Upon Reflection….

This long awaited episode takes the touring Ansells from where the last blog left us on the western edge of Norway, south through stunning scenery to cross the sea to Denmark, down through the rest of Jutland, across the Kiel Canal, through Germany, Holland, Belgium and France and across the Channel to England.

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No one goes to the Arctic Circle expecting it to be sunshine all the way and here up in the mountains, snow stays on the ground all year long.  Some pockets lay close enough to the road for us to explore.   This one must have been several meters deep still despite it being exposed to the summer sun.

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Most of the beauty up in the mountains is purely natural; waterfalls, peaks, valleys, rocks and trees.

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But the ancient works of man are as impressive sometimes.  Who created this bridge and why remain a mystery to me.

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But probably the inhabitants of this log cabin could have filled us in.

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The walking on water trick is popular hereabouts in the mountains of Western Norway.

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This waterfall and the adjacent twisted pine compete for an audience.

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Further down by the sea, a family of escapees from a mink coat factory perhaps, compete with us for cod and mackerel.

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One junior furry family member obviously hasn’t been paying attention in swimming lessons and had to be dragged across any open water by his earhole.

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Luckily I was accompanied by ace photographer Terry.  I wonder if he kept the snapshot of me on the ferry.

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The view from the road at the top is wonderful but we were faced with the prospect of driving the 20 or so hairpin sections to get to the fjord below.

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The ferries ply the fjords making climbing over the mountains redundant but it is worth it for the view.

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Here you can see some of the ziggy zaggy bends coming down from the “Snow Route”.

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Here is where the “On Reflection” comes from of course.

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The combining of shots gives a bit of a twisted perspective but does some justice to the grandeur of the scenery.

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Looking towards Geiranger.  A likely place to stop and fish and perhaps stay for the night.

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That Ace Photographer crept in there again.  Sorry.

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The real posh tourists don’t flit around the hairpinny roads with their homes on wheels like snails.  They turn up in luxurious liners, decamp in to aircon coaches, tour Geiranger and all the pretty bits and get back in time for Des Oconnor and dinner with the captain.  (Sorry. A bit of green eyed envy crept in there I think.)

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More wonderful reflections heading south.  This is lake Djupvanet at 1,017m above sea level Geiranger.

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Lake Breiddalsvatnet at just under 900m and this one was full of fish.  Makes you think “Where do they go for their winter holidays?”

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Lake Vagavatnet.  Much lower down at only 300m.

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Eventually we reached the south coast in time for our ferry.

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The last glimpse of Norway from the back of the car ferry leaving Langesund harbour bound for Hirtshalls in Denmark.

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We have many “funny” smells turn up in the motorhome that no one will own up to but we could not quite place an unpleasant burning plastic stink that got really bad in the tunnels around Oslo.  Later investigations revealed some burned out connectors on the van’s electronics that were replaced quickly due to the extensive toolkit that I lug around with us all the time. 

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We landed in Hirtshalls, northern Denmark and drove a few km along the coast to an enormous beach where we could park the motorhome.  The sand was as hard as concrete beneath us to start with but four days of burning sunshine dried out the beach and apart from a thin crust it was like a sand dune.  We picked a likely route in order to get off the beach but unfortunately we sank through the crust and ended up axle deep in soft sand.  However, patient manoeuvring and clever placing of our blocks and sand mats and with the help of half a dozen strong German campervanners pushing us, we were soon out of there and safely on the road again.

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Saeby harbour in the top right and corner of Denmark.  This stop was the first paid for site in Scandinavia, all the others since leaving Germany had been freebies, mostly picked from the “Park For Night” app.  We paid because it was my birthday and we wanted to go out for a drink.  The drink was a small beer each and was so expensive that it was just that “A drink” then back home for the usual few in the van.  

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Caught these two singing “Happy Birthday To You”

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They are very big on renewables in Aggersund, Denmark.They are very big on straight lines too.DSC_9289

This otherwise unremarkable photo shows the parasites that swallows, martins and swifts are prone to.  The fly like creature is a louse-fly, probably Hippoboscidae.  It is the parasitic equivalent of you or I having several bloodsucking  hedghogs in our underclothes that we are unable to get rid of.

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A linnet on the lookout for flax no doubt.

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Trying to make a summer on its own on the muddy banks of the great Danish inland sea:  the Limfjord.

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A spoonbill coming in to land over a misty morning Danish marsh.

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A swallow taking a very rare rest from clearing the air of flying insects.

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Daintily walking across the mud is the bird with more names than any other I can recall.  The Northern Lapwing, Peewit or even Green Plover.

