Tilting at Windmills

Sunday 16th August 2020.

The book Don Quixote [pr: Key-ho-tey] revolves around the adventures of one Alonso Quixano from La Mancha in Spain, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to revive chivalry by serving his country under his new knight-errant name of Don Quixote de La Mancha. With his trusty servant Sancho Panza he has many adventures in which he fails to see the world for what it is, preferring to imagine that he is living the life of a knight-errant in a more romantic age. One of his adventures involves tilting at windmills that, in his madness, he believes to be giants. (‘Tilting’ is the word for the medieval sport of jousting).

An Illustration of Don Quixote fighting windmills. From the 1910 book Stories of Don Quixote

This rather long introduction outlines the origin of the expression, ‘tilting at windmills.’ which means to pursue a fruitless cause or to attack non-existent enemies.

It also, pretty much, sums up our attempts at a Scottish adventure. The role of Sancho Panza was played by my trusty side-kick Mrs P. My romantic notion was that a trip to Scotland could be undertaken in the same style as a trip to the Alps. Like Sancho Panza, Mrs P provided the earthy wit (and a great deal of patience). My knight-errant name, like the windmills we mistook for giants, is yet to be revealed.

The story of Don Quixote was brought to mind as we passed the 152 wind turbines of the Clyde Wind Farm in South Lanarkshire. The book was first published in 1605 and things have changed a bit since then. The windmills are long gone. Replaced by the wind turbines built either side of the M74 motorway leading from the border of England to Glasgow.

A Scottish wind farm (but not the Clyde Wind Farm – I couldn’t find a free image of that): Image courtesy of Pixabay.com

We tilted at those windmills on the way in to Scotland. Those same windmills laughed at our efforts a few days later as we ran from Scotland like Edward II fleeing Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn (1314). Our battle had been only with the elements, traffic and the COVID-19 effect. Our casualties had been only to our egos (read; mine). It had however been a rout and our departure marked the end of a rather fruitless, and very wet few days ‘Scottish holiday.’

  • Days in Scotland – 5
  • Days with flooding, diversions, road closures or similar frustrations – 5
  • Days driving in queues of traffic – 4
  • Days on mountains – 1
  • Days climbing – 0

My Knight Errant name..? Sir Robin. This may mean nothing to many of you until I reveal the family motto and link;

When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tail and fled.

Edward II would have (not) been proud of us.

With hindsight, or as Mrs P would say; “I told you so”, my idea of going to Scotland was flawed from the start. The lockdown effect, the lack of planning, the weather forecast, the lack of planning, the number of vehicles on the road, the lack of a planning (did I mention that I had no real plan?) and my unwillingness to listen to the voice of reason, aka Mrs P. led to more days in Gandalf than are conducive to a relaxing time, no matter how much we love him.

We did however, manage to rescue, from the embers, some fun times which, over the next few posts, I will précis. We also returned home to Berkshire early, to avoid the storms forecast in the north. We did some fun things bacjk at home, which I will also provide some pictorial evidence of in my next post.

For now, I leave you with a hint of things to come…

Scotland, Frustrating but beautiful.

Days 126 & 127 of 120 – The Bay of Biscay & Home

Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th November 2018

The forecast for our journey through the Bay of Biscay, up the Coast of France and into the English Channel is looking well, bumpy. High winds and big waves forecast. I have absolutely no idea if I will get sick or not.

Every crossing we have ever made has been pretty benign so I have no idea if I have the iron constitution of a true barnacle back or the pathetic, liver lilied constitution of a palsied land lubber. Ah well, we can’t afford dinner on board anyway and we certainly can’t afford to just rent it for a few hours. Wish us luck.

Before all that though check Gandalf in for the ferry and a wander round Santander.

Gandalf, all checked in and ready to sail

If you ever find yourself catching the ferry from Santander I do recommend you arrive early, park your vehicle and take a walk along the sea front to the Palacio de la Magdalena (Ai Yai!).

Magnanimous in defeat the Spanish even have a memorial to the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) on the Main Street…

Honour to the many who fought & suffered. Honour and glory to those who died

There is a mini wildlife reserve on the peninsula with seals, sea lions and penguins.

Sea lion. Beautiful but captive

Whilst they are, I’m sure, well looked after and that being able to see them close up helps us recognise how important it is to protect them in the wild, my thoughts on captive animals are conflicted.

I rationalise my feeling by convincing myself that those in captivity have some kind of issues that mean they cannot be released in to the wild. You know, like a damaged tail so they can’t hunt effectively. However, I can’t help but think that their swimming round and round is the aquatic version of pacing up and down a prison cell.

Speaking of confinement, it’s time to board the boat.

This could take a while

And time to find out if we (I) get sea sick. The signs are not good…

The first sign of the “weather” to come is when we visit the small food shop on board and the lady serving proudly shows us how she has removed much of the stock because she had been told to expect most of it to fall down in the night.

After a bite to eat, which I hope not to live to regret, we ask another member of staff on the information desk about the impending weather. She gives a rueful smile and tells us about the expected 9 metre (30 feet!) waves due to start, “Any time now.” Apparently it should all be over by about 9am. Excellent, just 12 hours to go then.

