Posted in France

9th October – Vannes & Nantes

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VANNES

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Driving through the French countryside on our way to Vannes the feeling was of space. The fields here have no hedges or obvious fences, many have ditches along the road edges often filled with bracken and wild flowers, but the best sight was a field of sunflowers. There appeared to be lots of trees along the field edges and also many areas of woodland, really good for wildlife and birds. Fields of maize seemed to be everywhere waiting to be harvested, other fields already green with new crops and huge tractors busy preparing land for re-seeding. We settled in an area about 2 miles south of Vannes with tidal lagoons all around, gulls, egrets and a solitary spoonbill, it was a pretty area with small boats and a couple of bars.

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Walking into Vanne using the dedicated pathways between cycle paths and roads, we eventually turned alongside the waterway ‘La Marle’ arriving at the quayside in the city after an hour and sat in the sun with a coffee watching the boats bobbing on the water. We had already picked up a tourist map and set off on a self guided tour of the ‘old town’ area, heading through the Town Gate St Vincent Ferries. It was built of stone with an archway that has three levels, smaller niches either side of a Coat of Arms and a statue of Saint Vincent at the top.

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Luck was with us as we discovered it was market day, brightly coloured stalls of flowers, fruit and vegetables, nuts, herbs, mushrooms and much more besides. The whole place was buzzing with sights and smells, activity and voices, what a lovely atmosphere.

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We also found a separate fish market bustling with activity, lobsters, shellfish, prawns and fish of every shape and size.  It was such a shame we were not buying as we would have had to  carry any purchases around all day. Great colour on that mackerel skin!

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A large proportion of the ‘old city’ centre had half timbered buildings dating back to the 13th & 14th centuries set closely together with lovely coloured woodwork. With the aid of our map, we were following a route around the town which informed us about some of the buildings, one being called Vannes et se Femme. The figureheads of a couple are carved into the corner of a half timbered property and are now popular for tourist photos, and higher up just under the eaves is a small statue of Francis of Assisi.

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The Cathedral of St Pierre is in the centre of this district, it has a mixture of architecture having been re built in 12th century on the ruins of the previous church. The large nave is from 15th century with no side isles; this is a very unusual design but makes it feel wide and spacious. Instead there are 11 side chapels with a highly coloured, beautiful stained glass window each, the coloured light was streaming making the whole space glow. The pulpit stands on the left hand side, heavily carved and ornate with a staircase leading from it on each side.

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Leaving the centre after several hours we walked along some of the old ramparts and by the Prison Town Gate, a very impressive building even with only one of its towers still standing. It was built between 13th and 15th centuries and used as a prison in the 18th century, hence its name today.

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Further along was a large stone building built on the site of the old Castle of L’Hermine, formerly the home of the Dukes of Brittany but today it is a hotel. The gardens in front were particularly impressive, flower beds of different shapes and sizes, and still full of colour so late in the season.

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NANTES

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Moving south again after two days we arrived in Nantes. The day was cloudy but warm so we set off to explore. We found a pretty Japanese garden and admired the reflections in the water, huge bamboos and camillas flowering in October! Moving on we walked alongside the river, past house boats and bridges before the clouds started to release the rain. Thank goodness we decided to shelter because it came down in torrents for 30 minutes so we decided to take the tram back and dry our shoes.

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Quickly retracing our steps next morning we obtained a self guided tourist map. The city of Nantes has developed a tourist trail guide using a narrow ‘green line’ painted on the pavements and roads around the major tourist attractions, it covers 12 km in total – we didn’t walk the whole distance!  First stop was Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne (Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany), a large fortification originally on the banks of the River Loire when it was built in 1207, the river was later re-routed and the building now stands protected by a moat while the city has developed beyond the walls. The chateau inside the walls was white with black tiled roof, the dormer windows and the central towers were very ornate. Restoration took place during 1990s and finally reopened in 2007 housing the History Museum in 32 of its rooms.

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We continued walking on our tour of the city. Following the green line made it easy to find the Jardin de Planter which was beautifully laid out and had meticulous attention to detail. The lakes reflected the trees starting to turn into Autumn colours and a connecting stream had a sculptural display of ‘lilies’ on single stems. We think water was being drawn up the stem which filled the ‘flower’, then being weighted with water, it bowed down emptying the flower, which released it backwards and forwards in a swaying motion until it was refilled again. The result was an ‘active’ sculpture which was very relaxing to watch.

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The lawns were so perfect I actually touched one to see if it was real! Faces of birds/animals were made out of wood on top of posts with plants growing out of the top of them, very effective and probably a dozen in total. A sleeping dog had been sculpted out of grass and small grey sedums used to show its eyes, the nose and ears were dark coloured peat and it lay on the sunlit lawn with flowerbeds behind edged predominantly in white and yellows, it was very calming.

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Following a walkway through pine trees we found it was lined with numerous different camellias, all full of flower invarious shades of pink and white. A large obelisk constructed in pale stone was situated with a backdrop of dark magnolia foliage behind. It was commemorating Jules Verne who was born in Nantes in 1828, he was the author of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’.

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As we left the gardens through large wrought iron gates we spotted the ‘plant pot’ people looking down on us. What fun!

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The cathedral of Saint Pierre & Saint Paul stands in the heart of the old city. It was built in the 6th century but destroyed in the 9th century by the Normans. It also had to be rebuilt several times before being bombed in 2nd World War and ravaged by fire in 1972. Consequently, the cathedral is virtually new, constructed with pale stone with an unfussy simplicity and full of light with modern stained glass windows that I really liked.

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On our long walk around the city we found an old and very decorative shopping centre full of old world charm. The glass ceiling let in so much light that showed up the shop fronts throughout the three storey building. The columns, statues and wrought ironwork balustrades and lighting brackets really added to the chzrm of the shop fronts. I loved the shop that sold nothing but shirts in bright busy designs, a cake shop with picture perfect cakes and the chocolate shop with ‘Henry & Henrietta’ in a bath, plus many other amazing and expensive creations.

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At the end of our tour with our ever present green-line guide, we effortlessly found the Opera House complete with pillars, shame we couldn’t see inside. In a large circular plaza there was a large water fountain to one side with a constantly changing water display, and surrounding the whole area were the most beautiful street lights which must have looked amazing at night.

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For a perfect end to our day we indulged in a beer! Oh yes we did, and at great expense too, but it was 6.8 ABV and we enjoyed it for a good while before walking to find a tram. We had walked 7 miles (11.26 km) in total, into and around the city and the ride back was good fun and very quick.

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Posted in France

6th October -Mont Saint-Michel

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Autumn has arrived and the weather is changing. Beautiful sunny days with hot temperatures, blue skies and summer flowers are being replaced with a definite cooling especially at night, more rain and although it’s a colourful time of year, we have already thinking of escaping to a warmer climate again. So it was that on 6th October we travelled over night by ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo in France to start our journey south in search of adventure, new sights and experiences.

Arriving about 8am we were soon off the ferry, and it was only a short drive away to the iconic and historic Mont Saint-Michel. After parking up at a ‘Camper Stop’ nearby in Beauvoir, we headed out along a pedestrian walkway covering 3.5 miles alongside the River Couesnon in the direction of ‘MSM’. A strong wind blew in our faces and the bland grey sky would be hopeless for photography, but we needed to stretch our legs and get some air.