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The proper use of the mud is of course to build your home.

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That drip hanging from the end of his beak is so appealing in a wading bird.  Not quite so appealing amongst us humans though.

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Even the common Starling is revealed in all his glory with a 600mm lens.

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The Danish have a predilection for nautical nick knacks.  They often place anchors outside their houses as if afraid that they might one day drift off in to the ocean.  You can have the anchor if you want it but the other one is definitely mine!

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“We take motorhome security very seriously” the Thyboron harbourmaster told us.  Mmmmmm.   No actually 50mm gun recovered from a WWI  ship that sank in the battle of Jutland which took place just a couple of kilometres off this sandy spit. 

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This memorial to the lives lost in the battle stretches along the dunes.  Each of the 25 stone obelisks commemorates a British or German ship lost  and around each stone are placed smaller markers to commemorate each of the 9,823 lives lost.

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A reminder of the days when whaling was an important part of the economy of these remote parts.

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Well no one is going to nick this one are they.   But….Someone in Thorsminde must have dived down and recovered the thing sometime.   Makes you think.

Then over the border to Germany.

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We stopped by the Kiel Canal which links the Baltic and North seas.  Dug by Kaiser Wilheilm the second and a few of his mates in 1887, it is over 98 km long and saves each boat about 460 km on their route.

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It was built to take battleships originally but now takes mostly cargo on its way from China or another international port.  It is the busiest waterway in the world according to the German tourist industry.

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The bridges over the canal are a bit of a problem to build as they have to be 45 metres above the water to allow the huge container ships to pass beneath.

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This one scraped beneath but I am not sure about the ones behind.

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Some less conventional marine vessels were spotted in the harbour at Bremerhaven.  The “Seute Deern” a 76m gaffel built in 1919 in the USA.

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Now part of the Bremerhaven museum sschiff.

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I was so fascinated by this vessel I even paid to board the U-2540, a second world war German submarine.  This one has a very dodgy past and seems to have never been in a combat situation.  Apparently it was late being built, went on training voyages and ran out of fuel just as it was going to be put in to action.  The war ended before they could get enough diesel to top up her tanks so she was scuttled on May the 4th (coincidentally Star Wars Day) 1945.

I had a great time gawping at all the technological marvels aboard as well as clonking my head against every stopcock, rheostat, pressure gauge and bulkhead on board.  The most amazing thing I found out was that our motorhome was modelled on the crew quarters of a German U-Boat!

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The business end. Four of the six 533mm forward torpedo tubes, one with a torpedo ready to go.

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Bremerhaven has such wonderful man hole covers.

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We stopped on a campsite at Appingendam near Groningen in northern Holland.  It had everything.  Canals, bridges, lakes, a bar, endless possibilities for cycling, bus trips to local cities, fishing and even a mini zoo.

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Lots of scope for Damsel flies with all the water about.

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How do you know they are Lillie’s?

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My favourite was the frogs though.  As if a spot in the sunshine was rare, all these edible frogs clamber over each other on a  single sunlit shoot.  I like the frog on top. He has a front foot on one neighbour’s head and a rear foot on another’s.

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We cycled to a nearby railway station and took the train in to Groningen for a bit of a look around.  The inside of the church just had to be photographed.

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Just to prove it is Holland here are all the clues:  Most unusual bikes in the world, a canal and a canal houseboat.

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Of course all the other clues were all about us including windmills.

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We crossed the border to Belgium and stayed once again on a freebie by the Thieu canal lift.

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This is part of the 100 year old  and now superceded lift machinery.  A water turbine powered a hydraulic pump that lifted a 1,100 ton tub with a barge inside to a height of nearly 20 metres.

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That system and three others have all been replaced by the new lift.  This one can manage 2000 ton boats going up or down the 73 metres difference in height between the upper and lower canals.

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No clever hydraulics here, You can see the dozens of cables attached to the container that connect to the electrical winding machinery in the overly large roof. 

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The lift is part of the local landscape and can be seen from miles and miles away.

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The weather got a bit dodgy towards evening and we were pleased to be leaving for the ferry home in the morning.

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Now Norway (Part One)

Crossing the mountains and border in to Norway meant back to the sea.  Fishing, ferries and fjords.

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There were plenty of cod to be caught, filleted and fried for tea.

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In fact we had cod for tea four times in one week.

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A short trip on a ferry is about 25 pounds but probably saves twice that in fuel and tolls.  It is also a quick way to check up on the filthy state of your roof.

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A lonely spot to park up for the night even if another motorhomer parks right behind you.

