North West Spain…. .

Our last visit to this part of Spain in April 2017 was but a fleeting one to take the ferry from Santander back to the UK.  We said then that we would come back at some other time and explore more of Northern Spain.  And here we are.  I was happy to be back here for no other reason than to stay at the ‘elephant aire’ again.  The toll free A8 motorway crosses right across this region close to the coast so it was just a mere six or seven kilometre detour.  Situated on the edge of the Cabárceno Wildlife Park this free aire is, we think, a great stop before or after the ferry or at any other time really.

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This cow was completely non-plussed by our presence and didn’t even get up as we walked past.

We did get our walking boots out this time though and followed a path up the hillside which eventually crests the ridge of the hill for a superb view of the bay of Santander below and then further on for about a kilometre to a peak for more views across the countryside.

 

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Views across Santander bay.

It was about a three and a half hour there and back trip and gave us just enough time go and see the elephants again before it got dark:)

 

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I could have put that little one under my arm and taken it with me!

Santillana del Mar is billed as one of the most attractive towns in Spain with its collection of 15th to 18th Century stone houses.

 

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La Colegiata in Santillana del Mar.

We had a beautiful sunny day to see it and there is no denying that it is an attractive village but it felt a little bit too twee and perfect, a tourist town with all the many associated restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops and coach parking areas.  Maybe we were having an ‘off’ day but it didn’t hold our interest for long.

 

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Santillana del Mar.

Even though the Picos de Europa mountains were calling me (not so much Tim!) we could clearly see the white stuff on their peaks and we felt we’d left it a wee bit late in the year to explore them this time.  (Queue a huge sigh of relief from Tim).

 

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The tide stops play on Playa de Meron.

We decided to stick to the coast instead stopping off at different points along the way and to enjoy a bit of coastal walking.

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El Capricho in Comillas, designed by Antonio Gaudí , now a restaurant.  I did have to look up if that is where the word ‘gaudy’ came from!          

We’ve had mixed weather over the last week from warm sunny days to squally rain and one overnight storm where, once again, reinforcements were needed to retain possession of our roof vents.

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Yep, that should do it.  (picture taken in the morning when the sun was back out again!)

New elastic hair bands were deployed and tightened, the suction cups were resucked and the washing line was affixed from skylight to toilet roll holder in the bathroom.  The belt, braces, stockings and suspenders approach.

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Toilet roll holder s have more than one use!

We’d had a beautiful sunny day with a fabulous coastal walk but big black clouds loomed up late in the afternoon and we had a similar sleepless night to one we’d had in Greece last year where we thought we were actually going to take off.  Thankfully by the morning it had all blown itself out.

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Universidad Pontificia overlooking Comillas.

You see some curious things when travelling to new places but tractor surfing is probably up there with extreme ironing.  We’d seen tractors on the beach scraping up the seaweed when we were in St Jean de Luz in France but in Spain they take it to the next level.  We were quite far away so the picture isn’t great but it all looked a bit dangerous.

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Tractor surfing.

Three tractors with a comb like contraption attached to the back were being buffeted around in the surf whilst trundling back and forth into the waves dragging in the seaweed.

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The seaweed comb thing.

We’d seen a lot of seaweed seemingly being used as mulch come fertiliser in the farmer’s fields but we’ve also seen it left in lots of little clumps on wasteground too.  I haven’t been able to find out anymore about it though so it will remain a mystery.

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Seaweed in the fields.
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Buzzard taking a break.
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A traditional hay stack.

Another unexpected sight whilst out on a coastal walk was a spectacular blowhole on a little island off the coast.

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The blowhole might not look much in the photo but it was pretty impressive.

The waves were crashing up the coast that day and we probably wouldn’t have seen it on a calmer day.

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A closer view.

It’s a rugged coastline which reminded us of parts of the Cornish and Pembrokeshire coast.

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You could be on the coast of Pembrokeshire.

There’s not a complete coastal path as such but there are plenty of coastal walks to be had using the towns as a starting point.

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A brilliant day to watch the waves.
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The seaside town of Ribadesella.
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Cudillero.
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I was like an excited puppy clambouring all over Cudillero up and down the steps and alleyways.  Much of it is quite rundown but I really liked it.
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Cudillero from higher up.

You could easily spend weeks exploring the north west coastline but as inclement weather had been forecast we swung a left inland effectively chopping off the North West corner of the country.  We were into Galicia now and part of the Galician coast is called the Costa da Morte because of the number of ships pulverised against the rocks during stormy weather.  We didn’t fancy any more sleepless nights on a windswept coastline lying awake wondering if we would survive the night so thought it best to cut our losses and get further south.  We couldn’t leave this region without visiting Santiago de Compostela though.

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The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.

After the supposed discovery of the tomb of St James the Apostle (Santiago to the Spanish, Saint Jacques to the French) in the 9th Century, Santiago became Europe’s second most important religious shrine after St Peter’s in Rome.  The cathedral is the showpiece of Santiago and at the heart of its medieval core and is mightily impressive but then the entire old town is impressive really.

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Cathedral.

A tightly packed feast of narrow lanes, Plazas, squares, monuments and ancient churches all of which is pedestrianized.

