Category Archives: Spain

A brief glimpse of Northern Spain, then through France to the ferry.

 

On Monday 2nd May, we entered Spain from the North East of Portugal, via the tiny border town of Rio de Onar. We travel up and over a high area of sparse scrubland with a few forestry plantations, before descending to spend the night by the river at Puebla de Santabra, beneath the imposing medieval fortress town on the rock above. Something is very different. Everybody is ‘doing the paseo’. It’s so much more prevalent here. And just to confirm we’re in Spain now, we’re parked next to an unfinished development, complete with overgrown roads, footpaths and streetlights 🙂

In the morning we follow the A52 motorway East, and then the A66 north to big, busy, Leon for some shopping. We do love the Spanish ‘Mercadonna’ supermarket. Sooo much good stuff, Sooo cheap, and a charcuterie section to die for! Stocked up, we head east again, across flat plains, before the mountains slowly begin to rise again. We pass through Guardo, an unattractive industrial place, before joining a high route through the mountains. We skirt round the Compuerto reservoir and head higher, towards the snow-capped peak of ‘Espiguete(2450m). Over a pass at 1408m, before descending again down to the smaller Ruesga Reservoir, just before the town of Cervera de Pisuerga, for the night. A lovely quiet spot (apart from the noisy singing frogs hehe). The sky has been a stunning clear blue all day. We’re still at around 1000m. It’s going to be a cold night!

This is a beautiful area. Wish we could stay and explore longer, but the dreaded ‘schedule’ is upon us. In the morning we leave, via the CL626, heading east, and then it’s north again on the A67 motorway, down, down, down to the coast. We join the coastal motorway near Santander. It’s busy! There aren’t many options along here. The mountains seem to fall straight into the sea. We stop just before Bilbao at a recommended cliff top carpark for an afternoon sitting out in the sunshine.

In the morning we make the big mistake of trying to avoid the boring motorway and end up in traffic in central Bilbao. Not a recommended experience! We then try and take the coast road for a bit of scenery and to visit a few places along the way. Another big mistake! It turns out to be a nightmare and one of the most stressful and downright physically hard drives I’ve ever done. Up and down endlessly twisty turny roads. It’s a truly mad landscape all along this coast. Reminding us of Switzerland in places, we rarely glimpse the coast. We go over 500m passes on the closest road to the coast!  It’s very tiring, very slow progress. The towns (Bermeo, Lekeitio,..), that from a brief glance at the map, might have been attractive, are busy, tightly packed with flats, all at least 6-7 stories high, and virtually nowhere for us to stop either. We take a break just outside Lekeitio,

but when the tide is in, the waves echo annoyingly, all around. Maybe it’s the frayed nerves from the driving, but we don’t fancy being woken by it in the early hours of the morning when the tide comes in again, and so move on again. There are very few options without a BIG detour and we continue along the nightmare coast road trying to take it steady and not use the brakes too much – they’re now grinding badly at every turn, which is constantly, whether we’re using them in earnest or not. Not good! To end this drive from hell, we stop at an official spot  in what turns out to be an industrial estate, next to a 24hr engineering workshop with continuous lathe and grinding noise – Nice! Almost anywhere would be better. We’re at Zumaia, a biggish port with more ugly flats. Don’t bother! Infact, i’d think twice about stopping anywhere along this bit of coast in the future. On a mission to extricate ourselves from this mess, we manage to find a much needed garage on the outskirts of San Sebastian. They were very busy, but managed to fit us in, order new brake pads (the old ones had crumpled to dust but luckily the discs had survived), replace them and have us on our way again within 3hrs. (Euromaster – there’s one in most major places in Europe and we’ve found them good and efficient). Instructed to use the brakes sparingly for a bit, we took the mechanic at his word and didn’t touch them much for the next couple of hundred miles. We made tracks, gladly paying the €11.35 charges on the motorway to be out of the mess that id Northern Spain (come off at ‘Labenne’, France. Jct. 7 or 8? to avoid further charges). We didn’t stop until we were north of Bordeaux, France, where we pulled off the N10, and spend the night at the quiet little village of Laruscade. It’s good to be in rural France. All we can hear now is the birds tweeting – what a contrast to yesterday!

Next it’s back to the free, and motorway standard, N10, taking us quickly past Angouleme, towards Poitiers. Bored and as usual seeing nothing of the areas we’re rushing through, we turn off and head for Candes-St-Martin, between Angers and Tours, on the Loire river. Candes-St-Martin is supposed to be “one of the prettiest villages on the Loire”. It’s certainly an attractive little place, built out of the very white limestone of the area. It’s very busy, perhaps because there’s some sort of fete going on, but perhaps everybody else has read that it’s the prettiest village too? True to form, we come in the ‘back way’ following the Sat Nav, and end up in the narrow “camping-car interdit!” section in the centre 🙂 Well, there were no signs the way we came in! The following day we manage to loop back round the town. Avoiding the centre, to Monontsoreau and continue along the river to Saumur. It’s a nice stretch of river with several small villages famous for their wines. The wine is, or at least was, stored in limestone caves cut out of the rock that forms the edge of the river valley, often with 3 sides of a house built in front. We park by the river at Saumur and enjoy a good lunch at the ‘Cristal Hotel’ before a walk up to the castle/chateaux. For €6 each including a personal guide in English, we are bombarded with more information than my poor historical knowledge could cope with.

Having been educated a bit in Saumur, we continue north looking for a suitable ‘quiet little French village’. Mouliherne does the job perfectly, with an attractive parking spot, next to a picnic site and stream and motorhome services a short distance away. The French are so good at this! (probably said that many times before?) There’s also, as we’ve seen elsewhere, signposted walking routes making a loop from the centre of town and back.

Another couple of driving days follow. We try to find a good route, avoiding the motorways. We skirt past the edge of Le Mans, through Saint-Martin-Du-Vieux-Bellame, through the national park area of ‘Parc Naturel Regional Du Perche’ (looked like a nice area; lakes, walks, picnic sites, monasteries – another area on the list for future investigations when we have more time), stop at Les Aspres for lunch, before continuing to La Mailleraye-sur-Seine, on the River Seine. It’s an insignificant little place, but it provides a good Aire, right on the grassy banks of the river. It’s supposedly €5/night but the guy never came and asked for it, even though he was there apparently asking others.  Bargain 🙂

A shortish hop, and we’re back on the coast at Dieppe, waiting for the ferry. The end of another good trip! Until the next one….

Don’t forget a map of our complete route can be found here:  https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ymzS6pFRHp4LYX2NeuDVuhMzaVY&usp=sharing  GPS locations, photos and extra infos by clicking the pins

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South FAST!

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)

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zXuk6hsK3x58.k9h-Yivx40a4&usp=sharing

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)

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zXuk6hsK3x58.k_dQjAfrwE2o&usp=sharing

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.

DSC00631

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….