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Awaking next day the sky was blue and the sun already shining brightly. The difference in temperature from yesterday was up by 10°C and walking was much more pleasurable. Soon we were spotting butterflies, painted lady, clouded yellow, large white, tortoise shell and red admiral flew along the pathway visiting the wildflowers still blooming among the longer grasses. We heard and saw many skylarks, a few meadow pipits and magpies with mallard, black headed gulls and cormorants on the river edges. Mont Saint-Michel has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and we were able to see it in high relief with the mid-day sun casting shadows showing it up to perfection.

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The Abbey is perched high on its pyramidal rock of granite, and it stands 80 meters above the sea on a number of crypts designed to take the weight of this 80 meter long building. It is believed to have originated from 708 AD; in later years Benedictine monks occupied the Abbey and a village settlement developed beneath it in the 10th Century. After the collapse of the religious community during the French Revolution, its thick stone walls, ramparts and fortifications meant it was used as a prison until 1863. Declared a Historic Monument in 1874, major restoration work was regularly undertaken. The new 32 meter steeple was later topped by a sculpture of Saint Michael by Emmanuel Frémiet, depicted holding a sword and set of scales.
More restoration work was carried out in 1987; a model showed a scaffolding tower surrounding the steeple with the statue hanging below a helicopter supported in a frame. Now re-gilded St Michael glinted brightly on top of the spire.

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The monument is entered over a draw bridge with a decorated stone-work panel above, narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants climb uphill steadily leading to the entrance of the Abbey. After a speciality French lunch of Moules a la Creme et Frites followed by crepes, sucre et citron, we were soon powering up numerous steps between the towering outer stone walls before coming out onto the West Terrace. The views were amazing looking out over the sands of the vast estuary that surround Mont Saint-Michel at high tide, cutting it off from the mainland. From this vantage point we could clearly see the bridge and walkway we had followed beside the River Couesnon, and further around we could see the sands all the way over to the Cherbourg Peninsular.

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Inside the abbey, there is a central nave and two side aisles.; the main nave arches are tall with lightly coloured stained glass windows, the high barrelled ceiling leading to a semi circular high altar area with ornate high windows set on two levels.

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The Merveille is area which was the work and study room of the monks, having multiple columns, a vaulted high ceiling with circular and arched windows. It gives access to areas such as the kitchen, refectory, dormitories and church.

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My favourite area is The Cloisters with its central garden, in all totalling 260 sq meters. It is situated on top of the Merveille room which has a lead lined roof to keep it water tight. The light floods into the covered galleries which have slim, light weight pillars spaced in double rows that are positioned out of alignment to show different aspects to the viewer.

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One of the last things we saw was a massive wooden wheel, (rather like a hamster wheel). It was installed in 1820 and was used to hoist a heavy wooden sledge with provisions for the prisoners, hauled up the side of the ramparts on a special ramp which can still be seen descending steeply down the walls.

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On our long walk down all the steps and walkways, we were still drawn to the views of the sheer expanse of sand surrounding Mont Saint-Michel. Such a magnificent position with vistas in every direction. This place has been on my wish list for years and it certainly lived up to all my expectations.

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Posted in England

2018 – Summer Run Around

Heading east for about an hour in beautiful sunny weather we made our way to Newbury Motorhome Show, looking forward to music and merriment we met up with Mandy and Roy who we met a year ago at Norfolk Motorhome Show. There was a large section of second-hand motorhomes of all shapes and sizes, then several avenues of stalls offering everything you could wish to use inside them or to ‘enhance’ your experience using one; it is a good thing we were only browsing for ideas. The show was spread over four days we took our time looking at the vast area the show covered and being entertained in the evenings by great live music. For a bit of ‘culture’ we took a day trip to Oxford and had an open-top bus ride around the city with amusing commentary informing us about its history and buildings.

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A Royal Wedding was happening elsewhere in the country and not wishing to miss out, we had our own mini party with flags, bunting, food, bottles of sparkling wine and watched it live on a ‘big screen’ provided for the occasion. We carried on into the evening with a very special Red Velvet Cake and more ‘bubbles’.

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In late July we headed for Crofty on The Gower Peninsular in South Wales, very picturesque, remote and relaxing. We had met Gilly and Alan near Alicante in Spain 8 months previously, kept in touch and arranged to visit them at home. With uninterrupted views over the salt marshes, curlews calling and wild ponies to watch, the scene was idyllic.

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Over four days we all walked in sunshine on the high cliff tops overlooking Worm’s Head with the magnificent Rhossili Beach stretching 3 miles into the distance. We visited Cefn Bryn, a high point inland having panoramic views over The Gower, from where we could see Oxwich Bay with its long golden beach on the south side of the peninsular.

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Then for something completely different we visited The Mumbles, a small touristy town on the opposite side of the bay to Swansea where we had a walk around, saw the old pier and stopped at Joe’s Ice Cream Parlour! During a walk around the village of Crofty and over the salt marshes, Chris had spotted Gower Brewery and we came away with a selection of ales for him to try. Now in early August we also celebrated our wedding anniversary enjoying some speciality gins with tonics, and salt marsh lamb with mint sauce in an excellent local pub. What a wonderful time we spent with our friends who showed us so much of this lovely corner of Wales where they live.

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Not satisfied with one trip to Newbury, we returned in August to meet Mandy and Roy for the Retro Fest; music, clothes, caravans, cars, motorbikes and lorries of yesteryear, so many smiling faces and a reminder of years gone by. The tiny caravans were delightful and their proud owners displaying their handiwork in restoration and accessories. Such simplicity with these tiny holiday homes, it makes the modern ones look like a huge monsters.

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With polished bodywork and sparkling chrome, leather seats, walnut wood dashboards and wire wheels, the cars on display were amazing. There were many other vehicles to see, huge lorries with ornately painted designs on the cabs, army vehicles, customised motorbikes and trikes, their owners having spent hours restoring them.

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The Retro Fest was a new experience for us with many people wearing period clothes that made them look so elegant compared to some of the fashions today. A colourful fun fair with carousel and painted wooden horses, the huge big wheel and smells of ‘fast food’ and candy floss, it all came alive at night, along with music of the era and old time dancing; it was a fun filled few days.

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Still in August we stayed in Stourport on Severn in Worcestershire with Julie and Kim to attend their son’s wedding, a beautiful day for everyone concerned. The four of us, plus their 3 dogs, then drove to Witney in Oxfordshire to spend a few days together in our motorhomes, relaxing after the wedding festivities. We spent the days walking in the countryside around lakes created from disused gravel pits, now full of wildlife, birds and flowers.

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We walked into Standlake one afternoon and looked at the pretty church followed by more than a look at the local pub, where we stopped for refreshments! At Witney we went down by the River Windrush and Country Park walking back through fields and along the edge of a wood with all 3 dogs, so well behaved but very tired that evening. We barbequed on our return to the campsite and enjoyed the late evening the sunshine. At Abingdon we walked along a section of the River Thames, there is a weir and a pedestrian bridge across to a lock built in 1790 and a lock keepers cottage. A busy yet relaxing few days.

