Thursday, 14 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 25

Not a lot to report today, except that Heather thrashed me at cribbage 3 games to 0!!🤔  We had a smooth crossing with only a bit of swell as we rounded the Brittany peninsular.  First thing this morning we were in fog but it soon cleared to leave a beautiful day much of which we spent relaxing on the sun deck.  We docked on time and are now settled with a cup of tea in the Premier Inn. Now do I need to pop next door for a pint??🤔
All that remains is the drive home tomorrow - oh, and to dry the tent out!!😃
Despite the less than perfect weather we have had an amazing trip, seen some wonderful scenery, wildlife, art and culture.  We have fallen in love with Northern Spain and it's spectacular mountains and coast.  We shall be back, perhaps not in May/June and certainly not camping.  In fact I may have been cured of camping for life!!!🤣

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 24

Good evening dear blog, almost my final entry for this trip as I write in the middle of the Bay of Biscay en route to Portsmouth. And what an excellent penultimate day it has been.  We awoke to rain yet again at the hotel but by the time we hah breakfast it had cleared up allowing us to load the car in the dry
  El Colonial is a superb family run hotel; great food, clean and comfortable room and very friendly and helpful owners.
Once packed we set out for El Castillo cave, just 10 miles away.  We soon found that Altamira yesterday was an excellent preparatory lesson for the genuine article.  We arrived nicely in time for our prebooked tour at 11.20.  Like Altamira the huge cave entrance would have been lived in as a cave shelter by palaeolithic hunter gatherers.  This entrance today is covered by a massive canopy which serves as reception and ticket office.  Our tour was in Spanish and we even understood some of it aided by a fellow American visitor who spoke better Spanish than us and translated.  The cave itself was well worth the visit with huge cathedral-like galleries and staggering stalactite and stalagmite formations.  The star of the show though were the paintings, particularly the hand stencils for which the cave is famous. There are also bison and deer and abstract symbolic markings.  Some of these are 50,000 years old and as fresh as if they were done yesterday.  I find this absolutely mind blowing and incredibly moving. But is also fascinating to realise that these people were so similar to us: intelligent  artistic and with a well-developed social organisation.  An absolutely fabulous visit.
Afterwards we enjoyed coffee and cake in the village before an easy drive back to Bilbao on the motorway.  We arrived in perfect timing and sailed on time at 5.15.  It was, of course, beer o'clock.  A good night's sleep now.  In the morning We should pass close to Brittany.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 23

Another amazing day despite the poor start weatherwise: rain and wind, but amazingly still warm.  As it was a museum visit this morning the weather was immaterial and surprisingly it cleared and was sunny by the time we came out.  The museum in question was the Cuevas de Altamira which is renowned for its cave paintings of mainly bison but also deer on the low roof of the cave.  Palaeolithic people lived in the large mouth of the cave and the paintings were done in deeper chambers.  The original cave has been more or less closed to the public for conservation reasons for about 20 years. The museum though, complete with reconstructed cave and paintings, is excellent.  We thoroughly enjoyed it and spent a good 2 hours there.  Tomorrow though, on the way back to Bilbao for the ferry, we have booked to visit El Castillo cave, famous for its hand print stencils made by blowing paint onto hands pressed to the cave wall.  These are thought to be the oldest cave paintings in Europe, perhaps the world.  Many years ago we visited Font de Gaume caves in France and this remains one of my most moving experiences so it is with great anticipation that we await tomorrow's visit.
After our museum visit we repaired to the seafood restaurant at Playa de Luaña for Gambas a la plancha and grilled sardines; excellent and with superb views out over the sea.  The wind has really blown up today and so it was great fun trying to photograph the big surf.  However we do hope it calms down by tomorrow evening ready for sailing across the Bay of Biscay.
We next drove back to San Vicente de Barquera where we walked up to visit the church which stands majestically high above the harbour.  It was beautiful and peaceful inside and outside nestled another hostel for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.  A coffee and ice cream were called for in a harbourside bar and then before heading back we popped around to the local surfing beach for some more wave photos.  The dunes here are magnificent; gleaming white sand with a superb dune flora including such treasures as hare' s tail grass, Sea holly and a pink and white striped bind weed.
It is almost time for our last dinner in the hotel and I plan on having cocido montañas, a local speciality comprising a stew of beans, meat and cabbage preceded by a grande cerveza grande and washed down with a bottle of rioja.  Magic!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 22

