Thursday 30 December 2010

Parties and Packing

We have had a fabulous Christmas. On the day we were at Frankie and Harry’s lovely new home in Hoddesden with Janice & Paul, Frankie’s other parents. On Christmas morning, one of the presents under the tree for Frankie was an engagement ring! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We walked/slid/skated to The Rye House on the Lea & Stort Navigation for a celebratory drink with Harry’s family, (and a quick narrowboat fix for us, it’ll be a long time before we see another one!) then Dave and Paul did a cheffing double act in the kitchen and we all sat down to a perfect Beef Wellington with all the trimmings.

On Boxing Day we drove up to Stamford where Bourne Borderers were performing. If we thought we would only be spectating we were very much mistaken. Mikey turned up with all our kit and despite not having practiced for months we threw ourselves in with gusto. Ann-Marie slipped effortlessly into her role and remembered what to do, Dave demonstrated how senility and time don't improve something he wasn’t that good at to begin with. Thank you BB for your indulgence and your boundless hospitality. After that we went to Andrew & Karen's for the night and Ken had a go at knocking the tree down in their drive. Some more members of BB came over and joined us for a very entertaining evening in their company. Andrew & Karen have a beautiful house and two beautiful children, thank you Emily for lending us your bedroom. We’re looking forward to returning the compliment and having them stay on the boat. On Monday morning we were sad to leave.

We set off east towards Glen & Steve’s, making a quick detour to Gedney to catch up with our friend Keith, and John & Jenny, our neighbours when we lived there. We nearly went to see Pete & Michelle who bought our old house but something stopped us; maybe when we’ve got a boat and somewhere we can call home again we’ll be able to. We don’t regret leaving and we really do want to go back and see all their animals and what they’ve done to the place, but at the moment it’s a bit too soon.

Glen & Steve had the “Welcome” banner out again when we pulled in, we feel very honoured at the amount of people who seem genuinely excited to see us, especially when we’re just as excited to see them. After a very enjoyable evening and another comfy night, we were treated to one of Steve’s Full English Breakfasts before heading off towards Anne’s house in Chesterfield. We’re there for three days emptying the van and packing for New Zealand.

When we sold the house, all the stuff that we thought might be useful to have on a boat went into Anne’s cellar. Since then she’s moved house and all our stuff is now in a walk-in wardrobe. We want to leave the van as empty as possible so there’s now a load more in there as well. Although it was all the stuff we couldn't bear to be without, we've forgotten what 90% of it is. We know that it won't all fit on the boat, but if we've been without it and not missed it for this long, thinning it out shouldn't be much of a problem.


The van really needs a new engine battery, it's a bit of a lottery turning the key if it’s been left for more than a night, but as long as we can plug into a mains socket most nights it can wait until we get back.

One question that keeps coming up is "Have you found a boat yet?" The answer is still no. We're trying very hard not to look; we can't buy anything yet, so finding the boat of our dreams now would not be a good thing. However if this is still for sale when we get back it's going on the list

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Welcome Home

Our first taste of England after 3 months was a bit of a let-down to be honest. After a rather dreary drive from Dover in the drizzle we arrived at Karen’s with hardly a glimpse of the snow that everyone’s been making such a fuss about. We’ve seen newsreels with reporters standing knee deep beside abandoned cars, but to us it looked like any wet winter Thursday. Once we got to Mytchett it all got a lot better; Ann-Marie’s Mum and Dad came over for the evening and we had proper fish & chips. It’s good to be back.