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The colonaded streets of the old town.

Our guide book says ‘uniquely Santiago is a city at its best in the rain’ and goes on to say ‘water glistens on the facades, gushes from the innumerable gargoyles and flows down the streets’.  Mmm, yeah right.  Water does gush from the innumerable gargoyles but quite often instead of flowing down the streets it drips down the back of your neck.

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A dribbling gargoyle.

Still, we did enjoy our visit and planned on watching ‘The Way’ when we got back to the van just to get into the whole spirit of the El Camino de Santiago thing but then discovered we didn’t have it.  Doh!  I remember watching it a few years ago and was convinced we had it.  Ah well, we can download it another time.

Our penultimate stop in Galicia before we hit the frontier town of Tui on the Spanish/Portuguese border was the little fishing village of Combarro to look at the collection of Hórreos (stone granaries) on the seafront.  The town apparently has the largest collection of them in Galicia.  We arrived at the aire which has a view of the bay about a mile outside the town just as all he cocklers were returning with their hauls.

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Coccle pickers returning with their haul at Combarro.
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Traditional hórreos on the seafront in Combarro.
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Raised above the ground on pillars to stop those pesky rodents getting at the contents.

So it was time to head for the Portuguese border.  Alas, the rain has followed us:(

Hasta pronto!

The Basque Country…. .

San Sebastián with its vast sweeping crescent shaped bay and fabulous sheltered sandy beach was our first stop on crossing the border into Spain.  The aire at just €3.30 a night at this time of year is only a fifteen minute walk to Ondareta beach at the western end of the town and then a further twenty minute walk along the seafront into the Casco Viejo, the old town.  We’d been looking forward to coming to San Sebastián as we’d heard good things about it and, apart from the change in the weather, we weren’t disappointed.

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San Sebastián

Yep, as mentioned in my last blog post, the run of good weather broke on our first evening in San Sebastián with bucket loads of rain coming down throughout the evening, overnight and into the following morning.

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The library lit up at night.

The balmy temperatures we’d had for so many weeks plummeted too which was a bit of a shock to the system.  It had turned into hat and gloves weather.  Still, all credit to San Sebastián it is still an attractive place in dreary weather and I can imagine it would be spectacular in warm sunny weather.  We ended up spending three nights at the aire and made the most of any dry spells of weather we had to get out and about.

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Plaza de la Constitucion.

Basque cuisine has established a reputation for some of the finest in Spain but as regular readers of this blog will have surmised by now we are pretty much philistines when it comes to food preferring food of the pie and a pint variety rather than anything fussy or fishy.  We weren’t averse to trying a pintxos and a pint though. Pintxos, the basque equivalent of tapas, are like little works of art lining the counter tops of the many Pintxos bars in the old town.

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One of the many Pintxos bars.

Seafood is the major ingredient for many of them but we did find a type of all day breakfast one and a mini burger one and the obligatory tortilla pintxos.  We did push the boat out and try the bacalao (cod) as well but it was a tad chewy.  Sorry but if you are into food and want to read about and see fabulous pictures of food then this isn’t the blog for you!

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Full English breakfast, mini burger and tortilla pintxos!

Anyway, it wasn’t all sightseeing we had chores to do as well with a three week backlog of washing to do.  We found an excellent launderette five minutes walk away from the aire which looked almost new and had super fast free wifi. So in the hour it took to wash and dry everything I was able to upload all my photos, upload the last blog post and download some podcasts.  Getting back to the van and putting away the still warm washing was very satisfying on a wet and dull Sunday morning.  Getting those little jobs done without any stress of drama do help to keep spirits buoyant when you’ve been van bound by inclement weather for longer than you would like.

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Miramart – the pedestrain tunnel between Playa de Ondarreta and Playa de la Concha designed by Victor Goikoetxea and opened in 2016.

The Costa Vasca (the Basque country’s coastline) stretches for over one hundred miles and is a rugged up and downer flanked by wooded hills with plenty of little inlets and coves to explore.  We spent a night at the aire at Zumaia thirty kilometres west along the coast from San Sebastián.  I say aire it was really just a patch of land on the industrial estate by the river but it was free, felt safe, was surprisingly quiet and a ten minute walk along the river got us into the town.  We didn’t know it at the time as neither of our guidebooks mentioned it but the thirteen kilometres of cliffs between Zumaia and Deba have been recognised by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and UNESCO as one of the planet’s great geological outcrops.

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The flysche cliffs at Zamaia.

The near vertical rock layers of the ‘flysch’ as they are known are like the pages of a book revealing, layer by layer, the erosive actions of water and movements of land over the course of 50 million years of the earth’s history.

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They are pretty special.

You really have to see them from sea level to appreciate them and we really enjoyed this natural phenomena.

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Above the beach.

We stopped at the aire outside the fishing port of Lekeitio where old Basque houses line the seafront and watched the locals clamouring to buy the catch of the day landed that morning.

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The catch of the day just landed.

I have to say we were a bit mopey (is that a word?) as the weather hadn’t really improved with rain coming and going and pottering about the fishing villages isn’t really the same unless the sun is out.