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Of course by now it was not getting dark at night and midnight landscape photography becomes possible.

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Although daytime colours were more vivid.

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If the water had a ribbon of orange around it that meant it was free to fish in.  (Tidal seawater with seaweed.)  so we made the most of it.

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From most of the fjords it was impossible to see open sea.

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Although some bits were unmistakably sea!

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You are not going to get this boat up a creek although they sail hundreds of miles up fjords.

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Cod is king here.  Even if much of it is now to attract the tourists. 

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Or maybe repel tourists I don’t know. 

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What with the ugly mugs on display and the smell of cod heads and skins drying to make stockfish soup there is a lot to endure up here.

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The fishing infrastructure is still here in the Lofoten Islands but much of it has been converted to tourist attractions.

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It still makes very attractive picture postcard type images.

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And it is enjoyed by the tourists of course.

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Driving up here is a pleasure.  Not only is the scenery beautiful, the roads are designed to please the eye as well. 

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Sorry.  This white tailed eagle being mobbed by a crow just snuck in here.

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This would be a snug, weathertight cottage if they had nailed just one more plank on to the side.

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Same bridge, different angles.

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The weather wasn’t brilliant on our journey from Sweden to the end of the road on the Lofoten Islands but the sun peeped out for a couple of days so that I could bag a few landscapes.

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The rain suited some of the local inhabitants. This Curlew must have been nesting nearby to allow me to approach close enough for the picture.

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Just pulled off the road to take a couple of photos.

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Another of those sweeping bridges.

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We did manage to spot an Arctic Hare but of course in his summer colours.

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And Boy! he was in a hurry not to be photographed.

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A remote community like the Lofoten Islands needs an air ambulance.  We watched this one land and pick up a householder then fly off.

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The Norwegians certainly know how to build bridges but a second string to their fiddle is tunneling.  as well as having the longest road tunnel in the world they have a host of others taking shortcuts under mountains and even under fjords.

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Part of the cod industry but the lorry load of dried cod heads and skin now stands on the quayside just for the photographers.

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A grim reminder of one of the other Lofoten Island industries, a whaling harpoon which was just lying about.

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The “Cod Head Choir” rehearsing for their hit single: “I ain’t Got No Body”.

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And a last glimpse of the Lofoten Islands.

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Sweden

Swedish roads are smoother, straighter, wider and above all cheaper than Norwegian roads so we elected to travel as far north as we needed to go along the eastern Swedish coast. We set off immediately we disembarked which was early morning.DSC_6761-1(Photo courtesy of Mrs. S. Ansell)

We have travelled this route before and knew all about the “Beware of Moose!” signs along all the roads but have never previously seen a moose we were the more determined to keep an eye out for them.

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Much of the road network is fenced off to stop moose straying in to the path of vehicles and this sign warns that the fence ends at this point.   Still no sightings.

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Many other things caught our eye.  Lupins abound on the verges

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and a Swedish house overlooking one of the 97,000 Swedish lakes

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even a pair of cranes in the grass by the road.  But no Mooses!

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Bizarrely, even a squadron of fighter planes stuck on poles by the road.

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Courtesy of the Swedish Air Force

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A pair of  J35F – not the model of Saab you expect to find on the roadside even in Sweden.

Further along the road Sheila yelled out “Moose” and pulled over (safely of course) on to the verge.  We ran back to where she had seen an adult male moose in the forest but by the time we got there it was cleverly merging in to the undergrowth.

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The brown smudge in the middle is a near as I could get to photographing the moose.

By one camp site, just metres from our motorhome we did spot definite moose signs.

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Not fresh as they didn’t squash between thumb and finger but definitely a good sign.  Knowing that moose are mostly nocturnal we decided to wait fro dark.  MMMmmmm….  Several months perhaps at this latitude but we dressed up securely to foil the million or so mosquitos that night at 23:30 and went marching off in to the forest armed with trusty camera and 600mm lens.  June is the time of year when last years calves leave their mums and wander off in search of a life of their own.  I spotted two such calves moving as quietly as mice through the woods but they disappeared before they could be photographed or seen by Sheila. 

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Eventually Sheila spotted another walking directly towards us in amongst the foliage and in the dim light.  We assumed it would bolt immediately but it kept coming towards us enabling me to get a clear shot despite the poor conditions. I lot closer still and then seemed to notice us and walked away quite calmly.

WE were hugging the coast except where we skirted around Stockholm as we wanted to avoid another city centre. 

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We found a most welcoming town with free facilities for filling and emptying and free camping on the disused dockside beside this disused steam driven crane. 

