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!

 

 

NC500….Durness to Duncansby Stacks…. .

Well, how lucky have we been?  Sun and clear skies have accompanied us on our journey north from Inverness to the top of Scotland.  It seems we picked the perfect window in the weather to explore a section of the NC500.  It was more an NC100 rather than 500 as we didn’t have time to do it all.  My nephew, who we met up with in Thurso, said he had never seen weather like it in the three years he has lived there.  Totes amaze!  We meandered along the section across the top of the Highlands from Durness in the west to Duncansby Stacks in the east before heading south for a few days in Edinburgh.  Now, I could blather on and on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah about the spectacular scenery and beautiful weather but I’m not even going to try.  The pictures say it all.  So here they are………….

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Looking towards the campsite at Durness, the most north westerly village on the British Mainland.
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Remains of Balnakeil Church.
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Balnakeil Bay.
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Looking back towards Balnakeil Bay on a walk to Faraid Head.

 

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Lunch stop at Faraid Head……….almost (the triangle of land at the headland is owned by the MOD so not accessible).  We could just make out Cape Wrath lighthouse in the distance.
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Cairn on the top of the hill looking back to Balnakeil.
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Looking out at the limestone cliffs at Smoo Cave.  
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Ceannabeinne Beach.
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Ard Neakie on Loch Eriboll.

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Looking across the Kyle of Tongue to the Rabbit Islands.
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The causeway crossing the Kyle of Tongue Loch.

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This pig had fur not hair!
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The incy wincy post office at Skerray.
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Local produce for sale at the bus shelter near Torrisdale.
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Thurso……….it had turned grey by then but was still dry.
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The beach at Thurso.

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Dunnet Head, a fantastic place to see Puffins close up.

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Had to be done!
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Duncansby Stacks.

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So there we are, a fabulous week all round.

Next up, Edinburgh.

Feasgar math!

 

 

Sunny Skyes…. .

Well the Isle of Skye has certainly come up trumps with the weather.  Apart from one misty morning it has all been wall to wall sunshine.  So much so I’ve burnt the back of my knees. Doh!  The first thing that struck us when we arrived on Skye at the ferry port in Uig is that we weren’t going to have the island to ourselves.  I suppose that’s not surprising as it is said to be the most visited destination in Scotland.

We started our tour off on the Trotternish Peninsular north of Uig to do some walking in the Quiraing, an area famous for its rock pinnacles, sheer cliffs and rock formations.

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Views from the top.

What a great couple of days walking we had amongst the rocks then up onto the top with far reaching views across towards the mainland.

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Over the top.
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The following day on another peak.

We saw several sightings of cuckoos perched on the rocks in those two days.  I tell you, from never having seen a cuckoo in the flesh before we have seen more than you can shake a stick at up here.

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Long range shot of a cuckoo.

Further south towards Portree the Old Man of Storr, the most celebrated column of rock on the island, is a real draw for visitors.  We planned on an early shin up the hill and back before all the crowds arrived but with the clouds down over the hills that morning we didn’t see much.  The low cloud/mist did clear in and out but we didn’t think the Old Man was as spectacular as all the hype makes it out to be.

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The Old Man of Storr.

The views on the way back down under the cloud line were impressive though.

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Views on the way back down from the Old Man.

We’d started our walk at about  eight o’clock and it took about an hour and a half to get up there and back but by the time we got down the parking areas on both sides of the road were full and a steady stream of people were on their way up. It was time to move on!

We made a quick pit stop in Portree at the free long stay car park for a wander round the harbour area followed by the weekly shop at the Co-op there.

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Portree Harbour.

The Co-op seems to have a monopoly on the Outer Hebrides and Skye as there isn’t really any other choice other than a few tiny mini markets dotted about.  It’s a shame because we’ve lost the will to live in every single one of them.  It’s not what they stock that is lacking but the fact that there always seem to be member’s of staff replenishing the shelves in virtually every single aisle taking up nearly all the space with cages of new stock and empty packaging all over the place.  All their shops seem to have narrow aisles making it extremely tedious to get round other shoppers and staff.  I don’t blame the staff as they are only doing their job but why can’t they restock when the store is closed or not a peak times?  Why?!  Even Tim who is normally patience personified has succumbed to trolley rage almost dumping a half filled trolley in an aisle and stomping off back to the van.  He probably would have done if he could have found a space in an aisle to park it.  Anyway, rant over.  And relax!

