Posted in Spain

25th – 28th October, Among the Hills

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Leaving the coast behind we retraced our steps slightly back towards to the mountains, travelling the smaller roads to see the countryside. As we entered one of the many ‘Parcs’ we saw huge rock faces standing alongside the road, after passing by two we finally stopped at the third and read that they were a tribute to the ancestors. Very impressive.

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We reached the ‘Parc Natural Els Ports’, found the tiny village called Arnés and just outside it was the campsite. It was located in a picturesque valley studded with olive trees, interspersed with smaller areas of almond and hazelnut orchards and fields cultivated ready for another crop in the spring.

It was very well kept with excellent facilities and a swimming pool open until 30th September, so we missed that unfortunately! The views were amazing with bare, rocky mountainous outcrops, high hills with trees and scrub covering them which surrounded the fertile valleys below. There were only two other couples occupying the campsite so we could choose which pitch we wanted, and being British we orientated ourselves to take full advantage of the sun! Within 30 minutes we were blocking the sun out with towels hung from the canopy so we could sit outside for lunch in some shade as it was so hot, around 26C.

Staying put for the hottest part of the day in cooler shade, we eventually walked for 20 minutes into the tiny village, it looked deserted, everything closed and shuttered, no shops open or even any evidence of any shops! We found a small school that was closed, a large Town Hall and church, both also closed, and 2 bars – closed too. In fact it was a ghost town with a few cars abandoned haphazardly on any street space available. We decided to try again next day and walked back.

 

The couple behind us we so friendly we invited them for drinks after our evening meal. Steve’s German and Nellie’s French, 77 and 70 respectively and camping in their Renault Scenic, bed in the back, everything they needed in there too, somewhere; and all cooking done outside! They had walked 80 km over the last 5 days, that is around 10 miles a day.  Both had excellent spoken English, and we spent a lovely couple of hours chatting about holidays and countries we had travelled to while supping a bottle of red wine together in the comfort of Bessie.

Retracing our steps back to the village next day, we carried on walking along a rough road on a route into the hills. The path was stony and uneven in places, fields on either side typically planted with olives and almonds, ahead were pine trees looking beautiful against the blue sky.

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20171027_140848-COLLAGEWe didn’t see many birds or indeed hear many either, however we did see 9 griffin vultures circling high on the thermals before finding the right air current to set off across the landscape to disappear from our view. After a couple of hours we stopped under some pines for our picnic lunch and a black redstart hopped around not far way. Making our way back to camp was quicker as it was down hill and after a total of 3.5 hours during the midday heat we arrived back at Bessie for a beer and a rest. The sunset was beautiful and we spent another lovely evening with Steve and Nellie, this time as their guests, having tapas and wine under the stars until around 8.30pm when it got chilly. Getting back into Bessie I was so cold I made up the beds and was snuggled up in my quilt by 8.45pm!

After nearly 10 hours sleep we were ready for our very short drive of 7.5 miles to Valderrobres next morning. We had visited this town in March when it was grey and really cold, so returning on a wonderfully warm and sunny day made it look so much more inviting. Having been unable to visit the castle last time, we had returned to look at it and we not disappointed.

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Entering the old walled town over the ancient Medieval bridge we walked uphill to the fortress which was constructed around the natural rock about the 12 century. The King of Aragon donated Valderrobres to the Bishop of Zaragoza in 1175 and in the documentation it stated a castle must be built. Later phases of construction added a tower, low walls near the church, first and second floors and subsequently in 1390 the Archbishop García Fernández de Heredia turned it into The Bishop’s Palace. However, he was later murdered and work stopped until another Archbishop finished the Palace. Eventually it fell into disuse but was re-inhabited in 1656 by yet another Archbishop. From the 19th century it again fell into disrepair for over a century and restoration finally started in 1980s, it is now being used for cultural events and tourism. There was a large art exhibition by Salvador Dali and a few other artists in the Fireplace Hall.

