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.

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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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Back on the road–Mostly birds

After a reluctant break in our wanderings, we are back on the road in our trusty motorhome.  Narrowly escaping the snows that blanketed England and nipping over the Cevennes and the Pyrenees in sub zero conditions with nothing but a little flurry of ice crystals here and there on the road, real snow being civil enough to stay on the mountain tops.

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We coasted to a stop near Alicante in Spain.  We had arranged to meet Nigel and Lindsay on a luxurious site, far better than we usually end up on with swimming pools, bars, restaurants, fitness suites, supermarket and even a dance floor where (Unbeknown to me!) Sheila had arranged for us to go Line Dancing!

I survived that but only just and was willing to endure all sorts of indignities as the campsite was just a short cycle ride to the “El Hondo” wetland and bird reserve.  I, therefore, make no apologies for the next dozen or so wildlife pictures.  Whilst in England recovering and feeling sorry for myself, I bought a new lens to cheer myself up, an enormously long lens, an enormously expensive lens but one for which I had yearned for many years.

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Some Glossy Ibis just flown in for the odd frog or two.  Here were many fine subjects for me to start practicing and learning how to get the most from my investment.

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A Purple Swamp Hen. (Must have been watching the Line Dancing)

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Three of the very rare (In Europe) Marbled Teal)  These were pretending to be the three flying ducks wall plaques from the 60s.

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A very shy Water Rail.

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A far away Snipe.

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A flock of Black Winged Stilts.  Well two pretending to be four.

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Another rarity, the Red Knobbed Coot.   You have to carefully examine every one of the surrounding four thousand ordinary coots in order to spot one of these.

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A Reed Warbler, formerly known (before new lens) as a “Little Brown Jobbie!”

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Greater Flamingos taking fright from the next bird.  Anyone for croquet?

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Booted Eagle soaring above the wetlands. looking for the next  two animals perhaps.

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Smooth Snake basking in the sun.

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Water Vole emerging from its burrow.  I saw him enter the burrow and sat in the warm sun for an hour waiting for him to re emerge.  Hard life – aint it?

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Here he goes off downstream for a bit of “Simply messing about in boats”

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A pair of Red Crested Pochard.   Its easy to see who spends all his time in front of the bathroom mirror.

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A Little Ringed Plover too shy to come any closer.

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Even the Humble Cock Sparrow succumbs to my new lens. A sparrow in Spain but not a Spanish Sparrow.

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Little Egret examining passers by with little concern.

Well thats plenty of wildlife for now, suffice it to say I am enormously pleased with my new toy.

We have had plenty of time to sit and unwind here in Spain and I have carried out a task that has been overdue for some time.  Ever since we started off in November 2016 my phone has been logging our journey.  Every 120 seconds, it notes the time, latitude and longitude.  This give me two things.  One I can then link that data with the files from my camera giving me a precise location for each shot, and two I can then mark our progress on a map. 

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I was hoping to make a short video of the route as it unwound but because of a few spurious data points that creep in to the necessarily long winded files I will have to settle for a screenshot.  You can see there is an prodigious amount of faffing about in sunny southern countries and lots of squiggling around in England.   Several north south tracks including one across the sea from Plymouth to Santander. We toured as far west as Sagres in Portugal, as far east as Passau in Bavaria and as far north as Worcester where I spent a few memorable nights in hospital.

We will continue this blog and of course our journey all the while taking into account we are getting no younger.  Consequently we have picked out a new vehicle for when motorhoming gets just too much for us.

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The world’s first “stretched mobility scooter”

On The Road (To Recovery)

After the family members returned to their homes, Sheila and I carried on our trip hugging the French coast heading south towards Spain. By the town of Peyreac-De-Mer  we passed salt lakes and plenty of flamingos.

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Then beside an unusual row of restaurants that sold only shellfish.

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Their middens were all the same and just on the waterside.

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As was this beast of a motorhome spotted in a car park near Perpignan.

