A week of rain. A week. Still, Portugal needs it after a very dry summer so we mustn’t grumble. It was just a week. Not too long. Just a week. Seven days. Actually I lie. It was really six days as there was one good day in amongst the seven wet ones. So, six days then. Not a week at all.
As we weren’t cooped up in the van it didn’t bother us. The donkeys were miserable though. They really don’t like the rain. They are desert animals after all so who can blame them. They don’t have a double layer waterproof suit so they are susceptible to skin problems if they stay wet for long periods. Normally the older ones go to various different grazing spots during the day (I call it donkey day care) but when it’s wet they’re confined to barracks as that’s the only place where there is any shelter from the rain. And they get bored. Sooo bored. It’s also tricky trying to feed twenty donkeys inside when it’s wet as there isn’t much room and hooves start flying as they jostle for the best positions.
The donkeys weren’t the only ones who were bored. When we took the dogs out on Friday they were all absolutely manic. Not so many volunteers turned up so we went out with our usual three for an hour and then came back to get three more.
Trying to get three hyper dogs all booted and spurred ready to go out was no mean feat. Tim just leaves me to it and waits for me to hand him a lead or two when they are ready. No chance of him getting muddy.
But the monsoon season appears to be over now as we have had wall to wall sunshine for the last couple of days.
Meanwhile back at the band Tim has been busy with various rehearsals, functions and festivities. Food seems to always feature at the various different functions he has played at.
A week or so ago they did a tour of four villages doing a short concert at each of them and food was provided at all but one of them. I received several text messages throughout the day just keeping me abreast of what was going on: 1st concert and meal finished. 2nd finished, no food! 3rd one, on a roll, port and cake! They stopped after that but later he smugly told me that a three course dinner was laid on after the last concert.
The final concert before the New Year was on Saturday where the band played at a Christmas meal for one of the local banks who had donated some money to buy some new instruments. A new bass clarinet, timpani, euphonium and glockenspiel have now been added to the bands stable of instruments.
So with that I’ll wish all of you ‘Boas Festas’ whatever you are doing and thank you all for reading the blog this year.
The eve of the local Christmas Market here in Aljezur has given me the nudge to remind me that it was about time I updated the blog. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for six weeks already. It’s also quite hard to believe we are nearing the Festive Season as it’s much more low key here. There are some lights up here and there around the town but if you’re like me and don’t go out much after dark then Christmas could pass you by which is exactly how I like it. My former work colleagues would attest to the ‘bah-humbug’ I used to be (and still am) at this time of year. Secret Santa? No thanks. Work Christmas do? Not for me. But here I do like to go to a few of the local events so we’ll be heading on over to the Christmas Market later on today.
Aside from that we have established our routines here with our various interests. The Banda Dos Bombeiros Volunários de Aljezur has welcomed Tim with open arms. A seat was rustled up, music was printed off, a uniform sourced from the depths of the store cupboard, and voila, you’d never know he wasn’t Portuguese. Principally the band is made up of young people between the ages of twelve and twenty six but they didn’t seem to mind or notice the age gap. The band is bank rolled by the fundraising efforts of the Bombeiros (fire brigade) and seems to be very active within the local community.
They were joined by two other bands a couple of weeks ago for a Festival of bands where the three bands marched through different parts of the town followed by a concert.
December 8th was a procession in Monchique, twenty miles away, for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception with a coach laid on to get the musicians to and from the town.
The film ‘Brassed Off’ came into my mind. If you haven’t seen the film then I’d recommend it.
Then tonight there will be a concert at the church in Aljezur. Starting at 9.30pm. 9.30pm? Everything seems to start late here. Me, I’m normally getting ready for bed at that time but I’ll make an exception tonight and support it.
As for me the donkeys continue to keep me busy three mornings a week.
We had two new arrivals a couple of weeks ago. Pasquale, an elderly donkey, was in need of a home and a chance at a comfortable retirement. He worked in agriculture in his previous life so he can now enjoy a bit of down time in his later years.
Isabella came with him but she is much younger so will hopefully make a good trekking donkey with a bit of time and training. She’s a big girl of some sort of Spanish origin and she’s bigger than nearly all the males.
They were both pretty nervous to start with but after a few days began to trust their new humans and I think they now enjoy the attention.
As for the dogs? Well, there are about forty or so of them and they are reliant on the volunteers if they want to get out for a walk three days a week.
Generally there are enough people but some days have been a bit thin on the ground so we’ll take two or three for an hour or so and then go back for two or three more.
As I knew would happen, one of them is going to break my heart. I knew it as soon as I clapped eyes on him. He’s a scruffy young Pedengo (Mediterranean hunting dog) and he has stolen my heart already.
