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Archive : February

Winter Sun Pt 7 – Week 3 at Castillo de Banos

As Paul is working every day throughout the week, they tend to be pretty mundane affairs for me. So a quick run through of the week looks like this:

Monday – attended coffee morning and the weekly Brits €11 dinner. Both are a nice opportunity to meet new people and chat. Our dinner partners this week were a couple from the Lake District. Much of the chat was on making economies and saving the cents while we are away in the sun.

Tuesday – I went on an organised trip to Motril, where we were dropped at the big Al Campo hypermarket. I had a proper look round – normally it’s a flying visit because of the boys. And then I sat in the sun and had several cups of delicious coffee and read.

On Wednesday it’s craft morning and that day I learned to make a string bag. A useful skill in these days of shunning the plastic. Although the fact is, my string bag is actually made of nylon and will definitely outlast me! I shall have to bequeath it to some deserving soul. It will be re-used time and again for my fruit and veg at the supermarket.

After lunch, a beach clean was scheduled and I thoroughly enjoyed scrabbling around in my Marigolds, finding all the man-made rubbish that had been washed up. It was mainly polystyrene – apparently a by-product of the fishing industry. There were smoothed chunks – like pebbles – of the extruded foam that is used for insulation, a fair few placcy bottles (or parts thereof) and a large number of fag butts. We worked for just over an hour and gathered 6 of those large gardening bin-liners full of rubbish. And of course, each time I walk on the beach now, I can see that it’s definitely cleaner, but I still spot and retrieve any little bits we missed. Afterwards there was tea and buns and another opportunity to chat. It’s a hard life!

The beach clean-up team in action

And then, in the evening, it was quiz night. We had arranged to partner John & Christine from Wigan again and it was another really good quiz. And reader – we won!!! We were jolly chuffed!

Thursday brought washing and cleaning mainly and Friday was a bit of a washout. No – not rain, but quite gray and a chilly breeze off the sea. Not at all what we are used to! I spent some of the time finalising our homeward route, which can be seen below. The purple pins show the return leg.

But the one good thing about grey Friday? It ushered in the weekend and two whole days in which to do whatever we pleased!

Sat 22nd

We had a relaxed start to the day and eventually toddled off towards Motril to buy some cheap diesel. It works out at 95p per litre – why in EARTH do we willingly pay so much more in the UK?

As it was a designated exploration kind of a day, we went to have a look at “Motril the resort”, rather than “Motril the ferry port” or, indeed, “Motril the place to buy cheap fuel and victuals”. It was much like a resort, really?

Our nominal destination was the resort of Nerja. We had elected to take the coastal road, rather than the more zippy Autovía. It was a good decision.

We called in on Salobreña – with its imposing castle, high on a rock. The site was originally built on by the Phoenicians and later by the Moors – around the same time as the famous Alhambra in Granada.

Castillo de Salobreña

Our next stop was in the resort of Almuñecar, where we took the boys for a walk on the beach followed by coffee on the prom. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to see a child’s birthday party being held on the beach. Complete with piñata.

Almuñecar Beach
Castillo de Almuñecar
The party

We finally arrived in Nerja by about 3pm and our first priority was lunch. We seem to have slipped into Spanish time since we have been here. They tend to have their lunch between 2-4 pm.

We chose a “paella mixto” to share. It took about 40 minutes to arrive. We were glad because it was an indication of authenticity. It was both massive and entirely delicious, containing seafood ( mussels, squid, clams, prawns) and chicken and pork. It beat us to be frank. But we enjoyed every last mouthful. Including the peppers. Yes. I know. Peppers.

Our paella

We had parked on a large parking lot and, just as we were leaving, we spotted our Monday night dinner companions from the Lakes. Doing a spot of “wild camping” (for which read free) in a dusty parking lot with views of nothing but the backs of buildings for a whole week. We mused that it seemed mildly odd to have travelled all this way from the beauty of the Lakes to hang out in the arse end of town in a car park, just because it was free. I totally get wild camping but not this kind. It’s not for me but we are all different.

After lunch we drove up to the famous little mountainside town of Frigiliana – ummagahd! I have to say that its location is incredibly beautiful. Indeed the mountains all along the coast make your heart soar with their beauty. I’m a sucker for a mountain view. We took the longer route (of course we did!) back down the mountain, via Torrox. And then we hit the Autovia and sped back to Motril – groceries and pet shop, before returning home to relax after another lovely day. And, by the way, the Autovia is a pretty spiffing road, too.