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There were a number of beautifully preserved industrial features such as the steamship “Ophelia”, the smelting works (origin of the world famous “Swedish steel” and some winter transportation.

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There was enough room left for some old fashioned water power and some even more old fashioned manpower.

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They even had a little house on the millpond to check on the water level.

As we travelled further north it did get a little colder but the views got richer to compensate for that.  Reindeer wandered across the road with scant regard to vehicles or pedestrians. 

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We reached the Arctic Circle where a souvenir shop and associated car parks, monuments, billboards had just grown.  We watched other tourists climb up on the stone cairn and just had to have a go.

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A poignant reminder that travel here is a little more difficult in the winter than at midsummer.

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And up on the hills a further reminder of the conditions faced in the darker months.  It was just 3 degrees Celsius that afternoon.

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Above the Arctic Circle and heading west towards Narvik in Norway we came upon a tourist centre with much needed laundry facilities and  this gorge bringing the snowmelt down from the mountains to the lake.

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Over the mountain pass surrounded by snowcapped mountains is Norway.  Another blogging soon I promise.  We vowed as we crossed the border that we would come back and spend more time in Sweden soon as we both thoroughly enjoyed our time here.

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Rats!

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Not of course the scurrying hurrying burrowing into your motorhome type rats.  More the tourist attraction type rats in the town of Hamelin.  The river Veser, deep and wide, Washes it’s walls on the southern side.    The city has taken a myth, extracted from a legend based loosely on a piece of stained glass (now lost after over 500 years) and built a tourist industry upon it.

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Hamelin is an attractive city with many interesting historical buildings but the rats give it the edge as far as tourist numbers are concerned.  We spent a few days here on a motorhome site just 500m from the city along the Veser.

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We even partook of the hospitality available here and enjoyed the odd beer or two as well as the famous coffee and cakes in the city cafes. 

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The piper and the rat hold sway here and their combined presence dominates the centre of Hamelin.

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WE were able to watch the re-enactment of the events from our café seats as the piper led his convoy of rats and children through the town although we were unable to spot any signs of them in the river on our way home.

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You can just see Sheila behind the piper’s pipe.

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The scheme obviously works as the city certainly was busy, prosperous and very well cared for.

Just along the Weser where we parked there is evidence of an industrial past.  Enormous disused silos hinted at being a recent transport hub as well. 

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There was also an impressive iron railway bridge.  Curiously though, it went nowhere. it just stopped at the River Weser’s edge.  An impressive sight but you can’t even walk over it now.

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Continuing across Germany we called in at Brunswick on the day they were having a medieval fair.

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I am rather glad we stopped by as they had the only hand wound roundabout with a wild boar to sit on I have ever seen.

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For some here I suspect it was just a good excuse to get dressed up and show off your crossbowmanship, longbowmanship or horsemanship.    The symbol of the city of Brunswick is a lion but the city square was closed off for the festivities but I managed to snap up a dinosaur DSC_6442-1

and take a peek through an archway at the lion.

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We were heading for Berlin and had a few ideas about where we could stay for free.  Driving an eight metre van through a city is centre is no fun but we found a dead end road by the River Spree and along the Landwerhrkanal.  It gave us a fine view along the river towards the Oberbaum Bridge.

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Not a bad view for a free site within a capital city of Europe.   In the evening we had a visit from a neighbour begging a favour.  They had been “camped” there for ten days and the battery of their very old camper had gone flat.  “Could we give them a Jump Start?”  Not an easy matter manoeuvring our van in to a suitable position and connecting the leads but we got there just as another problem was remembered.  They had run out of petrol.  Topped it up from a can and with a lot of groinching, whirring and crossing of fingers it did start. 

We were able to cycle quite easily to the city centre and had a day sightseeing. 

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Bits of the Berlin Wall were still in situ and had been turned in to a monument.

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It all seemed so ordinary just cycling or strolling along what had been for so many years a symbol of fear and oppression.

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The last time I had been to Berlin there had been a whole lot more of the wall still standing and even more crushed to rubble.  I remember picking up a genuine grafitied fragment but I don’t know if it still exists. 

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It is bisuness as usual now for Berlin with all the pomp and ceremony of government and selling Mickey Mouse Chinamade Gegaws to the tourists.

Something I have never seen before, however:

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an E.T. photo opportunity.

I could not pass by without seeing the two famous “Gates”.  The Brandenberger Tor

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and the equally famous but not quite as architecturally impressive: Checkpoint Charlie” manned by two bored out of work actors in appropriately ill fitting uniforms.