He’s not ready for rehoming yet as he is still really nervous of people but we can see a change in him with us since we’ve been taking him out as he seems much more relaxed and content with us now.
Tim keeps reminding me that three is a crowd.
I can safely say that I won’t be getting a scruffy Pedengo for Christmas then!
Luxembourg. A new country. A new day. A new sticker. A little sticker.
In our quest to get to Germany……Tim was eager to get to Germany…..we stopped for just one night in Luxembourg. Being one of the smallest countries in Europe and only thirty five miles across west to east it wasn’t a big drive. The free aire at Dudelange was ideal as a base to reach Luxembourg City by train. €4 gets you a ‘day’ ticket lasting until 4am the next morning and can be used on the trains and buses.
It was our first experience of a double decker train. Clean and efficient. It was still clean on the way back but not quite as efficient as it was delayed by thirty minutes. But we’re used to that. Waiting for trains was one of Tim’s not so favourite sports before giving up his job last year.
Having arrived to the city in a bit of a grump (no other reason than it was a grey day…………it doesn’t take much for me) Luxembourg soon won me over. Over one third of the surface of the city is made up of beautifully landscaped green spaces.
Its situation is pretty spectacular perched on high cliffs lying above two narrow valleys carved by the rivers Alzette and Pétrusse.
The old town and the fortifications were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It really is worth a visit.
We picked up two walking trail leaflets from the tourist information which would guide us round the old town, the fortress walls and the best views. However, my Poundland reading glasses were no match for the tiny map on the back of one of the leaflets. Tim took over, scanned the map, gave it back and we did our own walking tour instead.
The old town is pretty compact so fairly easy to navigate and The Grund (lower town) is wedged in between the fortifications so hard to get lost.
Even though the higher old town was heaving with people the lower town, by comparison, was like being in an oasis of calm.
Trees, formal and informal gardens, riverside paths, fortifications and parkland.
I’m presuming that most visitors don’t venture down to the lower town, even though there is a lift, as it was very quiet.
So that was our whirlwind trip to Luxembourg. We may well hop back over the border again as diesel is cheaper there than in Germany or visit Northern Luxembourg on our way back to the UK next year.
It won’t have escaped the notice of the handful of regular readers to this blog that I have been having somewhat of a blog sabbatical over the last few weeks. The reasons for this have been many and varied. It’s been a bit of an emotional time returning to the normal and the familiar after a year away and I’ve found it harder than I expected. After all, we’ve been living in a little bubble for the last twelve months not needing to make many decisions beyond the day to day perusing of the guidebooks and maps deciding on where to go and what to do. Simples. Few stresses, other than narrow roads and manic drivers.
Coming back though, alongside seeing family and friends, I knew we would have to confront a few things that, well, needed confronting! Our intention when we left on our adventure, over a year ago, was to see it as a lifestyle change and something we would continue to do for a few years at least if not longer. However, being cautious by nature we didn’t burn all our bridges by selling up in the UK and getting rid of all our stuff before we left. Oh no, that ‘just in case’ refrain was always in the back of our minds when deciding what to do. Even though we had donated and given away lots of our possessions before we left we still kept a significant amount of it stored in a container whilst our house is rented out, you know, ‘just in case’.
‘Just in case’ living in a small space got too much and we wanted a UK base to return to. ‘Just in case’ we fell out of love with the lifestyle and wanted to resume ‘normal’ life again. ‘Just in case’ we both fell out with each other completely and we could enjoy a mud fight over who was having what on our separation (that’s not going to happen by the way as poor Tim signed up to a life sentence a very long time ago)! You get the picture.
So, I’m back here again after a whole year still talking about ‘stuff’. Stuff, stuff, stuff. I won’t be offended if you skip over this post, bored, having read my musings before about ‘stuff’ because, frankly, I am bored too. If ‘procrastination’ was an Olympic sport I’d be lining up there in Tokyo, 2020! But, procrastinate, justify, philosophise, reason, dillydally, put off, postpone, defer, call it what you will, a decision had to be made about what to do with our ‘stuff’. End of.
So it all went.
Just like that.
We called Dorothy House, a local charity which has provided excellent end of life care in the past to Rita, one of our very good friends, and to Eve our elderly neighbour, and they kindly took the whole lot yesterday in one fell swoop. The money we save in storage costs will now be invested in our future life instead of continually paying for our past life.
The key to the container has been returned and a weight has been lifted. We don’t have to revisit the ‘stuff’ question again. Ever! Draw a line Jane. Draw. A. Line. __________!
It’s been a long time coming this blog post. Not because it’s particularly interesting but because we haven’t picked up any wifi for what seems like ages. Today we have finally got some wifi, in a Wetherspoons in Plymouth in the UK no less, so I can finally update the blog at the end of our first year of living our new life whilst supping my first pint of real ale from the nearby brewery at Salcombe.