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Lekeitio harbour.

We cheered ourselves up though with a stop at Gaztelugatxe, an islet connected to the mainland by a manmade bridge and on top of which stands a hermitage dating from the 10th Century dedicated to John the Baptist, which had been recommended to us by Tim and Jan who follow the blog and are on their own tour of Spain and Portugal at the moment.

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Gaztelugatxe.

Gaztelugatxe means castle on the rocks in the Basque language and is the most popular place of pilgrimage along the Basque coast.  Its religious rites are also tied to the sea.  Devotional offerings are left by sailors and fishermen to give thanks to the saint for protecting their boats from the dangers of the sea.  Even today when the tuna season begins the fishermen from nearby Bormeo still bring their boats into the waters nearby to ask the saint for good weather, good health and good fishing before heading for the tropics in search of fish.

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Over 200 steps to the top.

The small church at the top is eighty metres above sea level and is accessed via a narrow path and over two hundred steps.  For all you Game of Thrones fans out there the location featured in Season 7 as Dragonstone with a digitally created castle on top.  It was worth the stop and did us for our exercise for the day too before we trundled along to Bilbao.

The aire at Bilbao is in a spectacular location on a steep hillside to the west of the city with magnificent views out across the city and surrounding countryside.

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View from our pitch on the aire at Bilboa.

At €15 a night with electric it is well worth staying a night or two.  A regular bus service will set you back just €1.30 each way and drop you right beside the river in the old town.

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The Zubizuri footbridge (the name means ‘White Bridge’!)

Once an industrial port city home to steelworks and chemical factories, Bilbao has reinvented itself over the last twenty years with many of the old shipyards and factories having been replaced by parks, riverside walks, cafés and new modern architecture.

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Spacious pedestrian walkways line both sides of the river.

The pièce de résistance of that new modern architecture is undoubtedly the Guggenheim Museum.  Designed by the American architect Frank Gehry and completed in 1997 it transformed a derelict piece of post industrial wasteland right in the heart of the city.  Its success triggered a revitalization programme of the city including the development of a new metro system and airport.

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‘The Puppy’ – designed by Jeff Koons and clad in living flowers outside the entrance to the Guggenheim Museum.  It was supposed to be a temporary exhibit to coincide with the opening of the museum but the locals wanted it to stay., and I can see why:)

Now, we don’t normally do museums preferring outdoor pursuits instead but we made an exception for the Guggenheim as we were sure it was going to be worth seeing inside and out.  We approached it from the north bank of the river and climbed up the steps of the Puente de la Salve for a view from higher up.

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The view of the museum from the Puente de la Salve.

All I can say is it lived up to all its hype and is, I think, the most remarkable modern building I have ever seen or experienced.

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‘Maman’, one of Loiuse Bourgeois’ spiders overlooks the river.

All its sweeping curves are clad in golden titanium tiles and it is just fabulous.

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Fab-U-Lous!

Standing in the sixty metre high atrium on the ground floor  it is just mind boggling how it was ever a) conceived b) designed and c) built.  Just astonishing.

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Outside the atrium.

We enjoyed the various galleries but as with a lot of modern and contemporary art I don’t always ‘get’ what the artist is getting at so to speak but that didn’t matter as the building its self kind of overshadows what’s in it anyway.

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Richard Serra’s sculpture series – the ‘Matter of Time’.  I did listen to the audio recording on what it represents but lost the thread halfway through.  It was interesting to experience though!

So, with all that excitement all we had time for was to walk back along the river and have a mooch about the old town before getting the bus back to the van.

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The Casco Viejo.

There you go, Bilbao surprised us as we’d always thought it was just a hum drum urban sprawl of a place and somewhere to get the ferry back to the UK.  How wrong we were.

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Plaza Nueva.

So that brought the end to our tour of the Basque region and it was time to move on into Asturias and Cantabria.

Adíos!

Biarritz, Bayonne and the Basque countryside…. .

Well, the continuous run of good weather we’ve been having for the last month finally broke last night.  We were lashed by continuous rain throughout the night which looks like it is set for the day so it’s time for a duvet day and a catch up on the blog.  We are more than happy to have a lazy day after a week or so of sightseeing and walking.  It’s a shame it’s the weekend though as a duvet day is just that little bit more enjoyable on a weekday. Especially a Monday.  But hey ho you can’t time the weather.

So leaving our final stop at Capbreton on the Côte d’Argent we continued south into the La Côte Basque heading for an aire at Anglet at the mouth of the river Adour from where we would be able to walk to Biarritz and Bayonne.  The aire was in an ideal location set below the road at the edge of the river away from the large seafront carpark.  It would have made for a perfectly relaxing couple of nights had we been able to actually get in to it.  Ah, the joys of over engineered machines.  After fifteen minutes of faffing, jabbing, prodding and poking the machine the barrier still wouldn’t budge.  By this time I’d paid twice and been harangued by two French couples simultaneously jabbering away at me in rapid fire French offering me the benefits of their wisdom on the workings of the machine.  I did thank them as they were only trying to help but I couldn’t concentrate on anything with them all talking at once.  The upshot was that the machine was supposed to print out three different tickets but only spat out two (well, four because I’d paid twice) which wasn’t the magic formula for opening the barrier.  Fed up by this point we reversed away from the barrier and decamped to the sea front car park.  Meh.

