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Archive : March

Winter sun Pt. 13 – the dash home!

Monday 16th March

We left Larrouletta at 09:30 for the short-ish hop to Bordeaux. I used the journey to make phone calls and change bookings – especially our Eurotunnel crossing. We had worked out that the earliest we could travel was Thursday to allow time to get the boys seen by the vet, travel to Calais and wait the prescribed 24 hours before travel. I amended all our appointments and bookings accordingly. Job done! We would be back in the UK by Thursday evening – just 3 days earlier than planned but it seemed prudent to leave as the situation was clearly deteriorating and quite volatile.

We arrived at our campsite – Camping Le Village du Lac and did the usual chores. We had a very nice location, overlooking a lake with ducks. The site has a mix of touring pitches and chalets, which looked very attractive. I could imagine sitting on the deck and gazing at the lake and chatting with friends in the summer.

Our pitch overlooking the lake
The lake
The fountain

I checked my emails and had one from the site in Le Mans that I had spoken to earlier, saying that they would not be able to accommodate us the next day. We also had reports that President Macron would be making an announcement that evening and it wasn’t likely to be good news. This changed things. Again.

We had a quick pow-wow and decided that we would try and get the dogs seen by the vet here in Bordeaux, which would give us a bit more flexibility travel-wise

I got straight on it and the vet nearest to where we were agreed to see them within the half hour. We set off almost immediately. She had told us to wait in the car until we were summoned – she was very sensibly doing this with all clients.

Paul went in with the dogs while I made some more phone calls. I calculated that we could travel any time after 3 pm (allowing for the 24 hour regs). I managed to change our Eurotunnel booking, yet again, to Tuesday evening at 22:50. The die was cast! We would sleep in Bordeaux that night and drive through the next day to get to Calais.

The vet charged €60 for the privilege of scanning their chips and and giving the tablets we give them every month! But it has to be done so no point in counting the cost. And we could now travel after 24 hours had elapsed.

Not knowing quite what tomorrow would bring, we called in to the local E LeClerc to top up with fuel. It was utter chaos. French panic buying had kicked off big time!

Later that day, President Macron announced that France was going into lock-down and would be closing its borders from midday on Tuesday. The swiftness with which the new measures would take effect was a bit of a shock and we panicked a bit – briefly. Reason soon returned and we guessed that (hoped that) we would be allowed to leave the country. I asked my brother Bruce to make enquiries for us the next morning, but we agreed we still try and make it. I emailed the very accommodating vet in Le Mans, to apologise and say that – after all the changes (a total of three!) – we would not be requiring an appointment at all. He was very understanding.

We set the alarms for 06:30 and went to bed.

Quick review of Camping La Village au Lac

A pleasant site, electrics a bit dodgy, good facilities. Great for families in summer I imagine, but none of the facilities (other than shower and laundry) were open at this time of year and we felt the €35 for one night in low season was a bit steep. Nice little epicerie on site and plenty of bread with no need to order. I’d be happy to return.

Tuesday 17th March

We left the site at 07:30, picking up a couple of baguettes and some pain au chocolat for the journey. The roads were quite quiet and when we called in at the first service station after about an hour and half on the road, we were actually served by a person – which surprised us – but no fuel was available. This was a bit of a worry as we would need to refuel again before Calais. We hoped it was just a blip.

We stopped regularly for all our sakes and took a longer break at lunchtime. The aire we stopped at had a good dog walking area and the boys had a great run around.

The day wore on – and on -in this fashion and by teatime we had all had quite enough of being in the car – and yet we knew it was far from over. We also did not know quite what to expect at Calais.

At the aire

We were hearing rumours of needing to have a piece of paper completed with reason for travel – an “Attestation de Deplacement Derogatoire”. Well we didn’t have one of those, but we did have our tunnel crossing confirmation and hoped that would suffice. As it turned out, we weren’t stopped or challenged, although we did see numerous gendarmes in cars or on motor-cycles making their way to somewhere. We wondered where?

We passed through Rouen at rush-hour and it was like a ghost town.There was a police presence on one of the bridges which was a bit worrying, but the Pont Mathilde – our usual Rouen crossing – was fine.

The Cathedral Rouen
Deserted streets in Rouen

The journey seemed interminable – especially the last couple of hours, but we eventually arrived after just over 12 hours travelling. The boys were very good, although Ted did get a bit bored at one stage, bless him.

Bored Ted

We went to the Pet Reception, but were told we were too early and to come back in an hour. We put the steadies down on the van and had our tea. Bread and strawberry jam! But we did manage to make a cuppa!

We went back to Pet Reception at the allotted time, got the boys checked in and then drove round to get us checked in. It was all very organised ( I had imagined it might be somewhat chaotic) and we managed to get on a train a half hour earlier than booked. All good.

We arrived back in the UK just before 11. What a relief. Now all we had to do was get back to Fareham. Another few hours in the car. No problem. You’d think!

First the M20 was closed, then the M25 was down to one lane in a few places and the final insult – the A3 was closed just after Guildford. Dear old Gabby took us off on a torturous route via Frensham Ponds, dumping us back on the A3 at Hindhead just south of the tunnel. But we finally arrived back at our temporary site in Newtown and were in bed just after 2 am. What an adventure!

So there it was – around 3,000 miles in our 10 year old Volvo V70 (D5), plus all the driving around and exploring and she didn’t put a foot wrong. When we left we had an erroneous “Engine System Service Required” message, which appeared (and we ignored!) every time we turned it on. That had disappeared by the time we got home, to be replaced with an even more incessant and annoying “Windscreen Washer refill required” warning, which I’m sure Paul can cope with. She did get a bit hot one day as we drove to Zaragoza, but we stopped for a while and she was fine.

