Posted in Spain

4th – 8th March, Haro and the Bodegas


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.


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



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.


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.


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.




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.


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.


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!


Posted in Spain

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


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.



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.



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!



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.

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.


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.




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.






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.



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.




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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



Posted in Spain

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


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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!


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.


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.



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.


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.



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.


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.


Entrance gate to Castle area


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.



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.




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.


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.




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.




Posted in Spain

7th – 11th February, Jerez & Cadiz


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


Posted in Spain

2nd – 6th February, West towards Gibraltar


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, 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.


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.


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.


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.


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!

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’.



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.


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.




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.


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.


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.



Posted in Spain

25th Jan -1st February, Onward to Nerja

Stopping for a few days at a very pretty and green oasis in Castillo de Baños, we enjoyed the homely and atmosphere of this beachside location. Some trees in leaf, some bare letting the sun in, flowers around the pitches and good facilities. It was incredibly windy and the sea thundered onto the rocks below the site. It was possible to have a pitch looking straight out to sea but the strong winds would have pummelled into Bessie and I wouldn’t have had a wink of sleep. We had a more sheltered location a few yards back and enjoyed quieter nights although we could hear the sea crashing every night. We walked in each direction, the village had a promenade, a little white chuch overlooking the sea, had free tapas in various bars and consequently needed no evening meal on two occasions! There were some beautiful sunsets over the hills behind and the dramatic clouds enhanced them considerably.


Moving on and after an uneventful drive across the south coast of Spain, we tried to avoid continually commenting about the ‘endless plastic landscape’ that are the greenhouses producing our cheap food.  How wonderful it was to arrive back in Nerja, this is a pretty coastal town with the Balcon de Europa jutting out towards the Mediterranean giving wide views of the beaches and mountains behind. The winds were very strong and the palm-lined Balcon was taking a battering, a few hardly souls struggled into the wind to take photos and dashed back to the relative shelter between the buildings. There are now resident Monk Parakeets in the palm trees and they can easily be heard and seen while rearranging their nesting material or occasionally flying around.


Took Bessie up to Frigiliana for a morning, the ‘picture postcard’ village is high up in the hills, and as it is winter there was plenty of space to turn and park alongside the lower road. Unfortunately the sky was grey, not cold but not good for taking photographs, too much white sky!


The village is full of cobbled streets, very narrow and with many steps so our legs got a good workout. We watched two mules carrying building materials, (crossbred horse and donkey), they are the only way of transporting things around these streets as they are strong, fit between the buildings and crucially can climb steps!


Shop owners spill their goods out into the street, in corners and along railings making it a colourful and interesting place to wonder around, which we did for a few hours. Many restaurants and bars all have terraces overlooking the tremendous views over the rooftops of the rest of the village, down the valley all the way to the sea in the distance. Frigiliana really is a perfect example of a ‘pueblo blanco or white village.




On a beautiful sunny day we enjoyed an hour long walk started on Burriana beach, up steep steps at the eastern end, followed the track and then continued past the Capistrano Urbanization and uphill to the road. We turned right and followed the directions up to the Caves of Nerja noting the abandoned brick building of the sugar mill, peering into the greenhouses at cucumbers and tomatoes, passing a field of huge cauliflowers, and others with potatoes and broad beans. The caves were found by a local group of friends who discovered them in 1959 when they went through a narrow opening. During the exploration of the caves human skeletons were found as some places in the within the caves were used as burial chambers. One of the skeletons plus other artifacts are on display at the Nerja Museum. The caverns were inhabited until the Bronze Age and occupied seasonally by both humans and cave hyenas, many animal and fish bones, seeds, nuts and snails were found together with primitive tools. Cave paintings in a part of the cave not on show to the general public show farming was taking place at the time of occupation.

There are two main caverns to be seen and the temperature inside the cave system is a steady 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) and dry, quite unlike the caves I have been inside in the UK which are cold wet places, this made our time inside a pleasant and unhurried experience. We were accompanied by a guide but in addition each person had an audio device and as we arrived at various formations, our he activated the relevant section of information. The formations inside were so numerous, huge curtains with many folds draped from the roof, stalactites and stalagmites were everywhere with many that had joined to form columns. The main cavern is called The Hall of Cataclysm and is 100 meters long with a colossal central, multi facetted formation over 32 meters high and 13 x 7 meters at the base, the largest in the world. Earthquakes many thousands of years ago destroyed some of the formations which lie haphazardly broken on the floor, and such is the time scale that has passed by, new stalagmites have been formed again.


