A Long Drive to a Border Town

09/12/18 – 10/12/18
We spent Sunday driving north through Spain. We had a destination in mind, but sometimes life throws us a little disappointment. We were almost retracing our steps through the Serra del Montsec and had decided to make good on our promise to explore the place more thoroughly. We had our hearts set on a dramatic walk through the Mont-Rebei gorge. Alas it was not to be. The main car park has a height barrier (boo hiss) and all other parking spots along the road were rammed. Coaches, motorhomes and just other cars we struggling to find spaces in the few laybys and lots of official looking signs sensibly prohibited parking on the single track road. We reluctantly, and with great sulkiness on my part, left this for another day. It’s obviously a very popular walk and so one for a weekday in winter.
We decided that, rather than look for an alternative walk in an area that seemed very deficient in motorhome parking – even park4night was drawing a blank – we might as well carry on to the Pyrenees and stop somewhere we knew would be motorhome friendly. And so we ended up in Les, a small town on the border with France. By the time we got here it was late afternoon and the town was pretty quiet with only one other motorhome parked up by the cemetery. Les was an odd border town. We had noticed that Spain’s prices were significantly lower than France, but we hadn’t realised that this would spawn border towns that were very much like Andorra; full of perfume, cigarette and alcohol suppliers. Not duty free of course, but the lower prices were enough to tempt people across the border to shop in bulk. Sadly the only shop we were really interested in – the local cider co-op – was closed.
Parked up by the river in Les
We had one final walk in Spain before we crossed the border ourselves. From our parking spot we walked a figure of eight with the pretty village of Bausen as it’s waist. The route took us north of the village along the Camin dera Lana, past farm yards full of overwintering livestock, to the point where it crossed the main road. From here we crossed onto the road to Bausen and took the footpath that branched left from the road soon after the junction. We had left the Pyrenees shrouded in snow, but the snow appeared to have melted from all but the highest tops. The autumn leaves that had been clothing the trees in bright russet shades were now on the forest floor, hiding the rocks and mud (and dog poo) and creating a slippery uphill walk.
Bare trees and fallen leaves
The path took us through Bausen where a number of paths meet. Our way on was via the Cami de Carlac that heads out of the north east corner of the village and on up along further forested paths.

As we climbed out of the forest the path circled round to the west and south and we started to head back downhill across slopes with a very different character, bare of trees and with many ramshackle huts and houses that seemed abandoned. We assume that these are the homes and shelters used while livestock are on the summer pastures, although it seems unlikely that any are used now. Motorised transport means that farmers and herders no longer need to move up to the hills in the summer, they can remain in their village homes and hop on their quad bikes.

Run down mountain hut
Mountain views, you can see that the near slopes are peppered with buildings.

The path bought us back down to Bausen, which we left from the south west corner this time, following the signs back to Les. We walked back through the village, passing the cider shop (still shut) on the way to Bertie. Although the walk was less wild than we had been used to it had still been enjoyable, particularly on the return leg where the forests had given way to views across the hills.   

Old cobbled tracks on the mountains, ancient paths between villages and pastures
We decided to stay one more night in Les, our final night in Spain, and in the Pyrenees, for now.
Les and Bausen Figure of Eight Walk
  • Distance: 16.7 km
  • Total Elevation: 803 m
  • Time taken: 4hrs 40mins
  • Type of Route: Easy/Moderate
  • Further Information:

A Final Stop at the Seaside

07/12/18 – 08/12/18

We could have been accused of having no imagination as we trundled back to the Castell Saint Jordi. With a colder spell of weather approaching we wanted to spend a last couple of days by the beach and decided we were safer going back to somewhere we knew and liked. 

Although the sun was still shining the breeze was picking up and the air was already feeling fresher, but I was determined to get a final swim in before we made our way back to the UK so I was straight down the beach in my bikini, getting some very odd looks from the Spanish who were all wrapped up in their winter gear. Paul was still feeling a little under the weather so he was towel monitor. I followed the swim up with a nice walk along the coast to the south.

Paul was a little jealous of my swim and so when he awoke the next morning feeling bright and chipper he decided that we should go snorkelling. Yet again we provided entertainment as we walked down to the beach in our wetsuits. The snorkelling was brilliant with many colourful fishes and interesting caves and alcoves but it was quite chilly above the water as the breeze ruffled our hair.  

Drying out our snorkel tubes on the kitchen roll holder

 

I finally got up early enough to see the sunrise.