We started our tour of friends and relations on Friday. First stop Portsmouth for two nights with Fran & Sean. Rather than carting a load of stuff into people’s houses, we’re parking the van outside their houses and sleeping in it. The snugness of our little home was proved on Friday night; we woke up to find that it wasn’t a conspiracy after all; a good four inches had come down overnight and we were as warm as toast.
After a snowball fight and with Harry and Phoebe we built a snowman (and a snow rabbit) then spent the rest of the morning clearing the drive.
It was Harry’s birthday party on Sunday and as they live on a bit of a hill we weren’t sure if everyone would be able to get there but in the end the house was full. We’d got the van out and over the brow earlier on just to make sure we wouldn’t be stuck, so getting back to Karen’s was a piece of cake. On Monday we went for a walk with Karen, Lauren and Ben into the woods behind their house and spent a happy half hour engaged in the sport of uncontrolled plummeting down a steep hill commonly referred to a sledging.
We know all this talk of snowballs and shovelling is old hat to our reader who’s been through a lot worse, but it’s very exciting for us. Of course there are reports of closed airports and we’re supposed to be flying on the 4th, but that’s ages away and at the moment we’re busy having a Wonderful Christmas Time. We’re off to Fleet this afternoon, Whitchurch tomorrow, then Frankie & Harry’s new house for Christmas which we’re very excited about.

Merry Christmas Reader, we hope you’ve enjoyed our ramblings. Thank you for coming along with us. We’ve had a fantastic time and we’re very much looking forward to more adventures Down Under. Flying times to New Zealand are a bit scary; Heathrow to San Francisco – 11 ½ hours, 5 hours wait, San Francisco to Auckland - 13 ½ hours, 2 hours wait, Auckland to Christchurch – 2 hours. We get a 39 hour Tuesday and because we cross the date line we don’t get a Wednesday at all. It does your head in. We’ve found that denial is quite effective.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Driving our home for Christmas.

It’s Ann-Marie’s Birthday, we’re sitting at the front of the ferry and we can’t see out of the window for the spray that’s being thrown all over it.
Ken did us proud and blasted his way up through France, the only hiccup being one of his windscreen wipers getting a case of brewer’s droop on the last leg towards Calais. On the driver’s side. In the rain. In the dark. On a dual carriageway.

We’ve not heard a weather forecast for 3 or 4 days, but we’re quite prepared for it to be horrible. We’re staying at Karen’s near Basingstoke tonight so as long as the southern motorways are clear enough we should be OK.

We’ll put some statistics together when we get a chance. You know, lists of things.

Monday 13 December 2010

Heading for the Channel

We've said goodbye to what has been our most permanent residence since we sold our house. Over the last six months we’ve spent 3 ½ weeks in this spot in southern France.
On Saturday morning our mates got back from the UK with tales of house-high snow piles and pack ice on the roads. It sounds hideous; we can't wait to get back. On Monday afternoon we put all our clutter back in Ken (The van has finally got a name; Kenwood - as in Chef. We think he looks like one.) and after hugs, tears and promises of boating holidays next year, we set off, all-be-it slowly towards Calais.

This trip has been amazing in ways that we could never have dreamed of, but we miss England.

Since we left work and set off on this adventure every new day has given us chance to wonder at the diversity of what we’ve found around us. We’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity and we don’t regret a single minute of any of it. It has been a journey of extremes; from the joy of seeing dozens of beautiful dolphins leaping out of the water in Gibraltar to the despair of finding a hole in the radiator and all the coolant gone. We’ve leant on the wind on top of mountains, skinny-dipped in natural steaming pools, been too hot, too cold and soaking wet, but above all we’ve had FUN!

In January we’re off again to the other side of the world, 5 weeks in New Zealand followed by 6 weeks in Australia, if this trip round three countries in Europe has been such an adventure, imagine how brilliant that’s going to be! There will never be enough adjectives.

Before that we have two weeks in the UK visiting as many friends and family that we can fit in. We’re having Christmas day with Frankie and Harry in their new flat, we can’t wait. They inherited our Christmas decorations when we sold the house; that’s going to be a bit weird.

For now though we’ve got 3 days travelling left before we stop being foreigners.

Of course we’ve now got lists again; a present list, a Christmas card list, lists of things to pack for Aus & NZ, lists of things to do before we fly.…..becoming listless is taking a while.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Deep and Crisp and Even.