We had an absolutely amazing time and would do it all again in a heartbeat (other than the Coronavirus issues!). The boys took everything in their stride and had lots of new experiences – as did we. We have come back to a very unpredictable situation, with events being cancelled and everything in disarray. It’s been lovely having you all with us on our journey. Here’s to the next one – whenever that may be. Stay well.

Winter Sun Pt 12 – Zaragoza to Urrugne

Saturday 14th March

We left Zaragoza around 08:30. There was a great feeling of camaraderie, with everyone wishing each good luck and a safe journey and talk of the “Dunkirk spirit”.

Zaragoza is on the River Ebro and the Autopista we joined was labelled the “Autopista del Ebro”. Just so you know, the Ebro is the longest river running entirely within Spain.

The scenery was generally not very entertaining on this route, but as we approached Pamplona – home of the famous bull run – we saw the most amazing aqueduct – possibly the longest structure of its kind we have seen. You know me – I had to find the stats and they are quite staggering! It was built not by the Romans, as you might suppose, but in the 18th Century. It reaches a length of around 1,245 metres spanning 97 stone and brick arches, of which 94 are still standing. It has columns up to 18 metres in height and a canal at the top. Quite a sight to enliven our journey.

Noain Aqueduct – Pamplona
Shot from the car
Can’t fit it all in!

As we neared the foothills of the Pyrenees the scenery started to perk up and the architecture started to look very alpine. This was more like it! We love a good view.

We also noticed – now that we know what to look for – that virtually every pine tree we passed had the dreaded Processionary Caterpillar nest. I just hope it never takes a good hold in the UK. The problem is currently confined to the South East – let’s hope it stays there!

Hairy nasty caterpillars

The road started its long descent down the coast and we drew nearer to the border. We were still wondering what we would find, whether there’d be massive queues, strip searches and so on when all of a sudden it was upon us and we were through. Just like that. No patrols, no special measures. Nothing! Rien. Nada. A bit of a non-event really – but a relief, too.

Vive la France!

After the border it was just a short leg to our site for that night “Camping Larrouletta” in Urrugne, just in France. I had phoned ahead and was happy to hear that they were open and that it was still business as usual.

We had arrived quite early – although it was during the strictly observed French lunch hour. Monsieur had told me to find a space and pop back during the afternoon. Very laid back.

Getting set up

We set up, had lunch and – as it was the weekend – we went out exploring. We set off for the “Corniche Basque” – a beautiful and protected piece of coastline which runs from Ciboure to Hendaye.

The first town we encountered was the pretty little village of Socoa, where there is a nice little beach, with lots of people surfing, several restaurants and a very doughty-looking fort.

‘E’s givin’ me the run around
Surf school

We took the boys for a play on the beach, where they met a lovely big dog with whom they played chase for some time. And then we spotted him – a chap with an ice-cream! And where there is a chap with an ice-cream? There has got to be an ice cream shop.

Socoa Fort

We sniffed it out and had a delicious 2 boules cornet. (me Rum and Raisin and Salted Caramel and Paul Creme Brulee and Salted Caramel). I had a nice chat with the owner. It’s so nice to be back in a country where you can comfortably converse. I wish I was better at Spanish. But I am definitely better than before we came away. I can read and understand more than I can actually say – it’s the lack of vocab that holds me back. I’m working on it.

We continued our journey along the coast, calling in at the very elegant town of St Jean de Luz. Fabulous beach. I really liked it and would like to return some time.

The Grand Hotel
The beach – with the Pyrenees behind

We eventually returned to the site to find a queue of motorhomes, caravans and camper vans, all waiting to get onto the site. We were jolly glad we had left in good time this morning and had a nice pitch. We guessed that everyone else had had the same idea as us – get out of Spain while you still can.

We planned to eat at the onsite restaurant and had a quick wash and brush-up and changed into slightly warmer clothes – it’s a tad cooler here – and set off for pre-dinner drinks.

The bar/restaurant

We got chatting to some chaps who were from Bailey caravans. They (with 2 caravans and motorhome) had been on the “Sahara Challenge” – the aim was to drive through Spain and Portugal and across to Morocco and the edge of the Sahara Desert. The plan was to cover 3,500 miles in 20 days. Sadly they were stymied because Morocco had shut up shop. They were on their way home too. What a shame.

The Bailey Sahara Challenge MoHo

It was pretty hectic in the restaurant and as we sat there, more and more units were pouring in through the gates. The owner must have been cock-a-hoop. He was putting them in every nook and cranny and even in areas that had been cordoned off – presumably because they were a bit muddy? Mind you, he’ll need this boost if things continue as they are with Covid-19.

Monsieur le proprietor

By the time our food arrived I was frozen and ate it quickly and repaired to the van. Reader – I put the heating on! It had been weeks since I had even thought about it.

Sunday 15th March

We awoke a little later than normal and opened up the blinds to see a queue of vehicles queuing to get OFF the site! And a lot of empty pitches around us. We had talked last night and decided that we would stay the extra night – as planned – and do all the phoning round to try and get home a bit earlier, on Monday morning when everyone would be open. That might just have been a decision we would live to regret, but there it was – decision made.

We had breakfast and decided to go out and make the best of what was probably the last day of exploring we’d get.

We went the other way up the coast this time, towards Hendaye and – eek – the Spanish border. Hendaye was very pleasant. The beach is a large swathe of sand. It must be very popular but impossible to park in the Summer. It was bad enough on that day in the bright and very pleasant Spring sunshine.

The beach at Hendaye

We had looked at the weather which told us that rain and even possibility of thunderstorms would be hitting the area late afternoon. We could scarcely believe this, in the lovely warm sunshine. We still find it amusing that, while we are clomping around in shorts and sandals, the people of Spain and now France are currently sporting long trousers, jackets and scarves! Crazzeee Eeennglish eh?