What a brilliant day.  After torrential rain overnight the weather cleared to give a brilliant day of hot sun.
After another late breakfast (We are getting into Spanish habits: start late, finish late!) We drove the short distance to Camillas and parked on the edge of the old town.  We had discovered that there was a house here that had been designed by Gaudi: El Capricho de Gaudi. Gaudi designed the house for a wealthy client Máximo Díaz de Quijano.  Capricho means whim or caprice and it is totally whimsical.  Like a fairy tale house complete with minaret and decorated with ceramic tiles of leaves and sunflowers.  Throughout the house there are references to nature and music.  It is beautiful and we loved it.  We spent about two hours here and then went on to explore the old town where we had a decadent lunch of chocolate and churros; to die for.  We finished our visit at the old cárcel or prison which is now a hostel for peligrinos on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella.
From Camillos we continued towards San Vicente de la Barquera stopping off at a beach on the way.  Here we spent a delightful hour or so wandering along the beach and in the sea.  Again the colours and light were amazing.  San Vicente is a picturesque fishing port with magnificent church and castle.  It is also full of seafood restaurants in which we indulged before heading back late to the hotel.
Another excellent day.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 21

A day somewhat curtailed.   It began well but plans could not be fulfilled woo g to a thunderstorm and monsoon rain.  Still it is a luxury to return to our hotel and their excellent food.
After a lazy breakfast we decided on a drive back up into the mountains up the Cabuérniga valley stopping on the way for coffee in the sun outside a small village bar. We then continued up a side valley by a beautiful river to the ancient village of Bárcena Major.  Beautiful but a tad too perfect and restored.  We had seen more authentic villages above our valley in the Picos; scruffy, perhaps but real lived in villages.  The river in Bárcena was fast flowing and attractive.  As we got back to the car the heavens opened and the rain was torrential.  As we neared the coast the sky brightened and we headed to Comillas but the rain quickly followed so we returned to the hotel to relax and read before dinner.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 20

What a brilliant day today.  The weather has finally been kind to us.  When we woke up the sky was clear and the forecast good so we decided to stay local rather than drive for an hour to Ribidasella.  After an excellent breakfast we set off for nearby Urbiarco and Playa Santa Justa.  We fell in love with this beautiful bay immediately.  It would be packed in season but even on a Saturday it was very quiet.  The tide was coming in and with it huge rollers from the Atlantic, crashing on the rocks in a welter of spray.  In the bright sun the colours were amazing: further out a deep, indigo blue, closer in a beautiful turquoise and where the waves were breaking a creamy duck-egg green.  The cliffs either side were delightful flower strewn meadows and we even found a tongue orchid.  Butterflies were numerous: meadow Brown's,  whites, clouded yellow and marbled white.  I also managed some photos of a winchat.  Set into the cliff is the Ermita de Santa Justa, a tiny church.  It is locked but it is possible to peer into the interior through a barred window in the door while huge surf crashes immediately below.  A cafe con leche and ice cream at the friendly bar were obligatory.
Eventually we decided go and explore further, having been moved on by the carpark lady to make way for a fleet of Ferraris arriving later.  Still we found storks and cattle egrets in breeding plumage hunting near where a tractor was mowing a field for hay; overhead black kites wheeled.  We visited the Ermita de San Pedro near Oraña which is on the coastal alternative route of the Camino de Santiago. While we were there a perigrino called in to have his Camino passport stamped by the guardian who showed us around.  Very friendly, he was justly proud of his church and even took us up the tower.
Next it was time for another playa and a paddle followed by a coffee and then on to Camillas for a potter round the old harbour.  There is work by Goudi here and the town centre looks attractive so we shall return.
We now have the difficult job of deciding what to have for dinner from the excellent menu.  The weather forecast is looking good again for tomorrow so fingers crossed.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 19