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A far more impressive sight is the “Holocaust Memorial” or “Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe”

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Simple in it’s concept,  2711 concrete blocks on a sloping site just a few metres south of the Brandenberg Gate.

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Built around 2004, it is a place for quiet contemplation (and photobombing sparrows) in the heart of the city.

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We left Berlin heading north towards our Sweden Ferry in Sassnitz but the less frequented route.  In fact the patchwork roads got narrower and narrower

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until we were on a bridleway! (Looking for that Gingerbread Cottage again.)

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We came to the ancient walled town of Templin whose gatehouse was now no longer wide enough for the road so had been bypassed but was still functioning as a footpath.

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Templin is alongside a canal that consists of several long thin lakes joined together and was a wonderful place for a walk.  We came across what seems to be a reinstated Jewish cemetery, a single stone inscribed with many names and widely separated dates.  Rather overgrown now but a touching monument nevertheless.

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Sassnitz is on the north German island of Rugen, a holiday destination for millions of Germans.  We stayed for a week on a campsite (A rare luxury!) on the beach near the tiny village of Altenkirchen.  The defining feature of this part of the world is a peculiar deckchair / sunshade / invalid carriage that you meet by the hundreds on the beach, in gardens and in restaurants.  

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Altenkirchen was named for this church.  A pretty and well maintained building that housed some very unusual sculptures in it’s garden. 

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Each piece was made of several twisted metal rods that individually meant nothing.  It was only when viewed at exactly the correct angle was the image revealed.

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We had experienced several distinct springtimes this year as we journeyed south.  One particular indicator was of course the plants in flower at the time. 

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Poppies amongst the rapeseed.   It was an ideal place for cycling and we took advantage of the network of cycle tracks.

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Our campsite was next to what I took to be a nature reserve.  On closer inspection I found the remains of an extensive network of aerials.  This abandoned piece of cold war listening station had been taken over by a variety of mammals and birds.

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Quite a treat for a cold war survivor.

This was the week of Sheila’s birthday and we had booked a lunchtime  table at the only restaurant in Altenkirchen.

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A good meal and plenty of beer of course.  Even a little bubbly to finish off with.

At the end of the week we were off to the ferry port via a 1930’s Nazi inspired holiday camp that was to have held 20,000 holidaymakers.  The concept was abandoned in 1939 but many of the buildings are still there and some are being “Gentrified” and apparently appear on “Airbnb” . 

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Then an overnight ferry to Trellborg.  

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Our first view of Sweden through the opening train deck of the ferry at dawn.

Spring is here

Spring is here but we are heading north.  I am sitting here in the freezing cold among snow capped mountains remembering what spring was like long ago. Sorry about the delayed blog but we have just been enjoying ourselves too much.

Luckily we have our photos to remind us.  Sheila’s favourites: poppies.

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First stop in France is the bridge designed by Eifel of tower fame.  He clearly had one idea and was going to use it standing up or laying down.

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Pretty town snapped from the road.

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We generally frequent the least travelled roads wherever possible and we often have them to ourselves.DSC_5856-1

Occasionally, however, other travellers have the same idea.

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We get to park up in some delightful spots like this sometimes.  That is our bonnet on the extreme right.

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I couldn’t resist this one.  It reminded me of the entrance to Tolkien’s Moria with the two trees guarding the door.  “Melon” was the password if you’ve forgotten.

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Now I did promise Sheila “Not so many birds” but as we crossed a lake just south of Paris, we saw some Wonderful wildlife.  There were dozens of huge carp up to about 30lb (15kilo)  swimming below the bridge and loads of birds.

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Hope that’s not too many.

But what about the feral parakeets in Paris I hear you ask.  OK.

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Phew got away with that one I think.

I have never come to terms with the difference between UK wildlife and that of equivalent latitude mainland Europe.  Luxembourg is no warmer or colder than us but they boast some unusual wild animals.  They even set up schools to teach turtles the green cross code by the look of things.

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Even the nuthatches have superior looking accommodation and even a postcode.

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Somehow, though I don’t think that the humans get big enough for these bikes.

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Now this isn’t a bird although it flies and it is nearly big enough.

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many of the free places we stop for the night have a rule that says in effect “No Camping Behaviour” which roughly translates to no tables and chairs outside.  One such site exactly on the Luxembourg Germany border displayed the notice.  I cooked the roast chicken and sundries for tea and took the lot; cutlery, glasses, wine, food, plates and even lace edged serviettes down to the waterside to enjoy at this picnic table.