We found another good beach for the boys to let off steam and drove further along the coast and – I know right? – we went back into Spain – but not for very long as there was a police roadblock on the road to the town – Hondarribia – that we wanted to visit.

Ted with stick
Bill with log
The Basque police or ” Udaltzaingoa “

I’d have loved to have taken a pic but they were a bit scary looking and we didn’t want to get arrested and clapped in irons! The pic above is for illustrative purposes only

As we were in Spain again, we took the opportunity of topping up the fuel tank at Spanish prices. We then beat a hasty retreat back to the site, while the going was good.

We spent some time packing stuff away ready for a smart getaway in the morning – and the rains started. Very heavy! And the vans etc kept on rolling in. They were queued up to the main road but spaces were found for all of them. The tills must have been full to bursting!

The restaurant was only offering a take-way service so we ordered a couple of cheeseburgers. and they were most excellent. After polishing them off, we watched some tv. The rain was so flipping heavy and loud that we had to turn up the volume! Did you hear it? I had to put ear plugs in at bedtime but I could still hear it as I dozed off, wondering how we would get on trying to change our travel plans in the morning.

My quick review of Camping Larrouletta

This is a much bigger site than it would first appear. It actually has nearly 400 pitches for tourers. I imagine it’s very busy in summer. There are several toilet/shower blocks with very good clean facilities. There is a lake and heated swimming pool and a bar/restaurant – good food but perhaps a shade dear? Or it may be that we are so used to Spanish prices that made it seem dear? It’s in a great area with the Pyrenees behind and the Atlantic in front. I’d very gladly return and stay longer.

Winter Sun Pt 11 – Calpe to Zaragoza (via Valencia)

Tuesday 10th Pt 2

We set off from Calpe, quite relieved that we were leaving, but only because of the caterpillar situation. It was only a short hop up the coast to our next destination, just South of Valencia. It was 11:30 as we drove out of the site.

Gabby Garmin had one of her little moments when she tried to send us down a cart track, but we arrived unscathed at about 1.30. We had driven through a very dramatic gorge but by the time we got near Valencia, the mountains had receded and we were on a very flat plain.

Devesa Gardens, where we spent two nights, is on the edge of L’Albufera de Valencia – another lagoon, although this time fresh water. As we were driving in, we saw more egrets in one place than ever before. The area is supposed to be teeming with wildlife.

The Albufera in the morning mist

Check in was swift, with good English spoken and we were soon all set up. Paul worked while I got on with the domestics. We had only been on the road for 5 days but there was a good load of washing to do. Excellent laundry facilities, with and ironing board AND iron (which I managed to avoid) and a washing line on every pitch – what a great idea!

The handy washing lines

Paul eventually finished work just before 6 and we leapt on our bikes and went out for a ride to the nearest village – El Perellonet – where we let the boys off on the beach and they had a great run around. We were just losing daylight as we returned and everything was bathed in a lovely rosy glow.

EL Perellonet beach
Rosy van
The vivid sunset

Wednesday 11th March

I had hoped we would be able to visit Valencia today, but Paul was up against it work-wise so I pottered and read most of the day.

When he finally shut his PC down we went out on the bikes to explore a path that Paul had found on his morning walk. A lot of money had clearly been spent on it, with concrete paths leading through a sort of heathland bordered by swampy kind of land.

There was a sign regarding the wildlife that might be encountered and one of the listed species was the tortoise. I would have loved to have seen one “au naturel” but sadly it was not to be.

We took a path that we thought would lead to the sea and sure enough it did. There was a board walk through sand dunes leading to an absolutely beautiful and deserted beach. I imagine it is heaving in summer – although there is no road access. As ever, the boys had a great game of chase and tried to eat all the dead washed-up stuff, the little monkeys! I am very glad we taught them to leave anything we don’t want them to eat! It was pretty difficult though! They kept sneaking back!

El Saler beach – deserted

As the light was fading, we cycled back the way we had come and passed a swampy bit, where the frogs were starting their evening chorus. I loved it. We arrived back at the site, showered (fixed head – tsk) and settled down for our final evening there.

The frog pond

Quick Review of Devesa Gardens

This is a large family orientated site with pool and other sporting facilities, including stabling for your horse. As with many Spanish sites, it is something of a car park, but the pitches are spacious and level and have water, hook-up and drainage. It has recently changed hands and the new owners have invested in upgrading the facilities. There is an on-site supermarket, bar, cafe and restaurant (although not really open at this time of year). The showers etc are good although they are of the hated fixed head type, but not push button. The laundry facilities are excellent with coin-op washer and dryer. They also had more of those clever Spanish hand-washing sinks, but this time ceramic. Very nice.

Thursday 12th March

We had a longer drive ahead of us today and so we set an alarm. Paul got up and walked the boys while I went and showered and then we ate and got cracking, packing up all the bits and pieces. We have got it off to a fine art now as we are doing it so often. We did discover that one of the feral cats on site had been using our Grey Waste Container as a temporary bed but we didn’t begrudge her that.

Driving through Valencia

Today, we drove through Valencia on, I suppose, the equivalent of the South Circular – but it was deserted – unlike the South Circular! One thing we have very definitely noticed is that there is very little litter in Spain. You do wonder what visitors to the UK think about our terrible littering habit. Very embarrassing.

We sadly turned our back on the Mediterranean, and headed inland – destination Zaragoza. The route we took was along the Autovia del Mudéjar. We noticed that all the bridges across the road were decorated with a kind of star of a very particular style. I’d seen it before but was curious to know more.

The Mudéjar star

It seems that the Mudéjar were a group of Muslims who stayed in Spain after it had been re-conquered. Their architectural style is unique to them and very Moorish-looking (for want of a better word).