 

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Álvaro Pradera Chaves 1929 – 1985

We paid only 5 Euros each to see the castle with many rooms, hall of fireplaces, servants quarters, lovely views and a lot of information.

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Top Row:    Hall of Fireplaces.    High Chambers Gallery.    Bottom Row:   The Lions Hall.    The Patio Courtyard with original rock around which the castle was built.

 

 

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Can you see Bessie in the car park? (To the right of the river by the large trees)

The cost included entrance to the church of Santa Maria and the museum. The church had a magnificent entrance door with elaborate stone work arches over it, statues on either side, detailed carved stone friezes and a large rose window above. Once inside the simple vaulted roof was huge and well lit by the windows on either side. The semi circular apse also had the ribbed vaulting, below which the main altar stood, and on the north transept a carved stone screen looked down on the Nave and metal chandelier hanging from the ceiling.

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The museum was really well laid out with large models of 18th century galleons made by a local man, detailed panels about the castles, churches and ecology of the area. On the second floor was a photographic display of the town of Valderrobres with images dating as far back as 1890. Each photo had a recent photograph alongside taken from the same point which made it so interesting as we compared each one, how it was then and how it is now, we then walked around the town spotting the locations later on.

 

Up early the following day to do something completely different. I drove Bessie to a small trading estate and parked, we walked to a small cafe to meet a Spanish guy call José Ramón Moragrega and got into his dusty old workhorse of a car, full of boots, a coat, sandwich box etc. He drove us for around a mile up a well worn, hard-core track and eventually stopped as the track petered out and trees began. We were met by his wife who led us and 6 others uphill through the woods for 10 minutes eventually coming to a building high on the hillside. Inside were bench seats and a massive window overlooking a bare area of dirt, stones, bushes and rocks all surrounded by trees. There was a pair of huge solid gates and José was on the other side of it with a wheelbarrow! Looking up the sky was filling with massive griffin vultures, circling around and gradually loosing height, a few landed in the tall pine trees surrounding the area.

Suddenly the huge gates opened and José pushed his barrow into the vulture feeding station he created 25 years ago as we watched from his purpose built observatory. He was engulfed in these massive birds, all beaks and talons, as he tried to run with his barrow load of rabbit meat.  He breeds rabbits for the purpose of the conservation of these endangered vultures. Tipping the contents onto the floor, he turns quickly to race off out of the way of the feeding frenzy in front of us, the noise of the birds squabbling and squawking over the meat was amazing. There were approximately 400 vultures and about 8 barrow loads to help sustain them, and this scene is repeated every day at around 9am!

They are imposing birds with a wingspan of nearly 10 feet or 3 meters and weighing between 19-25 lbs or 9-11 kgs. The pale head and tawny coloured eye miss nothing, with a massively powerful beak and snake-like necks covered in pale down ending in a ruff at the base. The huge sandy brown body, dark wings with pale leading edge, ending in the outstretched ‘fingers’ so visible when in flight, and a short dark tail. Living in the mountainous areas they are often seen riding the thermals gaining height, soaring on outstretched wings effortlessly coving vast areas searching for carcasses and doing a valuable job of cleaning up and preventing the spread of disease of rotting remains. It was a wonderfully different and unexpected thing to do in valderrobres, we then started on our way to the coast for the next night.

 

