Spit spot

After a night of heavy rain we woke to bright sunshine and a light but sharp breeze. I groaned inwardly at returning to the morning spit wash and sighed with relief to know that we were aiming at a shower this evening.
Gibraleón was quiet. We were soon on our way and zipping along the all but empty holiday roads.

Our destination was not far, this side of Seville. I had been promised an upmarket camp site in a forest and with an on-site restaurant. Sounded fab.
Light cloud, blue sky and sun made our drive very pleasant. The omni-present graffiti of Spain made things less so.

We crossed the Rio Tinto, though I saw no colour just the glare of the sun. On the drivers side it was noticeably red, apparently. My disappointment was made up for however when I spotted an ass and cart crossing the flyover ahead of us shortly thereafter.

The scenery was largely unexciting, though very much green. Some orange and olive groves, an enormous cactus patch, pine trees, graffiti…
I am definitely becoming blasé about orange trees. The streets in Gibraleón were lined with them but I didn’t try to pick any and wasn’t even moved to take a photo. I do keep thinking about how close I am to Seville, it being Seville orange season and me loving marmalade so much. It has been months since I tasted marmalade!

Joining the N road for Hinojos we passed brought the Dead centre of Almonte… Cemetery to the right of us, Crematorium to the left… Ho, ho, ho.
We were soon deep in the olive groves, with olives as far as the eye could see and interspersed with the odd palm tree.. then bang! straight into a pine forest and a sign that translated to “Slow, Bobcats crossing”. How exciting.

And then we were there.”There” being the Doñarrayan Park campsite in the Doñana National Park. A delightful spot. We have booked to stay for a month. The showers are fabulous… and there is a cycle path that begins outside the camp that will make Nell’s daily walk a doddle.

I got to thinking about the “bobcats” and checked y translation, Google still insisted that Linces = Bobcats. I think it really means Iberian Lynx. I do hope that we manage to bump into one.

Other good stuff: there is a Heritage Railway not far from here and it runs in the winter months. Also there is a couple here that we met back in Zarautz. Small traveller’s world, isn’t it?

Farewell to Portugal

Portugal in general has not agreed with us, though we did enjoy a lengthy stop in Sagres and that was agreeable enough. The weather was mainly perfect though turned cloudy the day before we left and the early morning start was quite chilly. When I say “chilly” we were in truth still in short sleeves,though actual shorts had been abandoned.

Our start was for us an uncharacteristically early one. There were two reasons for this and the more important was the weather forecast. With flood warnings out we wanted to be safely parked on hard standing before the rain began.
The second reason was the altogether more exciting prospect of a possible Kings’ Day parade… apparently most Spanish towns of any size put on a parade. We had been unable to confirm one at Gibraleón but me and my camera were living in hope. Would rain stop play? Only time would tell.
We were out of Sagres by 09:00 and expecting to be resetting the clock by 11:00. Would the lunch hour disappear?

Arriving at the Gibraleón aire at 12:30 local time, our tummies were in no mood for disappearing lunches but Nell came first in our priorities. A footpath nearby provided Nell and Mr Snail with some exercise. I meanwhile contemplated the metal fence around us. Not the most attractive Aire that we have ever used but possibly the most secure feeling. Fenced and right by the police station!

Exploration of the town showed that we missed the parade by 24 hours.
Later we sat in a thunderstorm and learned that our house offer had been unsuccessful.


I was very reluctant to move today. The past week with my kitchen unpacked from its traveling crates had been relaxing and enjoyable. Long lie ins, with no need to get up, pack and move on were simply blissful. The toilet blocks were excellent and there was even a (very hot) shower with unmetered control. There were no children in evidence and the site was quiet. With the mostly empty beach so easy to access, it was a great site for Nell too.

However, the main road was busy with HGV traffic and road noise began early in the morning. That plus the unpleasant and pervading odour spurred Mr Snail on and he desired a change.

With bad weather incoming, the driver wanted to be away early. We took off before breakfast, planning to stop later at a service station on the motorway. The SatNav lady could not resist playing with us on the way to the motorway but we found it in the end.