Ce n’est pas grave as the French would say as we still had an excellent couple of days soaking up the ambience of Biarritz and around for a spot of people watching.  Surfers were out enjoying the waves, families and dog walkers were out strolling in the sunshine and we were out observing it all.  We walked the four or five miles along the sea front to Biarritz which took quite a while as we were waylaid stopping to watch the surfers one side of the path and the golfers on the other.   Before going into decline in the 1950’s, Biarritz was the Monte Carlo of the Atlantic coast and a playground for monarchs and important shiny people but the rise of the Côte d’Azur in the 1960’s put paid to that.  Rediscovered in the early 1990’s by affluent Parisians and a new international surfing set it is now firmly back on the map.

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Grande Plage, Biarritz with the restored 1930’s Casino behind the beach to the right.

Boasting six lovely sandy beaches it’s a great place to lose a few hours sitting at a beachfront cafe eyeballing the surfers.  It definitely has a glamorous but laid back feel to it although every inch of space on the promenade, beach and water is, I suspect, fiercely fought for in the height of the summer.

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Soaking up the surfing vibe with a glass of vino on Grande Plage seafront. 

Bayonne, by contrast, the following day was all but deserted although it was Sunday.  Three miles inland from the coast Bayonne is small by city standards and the narrow streets of the old town are a pleasure to stroll around.  Attractive, tall half timbered buildings abound with the added attraction of the fourteenth century castle and the twin towers of the Cathedral.  The three mile walk along the river from Anglet was pretty unremarkable and a bit noisy and grim though so we made the return journey on the bus.

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Bayonne.

St-Jean-De –Luz, purported to be the most attractive resort on the Basque coast, was our next stop.  We got to the small aire situated just outside the old town and shoe horned ourselves into a space.  Happy campers we were not.  Even though it’s less than a five minute walk to the centre of the town, harbour and beach it has nothing else going for it.  It’s tight for space and sandwiched between four lanes of traffic to the front and a busy railway line to the back.  If we were going to enjoy St-Jean then it was time to spend out on a campsite.  And we are soo glad we did.  For €18 with our ACSI card we had a sea view at Bord de la Mer campsite and it was a lovely two kilometre walk along the coast into town.

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The view from the window at Camping Bord de la Mer, St-Jean-De-Luz.

With its safe, sandy beach, pretty plaza and upmarket boutique shopping it’s a popular spot for holiday makers but also being the only natural harbour between Arcachon and Spain St Jean is still a busy fishing port landing mainly anchovies and tuna.

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St-Jean-De-Luz.

Having hugged the coast for the best part of two hundred kilometres it was time to head into the Basque hinterland for a few days before coming back to the coast to cross the border into Spain.  We based ourselves at an aire at the delightful knoll-top village of Sare as it looked like a good base for walking and we weren’t disappointed.  We took a footpath up the steep hill out of the village which gave us glorious views over the surrounding countryside.

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View towards La Rhune from Sare village.

We weren’t heading anywhere in particular but just climbing up………..and up.

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Climbing up one of the footpaths from the village.

We didn’t realise, until the path cut across the railway track, that a rack and pinion train built between 1912 and 1924 climbs the steep gradient up to the top of La Rhune, the last mountain top at 905 metres before the Pyrenees fall away down to the Atlantic.  We’d passed the station on our way to Sare but thought it was more a funicular thing with the train just going a short way up the mountain to clear the trees to give a nice view.  We were fortunate to arrive a few minutes before a train trundled along on its way down the mountain and we watched and waved as it passed.

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Le petit train.

The train takes thirty five minutes to get to the summit at a sedate nine kilometres an hour.

The following morning we went to the station intending to go on the train but a sign up said that the summit was hidden under a blanket of cloud so we decided we didn’t want to pay €19 each not to be able to see our hands in front of our faces at the top.  Instead we went back to the aire at Sare and I decided to walk up to the top on the off chance that the cloud would clear while Tim pottered about in the van doing various jobs and sorting out some music ready for his next gig………whenever that might be.

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One of the many Pottok ponies, a breed of rural pony living mainly in the Western part of the Basque Country, were freely roaming the hillsides.

Oh I’m so glad I made the effort to walk up as by the time I got to the top the cloud had lifted and I sat eating my lunch in glorious sunshine with a panoramic view.  Merveilleux!

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View on the summit from my lunch spot.

I must have enjoyed it as I walked up again with Tim the next day.

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Three trains on the track below (there is a passing place on the flat section of the track).

It was touch and go whether we’d see anything at the top but we surfaced into the sunshine above the cloud hanging over the summit and had our lunch under warm sunny skies.  Parfait!

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On the top above the clouds.

A quick flit to the pretty village of Ainhoa, lined with seventeenth century houses, ten kilometres away ended our tour of the French side of the Pays Basque and our time in France before we pointed ourselves in the direction of the coast again heading for San Sebastián or Donastia to give it its Basque name.

