Buona Pasqua! Buona Pasquetta!

01/04/18 – 02/04/18

We settled into our campsite at Lago Arvo waiting for the predicted snow to arrive. The temperature got gradually colder and the snow started to fall in dusty sprinkles before becoming slightly more persistent. On and off it settled and then thawed, it wasn’t going to be enough to remain at this altitude but I’m sure the people who were skiing were crossing their fingers for a top up of the snow base at the local ski resort in Lorica.

It was Easter Sunday – Pasqua – and the campsite was pretty quiet, we watched some skiers come and go with their kit on the top of their car, but we stayed in Bertie most of the day, staying toasty with the heater running. Every now and again we would take a quick walk around the campsite to stretch our legs. We indulged in our usual rainy day pursuits, playing some cards and scrabble. I got deeply entrenched in a book and had to tear myself away from it to do some baking – chocolate cake for Paul and a bit of ‘anything in the cupboard’ flapjack for me.

Cake!

By the evening the snow had passed and longer clear spells were evident. The following morning the skies were clear and we set off on our planned walk, a ‘spoon shaped’ walk heading east along a path and then doing a loop through the mountains before returning along the original path.

Almost immediately we ran into trouble, the map showed a path running eastwards along the northern edge of the lake to the dam. Even the trailhead map showed the same. But the path markers were pointing along the road. We didn’t really want to walk along the road so we attempted to follow the line shown on the map. On the way back we followed the road – there had obviously been some land access issues and our walk to the dam had multiple hazards, barbed wire, fast flowing streams and livestock. When we got to the dam we found ourselves on the wrong side of the security and had to be let out, luckily by some friendly staff who didn’t bat an eyelid at us turning up inside their gated compound. 

Brilliant blue – Lago Arvo

The plan from here was to ascend path CAI438 and descend CAI420 making a loop that ascended to a ridge line and some minor summits. We started off going up the well marked path past the farmhouse and ascending through orchards before entering the forest. The sunlight was streaming through the trees and plenty of golden beech leaves were lying on the ground giving an autumnal feel to the landscape.  As we climbed higher we started to encounter snow patches on the ground until finally we were walking across snow. Crocuses and other spring flowers created dots of colour and the only footprints disturbing the snow were animal tracks, rabbits and deer we think. We could see distant views of the ski resort on the other side of the lake and every now and again we heard a blast of loud music echoing off the far hills. We assumed it was the Easter celebrations at the ski resort, little did we realise that it was a family having a party at our campsite. Today was Pasquetta – Easter Monday – it’s the traditional day on the Easter weekend for spending time with family and friends in the countryside. Their celebrations and extremely loud music lasted well into the evening but not so late that it caused us any issues getting to sleep.

We were about 100m of altitude below the top of the ridge when we had to turn back. The snow had become deeper and deeper and ideally we would have had snow shoes, but without them we couldn’t continue to safely get through the snow. There is always that moment when you know you should turn back but just continue anyway. We struggled through knee deep snow for a few more meters hoping in vain that it was just a drift and would get shallower, but really we knew it was time to turn around and when Paul stepped into a thigh deep drift we did. 

Making tracks through the snow – real spring weather, snow on the ground but warm enough to be in a t-shirt

As we turned back and walked down the path we had so recently ascended it was amazing the difference an hour or so had made. Much of the snow from earlier had melted, leaving flowers in open meadows rather than snowy plains. Our footprints had become yeti prints, expanding with the melt. More water was running down the path and within a short while we were below the snow line and walking back to Bertie in warm spring weather.

 

 

Not Only Onions in Tropea

19/03/18

As we drove into Tropea, passing a number of vegetable selling stalls on the side of the road, I finally remembered why I recognised the name. We had recently watched the Hairy Bikers Mediterranean Adventures and in the first episode they had featured the ‘famous’ Tropea onion. It may be famous in Italy but I hadn’t heard of it until watching the programme, of course now we were here I had to try some.

The red skinned onions are sweet and mild with very little of the acridity of the cooking onions that we might buy in the supermarket. Given that the taste of uncooked onion can linger in my mouth for 24 hours they were the ideal salad onion for me. The onions are sold all year round in various guises, right now the onions on sale are slim, with very little bulb and can be eaten raw in salads like a spring onion as well as being cooked. We particularly like it in a stir fry although I imagine Italians would think that was sacrilege.

Tropea Onions

Tropea is an attractive town set on top of a cliff with an area of seafront below the cliff where we found a few carparks to choose from. At the moment the parking is free, with the parking meters removed from the car parks. Our sat nav had fun on our journey into Tropea as it tried to entice us into a dive onto a road 5 meters below, but we managed to find a route we were actually capable of and work our way down to the one way system on the seafront. Getting out was equally tricky, as the route south goes under an impassably low bridge (there are signs saying no motorhomes and vans, so it’s worth paying attention to them, guess who didn’t!). You have to head out north, AND the road was closed AND there is a ZTL! In retrospect it would have been easier to go the wrong way back along the seafront, we had seen a number of people doing this but thought that we would be good for a change.