Previously on our travels we have remarked on the complete absence of traffic police in Portugal. Today I may report with confidence that they do exist and are out in force. So far we have met with two speeding operations with several cars at the side of the road in advance of a service station. When we stopped for breakfast we were able to observe the traffic cars escorting unfortunate drivers to meet their police colleagues waiting in the car park. I had counted five cars by the roadside and there was another in the services plus the two in different livery waiting to book the infringers. At the next service point there were four police cars parked on the hard shoulder. It is entirely possible that we have seen every traffic cop in Portugal today!

After an excellent coffee and a rather less excellent apple turnover (Portugal lacks the delight that is The Bramley) we were on our way again quickly. Why? This was when it was divulged that we still had quite a long way to go. How long? Over a hundred miles.


The motorway was busier than we have been used to but as we were going past Lisboa it was hardly surprising and really the traffic nowhere near as heavy as you might expect when navigating about a capital city and no sooner had we reached the city limits than we were off again onto empty roads again and heading towards the Algarve.

The cloud that had gathered on Monday persisted but the entire drive was dry. Our destination was a wilding spot at a reservoir dam. An on-site restaurant held the promise of dining out. We knew that the site is well known and that it can be busy but we thought that late December would not be a problem.
I don’t know what I was expecting… Ladybower, perhaps. Whatever I was expecting the place did not deliver. It was a bit grim in fact, the reservoir almost empty, a large number of motorhomes parked up and many looking as though there for the duration… The restaurant did look nice, with oranges growing on the terrace and a view over the water but sadly and very firmly closed until Thursday.

We left without stopping for breakfast on Wednesday morning, not in the least bit sorry to bid farewell to RVs flying national flags and motorhomes bedecked with fairy lights and all with camping gear bestrewn about the place.
Horrible, just horrible and not even any good walking to compensate as it was all marked with hunting warnings.

Lidl was our first port of call, we bought a few supplies and a very unhealthy breakfast of doughnuts, which we consumed before turning towards the motorway.

A fairly monotonous drive ensued, received only by occasional speculation regarding cork farming.

Just as the scenery was returned to slightly picturesque from dead boring, we landed in the Algarve. Immediately we were surrounded by hoardings… Designer Outlet, McDonald’s, IKEA, Burger King… and with a sinking heart, I said “I think I am going to hate Algarve.”

The above was written on the road in my note-taking app. My relationship with the Algarve has actually improved a little since then, but more of that later.

Leaving Regua

Early morning river fog this morning, with the Sandeman man obscured from view but the sun was burning through by the time that we were leaving.
Regua had little to recommend it and the tidy little Aire by the Doura was a mixed bag: water, grey drain and electric hookup on the pitch but perched beneath a road bridge, close to motorway and railway, sited at a club and with a large pack of feral dogs close by.

My instant reaction when I saw the dogs was “can I feed them?” Closely followed by “can we adopt one?” But on closer inspection, the size of the pack and the nature of the dogs invited circumspection.

Mr Snail had attempted to walk Nell up the river but the pack were not welcoming their presence and they beat a hasty retreat.

The town was pretty run down and shabby apart from a modern development housing wine and restaurant outlets. I did enjoy all the tiles though, both the ones covering external walls and the blue and white mural panels in public spaces.

We paused to read a restaurant menu and were translating slowly but quite successfully, when the proprietress popped out, excused herself and asked if she might explain a little. She was very proud of offering a traditional Portuguese Christmas menu. We were delighted and very tempted but neither one of us was hungry!

I believe that it will remain a sadness that we didn’t take up the opportunity of enjoying a little local colour.

When we left this morning it was a short distance to the motorway but a steep climb. We were soon above the mist and I wriggled about in my seat trying to get a camera shot with little success.

Already at 500 metres, the sun was shining brightly and the landscape revealing itself. We noted the height sign, not at a summit, and deduced that we were to climb higher yet. We topped out at 1,000 metres just before stopping at a service station 20 k out of town. Under a clear blue sky, the sun felt very warm.

The above was written on the road in my note-taking app. It appears to be incomplete. So does my memory. I do know that we ended our day’s journey at the coast on a small town named Vagueira, more of which later…

Not sure whether to backdate this entry to the correct day  or to leave the date as the date when I finally got around to uploading it. For the purposes of clearing up any doubt, this is an historical post and we are currently at Sagres.

Any port in a storm

Although Zamora had not endeared herself on our arrival, we were sorry in several ways to be leaving today and hope to return sometime.