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To round off the summer as we moved into the end of September, it was time to squeeze in a visit to the Isle of Wight. Only an hour from home we left the rain behind and caught the ferry at Lymington for the 30 minute voyage into sunshine. The island is small, 2 miles from the mainland and covering 148 sq miles (384 sq km), it is a great place to visit. Landing at Yarmouth on the western end of the island we drove to Nodes Point not far from Ryde on the east coast. We had fun and frustration putting up our new awning but the result was great giving us the perfect retreat each evening to enjoy the last of the sun.

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Much walking was achieved over four days, just over 31 miles (50km) in total, including two days both at 11 miles (17.7km). During one walk we took the coastal path from the campsite via St Helens, through Bembridge to Sandown. We passed house boats by the harbour, took pathways under pine trees passing massive and expensive houses, crunched along shingle beach to the lifeboat station, and climbed up a long hill to an obelisk. After admiring the view from this high position we continued over chalky downland and clifftop walks eventually arriving on the promenade at Sandown. After a couple of hours there we caught the bus back and surveyed the scenery again from the top front seats of a double decker.

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Living on the Island are more friends we made through motorhoming; we had met Caroline and Jeff at Benicàssim, Spain in November 2017. After having coffee together at our campsite, they droves us to Shanklin on the east coast where we walked around the quaint ‘old village’ area full of thatched properties. It was a step back in time with the narrow streets still full of the late summer flowers and thankfully not too many people. After an alfresco pub lunch we walked down Shanklin Chime which is a ravine shaded by many trees with a footpath that follows the stream and waterfalls to the coast. Emerging out of the trees the beach was deserted on either side of the steps down, only a few small boats were resting on the sand. Walking along the promenade in the sunshine we saw some ornate lampstands and an attractive clock tower before walking back uphill into Shanklin and returning to the campsite.

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The following morning we walked in the direction of Ryde alongside the beach stopping at The Boat house for coffee and a cake each while we watched the comings and goings of ferries, hovercraft, container ships and boats on the Solent, it really is a busy stretch of water. Mandy and Roy also live on the Island and joined us for lunch at the campsite, the new awning providing a great place to set out the food and drinks, while we sat out under the brollies for shade, quite remarkable for late September.

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Another walk the following day took us through St Helens and down a disused railway track, through fields and marshes with lovely views to the distant woods and hills. We finally located Bembridge Windmill with is now looked after by the National Trust. Climbing its steep stairs to the top floor, we learned how the bags of wheat were lifted up, emptied into hoppers and ground into flour by the huge millstones. The four large blades could be seen outside the windows but they didn’t have the fabric sails which were used to catch the wind. It would have been a very dusty environment to work in and caused many mill workers to have diseased and weak lungs.

20181006_144755-collageWalking steeply down hill and via the coastal path we stopped off for a rest at the Crab & Lobster enjoying a seafood platter and a cold drink, before arriving back at camp; another walk totalling 11 miles!

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Catching the ferry back to ‘The North Island’ as the locals call the mainland, we reflected on a very happy mini-break, great sunny weather the whole time, meeting up with our friends, visiting new places and lots of walking. We will definitely be planning another visit to stay longer next time, there is so much to see, beautiful countryside and coasts for walking, and the pace of life is more gentle which makes it ideal for rest and relaxation.

Posted in England

2018 – April & May – UK Travels

Ludlow, Shropshire in April

Having previously lived in this area for many years, we never had time to be tourists during our working lives, now happily retired we had a few things planned for our long weekend away.  We explored the site at Far Forest and found a lovely walk in the campsite grounds on a track leading through fields to fishing lakes, woodland and open countryside.

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We drove west into Shropshire, travelling through undulating countryside towards Cleobury Mortimer with its famous brewery, Hobsons. Their ‘Champion Mild’ won the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain in 2007, and it was subsequently served in the bar at the House of Commons!  Another icon of this town is the oak shingled, twisted spire of St Mary’s Church, dating to Norman times and which can be seen for miles around. Passing through this small market town with its centrally located, black and white Talbot Hotel, small independent shops and several pubs, we made our way up the flanks of Titterstone Clee Hill. The views are tremendous covering many square miles with sheep, cattle and ponies able roam freely over the commons area; passing over a cattle grid and through Clee Hill village we emerged on the western side with more lovely views of hills towards the distant mountains of Wales.

Arriving in Ludlow we parked in Smithfield Car Park, only £2 for the day! Walking up hill into the town centre we stopped for coffee in The Feathers Hotel with its ancient timbered exterior, a magnet for photographers and historians alike. It was a former Coaching Inn dating back to 17th Century and has wonderful Jacobean architecture, with a stylish interior and comfortable chairs to relax for a while.

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The day finally brightened and became warm and pleasant as we made our way through the old, narrow streets to the colourful market stalls with fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, textiles and colourful glassware, it certainly had a busy atmosphere.

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Heading a few yards further on towards the ruins of Ludlow’s Medieval Castle, with a large grass Outer Bailey, a smaller Inner Bailey and dominating Great Tower, there are lovely views over the steep valley sides below.

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We skipped the restaurant to walk around outside of the extensive wall which surrounds the castle; the pathway was edged with colourful spring flowers leading eventually down to the River Teme which looked spectacular having a substantial amount of water rushing over the weir.

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Many people were enjoying cakes and refreshments at the Millennium Green Cafe as we made our way over Dinham Bridge and up woodland steps to Whitcliff Common Nature Reserve. The leaves just starting to emerge on the trees and the weak sunshine was bringing out the primroses, violets, wood anemones and bright yellow of greater celandines, the birds were singing, it was a perfect Spring day. On reaching a view point with benches positioned to look back over the river, we sat in the sun and admired the old town set out below with its ancient streets and houses. The extent of the castle and its strategic position is more easily appreciated from this side, while the tower of St Lawrence’s Church dominates the skyline.

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Returning to the town centre over Ludford Bridge, through the huge stone Broadgate and onwards, up the wide, famous Broad Street with handsome Georgian properties on either side. The Buttercross with its stones columns, dated circa 1746, was originally a Market Hall and to its left a heavily timbered building leaning out at a jaunty angle with the church tower behind.

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Severn Valley Railway, Bewdley to Bridgnorth in April

The weather had deteriorated considerably next day, we could hardly see the end of the campsite field through rain and fog. Undeterred and togged up in coats, we took the bus to Bewdley in Worcestershire, arriving in Load Street with Saint Anne’s Church at the top, and a fine selection of shops, including Ashley’s Bakery where we bought treacle flapjacks which were delicious! Crossing over the bridge with the River Severn’s fast flowing and muddy water racing by underneath, we were able to appreciate the old buildings along the river’s edge as we looked back, including a bar and cafe overlooking the river itself which would be lovely on a summer day.

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Thankfully the rain was easing off and after a walk of approximately 10 minutes we arrived at the station for The Severn Valley Railway, the historic ticket office complete with grills over the serving hatches and old fire hose on the wall. Soon the steam train was pulling in, clouds of steam, hissing and squealing of metal wheels on the tracks, it was so atmospheric and the rain was soon forgotten as we got into the wooden carriage. Leather straps controlled the raising and lowering of the windows in the doors and enabled me to look out, take photographs and get smuts on my face all at the same time, it was exhilarating.  The drizzle and mist alongside the River Severn gave veiled views of pale damp primroses lined the track in places, hunched up lambs stood beside their mothers and muddy cattle gathered along the fences.