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Worried about spiders in the home?  Then get yourselves one of these.  I watched this littlun gather half a dozen before ferrying them back to his chicks.

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There is a tiny tributary to the Moselle whose valley is crossed by the most extraordinary footbridge near the village of Morsdorf.  A wire suspension bridge crosses the 360 metres at up to 100 metres above the ground; not for the fainthearted.  We arrived just as the heavens opened and the “Donner and Blitzen” started.  We tried a few photographs, sheltering the camera from the downpour and set out across the bridge with accompanying thunder and lightning.  Soaked but exhilarated, we reached the other side where we read in clear English that we should not cross the wire bridge if there is a chance of lightning!

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I sit in the passenger seat more often than not with my camera at hand in case of something interesting just popping up.  If I am quick enough I might just be able to see the leftovers from the Cold War peering up over the tops of the trees.

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The Rhine presents a formidable barrier to traffic but even where there is no main road bridge  plenty of small ferries operate on minor roads and in villages straddling the river.  I seem to remember some while ago the going rate for crossing was about 2.50 Euro but this vessel charged us 10.50 Euro after the conductor gave us a just a cursory glance to estimate our length.

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Very much larger vessels ply these waters and our ferryboat had to negotiate the crossing with this moving majestically by.

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When I was about 12 years old,  I visited Germany with my family and one of the most enduring memories was of a statue on a remote hill in  a forest.   I could even remember that the statue was called“Herman’s denkmal” in German, pretty near the extent of my uptake of the language.  I had to go searching for the bronze warrior with his sword in the air.  When we found him of course he wasn’t as big as a child’s memory would have him and he was surrounded by ticket offices, guides, tourist information centres, amusements, food outlets and all the rest of the touristy paraphernalia.

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Spain–South to North.

We cross so many borders that we see contrasts all along the way, some are cultural, some are climate and some are just mysteries like why does a kilo of ice cost 80cents in Spain and just across the border in France in the same shop the same pack of ice costs 2.20 Euro?? No one knows.  The climatic contrasts are, however, easy to explain.  Southern Spain is mostly desert.  Rivers are used as car parks because they haven’t flowed for years.  Anything green therefore is obviously artificially irrigated.  Some wild plants flourish in these conditions but not many.

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The remains of an old irrigation aqueduct that now has no water to channel.

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The desert stretches for miles.  From a viewpoint you can see its vastness.  The rows of green things in the distance are olive trees watered with miles and miles of plastic pipe.

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One way to make use of all this sunshine without water is to convert some of it to electricity.  This solar farm stretched as far as the ye could see in all directions.

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Someone is able to survive in this environment however.

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The water for irrigation is brought from further north where this year the rivers are in full spate because of unusually heavy rainfall.  These concrete channels run straight and true from northern river to southern reservoir and are somehow full of carp.  I chucked a bit of my sandwich in and this is what happened.

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Many people live here of course but everywhere has the air of former glory.

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Nothing looks truly cared for on the outside, of course we have no way of knowing what is on the inside.

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WE avoid motorways and toll roads where possible and often travel for hours along straight well maintained underused minor roads.  In southern Spain there are few places where you can pull off the road for a cuppa.  There is a reason for this I surmise.  Everywhere a car or truck can pull over someone has dumped their rubbish.  Not just a sweet wrapper or two nor even a bean can or three but huge truckfulls of domestic waste.  It seems that if you renovate your house, you remove the bathroom furniture complete with tiles, toilet  and towel rail and dump it in the countryside.

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And don’t worry about that bit of rubbish you have in the back of the car, just chuck it out of the passenger window.  On a regular cycle ride to the beach, I counted  in the gutter, one glass beer bottle and one can every METRE along the way each side of the road.

Sorry. Rant over.

We were travelling north through Spain a little early in the season so weren’t surprised when we pulled in to a campsite to find no one there.  The reception was closed and the whole site had a deserted air about it.  We filled up with water, dumped our wastes, cooked our tea and waited for someone to come along.  They never did and we left in the morning thankful for our free stopover.

There were a few little songbirds around however.  This coal tit

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and a yellowhammer

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and this Griffon Vulture.

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We were anxious to get along however and soon got our first glimpse of the Ebro River which as stated above was in flood.

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Getting up early in the morning isn’t a speciality of ours but sometimes it just has to be done.  That evening found us camping on a bit of rough ground on the banks of the Ebro river in where I watched a fisherman pull out a catfish longer than he was.  He couldn’t lift it off the ground for a photo and I decided I must have a fish.  I sneaked down to the waters edge with my smallest rod and a bit of cheese for bait. I also took my camera to snap up the competition; a purple heron. 