Here was our last week or so:
The journey north couldn’t be put off for any longer as we needed to be in Santander for our ferry to Plymouth on 12th April. In keeping with our slow travel methods of the last year we allocated a week or so for the 600 mile trip. Our plan was to drive just two to two and a half hours in the mornings which would then give us time to stop and explore some key places on the way.
Ubeda, which was recommended to us and we had missed on our drive over to Cordoba in October last year, was our first stop. There is a very good free aire there which looked pretty new and was only a ten minute stroll into the old town. And what a lovely old town it was.
Built on an escarpment overlooking the valley of the Guadalquivir, Ubeda packs in more historic buildings than many much larger towns and cities and has some beautiful Plazas. Our guide book describes it as a showcase of Renaissance magnificence which is no doubt why it is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.
Following the A4 northwards took us into the Castilla-La Mancha region made famous by Cervantes tales of Don Quixote de La Mancha. We stopped for the night at the small village of Puerto Lapice which had a free aire on its outskirts.
The tiny village has a small museum dedicated to Don Quixote which took us ten minutes to go round followed by ten minutes being funnelled through the extensive shop selling anything and everything relating to Don Quixote. They were trying very hard to push the Don Quixote theme I think!
We stopped off the next morning at Consuegra to have a gander at the eleven restored windmills on the ridge above the town before driving on to Toledo for our nights stop.
Toledo, another UNESCO site, which sits on a rocky mound at a bend in the river Tagus, definitely has curb appeal as you approach it from the east side as we did. It is really quite a sight and very compact.
There is an aire in a car park just outside the old town but it was rammed with cars and vans so we opted to stay at the campsite which was a little further away from the town but was in a beautiful setting and nice and quiet.
There was a bus service from outside the campsite to get into the old town but, after consulting the Maps.Me app, we discovered a path that took us, along the river, all around the outside of the town with some fantastic views along the way.
The old town is a maze of narrow streets which we found hard to get our bearings in but it’s not very big so it didn’t really matter that we had to double back on ourselves a few times. I think it is probably the most touristy place we have been to so far or it may be it just felt like that as it is so compact. After an hour or so of dodging speeding cars coming along the narrow streets and weaving around school groups we made our way back to the campsite.
We had planned to stay two nights in Toledo but felt a bit overwhelmed with the crowds so we hit the road the next morning heading for Ávila.
Ávila old town is completely surrounded by 2km of 11th Century walls, built by Alfonso VI, when he captured the town from the Moors in 1090. Constructed by the Muslim prisoners, the walls took nine years to complete. It’s €5 to walk the top of the walls so we made do with walking them at the bottom which cost us €4 in ice creams instead.
Next up was Segovia which didn’t disappoint. It was a twenty minute walk into the town from the free aire by following the aqueduct. Thought to have been constructed by the Romans during the 1st Century AD, the water was transported underground from the mountains for 13km before flowing into the aqueduct.
It runs for over 700m reaching a height of 28.5m above the Plaza de Diaz Sanz where it is supported by single and double arches.
It was definitely worth seeing there is no doubt. The Alcazar in Segovia is rumoured to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s castle at Disney World and stands on a rocky promontory above the river.
There’s a lovely walk which drops down to the river below the town giving excellent views of the Alcazar from all sides.
Feeling we had had enough of sightseeing after a busy few days we had a peruse around a large Carrefour at our next stop in Palencia. Tim looking at tablets, me looking in the homewear department! I found some beach mats that would be ideal for seat covers to replace the outdoor towels, which were supposed to be temporary covers, but have been in place for nearly ten months. At €3 each they were a bargain. They do have a potential migraine inducing stripe to them so Tim may well have to wear dark glasses inside from now on. Oh lordy though, was I pleased as Ollie was starting to look like a student bed-sit!
So having had an action packed week driving across Spain from south to north we decided to stop at an aire that had been recommended to us not far from Santander. This aire was free but we would have gladly paid for it as it has an added attraction in that it is situated directly outside a safari park.
A minutes walk from the aire we were able to while away an hour or two watching the elephants do their thing which was a lovely end to our week.
So that’s it, our first year on the road is now complete. We are back in the UK for the next few weeks to see family and friends and to sort some things out at home before turning around again to head for Germany for Season 2!
Walking, walking, walking. We’re in the valleys of the Alpujarras region, made famous by Chris Stewart’s books, which nestle in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to the north and the little sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador to the south. It is a truly beautiful area for walking and we feel like we are on holiday!
Oh, I know that those of you reading this, especially if you’re reading whilst at work, will have just snorted, thrown your arms aloft and muttered a few expletives at that last statement but we’ve been pitched up, stationary, on a campsite for the past week tootling about the area on the bus, with warm weather, enjoying a laid back week. So, like a holiday!
