It’s been a LONG time since we wrote anything on the blog. What have we been up to?
We returned to the UK via the Calais – Dover ferry back in June 2015, shocked to see how large the immigrant / refugee camps there have now become. We’d obviously been away a long time; we started taking pictures of Englishness lol.
We spent 6 months in the UK catching up with family and friends around the country. As we always find, everywhere seems very busy. It wasn’t that long ago that ‘rush hour’ was just that; an hour or at the most two, but recently it seems constant, 7 days a week. There just seems to be too many people living in too small an area and everybody is rushing everywhere! especially in the south. Still we still seem to be able to find our ‘Heidi spots’ when we’re not staying on someone’s driveway. You can see where we’ve been on our UK Google map here: (there’s no photos on this one yet – ‘coming soon’ as they say)
A couple of perfect Heidi spots:
Heidi’s ‘to do’ list has been shortened. We have, yet again, repaired and painted the floor of our ‘garage’ – why the floors of these vans are made out of plywood and not covered with plastic or aluminium is beyond me. She now sports some rear mud flaps too, which will hopefully help to stop all the wet and mud flying up, and increasing the period before we will no doubt have to repair the floor again. We finally got round to removing her front bumper and wheel arches for some much needed attention. Admittedly some of the cracks and scuffs have been there since we had her, but hitting a rock during a river crossing! in Greece last year didn’t help the situation either. After some judicious use of fibreglass and filler, she’s looking better, but with all the rain we had, we never did manage to get any top coat paint on to finish things off. Whilst we had the bumper off, we replaced one of the headlight units that has had a cracked lens for ages – should have done both. The new one looks much brighter than the old one now! We fitted a second 150w solar panel to help in those grey days at high latitudes along with replacing all the batteries (we have 3 x 110amp for leisure / house) which seemed to have given up holding a charge after 3 years of constant use. We cleaned out the boiler using large amounts of vinegar (as recommended by the manufacturers). It left plenty of limescale on Peter’s Dad’s driveway after it was flushed through, so it certainly worked a bit and is less inclined to overheat now. Whilst in Norfolk, our alternator packed up and we were thankful to be able to stay with family for a couple of days whilst a local garage sorted that out. Add a new starter battery too and my wallet is feeling substantially lighter. Last but not least, just before we were about to leave, the gas burner on the fridge stopped working efficiently, not for the first time. Luckily we had a spare and that has also been replaced.
Peter also managed to fit in some work (building and fitting kitchens and bathrooms). Quickly reminded of why he’s ‘supposed to be’ retired, he now sports painful torn shoulder ligaments. Don’t think I’ll be plastering a ceiling again any time soon Cousin Alex! Still the travelling funds are nicely topped up again.
If that wasn’t enough, we’ve finally managed to buy ourselves a house in South Wales and got a tenant in it to contribute further to our travelling funds.
By the time we’d done all that, it was almost Christmas time, so we decided to delay our ‘escape’ and spend Christmas with family in a rented cottage in the Brecon Beacons. Stunning as the location was, the torrential rain and howling gales reminded us it was time to head south – fast!
So on the 31st December we took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe in France. A fairly rough crossing (glad we opted against taking the ferry all the way to Santander!), but at only 4½ hrs it was over quickly (and at just under £100 it was more attractive than the cheapest Santander option too). 5 days later, after 25 hours of driving, we’d covered almost 2000km and had reached the south coast of Spain, near Huelva, close to the Portuguese border. It had cost us €338, €79.95 of which was motorway tolls – which could have been avoided, but we were ‘on a mission’. We averaged 7.33km/l – not very good for Heidi; we would normally expect about 9km/l (21 mpg) but then we don’t spend much time on motorways. The weather in central Spain had to be seen to be believed. Mad wind and rain for much of the way reminded us that much of it is between 750 and 1000 meters high and although it often appears flat, is effectively ‘up a mountain’. I suppose we should be glad that we’re having such a warm winter. Normally, no doubt, it’d be freezing with the rain falling as snow. You can see where we stopped on our current map here: (click on the markers for more info / photos)
We did have one ‘rest day’, which we spent in Hondarribia in northern Spain, just over the French border, although since both sides of the border are part of the Basque area, you don’t even get a sign to tell you. It’s an agreeable little place. We’d been before late in 2012 on our first Heidi journey. The centre of town has some interesting timber built, mountain style buildings. We’re on the coast, but then we’re also at the foot of the Pyrenees. At midday the café’s and bars are packed with people enjoying a drink and a ‘pintxos’. Pintxos are the local ‘tapas’ and reportedly the best anywhere – must return again for some ‘proper analysis’ J
As we’d expected, the weather only began to improve as we came down off the high plains and approached Seville. The rain finally gave up and it began to feel distinctly warmer. The increasing amount of vines, olives and eventually oranges showing us that yes, it is normally like this, and better!, around here.