A Frigiliana street
“My house” in Frigiliana

Sunday 23rd

A lazy day today. For me anyway! Paul got up and walked the furry ones. We had been told about a walk up and over the big hill behind the campsite and Paul had decided that today was the day to find it.

He set off and – following the directions he’d been given – found the track up to the top, via a winding path and was soon afforded a fine view of the town campsite (our van is bang in the middle of the pic) and coastline.

The hill
The site from the hill

On his return we had a rather nice breakfast of blueberry pancakes. It’s quite breezy today which makes it feel a bit chilly in the sun.


We decided we would pack lunch stuff and take the boys out on the bikes to a beach on the way to La Manila, just by the short tunnel. We stopped off at the little village supermarket for some bread and drinks and then cycled off.

The boys seem to have finally got the hang of the backpacks and were very well behaved. We arrived at the beach and found a nice rock to rest our backs against and spread the trusty old picnic blanket – a freebie from Sainsburys that has done us proud for many years – along with its matching cool bag. There is a great story about that cool bag and a pong. It’s a yarn that has afforded us many laughs over the years. Remind me to tell you some time?

We settled on the beach and the boys enjoyed themselves pottering while we (semi) relaxed. I say semi because the sea was quite rough, with biggish waves and it would be very easy for them to be dragged out to sea by that 7th wave. The cove where we had settled, though, was sheltered by the headland and was absolutely lovely. We stayed for a couple of hours, having our rather rudimentary but tasty lunch, which we had to share as we had forgotten to take the boys’ lunch-time Bonios. Terrible parents!

We returned home and spent the remainder of the day in a persistent relaxed state.

Octopus roundabout – lmuñecar

Winter Sun Pt 6 – Week 2 at Castillo de Banos

Well – it’s been a pretty frustrating week in relation to the blog. Changing platform should be easier than this. And take less time!! And maybe I should have a little more patience?

Well – I guess life has settled into a comfy routine. Paul gets up, walks the boys and starts work. A little later, I awake – rosy cheeked and refreshed from my slumbers and we have our breakfast. And then I do stuff like cleaning and tidying, planning our homeward leg, washing, folding clothes in lieu of ironing – although there is an ironing board here and I see one ldy religiously doing her ironing each week! Also changing the bed, cleaning the caravan and car windows. Dust from the Sahara we suspect? All pretty mundane, but necessary stuff, really. Oh – and reading and blogging. It doesn’t seem much but the days are haring by!

We had dinner with the other Brits on site on Monday night, which was very pleasant. Three courses and drink for 11 Euros and very tasty. We have now grasped the difference between “flan” – yummy, like Créme caramel – and “pudding” – very similar indeed but slightly heavier. Both lovely. Flan is ubiquitous in Spain.

We met (sat with) a couple who had retired to the Isle of Lewis and who had arrived via ferry from Newcastle to Holland and then down through France. We had a good chat and a great exchange of travelling stories.

On Wednesday evening we went to the weekly quiz. We missed winning by two points which, as is ever the way, we had talked ourselves out of. Will we never learn? We were joined by a very nice couple from Wigan and their knowledge of TV themes was legendary!

Friday brought Valentine’s Day and Paul had surreptitiously made me a very sweet card. Me being me had thought ahead and brought one with me – Border Terrier themed. But both were given with love.

We had booked the local restaurant – Restaurant El Paraiso – for our Valentine’s dinner and arrived at a respectable 8pm, forgetting that the Spanish tend to dine later. Not only were we the only English couple there, we were also the only couple there for a while.

It was a set meal with an array of starters comprising salad caprese (mozzarella, basil and tomatoes – with the mozzarellla cut into heart shapes- cute!) prawns (I still tread a little warily with these as I had a pretty bad reaction to them a couple of years back), mussels – huge ones and octopus. I’m not a great fan of octopus – I mean I’ll eat it but it’s just soooooooo flipping chewy! The main course was pork steaks with peppercorn sauce and the dessert was chocolate dipped strawberries.

Salada Caprese

By the time we had finished eating, the restaurant was full and very noisy and lively. Our bad! And the owner was very anxious to know that we had enjoyed ourselves and I was presented with a red rose.

Saturday 15th

We left the site at 09:30 – bashed down the motorway towards Granada and the turn-off to Lanjarón – the first town on our tour around the “Alpujarras”. The Alpujarrras are the aptly named white towns and villages in the Sierra Nevada National Park.

Lanjarón is a thermal town, whose waters are said to be good for various health and digestive conditions. The spa has been visited by such luminaries as Virginia Wolf and Federico Garcia Lorca.