At the beginning of December, Britain was hit by winter weather conditions so severe that the whole country ground to a halt. Temperatures as low as -21deg were recorded, along with several feet of snow cutting off whole communities and stranding millions of people. Thousands of abandoned cars, closed airports and cancelled trains and buses wreaked havoc among the travelling public.

We were dog-sitting at our friends house while they went to visit their children; they didn’t get back for six days.

It was Hell.

Last Sunday we all went in Jacqui & Al’s green and white 2CV Dolly over the department border to Gers and the village of St Clair. There was a Christmas market and the Citroen 2CV Club from that area were holding their Christmas meeting as well. The turnout was very impressive, dozens of cars and a big hall with lots of new and second-hand spare parts.
The market was good as well, there were lots of festive stalls and we managed to find a couple of Christmas presents.
In the freakiest of coincidences, when we parked up in line with all the other 2CVs, out of the yellow one next to us stepped a man we’ve known for years. Steve Hill is a life-long Citroen enthusiast and guru. He was one of the founder members of 2CVGB and we've known him ever since we joined the club. We knew he lived in the south of France somewhere and it wasn’t all that surprising that he should be at a meeting, but it was very strange to find him parked right next to us! We hadn’t seen him for ages but of course, being British, we all just said “Oh, hi there.” as if it was the most normal thing in the world, while all around us the French were greeting friends that they see every week with hugs and kisses!

God bless the British reserve.

Friday 3 December 2010

Time Out,

We've been watching Sky news and thanking our lucky stars we aren't living in our van in England. You guys have had it rough! We hope our reader is coping and managing to get where you need to be. We’re thinking of you. It was Dave's birthday yesterday, he got a new pen-knife. The UK got 3' of snow. We got back at Jacqui & Al's place in France without anything going bang or grinding to a halt; in the past two days Dave and Al have had the van’s gearbox out and back in, they’ve taken the clutch to bits, greased the mechanism and re-assembled it, they’ve taken a drive-shaft to bits and fitted a new gaiter, they’ve tightened the alternator belt and put a fresh dose of antifreeze in the radiator . The water tanks are all drained so they don’t freeze, Ann-Marie’s written all our Christmas cards and sorted our clothes into piles for taking and leaving and we’re getting ready to head back to Calais. We’ve got everything crossed that the weather in England will improve in the next couple of weeks so that when we get back we’ll be able to get round to see all the people we’ve promised to see.

Jacqui & Al have got flights booked to Gatwick in a couple of days, we’re supposed to be looking after the animals for them for a week, but they don’t know if they’ll be able to go or not yet.

Anyway, there won’t be much to report for a week or two so it’ll be a bit quiet on here. Rest assured though, as soon as anything happens you’ll be the first to know.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

We're getting fitter, and the van could do with one too.

On Tuesday morning, full of fresh croissants and tea, and after turning the air blower bit of the heating system into an impromptu hair-dryer, (we’ll remember that one for the boat!) we set out on foot for Saubusse; 5kms away on the River Adour with a bridge over it. We’ve adopted a sort of routine until the van’s working properly again; instead of driving around looking at things, we’re doing the least mileage possible and walking or cycling to something nearby that looks interesting. Good for us, good for the van and good for the planet. It would be very much in our own interests if we can continue to follow the same path when everything is fixed. It will certainly be our way of life on the boat whenever possible. Easy to say on a beautiful Autumn morning, kicking through leaves with rosy cheeks and the sun shining; whether we can drag ourselves away from the log burner and a trashy novel when it’s grey, wet and windy outside is something we’ll have to find out!

Saubusse looked very promising on the map and it didn't disappoint when we got there. The river was big and wide with some little boats tied up to the bank and the bridge was a big stone affair.
We found a bar where we got a coffee, there was rugby on the telly and a little row of model Citroen H Vans on a shelf behind the bar. All very satisfying. Back in the van we set off towards Dax and a Mc-wifi. It’s nice to be back in France with easy free internet.