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The pretty village of Ainhoa where these houses have a ringside view of the Pelota court.

Hasta luego!

La Côte D’Argent…. . 

After leaving our last Helpx near Niort in the Poitou Charente region we headed south beyond Bordeaux bound for the sea on La Côte D’Argent – the Silver Coast.  The big draw for us to this area was the endless sandy beaches.  We do like a nice good, long sandy beach.  The Côte D’Argent covering more than 200km from Pointe de Grave in the north and Bayonne in the south, is, according to our Rough Guide to France, the longest, straightest, sandiest stretch of coastline in Europe which boasts La Dune de Pilat, the largest dune in Europe as well as Les Landes, the largest forest in Western Europe.  There was also the promise of some nice, flat, easy cycling along traffic free cycleways through the forest.

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Le Teich wetland area.

For our first couple of nights we parked up at a free aire at Le Teich, east of Arcachon.  Being one of the most important wetland areas left in France it was a perfect stop off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation to do a spot of birdwatching.  The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich is a bird sanctuary and protected area and we enjoyed the peace and quiet of two different walks.  The wetland area seems a world away from the approach to it as it seemed as if everyone was escaping to the coast from Bordeaux for the weekend.

 

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.  The Parc Ornitholigique du Teich.

We had intended to have a gander around Arcachon but decided against it after seeing the queues of traffic to get there.  Instead we peeled off to the south to the Dune du Pilat.  We caught a glimpse through the trees of a crowd of people on the dune not long before we got to the parking area.  Tim said ‘oh look at all those people on that dune there must be some sort of event going on’.    I said ‘Tim, the dune is the event’.  Tim’s general modus operandi is to just punch in the co-ordinates to the satnav that I give him without asking where or what it is we are headed for.  He is more than happy to wait for everything to unfold before him all in its own time.  I think it must be a nice way to be but I’m too much of a control freak to be able to be like that as I need to know where we are going and why way before we have even started the engine.  It’s fair to say we were both really impressed by the scale of the dune.  We’d parked half a mile away from the main parking area which proved to be a wise decision as a footpath through the forest led to the bottom of the dune where we could make our ascent by ourselves without any company at all.

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Tim almost on his hands and knees climbing to the top of the Dune du Pilat.

At over one hundred metres high, three kilometres long and five hundred metres wide it really was an impressive sight especially as we had the perfect weather for it.

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It’s vast.

P1130698.JPGA very gregarious French chap in the car park called us over just as we were locking up the van and advised us to scramble to the top, walk the length of the ridge, slide down to the beach, then walk back along the beach and to return to the car park via another footpath.  It was good advice as it made for an excellent two hour round trip.

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Coming down the dune towards the beach.
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The beach below.

Numerous sea side resorts which are popular with surfers dot this stretch of coastline whilst inland a string of lakes draw in fishermen, boaters and families as they offer watersports facilities and safe swimming.  We enjoyed a lunch time stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake on our way to our overnight stop at Gastes.  It must get absolutely packed in July and August but we were able to enjoy a stroll along the lakeside with just a few other families.

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A lunch stop at Cazaux-Sanguinet lake .

I was absolutely chuffed to bits to watch three young otters feeding in between the moorings at the side of the lake opposite the aire in Gastes the following morning. Oh if only I’d had my camera with me but I was just returning from the early morning walk to the boulangerie with a baguette safely tucked under my arm so hadn’t even thought about taking the camera with me.  C’est la vie!

We were fortunate with the weather for the ten days we spent on the Côte D’Argent as we could imagine the area could be a bit desolate out of season in inclement weather.  Some of the resorts were completely closed up for the season whilst others just had a few cafes open even though we were still basking in sunshine in the low twenties.

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That’s the first time my wetsuit has seen the light of day for over a year…..and I think it’s shrunk as it took me forever to get on!

Fortunately we were spoilt for choice with aires, which ranged from between 6 and 10 euros a night, spending a couple of nights at a time in one place giving us time to get out on the bikes to explore.

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The aire at Contis Plage.

There isn’t a coastal road as such but there is a cycleway that winds its way through the forest and forms part of La Velo Odyssee, a 1200 kilometre cycle route linking Roscoff in northern France to Hendaye on the Spanish border.

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Part of the cycleway through Les Landes.

Traffic free, smooth and pretty much flat we happily tootled along through the pine trees stopping in at a resort or two to have lunch and to watch the few surfers that were out.

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Excellent lunch stop at Saint Girons Plage.

The Landes forest is totally vast and totally manmade.  Until a century ago the constantly shifting dunes made any attempt to settle or cultivate the land impossible.  Pines and grasses were planted to anchor the dunes and they now extend to over 10 000 square kilometres and were declared a parc naturel régional in 1970.  It’s an under-populated area but wealthy thanks to its pinewood and pine derivatives.

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Tim entertaining customers at a bar at Contis Plage.  Without the aid of a safety net he’d asked the barman if they wanted a bit of music and he said ‘Oui, porquoi pas’ or words to that effect!  He was a happy as larry playing into the setting sun with a few complementary beers to keep him going.