The route had great vistas and viaducts. Almost as soon as we had turned off the motorway, I spotted a sign for a “mirador turístico” – a viewpoint. And what a view. It was a gorge and a very deep one at that and you could clearly see three separate crossings from ancient to modern all stacked up one atop the other. Well worth the quick detour.

The oldest bridge
On the middle bridge with the newest bridge above

The next town along our route was Orgiva – a lovely bustling little town with a slightly new age tinge. It is apparently popular with people who want an “alternative” lifestyle. There is quite a large encampment of tipi dwellers on the outskirts of town.

Orgiva town centre
A sculpture of Cervante’s “Don Quixote”

Next up was Sopratujar – this village is allegedly famous for witches. The legend can be found here. I suspect it may be no more than a good USP for tourists!

A witch – don’t ask me which!

There is a charming miniature model of the village on the edge of the village. The villages and towns are famous for their unique chimney pots. They are much photographed and I like to think that our photos do them justice.

We retraced our steps and set off for Pampaneira – the towns look as if they literally cling on by their fingernails as they cascade down the mountainside. Thence to Bubión at 1350 m and all the time I was thinking why? Why are these towns here? What do people who live here do for a living? I was also struck by the thought that the UK’s highest mountain- Ben Nevis – is some 1345m high. I wonder if the temperatures there ever reach 21C?

We had lunch in Capeleira – which at just over 1400m is the highest village of the Alpujarras. As we were waiting for our lunch, I could feel the sun starting to make the back of my neck tingle – the precursor of sunburn.

We chose Platos Alpujarreños – a typical meal of the area with chorizo, black pudding, fried egg and potatoes. It was very filling indeed, but we had already decided that this would be our main meal of the day. Even so, I left half of mine!

Lunch finished, we asked for the bill. It was then that Paul realised that he had left his wallet in the car. I omitted to mention that the town is very steeply terraced and that we’d parked on one of the lower terraces and climbed several steep flights of stairs to get up to the town. You have to be pretty flipping fit to live here. Doing a runner was thus completely out of the question!

Paul – bless him – went back to get the wallet. We paid and then wandered off to have a look around the little town, which clearly thrives on tourism. I bought a couple of things as gifts and Paul bought a leather belt. We had done our bit.

Our final destination was Trevélez, where we stopped and gave the boys a run by the river. And then it was time to make our way back. Trevélez is famous for its air-cured hams (Jamón Serrano – literally ham from the mountains) and I suspect it does a brisk trade in the season but was pretty quiet on this fine mid-February day. Incidentally, the ham that is made from the much-prized Iberian pigs is Jamón ibérico and you see it in every Mercadona and pretty much every bar, where it is carved to order.

The famous ham of Trevélez

We came back on the opposite of the river, which was altogether wilder and there were clear signs of abandoned mining. Google tells us that mining dates back many hundreds of years but the boom time was in the late 19th/early 20th Century – lead, Mercury, copper, fluorspar have all been mined around these parts, but transportation has always been an issue. It was a long and winding road back down and I began to fear for poor Vicky Volvo’s brakes!

We stopped at the Rio Gaudalfeo or Rules dam, which we had seen and been impressed with both on the way here from Granada and on our way to Lanjarón earlier. It was pretty impressive. But the best bit was when Paul spotted some big and I mean BIG fish. The photos are taken from around 50 feet above, just to give you some idea of their size.

The reservoir
The dam

We had some dog biscuits in the car and I quickly ground them up and threw the bits to the fish. Cue feeding frenzy! I could genuinely have stayed all day watching them! A short video of them (and Paul’s thumb!) can be found here.

We made our way home via Mercadona and arrived back at the van around 18:30. It had been a long old day! This had been the Andalucía that I will forever remember. Utterly beautiful – too stunning for photos to capture properly.

And if you’re reading this, it means that our Blog woes are over and normal service will be resumed!!

Just beautiful

Winter Sun Pt 5 – Settling in at Castillo de Baños

So what have we been up to since we arrived on Tuesday? Some washing – 2 weeks on the road made quite a pile! Tidying up and cleaning in the van, cleaning the outside of the van – long overdue. Washing the dogs’ bedding by hand as it’s not allowed in the machines. A couple of cycle rides, some grocery shopping, went to a craft morning, meeting new people, reading, pottering. Just mundane stuff, really. Paul has been working very diligently, so I’ve just generally enjoyed entertaining myself and the warmer weather and blue skies. And then along came the weekend! Yay!!