When we tell her we have a cabin right at the front of the ship she stifles a smirk and wishes us the very best of luck.

Now Mrs (aye aye Captain) P chose our cabin for this 24 hour crossing. I’m pretty sure that in a former life Mrs P was a Buccaneer, Pirate, Powder Monkey or some such nautically inclined person.

Cabins selected are always at the front. Preferably the middle and, if no ships wheel is provided that’s ok, because she always brings her own. Such cabins are renowned for encountering the most motion in heavy weather.

By the time we get to our cabin the boat is rocking and rolling (and not in an Elvis Presley kind of way) and Mr P is starting to feel just a little queasy.

Mrs P on the other hand is in her element. She has lashed herself to her children’s inflatable ships wheel and is shouting instructions at me. If I remember correctly her words, and please remember that her words are always spoken with impeccable, Oxford educated locution;

“Shiver me timbers landlubber. Get yerself to the poop deck and batten down the hatches or you’ll be dancing the hempen jig by morning.”

A bottle of rum appears from nowhere and she starts singing;

“Oh many’s the good ship great and small Haul, haul the halyards, boys What foundered in a gale or squall…”

Not helping.

Now, whilst certain aspects of the above may possibly be slightly exaggerated the rest I can promise you is true.

Mr P has found that if he lies down he is ok. Mr P is wearing an altimeter. Mr P’s altimeter was showing 20 metres in our cabin, before we left port. Mr P is watching his altimeter (which admittedly only displays height in multiples of 5 metres) fluctuate from 15 metres, to 30 metres. Then 25 metres to 5 metres, and so on and on and on etc.

Mrs Salty sea dog P chooses this moment in time to decant water from our huge, full 6.25 litre bottle into her drinks bottle. She didn’t spill a drop. I felt positively hornswaggled.

Strangely, lying down, eyes closed I felt fine and found the somewhat extreme motion of the boat quite relaxing. I slept very well despite being occasionally woken by the crash of a wave on the bows and the sound of sea spray battering on the window.

By 9 am the storm is over and we settle in for the rest of the uneventful journey.

Avast and shiver me timbers if it ain’t Cap’n (Mrs) P on the poop deck

We arrive in Portsmouth at 20.15hrs on Sunday 18th November after 127 days away from home.

Less than 2 hours later we are home. It’s a weird feeling. It’s even odd to be in a house after 4 months living in Gandalf. It is though very nice to know that someone, somewhere is glad we are home…

Courtesy of the in-laws. Thank you in-laws

Do keep reading after today dear reader. The blog will continue for at least another couple of weeks.

But, first we must unpack and I will need to gather my thoughts on being home. I will let you know how we get on back in ‘normal’ life.

Day 125 – The Beauty and friendliness of Spain & Card Full!

Friday 16th November 2018

It feels a bit odd. This holding pattern. As we move closer and closer to our final point of departure. An end to our Adventure.

It isn’t an end though.

Four and a bit months of utter freedom doesn’t just stop. We may have no jobs to go back to, we may have bills and a mortgage to pay and our savings won’t last forever but, the adventure will continue. It always does.

Not one of my latest but apt I think

Besides, we still have a day and a bit before we get on the boat.

For our final full day in Spain we find ourselves on a small campsite 35 minutes east of Santander, on the coast, near to a place called Ajo.

It’s a funny place. Not really a town, just a campsite filled with semi-permanent, static caravans with a smattering of full time residents in evidence. The few houses butting up to the site are all holiday homes. Mostly shuttered up for the winter. The rest is rolling farmland. If it weren’t for the barking dogs (a peculiarity of Spain that we shall miss in a perverse sort of way) we could be on the coast of sunny Cornwall or Southern Ireland.

Gandalf (and bucket) hanging out in a field in Northern Spain

After lunch we hie ourselves off for our daily constitutional and head for the coast where we have heard about some caves (La Ojerada). Mrs P is overjoyed, as we see lots of farm animals on this walk. Young cows (calfs or calves? hang on, I’ll look it up… ‘Calves.’ Looks wrong but who am I to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary?), a dozen or more piglets suckling from their enormous mother, a smattering mules, chickens and multitudinous cats, kittens, dogs and puppies. Occasionally we even spot a person, but only in the distance.

We walk down the centre of the road. No need to look over our shoulder. It is very unlikely we will see or even hear a car. We will miss the peace. The natural silence, (apart from the dogs. I mentioned the dogs right?).

It’s a beautiful coastline. Azure waves crash against the limestone rock with its karst topography (it took ages to find that out!) gradually undercutting the land and creating magnificent caves.

We’ve seen some strange things on our journey so are not even remotely surprised, on our arrival at the coast, to find a couple, she in a flowing cocktail dress, he in some kind of robe, performing interpretive dance moves to camera at the edge of the cliffs.

…Under the stars on a big hard rock. I said, In these shoes? I don’t think so…

The caves are an opportunity for our own version of interpretive dance (read: gurning) for the benefit of the camera, with the resultant photos of dubious artistic value.

La Ojerada caves

Mrs P poses in La Ojerada cave

Mrs P. The close up

At high tide, the water forced under the rock by the cave causes a characteristic sound called a ‘snort‘. We had no idea it would happen so, when there was a sudden, very loud and somewhat alarming rushing noise we christened it a WTF!?