By the 4th Jan we were at Moguer, NE of Huelva. The following evening we joined the crowds in town to watch the 3 Kings celebrations. Various floats process through town; some with ‘kings’ on them, and others representing whatever the makers’ want it seems? ‘Winter wonderland’ and ‘Gingerbread house’ were perhaps not that surprising, but the ‘Minions’ one didn’t seem quite right! Still, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves and after all, the main object of the exercise seems to be hurling large amounts of sweets and other presents at everybody. It’s supposed to represent the gifts given to Jesus Christ, but I’m not sure all the kids lugging carrier bags full of collected sweets realise that! Afterwards the Spanish all go off home for their family Christmas meal.
We spent a couple of days at nearby La Rabida. There’s a Columbus museum here along with replica boats and parkland with a memorial tower and statue outside the monastery that he apparently spent time at ‘gaining inspiration’ before his voyage. Most of the crew came from Moguer and the church at Palos de la Frontera, just up the road, is where they all took communion on the morning they sailed.
We continue along the coast into the Donana National Park; a low lying area of sand dunes covered in pine trees and shallow, seasonal lakes attracting a wide range of migrating birdlife. There’s also deer, wild boar and supposedly the Iberian lynx; Europe’s only species of big cat. The place is vast and largely inaccessible unless you go on a guided trip in a 4×4 bus. We stopped at the main visitor centre; El Acebuche and wandered the system of boardwalks over what is normally pretty soggy ground, to the bird hides overlooking the lakes …which were dry as a bone! with not a bird to be seen. It’s been a very dry, warm winter this year but we were under the impression that there is usually permanent water here. Not this year. To add to the disappointment, it’d been raining for much of the morning and we walked in a fine drizzle! We did however see deer, which we didn’t photograph, and caterpillars, which we did J.
On to the weird and wonderful place that is El Rocio for the night. Sandy streets and more places to tie your horse than park your car make you believe you’re in the Wild West! This place was founded when a hunter apparently found a small wooden statue of The Virgin here in a tree back in the 13th century. He tried to take her home with him but when he stopped for a rest, she miraculously made her way back to the same spot (where he found her when he went back). One thing lead to another and now she resides, complete with bejewelled cloak many times her size, and surrounded by much gold and fanciness, above the altar of the church built on the spot; the Ermitta del Rocio. Most of the houses here are empty most of the time, but every Pentecost, the seventh weekend after Easter, up to a million pilgrim revellers, from various different ‘brotherhoods’, from all over Spain make their way here, on horseback or in horse drawn wagons, for what amounts to a big party. It sounds as if things, almost, get out of hand as the various brotherhoods (Spanish gypsies?) all seem to lay claim to this ‘miraculous bit of wood’ and fight to parade it through the streets. Most of the houses here are effectively their holiday houses and each group have their own ‘hermitage’ / meeting hall around one of the main squares. It truly is amazing what can develop out of virtually nothing in the name of ‘religion’!
There’s also a lake here. This one even has water in it! along with wild? horses, grazing in the shallows and lots of birds including Flamingos.
We decide it’s time to head for Portugal. We take the motorway, and stop only just short, at Ayemonte. We find a perfect ‘Heidi spot’ just outside town overlooking the river Guardiana. The weather is constantly changing. One day it’s grey and raining and the next is blue skies and sunshine. And when the sun shines here, it really shines! The 9th of January is a beautifully clear and warm. We walk into town, do a bit of shopping and sit outside one of the many tapas bars and restaurants for lunch – an excellent mixed salad, with just about everything in it, including eggs and bits of chorizo sausage and some ‘chocos fritos’ (fried squid) in a light batter. Excellent value too.
We walk back via the small ferry that crosses the river to Portugal. Theoretically it takes cars and vans but the angle of the ramps on look like we’d be asking for trouble. Think we’ll take the motorway bridge….