We walked back downhill visiting the village of Maro for lunch at a bar overlooking the hillside to the sea. This small village has an attractive white church, bouganvilla covered pergola on its balcon, small bars and restaurants and quiet streets to wonder around.



20180202_214622.jpgBack on our free, seafront location next morning, from the comfort of our sofa we could watch the sunrise, it was quite beautiful as it rose right between the palm trees.


Our time in beautiful Nerja was enhanced by meeting up with Malcolm on a couple of occasions, sadly not seeing Jacqui who was busy with family back in England. We tried a couple of different tapas bars on our last night with Nick and Steph also joining us, a happy little band of five Brits chatting and laughing together for a few hours, eating our way through several delicious tapas and drinking the local vino and cerveza, and very good they are too!



Posted in Spain

16th – 24th January, Almansa Area and Águilas

From our campsite in Bolnuevo near Puerto de Mazarron we had hired the car for a whole week and travelled far and wide. On one trip this amounted to around 130 miles round trip! We went nearly as far north as Santa Pola, but miles inland at a place called Blanca where we met up with Jess and Martin again, having last seen them in December. The countryside on the journey was varied, the fields of silver leaved artichokes and dark green broccoli plants, some early flowering fruit trees brightened the stony, pale soils and rocks. Mountains appeared misty with the distance and the Autovia stretched away in front like a long grey snake. Meeting up together and after a welcome coffee and tortilla, with their local knowledge, we set off their car to explore the Castile-La Mancha area in the Murcia region. It was a further hour north; a triangle around Yecla, Almansa, having lunch at Corral-Rubio and then on to Petrola before heading back to Blanca to go our separate ways again. (For location purposes this area is inland on the same latitudes as Denia and Benidorm).



We all like bird watching and were on the lookout for some special birds they wanted to show us. We travelled miles around this location, some on small roads and also off road on tracks where we saw a group of 33 Great Bustards feeding on farmland and blending into the landscape. The males are big birds at around 35-40 inches long from beak to tail, with a wing span of over 7 feet and weighing between 17-35 lbs, they are they are recognised as the heaviest flying bird. We were lucky to see 7 of these huge birds flying to join the others, and in so doing we noticed they were with 33 common cranes, all feeding together in damp, rough scrubland, what a great start.

Image from Google:  Great Bustard

The most beautiful and scarce bird was a Pin-tailed Sandgrouse which Martin spotted as we were driving along, although I don’t know how! They really are there in the photo, those dark dots on the field!


We were lucky as all 13 birds were males having bright markings that look ‘painted’ in their intricacy. With terracotta coloured breast patch edged in black, a white belly, the wings are golden green with narrow black markings and the eyes have a line behind looking just like eye-liner! It was a fabulous day enabling us to see some of the real Spanish countryside, small farms, acres of vines and almond trees with small bits of blossom already visible. We had lunch in an authentic Spanish restaurant and managed to add 10 new birds to our Spanish list, including 7 new species for us, thanks to our wonderful guides!

Image from Google:  Pin-tailed Sandgrouse

Another trip out was to Mar Menor about an hour away, stopping off at Calbranque for a walk on the dunes, it was sunny and warm and we saw some hardy, short stemmed plants already flowering. The beach was almost deserted with the hillside and rocks coming right down to fine clean sand and the sea sparkled in the sun with a light breeze to ruffle the wave tops.


The Mar Menor itself was disappointing being nothing but a built up strip of high rise hotels and restaurants with many motorhomes on free parking sites among the buildings, and it was not what we wanted. There were a few salinas on the approach which had a few spoonbills, egrets and gulls but we soon bid a hasty retreat. Closer to camp we had some fun with a bit of off-roading in the Renault Modus and spent a happy few hours bimbling around on tracks between the fields of vegetables, darting around any damp looking patches on the single width tracks to avoid getting stuck. We were lucky to spot a wonderful Iberian Grey Strike and several Red Legged Partridges as well as Jackdaws and Tree Sparrows.
Our final day with the car enabled us to go to Águilas with Gilly and Alan who made excellent personal guides having been there many years before. The harbour glittered in the sun with many boats bobbing on the water and gulls wheeling overhead. A typical Spanish windmill complete with 8 small net sails graced the skyline above the old town houses. When we reached its lofty position we had tremendous views over the harbour, through the crystal clear water you could see the areas of seaweed or rocks under the surface in the bay beyond.