It was a very hot drive and we made sure the boys were shielded from the sun as best we could. We arrived at our site in Zaragoza at around 2:45. It’s (or was?) a municipal site (Camping Zaragoza) but very pleasant and located right next to the canal – although it can’t be seen from the site, which is a shame.

Our pitch at Zaragoza

We followed the usual routine and Paul was soon hard at work and I wasn’t! When he eventually finished, we decided to try and find the towpath and go for a cycle along the canal with the boys.

The double gates to the canal looked as if they were locked but clever Paul spotted that the single gate to one side was actually unlocked. We pushed our bikes through and set off. We let the boys out of the backpacks almost immediately, but we had to be a bit careful, because some of those pesky pine trees, where the vile caterpillars like to lurk, were dotted around. It’s probably too early for them to be on the march in these cooler climes, but you can’t be too careful.

Towpath bridge

We had a lovely ride and encountered quite a few other walkers and bikers, but the boys behaved themselves well – until Ted decided to stop for a drink from the canal. Ted being Ted, over-stretched and promptly fell in. One wet dog but no real harm done.

We returned to the van just as the sun was going down and decided to go and have a look round Zaragoza at night. My research had showed that it might be well worth doing. We were further from the centre of Zaragoza than we originally thought but it was well worth the trip. The sight that I wanted to see was the Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar. It was such an amazing sight. Both of us agreed that it was probably the most impressive edifice that we had ever seen. We were actually glad that we had seen it at night as it was so beautifully illuminated. Our Lady of the PIllar (in English) is one of Mary’s nicknames, it seems? It was a vison of Mary that caused the first church to be built on this site.

Although there have been many churches on this site, the present one, built in the Baroque style, was begun in 1861. It has 11 cupolas and four towers. During the Spanish Civil War , three bombs were dropped on the church but none of them exploded. Divine intervention? Whatever, I am jolly glad that they did no harm to this beautiful building.

We took the opportunity to buy some of the cheapest diesel we have yet found – a mere 89p per litre! Result!

Cloud had built up during the evening and we could see flashes of lightning every now and then, on our journey back to the van. We arrived back to what sounded like many fighter planes having been scrambled, crackling through the airwaves. It was quite eerie as we couldn’t see them through the clouds and it went on for fully half an hour! What with that, the lightning and all the scary Covid-19 stories, it really did feel like we were witnessing the end of days. Me and my hyperactive imagination, eh? But it had really spooked our jumpy Ted. We assume they were from the Spanish Air Force base near Zaragoza.

We eventually retired, thankful that the planes had shoved off and that the road that borders the site is much quieter at night.

Friday 13th – eek!

Paul had a lot on work-wise so I had a lazy morning and then he dropped me at the nearby and huge Al Campo for a look round and to pick up some stuff for lunch and for our journey tomorrow.

I am a member of a Caravanning in Europe forum on Facebook and some worrying stories were starting to be posted, about sites closing down, sites not taking any new people and even sites asking people who had booked for a week to leave because they were closing.

Al Campo was very busy and I saw the signs of panic -buying for the first time in Spain. Things were starting to get very serious. We were even hearing stories of Spain closing its borders. This was the one we were most concerned about.

No loo roll!

All the checkout girls were wearing gloves and the one who checked out my purchases had a hacking cough. It’s funny how the hysteria that has been wound up by the press makes you a bit paranoid. Although it has now gone beyond the nonchalant stage, where we scoffed and said it would be just SARS or Swine Flu all over again. – just a storm in a teacup. WHO doesn’t declare a pandemic at the drop of a hat! In case you are concerned we do only have 6 loo rolls left. Time to buy some newspapers?

We had been joined on site by a very friendly English couple (from Camberley) in a camper van, who had been in Spain settling their daughter into her new life in Barcelona. They were a bit dog-sick as they had left their dog with friends and made a massive fuss of the boys, even offering to take them out for a walk. They were pretty worried about the situation, too, but were lucky enough to be getting a crossing from Santander on Saturday.

We decided we would get up early and make a dash for the border – just in case. But as we were here, we thought we’d go out for a last ride along the canal, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. We retired early, ready for the early start.

Winter Sun Pt 10 – La Manga to Calpe

Sunday 8th March

Another travelling day. We left at around 10:30, which seems to be our usual time.

It was warm and sunny, the boys had their sunshade and we made good progress. We stopped at around midday for coffee – good as usual. We passed into the province of Valencia on our way to today’s destination of Calpe.

I had visited the year before for a singing competition run by the Spanish Association of Barbershop Singers (SABS) and I had been quite taken with Calpe. It was touristy but in a fairly refined way, I thought, and I wanted to show Paul.

We passed by Benidorm which surprised Paul. From the motorway it looks like a kind of fairytale city with its fancy high-rise blocks. I have never been so have no wish to comment. A lot of people clearly like it but I suspect it’s not for us. Too British. I come to Spain to see and experience Spain and Spanish people and things.

The latter end of our route was quite challenging for a caravan but good old Paul just got on with it as he does and we finally arrived on site – Camping Estrella Polar – about 1:30

We were shown to a place next door to some other Brits with a MoHo and a Cavalier King Charles. They were very friendly and we chatted to them as we were setting up. Our pitc was under a Mimosa Tree and also a Pine tree, which afforded us some shade when we wanted it.

Mimosa Blossom

They went out on their scooter and we decided to hit Calpe. We went for a closer look at the dominating feature on the Calpe skyline – no. Not a hotel. A BIG rock – the Penyal d’Ifac which is 332 metres high. It’s pretty impressive.