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Posted in Spain

18th- 24th October, To the Coast

After studying the map for our next destination, we liked the idea of Lake Caspie, alongside a dammed section of the a River Ebro that created huge lakes referred to as an ‘inland sea’. The drive was lovely through a northern section of Spanish countryside, huge rock formations, barren empty fields, trees dotted about the landscape and vast empty roads. Covering the miles at a very sedate, leisurely and relaxing pace, the skies were darkening and the light was wonderful on the hills in front of us. We stopped after an hour and a half of driving for a relaxing coffee in Bessie, it got dark quite quickly and then the wind got up too, suddenly huge spots of rain started to bash on the roof. It became a thunderous roar as the heavens opened full bore, rain and hail bouncing off the roof and windscreen. We were parked up on a hard-core lay bay which quickly became awash with small streams of rainfall rushing off into the bushes. Blacker by the minute, lorries starting pulling over to wait it out, others carried on by very slowly with headlights on and wipers splashing. By now we could hardly see across the first few meters of countryside in front of us, then the first cracking of thunder rolled, swiftly followed by lightening and more thunder This carried on for 30 minutes, during which a small tree right in front of Bessie was suddenly smashed and now was without one of its trunks, which now lay on the floor in a deepening large puddle. Thankfully I would never park under trees preferring to see the view, so glad I wasn’t any closer to that tree. Gradually the coffee and the rain disappeared, leaving dark clouds, still raining but now safe to start driving again. As we passed theseveral signs, we always shoutility ‘moose’ – our little joke for anything with horns/antlers.

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Arriving at Lake Caspe Campsite the pitches were under small trees to provide shade and I manoeuvred into position to make the most of the sun, when it finally came out. We walked down the site to explore and realised that the lakes were seriously depleted in water volume, they were at least 20-30 feet below the average marks on the lakeside margins. Few birds were in evidence, one grey heron, a couple of cormorants and half a dozen goldfinches and wagtails, even the flora was long past its best, so we made our way back to Bessie and a beer.

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After a nights sleep we decided to cut our losses and move on again. The plan now was to go directed to the coast at the Ebro Delta where there was another free Aire. Stopping off en-route at a huge Mercadona supermarket to stock on fresh provisions, we enjoyed all the differences between British supermarkets and the Spanish ones. We love the different foods, the fresh fish counter in particular and came away with a large bag of huge cooked prawns, plus cheap fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, dates, wine and beer. We arrived at the Aire having driven alongside miles of paddy fields, what a change the new area brought us.

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The Ebro Delta is vast, a massive area almost exclusively growing rice, consequently water everywhere and a feast of birds too! The Aire was very well kept, gravelled parking and plenty of space for all, it was well frequented while we were there, as sure sign it was free. A small restaurant and bar, hire of bikes, bici-cars for 2 people, boats, even horses, and round the corner a small information place and shop.

We were soon out with our binoculars, walking around in the midday heat like ‘mad dogs and English men’. It was worth it though, soon adding to our bird list and admiring in particular lots of marsh harriers cruising over the reeds, a few purple gallinules, a large version of our moorhen with iridescent purple feathers, large red feet and beak. There were hundreds of little egrets, cattle egrets and a good number of grey herons and great white egrets, with their snowy white plumage, all varying sizes with dagger like beaks. Another beautiful bird is the glossy ibis with is long, down curved bill, iridescent black/green plumage with long legs stalking along the paddy fields in search of food.

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Having once worked on a farm for several years, along time ago, I was intrigued by a very strange looking tractor. There were no tyres on the wheels; on the front were two solid metal discs and the rear had a very wide series of metal slatted cage wheels on each side. It became apparent how this was used when a driver came and manoeuvred it into the paddy field. Tyres would have been useless sinking into the bog-like conditions. The metal wheels were used to churn up the previously cut rice crop that had now started to regenerate, the smell reminded me of clearing out our old pond! The old rice plants were pushed under the surface of the mud and water, possibly making growth start again at the same time. All the time the tractor went up and down the field, masses of gulls, egrets and herons patrolled along behind catching up the frogs, fish and grubs turned over by the ‘wheels’.

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After our allotted 2 free nights on the Aire we moved on, driving all over the Delta and using Bessie as a hide. The small roads were deserted and we were contentedly bimbling along at 20 mph stopping every so often to see lapwing, ringed plover, little stint, flamingoes, the usual egrets, herons and ibis, kestrel and more marsh harriers. After driving around all morning we took Bessie to the beach, drove right onto the sand and parked up, while we had a quiet walk around the small pools, there was hardly a sole around.