We walked the length of the largely deserted beach with its palm trees and fine sand, cleaned and harrowed by tractors to keep looking its best, and a promenade alongside stretched into the distance. Looking at the old houses, many bought and tastefully renovated, some were empty shells and then there were more modern blocks all with views over the beach.  Visiting a small church the inside was cool and calm with many statues and fine paintings, but for us it was the entrance door that really stood out, with a huge panel of stained glass, from inside looking towards it with the sunshine behind it was a real work of art.

Stained glass window small

Around the town radiating out from tree shaded plazas were beautifully painted steps, all different designs and painted to be viewed from the bottom up. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to get the perspective right without having to run up and down to check if the progress and alignment looks correct, the effects were amazing and so colourful.



This is a set of stairs, see the lady in pink half way up?

At the far end of the Águilas town is a high metal pier sticking out to sea, topped by a railway that once served the mineral mines. It carried the iron ore from the mines to the coast where it could be shipped to various destinations, other goods such as marble and esparto grass used in rope making and many passengers also used this busy port. Close to the harbour is an old locomotive built in Glasgow in 1889 which was assembled by the British Rail Company and was in service from 1890 to 1967, it now stands as a monument to the past.


Also at this end of the town there is the lifetime’s work of Juan Martinez Causco, starting in 1985 he made beautiful mosaics from pieces of coloured china and pottery. There is a beautifully curved stairway leading up past a bar restaurant all decorated in a multitude of colours, passing on up more steps with obelisks and benches. At the top of a wearying climb uphill we found the gardens which held some of his last works, sadly looking a bit neglected at present. There was some fine work here including a memorial to the artist who died around 2001. What a wonderful legacy to leave behind in his town.


Memorial to Juan Martinez Causco

After returning the car and we relaxed for a few days on the beach, some hardy people actually swimming but I preferred my lounger. Also walking along the rocky paths and up into the hills, listening to the birds and found several abandoned bees nests in low, long dead vegetation. There was a section of sandstone solitary or mining bees were excavating nest holes in, much activity and the noise drew my attention so we watched for a while. Further along the coast there was much more of the honey coloured sandstone, sculpted by the elements and rough to the touch, however easy to crumble the top layer with your fingers.20180126_180156.jpg


After a fortnight in one campsite it was time to move on, but first Chris made a wonderful paella for us which we ate outside alfresco in January! Such a good time here with plenty to see and do, so many interesting things to occupy us.






Posted in Spain

8th – 15th January, Picking up where we left off ….



Happy New Year everyone!  Time to get going again …

After a wonderful Christmas break for a month back in England, it was now time to fly out to Alicante to collect Bessie from her secure storage.  Having been well looked after and locked up inside, hooked up to electricity for the whole time, and having had a wash and brush up, she looked ready to go and so were we.  If anyone is looking for store a vehicle and here is the website:  (  Stocking up the fridge again at a large Mercadona supermarket enroute to Santa Pola, we were soon back on the pitch opposite the one we left in December!

It was certainly warmer than England, not hot, but very pleasant and no need for a coat by lunchtime for a stroll down the promenade to the beach. As it was Tuesday, Chris just had to have some pinchos again, effectively tapas on a stick for just 99 cents and beer at 99 cents, the best offer on Tuesdays! This time we were more sensible and shared each one, and our bill was half as big at the end.  We didn’t do much really except relax, walk, admire the boats in the harbour and watch the fishing boats coming in with their catch to be unloaded and sold off.


We climbed high above the town another day to look at the The Escaletes Watch Tower. It was built to monitor the shipping, especially any boat that might hide nearby the island of New Tabarca, then signals would be sent to warn the island of possible enemies close by.