We drove to the nearest big town of Motril on Friday evening and did a grocery shop at the big “Al Campo” to see us through the weekend and beyond. And then we could relax. We spent the evening working on transferring the blog – which has outgrown WordPress- to our new Easyspace home. This takes time – a long time. Too long for my impatient nature! And involves technical things beyond my ken! Friday evening became Saturday morning and still it was not done.

Sat 8th Feb

After a bit of a lie-in and breakfast, we set off along the coast towards Calahonda. We spotted a ruined castle on a promontory and had to pull over for a photo opportunity – it reminded us of Tintagel, somehow?


We stopped at the pretty little beach at La Chucha to give the boys a run. They had great fun blasting up and down and playing chase and sniffing out all the interesting seaside smells. It was only when we returned to the car that we saw that dogs (perros) were prohibited. Oops! In my defence, I genuinely had looked for a notice at the point we joined the beach, but there had been no sign.

One of the purposes of this drive was to pop in to Decathlon in Motril to buy some heavy duty tent pegs. I had checked and they had them on their website but we drew a blank in store. What a nuisance. We returned home for lunch and to gird up our loins in preparation for erecting our new blow-up awning.

They are not known as a divorce in a bag for nothing!! But – in all honesty – it went up really well, with very little argument. The single strut – which inflates to 7psi makes all that fiddling with poles redundant. We are pretty pleased with it. And it gives us a bit more room for the detritus of everyday life!!

Reading the instructions
The finished article

We also took the opportunity to get out the trusty Cadac and it’s all made it feel a little more like we are established here – not moving on for a while. And our pitch has built in drainage for the washing-up and other stuff – anything that goes down a plug hole (known as “grey waste”) and a tap to supply us with fresh water. Luxury!

A view of the site
And from the road

I set to, making a Chicken, Pancetta and Mushroom Risotto while Paul worked on transferring the Blog to its new home. It may take a while….

The risotto was delicious and would have fed most of the campsite and Paul spent ALL evening on the techy bits of the Blog transfer. Much muttering of curses and imprecations.

Sunday 9th Feb

We had a leisurely start to the day and eventually decided a trip into the mountains might be nice, so we set off. We plan a trip to the famous Alpujarras – the “White towns” of the high Sierra Nevada – but had left it too late today.

The first town we encountered was Albunol, where we saw a “churreria” that was open, but having just had a good breakfast , we managed to resist. Just… For the uninititaed, churros are often eaten for breakfast in Spain, dipped in gloopy hot chocolate. And to die for!

The town has what looks like a road running through it which is in fact a run off for snow melt and rainwater. We travelled along the A4131 – another amazing road, which twists and turns through the mountains. This is clearly a fruit and nut growing area – there were trees everywhere, all just bursting into blossom. Almonds certainly, but also maybe cherry? We marvelled over the logistics of getting it all picked. Growing amongst the trees were some very pretty yellow flowers that I was not able to identify – anyone? Post publication note: My Andalusian friend Begoña tells me that as a child they called them “vinegretas and used to suck the stems, which had a vinegary flavour. So now we know! Thanks Begoña!

The water run-off or “rambla”
An anonymous yellow flower

The next town that we arrived at was Sorvilán – which immediately reminded us of Blake’s 7. Narrow streets and not at all suitable for cars. We stopped for a bit to let the boys have a run and the breeze blew a constant stream of petals in to the air. It was very pretty.

The road is clearly much loved by motorcyclists, out for a Sunday blow away of the cobwebs. They were certainly out in force today!

We arrived at our nominal destination – the little town of Polopos. It’s another town that clings to the mountainside and not car-friendly. We did see a fair few cars/pick-ups parked with piles of dogs inside – hunting we assumed.

I had noticed – every now and then – a little black and white sign on a stick. As we had 4G pretty much everywhere we went in the mountains, I consulted the mighty Google which told me they are signs which mean “no public hunting”. Well that’s good to know!!

As we dropped down to sea level, we decided to take the boys for a walk on the beach at Castell de Ferro. It was lovely. So nice that we thought we’d stop for a bite to eat. What a great call.

The “Menu del Dia” was €12 for three courses. How could we possibly resist? Even though we had left over risotto to eat up. We figured it would keep. We ordered and sat back in the lovely warm sunshine. When the waitress arrived with our drinks she also bore a plate of tapas to share. It was delicious – calamari and fish in a really yummy batter.

Then our starters arrived – mine a simple dish of sliced tomatoes drizzled wih olive oil and sprinkled with minced garlic, Paul’s his favourite mixed salad. Way too much!