It's Sunday. This must be France

We were still heading north-east towards France on Sunday. From Logrono we went to Pamplona, stopping at a campervan Aire de Service, (on the A12 at Junction 18, just in case anyone is ever going that way). Although we'd heard very good things about  Pamploma and had planned to stop for a look, when we got there it was foggy and cold so we hit the ring-road only stopping to get a new gas bottle on the way out. We’ve been on Spanish gas ever since we stayed with Bee & Bill and they had an empty going spare. We changed it for a full one when the little French one we'd hired ran out in Gibralter. We’ve had the heating on in the mountains for a few days so we’ve been getting through gas and, although it wasn’t completely empty, at 12.50€ for a 12.5kg butane bottle we wanted to get a new one before we left Spain. Hopefully it should last us back to the UK and more, we’ll de-hire the French one is Calais.

From Pamplona we turned directly north on the N121 through the mountains and snow. (Yes, snow! Not like it has been in the UK just recently but it was still a shock.)
Once we’d gone through the 4km tunnel under the summit at Puerto de Belate the weather improved, the snow disappeared and it was pretty much downhill for 40kms to Irun and the French Border. Shortly after crossing into France we got to St Jean de Luz, which had a campervan parking place right on the side of the main road by the railway station. It wasn’t ideal but we were getting anxious for somewhere to stop; the van is not doing too well with all this upping and downing. There is something wrong with the clutch; it won’t fully disengage most of the time and it’s getting worse. We can cure it temporarily by tightening the adjuster, but that only lasts for so long and we’re running out of adjustment. We’re fairly confident it’ll get us to Jacqui and Al’s, near Toulouse, where we’re stopping again to house-sit while they visit the UK, and Dave is going to have a go at sorting it out. Last time we were there we fitted a new radiator; they’re going to think we only want them for their tool box!

Anyway, after walking round the town and watching some folk-dancing in the square, we spent the evening listening to platform announcements, the TGV going past every hour and un-silenced mopeds. Surprisingly we slept quite well and on Monday morning we went for a walk. We set off in what we thought was, but turned out not to be, the direction of Ascain, a little village in the foothills of the nearest snow-capped peak, near to where a little mountain train leaves for the top. Once we’d re-orientated ourselves and found the village we’d already walked twice as far as we’d intended, but it was very pretty and had a patisserie selling very tasty bread and apple turnovers, yum! We also had a delicious expresso in a bar and apologised to the landlady for interrupting her dinner.
The mountain train was another 3kms further up and we weren’t sure it would be running in the winter so we followed the shorter, flatter road alongside the riverbank back to the van. After lunch, in search of a quieter night we headed out through Bayonne towards Dax, stopping at St Geours de Maremne, just round the corner from a boulangerie. That’s breakfast sorted then! Stopping and starting in the Bayonne rush hour didn’t do the clutch any good but we’re still going, with our fingers crossed.

Monday 29 November 2010

Leaving Portugal, not with a whisper!