The cliffs near the caves

Our walk ends on a beautiful beach with the sun low in the sky.

Take only photos, leave only footprints

Ah, sweet… Hang on… how come she’s taller than me!?

Back at the campsite we shower, cook and toast Spain, which we have declared to be the friendliest of the countries we have travelled through. The people are universally lovely. No grumpy waiters, no sullen campsite staff, a smiling ‘holla’ from everyone we meet, young and old and a willingness to help, to inform and to make one feel welcome. Thank you Spain.

ASIDE: A couple of spooky non-events today have underlined that these are the final hours of our trip;

Spooky incident No. 1. Towards the end of today’s walk I was taking one of my last photos when I got the following error message…


6 GB of memory on camera 1 of 3 all used up.

Don’t worry though, I deleted a couple of the terrible videos I shot and freed up a bit of space. (For those of a nervous disposition, I have also, long ago, uploaded 90% of the images to both my laptop and the cloud.)

Spooky incident No. 2. Mrs P’s biro that she has been using to write her diary all trip, ran out of ink.

Not exactly miracles but; Picture a man who has just entered, The Twilight Zone...

Day 124 – Lost and Found (but mostly Lost)

Thursday 15th November 2018

On the evening of Wednesday 14th we found ourselves a great wild camp at the end of the road beyond the small town of Sonabia on the Cantabrian coast of Northern Spain. Gandalf rested his weary tyres on a spit of land above the sea, beneath a great looking 400 metre (ish) mountain. And so to bed… zzzzzzz!

At about midnight the winds picked up and, if you read my post from day 121 you will already know the drill. Close the pop-top, open up bed ‘downstairs’, fail to sleep well.

In the morning, despite sleep deprivation, we decide to take a stroll up the mountain we are parked under. We don’t know the name of the mountain, we have no map and no idea if there is actually a path to the top. Our final summit of the trip though. Too good a chance to miss right?

Mrs P to Mr P: “Just a few hours right?”

Mr P: “Yup. Easy day.”

Ah, famous last words.

We start by dropping down to cross the beach before… wait, what’s this? A nudist beach! “Avert your eyes Mrs P. Avert them I say!”

Sonabia beach. A great place to let it all hang out.

It turns out there is a path to the 470 metre (1,542 feet) mountain that may (or may not) be called Cima Solpico. It is in fact well marked. So well marked in places that only the terminally stupid could go wrong.

Signs for the geographically challenged

We lunch next to a geological wonder called Ojos del Diablo (Eyes of the devil). Two large holes in the rock. Though with one being much bigger than the other it seems that the Devil may have some sort of astigmatism. Maybe that explains why he always seems so cross.

Ojos del Diablo

Mr P messing about in one of the Devil’s eyes

Above us, a dozen or more endangered griffon vultures, with wingspans of up to 2.8 metres, circle lazily. I think they have their eye on Mrs P. She’s looking pale since the weather stopped her wearing shorts. If we don’t move soon she may be the endangered one.

Either a Griffon Vulture or a spot on the lens of my camera

There are some bits where we decide to ignore the path…

Mrs P steadfastly ignoring the path

…and some odd sections that make it look like we are ignoring the path…

Mrs P, lean, mean and only just able to fit on the “path”

…and there were occasions when we thought a wrong turn had landed us in a sunny North Wales…

Cantabria or North Wales? You decide

but we did find a summit…

Mrs P on the summit of Cimma Solpico (470 ish metres)

Shortly after this shot was taken however we were forced to ponder a bit of a dilemma. With no map and unwilling to retrace our footsteps we spent a little time discussing our next move.

After a bit of Googling we decide to carry blindly on basing any geographical accuracy on a poor photo of a map we found on line. The theory is that we should pop out near to the main toll road that runs along the coast. It is then an easy 3km along the road back to Gandalf.

This theory is sound and we arrive at the road after about 40 minutes.

What is less clear is how to negotiate said 6 lane toll road to get back to the road and thence on to the loving arms of Gandalf.

Pathfinder Mr P to the rescue: “If we follow this cow trail round the hillside we will eventually find the cows. They are bound to be near the road.”

Mrs P: “You mean this muddy cow trail through the dense, face high bracken, brambles and bushes, up to our knees in muck? Are you serious?”

Pathfinder Mr P: “Trust me. I know what I am doing.”

We followed this “path” for almost an hour!

Eventually the disgraced Pathfinder leads a rather muddy, scratched and unimpressed Mrs P back to the side of the road.

A 10 minute wander down a road that could have been found relatively quickly had it not been for a certain persons enthusiasm for bushwhacking, sees our not so merry band back on course.

Our short walk ultimately takes us almost 7 hours and we decide to spend another night at our new found wild campsite rather than go looking for a proper campsite (with proper showers and a toilet).

It was a lovely spot but, guess what…

At about 2am the winds picked up and, if you read my post from day 121 (and paragraph 2 above) you will already know the drill. Close the pop-top, open up bed ‘downstairs’, fail to sleep well.