20171022_113951-COLLAGESoon we headed for the north of the Delta, and booked in at a campsite at L’Ampollo, right by the sea with a paddy field behind our pitch, complete with more egrets! We got a great pitch looking out onto a grass area and literally 5 minutes walk to the beach. However, we walked 20 minutes into the small town passing a statue of a figure lying down and reading a book, it was enormous.

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20171026_165421-COLLAGE20171022_122307We admired the harbour, read all the information boards concerning the area’s history, saw another statue of Pope Adrian us VI, Bishop of Tortosa, and spend a happy half hour with a beer in the sunshine, I was so hot as I had worn trousers and a light jumper as it was so windy.  Later on it was still very windy and not too good to sit on the beach, so we walked around a lagoon, got blown to bits, saw some old wooden boats, a cormorant and a couple of herons before returning to the shelter of the campsite for the evening and a bottle of ‘bubbly’.

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Before arriving in Spain we had decided that we were not going to race around like headless chickens seeing everything. For a few days we went for a walk in the mornings and then we relaxed improving our tans, I painted my nails but Chris left his natural, I spent time reading, he didn’t, and we did some people watching, which was difficult as it was a scarcely populated beach which was just what we needed.

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Posted in Spain

11th – 18th October – Mendigorría, Navarra

Preparation for our second long trip to Spain was mainly done in our heads due to a self-induced busy schedule beforehand.  We literally had two days to pack everything for two months away, including clothes and footwear, bedding, first aid, food and drink, maps, campsite books, legal paperwork, certification, new driving licence and a heap of stuff too numerous to mention.  All was accomplished in good time to get Bessie weighed and we found out that we had a spare 60kg if we needed anything else.

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The drive to Portsmouth was uneventful and we arrived before 11am which meant we were very quickly on board the ferry which was due to leave at 11.45. A sullen grey day gave the dockside a sombre look and the Spinnaker Tower looked faded in the gloom, however I managed a photo as we set off to sunny Spain.

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival, we disembarked quickly, set off using the same route as our previous visit and thankfully managed to stay out of Bilboa this time.  The countryside in October was quite different with the majority of fields ploughed, small abandoned cottages, pylons, the road passing through huge rock cuttings, distant mountains, some fields of vines and later on olive and fruit trees. With a quick pit stop for lunch we arrived at the campsite in Mendigorría, Navarra south of Pamplona in northern Spain. 20171014_125618

There was a windmill at the entrance and it was a public holiday weekend, to say the site was busy was an understatement. We settled on a sunny pitch for the afternoon and moved the next day as soon as a better place became available.  Small trees located on every pitch to offer shade were starting to turn from green to yellow and their seed pods rustled in the breeze.

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Photos of the scenery during our drive

20171013_125223-COLLAGEAfter one whole day relaxing, we set off next day to the small village of Mendigorría about half a mile away, set up on a hill and visible for miles around. The beautiful church bell tower with its mellow, golden stone rose up into the blue sky making a lovely contrast.

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A pedestrian walkway around the village in its lofty position gave great views over the countryside in every direction, showing the River Arga snaking its way through the landscape.

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Unfenced fields are mainly brown as the harvest has long been completed, the exception being acres of tall maize, but no livestock to be seen anywhere, hence no need for fencing.  Closer to the river and below the village are what look like huge allotments, probably each household has an area to grow produce, complete with huts or poly tunnels. The village looked deserted, doors shut, windows shuttered and a few cars parked haphazardly on the narrow streets, however people were just keeping out of the heat and it came alive at night when the shops and bars opened.

Having noticed a sign to Roman ruins, next day we walked away from the village into the hills along a small, quiet lane leading uphill.  Stopping every few moments to look at flowers, snails climbing plant stalks and butterflies, it was a leisurely amble on a lovely afternoon.

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Locust.  Snails.  Small Copper.  Swallowtail.