Arriving at Arley station several people got on and off while I looked out at the beautifully kept platform area with flower gardens, stacks of ‘old luggage’ and milk churns adding to the scene. The railway track runs alongside the River Severn a lot of the way and gentle curves of the track allowed good views of the steam train as it made the journey.  Onwards through Highley where there is an engine house housing old engines, coaches and historic exhibits; on a dry day we would have lingered a while, but rain made us stay on-board to Bridgnorth.

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The town is divided in two by the River Severn, and we made our way over a bridge and up into High Town, a walk of about 10 minutes. To escape the rain we stopped at The White Lion Pub for a lunch of homemade Scotch eggs, one Cajun and one black pudding which were served warm and melted in our mouths. We are members of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) so had decided on this pub as it is the Tap for the Hop & Stagger Brewery based at Norton just outside Bridgnorth. We tried a ‘paddle’ each with 3 different beers of one third of a pint, all of which were excellent.  Finally the rain had stopped and it was good to have the time to admire the Old Market Hall with its interesting brickwork, the large half timbered, black and white Town Hall in the centre of High Street, and the imposing Northgate entrance to the town and housing a museum about the Bridgnorth and the surrounding area.

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Walking around past the small, ruined remnant of Bridgnorth Castle surrounded by gardens and we could see down over the River into Low Town. To get there you can take the scenic but steep walk down the quaintly named Cartway, or you can take the Funicular Railway which is said to be one of the steepest in the country. Returning to the Railwayman’s Arms, a well renown bar on the station platform, we were spoilt for choice with many local beers on offer while we waited for our return trip on the second steam train of the day. Without the rain the journey back enabled good viewing through the windows as the engine gently chuffed along the tracks through woods and fields back to Bewdley.

 

 

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Bircher near Leominster, Herefordshire in May

Arriving for a weekend in the small hamlet of Bircher in a rural corner of Herefordshire, the campsite was beautifully kept and had far reaching views over the countryside beyond. With nice dry weather we explored the fields having direct access from the campsite, walking along the field margins listening to a cuckoo calling and coming out onto quiet country lanes.

 

 

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The Balance Inn welcomed us with a good array of  beers, friendly locals and a sunny terrace to sit at picnic tables.  We returned next day with my parents for a local beer and then came back to the campsite for an alfresco picnic lunch under the canopy.

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Nearby in Yarpole is Croft Castle set in open parkland and ancient woodland, it has a castle, garden and a small church with farmed land, in all totalling 1500 acres. The castle itself dates from 14th century and was the home of the Croft family, although it has been owned by the National Trust since 1957.

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We didn’t go into the castle this time but chose to go for a walk across the parkland to see the ancient sweet chestnut trees with their knarled and patterned bark and then in the woodlands, following trails with the quiet, restful greens, wildflowers, stream, ponds and birdsong.

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It was a tranquil couple of hours well spent finishing up back at the castle in a wildflower meadow overlooking a pool.  We still had a long walk back to the campsite, our total for the day covered almost 7 miles!

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Posted in Spain

4th – 8th March, Haro and the Bodegas

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The drive to Haro was very relaxed, passing through some lovely countryside on a beautiful sunny day. With mountains in the distance and the valleys between, far reaching views stretched in front mostly planted with wheat and barley crops interspersed with numerous vineyards. Haro (a local lady said it is pronounced ‘Arrow’ as H is silent in the Spanish language), is located in the Rioja Region in the cooler north western side of the area, lying between mountains north and south giving both shelter and rainfall. The small town sits high on a hill overlooking the valley below, its ornate church situated at the top, from where there are some excellent views of the surrounding vineyards and mountains.

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A maze of narrow streets spread out like a spider’s web to the town below with a central square, bandstand and many statues.

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We have stayed here previously and having been sun-starved for a week, we took advantage to enjoy refreshments at a bar overlooking the square while topping up the tan.

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There are many Bodegas in the region, some are only small wine producers and others have several vineyards in the area producing wines from different varieties of grapes, all being made in under one Bodega name. On our visits to several of the local ones, we learned that the variety of the vines were grown on different soil types, the oche coloured calcareus clay in stair-step terraces in the northern area where some special qualities are achieved. Alluvial silty soils are found in the flatter areas near the rivers, they are easily worked and various types of crops can grow on them. Lastly the reddish ferrous clay on the ridged slopes of the mountains that separate the valleys between the rivers of the southern area.

The main grape varieties used by the Bodegas are different depending on the wine being produced. We tried several made with Tempranillo and blends also adding proportions of Garnacha and Manzuelo which made lovely smooth red wines with lots of taste and a long finish. Most of the wines are red, however, we did find a few white wines produced from Verdejo and Viura at one Bodega which were lovely; fruity, dry and crisp. Also we tried some rosé, a very pale made mainly from Viura with a small percentage of Tempranillo where the skins are left in for only a short time to give the colour. I preferred the more definite flavour of a rosé made 100% with Tempranillo grapes, the skins left in for longer which flavoured and coloured it to a greater depth. We also found one Bodega with sparkling wines which were wonderful.

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At all the Bodegas we saw numerous barrels which made from French oak and American oak. They are used for aging the wines and imparting flavour over 2 to 3 years, then aging continues in the bottle, some for a similar time scale. I found I don’t particularly like these oaked wines too much which is just as well as they are in a price range which I wouldn’t pay!  Each barrel holds around 300 bottles so the buildings were vast to accommodate them, one Bodega had an underground tunnel lined with barrels which naturally kept an even temperature and humidity. Generally after being used for several seasons they are sold for whisky and brandy production.

 

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At this time of year all the vines are dormant and have been trimmed back in a variety of styles which vary from area to area. Some are cut back to stumps, others trained along wires no more than 2 feet (60cm) high, and we have also seen some on high wire frames where the grapes hang underneath. Grapes are produced on one year old wood, so pruning is done annually. In areas where it is very cold, freezing can damage the fruiting buds so it is generally done later, and depending on how much wood and how many fruiting buds are left on the vine, will determine the potential crop. I would really like to come back and see the vineyards in the Autumn at harvest time to see the difference a season of growth makes. In the Rioja region  the harvest usually starts in  September and finishes in November. The grapes are picked by hand by teams of people from students to gypsies, migrants to families, they all need work permits and it is heavily policed so most vineyards prefer to use agencies.

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In 2017 there were icy conditions in April with hail and then a drought, in the Rioja region it was estimated that there was a loss of 50% of production; less wine but very good quality. We enjoyed trying various wines over three days, meeting the people who showed us around and told us about the wines we were drinking, it was so interesting. All of them spoke excellent English and were able to answer our questions, they have a real passion for what they do and the wines that they make, and we get real enjoyment from trying them.

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We have enjoyed our travels and having the opportunity to live in Spain, albeit temporarily, and will be returning in the future. Here are a few facts about our trip for you:

1. Set off on 11th October by ferry from Portsmouth. Flew from Alicante back to the UK on 8th December for Christmas. Returned on 8th January to resume our travels.

2. Stayed 96 nights on 26 campsites, 19 free nights on Aires plus 1 paid Aire at Gibraltar. Plus 2 nights on the ferry and one at Gatwick Airport – a grand total of 119 days!