Well dear reader, an early night before packing up the tent and heading to the coast sounds a lot easier than it turned out.  We were on tenterhooks during the night waiting for the rain.  It dribbled enough to wet the tent but not the downpour we were expecting.  We knew it was going to be a difficult task having watched Peter and Linda pack up a few days previously so we were eager to get on with it.
Emptying and cleaning out the tent went well.  Bedding was soon packed down into the car and the inner tent stowed away.  We dropped the tent very carefully trying to keep it as clean as possible but what we were afraid of had happened. For days we knew that the ground under us had turned into a morass of mud but unfortunately it hadn't been confined to the underneath of the groundsheet, it had oozed in between.  It was at this point the the heavy rain arrived! 🤔However, we carefully turned the tent upside down on the road, managing to keep the material clean.  The mud cleaned off relatively easily and we soon had it folded and encased in three layers of plastic dustbin liners.  We could be more brutal with the groundsheet so we threw buckets of diluted lemon-scented floor cleaner at it and scrubbed it off.  The stink was amazing. 🤢🤮 Soon however we also had it encased in multiple dustbin liners and both packed into the car.  Unfortunately images will have to wait until we get home, although some have seen the swamp via WhatsApp.  It was now time for showers and clean clothes before an excellent breakfast in the bar.  After fond farewells and hugs and kisses all round (well we are on the continent) it was time to take our leave.  First stop was for diesel and then we stopped off at the National Park centre where we wanted to watch a multi media display on the Picos.  It was excellent and well worth it.
Fortunately the Potes/Panes gorge road was temporarily open as normally it is closed during the week of repairs and upgrade.  The 14 mile long gorge is stunning, running by the beautiful fast flowing River Deva and between towering limestone cliffs on either side.  We were sidetracked by exploring the beautiful old village of Lebeña and its ancient church.  We needed to get on, though, as we wanted to have lunch by the sea and before long we were making and enjoying our fresh bread, cheese, jamón and chorizo on a wonderlul surfing beach with Atlantic breakers rolling in.
Hunger satisfied, we drove on to Santillana where we checked in once more to the excellent Hotel Colonial.  It is a modest family run hotel in an old interestingly appointed building.  The owner is a big National Geographic fan with a large collection of magazines and beautiful NG photographs adorning the walls including my all time favourite, 'The Afghan Girl' by Steve McCurry.
Soon settled in we went off to explore the local coast until the rain set in again.  But what a joy it was returning to our warm, dry and wonderful hotel room.  We are currently studying the menu trying to decide what to have for our evening meal.  It's a hard life!🙂

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 18

The plan today was to pack the car ready for leaving tomorrow.  Consequently it was with some anticipation that we greeted the day.  It began as so often with very low cloud and mist but once the sun got up it has gradually burnt off to leave  a beautiful hot day.  After breakfast outside we cleared and tired the car and then brought out all of the boxes and fridge from the tent.  They in their turn were sorted and the car loaded.  The only things left to go in are the tent and bedding.  After a light lunch we finished off and went to pay for the site which worked out at £14 a night which is great value.  Heather then went for a swim and I went up the road for a last go at the lizard.  It was my most successful visit yet and I am really pleased with the shots.  Black kites and vultures wheeled overhead and the warm air was filled with the chirruping of cicadas.  A real bonus was the glimpse I had of an ascalaphid or owl fly an insect predatory on others.  Later we intend to have a final potter in the valley with perhaps a visit to Potes to buy some wine and local walnuts.  After dinner in the bar it will be time for an early night ready for packing the tent in the morning and moving to the coast.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 17