We didn’t spend the whole time being stared at – on the Friday afternoon when we arrived we had a good old nosey at an altercation happening across the carpark from us. A Spanish couple and their children had turned up, presumably for the weekend. When the police arrived on one of their regular rounds they stopped outside the Spanish motorhome and had a good look around and then a long conversation with the man where there was a lot of arm waving on both sides. We couldn’t work out what the problem was until the police car drove away. Then we saw the big puddle of water under the van – presumably the grey waste. For those of you who don’t know, grey waste is the waste water generated from anything that goes down the plug holes i.e. showers and washing up. Normally it gets collected in a tank and you drive to a motorhome point where you can dispose of it by driving over a drain. It is not at all good form to dispose of it on a paved surface and although it’s not the worst effluent it can get a bit smelly. It was pretty obvious by the arm waving that they were being told to leave, but first the poor man had to endure a dressing down from his partner which also involved a lot of arm waving and shouting. It was with a very hangdog expression that he finally drove off. 

 

The Ebro Delta – Birds, Sunsets and Cycling

05/12/18 – 06/12/18

When you look at the Delta de l’Ebre (if you are Catalan – Delta del Ebro if you are Spanish) on the map it looks like a stingray swimming away from Spain’s coast, the two sandbanks, north and south, being the spread wings. It also looks like a pretty small area, but distances in Spain are deceptive and there was plenty to keep us here for a week let alone two days.

It wont be a place for everyone – it’s very quiet – but if you like being outdoors, watching birds and cycling it is a great place to visit. Rice is grown here in the fields and there are plenty of restaurants specialising in rice dishes. I imagine that in the summer there are a lot of unpleasant biting insects flying around, so it seemed we had picked a perfect time to visit, not too warm but nice and sunny. It has to be a contender for the top ten of places we have been to on this trip and that is a major accolade especially as Paul was pretty poorly while we were there. In fact maybe we enjoyed it so much because he was poorly and got to hang out in the van while I got out for some ‘me time’… 

We spent two nights here, one in the mixed parking at the village of Poble Nou and one in the large motorhome parking area associated with La Casa de Fusta (free to park and a few euros for the service point). There are plenty of notices that forbid overnight parking on some of the most scenic spots, especially around the coast. Lots of people were ignoring these signs and secreting themselves among the rushes down sandy or muddy tracks that looked ideal for getting embarrassingly stuck, we chose not to follow their example. We did park up on the beach at Trabucador one day for Paul to sit in the van and watch the world go by while I cycled, but we stayed on the firm sand where we felt fairly confident because the salt lorries drive up and down several times a day.

Bertie at the Beach

The roads around the park are quite narrow, with just a couple of key roads that have two defined lanes. I have to admit I wouldn’t feel confident driving in the dark because the single track roads are usually causeways raised above the rice paddies and bounded by watery ditches. it was also very popular with motorhomes, it was a holiday weekend so Spanish families were out in force; the parking at La Casa de Fusta was full and overflowing into the restaurant car park by the time the sun set.

We managed to get out for walks at dusk to see the glorious sunsets and the starling mumurations that dizzied us with their swirling patterns. Paul was ok so long as he didn’t stray too far from the toilet.

I also managed a good long bike ride, with some muddy sections along the beaches and then following the cycle path that follows the Ebro river. I would definitely recommend cycling here – although there are footpaths you can see a lot more by cycling and it’s nice and flat. All around the lakes were bird hides, so my cycle was punctuated by lots of stops to get the binoculars out and spot the many different birds, including flamingos (never boring no matter how often they are seen) and marsh harriers as well as many of the usual wetland species, I don’t think I have ever seen so many herons. In the Ebro river and behind the wings of the delta it was easy to spot fishes jumping lazily from the water, they didn’t seem to be falling for the fishermen’s lures though.  

Traditional rice farmers dwelling – with some flamingos in the distance
One of the many bird hides
Fishing traps along the Ebro river
Views back to the Serra d’Irta

 

    

 

A Campanille and a Castle

04/12/18

We were still heading north and fancied a walk in the Serra d’Irta natural park. This area of hills and coast is between Peniscola and Alcossebre and we’d walked the coastline here almost a year ago when on our way to Italy. This time we wanted to hike the hills so we turned off the N-340 to park up next to the Calvary hermitage. It was a hidden and sharp right hand turn off this busy road which no one behind us was expecting. So even though we were indicating and had slowed down there was a bit of horn honking as we turned off.

The pretty hermitage is on park4night but I wouldn’t recommend it as an overnight stop unless you are immune to the noise of traffic; it nestles in between the N-340 and the toll road. As a parking spot for our walk though it was pretty perfect and it seemed to be a popular picnic spot with a couple of other Spanish vans joining us. If you were even more adventurous you could drive further into the park but it was single track roads and dirt tracks from here.