Our last port of call along this coast before we moved into the Pays Basque region was Capbreton.  There is a large aire behind the beach which is really just a car park but convenient for getting out onto the beach and soaking up the atmosphere.  It’s a popular area and much more lively with hundreds of surfers out.

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Capbreton.
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World War II bunkers on the beach at Capbreton.

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A perfect evening for a bit of body surfing before the setting sun.

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Next up, the Pays Basque.

Bonne Soirée!

 

 

Helpx Number 8….. .

Our lazy days trundling through Brittany came to an end a couple of weeks ago as we were booked in for our 8th Helpx in the Poitou-Charente region of France.  This was a return visit to a Ralph and Sue who have 10-12 acres of land, a horse, two donkeys and two pigs to look after as well as running a small kennels and cattery.  We last visited over two years ago and we were looking forward to going back to a familiar area and getting stuck in to a bit of physical work after an idle couple of weeks.  The pounds had been piling on and we were in need of shifting them. Sue had also booked Tim in to play at two bars during our two week stay which he was also really looking forward to.

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A gig for Tim in a bar at Finioux with an equal mix of French and English customers.

After getting acquainted once again with our hosts and what was expected of us we set to work.  The main areas of work they needed help with were clearing some areas of two of the fields which have become overgrown with bramble and bracken, moving about a thousand roof tiles to another property a few miles away and general tidying up in the garden behind the house. They’d also had a number of trees felled a while ago which needed cutting up into smaller manageable chunks to be used for firewood.  The only problem was that they were all buried under overgrown bracken which needed to be cleared first before we could get to them.

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Clearing an area of one of the fields accompanied by the donkeys Cafe and Chocolat.

We worked our way through the roof tiles in the mornings and cleared a bit of land in the fields for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low twenties.

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Unfortunately the little tractor is not man enough for the bracken.

By the fourth day the tiles had all been moved so we made a start on the felled trees.  Things were going reasonably well with Tim and I using the petrol hedge trimmer to cut the bracken and raking it all out of the way of the trees whilst Ralph used the chainsaw to cut up the wood.   So far so good.  But then the pig’s got a bit too close for comfort.

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Nosey pigs.

We met the pigs on our last visit when they were but tiny wee things.  They were bought not to be eaten but to act as eco friendly lawnmowers for the bracken that was getting out of hand on the land.  Their job would be to trample the bracken, eat the young fronds and plough up the land making it difficult for the bracken to flourish.  Unfortunately it seems that the pigs have trampled, rotovated, ploughed and eaten everything else but the bracken so they haven’t really fulfilled their job.

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The pigs on our frst visit over two years ago.

Once they got bigger and outgrew their small enclosure they were given free access to two very large fields.  The two very large fields we happened to be working in.  Oh, they have had a whale of a time making it their own.  Numerous pig pits and dens have appeared where they like to sleep and the ground has been trampled and turned over by their two snouts   They are friendly beasts and being the nosey creatures that they are couldn’t help but stick their snouts into what was going on.

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They’re a bit bigger now.

By the fourth day of us clearing various areas they seemed a bit put out that: a) they’d been woken up early by the buzzing of a chainsaw and a hedge trimmer and b) that people were muscling in on their space.  I mean it’s not like they only have a small area to call their own as they are free to roam across ten acres of land and with all that space you’d think they’d be a bit more charitable with letting us work in a small area for couple of hours or so to cut down some bracken and chop up and clear a few logs but no they were having none of it.  The pig’s said ‘NON’ with a capital ‘N’ and believe me it’s a bit disconcerting when a 200kg mardy pig comes up behind you whilst you’re trying to work with power tools.  It was an accident waiting to happen so in the end the pigs stopped play.  That particular job will have to wait for another day when they are in a more cooperative mood.  Like when they are in the freezer.  Alas, after two and a half years of a charmed life they have now become a liability.  After a recent spate of escapes by them the necessary decision has been made that they have to go and it’s going to be a one way trip.  They are, in the next couple of weeks, destined for the freezer.

P1130659.JPGSo with the field work put on hold until after the pigs have departed we spent a few days instead tackling the overgrown bramble in two areas of the garden at the back of the house.

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Gig number two at a fish and chip night in another village.
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A little taste of home!

Working outside clearing land (hard work though it is) under sunny skies is one of the things we have most enjoyed about our new life but it does come with a caveat.  We wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of owning and caring for any land ourselves.  Looking after land takes a lot of work and it’s not for the faint hearted.  There is always something to do and it just keeps on growing (why not state the obvious Jane).  Returning here after more than a two year gap just reinforced that for us.  Like all these things we like the idea of living something like the ‘Good Life’ but the reality is a different story.

After a couple of weeks of clearing land we are more than happy to down tools and say ‘Au revoir’ to it all.

À tout à l’heure!

Bimbling in Brittany…. .

On the road again………. .  Whenever we have stayed put for more than a couple of weeks we always spend the first few days back on the road singing the first line of that Willie Nelson song ‘On the road again’.  We only sing the first line because that is the only line we know.  No matter, it makes us smile and keeps us happy.  And we are very happy to be back in the saddle as it were haphazardly making our way through Brittany.  In fact, Tim has been grinning inanely for the best part of the last week.  Even more so as the weather has improved day by day.