We felt a bit flat arriving in Lanjaron on the west side of the Alpujarras after having had a great couple of days in Granada. We stopped at the tourist information office there to ask about walking routes:
‘Habla ingles’, I asked the lady behind the desk;
‘siyouwannamep’, she replied.
Before I could even decipher what she’d said, or think about an answer to her question, she’d ripped a map of the town off the large pad on the desk and was furiously circling points of interest whilst belting out a running commentary in such a thick accent, and at such speed, I almost felt physically assaulted! I looked at Tim with one eyebrow raised to infer ‘did you get all that’, but, judging by his smirk, I thought it was highly unlikely.
That little encounter picked our spirits up no end. We emerged from the office, blinking into the sunlight, grinning from ear to ear, each exclaiming that we hadn’t understood a word she’d said but what a nice lady she was! Along with the town map, with all its scribblings, we at least also came away with a leaflet detailing a couple of walks starting from the town.
We spent the next couple of days winding our way up the steep hillsides around Lanjaron marvelling at the views across the hills towards the coast.
The Moors, settling here in the 8th century, gradually transformed the landscape. Small hillside villages were created in a style akin to that found in North Africa at the time. Narrow streets with flat roofed houses, built in terraces, almost sink into the hillsides. It’s quite different to the Pueblo blancos we visited around Ronda but equally, if not more so, interesting and picturesque. Our second walk from Lanjaron climbed steeply up the hillside above the river before following one of the acequias for several kilometres.
The acequias, developed by the Berber settlers, are an ingenious and efficient water irrigation system. The snow run-off from the surrounding mountains in spring and summer provides the water that rises up into natural springs where it is then guided, via the acequias, to where it needs to be. The whole area is lush and green thanks to this ancient system.
For the last week we’ve been at the Orgiva Campsite about 2km south of the bustling bohemian town of Orgiva. I don’t think it’s too unkind to say that Orgiva is best viewed from the mountain road a few km above the town as, up close, apart from the 16th Century church, it’s none too pretty! The surrounding area is fabulous but the town is a bit unloved in places and only really appealed to us as a source for a few provisions and to board the bus that took us into the much more picturesque High Alpujarras villages.
A little more about that bus though. We thought we’d stay at the campsite whilst visiting this area, making use of the bus to get about, to give Tim a break from the stress of driving the narrow, winding roads that were sure to plague this region. We were right about the roads but I was wrong about the stress.
We boarded that bus in Orgiva, like lambs to the slaughter, brimming with excitement at a day out in the three villages of Pampaneira, Bubion and Capileira. The smile was soon wiped off my face as the driver took off up the mountain road like a rat up a drainpipe. The road up to these three villages, whilst not too narrow, was very windy, steep and, once we started to enter the Poqueira gorge, had near vertical drop offs at its edges.
I’m sure the bus driver knows the roads and knows his bus but he was driving twice as fast as I would have driven a small car on that road. Our previous days walk had involved high up vertical drops from the footpath at many places but, as I was in charge of my own legs, I didn’t feel in the least bit uncomfortable about it. I wasn’t, however, in charge of that bus and that kind of put the heebie jeebies up me. My mind started idly mulling over the statistics of fatalities down that gorge but, either it’s not a common occurrence, or the authorities clear the wreckage away promptly so as not to upset the tourists. It also didn’t help once I’d noticed the small crucifix gaily swinging to and fro from the driver’s rear view mirror. I sincerely hope the driver was absolutely confident in his driving abilities and not leaving the safety of himself and his passengers up to a higher source.
Well, I haven’t had a drink since my Sangria binge in Gibraltar but I sure felt like one after I got off that ruddy bus! Tim had no such qualms and enjoyed every minute of the journey grinning like a simpleton at my obvious discomfort. I could see the words ‘pay back’ written behind his eyes.
The friendly, colourful villages and stunning scenery were worth it though so I endured another two days on the bus. By the third day I was relaxed enough to almost enjoy it and trust the driver…….almost!
Here’s a sample of pictures from our walks over the week.
After reading the first three of Chris Stewart’s books some years ago the Alpujarras has lived up to my expectations. The walks we have done have been some of the best of the last year and we’d definitely like to come here again. Alas, our ferry from Santander back to the UK is booked for the 12th April so we need to press on a little north.
The Parque Natural de El Torcal, a huge expanse of limestone upland, lies about 10km south of Antequera and is famed for its rock sculptures. The drive up there was as picturesque as can be with far reaching views across lush farmland and rocky peaks. We passed several rural restaurants on the way up and, it being Fathers day in Spain, they were packed to the gunnels with Spanish families enjoying a leisurely lunch in the sunshine. As we climbed the last 3km before reaching the visitor centre the sheer enormity of the rock formations suddenly hits you. We’ve never seen anything like it on this scale before.