We had a walk along the promenade by the lovely beach. It was very warm and people were swimming. We decided we’d eat out and popped into a restaurant for “raciones”. These are a larger serving than tapas and are perfect for sharing. You tend to order them one or two at a time and then keep on ordering until you are full. It was full of Spanish people so we reckoned we might have chosen well and indeed the food was excellent. But it was very smoky. Very odd to be in a room with people smoking these days.

Boquerones – Anchovies
Albondigas – or meatballs

When we eventually returned to the site we sat outside chatting to the Brits until the sun almost disappeared and the breeze made it too cold to sit out. But in our chatting, it transpired that they lived (until very recently) in Ferring. This – by extreme coincidence – is where our good friends Bob and Barb live. They don’t know them but when Paul said that they had a big old Hymer motorhome, he said oh yeah – they live in xxxxxxxx. And they do!!! Small world, eh?

Paul liked Calpe and could see why I had wanted to return. I pointed out the hotel where we had stayed and competed last year . We also popped into the very handy Mercadona opposite the hotel. We had been frequent users last year, buying snacks and stuff for our little gatherings. When we went to bed we heard – for the first time on this trip – cicadas as we went to sleep. Lovely.

Hotel Diamante Beach Calpe

Monday 9th March

We woke up to quite a hazy morning. Paul worked until lunch hour (2-ish)  and then we decided to go to Dénia so that we can check out where Uncle D has been.

We drove along the coast, noticing the abundance of large and flashy villas nestled on the hills along our route. Clearly some serious cash around these parts! We called in at Moraira, where the boys had a play on the beach. We met a 3 month old German Shepherd puppy and the boys were great with him and they had a great time playing chase. We thought Moraira, which has a Castle very similar to the one at Castillo de Baños, was very pleasant.

This was higher than it looks!
Castilla de Moraira
Paul and the boys

We pressed on to Dénia via Gata di Gorgos and the road took us through a very impressive gorge.

We liked Dénia. It has no high rise development to speak of and a very pleasant ambience. It’s bigger than I had anticipated and has every convenience. We particularly Liked  the end of the beach, past the (big) marina. The mountains behind Denia are also beautiful and there is a large castle , of Moorish origin.

Denia Marina
The Moorish Castle

We were pretty hungry by now and sadly happened across a McDonalds. Sometime you just gotta.

We returned to the campsite via the lake in Calpe where there are flamingoes, doing their headless thing. SO lovely to see them “in the wild”.

Paul worked all evening while I watched the box and then we retired, slightly earlier than usual, in readiness for the next leg of our homeward trip in the morning. 

Quick review of Camping Estrella Polar.

We liked it immediately we arrived. The pitches are not very private but that was actually OK. It’s set in a pine forest on a hill overlooking the town of Calpe. There’s a bar, showers (4 for men, 4 for women) pot-wash, and a washing machine. It’s very quiet. Close to eating places and a small supermarket. We would be very happy to return. The only slight niggle was that the rubbish was overflowing all the time. And the Processionary Caterpillars – of which more tomorrow.

Tuesday 10th MarchPt 1

We had been warned when we arrived that the site was experiencing an – well you can hardly call it an infestation, but they were rather a menace. Processionary Caterpillars. They like pine trees and travel in a procession. Nothing too menacing in that? But – they have hairs called “urticating hairs” – which they can eject like tiny harpoons. They cause a bad allergic reaction (nettle rash) on human skin and can be fatal for dogs. Dogs often lead with their nose and may even try to eat them, attracted by their smell. The hairs become embedded in the tongue and cause necrosis – the tongue can turn black and the passageways swell up, causing breathing difficulties. Immediate treatment is essential and one of the articles I read said that often, by the tome the animal p[resents to the vet, often the only thing they can do is ease suffering. Horrific!

The site had been working to eradicate them and we were pretty vigilant but as Paul went down the side of the van to disconnect our water supply he saw a procession of them. He immediately put the boys in the van (they were on short tethers but better to be safe than sorry?) and went to report.

The nests in the pine trees
A procession

Winter Sun Pt 9 – Turre to La Manga

Friday 6th March

We left the campsite at Turre at around 10:30, creeping slowly up that bumpy track and on to the road and thence back on to the AP7 – we had been on this road or its sister the A7 since we had left Castillo de Banos and will be on it all the time that we are on the coast of Spain. It runs from the French border to Algeciras. It’s over 1,000km long. It’s also part of the United Nations E route network – Route E15 which runs from Inverness to Algeciras. Who even knew? 

Temperatures today were predicted to be up in the mid to high 20s, so we had arranged a sunshade for the boys’ crates.

As we drove along, we listened to “Spectrum Radio” – an English-speaking station that caters for the many Brits that live in the area. It was fun listening to adverts for cafes advertising full English breakfasts and cream teas.

The drive took us through the Sierra Aguilon mountains and we left behind Almeria and entered the province of Murcia.

After an hour and a half, we stopped for coffee and a stretch of the legs for the boys. It was in a very attractive location, surrounded by mountains. And – as is customary – the coffee was delicious.

Location, location, location!

I whiled away the journey responding to emails/Skype and Slack messages for Paul, but soon we were approaching the area where we would be staying for two nights. Our immediate thoughts were that it reminded us of Miami.

Our campsite – Camping la Manga – is situated on the Mar Menor – a salt-water lagoon – and is mahoosive! It is fully a kilometre from the entrance to the beach and it has 800 touring pitches!

Camping La Manga

I had to walk to the designated Camping and Caravan Club area to get our pitch allocation and then back to reception to complete the check-in process. That was a long and hot old walk! The aerial picture here gives a good impression of the sheer size of the place.

Reunited with Paul, we set off to find our spot and ended up going the wrong way down the one way system and having to make a very tight turn to get to it. Not the best arrival!

The pitches are separated by tall laurel hedges and are reasonably private. Many of our neighbours have been here since January. I’m not sure I’d like that? We quickly got set up and Paul carried on working while I read my book in the sun.