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We crossed the border to Spain on a very windy and steep road that hugged the coast at the extreme western part of the Pyrenees that took us to the beautiful town of Portbou. 

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There were plenty of fish in the sea and I caught a few but nothing we wanted to eat so they went back.  Most interesting thing in the port was the yellow yacht in the background.  We struck up a conversation with a couple of Brits mending their boat who told me the story of the Marguerita.

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According to the Brits and the town’s Tourist Information Office, this once beautiful yacht had formerly been the pride and joy of John Wayne who owned it in the 1940’s and named it after his lover.  If you search there are photos on the web of him on the vessel. 

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Now, unfortunately the hulk lies rusting and rotting away on the harbourside with little chance of anyone forking out the half a million euros needed to buy her and probably just as much to get her seaworthy again.  The Marguerita was modernised in the nineties and brought over the Atlantic to sail around the Mediterranean where she sprang a leak and was beached just along the coast a little. The French coastguard hauled her out at the nearest port which was Portbou.

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The Marguerita, a long way from Sausalito California and no hope of ever going home.  Anyone want to write a song about this? It has all the elements needed for a hit.

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Still heading south along the Spanish coast, we parked along the seafront in the beautifully named town “Roses” and walked out along the breakwater where I had a fruitless spot of fishing.  (Well I only had a slice of brown bread for bait – that’s my excuse anyway.)

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Then stopped in L’Escala to listen to the bronze band on the prom.  Away then from the coast we drove on to the city of Gerona (Girona) for the manhole covers.

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Oh and they also have a cathedral with nearly a hundred steps to go down and back up just to take this photo.

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This is the river Onyar which was full of big carp that were just crying out for me to go fishing but I would have been a bit conspicuous in the city centre.

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We camped by the lovely lake Banyoles, just outside of the city.  There was a good track around the lake shore that we walked once and cycled twice.  The lake had been the venue for the Olympic Games rowing events and has marked lanes for races.  It is a natural lake formed by a subsidence into an underground abyss during the Pliocene era but bits still fall in, the latest fall was in the 70’s. 

One mystifying and totally inexplicable road sign spotted on the adjacent road had me guessing as to its meaning. 

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No Wellington Bombers? 

Do Not Land In The Water?

Danger Low Flying Junkers Ju88?

Ghost Planes Emerging ?

Your suggestions on a self addressed envelope please.

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On then to Saint Joan De Les Abadesses which just like every other part of Catalonia was caught up in the drive to become independent.  The Catalan flag was displayed on every available space. 

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Pont Vell has its origins in the 12th century but has been through a run of bad luck.  It was destroyed by an earthquake, rebuilt then blown up at the end of the Spanish Civil War.  It was rebuilt in 1976 but purely as a decoration as only pedestrian traffic crosses it now because of the bridge on the bypass.

Someone built this wall from just about any material they could scrape together just to confound future archaeologists.

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By this time, autumn had set in and displayed her subtle colours across the landscapes. 

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Reflected in the ever present Catalan flag.

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Even up in the Pyrenees near the French border in the village of Pallerols.  This is it.  The entire village.  It isn’t difficult to know everyone of your neighbours in the mountains.

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Just beyond Pallerols we pulled in to a layby to do a little birdwatching.

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Or more precisely to give the Griffon Vultures a chance to do a little people watching.

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The vultures circled around us for 20 minutes or so then decided another spot over the other side of the valley was slightly more interesting then just winged it.  I wished I had the odd chicken carcass on me or a dead donkey to scatter over the cliff side just to have kept them there.

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The impossible to pronounce “La Guinguetta d’Aneu” just south of the French Border northern Catalonia.

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This cow paused to ring it’s bell prior to emerging from the wrong carriageway……no concept whatever of the highway code.

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Well, this is what separates the French from the Spanish up there in the Pyrenees. Even in the height of summer you could go skiing if you really felt the urge. 

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If you are small enough, you can create your own micro-climate even at these altitudes.

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A beautiful hidden valley that had no access to those motorhome type travellers – 4WD only I am afraid.