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Needless to say he caught more than I did.  I put away my rod and decided to have another go early in the morning but as the alarm clock was going off I could hear the most wonderful morning chorus headed by an unfamiliar birdsong so I put aside my rod and picked up my camera.  The bird turned out to be a nightingale; a most elusive singer but I managed to get a bit of a sideways shot.

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Having spent some time approaching this fellow, I decided to take camera not rod down the riverbank.  I had been so lucky, The other early riser was the fishing warden who was down there booking all the fishermen for fishing without a permit or using the wrong fishing methods.  I had had a very close shave.  Thanks Mr Nightingale.

I gave up my fishing plans and stuck to my camera for a while. for this squacco heron

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and this stork.

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We were continuing our northward journey to meet Sheila’s sister Wendy on the Costa Brava to celebrate Wendy’s birthday.

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We were just a short trainride from Barcelona and took the opportunity to soak up some Andalusian culture.

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But after a too short week it was goodbye to Wendy at Gerona airport

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and an exceedingly short hop to France for some expensive ice and our next step on our way to the Arctic Circle.

Breaking the Sound Barrier in the Motorhome

There are precious few Lidl car parks with parking restrictions, even fewer since Sheila drove in to the Lidl car park in Aguilas.  The manager pointed out that the barrier was “Quite Sound until we drove in.”  Unfortunately it came down as we were passing underneath and caught our awning.  “There was a mighty Crump!” said one innocent bystander, “and then the barrier was bent and never worked again.” We completed our shopping and left – through the car park entrance – now uncontrolled. Thankfully all the damaged to our motorhome was polished off with a damp cloth the next time we stopped.

We had spent a fortnight on a campsite with our awning up and cycles used every day, barbecues, sunbeds and swimming pools. We were just a short cycle ride from the town of Porto de Mazarron where we even had our favourite bar.  Above the town is a statue of Jesus with a tremendous view.  This panorama was stitched together from five individual shots and you can see Sheila on the far right.

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All along the coast here is evidence of occupation going back to the Phoenicians.  One of the most important activity was obviously fishing but also the extraction of salt for the preservation of the fish.  These are the remains of salt extraction works just along the coast from Porto de Mazarron.

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But the most impressive works are those of the wind and rain on these soft rocks.

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We are always looking at seaside properties and fantasising about living by the sea in warmer climes.  This remote, seaside yellow house here fulfils all our fantasies but it appears not to have been used for some years. There are loads of derelict houses around, some ancient and some abandoned even as they were being built with weed infested wheelbarrows and cement mixers still in the garden.

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We travelled further south along the coast to the town of Villaricos where we parked on the beach.  Not a soft sandy beach nor yet a dry rocky beach for this was a motorhome beach and that means comfort.  There were about fifteen vans parked along the strand facing East out to sea to welcome the sunrise.

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We are not alone here, but few campers are about early enough for the best sunrise pictures.  Unfortunately though, a Frenchman was up early enough to drive off and leave a gap (just to the right of the sun) and spoil the symmetry of my photograph.)

Besides the sunrise there are other pressing reasons to rise early.  We are between the sea and the river Almanzora and the area is a haven for waterbirds.  Now I don’t want to flood the blog with bird photos but there are a few essentials like the very rare White Headed Duck. 

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A remarkably ugly sort of duck with an unaccountably blue beak.  Only the male is so endowed, as with most ducks the female is a little drab.

Other early risers from further along the beach may have missed some of the wildlife but are otherwise compensated I think.  This Swiss lady had travelled with her donkeys through France to Spain.  I asked her if she had read the book “Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes” and she told me that she had travelled the exact same route that Robert Louis Stevenson had with his stubborn Modestine.  The Swiss lady had arrived on our beach in the early evening, found a suitable spot out of sight to feed her donkeys and camp the night and left at sunrise the next day.  She seemed a little annoyed when I chatted to her because she had been moved on a couple of times by the local police because she had no permission to stay, yet we beachbound motorhomers were left alone by the police.

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We did not turn up on this wonderful beach entirely by accident but took the advice of friends who had suggested we meet there.  Terry and Jan have been enjoying the roaming life for a lot longer than we have and have sussed out many of the favourable spots to spend a few nights.  Terry is a keen photographer and has led me astray by introducing me to the Sigma 150-600 lens.  He let me borrow his last year whilst we photographed the vultures seen here earlier.  I was so impressed I badgered Sheila for permission to buy one.  Well after I had my heart attacks (good strategy Boy!) she relented and I now have one for myself.  Here is Terry getting the most from the sunrise.