Tropea. Looking down from the cliffs
Looking up from the car park to the Santuario di Santa Maria dell’Isola

Once in the carpark we were accosted by a ‘fisherman’ who wanted to sell us some fish. At €10 euros a kilo it wasn’t bad value, but they were small fish that would definitely not meet any regs for minimum size. Nevertheless we decided to buy some for dinner, after all they were dead already. Then he then tried to double the price. For some reason being ripped off always makes me feel embarrassed, I blame it on my Britishness.  My only defence is what Paul calls my ‘Paddington stare’, I think it makes the recipient think I’m a little simple. Anyway I handed over the previously agreed €10 with a bland look and he wandered off without any further attempt to inveigle more money from us.

Fish for dinner – a bit small and fiddly but fresh and tasty

We cycled from Tropea to Capo Vaticano, following the smaller roads where we could (a lot of them were dead ends) past endless fields of onions in the red soil. The smell of onion was always faintly in the air, especially where they were being harvested. There were views out to Stromboli and the Aeolian Islands, a little hazy but we could just about make them out. It bought back memories of our trip to Stromboli a couple of years ago. If you ever get the opportunity then do go, it’s an amazing experience to sit and watch the firework display of a live volcano as the sun goes down.

Looking south from Capo Vaticano

The day had started bright but breezy and the increasingly gusty winds drove us back from the headland and views of Cabo Vaticano to Bertie where we spent the evening watching the sky turn a dark purple, delivering thunder, lightening and hail. With a mixed forecast for the next few days we decided to head to a campsite to do some washing and chores.  

  

A Walk and Two Doughnuts

10/03/18

We stayed in Marina di Camerota for two very different nights. On Friday night we were joined by a couple of Italian motorhomes in the big carpark behind the beach and had a peaceful night’s sleep. On the Saturday night the Italian motorhomes had left us alone in the carpark and we spent a couple of hours being the obstacle in a boy racer’s playground. It was only one car with a young driver and his girlfriend taking it in turns to speed up and down, do handbrake turns and screech donuts around us. Paul watched from our bedroom window, probably reliving his youth, and after a while they left us in peace. That’ll teach us to be wary of large empty carparks on Saturday nights.

Marina di Camerota

During the day we took another coastal walk to visit four beaches; the long sandy beach at Marina di Camerota that is split in two by a small rocky promentory, and the steep sided coves of Calas Pozzallo, Bianca and Infreschi. In fact we didn’t end up getting as far as Infreschi, having been captivated by the two other beaches. One day we may come back and walk in to Cala Infreschi from the other direction.

Looking across the long sandy beach at Marina di Camerota from the east

This coastline here is still part of the Cilento national park and is stunning. The cliffs are steep and wooded and the path strays inland to avoid obstacles but when it hits the coast you are rewarded with limestone cliffs, wave cut caves and brilliant blue water.

Caves in the cliffs – most of them had barriers in place

As we walked east of the carpark we encountered the first cave, a tourist attraction just behind the headland that divides the beach. This was gated and closed for the low season but we could read the boards that explained the Neaderthal and early Homo Sapiens habitation of the site. At the far end of the beach was the town’s cemetery and the path heads up through the wooded cliff beyond this, marked with red and white slashes. We had considered an alternative route closer to the cliff edge that we had seen from the far end of the beach, but didn’t realise that it would involve wading through the sea for a couple of yards, so decided to leave that for the return.

The path took us up through the woods and then onto tracks past olive groves, farm buildings and villas. We took a wrong turn at one point, keen to get off the main track we headed down a path through olive trees only to reach a dead end where a couple were clearing undergrowth from around the trees. They directed us back up to the track where we kept a closer eye out for the route markers.

Brightly coloured lizard – in the warm sunshine they were everywhere

The day was turning out to be pleasantly sunny and warm and so we stopped to enjoy some sun when we reached  the pebbly beach at Cala Pozzallo. The walk down here had taken us past a small patch of agricultural land where dogs yapped at us (not an uncommon occurrence here) and a rather nice beach bar (closed). The beach had the look of somewhere that is visited mostly by boat as one of those ‘visit a deserted beach but actually you can rent chairs and umberellas and get a cocktail once you’re there’ destinations.

Once we managed to tear ourselves away from here we took another detour inland before dropping down to Cala Bianca, this time walking out to the headland west of the beach before clambering down over the sharp limestone rocks to the beach. Again we stopped to enjoy the good weather, eating our lunch while sat on the rocks above the cove and sharing our bread with the voracious fishes that were swimming beneath us.