Days 122 & 123 – The Stuff That Legends Are Made Of & The Long and Winding Road

Tuesday 13th & Wednesday 14th November

These days Siurana is a popular tourist village on top of a 737m escarpment in the municipality of the Cornudella de Montsant, Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain.

Siurana. More than just a climbing venue

Siurana is also legendary. For 2 reasons:

1. In the autumn and winter of every year it is inundated with climbers from across the globe. There is some seriously hard climbing to be done here (there’s also some easy stuff that Mrs P and I can play on)

Let’s play, ‘Spot the climbers’

2. A Saracen Queen once rode her horse off the cliffs (and not even by mistake).

The legendary Saracen queen Abd al-Azia

Well, today (Tuesday 13th November) is our last day here and we have decided to walk rather than climb. We have never really seen Siurana town or the surrounding countryside, just the climbing.

It is therefore, time to check out the legend

Back in the day (the day being 1153 – 1154) high upon a colossal cliff, dominating two rivers stood Siurana Castle. The last Muslim enclave in Catalonia. When Christian Knights arrived at the gates the Saracen Queen, Abd al-Axia, rather than be taken prisoner, tied a blindfold round her horse’s eyes and rode off the cliff (apparently this is something many Catholics have considered doing in order to avoid attending Sunday mass – Am I going to Hell for that one?)

After that the castle was used, mostly as a prison, until the 13th Century when Felipe IV ordered its destruction following a Catalan revolt.

The town allows only local vehicles and even they avoid entering the town itself, instead leaving their cars at the edge of town and walking in.

My favourite/the only coffee shop in town

The town is surrounded on 3 sides by vertical cliffs which makes for some spectacular views.

Mrs P contemplates Queen Abd al-Axia’s final view

The streets of Siurana. Not a badly parked car in sight

Mr P, unable to ride a horse, simply gurns at the camera in defiance

One of many cats sent to distract Mrs P

Beware of the Pantomime Cows

So, having done the legend bit, the town bit and even the coffee bit, we head off for the walk around the cliffs below the town bit. First we have to get down to the valley floor which involves some lovely, airy paths…

…and takes us past some of the climbing sectors…

Will he make it?

Where some of the climbers play to the camera by, yes, you guessed it, falling off…


His first words on coming to a halt about 6 metres down where, “Another week and that will be easy.” It begs the question, which will be easy, the climb or falling? He seemed to have the falling bit down to an art form, no screaming or anything, so we can only assume he means the climb.

About 200 metres below the town the beautiful clear Siurana River runs towards the modern day reservoir.

The crystal clear waters of the Siurana River.

The limestone cliffs that support the town of Siurana are themselves supported by a huge band of sandstone. A very stark and unusual contrast.

Life on Mars

A great little walk. Just a few hours. Then back to our campsite ready for the remainder of the long drive North in the morning.

Wednesday 14th of November we drove just over 420 km (260 miles) to the North coast of Spain in readiness to catch our ferry home on Saturday. It was a bit of a melancholy drive, truth be told.

Mrs P trying to work out how to do the washing up without actually moving

Our mascots, Jean (as in jean Claude Not Jean Jeannie) and… erm… funny cartoon van

Still. Two more days of fun to be had. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

ASIDE: There was a lovely house for sale in Siurana. Very tempting. Rent it in the summer while travelling in Gandalf. Live in it in the Autumn and winter and get some good climbing done. What do you think?

Day 121 – The pessimist complains about the wind…

Monday 12th November 2018

…the optimist expects it to change; the realist closes the roof and sleeps downstairs.

William Arthur Ward – (as amended by Mr P)

I already mentioned how we found a lovely free place to park Gandalf on a ridge near Arboli, Catalunya, Spain.

It had been a very peaceful spot on our first evening. Stunning views, close to the climbing, flat (very important). We both had a great nights sleep and woke to a beautiful sunrise. All in all, a great place for a wild camp.

No surprises then that, we had decided to spend another night in the same spot.

This may not have been our best move. The evening started well;

• Beautiful sunset – check

• Dinner cooked and eaten – looking good so far

Time to settle down for the night.

Climb into pop top roof and think;

Sleep, my sweet reward.

Nope. More like…

O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my sense in forgetfulness?

William Shakespeare

Ah, would that mine own words should compare to that of the great Bard. No. More like;

How in heaven’s name am I going to sleep through this racket?”

Pop top roofs. Great unless it’s really windy

What sounds like a howling gale has started up. Winds are gusting at a mere 43 kph. ‘Not too bad.‘ I hear you say. ‘A mere 26.179 mph‘. But, we all know what happens when wind hits a ridge or mountain and what happens to the wind speed at the top of said ridge or mountain… What do you mean “No”? Must I explain everything? Hey ho. It’s Mr P explains time again:

When wind hits a slope the speed increases the higher up the slope you go. Meaning that the wind reaches its highest velocity at the summit of the ridge/mountain/hill or, where Gandalf is parked.

The following diagram may help…

A diagram purloined from the interweb that manages to look like a 1970’s Open University handout

Not entirely sure how accurate the figures are but, you get the idea.

Additionally there is the eyes shut effect that automatically magnifies all sound to cataclysmic proportion.