The main course was “Secreto Iberico” – described as pork fillet in the English part of the menu. It was much like belly pork in its texture and fattiness. And not the nicest meat we have ever eaten to be frank. Later research showed that Secreto Ibérico (which translates as Iberian Secret) is a cut of meat, which comes from between the shoulder blade and the loin of the prized Iberian pigs. The reason that the meat tastes so good is that the surface is marbled with fat. Maybe ours was just badly cooked? I’d give it another go to be sure.

We were too full for dessert so had delicious coffees and paid the bill.

The sun was starting to fade as we made our way home. What a lovely day.

We spent the evening doing more work on the blog (Paul) and uploading photos (me) in the hope that we’d be able to post soon.

A scene from our day out

Winter Sun Part 4 – Santa Elena to Castillo de Baños

Sun 2nd
I forgot to mention, yesterday, that we are now in Andalusia. We had a quiet night’s sleep and got up refreshed and ready for our customary Sunday brekker of dippy eggs. Never tire of them.

We cleared up and got ready to go out and rig of the day was declared to be shorts. First time out this year!

We popped into the supernercado to get some provisions for a couple of evening meals. Cauliflower Cheese tonight! Mmm. We also bought a bottle of local Tempranillo for a hefty €3.35. We’ll report back on that later!!

Paul had selected a road that would take us into the mountains and he selected well. We were very soon above the clouds, above the circling vultures and had views to die for every which way. It was a stunning road. The sun was out and the air was that very crystal clear you only get in such places.

It’s one of those roads I’d describe as “a wow round every corner”. It was also one of those roads with vertiginous drops and no barriers and very narrow indeed, with an edge like a step rather than gently sloped. We met a few cars, a party of Vespa/Lambretta scooter boys, (one of whom was the dead spit of my brother!) cyclists and bikers and finally a motorcade of 70s/80s sports cars, which drew some oohs and ahs from us! And all with no mishaps.

We stopped in the pretty little town of Aldeaquemada for coffee and mused that we’d put that road – the A6200 – in our top 10 of stunning roads. It was that good. And the National Park is also stunning. If you’re ever nearby, give the A6200 a go. You won’t be disappointed.

We stopped on the return journey to give the boys a walk. Ted was very interested in one particular smell and I realised it was blood. It looked like it had been dripping out of the back of some hunters pick-up. I pulled him away and we walked on – more blood. Blood everywhere. Now call us odd, but we weren’t so keen on that and decided to abandon our walk up that track and head back to the relative safety of our car!

We returned to the van, where I had a snooze and then we strapped the boys on our backs and went out for a bike ride. Paul had spotted a track where we could cycle with boys running alongside. Perfect! It was a beautiful evening for a brisk cycle and we all had a great time again.

Time to cook supper – we both love a bit of cauli cheese. Paul pronounced the wine very drinkable and extremely good value at just £2.80 a bottle. Worrying news!

We appear to have broken the boys – they both happily crashed out for the evening while we watched first the beautiful sunset and then an episode of Sharpe before bed.

Ooh – and Paul mistook the Senora sign for Senor and had his shower in the ladies. Luckily, there’s not too many people about so he wasn’t – like – arrested or anything!

Monday 3rd

Monday morning- sunny and warm. First night with no heating at all – evening and overnight. I’ll soon be complaining about being too hot, don’t you worry! 

Paul worked while I caught up the world, played with the boys and cycled into town to get some fresh bread. It was a lovely ride. And I forgot to wear my cycle helmet. Naughty me. I couldn’t resist taking a snap of an orange tree in town, it’s such a novelty for us Northeners!

I returned triumphant with bread and a big grin – such a joy cycling in the warm sun. I made sandwiches to take with us and we set at off lunchtime as usual for a quick drive to find some provisions. The cauli cheese was lovely by the way and plenty left over for tonight with, perhaps. some sausages? 

WE have made some new friends. These birds – which I now know to be Iberian Azure-winged Magpies, thanks to Twitcher Tim (Crookston) – roost in the trees above us at night and are quite delightful little chaps.

We went for a drive to Arquillos – only because the road went past a couple of reservoirs which we thought might be nice. However, they were both low on water and neither had anywhere to park.

Guadalen Reservoir

It was a nice drive, though, and we were excited to see signs warning us that the area was Iberian Lynx habitat. You don’t see signs like “Beware of Lynxes” and “Lynxes crossing” signs every day.  We were pretty sure we’d never see one as they are very endangered indeed. The Iberian Lynx is the second most endangered species in the world actually. Their main problem is loss of prey – rabbits. 