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A glance at the satnav shows you the way up over the mountains is not going to be quite straightforward. 

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The road ahead confirms this. 

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So does the river.

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Back almost on the flat on the French side of the Pyrenees we camped for a couple of nights overlooking the town of Montrejeau.  We walked down through the town  to the lake and River Garonne.  By far the most amazing thing about this place was the abundance of lizards.  They were everywhere.  I counted at least one per metre along a sunny stone wall as they dashed in to their hiding place as I passed.

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There were other creatures there but not in the abundance of lizards.

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The journey beyond this became a little familiar to us as we were on our way to stay with our friends Nigel and Lindsey.  We passed the familiar landmark of Montpezat’s windmill and much of that part of the world has been covered elsewhere in this blog. 

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After our stay with friends we stopped in the pretty little town of Bellac for a peer in to the waters of the river Vincou from the 13th century bridge.

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And this believe it or not is the last picture I took before my heart attack the next day. 

I had a heart attack in Baziages but passed it of as arthritic pain in my right shoulder and arm.  Another one got me that night in Gien on the banks of the river Loire but that was similarly passed off.  It wasn’t till the next heart attack the following morning that we decided enough was enough and we went to the nearby hospital Clinical Jeanne D’arc.  whilst the heart attack was proceeding and staggered in to the emergency entrance.  Unfortunately the doctor who examined did not recognise what was happening right in front of him and sent me on my way with a prescription for pain killers.  (They still haven’t forgiven us for what we did to Joan of Arc.)

Strengthened with the false belief that this was not my heart, Sheila set her mind to driving me to the only place where we could stop, unwind and investigate the problem and that was my brother’s place in Evesham – England.   Sheila drove without a pause for over 500 miles.  Through the centre of Paris at rush hour, north to Calais for a ferry, up the M2, around the M25, up to Oxford and across country to Evesham.  She drove that van like she stole it with me in bed groaning in pain for much of the time.  Sheila’s determination to get me to a safe place saved my life for which I will be eternally grateful.

The problem was recognised immediately I set foot in the local hospital and from that moment on I was in the hands of a confident and competent system.  I received a couple of stents and am now well on the way to a full recovery with the help of Sheila, Dave and Jackie. 

We will be back on the road one day soon. – PROMISE!

Family and Sightseeing In Southern France

It is always a special time when anyone comes to visit us on our travels. 

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When we picked up Wendy in Beziers, we had booked in to  magnificent “Camping Les Sablons” campsite in Portiranges Plage just 20 minutes from the airport.  It had half a dozen swimming pools and direct access to the beach where we watched a kite flying display.

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There were even a couple of good looking guys willing to chat up the English Tourists.

 

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Beziers has an interesting medieval centre with many churches such as this Eglise De La Madeleine

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The shopping centre had a rather unusual way of keeping the shoppers dry

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and the trees warm.

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This building had no windows or doors so someone kindly painted them on.

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All is dominated by the Cathedral Saint Nazaire over the river Orb. 

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Beziers is also famous for its proximity to some of the most impressive 17th century engineering achievements on the 240km long Canal Du Midi.  The canal effectively cut off the bottom half of France ant the entire Iberian peninsular allowing cargo to be taken from the Med to the Atlantic and vice versa without all that messing around with pirates,Spaniards, Portuguese,  Gibraltarian rocks, English privateers and Biscayan storms.

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The Fonserannes Locks were originally eight locks taking boats up or down 21.5 metres in just about 300 metres distance.  Much of the original construction is still in place and used very frequently.  Whilst we were there, a dozen boats went through and a dozen more waited for their turn. 

 

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The “Cargo” is no longer horse or man pulled “Ivory and apes and peacocks sandalwood, cedarwood and sweet white wine” but petroleum powered tourists in 300 seater cruise liners, converted houseboats, sleek motor launches and “cheap tin trays.”

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The canal is lined with 42,000 lime trees (I counted them!) which stabilise the banks and provided shelter for the horses and men who pulled the boats.  (A horse can pull a barge 120 times its own weight.—Ha! Bet you didn’t know that!) Unfortunately the trees are succumbing to a “canker” and will have to be replaced.

