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 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 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…

No

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.