The gusting bit is the thing that is keeping me awake. The pop top or, bloomin’ great sail, is causing the van to be buffeted around in a far from relaxing way. Yes, I tried counting sheep, but they kept blowing away.

There is a difference dear reader, between a tent in a gale and a campervan pop top roof in mere high winds. Strange as it may seem, I would prefer the tent in a gale. At least in a tent you sleep on the immovable ground.

By 11pm I had had enough, and so it would appear had Mrs P. On attempting to gently wake her to break the news that I was going to close the roof and we would have to move downstairs (“downstairs!?) I discovered that she was already awake, had been awake for some time and was thoroughly fed up of being constantly battered in the back by the side of the pop top.

So, down we go. Pop top closed. Noise reduced, buffeting diminished. But, I still can’t sleep (unlike Mrs P who is instantly out like a light). Finally at about 03.30 the winds die down and I finally, get some shut eye.

We wake in the morning to beautiful sunshine and new neighbours. A white campervan with British number plates arrived shortly after dark the previous night. The occupants are a lovely couple (Phil & Allie) of a similar age to Mrs P and I (well, at least Phil was a similar age to me) out here, in Catalunya, climbing for a few months.

We chat, and following a guided tour of their cleverly converted, if somewhat larger van, we [read: ‘Mr P’] suffer from the following:

1. Storage space envy

2. Oven envy

3. Fridge envy

4. Extractor fan envy

5. Shower envy

6. Even inflatable kayak envy.

Later that day our new acquaintances bump into us at the crag where Mrs P is honing her lead climbing skills and Phil (under the expert direction of his able assistant Allie) kindly takes some rare and rather splendid photos of Mrs P and myself in climbing mode.

Mrs P – Leading lady

Mr P, looking up to Mrs P (as always)

Thanks both.

Tune in again tomorrow when it’s back to the pretty pictures as Mrs P and I take a walk around the historic and even legendary, hill top town of Siurana.

Days 117 – 119 – The journey north begins…

Thursday 8th – Saturday 10th November 2018

Those of you who have been reading this blog since day 1, may, if you cast your mind back, remember that the title was;

“DAY 1 of 120”

If you were really paying attention you will have noticed that the, “…of 120” stopped being used after day 12. At the time this was pure idleness but I am thinking of reintroducing it just so, on Monday, I can have a title of;

“Day 121 of 120”

Yes folks, it looks very much like the blog and our trip is to continue beyond its original remit of 120 days or 4 months.

Gandalf on tour – The journey continues

However, our time, as our cash, is finite and the end is in sight. We have booked our ferry tickets home from Santander, Spain to Portsmouth and we sail on Saturday 17th November returning late on Sunday 18th.

To this end we have begun the journey North and today (Saturday 10th November) we have arrived in a place called Arboli in the Catalonia region of Spain. It is kind of between Barcelona and Valencia but, inland.

Prior to this we had a couple of lazy days. One deliberate; resting after the Bernia ridge with just a few routes at Alcalalí. One semi-enforced due to high NE winds which meant our choice of crag (Gandia) was ‘chilly’ to say the least. We quit after just 3 climbs. It doesn’t bode well for our return to a British winter and climbing in… well, anywhere really!

Mrs P climbing in a coat and winter trousers at Gandia

A Long drive today (Saturday 10th) over 200 miles, so we just did a couple of climbs on arrival at Arboli to stretch our muscles after too long sitting in the van (sorry Gandalf).

Climbing at Arboli. At least the winter trousers have gone

Wild camp tonight. Beautiful spot. About 1 km outside Arboli on a ridge with great views in pretty much every direction. To the north, about a kilometre away across the valley we can see the hilltop town of Siurana beautifully lit by the sunset.

Siurana at sunset

To the west, nothing but hills with a line of wind turbines just about visible on the horizon (I like wind turbines). Stunning sunset.

Not a bad view for nothing

So, let me fill you in on a couple of thing we have learned over the last three days

Lesson 1. English coach tours can be embarrassing

We were parked up having our lunch in a place called Xaló. A pleasant little place on Alicante’s wine tour route. We were near a coach tour bus and watched as, in dribs and drabs the passengers returned. They were almost caricatures of the very worst of the unhealthy middle aged English abroad. You could almost hear their arteries hardening. One might question how people allow themselves to get in such a state or ask, “Why such dreadful posture?” or, “How slow is it actually possible to walk before you are declared stationary?” You could ask those questions. But what was the question that crossed Mr (aught to be ashamed of himself) P’s mind?

I wonder if they carry body bags. You know, just in case.”

Lesson 2. The Spanish have what can only be described as a laissez-faire attitude to parking.

Parking in England is bad and getting more inconsiderate as the years roll by but, it has nothing on Spanish parking. Rather than citing examples of this let’s drop in on Alejandro’s driving test from a few years back…

Driving instructor: “Now then Alejandro, you only have one more section in this driving test between you and a pass.”

Alejandro beams. He’s been looking forward to this bit. Practicing and observing his grandmother, an excellent exponent of this particular driving skill, when he goes out shopping with her

Driving instructor: “Alejandro, I would like you to park the car please near that supermarket you can see up ahead.”