Looking down on the beach at Cala Bianca

It was at this point that we had to turn around in order to ensure we got back to Bertie in time to watch the rugby. The walk back was much quicker, along the way we kept an unsuccessful eye out for wild asparagus and had more success spotting many jewel toned lizards basking in the heat of the day.

This time we did get our feet wet as we walked to the end of the headland where a watchtower looks out over the bay before dropping down many steps to a tiny cove where we had to wade around the corner and back onto the sandy beach.

Wading around the rocks at the eastern end of the Marina di Camerota beach

That afternoon we watched rugby while eating scrumptiously light and sugary ciambella (doughnuts) that I had bought from the bakery that morning.     

A Mystery Solved

09/03/18

We had spent the night parked outside the archaeological site of Velia-Elea (Velia – the Roman name, Elea the earlier Greek name), another Magna Graecia settlement. A brief walk in the evening had led us to the notice board for the entry times. ‘It’s nine euros’ said Paul in disbelief, ‘we’re not going in if it’s that much’. I was sure that it had said it was just a couple of euros in the guide book so I was a little mystified, but we agreed that it was too much for what was reputedly a bit of an untidy and uninformative site. The following morning we went and took another look and realised that we’d been looking at the opening times, not the prices. Doh!

The entry was only €3 each so we decided we would go in and take a look around. In fact if we had known we could have bought a ticket for an additional euro at Paestum and got into both sites.

The site was overrun with the swift green growth of spring, but it gave it a certain charm. Drainage was an issue and in one place the path led into a foot deep pond; we skirted around the outside of the buildings until we could find another way through. It was a shame we couldn’t go all the way up to the more recent tower on the hill above the site, but it was closed off due to the danger of falling rocks. We meandered around the foundations of various buildings, but it was a little disappointing with the mosaics covered in tarp for their winter protection and the upper areas inaccessible.

My disappointment was assuaged by having one mystery cleared up. For two or three days we had been bemused by the sight of grown men wandering down lanes with sparse and limp bunches of grass in their hands. Wandering around the edges of the Velia-Elea site were a couple of older men who were also carrying small green bundles. Every now and again they would dive into the hedgerow with much excitement and come out with a slightly bigger bundle. When our path intersected ours they wished us a ‘buongiorno’ and I plucked up the courage to ask what they were holding in my best pidgin Italian. ‘Asparagi’ was the proud answer, and when I looked closely at the contents of their hands I could see it was indeed asparagus. As slender as a blade of meadow grass with a miniature version of the asparagus bud. Apparently it is usually a man’s job to forage for asparagus and it is pretty difficult to find. I can just imagine the false gratefulness of the housewives of Italy when they receive their tiny harvest of asparagus, but the very real gratitude that it got their husband out of the house for the day.   

A solitary stalk of asparagus

It became my mission then to find some for myself. I didn’t manage to that day, but a couple of days later I found the blue green leaves of the plant (looking like asparagus fronds but very thistly) and one upright stem of asparagus. So far that is all I have found, the flavour was very strong and I can see that a small amount would provide enough flavour for an omelette or risotto, I just wish I could find enough to cook with it.   

That afternoon we moved onto the Marina di Camerota. It is quite usual around this stretch of coast for there to be an inland town (in this case Camerota) and an associated marina or beach town. We were heading for the marina so that we could do another coastal walk.

On the way we dropped in to take a look at the abandoned medieval village of San Severino. This small settlement sits on a ridge above the more modern inhabited village. We had considered staying here but the parking spot by the village was just a patch of dirt on the inside of a hairpin bend and we couldn’t see any other good parking. We left Bertie taking up most of the parking spot, made a donation in the box at the bottom of the steps and then climbed up to take a look at the village; an atmospheric jumble of cottages in various states of disrepair. It is easy to see how the buildings were abandoned over time, with no possibility of building a road any closer to the houses. Now the local town maintains what is left as a tourist attraction with night time lighting and a small church and piazza for events.  

 

Bent Wheels and Buffalo Butter

07/03/18 – 08/03/18

We drove down the road to Agropoli, the same road we had driven the day before in the other direction. A parking spot close to the coast was going to be a starting point for a bike ride. Paul knew he had a job to do as the rear tyre on his bike was completely flat, but when he took the bike down off the rack the wheel was buckled so badly that it was rubbing on the fork. We racked our brains trying to work out when we would have picked up this damage, but it didn’t really matter, we weren’t going to be riding the bikes today.

A quick google search found a nearby bike shop just north of Paestum, so we drove up the fateful road again to find it. Despite the language barrier it was pretty obvious what we needed and the staff in the shop had a go at straightening out the wheel before agreeing that yes, we needed a new one. The bike was left with them till the following morning and we needed to make a decision about how to spend the rest of the day.