Good morning dear blog.  I am able to report that I am sitting in the sun relaxing after a late breakfast.  We had a dry night and the weather prospects for the next two days look promising.  We have booked the Hotel Colonial in Santillana del Mar from Friday for 5 nights.  Partly as the weather is going to go off again but also because we want to explore the coast.  We had one night in the Colonial on the way here and really enjoyed it; we look forward to a few nights of luxury to finish the holiday in exchange for our swamp.
After our late breakfast in the sun we set off off up the Puerto San Glorio pass again at nearly 6000 feet in the hopes of views.  In my case this was the fourth trip and it proved to be successful; well semi anyway.  We certainly had wonderful views all around but cloud had bubbled up again and obscured much of the Picos; we were actually above much of the cloud.  The object of the drive really was to photograph the life size statue of a cantabrian brown bear at the top of the pass with views behind to the mountains above the cable car at Fuente De.  Although the bear was beautifully lit, sadly the mountains had their tops hidden in cloud.  It was still a special place, however.  The statue is on a col that is used as a corridor for this rare animal which is in danger of extinction.  Chough were plentiful up here as were Griffon vultures; a squadron of 6 making a very close fly past.  I was also fascinated by the numbers of bikers on big touring bikes, especially the two on old Honda Africa Twin machines.  The stickers on their panniers testified to their travels.  Chatting to them made me nostalgic for my land rover trip to the Sahara with Steve.
Eventually we gave up on the clouds clearing and headed back down the pass, stopping for lunch on the way.  We called in at the site briefly for Heather, while I went back for some more shots of the occelated lizard.  I was delighted to find that one was two and I got shots of both in the same image.  Unfortunately the one bus of the day disturbed them on the way up and then on the way down.  Such is life.🤓
We next pottered up to Mogrevejo another very attractive village above the main valley.  Sadly the bar was closed so we repaired to the site for a beer in the bar (well it was nearly time) before cooking a simple meal out of a tin, managing it all before the evening's rain set in.  The main meal may have been simple but we finished with local sheep's cheese, local cherries and grapes and coffee.  It may now be time for a 10 year old Torres and an early night.
A good day.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 16

Sadly the sun didn't stay out yesterday.  Although we had a very pleasant couple of hours in it and at one point had to move into the shade, it started raining at 1.00 pm and didn't stop until 7.00 this morning.  18 hours of rain have turned our pitch into a muddy swamp.  We did manage a brief walk under brollies before a simple meal in the bar with Dom, one of the two Cumbria Uni students left in the site.  After that it was time to retire to the tent once more.
Once the rain stopped this morning the weather steadily improved.  Still with huge roiling clouds about and occasional showers but lots of very hot sunny periods too.  A phone call to the RAC provided the information that the car would be ready this evening and we arranged with one of the campsite staff that he would drop us in Potes later to pick it up.  We occupied some of our time while we were waiting with a walk around the small but very attractive local village.  At one house we were fascinated by a pair of wooden clogs with short raised legs to keep the wearer out of the mud.  Traditional wear but obviously still in use.  We also walked back up the lane to try for some more photographs of the occelated lizard.  Today it was much more cooperative and I was rewarded with some nearly full frame shots.  And what a handsome beast it is.  Bright green with spots of iridescent blue along it's flanks.
We successfully picked up the car at 6.00 and were delighted that it was €57 less than we were expecting.  It's now beer o'clock and time for dinner in the campsite bar.
A much better day has been had.

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 15

Well unfortunately not all things go to plan.  We woke to yet another morning of low cloud, but it has cleared somewhat now and I am sitting outside in a brief spell of sun, well away from the stench from where Peter and Linda's tent was.  After Peter and Linda had packed up their little pop up tent we had breakfast with them in the bar.  Before they left Peter ran me into Potes to the garage to check on the progress of the car.  Sadly they do not yet have the part they need for the repair.  Kia, in Santander, have had to order it in from abroad and it hasn't arrived yet.  If it turns up today the car could be ready tomorrow. At the moment all plans are on hold until we have it back.  If the sun stays out I may walk up the road to try and get some photos of the lizard.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 14