With clear blue skies and temperatures in the low twenties it was a chance to cook outside again.

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Time for a few Scottish Reels with a sausage curry on the go.

I grant you it’s not often you would see sausage curry on the menu of an Indian restaurant but in the absence of any other form of meat it had to do.  Try it, we recommend it!

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A spot of magnet fishing (a 2p and a 5p were the haul of the day)!

We walked the four miles or so from our overnight stop across open moorland to Dunvegan Castle, the seat of the Clan Macleod since the thirteenth century but at £14 each to go in we gave it a miss and had coffee and cake at Jann’s Cakes in the village instead.

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A very relaxed Highland Coo.
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Shop in Dunvegan village.
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A walk through the woods from Dunvegan back to the castle.

The following day we cycled to Claigan Coral Beaches just north of Dunvegan.  The sand is made up of calcified maerl (seaweed) and tiny sea shells.  Our guide book says that ‘on a sunny day the white sands and aqua water could almost be the Carribean’ but that description is probably stretching it a bit as there wasn’t much aqua water to be seen as it was full of seaweed.

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I wouldn’t say it’s quite the Carribean but very nice all the same.

It was a nice spot for lunch though.  I think we weren’t totally wowed by it after having experienced the beaches of the Outer Hebrides.

A big draw for walkers on Skye is the Cuillin mountain range which has over twenty Munros to be bagged.  The Munro baggers visiting Skye for the week must have been kicking their legs in the air on account of the clear blue sky weather we were having making for spectacular walking in the hills.  With not an OS map between us though we played it safe with a lovely circular walk around the coast of the Suisnish peninsular which gave us excellent views of the mountains in the distance.

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Suisnish Peninsular.

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Cuillin Mountain Range in the distance.
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You can buy a holiday home like this one on Skye for £190,000.

Our final night on Skye we parked up at Kyleakin with a view of the bridge.  Whilst having a cup of tea with our door open a van parked up next to us with New Zealand flags adorning one of the windows.  A young lad appeared at our door to introduce himself and we spent the next hour or so hearing all about his travels.  At ten years old he is far more well travelled than we are having visited nearly every country in Europe.  He and his parents are on the last few months of an eighteen month tour of Europe before shipping back their van, which they’d bought in the UK, to New Zealand.  Marvellous.

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Sunset below Skye bridge.

So that was Skye.  Again, we didn’t have time to see all that was to see but time is marching on and we need to get a move on.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

The Uists, Benbecular and Berneray…. .

Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast.  There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands.  Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip.  Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it.  Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?

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A beach all to myself:)

After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach.  As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning.  Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle.  Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen.  On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it.  I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place.  Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

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The temporary fix to the rattling roof vent.

Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now.  We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.

 

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Lochboisdale on not such a good day.

Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post.  As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal.  She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year.  Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.

 

A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before.  It was a work of art I tell you.

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The perfect peat pile.

We had to stop and take a photo of it.  The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it.  He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year.  After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used.  Marvellous.  The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.

 

P1120801.JPGHe also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round.  We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.

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Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again.  Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north.  Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it.  For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.

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Loch Druidibeag.
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Shetland ponies?  Not being a pony afficianado I wouldn’t know.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt.
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Shame about the car in front!
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A novel way to hold down the wire netting covering the thatch.

A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.

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Peat cutting.

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Striding out on the wrong path to reach the bothy…..or not reach the bothy.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt again.

 

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Ah well, back after retracing our steps to just relax and listen to the birds.  We saw two cuckoos here.  We’ve heard them often enough but it’s the first time we had actually seen a cuckoo in the flesh.

The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one.  Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days.  The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe.  It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.

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Another restored croft house.

Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist.  It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it.  We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.

North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.

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Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist.  They’ve thought of everything here.  Well kept grounds, spotless facilities, campers kitchen,  washing machine, tumble dryer, bunkhouse and three little hobbit houses to hire. 

You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling.  From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air.  I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over.   Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.