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We left the security and familiarity of the Villaricos to see some of the sights recommended by Terry and Jan further south in the Cabo De Gata national park.  When we arrived in San Miguel de Cabo de Gata it was so windy we could not walk upwind! We drove a few km along the coast to La Fabriquilla where we found a tiny bit of shelter behind a concrete electricity distribution bunker. We still had a bumpy night but next morning we were almost exactly in the spot where we had parked the night before.

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Following our trusty digital map, we drove on in the dying wind on a road that became narrower, steeper and definitely bumpier until we came to the lighthouse: Faro de Cabo de Gata.

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Coaches sometimes make it this far with coachloads of tourists disembarking on the roadside to take this photo.  It seems to be an unmanned facility and you can go no further than the front gate or the rocks above to ply your camera.  We persevered a little further along the rocky coast still following our digital map that showed a clear road all the way along to San Jose; our next stop.  We definitely did NOT “know the way to San Jose”

We ventured steeper, bumpier, narrower and rockier along the road to overlook a prominent rock called uncharacteristically in Spain “El Dedo” (Disappointingly translates as “The Finger”)

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Not much further along, contrary to our map, the road was chained off and simply turned in to a footpath.  Luckily there was a turning point and we were able to retrace our route. The square white dot two thirds along the road below is our motorhome.

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By the time we came back to Playa Las Mirinas de Cabo de Gata the wind had died down sufficiently for us to open the doors of the van.  I took the opportunity to visit a bird hide just off the road.  There was a wide verge for parking so I guided Sheila off the road and in to what was for a Peugeot Boxer; Quicksand!  We sank up to our front axles in the soft sand.  I spent half an hour getting Sheila to go forward an inch backward half an inch until I could get our blocks and gripmats beneath the front wheels. Eventually we got to safer ground and I could go birdwatching.

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There were avocet and a few flamingos far off on the salt flats but some Slender Billed Gulls were feeding close by the edge of the salt lake and making such a fuss I had the opportunity to get a little closer.

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Going back to the van I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid windblown sand and came across this beetle nibbling quite unconcernedly. (I think its a beetle!) Someone must have been “inordinately fond of beetles” for this strange 5cm long creature to exist at all.

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The wind, sea dry conditions and rocky landscape meant that wildlife was pretty scarce but I did get a glimpse of a Woodchat-Shrike zooming by.

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and a Black Wheatear dropping in.

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There is, in the town of Rodalquilar, an absolute goldmine. A real one. It was worked for over a hundred years and was for some time the biggest one in western Europe.  In the nineties the plant closed down for good and much of the machinery was removed and sold for scrap but the bare bones of the plant still remain.

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Ore was brought to the top of these extraction tanks, crushed and treated to extract up to 260kg of gold a year at the height of production.  Visitors can walk precariously among the abandoned towers and tanks to the very top and then along the dirt track that lorries used to haul the ore to the workings.  Beyond that miles of small tracks lead in to the desert landscape to what look like smaller mines dotted all around.

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Most recently the area has been used as a set for several futuristic science fiction films and signs still exist of the goldmine’s alternative function.  Some attempt had, in the more recent past, been made to turn the village in to a tourist attraction, with new roads, car parks,  street lighting, tourist information office and signposts. 

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Much of the machinery has gone for scrap but bits and pieces have been preserved as a tourist attraction.

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Somehow, though, the attempt at bringing vast hordes to the area failed and now the revamping has a rundown, seedy, abandoned look and whilst we were there we only saw a couple of other visitors.

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The whole area has an interesting geology and along the coast there are lead, sulphur, tin and silver mines.  This part of a lead mine just along the coast from Villaricos.  Lead ore was smelted in the furnaces below and the fumes rose along a long sloping flue (visible to the left of the vertical chimney) to the stack right at the top.  workers had to crawl along the flue periodically to scrape off the lead which had precipitated out of the smoke.  Not a healthy lifestyle!

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Just one more bird, I promise no more this blog but it is a good one.  This is the reason I bought the expensive lens.  The Sardinian Warbler.  I had seen this bird feeding in some bushes so I took my chair and tripod to a clearing nearby and sat down to wait for him to return  After about 30 minutes I noticed a great fuss going on behind me and turned round to see him hopping about in a most agitated fashion just a metre away.  I looked down just by my right elbow and saw a nest with 6 chicks in it.  I hastily withdrew a metre or two and let him in to feed the chicks.  He rewarded me then by posing with his next beakfull just a minute later.

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