Good morning dear readers, if there are any!!  I sit under our awning this morning sheltering from the rain and listening to thunder rolling around the mountains.  After a wonderful day yesterday we enjoyed a lovely meal together followed by whist, but then we had a rumble of thunder followed by a night of rain.  We woke to a misty morning which soon cleared to allow us to sit out in the sun watching Peter and Linda packing ready to leave tomorrow. I used the opportunity to ring the bank at home because I was one of the unfortunates who suffered fro the visa outage a couple of days ago, my card being refused three times.  It would seem that the money had gone out but was immediately refunded.  Apparently visa were on it straight way.  All good now but it does add to the spice of travel.
Our plans now are to (hopefully) pick the car up tomorrow as part of an afternoon in Potes and then spend a few days exploring locally in our valley; we just need the weather to be on our side.  The big improvement we had hoped now seems to have vanished so we have booked a hotel at Ribadeslla on the coast from Friday for 5 nights until the boat on 13th.
Peter and Linda have packed up their tent ready for leaving tomorrow.  They have to be back in Bilbao for Wednesday's ferry and are having a couple of nights in a hotel on the way.  Unfortunately under their tent was a sea of foul smelling mud.  Under ours it will no doubt be the same. They have put up a small pop up tent for tonight and once this was done we all walked up the lane above us to the tiny village of Lon where we had a drink in the local posada.  On the way we found a very large green lizard basking in the sun but annoyingly we disturbed it.  A little patience rewarded us with some head shots before it popped back into its hole.
The day finished with a meal in the bar and a final game of whist.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 13

What a fantastic day.  Summer has arrived even if only for a day.  We have just returned from the big mountains and I'm now sitting in the shade with a beer.
Things started inauspiciously with the usual low cloud.  However it was Peter's last opportunity for a big mountain walk so the two of us set off to catch the first cable car up from Fuente De.  As we drove up the valley the sky brightened and suddenly we were beyond the clouds with clear blue skies.  Linda dropped us off and then drove back down to go swimming with Heather while Peter and I joined the walkers and ski mountaineers in the queue for the first teleriphique.   We got chatting to a skier from Santander who was attaching skins to his skis who gave us lots of advice.  I ran into him later in the day and he had climbed one of the biggest peaks and then skied down.  He told us there would be a lot of snow and he wasn't wrong.  The cable car whisked us up from 3500 feet to 5700 in 3 minutes.  At the top there was not a cloud in sight - amazing.  And the views were stunning with high jagged mountains and snowfields all around. 
The plan was to head for The 8000 foot rocky summit of Horcardos Rojos.  Our initial route took us to the col we had walked over two days previously but then turned north west up a snow filled valley heading for our peak.  At first the gradient was easy but soon steepened considerably.  It was wonderful fun even if it did leave me gasping somewhat and it was with great regret that I made the decision to turn back at 7000 feet.  If things had gone pear shaped I thought I might have had a stern talking to by Grimsby's cardiology depart in a couple of weeks.  You see, some of you doubters I can be sensible at times.  The descent was exhilarating; a swooping glissade covering hundreds of feet in minutes.
I arrived back at the cable car station just in time to meet Heather and Linda coming up.  After lunch we wandered back up the col to meet Peter on his way down.  Yellow billed choghs provided good views as did wheatear, black redstart and snow finch.  A wallcreeper was also about but I dipped out on this, sadly.  After a drink in the restaurant it was time to catch the car back down and return to the site to relax in the sun.  It was of course beer o'clock.
A wonderful day.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Spain, May/June 2018. Day 12.

An excellent day today.  Actually no rain at all last night and partially clear skies. Awoke to low cloud again though but this soon lifted to give a day of mixed cloud and sun.
We began with a drive up to a beautiful monastery  and view point above Potes.  While we were there the clouds parted to reveal the mountains of The Picos.  The monastery is ancient and purports to have a piece of the 'One True Cross'.  It is also on a side route of the Camino de Santiago de Compostella. 
From here we continued through Potes, past our poorly car and on down the gorge to Panes.  We then diverted up into the hills where we discovered endless stunningly beautiful wild flower meadows that so rarely exist in the UK anymore.  Among more common species we were surrounded by spectacular orchids. We also had good views of woodchat strike. Navigating down narrower and narrower roads we eventually admitted defeat and returned to the more main roads and the supermercado in Potes for supplies before returning to the site and the evening BBQ of pork loin.  It was, of course, beer o'clock.