There are a couple of trails leading from the visitor centre and we opted for the 2hr one which winds its way up, over and around parts of the parque giving some excellent vantage points to view the limestone outcrops. Once away from the visitor centre, and the shorter trail, which most people seemed to be following, it was eerily quiet. It was quite hard going and not ideal if you have dodgy knees or hips but took us about 90 minutes with plenty of stops for photos.
Our Camper Connect App showed the car park to be an overnight stop but some of the reviews on it suggested that the Rangers had on occasions moved campers on. We’d seen the ranger trawling about in a four wheel drive a few times and, as he hadn’t taken us to task by 7pm, we decided he probably wasn’t going to so we decided to stay the night.
Next morning we took another trail which took us about 3km down the hill to a lower car park giving us fabulous views across the valley, returning via the same way.
We dropped back down again to the free aire at Antequera for the night to plan our next stop, Granada. Being a city stop, with no motorhome aires, we planned to stay at a campsite outside the city. There are those certain times that we think it’s definitely worth paying for a campsite over finding somewhere to wild camp. Big cities are those times as, after a day of sightseeing, it’s always nice to have a van to return to! We stayed at Reina Isabel campsite, which is in the ACSI book, about 7km outside the city with a bus stop almost outside the door which takes 20 minutes to reach the city centre. All for €1.50 each. Bargain!
Our guide book says ‘if you see only one town in Spain, it should be Granada’. My Dad also said ‘Jane, you must do Granada’. It was inevitable, then, that we would end up there at some point on our journey!
Having not opted to do History even to GCSE level (or O levels as it was in my day) I’ll leave you to peruse Google if you want to know more about Granada’s history! All I’ll say is it was first occupied by the Moors in the 8th Century, had a golden period under the Nasrid dynasty from 1238 to 1492, fell to the Catholic monarchs in 1492, had a period of decline in the 19th Century but much has been restored since then to its former glory.
The Alhambra, the Albaicín district and the Sacromonte district were the three main areas of Granada we wanted to see. The guitarist Andrés Segovia described Granada as ‘a place of dreams, where the Lord put the seed of music in my soul’. Travelling into Granada on the bus I was questioning that statement as it all looked a bit ordinary and, well, uninspiring really.
We picked up a map from the tourist information, got our bearings, and made our way to the Rio Darro which separates the Alhambra on one side of the hill with the Albaicín and Sacromonte areas on the other. Strolling along the river on the Carrera del Darro, with views of the vast Alhambra on the hill to my right, the steep narrow streets of the Albaicín to my left and glimpses of the cave houses of Sacromonte’s gypsy area straight ahead I revised my initial thoughts. Ordinary and uninspiring this was not!
Walking up the hill to the Sacromonte area we left all the people behind, which was great for us, but they were missing out as we thought it was a fascinating area and the views across to the Alhambra from several vantage points were superb.
This area was, in its heyday, Flamenco central where travellers would go to be wowed by impromptu performances. Sadly though both our guide books warn that most of the flamenco shows put on today are of questionable quality.
The Albaicín, the former Moorish town, is full of narrow alleyways and small squares where we whiled away another hour or so before dropping down to the Cathedral.
Yes, we’d been seduced by Granada with its backdrop of the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada and we were two happy bunnies on the return bus to the campsite.
After several aborted attempts on the Alhambra website a week ago where I could only go so far with the booking before the whole thing crashed we decided to wait until we got to Granada to buy tickets.
We’d asked in the tourist information about booking tickets but were told that they were sold out until May but if we queued up early in the morning at the entrance we MIGHT be able to get a ticket then as lots are returned! What sort of time would be best I asked? Oh, 6.30am if you want to be sure of the best chance of getting one was the reply! Aaaarrrrggghhh! Neither of us fancied doing that as it would mean cycling in as the first bus wasn’t until 7.00am and even if we did get a ticket we would have to wait another couple of hours before the Alhambra opened to get in.
The chap did say to ask at where we were staying as the hotels and guesthouses have a certain number of tickets. When we got back we asked the friendly guy at reception about tickets and he said ‘sure, how does 11.00am suit you?’ It cost us a €2.50 each admin cost but it was a small price to pay for a stress free day!
We had a brilliant day with cold but fine, clear sunny weather and we would absolutely recommend a visit. It is………….oh I can’t describe it. Ok, I’ll describe it in one word………Sumptuous with a capital ‘S’. You would have to go there yourself to get a true feel of it.
So, with the visit to Granada a resounding success we set off up the A395 to Pradollano, Europe’s most southerly ski resort in the Sierra Nevada.
We had intended to stay the night up there but, as it was freezing cold and with the weather closing in, we revised that idea and decided it was time to visit Las Alpujarras area south of Granada.