3. Visited 12 of the 15 regions in mainland Spain only missing out Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria.

4. Visited friends originally from UK, 4 couples who now live in Spain, for all or most of the year. Also met Vicent, my Spanish email-friend!

5. Driven over 3,100 miles seeing mountains, rivers, coast, large cities, small villages and many interesting things between.

6. Used 105 gallons (490 litres) of diesel which equates to approximately 30mpg

7. We have now seen a total of 153 species of birds in Spain, that we hope to add to over the coming years.

Finally, the day has dawned for our return ferry from Bilboa to Portsmouth, nearly 24 hours at sea leaving in mid afternoon gives us plenty of time to chill out, just hope the Bay of Biscay is smooth!

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Posted in Spain

26th Feb – 3rd March, Rain, Rain and more Rain

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We left Manfragüe National Park behind and headed out on a countryside ramble albeit on the luxury of Bessie’s upholstered seats. We passed many of the fields known as a ‘dehesa’, these are acres of grass with varying kinds of oaks, mainly Gall, Holm and Cork, which cover the fields and are studded approximately 40 feet apart from each other. These field are where the Iberian pigs are raised for making ‘Jamón but we also saw many cattle and sheep in these picturesque fields from yesteryear.

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Heading eventually for Plasencia, and having enjoyed fabulous weather since 8th January our luck finally ran out. It rained hard all night and with nothing to do nearby we decided to move on again, having the excitement of a supermarket shop enroute. Still raining hard the subsequent campsite was a huge disappointment, like a refugee camp was my exact description! There were 50 + caravans with various add-on bits of tatty tent and awnings, all abandoned for the winter, years of summer sun having faded and perished the fabric, puddles everywhere, the river rose alarmingly over night and so with great haste we left next morning.

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We never saw anything in Plasencia and high-tailed out of there 188 miles east, in yet more rain to Aranjuez, south of Madrid; the forecast was better and so was the campsite. With a four hour non stop drive under my belt I felt well satisfied and we went for a walk around the old town area of Aranjuez before descending on the campsite bar for a few sniffters before dinner, and before the rain caught up with us again!

We had to wait until 2.30 pm next day for the rain to stop, a well paced walk got us to the Royal Palace for the free 3pm opening and I even had a little blue sky for my photographs enroute!

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The Palace, buildings and gardens were declared a World Heritage Site in 2001. It is a ‘U’ shaped building with formal area/garden, shrubs and trees on the side that fronts the road. At the front of the Palace, two storey high side wings lead to the main middle section from a courtyard inside the gates, built over five archways making it three storeys high it certainly looks grand. No photography is allowed inside the Palace, there is CCTV and guards in each room, but I will try and give a brief overview. From the formal courtyard up steps and under the archways, the ground floor entrance rooms hold several horse carriages from different eras. The central area has a majestic staircase with a massive chandelier in the centre leading to the Palace rooms. There were so many different rooms, all brightly coloured and well lit, each finely furnished with interesting pieces including several beautiful bedroom sets decorated with inlaid patterns of different woods. Other pieces included two elegant pianos, display cabinets, colourful and delicate Chippendale chairs, some sets had 12 and 14 chairs, lovely long elegant curtains and colourful wallpaper, lots of geometric marble floors and also massive carpets.

One ‘stand-out’ room for me was the ‘Porcelain Room’ which was entirely different from any others. All the walls were backed by white porcelain, the surface of which was covered with highly coloured, elaborate porcelain Recoco decoration. Many scenes were depicted including Chinese figures, animals, vines, fruits, flower garlands, animals and birds. From top to bottom of the room, the fine decorative works are reflected back by eight full height mirrors complete with candle holders on each side, and a massive central porcelain chandelier with a central palm tree and a Chinese man with a monkey. It was very ostentatious and I don’t think I’d want to live with it.

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We purchased a book and these photos are taken from that.

Numerous enormous painting occupied much of the walls, but also huge tapestries which apparently helped insulate them. Large windows looked out over the various garden areas, mainly formal gravel areas holding plants and trees. In short, it was utterly fantastic, if you ever get the chance to visit, you can do so free on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons between 3-5pm or for €9 per adult at other times; it is well worth the entrance fee. Each visitor can choose to have an audio and visual commentary screen which is invaluable and gives added detail and close up views of furniture or decoration details. We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon in the Palace, but as we exited the building we found it was raining again.

Arriving in Burgos a day later we waited over night hoping it would be dry so we could walk two miles alongside the river to visit the famous cathedral. Awakening to some patchy blue skies, we hot-footed it into the city passing the Teatro Principal with a wonderful horse statue.

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A beautiful square called Plaza Major was surrounded by lovely colourful building and the Case Consistorial with its stone pillars supporting the impressive building above. The pillars we marked with the river flood levels from 1874 and 1930 which Chris stood by to give you an idea how deep it was.

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Later we admired the strange trees with looped and conjoined branches that formed circles and joined one tree to another. Streets were lined with these trees, now with the bare branches of winter they looking very sculptural, and I tried to imagine them in summer with leaves maybe looking like huge umbrellas.

 

 

 

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The day was by now quite dull with a breeze to chill to the marrow, time for a Danish pastry and cup of China tea with cardamom pods, a nice subtle spicy overtone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Burgos is a beautiful building made mainly of limestone, commenced in 1221 in the French Gothic style, with some works completed in the 15th and 16th centuries changing the spires and dome, and finally in the 18th century some modifications to the main entrance. The cathedral is mostly Gothic with some Renaissance and Baroque decorations, it is so ornate it looks a bit like a wedding cake with many intricate decorations on its spires and roofline and colourful windows. We had audio guides which told us so much about the various sections inside, doors, stained glass, religious paintings and of course all the carving, both in stone and wood. I must say it all started to blur in the end, so I just looked and took photos to remember it by.

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20180303_165112.jpgWe had audio guides which told us so much about the various sections inside, doors, ribbed and vaulted celings, stained glass, religious paintings and of course all the carving, both in stone and wood. I must say it all started to blur in the end, so I just looked and took photos to remember it by.

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It was freezing in the cathedral and the day had deteriorated outside too, a brisk walk to try and warm up had us looking in shop windows displaying all the wines, spirits and foods from the area.

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We were passing appetizing smells wafting out of the bars, after choosing one establishment we were soon enjoying a warm tapas and glass of red wine. Fortified and thawed out, we embarked on a self guided tour of the old city walls with the aid of display and description which I had taken photographs of to assist us on our way.

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We saw plenty of old wall, some arched gateways, a church, the Palacio Arozbispal and finally the Arco de San Estaban as the rain started again.

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By now I felt quite tired and we still had the long walk back to camp, thankfully the rain was intermittent and an added bonus we managed to catch a bus for a short section, it was warm and gave me a rest. It was a great and busy day and we had achieved what we came to Burgos for, it was warm inside Bessie, we finally had some TV in English and a bottle of wine, what more could we want.

 

 

Posted in Spain

18th – 25th February, Cáceres to Manfragüe National Park

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Heading still further north we had a drive around a few places, we took a walk by a dam where the low water line was clearly visible, then alongside high, rocky cliffs where griffin and back vultures soared on the thermals. The rocks had a wonderful lime green lichen growing on them which literally mace the rocks sparkle.