Here are some of the inspectors counting and checking out the trees.

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Parallel to the Fonserannes locks is a sloping concrete channel over which a decrepit blue leviathan resides.

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Built to replace the eight ancient locks, the Fonserranes Waterslope operated only sporadically between 1983 and 2001 when it was de-commissioned so it never achieved its goal and the ancient locks still plod on.

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The moving lock was powered by diesel engined hydraulic torque converters driving 16 rubber tyred wheels up and down the 22 metre rise. The waterslope hauled many vessels (and can be seen working on utube) but unfortunately the hydraulic fluid persistently leaked on to the concrete driveway causing the wheels to slip so the project was abandoned.  I mean abandoned.  It looks as though they simply didn’t turn up to work it one day 16 years ago and left it to rust away.  There is a tourist information office within 100metres of the slope so I asked them what they knew of it.  Even though the girl could see the great blue monster from the counter she knew nothing of it and seemed surprised that it was there and very much regretted my bringing it to her attention.

 

The highlight of the entire time was getting Wendy in the sea, the first time for over twenty years.  By the looks of their faces it may have been a little chilly.

 

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Crossing Borders, Bumps and a Family Visit.

One of the interesting aspects of our journey is the contrast between the countries we visit.  Just crossing a border gives us a new set of experiences that are sometimes quite remarkable.  The next four photographs are of houses overlooking a river or in other quite touristy places.  The first two in Germany, the second two in France.  Although there cannot be said to be a rule governing external decoration of houses and public buildings, these four give an indication of the different attitudes between the two countries. 

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The differences are also apparent in the prices of everyday necessities such as beer or ice for G. & T.s.   In Germany the cheap Lidl beer is €0.50 a litre but cross the invisible border to France and it leaps to €1.00.  Two Lidl shops within a couple of km. sell practically the same beer, one for twice as much as the other.  Cross the border from France to Spain and the price of ice cubes drop from €2.50 to €0.95 a bag.  (There may have been price differences in the food but I wasn’t looking.) 

 

Less obvious differences appear in the way people greet you or ignore you on campsites, the cost of eating or drinking out and having to pay extra for filling the van with water.  One difference, however, leaps at you and that is the standard of driving and road etiquette.   We played a game in southern Spain called “Spot The Dentless Car”  It got too boring because we never saw one.  Cars there get abandoned, not parked.  Zebra crossings are just decorations on the road, traffic lights are “mere guidelines” and overtaking is a sure way to display your “Inner Macho” (or inner workings!)

We have been lucky (Sheila says that it is her driving skills.) to have escaped any serious accident.  A pinged wing mirror or two on narrow city streets without damage until we parked in a motorhome stop in France.  It was enormous.  It was nearly empty.  We were tucked right in to the hedge.  That didn’t stop Frans Outelet, an octogenarian Citroen Picasso driver from attempting an enormous “U” turn and smacking in to our rear panel.  DSCa-0959

Insurances and details were exchanged.  Promises of payment were made.  Photographs were taken.  Apologies made.  Witnesses were assembled. As he left, Frans backed in to a railway sleeper giving him a corresponding dent in the rear of his Citroen.   Unfortunately we were in a hurry to be somewhere else and in the end we just said “Oh! Forget it”, rubbed it down with a pan scourer in the absence of T-Cut and stuck an “Ouch” band aid on it promising to fix it when we get back to G.B.

 

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Our rush was that we had made arrangements to meet these four:

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Rob, my son, Jennie, my daughter, Jack, our grandson and Edi, our granddaughter.   We met them at Nimes airport where they hired a car then we all drove to “La Corconne” , a campsite on the Herault river near Ganges in the South of France.  We had booked two weeks of good weather, good fun, good eating and good company. 

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Best part of shopping in France is the Baguette Run in the morning.  It is easy to see where Rob gets his good looks from.

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Driver and navigator in the hire car. (Good looks all round.)

