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…

“CARD FULL”

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.

AGAIN!

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.

Before…

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.