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If you see a sheep in this position it needs to be turned over.

The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner.  We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved.  I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them.  They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.

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Traigh Ear beach when the tide is out.

Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote.  Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand.  Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach.  She then just kept going.  And going .  And going.  She was on a mission.  She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay.  Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.

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Traigh Udal beach – that’s Tim in the middle above the seaweed line!

Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so.  They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together.  They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass.  Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?

 

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It was polystyrene but it was still quite heavy!

The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.

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Berneray.

It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140.  It is just delightful.  I think it could be my favourite island so far.  Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence .  I even had a burnt face by the end of the day.  Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides.  Who’d have thought?

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Restored Black houses.

P1120889.JPGThe little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse.  Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.

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Who couldn’t love a seal?

As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!

Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

 

       

 

 

 

The Outer Hebrides…. .

Arriving on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond just north of Balloch on a calm day in bright sunshine I just thought why?  WHY?  WHHYYY?  Why have I never been to Scotland before now?   What have I been doing all my life to not have experienced this before?  What was the matter with me?  I’ve been all over England and Wales and parts of Southern Ireland so why did I leave out Scotland?  Strolling along the Loch shore into Balloch I started to lament all the missed opportunities over the years.

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A tranquil Loch Lomond.

With all the rugged hills in the distance contrasting with the stillness of the loch I almost felt like I’d found my spiritual home.  I’d been living half a century in the Westcountry when I should have been born in Scotland!

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The sea plane comes in for a smooth landing.

Two days later my questions were answered.  Scotland isn’t green for no reason.  Plenty of rain helps to keep it the way it is.  After a bracing windy walk across the hills near Oban the rain came in and stayed for twenty four hours.  Ah yes, I remember now, that was why I’d never been to Scotland before, the unpredictable weather.

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The ferry bound for Barra at Oban.

Living in the South West it’s a looong drive to the Highlands and every time we’d mooted about doing a tour of Scotland for a one or two week holiday we’d always decided against playing Russian roulette with the weather and opted to visit areas closer to home.  Why we were put off by the drive really is beyond me as Tim had many a family holiday in the Highlands in his younger days travelling from Devon with half a dozen other family members crammed into a Hillman Imp borrowed from the next door neighbour!  With more modern transport and road networks it’s hardly the end of the earth but we always found an excuse to go somewhere closer to home.

We had originally planned to ‘do’ Scotland last year but chickened out and went chasing the sun instead.  This year, though, we are ready for it!  Fear not, I am not going to be a whining, whinging, moaning Minnie about the weather whilst we are here.  We are embracing Scotland and all the wild weather it has to throw at us.  The waterproofs are out, we’re layered up and we are ready.

Our first stop in Oban served as a jumping off point for visiting the islands of the Outer Hebrides.  Over two hundred islands make up the Western Isles as they are officially known with just a handful being inhabited by the 28000 or so hardy residents. The plan for the first couple of weeks is to island hop our way from South to North taking in the islands of Barra, Eriskay, Benbecula, South Uist, North Uist, Harris and Lewis before jumping across to the Isle of Skye for a week or so.

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Leaving Oban.

Although I usually HATE trips by ferry I was actually quite looking forward to the nearly five hour journey to Barra across the Minch at the southern end of the Isles as for the first half of the journey the boat meanders through a narrow stretch of water flanked on one side by the coast of Western Scotland and on the other by the islands of Mull and Coll.  We’d been lucky that the weather had cleared up and was clear and sunny for the trip over giving us fabulous views all around.  Once out into the open sea though my queasiness took over and I spent much of the time outside on deck trying not to bring up the contents of my lunch.

Arriving on the island in the early evening it struck us almost immediately that the bobble hat is alive and well on Barra.  They are everywhere!  Barra is certainly a bijou island at just eight miles long by four miles wide but it is known as the Western Isles in miniature boasting sandy beaches backed by machair, Gaelic culture, prehistoric ruins and a few mountains thrown in for good measure……….and……..quicksand!

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Over the last week we have got out to explore Barra by boot and by bike.  Nearly all the roads are single track but with passing places every few hundred metres or so and little island traffic it has been completely stress free getting from place to place.  Everyone seems to drive at a sensible speed and gives a little wave on passing which is all very civilised and a welcome change from our usual type of driving.