We saw many birds including lots of soaring red kites, kestrel, griffin vultures and as we got to more open spaces we also watched northern wheatears, black redstarts and numerous crested larks.  Having got there, the Roman ruins were closed but we walked around the church building next to it where several Spanish families were having a get-together and BBQs.  An information plaque told us it was quite a large walled settlement with its own small reservoir and aqueduct to supply the village, it was very isolated so it would have needed to be very self-sufficient. We spend 5 days at Mendigorría in total, walking and relaxing and enjoying being back with reliable sunshine.

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Starting on our way east heading towards the coast we visited the town of Olite where there is a fantastic Royal Palace with towers, turrets and we could walk around the ramparts surrounding the Palace. Located at 800 meters above sea level it served as a lookout post for the Kingdom of Navarre. It was built between 1402–1424 and was commissioned by Charles III the Noble, King of Navarre from 1387–1425. He was French and better known for his love of culture and palatial lifestyle than his military campaigns. Originally having many gilded rooms and many opulent furnishings, these and part of the structure were destroyed in a fire in 1813 leaving it semi-derelict and empty.  Restoration work started in 1937 and lasted approximately 30 years, now it is a credit to beautiful craftsman ship and a wonderful place to visit.

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There are several Chambers for various uses, some of the features include huge fireplaces, stained glass windows, gothic stonework and wooden ceilings some of which were originally painted gold. There is an  Arched Chamber which was created for architectual purposes only to withstand the weight of the Queens small garden at first floor level, surrounded by a beautiful Cloister and a small tree in the middle.

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The five towers were impressive, all had different uses and designs. The Fenero Gateway Tower gave access to the Palace and has the coasts of arms over the gateway.  The Cistern Tower had water brought by ceramic pipes from the Cidacos River and a wooden wheel would take water up to the cistern, this was lined with lead to prevent leakages!  Indentations along the stone walls (which can still be seen today) carried lead piping all over the Palace. The Three Crowns Tower is so picturesque with three octagonal shaped sections getting smaller nearer the top, like crowns. The Watch Tower made it possible to monitor anything coming into Olite and the Four Winds Tower or ‘Three Finestras’ so called because of its three large Gothic windows where the King and Queen could watch the bullfights and tournaments held on the esplanade just outside the Palace.

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20171020_205944-COLLAGELeaving the Palace we walked around the immediate town and took a look at the Gothic Church of Santa Maria with a detailed and ornate frieze above the huge door, and above that a lovely ‘rose’ window with blue glass. Inside the single nave had a ribbed vaulted roof in four unequal sections with a pentagonal apse above the altar. There was an amazing and beautiful vertical alter panel with 28 oil painted panels and as we turned around we noticed an the organ pipes on the first floor level.

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We treated ourselves to a lunch out having the Menú del Diá.  First came a large and comprehensive vegetable soup each with crusty bread, then I had the local meatballs in a rich tomato sauce served with a few chips, Chris had 2 pork escallops cooked on a huge open wood fired range, also served with chips, followed by a yogurt for me and ice-cream for Himself. We were stunned to have a whole bottle of Rosé wine (we thought we would get a glass each) and of course I was driving so I only had sips from Chris’s glass.  This amazing feast including the wine and a bottle of sparkling water for me cost 26.40 Euros which is approximately £23.50!!  We certainly didn’t expect so much food, let alone the wine and didn’t eat for the rest of the day.

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Chris located a Free Aire at Arguedas where we could stop for a night and see some cave houses or ‘Troglodite’ homes.  Arriving there still feeling stuffed, we clambered up the rocks to look at the homes dug out of the rocks.  Some had 3-4 rooms, some were completely bare and others had a ‘fitted kitchen’, one even had a stable in the back with a trough and tie up rings in the walls, plus some old piece of harness still hanging on the wall.  A walk around the local village afterwards and a couple of beers ended our busy day, and we enjoyed a very comfortable and quiet night overlooked by the Troglodite ghosties.

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