We went out for a bike ride in the early evening and found a well ridden track across the field where we could safely let the boys off. They love running alongside the bikes in the sun, Ted in particular is very fast. And I can’t help but wonder at how well Bill does. You would genuinely never know that he had broken his leg at 5 months old. I always send mental good wishes to his lovely surgeon for doing such a great job.

It can be a little hazardous as they are only just beginning to learn that running in front of the bikes is not something that we encourage. I have had a couple of very near misses. Only my panther-like reactions have averted a very nasty accident!

The site has a bar/restaurant on the beach and we stopped there on the way back. The wind had really got up and it was a bit breezy sitting outside with the boys. We toyed with the idea of eating there but decided to go out in the car instead.

We drove along the road which separates the Mar Menor and the Med. The Mar Menor is the largest lagoon in Spain, with a surface area of 170 sq.kms. It even has a couple of Islands! And at no point is it deeper than 7 metres.

La Manga – the sleeve
Aerial shot of the Mar Menor

We had a quick look on Trip Advisor and chose “Tasca Tio Andres” for dinner. It was early – too early for Spanish diners – so we ate in splendid isolation. Our nearest neighbour was an all too realistic bull’s head.

Bully’s Spanish cousin

Our starter was good – crispy bacon and anchovies on tomato, on crispy toast. It went downhill for me from there, though. I had selected Monkfish Balls, imagining chunks of delicious fish enrobed in a light batter. What I actually got was three suet dumplings stuffed with minced fish in a moat of vaguely savoury liquid containing three clams. I’m sure it was perfectly edible but it was not to my taste. My bad! Paul enjoyed his braised oxtail.

And the icing on the cake for me was when we were joined at our table by a cockroach! We decided against dessert. I’d had enough by then!

An unwelcome dinner companion

Saturday 7th March

We headed out just before 11 – our destination was Cartagena, one of the main bases of the very powerful Spanish navy. Spain has had a big naval force since before the days of the Armada.

It is very obvious that Cartagena has, historically, been of some significance as there are many forts/redoubts in the hills around the town.

We parked in an underground car park and went for a stroll along the pretty newly laid promenade. There was a cruise ship in port and a trip boat plying its trade. We stopped for a coffee – thinking it was ironic that they had done so much work on the area and then stuck in a Burger King! Luckily the coffee is great from there, so it’s no big issue.

We spotted a land train but previous experience has shown these to be a mistake. And dogs probably have to be muzzled so it was a no-go.

Fortified by our coffee we set off to explore further. Having the dogs with us does limit what sight-seeing we can do, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

We saw the ex- bullring, which seemed to have been built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre. Further investigation confirms this and also that the bullring ceased to be used in the 80s. It seems to be being restored so that both the facade of the bullring and the ancient amphitheatre can live together in harmony.

THe Plaza del Toro/Amphitheatre

We got back in the car and drove to a headland which houses the town’s beach – the Cala Cortina. Somewhat less attractively the headland also houses the industrial port. But it is quite neatly tucked away and does not spoil the frontage.

We made our way back to La Manga (the sleeve in English) via La Esperanza and La Unión and there was much evidence of mining in the area – pit head gear, chimneys etc. We spotted the tram which runs from Cartagena to Los Nietos on the Mar Menor. Presumably used by commuters?

We called in at the largest Spar I have ever encountered and did some grocery shopping (many British products) and then returned to the van. Paul caught up on some more work while I read and then we went for another bike ride with the boys.

Quick review of Camping la Manga

Well it’s not for us. We weren’t taken by the area either and were glad we had chosen Castillo de Baños for our long stay. It’s incredibly well equipped though. The pitches are large and level, although a bit soul-less. The shower blocks are numerous – but equipped with the fixed head/push-button showers which I loathe! There is a heated outdoor pool, washing machines and driers, a beach, loads of sporting facilities, a supermarket- even a church! We had a warm welcome from the C&C Club stewards and everyone was very friendly- but it was really not our kind of site. And you need a bike to get around.

Winter Sun Pt 8 – Week 4 and moving on

This was an unusual week – this was the week that Paul had to go back to England for three days. I had not been looking forward to it as I knew that the days would be long. It was also our last full week at Castillo de , which is a sad thought. It really has begun to feel like home and we have definitely also fallen in love with the area. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We had the usual weekly get together on Monday morning and the group meal in the evening. This week’s dinner companions were as entertaining as usual (an ex Head Teacher and his wife from Derby and an ex London PA and her husband, now living in Cornwall) and we had a lovely evening with lively conversation.

On Tuesday we went shopping, to stock up for me for Paul’s absence, as I would not be going anywhere. And Tuesday evening was mainly domestics – stowing all the valuables from the car (as it would be left at Malaga airport) packing and showering, ready for an early start.

Paul was gone by 06:30 on Wednesday morning, having walked and fed the boys, for which I was very grateful. They eventually woke up again about 08:45 and we went out for the first of many walks. It’s nigh on impossible to take a good picture of my pesky boys on the beach – I did try, but here is one of the beach instead.

And that’s pretty much how the days passed. Reading punctuated by walking during the day and watching the box similarly punctuated by walks until bedtime. I took advantage of Paul’s absence to watch some stuff that he would be less keen on – including “Young, Welsh and Pretty Minted” – which was actually a really quite interesting look into how young bloggers and gamers and other “new occupations” earn their money – fortunes in some cases! I also started watching Shrill, set in Portland Oregon, which I absolutely love and recommend.

He arrived back at about 10:30 on Friday evening. The boys were naturally overjoyed – especially Ted, who squinnies if he just nips out to the shop! I was surprised how quickly he adapted to life with just me, actually.