We woke up to a clear sunny morning in Praia de Mira on Thursday and took the A17 north towards Porto. It was very different to the A17 that goes past our old house and quite a bit longer. After stopping for lunch in Porto we went north-east to Braga, then parallel with the Spanish border up the fantastic N103 towards Chaves. What a brilliant road; 125kms of mountains, lakes and forests.
We stopped for the night in a lay-by on one of the loops. There was a mountain spring where we filled up the water tanks and we woke up on Friday morning to find frost on the ground. The road twists and climbs as it follows the Ria Cávado valley past three hydro dams, finally crossing the river just below the fourth and biggest; Baragem do Alto Rabagao. There was a road across the top of the dam so we drove out and had a look.
Just before Chaves it climbs up and over a pass then drops down with fabulous views over the valley floor. It was the last big road we drove in Portugal although we were sad to leave this beautiful, happy and familiar feeling country we couldn’t think of a better way to do it.
From Chaves we went across the Spanish border to Verin then east along 160kms of the A52. Although this is a fast, modern motorway and nowhere near a challenging to drive on as the roads of the past couple of days, the views are fantastic.
On our left was the Sierra de la Cabera with snow on the 2000m+ peaks, while on our right the lakes and dams of the Rio Tera backed by the Sierra de la Culebra. The motorway itself goes from 500m to over 1200m and has some spectacular bridges. We cut off a corner below León and stopped at Valencia de Don Juan. There was a camp site on the map but we failed to find it, and it would have been shut anyway, so we spent the night in another car park.
There was a splendid castle to look at and a very big river; Rio Elsa, which has a Canal! It’s a flood defence, not a navigation, but a man made waterway all the same. At 780m above sea-level we weren’t surprised that it was a bit nippy, and when we woke up on Saturday morning anyone who’s reading this in November in England will be pleased to hear it was 2˚C. Inside the van!
The beginning of Saturday’s drive could be described as mundane; we were on a high plateau on the A231 for 160kms between León and Burgos and it was a bit flat. But we’re scenery freaks and we can always find something to look at; big blue skies with the snow-capped Cordillera Cantabrica way off to the north kept us happy most of the time. After lunch and after Burgos it got a bit lumpier, and we arrived in Logroño at about 1:30pm. This time we did find the very well signed and very nice looking camp site, but as we’d expected, it was shut. We parked the van just round the corner from the campsite entrance and called it a day. We had a walk along the river and through Logroño in the afternoon; the capital of the Riojca area and a very majestic university city with lots of history.

It was like walking round a ghost town; apparently northern Spain is shut from lunch time to 5pm, and then open all evening. We returned after tea to find all the shops full and the whole city thronging with people. It seemed very odd to us but it makes a lot of sense.

Thursday 25 November 2010

I don't think you wanted to do that!

On Tuesday morning we went to check out opening times for Santiago swimming pool after spending the night in the car park behind it. Although it opened at 8am, from what we could make out with our very limited language skills, there was an over sixties session until 10, so we headed off towards Lisbon. At Setũbal we made two rather expensive mistakes. First we turned right at a set of traffic lights when we should have gone straight on and found ourselves on a toll motorway going in the wrong direction. Big Mistake. Second, we went through the wrong toll gate so that when we found a junction to get off at, we didn’t have a ticket. Big Mistake, Huge! They had no option but to charge us the maximum rate of 55€. On top of that there was 40kms worth of diesel to get us back to where we went wrong. Needless to say we were not happy bunnies, and when we went over the toll bridge into Lisbon and went through the wrong gate again, setting off all the alarms, it just about put the tin lid on it. This time Dave walked back to the gate and got a ticket.

Even without the sun shining on it Lisbon looked magnificent, but we didn’t feel much like trying to find van sized parking in the rain, and as we’ve said before we’re not big city people.
We drove round the coast to Cascaias then up and over the headland to Cabo de Roca; the most westerly point of mainland Europe. In March, in Cyprus, we were at the most easterly point. It’s been a fantastic year! As we watched the sunset over the Atlantic we thought about people watching the same thing 300 years ago when no-one knew what, if anything, was beyond the horizon. We also thought about flying over it in January on our way to New-Zealand. We went to sleep parked under the lighthouse.
On Wednesday we were up bright and early and off northwards again. It was a rather grey and overcast day so we aimed for mileage over sightseeing. Having said that we did follow a couple of little roads with “scenic route” green lines, we only did motorway stints when we wouldn’t miss anything and, after what will be forever referred to as “The Lisbon Episode”, it was free! We passed the walled city of Obidos, which looked worth a visit, stopped for lunch near Alcobaça, and for a leg-stretch and a look around at Figuiera da Foz, where there was a giant sun-dial on the quayside.
The scenery has changed again; we’ve left the cork-oaks and eucalyptus behind and are now in pine forests. We finished up for the night at Praia de Mira, which, like most of Portugal, is very pretty and clean. No doubt in the height of summer the beautifully tiled hotels and apartments are full of holiday makers.
Now, half way through November, everything is shuttered up and the fishermen and the seagulls have the beach to themselves.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Haul Away to Santiago.