Along that road we were getting to know so well we had spotted a number of ‘caseificio’. These are the dairies of southern Campania, an area known for it’s herds of buffalo which produce super creamy mozzarella and other buffalo milk products. A quick internet trawl took us to Caseficio Tenuta Vannulo which promised organic mozzarella and more. We had missed the guided tour, but we could still take a look at the buffalo in their winter lodgings and mooch around the dairy buildings. In the dairy itself a small sales area was rammed with people queuing to buy products. Paul decided to wait outside as I took a ticket and got in line. People were leaving with polystyrene cool boxes full of items and I was glad there was a bit of a queue so I could peruse the list on the wall that showed the small range of possibilities. I decided that not only would i pick up some mozzerella but also I would try some buffalo butter. I felt a bit miserly placing my tiny order in light of the large quantities being bought by other people but no one batted an eyelid except at my pronunciation of ‘burro’ (I’ve never been able to roll my ‘r’s). Following the scrum of the dairy we popped next door into the ‘Yogurteria’, a café selling yohgurt, ice-cream, desserts, drinks and sandwiches. An ice cream each – pistachio and chocolate flavours because we’re predictable – for a couple of euros each and we were both relaxed and happy.

We needed to stay in the area to pick up the bike, and we needed to use some services, so decided to drop into Camping Villagio Pini; an ACSI campsite shaded by many pines which I’m sure create welcome shade in the summer, but just created annoyingly heavy water droplets in the rain that evening. The site was nearly empty, apart from some long term tenants who had nabbed the beachfront pitches, we picked an easy access pitch (some looked quite difficult to navigate into) close to the wifi and settled in for the rest of the day. Our indication of money well spent on a campsite, the showers were hot and powerful.  

The following morning we popped back up the road to pick up the bike with it’s new straight wheel. Good service and a reasonable price made us very happy. We also popped back into the Caseficio, where there was no mozzarella, but we didn’t care because we wanted more butter. At €1.50 for 250g it was cheaper than supermarket butter and amazingly creamy, tasting almost like clotted cream.

Having picked up the bike you might think we would go for the bike ride we had missed out on. But no, for whatever reason we decided that we would push a little further south and go for a walk. We proceeded through the edges of the Cilento national park down to Ogliastro Marina. We couldn’t make it to our anticipated parking spot – the car park we thought we had spotted on Google Maps was actually part of a large camping village that was closed – but we could park on the side of the road as it was the low season. 

From here we walked along the coast path westwards. Initially we thought we were going to be thwarted, having to go through a gate that proclaimed itself private property and encountering fencing where we thought the path should be. But we persevered, by going through the gates and past the fencing we managed to find a cut through to the coastpath. Other walkers and cyclists were using the path and nearby road so we didn’t think we would be in too much trouble. This walk took us along a low cliff, never more than a couple of meters above the water and interrupted frequently by streams and small shingle beaches. Behind the coast was an open pine wood with gnarly trees and lots of green spring growth. Lizards basked on trees and rocks and birds were singing. Waves provided a rhythmic backdrop of noise. It was hard to believe, but this was our first coastal walk in Italy. Our previous attempts to enjoy the coast had been thwarted by the weather, and much of the coastline had been unappealing. Now we were freshly inspired.

We decided that we would move on from our roadside parking, so headed down to the archeological site of Elea/Velia where we parked up in the spacious coach parking ready to visit the following morning. 

Port, Porto, Portugal!

 

17/11/17 – 18/11/17

On the morning of the 17th we woke up in the aire at Esposende, looked around and decided that we would move on. Sometimes we just don’t feel enthused by somewhere and, possibly because the aire was at the back of the town behind the bus station, or possibly because we’d just got back from somewhere we’d found really inspiring, Esposende just wasn’t doing it for us. How ungrateful do we feel given that the community have provided free facilities for us motorhomers!

After assuaging our guilt by doing some local food shopping we moved on to our next stop – Porto, or actually a campsite outside of Porto in Canidelo. We had decided against staying at one of the motorhome parking areas in Porto due to reports of thievery, although it’s often difficult to determine what is scaremongering. Anyway the campsite gave us an opportunity to do some washing although it’s showers were lukewarm at best which was a disappointment.    

As I’ve said before, we’re not the biggest fans of cities and in Portugal we had decided that, of the two biggest cities, we would visit Porto rather than Lisbon because I’d been to Lisbon before (and loved it by the way – definitely worth visiting). Porto also gave us the opportunity to drink an alcoholic beverage we agree on – Port. Usually we have opposed tastes in drinks, Paul likes cider – I think it tastes of bile (I’m sure you can imagine the teenage activities that led to this view) – I like wine, Paul thinks it tastes of vinegar. I drink beer, Paul doesn’t. I drink gin, Paul drinks vodka. Anyway, we both agree on port, although we don’t usually drink it except at Christmas.