Ollie, our van, was riding high heading east out of Tarifa on four shiny new tyres. Tim was equally riding high feeling like a dog with an extra appendage at having the said tyres fitted! Oh the little things?! To be fair it had been touch and go as to whether the tyres would be done as, when we duly arrived at the garage at our allotted time of 16.00hrs, the tyres had yet to be delivered. Several phone calls confirmed they were on their way being couriered from Cordoba. They finally arrived at 18.00 and we were on our way 90 minutes later.
We stopped for the night at the aire at Castellar de la Frontera where we’d stayed before which is conveniently located just 8km off the main A7 Algeciras to Malaga road. Whilst there we popped over to the cafe across the road to pick up some wifi and saw on the news that in fact the whole south coast of Spain had been battered by severe gales for 24hours. Maybe our experience in Tarifa had been on the extreme side then!
Our next destination was to be Garganta del Chorro, a huge canyon in the limestone massif above the Río Gualdalforce, 50km north west of Malaga. It’s a major centre for rock climbers but we wanted to walk the Caminito del Rey, a walkway traversing halfway up the steep walls of the narrow limestone gorge. The 3km long narrow path, clinging precipitously to the mountainside by pins driven into the rock, is set some 100 metres above the Guadalhorce river and is just a few feet wide. Just my kind of thing! If you don’t really have a head for heights then I suggest you look away now!
Now a tourist attraction, the Caminito del Rey was originally built between 1901 and 1905.
With the construction of the El Chorro and Gaitanejo hydro electric powerplants, the path gave workers the ability to cross between two nearby waterfalls. It effectively provided a shortcut so the workers didn’t have to climb down the mountain on one side to then have to climb up the other side. After all, we all love a shortcut!
It wasn’t until 1921 that the path became known as El Caminito del Rey (the Kings pathway) after King Alfonso XIII crossed it to reach the dam for the inauguration ceremony.
Over the last century intrepid climbers used the path, also as a short cut, to reach Makindromo, a famous climbing sector of El Chorro. Throughout the years the walkway fell into a serious state of disrepair with gaps in the guard rails and pavement areas which were completely missing but still the climbers came and risked life and limb to cross it.
However, after four fatal accidents in 1999 and 2000, the path was closed by demolishing the initial section to prevent any further fatalities.
Plans were afoot in the early 2000’s to restore the path but lack of the old wonga prevented the project going ahead. Fast forward now to February 2014, the Provincial Deputation of Malaga finally had the cash to restore the path. The new path was constructed one metre above the line of the old one and was reopened to the public in March 2015.
The actual path is now run by a private company but for €11.55 each for the walk and the return bus I don’t personally think they are ripping us off!
The whole route from where we parked the van at the North end to the finish at El Chorro is about 7km on a mixture of woodland path and board walks.
So what did we think? Well, despite definitely feeling like a tourist attraction, we thought it was superb.
You can only walk it in one direction, north to south, and the numbers are limited entering the path at different time slots to prevent overcrowding.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
It felt all very safe but I imagine if you are a tiny bit wobbly about heights then I guess it wouldn’t be your idea of a dream day out!
It’s also probably not advisable, like I did, to keep walking whilst gawping upwards at the vultures soaring across the top of the canyon which at some points is 700m high. A sure recipe for vertigo and a tumble I think!
The final part of the walk, which traverses the gorge at the southern end by way of a suspended (read MOVING!) bridge, continues on down and around the corner giving far reaching views down the valley from El Chorro.
It was just fantastic. It’s not until you look back at where you have been that you suddenly realise the sheer height and precariousness of it all.
The whole thing took around four hours and we got back to the van at around 2pm for a rest and a regroup. Whilst it did seem a shame to wake Tim up from his afternoon kip to go for a further walk I felt it was necessary as I’d hate to feel he was missing out! It was worth the effort though for the views we had over the three reservoirs.
We would have ideally liked to have spent another day in the area but, due to the uncanny lack of others vans around, and it being in the natural park, we thought that wild camping here would be a no no and we’d risk a fine.
We drove to the very good free aire at Altequera, a prosperous looking market town with several fine churches. What it is most famous for is the three prehistoric dolmen caves dating from around 2500 BC.
Call me a heathen but I found it a little underwhelming but it was free!
Today we’re off to the Parque Natural de El Torcal, south of Antequera, to do some walking and look at some rock sculptures.
Boy we sure are ‘living the dream’. We are currently hunkered down in between two blocks of flats on the outskirts of Tarifa trying to escape from the relentless wind. Last night Ollie, our van, was blown hither and thither by a gusting, godawful wind coming off the hills behind Tarifa beach. The cover for the bikes, which was already in a sorry state with numerous patches, is now virtually shredded to bits! The skylights on the roof of the van have just about held their own despite the wind trying its level best to remove them from their moorings. So, after a restless night, we came to seek some refuge in between some flats in the town. As I said, we are living the dream folks!