“Mirror signal, manoeuvre.” thinks Alejandro and in a matter of a few turns of the steering wheel the deed is done. He looks expectantly at the instructor.

Driving instructor: “Well Alejandro, you’ve parked on the wrong side of the road, on a blind bend about 1.5 metres from the kerb, at a very rakish angle and to top it all you are on a pedestrian crossing. What can I say? You’ve performed extremely well all the way through the test and, right at the very end… (his voice falters) I’m lost for words.”

Alejandro looks nervous. He feels a trickle of sweat drip down his back.

Driving instructor his voice breaking with emotion: “Alejandro, that was… (tears well in his eyes) ..just about the best parking I have ever seen. You pulled out all the stops there. You have obviously been practicing everything I taught you. Well done you’ve passed your driving test.”

There is a difference though. In the UK people get very irate about this kind of behaviour. In Spain it seems to be just accepted as the norm by both other road users and the perpetrators.

I will not be writing a blog tomorrow. At 11am you will be busy observing a 2 minute silence.

Let us not remember them for just 2 minutes

Let us honour them with the silence

And remember them always

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Day 116 – A Ridge too Far?

Wednesday 7th November 2018

There is a mountain ridge that provides a lovely backdrop for those happy tourists on the Costa Blanca coast from Altea to Benidorm. Well, at least to those folk capable of looking beyond their next alcoholic beverage and imaginative enough to face the opposite direction to the sea (or their satellite TVs). This impressive rocky crest is called the Bernia Ridge or, to give it its Spanish name the Cresta de Bernia.

The Bernia Ridge seen from the North

The ridge rises to a height of 1,126 metres (3,694 feet) and way back on day 93 Mrs P and I took a walk around this beast which took us 8 hours, all told.

There is a climb along the most interesting (read: “lumpy“) section of the ridge. It is long. 3 km. It has some technical climbing and an abseil or two. It is described as “airy” and was recommended by some climbers we met a week or two ago. It is also horribly badly described in our guide book.

This is what we know…

The Bernia Ridge seen from the South. Serra Gelada, Altea

The guide book gives some extra information but it is pretty light in detail:

One technical section at grade 4+

One 20 metre abseil

One additional abseil of ? metres

“? metres…” Not helpful! Our lightweight rope is only 50 metres so, maximum abseil is 25 metres. This “abseil of ? metres!” Fine, if it is less than 25 metres but not so good if more. Attention to detail please.

Timings: 5 – 10 hours car to car

5 – 10 hours car to car. Seriously? That’s the best you can come up with?

Our Spanish guide book with better pictures

So, we buy a new guide book. The pictures are better and it at least gives the length of both abseils. Our 25 metre rope will be fine.

It suggests 50 minutes to the start and 1 1/2 hours from the finish back to the car with 5 hours for the climb. I only know this because it’s in pictures.

One evening I was poring over this book staring blankly at the Spanish text when Mrs (I cant speak a word of Spanish) P, takes the book off me and starts happily translating pretty much the whole thing!

Staring agog at this person who I thought I knew, the person who lets me flounder away in Spanglish in shops, bars and, well everywhere, Mrs P spots the question in my startled look and says: “Well, of course I can read it. It’s a bit like French.”

I think she’s a spy. If we go to Russia will she suddenly start jabbering away fluently to all her spy mates? I’m snitching on her to MI5 if she doesn’t buy me nice things for Christmas.

Anyway, happy with this new found information we decide to have a go. I pack a rack of gear that would see us happily along most Alpine ridges, just in case and we set off from Gandalf at 09.10. 8.5 hours of daylight. Best get a move on…

Mrs P route marching to the start of the Bernia Ridge

The locals don’t seem too impressed with our plan…

The Statler & Waldorf of the goat community deriding our chances of success

It takes us a little over an hour to get to the start of the ridge and all kitted up.

Now, the tricky bit. Condensing 5 hours and 45 minutes of climbing and scrambling into half a dozen photos. I’ll give it a shot but I won’t do it justice. I suggest you go try it for yourself.

Mr P trying to look like he knows what he is doing at the start of the 3km ridge

There is a very narrow section between the two abseils with vertical drops in excess of 100 metres either side. Before we started climbing we saw two goats (not Statler & Waldorf) looking down at us from this section of the ridge. Evidence of them was available on the ridge by way of their scat but, no goats. Where did they go? Paragliding goats. That’s the only explanation.

Mr P on the lookout for goats

Much of the ridge is unroped scrambling at about grade 1 & 2 (anything beyond grade 3 is classed as climbing not scrambling).

No goats here either

Mr P does 99% of the ridge in approach shoes. A sort of mix between hiking and climbing shoes. Perfect for this sort of thing.

Mrs P on the narrow start of the ridge

Mrs P on the other hand prefers scrambling in her hiking boots. My hat (helmet) is off to her. I would hate to be on this kind of ground in hiking boots.

Mr P surveys the first half of the ridge and wonders what the second half (out of sight) will be like

The weather is perfect. Not too hot, not too windy and the rock has dried nicely after the rain of 2 days ago.

The first abseil is only about 16 metres long and bypasses a section of grade 2 scrambling. With a risk of death factor positively off the scale we opt for the abseil.