We booked ourselves into Calem – one of the many port wine cellars in Porto – to do a tasting. It was €10 to taste two ports and €15 to taste 3 different ports, so we paid €25 to taste 5 between us. We visited their small museum, which was quite interesting especially the bit where you get to try to identify different component scents of port and wine, then we were taken through a short tour of the wine cellars with some background info about the port making process before the tasting. Unfortunately they did mess up in their organisation a little, so it took some effort to actually get to taste the ports we had paid for. I think some people who hadn’t paid for the three port option just plonked themselves down in front of them and started drinking! But as our guide just disappeared and left us to it when we got to the tasting we had to hunt someone down and explain. Despite this the glasses of port were generous and slipped down our throats with sweet viscosity, leaving me feeling a little squiffy.

We had booked our port tasting for mid afternoon, knowing that we might not feel like doing much afterwards. So our morning had been taken up with our bus journey into Porto and wandering around the streets looking at various historic buildings. Paul doesn’t like aimless wandering so I always try to be prepared with a few things to aim for. The streets of Porto had a lived in and slightly down at heel feeling, with high end shops selling designer goods cheek by jowl with shops selling cheap clothes and groceries, alongside empty buildings. It must reflect the economics of property ownership in the capital, apparently the more wealthy citizens of Porto have moved out into the suburbs leaving the property market in the centre of the city depressed and many property owners without the incentive to renovate or restore.

The whole of the city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and the reason for this was particularly obvious in the wide squares flanked by historic monuments and when walking along the Ribeira – the waterfront on the Douro river with it’s attractive buildings housing (mostly) cafes and restaurants. We had our lunch at a restaurant on Ribeira’s quay side, sitting in the sun, soaking up the atmosphere and watching street musicians arguing over their turf and the throngs of tourists passing by. 

After lunch, full of food and unwilling to walk up the steps, we caught the funicular to the top of the Ponte Dom Luis I, a bridge designed by Eiffel which has a pedestrian crossing on lower and higher levels. The lower bridge is shared with cars and buses, the higher bridge shared with trams. From the top of the bridge we could see the city of Porto arrayed along the steep northern bank of the river. On the south bank we could see the logos of many well known port brands, Cockburns, Sandemans and Taylors amongst others. The south bank is the town (now a suburb of Porto) of Vila Nova de Gaia and after our port tasting we walked several miles along this bank of the river back to our campsite at Canidelo where the Douro meets the sea. On the way we wondered at the number of buildings which were decrepit and abandoned in what seemed like prime riverside locations, one with goats roaming in and out of the empty doorways.

We got back to our campsite ready for a good night’s sleep before we moved on again.  

One Mackerel, Two One-Way Streets and Three Lighthouses

08/11/17 – 10/11/17

We had a bit of a lazy day on 8th November. For some reason we just couldn’t get moving and our plans for a bike ride ended up with us driving around the hills and coast near Pontevedra and stopping to take in views or short strolls without doing very much at all. We spent the night at the Memorial Park aire near Poio where we walked around the bay and encountered eucalyptus trees in abundance. These trees, native to Australia, have been planted in Spain and Portugal to provide quick growing timber for the paper industry and this was the first time we had come across them in quantity; their alien charm, with their constantly peeling bark, silvery leaves, and odd flowers, quickly becomes wearing when you realise they are on their way to becoming a monoculture and ousting the native flora.

We saw these grain stores in gardens and smallholdings all round Galicia, well ventilated and up on stilts to protect from vermin.

The following morning we decided to go into Pontevedra in search of a large supermarket as we needed to do a proper stock up. There were two Carrefore supermarkets, the first only had a tiny outdoor parking space that was completely full. The second had an empty outdoor parking area but we didn’t spot the sign on the way in that told us the only way out was through the underground parking. Bertie wasn’t getting through there! Given that we were already in trouble we decided we might as well do our shopping anyway and so, with full fridge and cupboards, we tackled our predicament. I donned my hi-vis vest and went up to the top of the entrance to stop the traffic in a semi-official way while Paul drove the wrong way up the one way ramps. Apart from a case of mild embarrassment it was remarkably easy.

From Pontevedra we drove south west out to the end of the next peninsular. Galicia’s coast is indented with a number of ‘rias’, these sloping sided inlets are like gentle fjords and between each ria is a peninsular, more populated inland, and wilder and more rugged as you reach the seaward end. The Dunas de Corrubedo had been at the end of one of these peninsulas and we were now heading for the Praia de Melide where there was a large parking area south of the village of Donon. We had another falling out with the sat nav which took us through smaller and smaller streets in tiny villages until Paul said quite firmly ‘I’m not driving down there’. We knew there was an easy way there because we had seen it on google maps, but the sat nav just couldn’t direct us and by the time we knew we were going wrong we didn’t have great signal. We retraced our steps back to a ‘main’ road and a point where we had signal so that we could pick up the route on google maps and ignore the sat nav. We finally made it to the village of Donon where we stopped for restorative tea and cake before tackling the remaining couple of miles off road to the car park. Bertie did admirably avoiding ruts and potholes and finally parked up in the sunshine. We spent the next hour or so doing a few chores before exploring the beach and cliffs near the carpark. The low cliffs were ideal for fishing and so I read and sunbathed while Paul fished for mackerel – he managed to catch one, but it wouldn’t make a meal so I gutted it and put it in the fridge, hopefully to be joined by a second one the following day.