After four days we moved south to Bolnuevo on the coast near Mazarron.  We met Gilly and Alan at Santa Pola in November and they were already at Bolnuevo with their Bessacarr so we would be able to meet up again. It is very friendly here and only a short walk onto the beach, at this time of year there are few people on it which is lovely. Bolnuevo itself has some restaurants and a few useful shops, and in the other direction is the Puerta de Mazarron with its harbour and larger commercial centre.


A walk along the beach lead us to some fantastic natural sand sculptures, shaped by water and wind over thousands of years.  The shapes of the individual columns were all different and the main rock face was heavily sculpted which showed up well with the shadows giving emphasis to the shapes.  They really are spectacular and on the day we saw them, the sun was bright and the rocks literally glowed against the bright blue sky.








There was a wonderful sunset that evening that I just wanted to share with you.


We decided to stay here for a couple of weeks to be in one place for a change, a new thing for us! In light of this we put up our awning, so we now have extra space outside for chairs and table if we want to eat outside.  As we are now ‘shackled’ to the pitch, we hired a car for a week so that we could explore a little further afield.

With the freedom the car allowed, we were soon out on the road, up into the Sierra Espuña, a vast area of wild countryside and mountains only 35 miles from the coast. It was beautiful and the roads mainly deserted, the scenery was varied with fields of lettice, young brocolli and artichokes, almond groves with their trunks nearly black against the earth, pine trees, rocks and small tracks disappearing into the sparse vegetation.


We passed a beautiful almond tree on the side of the road, already in full flower, the scent was sweet and the buzzing of the bees made me think of summer.


Making our way to Aledo high in the hills, we arrived in the remote village and found a pretty church in a small square at the top of the hill which glowed in the sun. The land around spread out in all directions and we could see what a huge food growing area it is with greenhouses and netted tents covering the fruit trees.


There was a tower standing on the highest point of the village, it is 22.5 meters high and originally had wall surrounding it to make a strong fortress. Dating from the Middle Ages it was constructed with a type of cement made from mud, stones, wood and mortar left to set between wood boards.


The tower stands on top of the fossilized remains of a coral reef that is preserved at the base of the tower. It all the more amazing when you look out over the views and realise that it was all under a deep sea many millions of years ago.


As we went higher we saw a mountain that had snow on its slopes which looked amazing in the sunshine with the pine trees contrasting against the bare slopes.



I had been so engrosed with the fabulous scenery the time had moved on without us noticing. It was a long, long drive back on hilly terrain for many miles before we got to the Autovia, now we could zip along at a better speed but we still arrived in the dark at 7.30pm. A cool refreshing glass of vino blanco was just what I needed to relax.

Posted in England, Spain

2017 – End of Year Roundup


The year of 2017 started our ‘living in retirement’, we have certainly been extremely busy, seen new parts of the UK and been lucky enough to travel extensively in Spain.

Della the Dellaware

We enjoyed having Della the Autotrail Dellaware for 7 months touring over 2,100 miles around Spain’s south and east coast in February and March, followed by Devon in May.  Being a bit on the large size at 8 meters long and 4.25 tons, it could be difficult for me to position her onto some pitches and so inspite of her luxurious facilites and fixed island bed in the rear, we decided it was time to say goodbye to Della.


Bessie the Bessacarr

Coming home via Wellington in Somerset we found a very suitable motorhome. Bessie the Bessacarr is only 7 meters long and 3.5 tons! She is so much easier to drive and maneouver and we definitely made the better choice second time around.  She also has a full kitchen, luxurious and spacious end shower room and two long sofas for day time, which then convert to a large double bed or two single beds, thereby more choice should we ever need it.

During 2017 we have done a lot of touring in the UK including stays in Shropshire, Staffordshire, Gloucestershire, Devon, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, Yorkshire and Derbyshire  We were lucky to spend the four coldest months this year on the east and south coasts of Spain, venturing inland to the mountains and plains for variety and interest.

In total I have driven 6,180 miles and we stayed at numerous campsites, several Aires including some free nights too, wracking up a total of 147 nights on tour.  We have met some lovely people as we travelled around and stayed in touch with a good many of them.

I hope you have enjoyed following our adventures and finding out where we have been.  It has been a momentous first year doing and seeing new things, which we hope to add to as we head back to Alicante to collect Bessie from storage on 8th January, continuing a route around Spain leading us back home by early March.

L&C Nov 2017