Mrs P on the first abseil

The next section of the ridge is still pretty narrow though some bits you can actually walk along. Mostly however it is delightful, hands on scrambling.

Eventually we get to an obvious abseil anchor, bolted to the rock alongside a big painted red arrow pointing down and over an abyss.

Mr P setting up for the 20 metre abseil ( You can see the huge rack of gear he is carrying)

I set up the abseil and chuck our 25 metres of doubled rope off the cliff. By hanging on to the anchor bolt and leaning out I can see that the rope is long enough. Always a bonus as I then commit to the drop…

I think I can see a sandwich spot

Closely followed by Mrs P…

Good, because I am starving

A spot of lunch overlooking The Costa Blanca coast and we are off again. Climbing first back up to the ridge.

A long relatively easy section of scrambling ensues culminating in a descent to a col where a short but technical piece of climbing enables us the regain the ridge.

The following picture shows three narrow fins of rock. The third from the left must be climbed to regain the ridge above the enormous cave.

The second half of the ridge looks interesting

Mrs P swaps her walking boots for climbing shoes to climb the fin (4+)

The second half of the ridge is probably a bit easier than the first but, maybe we are just getting used to the terrain and the exposure. We certainly know that all the technical stuff is over.

Looking back along the ridge with not a goat in sight

About 2/3rds of the way along the ridge, near a col, there is a box with a book in which happy climbers can write their names. Mr P does the honours…

The finished article

Books like this are usually at the end of a route so, psychologically, once the book is completed so is the climb but, not in this case. There are still 2 more hours of climbing ahead.

Looking back along the ridge

If you zoom in closely on the above photo you will see 3 climbers on the ridge behind us. Centre of picture there is a tree on the ridge. Follow the ridge left. One climber is silhouetted on the ridge. The other 2 are to the right of him and harder to spot.

About 1.5 hours to go with the summit of the ridge in sight

We did go off track briefly but it was fortuitous as we think we found some orchids. I can’t find anything on the interweb to prove it so, any budding (excuse the pun) flower experts out there like to tell us what it is?

Possibly an orchid?

More lovely, easy, grade 1 scrambling on perfect rock finally sees us on the summit of the Bernia 5 hours and 45 minutes after we started.

Mrs P on the Bernia summit (1,126 metres)

Just 1.5 of descent to go. In total our time was 8 hours 45 minutes, Gandalf to Gandalf. This includes one lunch stop, 2 snack breaks and one minor detour.

We are well pleased with ourselves particularly as we arrive back before dark. Time for a nice cup of tea.

ASIDE: Back in September I published a post called, Day 75 – Fear – Mr P gets all philosophical, in which I tried to explain why a particular Via Ferrata near Annecy in France has scared me so much. It was all about exposure etc. It was deep stuff. Mrs P can’t understand why I was afraid on the Via Ferrata but not on the Bernia Ridge since the ridge was way harder and more exposed. The answer? Not sure, but she is right. I wasn’t scared or nervous on this climb. I will have to think about it and get back to you.

Days 106 & 107 – To be the man who walked a thousand miles…

Sunday 28th & Monday 29th October

I would just like you to compare the following 2 photos and kindly explain to me, “What in the name of tarnation happened!?”

Good thermometer, nice thermometer

Bad thermometer, naughty thermometer

Did you spot the difference? Did you? Exactly! A drop in temperatures of more than 26 degrees centigrade (43 degrees Fahrenheit for our US readers)!

These photos were taken just 3 days apart. The second, as if to add insult to injury, was taken at a more southerly latitude!

Yes, we have moved further south for climbing. It is however, colder here, in the Murcia region of Spain than it was on most of our early morning starts in the Alps at high altitude, on glaciers, wearing crampons!

If you read the link for Murcia, you will see that…

This region boast[s] over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, and its coastline is bathed by the warm waters of two seas. In fact, its coast is known as the Costa Cálida (the balmy coast)…

Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Sounds toasty warm. Sounds like climbing weather…

Well, not today it ain’t. Today it’s like a bloomin’ fridge. Why am I complaining? I hear you ask…

I would like to refer you to the following average annual temperatures for Murcia

Check out October, or even November. It says nothing about temperatures of 6 degrees centigrade with a maximum daytime temperature of 10 degrees.

Mrs P had to have a hot water bottle!

Ok, so I may be over egging it and I may be overusing the exclamation mark a tad but, jeepers. We’re freezing to death here! (Look, there’s another one.)

On Monday we brave the elements and go for a walk. The photos may look sunny but, I tell you, it was hell out there. Our sandwiches nearly blew away, we couldn’t wear shorts… need I list more hardships? The locals are pretty close to declaring a state of emergency. We may need the army to airdrop blankets and chicken soup.

Colder than it looks

We joined up 2 local walks from the campsite we are staying at in El Berro. One of 10km, the other of 7km.

The walk is unfortunately pretty disappointing. No great views, not much in the way of up and down, scrappy paths. Certainly nothing to write home about… erm… Oops!

The best part about the walk is perhaps the comma vs decimal point anomaly. Let me explain; In the UK we use a period as a decimal point i.e. 5.4km. In much of Europe however, they use a comma i.e. 5,4km. Generally speaking this goes pretty much unnoticed. Round these parts however, and some would say with typical Spanish carefree abandon, they like to add some entirely unnecessary zeros. So, you get signs like this…

This could take a while

This is great because it looks like we walked one heck of a long way.