Paul sorting out his fishing gear after we had finally made it to the parking spot at Praia de Melide
We saw many autumn crocuses flowering between the trees.

The next morning we decided to walk around the headland, we started by walking out to the first of three lighthouses Faro de Punta Subrido before heading back across the beach to lighthouses two and three – the particularly attractive squat red Faro de Punta Robaleira and the more standard Faro de Cabo. From here we followed rough tracks north as far as possible along the Atlantic side of the headland with large waves crashing against the rocky cliffs, at one point we descended by an awkward and steep fisherman’s path to a tiny beach where the incoming tide quickly chased us back up again.

Looking across the Praia de Melide
The most attractive of the three lighthouses was this one, you can see the islands ‘Illas Cies’ out to sea
Waves crashing into rocks on the more exposed Atlantic side of the peninsula

Eventually the steep cliffs forced us back onto the main track we had driven down the previous day and we walked into Donon. From Donon we dropped down to the Praia de Barra, a large and deserted beach where we gathered large mussels from the rocks before taking cliff-side paths back towards our parking spot.

Empty beach at Praia de Barra, we collected mussels from rocks that were at the end of the beach we took this photo from.

Paul decided to do some more fishing from the same spot as before, but no luck this time. We did see dolphins in the bay though, which made up for (and probably explained) the lack of fish. The large pod, including some mother and calf pairs took their time as they swam past us on their way out to sea.

Dolphins swimming past, look closely for a dolphin tail on the left as well as fins on the right of the picture

That evening I cooked the mussels and solitary mackerel in a rice dish that I hesitated to call a paella after hearing some very sarcastic comments on Spanish radio earlier that week (not that I’m fluent in Spanish but when you hear the words Jamie Oliver, Chorizo and Paella alongside derisive laughter you know that something negative is being said). Whatever the dish was, it was very tasty and the mussels in particular were luscious and juicy. It’s always a bit of a gamble to eat shellfish gathered from the shore and we do take some care, but you never know. No side effects this time though so good news.

The ‘not’ Paella with mussels and mackerel

The following morning we left the carpark. There was a one way system for car park access, so we had to drive up a different track than we had come in…at first…until we got to the point that the road was rippled with foot deep undulations. I don’t think I’ve every seen anything like it, they weren’t potholes or ruts, but were running across the road and there was no way we would get across them without ripping something out from Bertie’s undercarriage. Paul reversed us back to the car park and for the second time in a couple of days we were driving the wrong way up a one way street. Luckily we had made an early start and we didn’t encounter anyone coming the other way.

Calm Waters

28/10/17

Further south, still enveloped by the pine forests of the Landes region of France, is a purpose built resort with the rather long name of Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains. Part of it’s attraction is an artificially created lagoon which lets in sea water at high tide and has sluice gates to control the exit of water; this gives people the option of the surf beaches of the Atlantic or the calmer waters of the lagoon. Even though we had set off early we still found it incredibly busy when we arrived, it was Saturday and very sunny after all. The two aires were near to capacity and there was a constant flow of people arriving, we queued up behind a couple of other vans to get in and I went to look for possible parking spots while Paul helped them to get through the airlock style barriers (the trick was to get close to the ticket machine as the front barrier wouldn’t lift unless your van was close enough to the sensor). We wedged ourselves into a spot in the sun on the southern side of the lagoon and hooked up to the electricity, at €7 a night for a pitch plus electricity within a stone’s throw of the lagoon, it didn’t seem like bad value.

Looking over the Vieux-Boucau-des-Bains lagoon

We had a quick stroll around the end of the lagoon watching the fisherman who were lined along the outflow from the lagoon. We decided that the calm waters were too good an opportunity to miss and we should get the Kayak out and enjoy a spot of paddling and fishing. It was easy to launch the kayak from the shore close to the aire and we started with a gentle paddle around the lagoon gliding over long strands of green weed waving in the gentle currents of the lagoon. We could see fish jumping as we approached, darting out from their shelter in the weed, but despite best endeavours weed was all we caught.