Saturday 29th

Churros day! I had been wanting to have some since we had arrived in Spain and today was the day!! I had researched carefully and found that
Cafeteria Churreria Toledo was the the highest rated churreria in Motril and we set off to find it.

We found underground parking nearby and walked with the boys to its location on the corner of the market place. Trade was brisk and they actually had a queuing system, with numbers, like a cheese counter!

Waiting for our churros

I had a look round the market – nothing I needed – and then sat in the sunshine until a table became free. Interestingly, there was another churreria on the other corner that was nowhere near as busy. Trip Advisor had clearly sent us to the right place.

Our waiter, a really lovely, friendly young man, spoke very good English and we were soon chatting away about his plans to move to England with his girlfriend, a nurse. His mama cooks the churros and I said she’d surely miss him. He was interested to know where we lived and said they planned to go to the Manchester area as there would be good work opportunities for them there. I told him the weather was better down South. They have no idea what it’s going to be like, bless them! I hope they don’t run into any post-Brexit issues, poor kids.

The churros were wonderful. And not at all like those extruded ridged ones we usually see in the UK. They were actually more like the “funnel cake” that we had tried on Coney Island a while back. They were light and crispy with a slightly soft interior and not greasy. Dipped in the gloopy hot chocolate they were simply glorious – reader I nearly swooned!

The hot chocolate
The churros

We paid our bill, said adios to our new young amigo, paid our compliments to his Mum and departed, happily. We needed one or two bits of groceries but decided to shop later so as not to have to worry about refrigeration.

The town of Velez de Benaudalla, with its very square (and much restored) Arab castle was our first port of call on our drive into the Sierra Nevada (again – we just can’t keep away!). The attractive little town, nestled in the Gaudalfeo River Valley, looked a very pleasant place to live.

We kept seeing signs for Jardin Nazari but failed to find it, which is a shame as later research showed it would have been worth a visit. Maybe next time we’ll make more of an effort to find it?

The castle is built just where you would build a castle – on a rocky crag overlooking the town. I was much taken with it. It was restored by the town and is illuminated at night – I’d like to have seen that. The town is also notable for the fact that it won €30 million in the Spanish Christmas lottery in 2010. The Spanish Christmas lottery, dating back to 1763 is reckoned to be the world’s oldest. Apparently King Charles III needed some extra money for the state coffers and so the lottery was born! Tickets aren’t cheap mind you at €200 each. They are often bought by consortia or groups of friends/families.

Velez de Benaudalla – the castle
Velez de Benaudalla – town hall with fab trees

We followed the road along the opposite side of the reservoir to that we had visited previously. It leads eventually to Granada but we didn’t want to spend the whole day in the car for the dogs’ sake. It was very hot and sunny. We saw the quaint little towns of Izbor and Acebuches and then returned to Motril and a quick trip to Al Campo.

The dam from another angle
The reservoir
Bridges near Izbor

Whilst in Al Campo, I bought a bottle of Liptons Green Iced Tea – White Peach flavour. We love it! We discovered its sister tea – the Lemon Mint Green Iced tea last year – although it’s pretty hard to come by in the UK. Both much recommended- not too sweet. I have tweeted Liptons UK but they say they have no plan to stock it in the UK as “iced tea is not as popular here as elsewhere in the world”. Well it flipping well should be. Lobby Liptons – now !

Delicious served icy cold

We arrived back “home” to find we had new neighbours. Reader – there were 4 empty pitches either side of us (so 8 in total) – and other spaces as well. So where had they parked? Yep. You got that right. On the pitch right next door to us! Why? Why do people do that? Grr!!!!!

We (I) did some washing in preparation for our imminent departure. The washing facilities here are excellent. And it was warm and sunny with quite a stiff breeze. I planned to leave it out overnight so that it would be dry by morning.

I should mention that they have some very clever sinks for hand washing. They are stainless steel with a built in washboard. I have never seen anything like them in the UK. I really like them. If I had a biggish utility room I’d certainly think about getting one.

The clever hand-washing sink

Sunday 1st March

We woke up at 7 am – disturbed by a very frisky wind. That stiff breeze had stiffened still more. We closed the roof vent – just in case. We wondered if we were getting the tail end of Storm Jorge?

Paul couldn’t get back to sleep so set off with the dogs to tick off another of his Castillo de Baños bucket list. He wanted to climb to see the 16th Century “Torre Vigia” or watchtower just on the edge of La Mamola.

It’s called the “ Torre de Cautor” and is built on an 80 metre high rocky promontory overlooking the sea. Once again, it was well worth the climb. And Paul doesn’t know who was more surprised when 4 young deer bounded past! The boys weren’t quite sure what to make of them!

The torre
The view

He and the boys returned hot and thirsty from their exertions.

I had looked at the weather forecast and – quelle horreur! – it seemed that there may be a little rain in the next couple of days and also will be pretty breezy. We decided that as we are off on Thursday morning to pastures new, we’d use today to take down the awning and have a general tidy up. Nothing worse than stowing a damp awning! Incidentally- the washing was dry and ready to fold.

Why is it that nothing will EVER fold down to the size it was when you unpacked it? We took the awning down, folded it very carefully and, yes, it fits in the bag it came with. But it’s the kind of fit that you don’t want when you get a dress out of the wardrobe that has been there since the previous summer and it has inexplicably shrunk over the winter. Snug!

Approaching the tower

Incidentally, the awning is a SunnCamp Swift Air Plus and we have been very impressed with it. Instead of tent poles, you have a blow-up rib. It was easy to put up and was up for a month with no need to re-inflate.

Anyway. It’s done. And more washing today – bedding and towels. And steak and chips for dinner. It’s a tough life!