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Island residents.
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A walk on the western side of the island.

P1120703.JPGOne of the islands claim to fame is that the airport that sits on the edge of Traigh Mhór bay is the only beach runway in the world receiving scheduled flights.  It is quite the attraction.  The runway is tide dependant and the public aren’t allowed on the beach when the windsocks are flying.  Whilst we were walking on the other beach behind the airport a little twin otter plane circled above us in the squally wind and rain getting ready to land but because the dunes are in the way obscuring our view we didn’t see it touch down on the sand.  When we  arrived at the airport cafe fifteen minutes later, the place alive with steaming waterproofs and steaming people, the three cheery ladies working at the cafe were  belting out Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I will survive’.  I guess it must have been a bit of a bumpy landing.

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The only scheduled flights in the world to land on a beach.
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The tide goes out a looong way.

The plane taxis right up to the airport building to drop off its passengers where they can then take a short walk to the bus shelter around the side of the building which also doubles up as the baggage reclaim.  Fantastic.

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Be careful not to slip on the seaweed as you exit the plane.
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The baggage handlers go to work.
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Also doubles up as the bus shelter!

We whiled away a couple of hours over coffee and cake drying out and soaking up the jovial atmosphere of the place only leaving after the plane had taken off again.

We’ve tramped around various areas of the island in some interesting wild weather but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it.  The beaches are some of the best we have seen on our travels so far with the ground up sea shells giving them their distinctive light colouring.  Learning that the crushed cockleshells are used to make harling (the rendering used on many Scottish houses) changed my opinion of what I deemed to be ugly pebbledash which I had assumed was imported in.

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The shells are also used in other ways.
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A scallop sea defence.

 

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The beaches are all empty.

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I love the contrast of all the colours of the fishing paraphernalia.
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Lobster kennels.
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You don’t come to the islands for the picturesque villages.

Cycling round the island yesterday in beautiful sunny weather was an absolute treat despite being against the wind for half of it.  Stopping to take photos at low tide with the seaweed revealed captured some of the iconic views that the islands are famous for.

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A spring lamb taking five. 
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We were going to walk across this field until Tim spotted the bull.
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Some of the best beaches we have seen on our trip so far.
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That could just be my dream house……
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……or that one!
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Fab…..u….lous.
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Views don’t get better than this.

So far our Scotland trip has already surpassed our expectations and I’m still bashing myself over the head for not having visited before.

Today we hopped onto the ferry which took us, in the warming sunshine, across the water to Eriskay  where we docked forty minutes later scraping our back end on the tarmac coming off the ferry (roll eyes).  It doesn’t take much of an angle to ground out the electrics on our tow bar!

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Off to Eriskay.

Happy days 🙂

Mar sin leat!

 

 

Biking and hiking on the Peloponnese…. .

After enjoying an extended ten day stop at ancient Corinth where we spent the time chatting to neighbours, cleaning the van inside and out, chatting to neighbours, on line learning, chatting to neighbours, a few bike rides, chatting to neighbours and walking up to Acrocorinth and back several times we hit the road again heading back to Nafplio.

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Barbecue night at the Camperstop in ancient Corinth.
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British, Dutch, French, German, Austrian and Greek campers. 

The main reason we had decided to go back to the Camperstop, apart from a bit of a recharge, regroup and a relax, was that Tim was waiting for a parcel to be delivered to the Post Office in Nafplio.   Back in Nafplio, we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  We weren’t idle whilst waiting as we always find plenty to do.

 

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We weren’t idle whilst hanging about in Nafplio.
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Of course we found the time to go for an Ouzo tasting night with Sue and Mick  who were our neighbours for a couple of nights.
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Agios Nikolaos, a little church built into the cliffs and accessed via a coastal footpath from the carpark at the end of Karathona beach.

 

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The lovely young dog and numerous cats that lived near the church at the end of Karathona beach.  Various people come to feed them.

