  Atlantic at least twice. DNA testing against the known bones of his brother in 2006 proved he definitely may be lying at peace here.

Seville had become even hotter while we wandered around the cathedral and loitered in the shade of the orange trees so we were in two minds about going on to tackle the Alcazar, the Royal Palace. My mother remembered it fondly from a trip many years ago so I wanted to see it if possible. We joined the queue with a view to ducking out if it moved too slowly. Persistence was definitely rewarded in this case! If you can only face one major historic building per city, the Alcazar is the one to choose in Seville. It has cool arcades with  delicate moorish decoration and  courtyard pools,IMG_1478

tiled walls where rooms adjoin other rooms and pass into corridors leading from one phase of the building to another.

Pass the semi-subterranean bath room of Lady María de PadillaBath room

…to reach the  elegant gardens and streams. Our pictures do not do the Alcazar justice….

We finished our tour with a cool drink in the garden cafe in the company of a regal  peacock.PeacockA gentle stroll under the trees on the avenue back to the bus stop took us past the third UNESCO Heritage Site in this quarter – the splendid Archivo General de Indias.  This holds the records of the Spanish empire east and west and is apparently “an unusually  serene and Italianate example of Spanish renaissance architecture”. (Thanks Wikipedia.) Pretty splendid too. There is much more to see so we may need to pass this way next year.IMG_1426

The bus came right on time and whisked us back to the relative cool of the riverside. Where a surprise awaited us – no sooner was the kettle on than there was a knock on the door. Louisa had arrived! She was on her way back to Portugal after a trip around the coast south and east of here and stayed for a cup of tea and catch up. Always great to see old friends for an exchange of news and to hear about good places to stay in the vicinity.  Later we popped into hers for a gin as the sun went down – a nice way to end our Seville visit.

Tomorrow – a couple of hours south east for some even older history – bronze age burial mounds and dolmens in Antequera.

13 to 16 February 2018 – slowly eastwards along the Algarve coast

With an approximate route, and even more approximate timings, we aimed at getting half way up the Mediterranean coast of Spain in a week or so.  The plan was to tootle along the eastern Algarve coast before joining the main road that crosses the Guadiana river border and straight to Seville – time for some history! My WildCamping forum had been full of posts from fellow campers at various sites along the Algarve coast.  One in particular, Manta Rota, seemed a very popular aire – right on the beach, handy bar/restaurant and quite cheap.  It was pretty full though and the advice was to arrive about noon to coincide with any leavers leaving.  To get the timing right we needed an interim stop and Hanneke showed us a place a couple of hours from Mikki’s in the Ria Formosa Natural Park, right on the coast/mud flats/estuary where you could get a little train across the sandbar to the sea.  Pedras D’el Rei sounded interesting.

Clottie at PedrosaRolling wistfully out of Mikki’s we topped up the LPG and took to the N125.  Portia started first time despite having stood idle for four weeks! After a couple of hours we engaged in battle with the barrier across the entrance to the Pedras D’el Rei parking place – surprising how many different systems there are for something as simple as opening a barrier.  Once in we get a lovely sea view spot – well – the sea is there beyond the estuary and the dune at the far side.  Never seen such a profusion of cacti and prickly pears. They fought all attempts to pick and eat them: despite using cloths and tongs I got hair-fine prickles in my fingers. The beautiful beetroot-coloured juice they bled narrowly missed my white linen trousers – a small win against the vicissitudes of nature!

There is a bridge across the mud flats which leads to the terminus of an ancient narrow gauge railway complete with diminutive steam engines (no longer steam though). Pedras trainFor exercise we chose to walk across through the trees and dune vegetation – a lovely walk with bird-spotting panels along the way.

As you cross the final line of dunes before the sea there is the truly remarkable Anchor Graveyard.  As far as the eye can see are hundreds of anchors from the former tuna fishing fleet rusting quietly in peace embedded in alignment along the dune.

more anchorsAnd then, as the sun sinks in the west, a sandy beach several hundred miles long…Pedras beach shadows

and what appears to be a concerted effort to move the whole thing two feet to the left. Must be an EU project.beach worksWe have earned a cheese toasty a la Portugaise at the converted fishermens cottages fishermens cottages barril beachand are in time to catch the last return trip of the day back to reality. We get front row seats at the back of the train as it reverses all the way. What a great day out.Pedras train returnThis place is too good to leave after only one night. It has waste emptying facilities but no handy tap for water.  For that you have to drive the couple of miles along the sea to Santa Luzia, find somewhere to buy a token, tap st Luzialocate the modest shed-like building near the fishermens’ cottages and figure out how it works. Sorting this out is our first task when we set out for a bike ride next day. The Post Office (open) obliges with the token and eventually we find the tap. Triumph! Now just to come back tomorrow and fill the van. A mother and daughter on bikes had told us the little town of Tavira was only a short ride away and on very accessible cycle paths. Off we pedal – what a joy these bikes are. Tavira is a relatively quiet riverside town with Moorish roots followed by later Portuguese development – a charming mix beautifully placed beside the Gilão River. We look around a small church – its inside as ornate as its outside is plain.

and then find an amazing garden/cemetary – cool, ancient and green. We wander in its shade for a while taking way too many photographs

before pedalling on through old streets to the huge town square to write postcards and taking way too many more photographs.

By now it is late enough for lunch – about half past two. We had ridden past several small waterfront restaurants in Santa Luzia – being a fishing village they all promised fish lunches. Neil had sea bass and I had prawns with garlic. I’m going to miss those prawns:-(

The evening idled by in its usual leisurely fashion – still cool enough for us to be glad of the external silver screens. Next morning, next challenge – filling up with water from the shed. As it happened we had a demonstration of how it worked from several fishermen one of whom was engaged in using the water via a pressure washer to blast out the inside of his exhaust manifold, and the rest of whom were engaged in watching him.  We filled and headed for the promised land of Manta Rota all of twelve miles away.  Hoping for a beachside spot in a sociable setting our enthusiasm plummeted as we drove through the little village to the sea front. It was completely taken over by tourism of the kiss-me-quick kind. One stick of rock short of being Blackpool on a summer bank holiday, red faced campers sweated jovially in the midday sun outside bars promising big-screen football and late night opening. Aaaah!  The lady in the booth by the aire came out to motion us away from the overfull cheek-by-jowl rows of motorhomes lining the car park. She did not need to – we were in the process of turning around anyway – not easy as other vans were arriving all the time. Nightmare!

Hoping for something quieter at Altura, the next town along, we were again disappointed. This time, not by too many vans but a complete absence of them.  A beautiful and completely empty sea front car park had a big sign banning motorhomes – I guess they had seen Manta Rota and and voted with their by-laws! Just outside town though there was a piece of land where motorhomes were allowed to overnight.  Not an aire as such, no facilities, just an area of rough parking by a (long!) boardwalk path to the sea. It was also pretty full but parked much more casually than the serried ranks in Manta Rota and seemingly well established and tolerated – a world food van had set up shop at one end and the bread van came hooting by in the morning. The short evening walk back into town was pleasant and we did see that one van had decided to try its luck in the car park!

That was our last night in Portugal.  I had considered a little inland detour before leaving but given how crowded it was in that corner of the Portugal, Spain seemed all the more appealing. Apparently the Algarve coast gets less crowded the further west you go. This year the Beast from the East tearing through northern Europe had the knock-on effect of directing more of the Atlantic winds than usual to the south. It had been breezy! And it increases as you go west. Spain now looked a good bet. snails poor