Looking down the channel that leads from the lagoon to the sea

We circled the lagoon again, closer to the island in it’s centre this time, and pulled up a couple of times to explore it’s beaches. Here we paddled in the shallower waters looking at all of the life, hordes of hermit crabs in their stolen shells crawled across the sands, starfish nestled in the weed and small fish were well camouflaged against the sand. The waters of the lagoon were too weedy, and the bottom too muddy to tempt us in for a proper swim. We gathered a few clams from under the sand to make ourselves a starter for dinner, but they were too gritty even after a few hours being purged and the juices in the pan were grey with silt. Luckily we had cooked up some pork and roasted veg for a main course which kept hunger at bay.

    

New boots and tired legs

The forecast was for two days of rain, but then some improvement. We decided to sit out the rain in Snowdonia, and chose to stay in Betws-Y-Coed, tourist hot spot and home to many outdoor gear shops. One of Paul’s walking boots was letting in water and on inspection the upper had come away from the sole, so a new pair were needed.

A hole in Paul’s shoe – it was letting in water

Paul is a big fan of Salomon shoes and boots, they seem to fit him really well and don’t require much breaking in, so it was no surprise that he chose to buy a new pair that were pretty much the same as the old ones. Hopefully they will last a bit longer. I’m also hoping that we will get some money back for the old boots. Salomon have a two year warranty and these boots were a couple of months short of that. So the boots have been returned to the retailer and my fingers are crossed.

It did rain pretty persistently over the next couple of days, but our nice level parking spot in the Station car park was sheltered from the wind and central to town which was ideal for when we wanted to get out. It also meant we had good internet access, so more online shopping was done.

Parking on ‘grass-crete’ in Betws-y-Coed

To while away the wet hours, apart from shopping, we went out for a few drinks and a meal and downloaded some more TV using the pub wifi. I also did a bit more baking and made some chocolate chip shortbread.

Mmm…shortbread

Finally the rain eased and so we decided to go for a bike ride. After the fun we’d had on the single track in Coed-Y-Brenin we decided we’d take on another official mountain biking route and headed to the forest north-west of Betws-Y-Coed. The trail, once called the Marin trail but now called Gwydir Bach, officially started in LLanwrst but passed within a couple of miles of our parking spot so we picked it up half way round and then completed most of the circuit.

We had been warned that the ride from Betws-Y-Coed to the trail was ‘short and steep’ and boy was it steep. We were shattered by the time we reached the trail, and that set the tone of the ride, it was 25k of forest track and single track and included about 800m of ascent. The route was lovely, with some great views and some fun single track but it really tested our cycling endurance to the limit. It also tested my ability to do steep downhill sections. I’m not great at anything which requires me to go straight downhill, steep ski slopes and walking down scree both test my nerve and this ride also tested me with some of the downhill sections being pretty steep. Although I managed to go for it on most sections I had to get off a couple of times and walk down the worst of it. In the end we bailed out just before the last section of single track and followed the road back instead, we’d just had enough. Plus we needed to conserve a bit of strength for a good mountain walk the next day.    

Hafna mine – relics of lead mining in the forest

  

Food Slamming

We needed to make a decision for the next stage of our journey – stick to the coast on the Lleyn Peninsula or spend some time in the mountains of Snowdonia. The weather forecast was for overcast and cool weather and so the mountains were likely to be shrouded in mist and cloud, whereas on the coast there was the possibility of an onshore breeze to push the cloud back inland and provide some clearer skies. The weather made the decision for us and so off to the Lleyn we went.

We decided to start at the end of the peninsula and then work our way back, but this plan was slightly overturned when we passed Criccieth on the A497 and saw signs for the Criccieth festival. A bit of research indicated that one of the festival events was a ‘Food Slam’, we’re not completely ruled by our stomachs, but if it has the word food in the title…

We had a couple of nights to kill before the Food Slam so we stuck with our original destination and headed for Abersoch, a small village on the southernmost ‘toe’ of the peninsula and from there to Hells Mouth beach (aka Porth Neigwl) where there was a small parking area. From here we took a walk around the headland. Paul took his fishing gear and we stopped at a couple of fishing spots and finally caught something worth eating. One mackerel doesn’t make a meal, but it made a starter for that evening.

Finally – an edible fish

What is a food slam? Well, I think the idea is that it is a combination of street food and music, not quite a music festival and not quite a food festival. I’m sure that the intention is that it is quite ‘street’ but this was Criccieth so instead the feeling was local and regional, which wasn’t a bad thing. There was a good selection of food and drink, and a variety of music from brass bands, to jazz; I particularly enjoyed Patrobas, a folk influenced band with some strong fiddle lines. There was also a young indie style band I enjoyed whose name I didn’t get – here Welsh is definitely the first language and I didn’t manage to hear all of the announcements.  