The tracking history for the parcel showed it was getting closer and closer but not close enough.  It spent three days in Argos which, on closer inspection of the map, we realised was only ten kilometres away.  Long story short, after several emails and phone calls we arranged to pick it up in Argos.  We arrived in Argos and parked up on a busy street outside the town.  Tim went off in search of the delivery depot whilst I stayed in the van in case I had to move it.  He relayed to me later that, unable to find the place, he asked at a local garage for some directions.  After the owners daughter had done her best to translate the directions Tim obviously must have still looked puzzled as the owner called over one of his young employees and said ‘he take you’.  Oh, how I wish I’d seen Tim’s face when the young lad nodded to him to clamber onto the back of his moped.  Now, for those of you who know Tim you will know that he is Mr Health and Safety personified.  He won’t even use an electric toothbrush without risk assessing it first.  He just does not do any kind of motorised two wheel transport.  I had a moped for over ten years to zip back and forth to work on and he never once got on it.  So there he was careening round the streets of Argos in a pair of shorts not wearing a crash helmet on a genetically modified moped driven by a multi tasking teenager who had one eye on the road and the other on his mobile phone.  All I can say is he badly wanted that parcel.  You never know, if you get to the end of this blog post I might even tell you what it was.

In all it took two weeks from order to delivery (or not quite delivery).  Curiously, the ACSI card my mum kindly sent to the Nafplio Post Office arrived in a few days.  Finally, then, we left Nafplio for good taking the coast road on the next ‘finger’ of the Peloponnese.  Under a cloudless sky we chugged up and down the coastal road giving us glimpses of little fishing coves all set against a back drop of the Parnon mountain range.

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A walk and a lunch stop at Astros.
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Views of the Parnon mountain range.
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One of several picnic laybys on the coastal road to Leonidio.

We arrived in Leonidio and immediately loved it.  The town nestles in the shadow of a huge red rock at the end of the Dafnon Gorge and the area is popular with sports climbers who have a choice of over a thousand different routes.  It truly is a very beautiful area and we have been waylaid here for the past five days.

 

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Leonidio – you can just see the van to the left of the picture.
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Tim had the choice to walk or cycle up the hill above Leonidio to the top of the rock.  He chose to walk – opting out was not an option!
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The views from the top. 
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The main road through Leonidio.

It has to be the cleanest town we have been to in Greece.  I haven’t mentioned it before on the blog but we’ve been really saddened to see a huge amount of rubbish, particularly plastic and building rubble, strewn all over Greece.  I’m not having a go at Greece as every country has its fair share of waste issues but we’ve found it particularly prevalent here. There are plenty of large industrial type bins around but many have no lids, are over flowing or just aren’t emptied or used.  Here in Leonidio, though, they seem to be taking a real interest in keeping their town and environment clean and recycling what they can.  I hope that this rolls out to the rest of Greece and sooner rather than later.

 

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Recycling in Leonidio.

We could spend a couple of weeks here just exploring by foot or by bike. We spent a couple of nights parked up on the edge of the town but on Monday morning we were woken up at 6.30am to find ourselves surrounded by the local fruit and veg market.  Ooops.  They were very kind and had left us a gap to get out so we decamped and drove down the valley to the harbour at Plaka four kilometres away to have some breakfast.   We found out that the campsite behind the beach is open so we’ve decided to base ourselves here and stay for a few days.

 

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The harbour at Plaka.
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Working out in Plaka!

I’ve been out on the bike whilst Tim has been fettling his new toy.

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Out on the bike.  Views back down to the village of  Poulithra.
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A dusting of snow and ice on the road near the top of the climb.  
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Back down the mountain towards Plaka.

Obviously with the mountains it’s extremely hilly but the effort is so worth it as the scenery is absolutely magnificent.

 

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Spectacular views and quiet roads make for a perfect afternoons cycle.

Sixteen kilometres north of Leonidio, the Monastery of Panagia Elona, built into a cleft in the rock six hundred and fifty metres above the river bed is quite a sight even after experiencing Metéora last year.

 

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You can just see the Panagia Elona monastery clinging to the hillside.
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Close up view.

It must be quite a popular pilgrimage site as stalls are set up outside the gate selling local produce like honey and olives. I was the only visitor and was greeted by a monk who showed me around the little chapel.

 

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Inside the monastery with the little chapel at the end.