And then it was Monday again and my last coffee morning and our last group meal. Tuesday was a relaxing day although it was really very windy. Blue skies, sunshine and massive gusts! We drove to Motril for the very last time in the evening and stocked up with road-trip essentials and driving back we followed “a high-sided vehicle”. The wind socks on the viaducts were vertical! The HSV was driving very slowly and we could see it being buffeted onto the hard shoulder by the gusts. I’m a little worried about our journey on Thursday to be honest – but I’m a worrier. Paul said it would be fine. Hmmmm…..

On Wednesday I went to my last craft morning and did some “emergent painting”. More like emergency painting in my case!!! And I’m a little bit concerned about what is actually emerging…….

Tate Modern has been in touch!

I spent the rest of the day packing up and stowing things back in their rightful places – you get sloppy being in one place for so long! In the evening we went to our last quiz and we won. Resoundingly! Nice to go out on a high!

But all good things must come to an end which, as a child, I thought was grossly unfair and as an adult I don’t think my viewpoint has changed much.

My quick review of Castillo de Banos – a truly wonderful little site. An oasis of green. Great facilities – 3 fast washing machines, 3 tumble dryers, hand washing sinks, ironing board (own iron required) washing up sinks, showers galore and lashings of hot water. Great location right on the beach. Really well stocked village shop with a butchery department, run by a lovely and very hard-working Chinese couple. A restaurant and bar on site, plus a restaurant in the village just a 1 minute walk. Good size pitches, nicely separated by hedges. Fully serviced . Cutest little electric supply – plastic tree trunks. Would I go back? Hell yeah.

The electricity point

Thursday 5th March

We were up and at it from 07:45 and left at 09:40. We had said our goodbyes the previous night. We travelled about 120 miles to Turre – a town just inland from Mojacar, on the coast. In so doing, we left behind the Granada Province and entered the Province of Almeria

Our last pic at Castillo de Banos

One thing I have hardly mentioned so far – largely because it wasn’t an issue – but our campsite was bordered by plastic greenhouses. They were unnoticeable, really. But driving through Almeria on the “Costa del Polythene” was mind-boggling. Everywhere you looked – plastic. There is a very interesting article about it all here. Apparently the area can clearly be seen from space. Unreal.

We drove through the big city of Almeria (on the by-pass). We saw – in a perfect location – an amazingly well-preserved castle/fortress. It was the Alcazaba – a 10th century Moorish fortress – apparently used as a location in Game of Thrones. It was a sight to see – even from a distance.

We stopped for refreshments all round after an hour and a half. The landscape is different again – very arid, scrubby. almost desert-looking. It’s very interesting to see the landscape changing as we drive further up the coast.

We arrived at Camping La Cañada at around 12:30. Access was down a very bumpy track so we took it very slowly. The grass growing down the centre of the track was very long and we could hear it giving our undercarriage a good clean up!

This site is very basic. There is no hook-up unless you are staying for 3 days or more, no fresh drinking water and you have to take your rubbish out with you. BUT – what a great view! And it was quite rural. And the showers and toilets were very clean. We liked it immediately, despite all the apparent “hardships”.

Once set up, we needed some bread for lunch so decided to pop into town. We ended up in the port and resort of Garrucha where we called in to a newish-looking LIDL I bought bread plus some stuff for our lunch, which we ate in the car.

As we were on the coast, we thought we’d carry on to Mojacar, where I remembered Paul’s paternal Grandmother liked to holiday.

The beach at Nerja

It was mid-afternoon by then and we really fancied an ice-cream. We found just the place! An Italian gelateria called Gelateria Italiana Alberto. It gets a very good rating on Trip Advisor – and rightly so. The menu was extensive and the choice was mind-boggling! Paul eventually plumped for a Peach Melba sundae, while I had a half metre board with scoops of 5 different flavours. The flavours I chose were (left to right in the pic below) Coffee, Turrone, Spekuloos, Kinder Egg chocolate and banana. The Spekuloos was my favourite. Paul’s was the banana. They all look a bit beige in retrospect but they were, each one, delicious in their own way. As was the Peach Melba.

A half metre of ice-cream
Peach Melba

We went home to relax (well I did – poor Paul had work to do). I had a snooze while Paul worked and then we went for a ride on our bikes into Turre along the “rambla”. It was a safe track on which to let the boys off lead (and out of their back-packs)) and they loved it, running, fighting and scrambling around in the dust.

Rambla-ing around

One of Ted’s claws caught my arm as we put him back in his carrier on the outskirts of the town. It did not hurt but just would not stop bleeding, so we had to call in at a pharmacy and buy some plasters. I’ve seen it written on Elastoplast packs so often, I actually remembered that the word was – “tiritas”. I remember some right rubbish!!

The assistant was very sweet and cleaned it up for me before applying a plaster. We walked round the plaza and I was particularly taken with some trees which had both fruit and blossom growing on them. I still can’t get over the novelty of seeing heavily laden orange trees. And the orange blossom is so pretty.

We set off for the journey back to the site, once again managing to resist the call of a mobile churreria!

We arrived home just as dusk was falling and were rewarded with a really stunning sunset.

The temperature today peaked at around 27C but you can tell it’s still early in the year as it chills rapidly once the sun has disappeared.

We were a little low on battery (no hook-up) and we sat for a while in the dark, chatting and catching up with the world on our phones. I have to admit that I’m a little over the whole COVID-19 story. More pandemonium than pandemic. All this stupid hysteria, whipped up by the press. So annoying – particularly the panic buying. We are not seeing this in Spain so far, I’m pleased to say.

We drifted off to sleep to the barking of all the dogs in the surrounding area. Must have been the Spanish equivalent of the “twilight barking” (see the book “101 Dalmatians” by Dodie Smith for reference, which I loved as a kid). Perhaps “el ladrido crepusccolo”?

The view from the La Canada