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Continuing through varied countryside we passed a wonderful sight of pink blossom in an almond groove, olive trees which had been trimmed for the next season and many varying shades of soil colour. The countryside is cultivated yet wild as the road signs warned us about passing Linx, again we never got to see any of them.

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We settled at Cáceres in a campsite for a bit of luxury, that is we had a dedicated wet-room for each pitch! The site was spacious with large pitches, chairs and a table for that essential evening drink whilst watching the azure winged magpies. The first night I heard a tawny owl calling which made a lovely change from barking dogs! Having driven for miles over 5 hours the day before, we dedicated this day to rest and relaxation, so the awning was rolled out and the side added at the back for a wind break, next the sun lounger were dusted down and that was it folks for the rest of the day. I might add that I had already done a huge pile of washing which dried easily in the February sun, cleaned Bessie inside and done her windows, so I’d earned a rest. Chris fired up the BBQ for lunch which was enjoyed with a bottle of the ‘’ole grape jus’, more lounging and a fabulous sunset to end the day.

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Riding on a bus into the old town next day we looked forward to exploring the narrow streets behind the city wall. Having visited the Information centre with a wooden model of Cáceres, we passed under the huge stone archway into the old town, we found a wonderful brick vaulted room under the tower, then climbed up so we looked out over the main square at the tiny figures below.

 

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We visited Santa Iglesia de Concatedral de Santa Maria (not a full cathedral, but consecrated in 1957, sharing the function of being a bishops seat with another cathedral), it has a beautiful natural cedar and pine wood, un-gilded altar piece which showed wonderful craftsmanship. There was a ribbed and vaulted ceiling with subtle decoration which I found most beautiful and at the opposite end of the nave was a huge organ with gilding work over the top.

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Climbing a long twisted, spiral stone stairway up the tower, I reminded myself why I had vowed never to do this again, however, too late I eventually arrived at the top. As I was looking around for a suitable photographic opportunity, one of the huge bells clanged most deafeningly, thankfully my expletives were drowned in the sound of the bells, which were hung on all four sides of the tower. As is usual in all the Spanish towns we have visited, there are numerous churches and cathedrals, many attractive buildings within the town and fine views from all the towers and walls. Lunch was enjoyed in the square, looking up at the tower with the bells and watching the white storks which occupy many tall buildings.

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After all the culture in the town, next day we escaped to the hills around the campsite for a bit of a wind-down, some nature and great views. Gaining height to the rocky outcrop we stood, breathlessly looking out over many square miles of countryside far below us and the Griffin and Black vultures circling above us.

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As we walked through the Holm Oaks and scrub bushes dotted between the rocks, many wild flowers could be seen, dwarf narcissus only 4 inches high, tiny purple flowers as big as my finger nail and about half an inch tall, a delicate creamy white early flowering broom and lots of lichens on the rocks.

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At the highest point we found interesting modern artwork painted on the rocks, impressions of an ancient people which looked so fitting in the landscape. Far away down the track was our destination, Cáceres town nestled below the hilltop.

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Moving ever northward on our route home, we visited Manfragüe National Park, home to much wildlife and birds. Temperatures are seriously deteriorating although the sun is nice and warm between 10.30 and 5pm. Our camping pitch overlooks a field of horses and the trees are full of beautiful azure winged magpies which are happy to come a feed very close when we put bread or cereals down for them. Waking up to frost outside was not ideal, however, it did have a beautiful benefit, a dripping tap caused water to splash out over the surrounding grass making these miniature crystal sculptures.

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By chance we had been told of the Bird Watching Fair which fitted in with our dates as we drove up Extremadura midway up western Spain. Free busses had been laid on by the Bird Fair and it picked up outside the campsite, so we went in the afternoon to book ourselves on a couple of free trips.

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Walking around in the beautiful and remote site during a lovely sunny afternoon was very relaxing as we watched the small crowds making their way around the telescopes, binoculars and camera lenses. The first trip was a bus ride around to see different areas within part of the vast National Park. We watched Griffin vultures circling, visited a large reservoir where there were black vultures, red deer and we also watched an otter catching fish and taking them back to the shore to eat. Further on we passed an area of rocks with areas of yellow and white making great reflections in the water below. There were many Griffin vultures on their nests high on the rocky gorges, hard to spot until you realised that the white areas were below each nest, it was in fact their poo squirted out over the rocks! After that we spotted many nests and lots of vultures, it was a good introduction to the area and the resident birds.

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After a relaxing night in near silence without hearing any barking dogs, we caught the bus again for the 15 minute journey and had a good look at the tourism tent collecting much information for future trips. The crowds were bigger being Saturday, many looking at the expensive telescopes which we only gave a few cursory glances to, then a photography competition where we spent more time looking at excellent images, all of birds from various countries in different styles. The following day we had booked a 4×4 trip and saw so much countryside and small farmsteads, a dry and dusty landscape desperate for rain, half empty reservoirs with water way below the vegetation line and pools with little water for the livestock, mainly cattle and sheep.

 

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Even the birds were scarce and we could only add golden plover to our list for Spain, now standing at 153 species over 12 months (actually 4.5 months in total that we have spent here). I spotted 6 Great Bustards, the same species that was reintroduced to Salisbury Plain, they were quite distant walking around near cattle feeding troughs and soon disappeared down a gully.

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On returning to the Fair we heard the sound of drums and noticed ‘huge birds’ coming over the ridge by the exhibition marquees, standing 12 feet tall in black, red, blue and white plumage and a massive dragonfly with orange and green eyes. Powered by people, all on stilts, they made their way slowly up hill and down over the grass to the main area of activity, attracting crowds all busy with cameras and mobile phones getting photographs. It was a lovely end to the Bird Fair before being transported back to the campsite.

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Posted in Spain

12th – 17th February, Birds, Caves and Forts

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From the south coast at Conil we wanted to go to Doñana National Park a short hop of 60 miles, however there are no direct roads as its a massive wetland and I had to drive nearly to Seville and down the other side to El Ricío a distance of approximately 150 miles. Miles of beautiful countryside to look at as we passed by, dark ominous clouds yielded a fine drizzle just enough to wash the windscreen and then it was gone. Sun out again showing up the brilliant yellow of the Burmuda buttercups that are on any patch of wasteland and also under a lot of olive groves.

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Walking into the town of El Ricío it was quite different, like a TV set for a western with sand roads, verandas on the houses at the front, wooden rails everywhere for tying up horses and picturesque but empty looking buildings. The town is the centre for the largest pilgrimage in Spain with many pilgrims making their way by horse or horse drawn carriage and of course some in modern vehicles. Dating back to the 13th Century after a few ‘miracles’ happened in the town and nearby at Almonte in 1653, a shrine was built and regular religious days were held. From that beginning there are now 95 Brotherhoods or Hermandades who come from all over Spain to gather together in the annual celebration.

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A considerable amount of this town is made up of empty buildings with the fronts having tiled shrines and religious pictures to represent the brotherhood, having the name of the town or city name above the door. These are where the people stay for maybe a week out of a whole year, they maintain the buildings and have them cleaned but most of the year the area is a ghost town. The colourful festivities go on for 3 days and ends up with a statue of the Virgen del Ricío being carried through the streets and back to her shrine in the beautiful white Hermitage, accompanied by music, dancing and fireworks.

