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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.