Anyway, enough of that let’s get back to Tim’s new toy.   Since embarking on our trip around Europe Tim hasn’t had the opportunity to play his clarinet or saxophone as much as he would have liked and he has missed playing in a band.  In a bid to kill two birds with one stone he has decided that he is going to take up the life of a ‘street entertainer extraordinaire’ (aka ‘a busker’).  In order to do that he needed some amplification.  And that is what was in the parcel we were waiting for, a battery powered amp.  He had his inaugural gig yesterday on the harbour front and was invited over to the taverna to knock out a few tunes on their sun terrace.

 

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It beats the draughty streets of  Bath.

Today he whiled away another hour or so playing on the harbour and was thanked by the lady in the shop who said she enjoyed the music.  All in all, it’s a win-win then.  Tim gets to play and people enjoy it. You never know it could become a good side hustle to keep him in beer money.

 

Before I go I must tell you about the campsite cats.  When we arrived we were greeted by a few cats that were sniffing about.  Obviously being such a soft touch I brought out a bag of food I have (it’s actually dog food for the numerous needy stray dogs we see) but before the food hit the floor another ten cats appeared.  I fed them again this morning and we are now prisoners in our van.  We are completely surrounded.  Most of the cats in Greece are pretty aloof but these ones know how to manipulate.  They have taken to lounging on our chairs, table and bike rack and try to get in the van at every opportunity.  Cooking outside is a nightmare and you can’t go to the washing up area without at least two kittens hanging off your trouser legs.

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Oh yes, just sit where you like we’ll just stand!
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It’s just as well the barbecue has a lid.

I don’t think our neighbours are too happy with me encouraging them as they keep spraying them with water to keep them away from their van.  I thought I was going to have to go out tonight after dark to feed them but another van has just turned up and the first thing the lady did even before getting their van into position was feed the cats.  Phew, that’s good, the heats off me now.  Oh, how we’ll laugh as they become prisoners in their van tomorrow!

 

Αντίο!

 

 

Finally….Croatia…. .

Croatia……………at last.  This time we came prepared waving our passports in our grubby little mitts.  Having been turned back at the border on our bikes the day before for not having our passports I was a little disappointed when we were waved through border control with hardly a cursory glance at the passports in my out stretched hand.  I might as well have been waving my shopping list.  Still, we were pleased to be going in to Croatia, another new country for us.

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Yay, Croatia is finally on the map.

Croatia boasts nearly 2000km of rocky coastline as well as over 1000 islands.  After not having seen the sea for nearly five months we are going to be spoilt for choice.  Ironically, though, we started our tour inland just outside the hilltop town of Buje.  After visiting a cashpoint to pick up some Kuna’s (no euros here) we pitched up at Eco Gecko Camping in Triban, a little hamlet deep in the Istrian countryside.  What a little find.  Just four pitches in the owner, Michaels, garden.  Excellent.  Washing machine included in the price.  Big tick.

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Master chef at Eco Gecko Campsite.

The site was also a short distance away from the Parenzana Cycleway where we would be able to cycle to Grožnjan, our first hilltop town stop.  The Parenzana was a 130km long narrow gauge railway line linking the port of Trieste in Italy to Poreč in Croatia which was only operational from 1902 to 1935.  In 2006 work began on converting the former track into a foot and cycle path.  Our Rough Guide informed us that the most breath taking sections of the route were those connecting Buje, Grožnjan, Livade, Motovun and Vižinada.  After having cycled some of the route from Lucija to Koper I was really looking forward to some more.  What the Rough Guide failed to mention, though, was that not all of the route is suitable for road bikes.  We picked up the trail not far from the campsite but it was an unsurfaced rough track which, although doable on our touring bikes, would have been slow, uncomfortable and tedious.  We decided to go by road instead.

The Istrian peninsula is dotted with historic hilltop towns overlooking forest, farmland, vineyards, orchards and olive groves.  Many of the towns suffered huge losses of population after World War II when local Italians were forced to leave.  In the 1970’s, in an attempt to keep the towns alive, empty houses were offered to painters, sculptors and musicians which also stimulated tourism.

Grožnjan was alive with people enjoying lunch at the many cafes, wandering around the tight cluster of cobbled streets or poking about in the numerous galleries and craft shops.