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In complete contrast to all this, we had come here to experience Doñana National Park and we walked alongside the large lake that is situated on the edge of El Ricío, complete with many flamingos and spoonbills, glossy ibis, various ducks, black tailed godwits, coots and some snipe.

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Further along we took to a woodland setting on a boardwalk between tall pine trees casting a pool of shadow on the grass beneath. Native bushes, cork oak and gorse were further out away from the tree cover and we watched white storks circling on thermals and others on their large nests of messy twigs situated on top of pylons. The birds ‘clack’ their beaks together rapidly when their mate arrives at the nest to reaffirm bonding, this can be heard all over the reserve.

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After walking around all the natural habitats we could find we had lunch over looking the lake. Apart from the birdlife which we obviously enjoy, the highlight of was when two ladies in Spanish flamenco style dresses came riding side saddle up to the bar for drinks. Now you don’t get that in many places!

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Joining a group of people on an enormous green bus, high up on all terrain tyres, we set off deep into the Park. Travelling along slowly, binoculars in hand, our guide told us about what we were seeing, speaking both in Spanish and good English; she had worked at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire five years earlier for a whole year. We learned that the Iberian Linx had been seen the day before and everyone was hopeful for our trip. They feed mainly on rabbit which have been decimated by disease, efforts are being made using old tree stumps to give protected areas for the rabbits to encourage breeding and therefore food supply. We passed by areas of water with herons, ibis, black tailed godwits and more ducks, saw lots of buzzards sitting on fence posts, a large herd of red deer but sadly no Linx.

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Moving on next day via smaller roads on a scenic route through the hills it was beautiful and relaxing. Our picnic spot enroute was overlooking a valley with an amber coloured river far below, it had picnic tables set out below the pine trees with low bushes and purple heather.

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Arriving in Aracena we found a free area to park in the town looking over the rooftops to the remains of a castle. It is a pretty little town with a wide main street with church in the centre, lots of shops selling Jamon, for which this area is famous and bars along one side. With lots to see and do here we bought a combined ticket to visit the Caves, the Jamón Museum and the Castle for just €12 per adult.

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The caves are called Gruta de las Maravillas which means cave of wonders and have been open to the public since 1914. They are situated 50 meters under the hill that the castle sits on top of, consisting of limestone which has been eroded by carbonic acid over thousands of years into spectacular formations. The tours last 45 minutes and the caves are spread over three levels with a lovely warm temperature between 16° – 19°C all year and a humidity of 98%. There is water running through some of the caves which supplied the town until the end of the last century, beautiful pools with reflections and ripples as drops run off the rocks. We had a very good audio guide in English to tell us about everything we were seeing, it was well worth the money to see it.

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The Museo del Jamón a really interesting place to find out how the local delicacy that we love so much is produced. The Iberican pig is a traditional breed but also other pigs of the area are also used, they are reared slowly outside and in autumn and winter they eat acorns from the three types of oak trees of the area. These and the herbs during natural foraging give the meat its lovely flavour. Curing takes months and/or years as some producers age the product to deepen the flavours.

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Lastly we visited the castle ruins, well we walked up to and around the outside as there was no one around to let us in. As it was a ruin we could guess there would be broken down walls, arrow slots, and may be a collapsed tower, anyway, the views from up on the hill were wonderful. The Castle Priory is Gothic and Mudejar and was built in the 13th century and 15th century. It has three asiles of the same height and a vaulted ceiling wi5h an elaborate and detailed altar piece.

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Entrance gate to Castle area

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We are gradually moving north up through Extremadura and stopped off at Badajoz with another great free parking overlooking the bridge and park. Walking through the remnants of the fort end of the bridge we read how it used to protect the city from any Portuguese attack, now long out of commission it is just a few walls before walking across to the city itself. Views of the city park spread below us, many facilities from jogging tracks, outdoor gym, dog park, children’s play area and refreshment booths, it was a lovely relaxing facility with a long walk alongside the river.

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We had spotted a hill top tower or two and walls so we went to investigate what turned out to be the Citadel, which was a stronghold for the Moors for four centuries. We walked the old city walls with various towers in between, climbing the steps for magnificent views over the surrounding city, bridges and river. Ancient archology had been unearthed and in the museum amount lots of artefacts were a couple of lovely mosaics.

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Looking down from the walls we spotted Plaza Alta which is a very colourful and distinctive former market square, the red and white section is mainly privately owned and looked very photogenic, while bars and restaurants reside at the other end.

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There were many beautiful buildings including the City Hall, built in Neoclassical style with its distinct yellow and white colouring, the Edificio la Giralda with its red and white exterior and the lovely white Convento de las Adoratrices, among many more interesting places to see.

 

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The view from Bessie on returning from our day out was a most spectacular, the old pedestrian bridge in front of us was lit up and there were beautiful reflections on the water.

 

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Posted in Spain

7th – 11th February, Jerez & Cadiz

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After the hustle and bustle of Gibraltar, we headed out in a westerly direction quickly leaving all the built up areas behind and were soon seeing more changes in the landscape. The hills were more undulating and everything was so much greener, we even started to see cattle and sheep which we never saw in eastern Spain. Stretching into the distance the far distant hill looked blue above the fields, now occasionally we saw beautiful brown cattle and small herds of long legged sheep. The Autovia is seldom busy so I have plenty of time to gaze about, the fluffy clouds looked beautiful in the sunshine, we pass weird road signs and at one point, had to stop on a slip road leaving the Autovia for road works. It would never happen in the UK where the traffic backs up onto our motorway while a workman sits on the barriers, no Health & Safety or road cones here, eventually I drove over the rubble and carried on.

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Travelling west for 75 miles (120 km) we got to Conil de la Frontera, a well appointed site with large sunny pitches, just a short walk away was miles of wide sandy beaches and the town centre. Pre-dinner drinks were enjoyed with Trudy and David who we had met on a previous site, lots of chatting, swapping notes, hints and tips and a good laugh together, and then Chris and I enjoyed the Quiz Night in the bar and his team came 3rd with a small money prize too!

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Using a hire car we visited Jarez about an hour away to see the Foundation of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and the beautiful horses. Entering through the main gates of the Recreo de Las Cadenas Palace, the semi circle entrance has a gatehouse at either side decorated with chains which give the Palace its name, Palace of the Chains. Beautiful gardens with a high fountain, exotic plants and trees stretches up to the front of the Palace.

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To the left is the Picadero (indoor arena) built in traditional Andalusian style with the deep yellow colours of the area combined with white similar to the regional houses. Outside are the stables looking out over the exercise with training rings and in one corner is a ‘horse walker’. This is a large circular area with a central pole holding five large gates, surrounded by fencing. Horses are exercised, five at a time with one between each gate, the centre rotates mechanically, keeping the horses walking, changing direction after 5 minutes or so.

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The Picadero can seat 1,600 spectators and it was here we watched the white stallions perform their equestrian ballet to classical Spanish music with the riders in 18th century costumes of grey, black and white. A single horse entered first and the rider demonstrated many skills based on cattle herding including pirouettes, changes of rhythm from standing to a gallop in seconds. We also saw very complex movements based on classical dressage where 10 horses and riders showed their skills, control and hours of training while they criss-crossed the arena, weaving in between each other and constantly changing direction. Horses also showed how they could obey commands when being worked ‘in-hand’ with various movements including, trotting on the spot, rearing on command and huge leaps into the air. Carriage driving was also demonstrated with two teams of four horses harnessed to carriages performing twists and tight turns together. It was very good watching the highly trained horses and riders, I just wish we had been allowed to take photographs but sadly not. I did get a few outside the arena before it started while they were training and afterwards while they cooled the carriage horses down.

