Thank you 2017. Come On 2018

So 2017 is now over and we are in the south of Spain basking in the sunshine on the first day of the new year. Last night we drank the remainder of our drinks cabinet from home – an inch or so of gin and vodka, a smidge of white port and a couple of beers and ciders. Not enough to give us a hangover but enough to generate an impressive looking recycling collection.

We’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions so I’m afraid they are rather thin on the ground, but we have spent a bit of time looking back over 2017 and forward to 2018. How different life is from the beginning of the year when we were both in full time jobs, jobs with stresses and frustrations but also with certainty, accomplishments and purpose. 

Of course at the start of the year we did already know that our lives were due to change, my redundancy was a long a drawn out affair giving plenty of time for planning and preparation. So it was that in April we’d had all the leaving parties and  finally shucked off the bonds of employment and by early May we had packed up our belongings, let our house and embarked on our travelling life.

Since then we have spent time touring the UK, mostly in Wales and Scotland before moving onto mainland Europe in October. Bertie has taken us over 10,000km though Britain, France, Portugal and Spain. We have walked 661 km and cycled 1218 km (and that’s just the tracked walks/bike rides), we have used the kayak a paltry 4 times (we may have to revisit whether it’s worth lugging it around with us) and Paul has caught very few fish. We have explored places familiar and those we’ve never even heard of before; from mountains to coast and everything in between.  

We watched with pride as our son graduated at RAF Cranwell, we passed our 10th wedding anniversary unremarked (we’re not very good at remembering things like that and thought it was next year – doh!), we have learned what it’s like to rent out our ‘home’ and the frustration of dealing with issues from a distance (why the issues with drains now?), we have seen the lives or our friends and family change and evolve, even if only from a distance. Social media may have it’s downside, eating data and time, but for us it’s a communications lifeline, the ability to share snippets of life on a constant basis rather than as bundled downloads makes us feel more connected.

Gradually we have settled into this travelling life. It has been an odd transition that I have compared to the point when Aaron stopped needing us to ferry him around to his various activities. Suddenly our weekends had no purpose and we drifted for a while before we established a new rhythm, what would we do with all our free time? In a similar way we are only just finding a new structure to our lives, we are starting to understand the right balance between activities, sight seeing and ‘rest’ days where we don’t really rest but spend time doing more domestic things like baking cakes, cleaning and maintenance – we’re having one of those days right now. We have got used to spending hours in each other’s company in a box that’s less than 7 meters long and 2.2 wide but conversely we know we have to work harder at ‘bursting the bubble’ of the two of us in Bertie and push ourselves into interacting with people however transitory the relationships. We’re also putting some effort into acquiring languages, although I think there needs to be some sort of ‘foreign languages for the socially awkward’ guide to help not just with the learning part, but with the confidence to use it and not just end up falling back on English.            

What will 2018 bring? We hope to do some skiing and test how well Bertie is winterised, and we’ve got tickets to watch a six nations match in Italy. After that we’re not sure whether we’ll head down to see the south of Italy, or go north to Norway. There are some important birthdays in summer which will take us back to the UK and we are considering whether we get some temporary employment while we’re back for a couple of months, we’re also looking at volunteering opportunities in other countries. We’ll carry on trying to improve our language skills and interact more with people as we travel.

Every time we talk about what we’re doing we think about how lucky we were to have this opportunity and how fortunate it is that we decided to take it. It has bought us many amazing experiences and opportunities.

For everyone out there we hope for a positive and rewarding 2018. 

Cheers x

The Grazalema Mountains

16/12/17 – 17/12/17

From Seville we travelled south east to the Sierra de Grazalema natural park where we hoped to get our mountain fix. Our first stop was El Bosque, a town on the outskirts of the natural park with a tourist information centre and motorhome services.

Mountain views as we approach El Bosque

Our arrival in El Bosque was complicated by a trail running event a sport I half wish I was capable of, and half think is completely nuts. The start and finish point was on the road with the motorhome services so it was closed and barriers were up. We did a slow drive by before turning round and finding some temporary parking up near the petrol station. I went in to the town to find out when it would be over and to get some information about walks. It was just before two so tourist information was just about to close, they did provide a map of walks (free this time), told me I would have no problem getting permits for the walks that need them and said that the trail running festival was finishing at 2 and so we should be able to get into the motorhome service point by 2:30. They did all of this without letting me fully through the door while jangling their keys – a sure sign it was lunch time – but I couldn’t fault the information they’d provided. True to their prediction the barriers were down and the tape removed in short order and we could park near the services.

As it was still pretty early we took a short bike ride out of El Bosque to the village of Prado del Rey, we had found a really good booklet of mountain biking routes online here. This was another rural circuit, but we could see bare topped mountains in the distance as we traversed muddy, rutted, farm tracks. When we stopped on one track for a quick snack I heard a slurping sound in my ear that definitely wasn’t Paul – a huge dog had come up behind me (it’s head was about level with the bottom of my ribcage when I stood up). Luckily it was a big softie and just wanted some fuss, with the size of it’s jaws it could have taken my throat out!


Roman Salt Pans on the way back to El Bosque
Wide farm tracks and views of mountains

We stayed at El Bosque that evening and researched a few walks. As well as the information from the tourist office we found a very good website here. We wanted to do the Salto de Cabrero walk, but when we got to the car park (at the Mirador ‘Puerto del Boyar’) we found that the walk was closed. Instead we took the walking route from the same car park that went over a pass in the mountains to Grazalema village – the ‘Puerto del las Presillas’. It was a frosty morning and the route started on the north side of the hills, the limestone rocks were slippery underfoot with the frost and even more slippery when the frost had started to melt. We climbed through woodland and past a spring before the trees started to disappear and we were on open mountainside. This was more like it and the strong sun in cloudless skies quickly warmed us up as we strode across the grass.

Lime Kilns on the lower slopes of the mountains
Looking down towards an enclosure at the Grazalema end of the walk
Grazalema cattle – sharp horns but friendly faces

The pass took us between a ridge and hills before descending down the other side where the melting frost had left the path mushy underfoot. On the way down we passed a large group coming up from Grazalema, one boy of 10 or so was particularly excited but my Spanish and his English didn’t extend beyond exchanging greetings and names before he gave me a hug – much to my surprise as I’m not really the most cuddly person. On the way back as we retraced our steps we saw the whole group taking mass on the mountainside against a backdrop of rocky slopes. A table had been laid out as the altar and two priests must have carried their pristine surplices up with them – I couldn’t see any mud on the hems. We could only conjecture what was happening, but wondered if the young lad was being confirmed.

Mass on the mountainside

When we got back to Bertie we decided to move onto Grazalema village to park for the night. This would allow us to pick up some lunch items from the shops and was closer to the start of the walk. We tried a couple of spots on our side (south) of the village but they were pretty sloping, so ended up moving onto the other side of the village where some level parking had good views across rooftops to the mountains beyond. The only downside were the rumble strips on the road which were our early morning alarm.