Storm Anna, when she arrived, was sharp and shrewish but quickly gone. She was a reminder of home for a while as we were buffeted about but when I woke at 01:30 the wind had passed. Anna brought with her lashings of rain however and we found in the morning that the dry bed in the park was now a turbulent stream.

The weather, though much improved, remained dull and damp but was good enough for us to stroll out for lunch in the town.

The restaurant that we had carefully selected was closed so we set about finding another. Zamora offers many choices but none seemed to be speaking to us. We plumped for an upmarket establishment, listed at no 2 on TripAdvisor. It was just 2pm but they turned us away “service completed”. What? In Spain?

We ended up in a wee bar that served from 13:00 to 16:00 and had a rather good lunch for €12 each, though I was somewhat fazed by the whole bottle of wine to myself included in the price. A very nice organic Toro it was too.
Last night the temperature dropped below freezing, seeing the internal temperature in the van down to 5°C by morning. Jack Frost had visited and decorated the skylights with icy feathers but the sun was shining under a cloudless sky.

I had entirely forgotten that we were still at 700 metres but it certainly shows in the quality of the light as we are on our way to Bragança. Quite astounding. Also astounding is the scenery and I am amazed by how much grows up here. Tundra, it is not.

We reached Portugal at midday, local time and are now back on GMT. We are also back almost at 700 metres, though it feels higher here. We can see snow-capped mountains and there is a real chill in the air despite bright sunshine.
The Aire is quite nice and is sited above the town, just below a castle. There are water and waste facilities here so I can have more than a cat lick in the morning. No electricity though.

Repair attempts on the water system continue… and so far it appears to be holding.

A short stroll into town this afternoon yielded a Portuguese SIM card and a nice bottle of Tawny.

We are settling in.

Running away from the rain

Great banks of thick low cloud obscured much of the mountains this morning, their tops appearing as islands emerging from a pearl grey sea. Mercifully, the rain was light.

The Picos must be a fabulous place in better weather and I regret not hanging around to see them but the combination of rain, mud and hordes of children screaming until 11pm was quite sufficient to drive us on.

The aim, I was told last night, is to get to the other side of the mountains and be in the rain shadow as the medium range forecast for Avin offers nothing that is not rain. I thought it would be a fearful long way around in bad weather but was told that we were going through not around. As we now discover, we are going up and up and up and over. This became clear when we reached a section of crawler lane ten kilometres long!

(I have found another tool to help me with the blog and am now able to draft offline as we drive, or as at this moment , pulled up at a filling station. All the posts that I wrote in my head as we drove through France are long lost but hopefully now I can save some of our memories.

By the time that I get post this, we shall be perhaps 200 miles or more further along the road so this mix of running commentary with later additions may seem a little odd.

Brilliant, I can take and insert photos as I go! The featured photo, if it works, was taken at 1042 metres. I know that it is unfocused but I like that, it adds atmosphere.)

We topped out at about 1,325 metres, equivalent to the height of Ben Nevis. When we emerged from the last tunnel the rain had stopped and we could see blue sky in the distance and a weak sun overhead attempting to penetrate the cloud. It was unbelievable up there… there were trees growing, even deciduous ones. Houses and villages and farming… at that height. There was even a m-way services! The road rather surprisingly did not lose much height and we found ourselves remaining at around 1,100 metres for a while.
It turned out to be a long drive across a high plateau.

I believe that we may remember this as the drive of a lifetime. After the snow-capped mountains, we passed through a landscape of fascinating colour with terracotta-coloured ploughed earth fields punctuated by dirt roads of yellow ochre and burnt umber. Fields of sage green vegetation, so pale as to be all but grey and appearing as though frosted although, even up at 800 metres, the air temperature maintained a steady 8 degrees. The whole scene being muted and calm, wrapped lightly still in the low cloud we had driven through since dropping to 1100 metres or so. Once again I find myself wishing that I was an artist and able to paint.

It wasn’t all gorgeous. Some very dull and boring sections, some plain ugliness. Eventually we arrived in Zamora, which appeared pretty repellant as we entered the town. I was convinced that we would be moving on.
As it turned out, the Aire is not at all unpleasant and is conveniently close to the old town but more of that some other time.

We may stay for an extra night if we survive the storm.