As the walk lacked views of note my eye was drawn to the minutiae of my surroundings. So, for want of photos of stunning vistas, I will leave you with the following images…

This tunnel used to be part of an ancient irrigation system

Acorns on a Holm Oak tree

Olives and olive tree (what else?)

As M.C. Hammer would say, “Can’t touch this”

5,400 km later…

I like to think we deserved this after more than 17,000 km

Days 104 & 105 – Gorgeous Gorge & Film night

Friday 26th & Saturday 27th October 2018

Friday morning we woke all set to go off climbing again but, as I explained yesterday, this campsite, far from the tourist factories on the coast, far from the great whites, is home to a different breed of over-winterer (did I just make a word up?).

As we idly munched on our muesli and contemplated the sunny day ahead we are visited by a chap from England who is staying here till March. He and his wife are the vanguard of a group of like minded folk who spend the winter here. Let’s stick with convention and call him Mr S.

Mr S says (I do hope he will forgive me for paraphrasing): “Would you like to join me for a walk?”

Mr P: Oh, yes please. Where’re we going?

Mr S goes on to explain a 27km circuit taking in a visit to some donkeys (Mrs P is immediately sold on the idea), a look down a big hole, a visit to a Refugio (refuge/hut/elaborate garden shed. Call it what you will) and a scramble down a gorge.

He then says: “How fast do you walk?”

Mr P: “Eh?”

Mr S: “How fit are you?”

Mr P (thinking, ‘This man is 12 years older than me!’) stifles a derisive laugh and says; “Well, we just spent 3 months in the Alps.”

“Good.” Says Mr S, “See you at 10.”

Another day, another Gorge (Actually, it’s exactly the same Gorge as 2 days ago)

Now Mr S is a sexagenarian (late sexagenarian at that. Oh, ok, he’s 67. But don’t tell him I told you), dynamo powered, (like the Duracell Bunny), speed demon. He certainly isn’t powered in the conventional way. You know, food, water, that kind of thing. In 7.5 hrs I think I saw him eat 2 fig biscuits and drink a thimble full of water. Mrs P and I can’t go more than 3 hours without recourse to numerous snacks, a proper lounge by the trail lunch and, of course, something sweet to take the taste away.

We set off at a rate of knots little known in our stop every few minutes to take a photo, change layers, point at things, answer a call of nature, world.

Mr P briefly manages to get in front of Mr S to take a photo
Down at the bottom of the Gorge I assume Mr S will slow the pace as we are now facing a 300 metre climb over less than 1 km but no, if anything, he speeds up!

Along the way we whiz past some great views and visit a few interesting sights like a donkey sanctuary…

Donkey sanctuary interloper

I know, it’s a goat but, in my defence, he was way more photogenic than the donkeys.

We also got to look down into a 50 metre sinkhole called L’Avenc Ample, and watched some spelunkers (apparently they prefer the term cavers, but it’s not their blog so, tough!) climbing out.

The sinkhole L’Avenc Ample

The sinkhole apparently leads to a short series of squeeze tunnels and then into a huge underground cavern. The above link has some great photos.

“Which rope did you say I shouldn’t let go of?”

After the first ascent I develop a ploy to slow Mr S down, or at least arrange it so I don’t have to speak and walk at the same time. At the beginning of each climb I ask him questions like, ‘précis your last 6 holidays’ and ‘Name your 100 favourite films. In alphabetical order’.

Our journey along the Barranc de L’Infern was spectacular and we got in some great scrambling and general messing around.

Mrs P enters the Gorge

Mr S’s favourite bit

The only way is under…

… or over…

…or,… Oh, do stop messing around!

All in all the hike was 27k (16.2 miles), over 7 hours, with 1,457 metres (4,781 feet) of ascent and descent and all done at an average pace of 600 kph (373 mph). It was a great walk, a great day and great company. We cannot thank Mr S enough for dragging us along in his wake. All hail!

Saturday 27th and I was overjoyed to be visited by Mr S who popped by to tell us that his legs ached after our outing. Result!

We use the inclement weather (temperatures dropped by 10 degrees overnight and there are rain showers all day) as an excuse to relax for the whole day. We visit the coffee shop, the bakery, clean Gandalf and watch a film.


The previous and following photos are the Gandalf version of one of those before and after shots where the before shot shows an overweight, unsmiling, badly lit, unattractively posed person and the after shot shows exactly the same only they are better lit, smiling and have been allowed to wear underwear appropriate to their stature.

…and after

GRATUITOUS ADVERT: Use GLEAMO cleaning fluid for that sun shining through the window look!

Yes, you heard right by the way. We watch a film. Some DVDs have been left behind in the communal area of the campsite. The place where paperback books go to die. We fire up the laptop and watch our first film, tv or anything of that ilk for more than 3 months. Feels weird. The film is called Wakefield. A dark drama. Mrs P and I can recommend it.

Clocks go back tonight. Extra hour in bed. Tomorrow we drive South. Heading for warmer climes and climbs.