It is clearly an oil growing area, with olive groves as far as the eye can see. And a pretty little town – although I always wonder in such places what on Earth the people do for a living. Grow olives I guess? Very little sign of animal husbandry in the area, although quite a few intensive chicken farms which you can smell from a fair distance. I find it very depressing that we treat poor defenceless chickens like that. Makes me very sad. 

Olives everywhere

We needed some provisions so popped into the very new- feeling Mercadona in La Carolina.  By now it was 22C. Shopping done, Paul went back to work while I pottered. Someone turned up opposite in a cream Merc estate. Now that’s what I call stylish! 

My quick review of Camping Despeñaperros is that it’s a wonderful place to stay for the NP. It has definitely seen better days, but is clean and has everything you need. We never saw either the shop or the restaurant open, but it’s not surprising, being out of season. There is a track to the side of the site that is great for dog-walks. Santa Elena has a pretty good little supermercato, with butcher. I’d definitely be happy to return. 

Tuesday 4th

We left at 09:15 today. I note that we are getting steadily later – must be the mañana effect? 

It was a lovely sunny morning and 12C as we slipped away from our pitch. The mountains looked beautiful in the early morning haze. We were sad to be leaving this lovely area. 

We were intrigued to see that – as we neared Balién (scene of a battle in the Peninsular War – 1808) the road signs were in (what I assumed to be ) Moorish. Research shows it may have been “Andalusian Arabic”? I guess we’ll never know? But we’ve seen the signs nowhere else. 

The scenery on today’s drive has ranged from breathtaking to jaw-dropping. Our coffee stop was in the middle of a gorge. This is definitely the must scenic leg of our trip. And it’s also the final leg of our outward journey as we arrive at our base for the next 30 nights, later today. And the temperature had risen to 20C. All good. 

And then she did it again. Another Gabby Garmin detour! Paul was on the phone, giving tech support, so there was nothing I could really do to  prevent it.  I just had to watch helplessly and make agonised faces as she took us on a short wild goose chase, off the motorway onto another road, round a couple of roundabouts and straight back onto the road we had just left at the next exit down the line! No real harm done but flipping irritating!  

Like Madrid, the route took us pretty much straight through the heart of Granada. Well – perhaps the right ventricle? Having never been before, I  hadn’t realised it was in such a dramatic location – in a bowl with snow capped mountains all around. And it’s big! And I never realised, until this very day, that my telly in the 70s had come from so far away! But we got great service.

We approached the coast in low cloud – and started to see the infamous Sea of Plastic everywhere. Interesting that it’s been in the news lately and not in a good way. It’s where more than half of Europe’s demand for fresh fruits and vegetables is met. They are grown under the plastic shades that cover this area, The evils of Consumerism again. Exploitation of migrant workers. Poor buggers. 

We arrived on site Camping de Castillo de Baños at 12:40. We took a fair while choosing our pitch, as we’ll be here for a month.  We ended up choosing a pitch that fronts on to the sea. It’ll be nice to drift off to sleep to the sounds of the waves lapping the shore. Not pounding it, please!!! 

We had the usual bloody game with the electricity! We pretty much never have this hassle at home. Why here? Paul fixed it though and he was soon working away merrily while I prepared lunch – a cheese and ham croissant. 

We don’t plan to do much with the rest of today except a spot of orientation. There’s no hurry after all? 

The castle in Castillo de Banos

Winter Sun Part 3 – Aranjuez to Santa Elena

Thursday 30th

Paul had a particularly long meeting this morning. Very boring for me and also for the boys. I pushed off for a shower – and please – just because I don’t mention it every time, take it as read that we do keep ourselves clean when we are on the road !! Overcast 15C

Eventually the meeting drew to its agonisingly slow close and lunch was on the menu. Time for a trip into Aranjuez – capital of the Las Vegas district of Madrid (cue song!) and a fine upstanding town in its own right. In fact, until 1752, only royalty and the nobility were allowed to dwell in the town.

We stopped at the river just by the campsite, where there is big goose and Muscovy duck enclave. I drifted off to sleep last night listening to them clanking away!

So – to Aranjuez. The Palacio Real – a stunning building – has been, for centuries, the spring residence of the royal family. It almost looks new, to be honest, built in the old style.

The Palacio Real

Another impressive feature of the town is the Plaza de San Antonio, surrounded by many arches. The large Plaza is also known as “la Mariblanca” – presumably because of the large expanse of compacted white stone that it sits on? The church of San Antonio de Padua sits at the top of the square.