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The boules have been broken out after a very long time in hiding.

We’ve had no particular plan other than to head in a more or less southerly direction as we have a couple of weeks of Helpxing booked in to start this weekend near Niort which is south east of Nantes.

It’s been a bit of a reminiscing tour as over twenty five years ago we spent three weeks cycle touring around the coast of Brittany from Roscoff to Concarneau and back taking in the Finistère coast to the west.  All we can really remember about it was after forty eight hours of continual rain in the second week and with everything soaking wet we caved in and hired a caravan for a week’s respite to dry out.  We really aren’t cut out for hardship.  Tootling about in the van this time it’s been a much more sedate and laid back affair.

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Ah, happy days on a cycle tour of Brittany circa 1992.  Do you remember those towels Mum?!  We still used them for drying the dogs off right upuntil 2013!

I have to confess the bikes haven’t seen the light of day for quite some time.  When we were working at the campsite in Cornwall we’d started with good intentions to use the bikes for all our trips out including the weekly shop.  Yeah right, well that lasted for the first two weeks before we succumbed to going shopping in the van.  Unfortunately, an eight mile round trip to Lidl on the bike after a week’s work lost its appeal pretty quickly and we haven’t quite got the cycling mojo back again yet.  So it’s been a week of beach walking.

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Beaches and estuaries galore in Brittany.

I’d forgotten how incredible the beaches are in Brittany.  Long ribbons of fine white sand broken up by estuaries and rocky headlands.  They are perfect for bracing walks when the tide is out.  You are spoilt for choice for aires and campsites along the coast and we have enjoyed parking up behind windswept beaches and being able to roll out of the van in the morning for a brisk walk before breakfast.

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The perfect spot for an overnight stop – the little white dot in the middle above the sand is Ollie, our van.

One place we did remember from our cycling holiday was Concarneau with its 14th Century walled town built on an island in the harbour and accessed by a bridge.  Alas, it’s sold itself out completely to tourism now with the compact interior lined with tourist shops and restaurants.  It’s still pleasant to explore and enjoy the views from the ramparts though.

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The ramparts of Concarneau.

The town is also still a big fishing port with huge fish sorting sheds lining the harbour which we passed when walking in from the aire on the outskirts of the town.

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The walk from the aire into to Concarneau.

Moving further south we pitched up for a night on an aire just north of Quiberon.  This spit of land was once an island and the West side of it is known as the Côte Sauvage although it didn’t look particularly sauvage when we were there as the sun was beaming with just a light breeze ruffling the grass.  It’s a busy stretch of coast line and appears to be very popular.  We walked along the coast into Quiberon itself and spent a very pleasant hour basking in the sun out of the wind sitting on the beach eating our picnic watching the sailing boats ply to and fro.

Lazy days indeed.  Tim can’t believe his luck.  Normally he lives in fear of my plans for him.  I’ve let him off the hook this week and he has been enjoying it to the fullest but deep down he knows it won’t last!

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You know it won’t last Tim!

À la prochaine!

On the road again…. .

So.  Bonjour à tous et à toute.  We are back on the road.  After over five months in the UK we landed in France this morning.  Yay!  We made the big journey of four kilometres from the ferry port to a free aire behind a lovely beach just outside Roscoff, Brittany.  Here we will stay for at least tonight to rest up, regroup and, for me at least, reacquaint myself with writing a blog.  My blog writing skills are somewhat rusty after such a long lay off so we may be here for three days.  Still, I have a wonderfully inspiring view, which I will show you at the end of this post, to help me get the brain in gear.

Firstly, how good is it to be back in France?  Merveilleux!  In our opinion, France is the motorhomers dream country to meander around in and we are very happy to be back here.  Tim was positively beaming from ear to ear this morning rolling off the ferry.  Anyway, that’s where we are at but we need to wind back a bit to give an update on campsite life from the inside looking out.

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The calm before the school holidays.

For those of you that remember from the last blog post (I concede it was a looong time ago) we were about three weeks into our two month stint of working at a campsite in Cornwall.  Up until that point the weather had been absolutely amazing but as we all know that kind of weather can’t last forever especially in the UK.  So when did the weather break?  The first weekend of the school holidays.  Of course it did.  Smiling, happy campers were leaving their homes under clear skies in thirty degrees of heat full of expectations of a sun drenched holiday in Cornwall.  Like lambs to the slaughter they were, trundling down that A30 past Bodmin.  They arrived on site and made the best of trying to get their tents pitched in the squally rain that was being whipped up by a gusty wind.  I had to admire their optimism.

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Off to a day at the office.

The pile it high sell it cheap world we live in hasn’t escaped the outdoor activity market.  The vast majority of tents these days are just not up to the job.  Most are just about fit for one season.  In the UK I would recommend a five season tent.  A five season tent will see you through Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter and the six weeks of the British school holidays.  Anything less just won’t do.  Most campers, if they weren’t actually inside their tents creating some ballast, were holed up inside their cars watching parts of their tents make their way to Land’s End.  It was a shame as, apart from a few days, the weather was poor throughout the whole of August as well (or it just felt that way after the good run we’d had).  We couldn’t grumble though as we had had the best of the weather since we had returned to the UK in April.  It did keep Tim and Barry (the maintenance chap) busy clearing away all the abandoned tents, inflatable chairs, lilos, tables, camping chairs, barbecues, wet bedding, wet pillows, gazebos, umbrellas, dinghies, broken windbreaks and the like on their rounds of the campsite bins in the mornings.  So much waste, just going into landfill, is sad to see.