Tarifa is not called the kitesurfing and windsurfing capital of Europe for nothing it seems. Our guidebook also happens to mention that Tarifa, before it was famous for kitesurfing, was a quiet village known only in Spain due to its unusually high suicide rate! The reason for which is that unremitting wind, apparently. After last night I can well believe it! But anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to last week.
We left the very pretty hilltop town of Casares (a brilliant place to watch the vultures) after three days of rain to drop back down to the coast to do a proper visit to Gibraltar.
What can I say, I expect it’s a right of passage for most Brits who travel around Spain and we are no exception. We stayed at the aire on the marina at La Linéa de la Concepción, just across the runway from Gib.
The aire is €12 per night, has a view of the boats in the harbour and is far enough away from the main road to be a quiet and peaceful stop. It’s also only a five minute walk to the border.
After having nipped over to Gib two weeks ago we knew what to expect at the border. We’d walked across to the town coming back at about 5.30pm and Tim had likened it to coming out of Devonport Dockyard 30 years ago when 3000+ employees would leave the base at the same time. Cars, vans, scooters, mopeds, bikes and pedestrians were all rushing headlong for the exit! I hadn’t realised that so many people work on Gibraltar but live in Spain. Let’s just say it was an experience! It did, however, confirm our thoughts that it wasn’t worth taking the van over to take advantage of the 75p per litre diesel to be had on the island. Nope, too stressful in our opinion!
We spent a couple of hours wandering around the town, marina and Morrisons(!) on the Tuesday afternoon we had arrived. Apart from Main Street, which is pedestrianised, it’s not a particularly pedestrian friendly place. It’s so compact that virtually every space has now been built on and we only found one small park area. Usually when we explore a larger town or city we try to go through as many parks and green spaces as we can but Gibraltar town is a bit lacking in them!
Not to be deterred though the next day we had a brilliant day walking up to the top of the rock, over the other side down a steep rocky footpath called ‘Mediterranean steps’ to take in views of the east side of the island down towards Europa Point and then continuing on back around to our starting point.
It was quite a strenuous walk in the end and we were glad we wore our walking boots.
When we set out a huge cloud had been hanging over ‘the rock’ but it miraculously cleared by the time we were half way up to the top and the views were superb.
We weren’t disappointed on the ape front either.
We whiled away some time watching them at the top of the rock and at other points on our walk.
We made sure we had our lunch where none were to be seen mind!
Our other reason for coming to Gibraltar was to meet up with my friend, Nik, who had lived on the island in the mid 1980’s as her Dad was posted there for three years with the Navy. She’d come, with her Mum, on a reminiscing tour to see how things have changed. We met up with them for some lunch and a catch up. It was great to see them and we spent several happy hours chatting away over lunch whilst supping Sangria……..too much Sangria! We both suffered for our over indulgence but, well, you live and learn………or not! So thank you for lunch and a great afternoon Nik but I never want to see you again!!!!!! Just kidding;)
So that, then, brings us round to Tarifa, on the Costa de la Luz, which stretches from Tarifa to Cadiz, where we have been for the last few days. This coastline is a complete contrast to the Costa del Sol. It’s relatively undeveloped, backed by rolling green hills, with some beautiful beaches……..and plenty of wind! Saturday and Sunday were glorious, weather wise, with temperatures up to the low twenties and a nice breeze that brought out probably in the region of 300 kite surfers. It was quite a sight stretching across the 7km of Tarifa’s beach.
We were able to walk into Tarifa town at low tide along the beach and then returned over a boardwalk and some scrubland when the tide had advanced up the beach filling a lagoon which prevented us from retracing our steps.
We drove 10km up the coast to visit Bolonia which has a beautiful beach and the remains of a Roman settlement.
We met another British couple there, John and Sheila, who are doing a similar trip to us and invited us in for coffee where we exchanged stories on our experiences so far. It’s always nice to chat to other people who are doing a similar thing, renting out their house, getting rid of most of their stuff and seeing where the road takes them, just to confirm we’re not completely nuts choosing this lifestyle!
Coming full circle now, to where I started on this somewhat rambling post, we are sheltering from the wind in Tarifa instead of moving on today as Ollie is going to have four shiny new tyres fitted later. We had thought we would wait until returning to the UK to get them done but the front ones are now pretty close to the lowest limit and with probably another 1500 or so miles to do before we get back to the UK it’s safest to get them done now. They are Michelin somethingorothers (Tim has done all the research!) which will comply with the regulations of some European countries when travelling in winter. Tim does van stuff. I do cooking!!!