Aranjuez – pronounced Arran-hweth – is also famous for its many gardens, which were built in the style of Versailles. We chose one – the Jardin del Principe – in which to take the boys for a stroll. Unfortunately, no dogs allowed. Bill immediately showed his opinion in a really quite embarrassing manner, which involved collection and a bag for that purpose. Ya git me?

He did it pretty much slap bang in the middle of these gates!

This being Spain, one of the main features of the town is the Plaza de Toros – the bull ring. I was quite curious as to how the Spanish people feel about bull-fighting these days. Research shows that it is a political hot potato and also that there is a generational split, with the older population defending it as a cultural and historic part of the Spanish way of life and the younger generation who feel that it’s time to call it a day. I’m with the youth. This statement perfectly sums it up for me ““It is the 21st century and unthinkable that a spectacle where someone mistreats and kills an animal is officially a cultural event,” said Chesús Yuste, spokesperson for the Parliamentary Association in Defense of Animals (APDDA). “The time for bullfighting has passed.” “

It was soon time for Paul to go back to work – although he had been taking calls all the time we had been out and about. So I and the boys made ourselves comfy, them for a snooze and me to blog. And so we continued until around 7:15.

We had popped in to the on-site restaurant to enquire about a meal earlier and they were happy to serve us outside with the boys, so dinner out tonight.

It was as all a bit of a palaver as they (bless them!) insisted on setting up a table especially for us. We ordered drinks and then the menu arrived. Oddly, we both fancied the same thing. I doubt it’s very traditional Spanish – although they can’t possibly eat Paella every day, surely? It was Chorizo, bacon, egg, and chips! And it was bloody lovely! Served with an excellent mixed salad. Top grub!

One for the tourist trade I suspect?

Friday 31st

A day I hoped would never come. The day we leave the EU. I have friends who are very pro leaving and I have friends that are very anti leaving and I’m glad we have found a way not to let Brexit affect our friendships. But – for me – today is a very sad day.  I hope those that are glad enjoy their celebrations and allow those of us who did not want to leave to be sad without rubbing our noses in it. Que sera sera. 

Our lunchtime visit today was  the town of Chinchōn – pronounced “Cheenchon“. Chinchon is famous for its Plaza Mayor, surrounded by buildings with wooden balconies. As we edged our way through the narrow twisty streets of this hilltop town, we hoped it would be worth it. And indeed it was. There are bars and restaurants all round the circular plaza and they looked very tempting. We parked next to another guy in the centre of the “square” and all seemed fine and then suddenly, out popped a policeman, with his pad. We apologised in English and he let us off. No parking there. Phew. I managed to bash off a couple of pics though. 

That zealous policeman!

As we were leaving we saw a sign for the Laguna de Don Juan. I quickly looked it up and it seemed like the perfect place to give the boys a good run off lead. 

We turned off the main road, following the sign posts, onto a dodgy looking track – full of potholes. Progress was slow but we eventually arrived at the viewing point. I guess you could say it was much like Farlington marsh? 

The first thing we saw was a couple of those big raptors – not sure which kind, but big. And impossible to photograph. How do those BBC guys do it?Wait for hours I guess.

The boys had a really nice game of chase and we took a few photos and then popped them, panting and watered,  back in the car for the journey home to the campsite.

We took a quick detour on the way home, lured by the price of gazoile. At just under a pound for a litre, it was the cheapest we’d yet seen. 

When we arrived back at the site, it was evident that more people had arrived – presumably for the weekend?  But we had a lovely solitary spot with loads of vacant pitches all around us. Until now. Loads of empty spots and what had happened? Someone had sited themselves immediately next door.  Why do people do that? 

Empty pitch after empty pitch
Could they BE any closer?

Paul returned to his work while I did a bit of tidying up in preparation for the off tomorrow morning. 

Then it was the weekend!!! No more work for a couple of days – although in reality I sure there will be some.  In celebration we decide to take the boys out on the bikes. We had spotted an area we could cycle to and then let them off the lead to cycle alongside us. 

Starting off was a bit iffy. What with Bill breaking his leg and preparations for the move, we had pretty much not managed to do any cycling with them since they were very small in the lovely Forest of  Dean.  But they eventually got it and we rode happily to the spot where we felt it would be OK to let them off. They loved it! Haring up and down and chasing and fighting. You could see the joy on their faces – and probably on ours too. Lets hope this is the first of many?

