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 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?