After the tyre fit our plan is to travel east again as we’ll eventually want to visit Granada. We seem to be doing a backwards and forwards, zig zag, tour at the moment but that’s what you get when you don’t really have a plan!!
Since arriving in Spain nearly ten days ago we’ve had some rain………..boy have we had some rain! Whilst parked up at the aire in Sanlúcar de Barrameda the rain came and went in waves for nearly forty eight hours.
In the one extended break in the weather that we did have we had a mooch around the town, but, alas, we didn’t manage much of anything else! Sanlúcar was the departure point for Columbus’ third voyage in 1498 but it’s probably better known for its light, dry manzanilla sherry made by, amongst others, Bodegas Barbadillo.
Sherry producers are in evidence all around the town. Nik, one of my oldest friends, will be disgusted with me for not doing a tour of one of the Bodegas as sherry was one of our drinks of choice on our nights out in our younger days! (No, we weren’t normal!) Ah well, maybe we’ll do a tour if we go to Jerez de la Frontera which is the capital of sherry production and not far away!
What we’d really come to this area for, though, was to see Càdiz so after two nights in Sanlúcar we made our way further south to an aire at El Puerto de Santa Maria which is across the bay from Càdiz.
We didn’t fancy driving into Càdiz as it’s very compact and options for overnight stays were limited. The aire at El Puerto, another 24hr manned carpark similar to the aire we stayed at in Seville, is convenient for the ferry which shuttles regularly to and from Càdiz and takes about thirty minutes.
We had only intended staying two nights at the aire but another thirty six hours or so of rain had us confined to the van. Normally we don’t let the weather dictate to us but it really wasn’t worth venturing out as the rain was torrential and would have been no fun at all to be out in. We were super lucky though to be able to pick up some free wifi whilst at the aire and managed to watch the England v Wales rugby match on the laptop.
That was a bonus as I’m not sure Tim could have coped with the disappointment as he’d set his heart on seeing it! It was easy in Portugal the previous weekend as we just went to an English bar in Lagos to see it but no English bars were to be had in El Puerto.
We finally made it into Càdiz on Monday 13th February, albeit by bus as the ferry wasn’t running due to the weather. I’m not sure why that was as it was sunny and calm and looked alright to me. We got there though and it wasn’t raining which was a huge plus as we’d been beginning to get cabin fever in the van!
Càdiz, purported to be Europe’s oldest city, is set on a peninsular, and is almost completely surrounded by water.
Looking back at the old town in Cadiz.
We started our exploration by walking the waterfront and then, after some lunch, walked the myriad of narrow streets and alleys in the old town.
It really is very compact, with a slightly run down look about some of it, but all the more interesting for it.
It wasn’t as clean and well kept as Seville but had some pretty Plazas and green spaces.
A day in Càdiz was enough to see what we wanted to see and, with the sea now looking like a millpond, we were hoping to return to El Puerto by ferry but, nope, it wasn’t to be and back by bus we went.
After three nights at the aire at El Puerto, which doesn’t have any facilities, we needed to find somewhere to empty and replenish so to speak. The aire at Rota, half and hour’s drive away, fitted the bill. It’s free and a short walk from a sandy beach so was a good stop for a couple of nights.
We got out on the bikes and, whilst not exactly all picturesque, had an interesting cycle along some of the local cycle tracks around Rota and Chipiona.
It’s completely flat, which cheered Tim up no end, and a bizarre mix of farms and smallholdings haphazardly sprawling inland with holiday homes and apartments equally sprawling along the coast.
It was good to get out on the bikes though and get some oil on them after all that rain. We need to replace the bike cover we have as it has several rips in it now as the fabric is completely rotten.
Whilst at the aire at Rota we did a much needed clean of the inside of the van and a revamp of everything we have stored in the outside lockers. In the planning stages of our big trip we had discussed whether we should maybe change our van, ‘Ollie’, for a slightly bigger van with more outside locker storage. At the time, we felt that if we were living in it full time we’d need to carry more stuff than we did when on holiday. However, having been on the road for ten months now, we are feeling we are much happier when living with less!
A couple of weeks ago we sorted through our clothes and shoes and dropped a bin liner of stuff into one of those charity clothes bins. Whilst tidying the van yesterday we managed to fill another bin liner full of clothes to donate. If we haven’t worn it in ten months we just don’t need it right? There will be more to go – I’m looking at you flippers – before we get back to the UK I’m sure. So, we’re glad we stuck with ‘Ollie’ and saved our cash instead of changing him for a more alluring model!
Anyway, I’ve gone off piste and this is getting rambling. We moved on today to do a tour of the ‘Pueblo Blancos’, white towns, which dot the hills inland from the coast. We’re starting off our tour at Arcos de la Frontera and we’ll make our way round several towns probably finishing in Ronda.