The evening brought supper and stowing stuff in their proper places and a bit of telly too. We have started re-watching Sharpe, which we are thoroughly enjoying and are just plunging in to The Stranger, a new Netflix series. Pastures new and an earlyish start await us tomorrow. Outside the EU……….

Sat 1st Feb

Since our next destination was a relatively short  drive, we set off a little later than usual at about 08:40. Our route to the motorway took us straight through town, which was interesting! Driving slowly along the cobbled streets round the Plaza attracted quite a queue of traffic behind us. It was overcast  and around 12C as we set off. 

Our route took us past many classic windmills and there seems to be a Quixotic flavour to the area, with lots of cartoons of the famous Don and his sidekick. 

We made our first stop at around 10:00 – just a quick coffee stop,  as the boys didn’t seem interested in rousing themselves from their slumbers.  It may be whimsical, but as you drive along, you quite often see a Spanish Bull, by the side of the road. We are not really sure why they are there, but they are quite attractive and leave you in no doubt that you are in Spain.

The A4 or Autovia del Sûr enters the Despeñaperros National Park via a series of dramatic viaducts and tunnels. We loved it – even though we were in low clouds which marred the view a little. 

Pretty soon we saw the turn off for Santa Elena, home of our campsite Camping Despenaperros – for the next three nights. In the instructions provided to help you find the campsite, it warns you that access is tricky. And by gum it is!!! Challenging for anyone except the cool-as-a-cucumber Mr Sumpner. He took it nice and slow and triumphed again. 

We checked in and were allocated our pitch, so off we went, promising to return with our passports at 1 pm. 

The pitch was pretty level but we had more fun with the flipping electricity again. It wasn’t too long though, before but we had power, thanks to the persistent and patient Sumps. 

Note that the water taps are very low to the ground, making it rather difficult to fill the water barrel. It was done more easily at the facilities block but renders null the convenience of having a tap in each pitch. 

The site is in a wood overlooking olive groves and is very quiet indeed with lots of birds to watch. We think we are going to like it here. 

I popped back with the passports at the agreed time and had a very long wait. Senor had computer troubles. Quite a queue had built up by the time we got sorted! 

We had a spot of lunch and then went out exploring. Reader – I know you will find this a little hard to comprehend, but we had not had the foresight to provision ourselves for a trip into such a wilderness! Please don’t panic or contact the Red Cross, we WILL be OK, although our meals may have an unusual composition! Not that there is anything wrong with sardines in tomato sauce and Ambrosia creamed rice? We thought we’d try and find some odds and ends at a supermarket, just in case.

I digress. As if we had not had enough of driving, we went for a drive in the park. Paul wanted to seek out the old, pre-Autopista road through the park, which we soon found and were very swiftly rewarded with some stunning views. 

We stopped at a viewpoint and climbed up to the top of the lookout to get pictures of the “Los Órganos Natural Monument”, which is  a rock shaped – they say – like a giant church organ. Wind and rain have eroded the cliffs, resulting in spectacular scenery,  with the appearance of giant vertical pipes. 

As we stood there and marvelled, a (I think it can only have been) shot rang out. All the raptors (which we think were Griffon Vultures) were actually nestling and possibly nesting in the nooks and crannies in the cliffs took flight! What an amazing sight. And they had just settled when another shot came and they were spooked again. As ever, our pics just don’t do it justice. 

Spott the Vulture – three to find!
A viaduct from below

The road we had chosen led us back – by chance I’d say – to Santa Elena and our van, where we all had a jolly nice siesta. And found the supermarket – closed.

After our siesta and a cuppa, it was ablutions all round – including a quick haircut for Mr S and then we went out in search of dinner. On the way out of town we spotted this! We think it’s a nightclub, maybe? Couldn’t resist the pic!

My fame has spread!

We dined at Restaurante Asadore Navas de Talosa in La Carolina, the next town up the valley. And very nice it was too. we had a delicious starter of some potato, onion, cheese and egg with green peppers. Yes – that’s right. Green peppers – and they were actually not bad. Those who know me well know that I abhor and detest peppers of all colours. But these hardly tasted like peppers at all! We had eaten most of it before I thought to take a pic but here are the remains!

This was followed by a pork steak in a roquefort sauce for me and a kind of chicken/ham/cheese escalope for Pablo. We ate well for around £20 per head including drinks and coffee, and then returned to the van, ready for bed.

PS – I said it was quiet – I hadn’t allowed for a house party who were playing their music VERY LOUDLY INDEED until gone midnight. It didn’t stop us falling asleep very quickly!

Miles travelled: Day 130 / Cumulative 1315