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A walk along the coast path near Portreath.

Despite the weather the site remained practically full for the school holidays with just a few gaps here and there……….mainly from those that had left early as they no longer had a roof over their head or everything was soaked through.  Ah, happy days indeed.  Even though we are wusses now with the comfort and warmness and dryness of our van we were tent campers once and remember many holidays braved under canvas being at the mercy of whatever the weather had to throw at us.  It’s a rite of passage really.  We do still have a very lightweight backpacking tent with us in the van for the odd cycling or walking trip but I confess it’s not seen the light of day for the past four years or so.  We had intended to use it for a week or two walking the coast path in Cornwall or a trip to the Isles of Scilly after our campsite job ended but, well, France beckoned and that was the end of that!

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Happy as Larry on the tractor.

So despite the weather it was still busy on the site throughout the school holidays which meant we were kept busy too.  Obvs.  As you would expect you have to be a good all rounder when working on a campsite and turn your hand to anything and cleaning the shower blocks is all part of that ‘all round’ experience.  Now you do learn a lot about the nature of both yourself and other people when doing the job of cleaning up after them.  For example, I would never have known that urinals would give me the heebie jeebies but there it is, they do.  It was just best if Tim dealt with those.  Also, when we have worked together whilst we’ve been volunteering on our travels we have always sorted out pretty quickly between us a way of doing things in harmony.  Mmm, not so with the shower block cleaning.  We quickly decided on me doing showers, sinks and mirrors whilst Tim did toilets, bins and floor.  I know everyone will be thinking ‘poor Tim’ but he, of his own free will, chose those jobs (the urinals were added later after discovering my phobia).  So far so good.  Well, not really.  It became apparent that we each have our own ways of tackling cleaning jobs and things just didn’t ‘gel’ as it were.  Working together in a limited space trying not to trip over each other was a challenge especially if we were tired and when we both wanted to do things our own way.  On occasions it almost resorted to handbags at dawn.  There were glares, there were tuts, there were mutterings of ‘where’s the bloody bin gone’.  These were all from me of course as Tim just quietly and stoically got on with what needed to be done.  It wasn’t until about the eighth week into the job that we decided if I did the Ladies and Tim did the Mens then we would all be happy.  And so it was.  What can I say, we are slow learners.  If we’d just done that from the off we’d have saved ourselves a lot of angst.

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Not to be out done I had a go too!

Throughout our long camping, caravanning and motorhoming life we have stayed on countless number of campsites so pretty much knew what to expect in terms of shower block cleanliness.  Basically we’d surmised that there are two types of people…..those that clean up after themselves……..and those that don’t.  Oh but wait.  No.  There is a third type of person.  This type of person does bizarre things just to make your life that little bit more difficult.  For example, seals disappeared from shower heads and toilets, screws and locks disappeared from toilet doors.  As I said, bizarre.  Odd.  Just odd.  There’s nowt so queer as folk as they say.

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St Michael’s Mount.

It wasn’t all shower block cleaning though as we had a good mix of jobs from gardening, mowing grass, moving of caravans, office work, lodge and caravan changeover days, cleaning the pool and a new one for Tim ‘entertainer’.  As I’ve mentioned before on the blog Tim’s musical life has suffered whilst we have been on our travels and it was the one thing that he knew would be his biggest compromise when choosing to do this trip. Since buying the amplifier several months ago though he has managed to carve out a new persona.  That of solo musician playing to backing tracks.  It’s not ideal as he would much prefer to play with a band but needs must and all that.  The campsite has a small bar and puts on entertainment five nights a week during the school holidays.  There were quiz nights, karaoke nights, bingo nights, horse racing nights and various singers and what not so Tim asked if they’d like him to play.  Yes was the reply so he was kept busy entertaining the troops a couple of evenings a week.  Result.

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Grass cutting accompanied by Sandy the campsite pooch.

The music here in Cornwall has been a bonus as we’ve had folk nights at two different pubs we can walk to every week (although one of them is what I would term as ‘dirgy folk’ which has been a step too far for me).  There’s been a choir night once a month which is an anyone can come and join in affair which we have really enjoyed with everyone belting out the old Cornish songs and of course Tim went up to have a sing song with the ‘Four Lanes Male Voice Choir’ when he wasn’t working.    So all in all the we’ve had a decent amount of music added to our lives this summer.

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A September sunset.

That about wraps it up then on our venture into campsite work.  We’ve had a great summer down in Cornwall and enjoyed the experience.  The people we have worked with have been great and very easy to get on with which makes all the difference but with the busy season over it’s time for a break and pastures new.  The question is……will we go back to do it all again next year?  Of course!

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Our view today.

‘Andsome, my luvver!