Nearly the most important part of camping in France is the balanced and healthy diet.  Here is Rob applying the finishing touches to a “Crepe” or pancake as real people call it. 

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Note the peanut butter, banana and the only source of “Vitamin N”in the world;  Nutella.  (I think there may be a token squeeze of lemon somewhere in this picture.)

Here, however, is the really important part about the Rivers in this region.  You can jump from 5 metre high rocks in to 5 metre deep water…..if you dare!

 

 

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I must admit, the climb up is scary, the approach is terrifying, the launch is petrifying but once you are in the air it is so exhilarating that you just have to have another go. 

 

We did manage some sightseeing whilst together and drove up to Mont Aigoual, the highest point in the Central Massif where they have so many electrical storms they have a lightning research centre and Rob once camped out alone at the summit during a thunderstorm.

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And some old haunts for Rob and Jen: L’Arch campsitenear  Anduze on the Gardon River.

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The old mill.

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The pedestrian access to the private beach (unless there’s a train coming!)

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The sunbathing rocks, slick with tanning lotion.

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Aaaaah! just remember that.

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Most important part of the entire holiday: The eternal quest for that perfect skimming stone.

Eagles, Choughs, Cuckoos and Black Forests

Having been recommended to go to Burchesgarten in southern Germany and visit the Eagles Nest, we made the effort to climb high in to the Alps where we were immediately thwarted by poor weather so hung around for a few days until the view from Hitler’s mountain retreat looked like this:

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There is a wiggly, windy, narrow road that takes you the last 11 km. to the top but fortunately it is only accessed by the busses that run tourists up and down, their Teutonic schedule meticulously planned to ensure that the down busses only meet the up busses at the one point where there is a passing space.  

Adolph had his own modest hideaway here and that can only be reached by going through a tunnel and up the last 160 metres in a gold lined lift.  You emerge in the interior of a rather austere building equipped with stunning views all round.

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For the energetic, a stroll outside and a little climb brings you to a point at about 2,700m. above sea level.  Here the views are even more stunning:

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and the birdlife is equally as exotic at this altitude with a pair of Alpine Choughs raising their brood on sandwich crusts, sausage ends and sauerkraut flavoured crisps. 

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The building was finished to a very high standard with impressive wood panelling, oak beams, cast iron and a marble fireplace. (Apparently a gift from Mussolini – its good to have friends!)

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A close look at the mantelpiece will reveal the scratchings of American G.I.s made after they liberated the Eagles Nest in May 1945 in order to take  home a few souvenirs.

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It was downhill from then on – literally – we drove to the Black Forest where there are towns devoted entirely to Cuckoo Clocks.  There is a recognised and well published route through the southern Schwarz Wald (Black Forest) called originally enough in English the “Cuckoo Clock Route” which takes the unwary traveller to all the places you could spend your money on cuckoo clock related merchandise.  It does, however, lead you through some very interesting scenery:

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Like the Triberg falls with an overall drop of 163 metres. (Not to be confused with the Reichenbacch Falls where Sherlock Holmes died which has a drop of over 250m.)

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We shared the rainy day with our portion of the half a million a year visitors so getting decent photographs was a challenge.  The visitors did bring a couple of bonuses, however. They brought with them peanuts to feed the red squirrels and that also attracted an unusual robber – the Spotted Nutcracker  (Aah – How suite I heard Tchaikovsky say.)

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The cuckoo clock towns though are for real.

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Here, you can buy a clock for anything from 25Euro to 25,000Euro depending  on your resistance to the annoying clicks, chimes and cuckoos they will inevitably produce. 

 

I resisted buying a clock but we did lash out on some alternative transport for Sheila and I:

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Genuine Stella Scooter with Cozy sidecar snapped through a window at 100kph.

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Yer actual “Trabi”.  One of the 2,815,547 made between ‘63 and’90.

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Electric bikes are the way forward but they aren’t as pretty as this. 

Pity we haven’t yet had a chance to try them out as the clouds came rolling in soon after:

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