Parked up at the picnic spot next to the hermitage.

There are plenty of walking and mountain biking paths in the park and you can choose to walk as far as you like. Our plan was to walk east and then turn north to walk along the ridge of the Campanilles which includes the highest point in the park. From here we would turn west on one of the mountain biking trails before heading south to Xivert Castle and then back to the van.

The walk started by following the single track Cami de l’Espotet, crossing a road bridge and walking between orange and olive groves. Eventually the road turned right and we continued straight on a dirt track that took us up the Barranc de la Carrera. From here the path was well signposted to the Campanilles ridge where we started to encounter a lot of broken limestone rock underfoot and some interesting opportunities to scramble the crest of the ridge instead of sticking to the path. Here and there amongst the usual scrubby foliage and pine trees we could see purple flag iris providing an unusual dot of colour. 

Taking a rest at the highest point of the Campanilles
There was no skimping on signposting
Broken limestone pavement, a bit awkward underfoot

This ridge continues to the northern side of the natural park, but we took a left turn where it crossed an obvious and wide dirt track, marked as a mountain biking route.  From there it was a case of following signs to the Castell de Xivert. The castle is an obvious landmark as you drive the N-340 and it is impressive up close too if you like a ruined castle (which I do). Originally constructed by the Moors, the majority of the castle you can see now was constructed by the Knights Templar and added to in the middle ages. It is free to visit and the information boards dotted around have English information. Although there is a reasonable amount of parking I’m not sure how easily it would be reached by motorhome, it would make a good parking spot though if you were brave enough to try it.

Xivert castle from the outside…
…and from the inside

The walk was 20k in total, and although we hadn’t climbed very high there had been a lot of ups and downs so it had been a tiring day. We were worn out by the walk and the very warm sunshine but still had to find somewhere to stop for the evening. We ended up pushing on to Benicarlo where there were free services with just seven parking spaces. Luckily for us someone left just as we turned up and we bagged the last space. We were very glad not to have to move again even though there was more parking a bit further north that would have been fine. Unusually all seven vans were British and we enjoyed a quick catch up with some of the residents before heading to the supermarket to buy something that wouldn’t take much cooking.

 

Happy New Year

Today is the first day of 2019. Yes Really, 2019! I can still remember when the year 2000 seemed like the distant future and now we are speeding on our way to 2020. 

As usual the past year seems to have flown by at the same time as being chock full of stuff. Does time pass more quickly as one gets older? As each year becomes a smaller proportion of the total time we’ve spent on this planet it must have an impact on how we perceive it, but looking back over the past year has made us realise that a year spent travelling and experiencing different things passes much more slowly than a year of routine work. What a bonus for us.

We started 2018 in one of our favourite places ,on the beach in the Cabo de Gata national park. And we ended the year with a few of our favourite people in our ‘home town’ of Exmouth. In between we have visited a relatively small number of countries, choosing to spend more time immersing ourselves in places. rather than dashing around. We spent 4 months in Italy alone and two months in the Pyrenees – that’s half the year! The rest of the time has been spent in other parts of France and Spain, and in the UK. We have taken in two international rugby matches, met up with friends and family abroad, returned to the UK for celebrations, walked over 1000 km and cycled almost the same amount. We have kayaked, fished, snow-shoed and skied.  We have been to the Appenines, Alps and Pyrenees to indulge our love of mountains but also found amazing places in the lowlands where the land blends into the sea and the light seems to last forever. We have learned more about what makes us happy as individuals and as a couple. There haven’t been any epiphanies, it’s just that taking some time out has given us more opportunity to get out of our rut, grow and learn.

And what does 2019 hold? Well we are heading back over the channel later in January and will be attempting an extended skiing trip. When we have had enough of cold snowy weather we expect to move on to explore the parts of north-east Italy we didn’t manage before, plus maybe a trip down the other side of the Adriatic.

We are trying to decide whether to return to work in the summer, or to keep going until early the following year. Whatever happens we will need to go back to work, we need more money in the coffers before we can consider retiring for good.

With a potential need to earn some money and the fact that we don’t really know the impact of Brexit yet (it could restrict the time we can spend in the Schengen area) we’re not making any further plans for the year. 

Our biggest disappointment has been that we didn’t make it to Scandinavia. We just haven’t had the time to devote to an extended trip in the summer months. It is on our list of ‘must do’ trips so hopefully we’ll get there at some point, but it might be after a temporary return to work. 

Have a very Happy New Year everyone,.May 2019 be a year of happiness and fulfilment for you all.