Criccieth Food Slam

We had tried to find a campsite within walking distance of Criccieth so that we could watch the fireworks at the end of the evening, have a couple of drinks and stumble back to the motorhome, but there wasn’t anything close enough. In the end we parked up along the seafront. It took us a few tries to find a spot that would work for us. The carpark and the seafront east of the castle only had car sized spaces and no easy place to squeeze in. The parking along the beach to the west of the castle was in front of homes, hotels and holiday lets; we don’t like to feel we’re blocking anyone’s view or parking spot. In the end we found a corner which wasn’t in front of anyone’s house. I don’t think it would have worked in high season but it just about worked for this weekend.

Sea wall at Criccieth

Something different?

Our search for something different took us inland to Newcastle Emlyn where we visited the Wool Museum and a local food festival.

I found the Wool museum very engaging for a couple of hours, it’s one of the National Welsh Museums and so entry is free. Paul was there on sufferance initially but couldn’t help being won over by the tools and machinery on display. Through the exhibits it charts the history of this particular mill, established in the early twentieth century, as well as providing a more general overview of the history of the wool industry in Wales. On the site there is also a small working woollen mill, Melin Teifi, which produces blankets, shawls and other woollen fabrics and clothing. You can access a viewing gallery that runs across their workshops and see them at work. I think I would find it quite uncomfortable to be watched in such a way when I was at work.

Attaching the warp threads
Loading the bobbins
Operating the loom

Reading and listening to the exhibits in the museum you can see how much life changed between the beginning of the century, when production of wool and cloth was mostly home based and highly manual, work for women during the winter months, and the end of the century when it was almost completely automated with foreign manufacturers  putting the woollen mills of wales out of business. The machinery being used by the Melin Teifi woollen mill now seems old fashioned and ‘manual’ even though in it’s time it would have been the height of automation.

And in looking at the changes over time you cant help being grateful for the advances in industrial capability across the world; it may have introduced pollution and excessive consumerism, but it also has given us our leisure time, enabled people of all classes to access education and allowed us to start to reduce discrimination based on sex, class or race. I’m not saying that it’s all rosy, but I would rather today’s advantages than the feudal systems that came before where the majority of us would be working from dawn till dusk.

We stayed at Dolbryn campsite, a couple of miles outside of Newcastle Emlyn, the campsite was just over the top of our budget but made up for it in particular with lovely hot water under good pressure, there is nothing as nice as a good shower after you have been showering in the motorhome for a few days.

One of the Dolbryn pigs

The food festival was in the town which was a couple of miles away. We could have driven down but we’d had enough trouble finding a parking space the previous day so we decided to walk instead. It was wet, very wet. We wore our waterproof jackets and waterproof trousers but still it was wet. The two miles down to town went ok, but on the way back it was wet, in our faces windy and uphill. Thank goodness for the pie we had bought for tea, and for those hot showers of course.  

When it rains…

Since our last post we’ve now had a whole week staying in coastal locations. Not time travel, but up till now I have been running a little behind the current date.

During this time we have seen some lovely sunshine, but also had a deep low pressure system deliver 24 hours of strong winds and constant rain. And as I write, the next low pressure system is overhead, promising another 24 hours of rain but thankfully not the gale force winds that we had a few days ago.

Rain on the windscreen

Passing time in the rain is quite difficult when you’re trapped in a small space. We both have jobs to do, but when it’s really torrential and we cant leave the van there isn’t the space for both of us to get on with those jobs. And we’re trapped in our seats – we don’t have much room to get up and move around. It would be fair to say that we get a little stir crazy. On top of that the noise of the rain and wind can be quite loud. So neither of us get a good night’s sleep and we end up a bit fractious.

So what have we done while it’s been raining? 

Paul has been out and cleaned Bertie. Bertie had managed to get covered in vegetation and seeds when we drove down some narrow country lanes, so we (Paul) took advantage of the rain to give Bertie a brush and remove all the bits.

I have done some sewing – finishing off the pockets I’ve been making to hang in the bedroom – I’ll now have somewhere in easy reach to keep my kindle, glasses and other bits and bobs overnight.

We have finished off watching the TV programmes we downloaded before we set off.

I made scones and we had a cream tea to cheer ourselves up.

We have played a lot of cards, Yahtzee and scrabble. We really need to learn some more two player card games as Crib is starting to get a bit stale.

We have finished off watching the TV programmes we downloaded before we set off.

One downside of the rain is finding out that Bertie has a leaky rooflight. The leak seems to be dependent on the direction of the wind, so we don’t get drips all of the time, but it’s a definite problem that we’ll have to resolve when we get some dry weather. Quite probably this is our fault, we’ve done quite a lot of walking around on the roof, installing the solar panels and working out how we’re going to transport, raise and lower the kayak. All that weight on the roof can cause it to flex which can make the sealant let go and leave gaps for the water to get in.

We now know that we’re going to have to get ourselves a bit better prepared for the rainy days. We’ll be sorting out some films and TV to keep us entertained and using things like our National Trust membership for some indoors days out.