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Groznjan, it doesn’t look busy but there were lots of people about.
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Groznjan.

In contrast, the following day we walked to Buje, another hilltop town which had a much more deserted feel to it.  We loved it though and practically had the place to ourselves feeling slightly like voyeurs nosing in on other peoples everyday lives.

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The footpath to Buje.
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Approach to Buje.
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It was washing day in Buje.
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Restored homes stand side by side with derelict buildings.
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Buje old town is a warren of alleys and dead ends.

Novigrad, on the coast, was our next stop.  A pleasant spot for a couple of days with the bonus of an outdoor pool on the sea front.

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Colourful umbrellas in Novigrad.
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Fishing is still thriving in Novigrad.
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The pool to myself.

Back inland again we headed for a camper stop below the hilltop town of Motovun where Mario Andretti was born.  At €23 per night for what is effectively a car park it’s a bit steep but inland Istria is limited for campsites or motorhome stopovers.  Wild camping is forbidden in Croatia, with a knock on the door and a subsequent fine from the police being the likely outcome, so we parked up and paid up.  However, included in the price was free use of the hotel swimming pool.  The only drawback was the hotel was at the very top of the town, a fifteen minute brisk walk up the steep hill.  After a three hour walk taking in the town and the surrounding countryside I did that fifteen minute brisk walk up that hill and had that swim.

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Motovun
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The narrow streets of Motovun.
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Motovun from below.

Our Rough Guide  recommended the Trail of the Seven Waterfalls, or the Staza Seven Slapova, which has a better ring to it I feel.  The 15km walk starts in Buzet and takes in the Mirna Canyon, the water features of Kotli and several ‘slaps’ before returning to Buzet.  We almost didn’t start the walk as it was raining but refused to be dictated to by the weather.  We got water proofed up, set off and hoped for the best.  The first part of the walk up through the canyon had some interesting climbs with ropes and rails to cling on to which was just as well with it being so wet.  The only disappointment was that the river was so dry with just a trickle of water over the falls.

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Vela Pec Slap (or no slap)
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Up through the Mirna Canyon.

We emerged through the trees at the top of the canyon just as the rain cleared and the sun came out.

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The hilltop village of Buzet in the background.

 

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Lunch stop at Mala Pec slap (again no slap).
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You can keep your fancy restaurant lunches – an egg mayo sandwich and a flask of coffee is all we need.  Slap up.

I’d taken my swimming costume hoping for a bit of fun in the natural pools at the little hamlet of Kotli but alas no water was to be had.

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Kotli natural pools (Kotli apparently means hollow in Croatian and from which the hamlet gets its name).
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Kotli hamlet now mostly holiday apartments.

All in all an excellent well marked trail that would be spectacular with higher water levels.

Krk island was our next destination, an 80km drive.  No probs, it should take an hour or so.  That was before the sat nav diverted us off the A8 and onto a minor road heading up the mountain.  How was I to know that the A8 was a toll road?  It didn’t look like one on the Maps.Me app.  A tortuous, winding climb up and then down the mountain road to avoid the toll road delayed us somewhat with darkness approaching.  Driving in the dark is something we try to avoid in unfamiliar territory and I can’t actually remember the last time we drove in the dark on our trip.  Looking at the map it now seemed likely that we’d have to drive right through Rijeka, a huge industrial conurbation, before reaching Krk island.  Now, we would have been happy to pay the toll for the drive to Krk but as we’d made the decision to avoid toll roads back in Slovakia neither of us had bothered to research how the system worked in Croatia.  Do we need to buy a vignette?  A go-box?  A pre-mid?  Or is it just a pay at the toll booth affair?  Too late asking the questions now.  We did the only available option and pressed on.  We were so relieved when the sat nav directed us back on to the A8 before reaching Rijeka and then had us take the A7 avoiding the city.  Mmm, weird.  We arrived at Kamp Nijice on Krk island without further incident and settled in.  (Note to self: Even if you don’t intend using the toll roads still do the research stupid).  It turns out that the toll on the A7 is just a one off payment for the five kilometre long Učka tunnel and not a toll road as such.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, no?

Doviđenja!