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After watching the horses, we looked at the harness rooms where there were displays of harness and tools used for making it, craftsmen were there to demonstrate their skills.

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A few rooms were open at the palace which was designed by the architect Charles Garnier, he also designed the Paris Opera House. The entrance hall had a smart black and white tiled floor and curved marble staircase with ornate wrought iron work balustrade, there were only three rooms being displayed, with high and very detailed painted ceilings, decorative doors and mouldings and fine chandeliers.

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Walking through the streets later on, we located Jarez Cathedral up two flights of steps with bricks set in a herringbone pattern. The front was beautifully symmetrical in appearance with two towers positioned close together, the central large main door edged with elaborate carving each side had a four sectioned window edged in blue above. Two round windows on either side above additional doors had stone arches above at roof height with turrets on top of the towers.

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Inside was beautiful with lovely feature architecture in the nave and transepts, the feature stonework being slightly darker than the mortar between creating an unusuail and pleasing subtle tone throughout the cathedral. The nave had a lovely circular dome letting in light and there were elaborate columns with much carving and detail beneath, high arches supporting the vaulted ceiling led to the main altar with decorative stained glass window above.

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We took a coach trip to Cadiz to see the costumes of people dressing up for the Carnival and experience the buzz of excitement surrounding it. Thousands of people came from a huge area, it was so colourful with whole families and groups enjoying themselves with music and picnics or meals in the bars. Situated next to the sea enabled us to walk along the sea wall where loads of people were soaking up the sun and having a break from the clouds, it was quite picturesque with the sea sparkling below a and the beaches in the distance. We never got to see the main parade but still enjoyed our experience.

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Walking back to the coach park, we could admire the long elegant bridge called La Pepa Bridge crosses the Bay of Cadiz from Cadiz to Puerto Real. It has two vertical pylons 180 meters tall and the road is 69 meters from the surface of the water, it carries 40,000 vehicles per day over a distance of 5 km. As the darkness began to fall, so the colours of the sky and waters changed, and lights appearing on the bridge added the finishing touches to a lovely day.

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Posted in Spain

2nd – 6th February, West towards Gibraltar

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Leaving all we have experienced behind us, we moved into unknown territory as we travelled west using the Autovia to quickly skirt Malaga and Marbella. As we travelled west the countryside began to change, the hills became less craggy and more undulating like a carpet of cloth dropped into gentle folds. Colours also changed, no doubt benefiting from more rain; green made much more of an impact with grass becoming more apparent and even a few fields appeared on the slopes of the hills. There were few olive trees around now, more mixed woodland in small groups, gorse and a rough scrub of bushes on the poor and stony soils.

Mandie and Mal, our friends from Salisbury, moved to La Duquesa nearly two years ago and we had arranged to meet up with each other. A wonderful free parking area (on Park4Night.com), close to the sea wall and beach made an excellent camping stop for a couple of nights. We could wake up to watch the skies changing colour and the yellow legged gulls, sandwich terns and a lonely grey plover walking of over the rocks in front of us.

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Making our way along the promenade to a small marina we sipped a cooling beer in the sunshine and shelter of a bar while watching the ‘boats-a-bobbing’ on the water.

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Later that evening our time was taken with a good gossip, catching up with each other’s lives over a drink or two, before moving to a bar with music, more drinks and dancing ‘til late, and a good time was had by all. After lunch next day and hearing more about life in Spain, it was time for goodbyes, but we’ll return again in the future.

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Gibraltar was only a short drive away and we could stop overnight on a marina with many other motorhomes for just €12 a night, and waking up to lovely views of numerous yachts.

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Gibraltar is home to 30,000 people, its 426 meters high at the highest point and is only 2.5 square miles in area mainly made up of limestone. We took a taxi minibus trip up ‘the rock’ to see the views, the apes, the spectacular cave and an interesting tunnel museum.

20180206_094816.jpgThe day was clear, blue skies with fluffy white clouds making it ideal to see the panoramic views of the Spanish coastline and the mountains of Morocco only 24 kilometers away. From higher up with clear views of the airport runway that we had crossed to get ‘onto the rock’, we saw one old plane, some sports grounds and a large graveyard – the airport noise won’t disturb them!

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Panoramic photo from high up so the runway appears curved which of course it isn’t!

Further up we stopped at the Pillar of Hercules, this is the name given to the promontories between Spain and Morocco. In the north is the Rock of Gibraltar and in the south there is Calpe Mons, there is a sculpture that has been built with two pillars with a world map between them. It was incredibly windy with such great views, but a really ‘bad hair day’.

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Being driven higher up a single width, rough tarmac road, the views get even better and the steep sides are becoming more and more nerve wracking. I can hardly bear it when our driver stops to point something out, I’m holding on and leaning in towards the rock edges as if it makes me any safer!
Thankfully we reached the next point to get out and walked into the most stunning caves I have ever seen, even better than the last ones in Nerja. The spectacular St Michael’s Cave, which is in fact a series of many linked caves, was in Victorian times used for recreation with concerts, picnics and parties taking place. Archaeology experts found evidence of human activity from historic times including axes, arrow heads and pottery. It was also prepared for use as a hospital in World War II but it was never used for this purpose. The caves are so high and there were numerous intricate formations with so much detail that they looked like they had been carved. Soft music and a light show made a real spectacle of the massive shapes and cast shadows too making the details all the more fascinating. These photos do not do it justice, but I cannot load my video which shows it in more a more subtle way.

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Progressing still higher up the super scary road, along a ridge with huge drops either side, I couldn’t believe it when the driver switched off the engine, thankfully he left the vehicle in gear – I was desperate to get out.  Of course people come to this great rock to see the Barbary Apes that live here in five separate troops. They have no fear of people who photograph them every day, however, you are advised not to carry any food. We saw one man have his sunglasses snatched, but being inedible, they were soon retrieved.

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Our last port of call was the Great Seige Tunnels which are located high up inside the ‘Rock’.  Passages we dug by hand out of the limestone using no more than long iron chisels, which were struck and rotated after each blow causing the chisel to break into and follow the natural strata of the rock. The tunnels are as solid and secure as when they were constructed 200 years ago. Such hot and dusty work nearly made the men suffocated so tunnels were made to the outside walls to let fresh air in. They soon realised that these holes made excellent positions for canons to fire on the enemy and rope screens were hung in front of the canon to stop dust and debris coming back in again.

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Descending to ground level and back on our feet we had a quick look around the town itself, saw a nice church perched on the edge of a road, British telephone and post boxes and loads of duty free goods.

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Not interested in shopping we treated ourselves to a Morrocan chicken tagine with a glass of wine in a pub full of interesting historic items. Returning to Bessie for the night it was very strange to have to walk across the airport runway without an official in sight. There was a beautiful sunset at the end of a lovely, but cold and windy day. We really had a good day on Gibralter and saw some amazing sights.

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