There was a footpath that went a couple of kms along the cliff top from Boca do Rio to Salerna, the nearest village, so after breakfast on Sunday we set forth up the hill in search of elevenses. What we found was a lovely little fishing village with a couple of cafes and a gift shop.
There is quite a big English influence on most of the Algarve and along with grilled sardines, one of the cafes was offering Full English Breakfasts. Very tempting, but we managed to resist and just had coffee. We have promised ourselves that when we’re on the boat we’re going out at least once a month for a Sunday breakfast in a cafe. Fried bread, big pot of tea, grilled tomatoes, the lot!

When we got back we turned back onto the now familiar N125 for the final 12kms to Sagres, and the end of the world as ancient mariners knew it. When we got there were quite a few other vans already parked up; we’ve noticed more and more of them the further towards the end we’ve got, and at Sagres there were lots. Probably because there’s a lot of good surfing and kite surfing to be had here. On the whole they are very well behaved and responsible; we all know that we are only tolerated by the locals as long as we spend some money and don’t make the place look like a gypsy camp.
We walked from the town to the very impressive and impenetrable looking fortress on top of the cliffs at the Punta de Sagres; Portugal’s Land’s End. We paid our three Euros each to get in, only to find that the whole place was a reconstruction of what they thought the fortress might have looked like before it was destroyed in countless wars and an earthquake, if indeed there had ever been a fortress, and if had stood where they think it perhaps might have. Possibly. Whether it was or not, it was worth the entrance fee to see the Spiderman antics of the fishermen catching sardines from the top of very high and very vertical cliffs.
On Monday morning we said goodbye to the Algarve, turned away from the south coast and started our long journey back to Calais and the UK. We’ve got a ferry booked for the 16th Dec and a week house sitting in France before then so we’d better get going. As we went north we were surprised how quickly the scenery changed and how green everything got. It wasn’t long before we started to notice cows and sheep in the fields and even some pigs having a dinner of acorns under the cork-oak trees.
We stopped in Odemira for elevenses; nice bridge and river, and then pulled up just north of Sines at Santiago do Cacém. Without really meaning to, we walked up to the church and castle on top of the hill where we found a very helpful tourist info office. The lady gave us a free town guide with an illustrated walk, so even though we’d only gone out to find somewhere better to park, we spent a very enjoyable and informative afternoon finding out all about the seven hundred year history of a lovely little Costa Azul town.
This is the old fire station right in the middle. Tight corners and 1-in-4 hills all round it.

Can't tell Stork from Gutter.

We’d seen pictures of Silvés on post cards and thought it might be somewhere nice to visit, but it still managed to surprise us. It wasn’t by the sea and didn’t look anything special on the map, but it had lots of steep, limestone cobbled streets leading from a very fine castle down to a medieval stone bridge over the river Arade. (The same river the dams were on yesterday.)

Along the riverbank there was a beautiful modern plaza with fountains and statues, then pavement cafes and gift shops.
Further on was the municipal swimming pool, with a wide landscaped area around its tennis courts and car parks complete with outdoor gym equipment and trim trails. The town itself was just big enough to be interesting and explorable, with lots of little shops and old buildings. We found a lovely place selling cork products; from simple tablemats to ornaments and clothing. A waistcoat and tie made from cork looked fabulous and felt like calfskin. There were several pairs of storks nesting on the top of various buildings including two very much photographed ones on this chimney.
Altogether we thought Silvés was fabulous and we ended up stopping for two nights; if you’re ever down here and fancy a day away from the beach then we thoroughly recommend it.
On Friday we promised ourselves a campsite for the night. We drove in and out of Portimâo, which was very big and full of hotels, then on to Alvor, although we couldn’t tell the difference. There was a campsite on the way out of Alvor but it didn’t light our candle so we went on to Lagos. Just after lunch time we found a quite pleasant and not too pricey place right outside Lagos city walls called, rather grandly, Parque de Campismo da Trindade.
We booked in, put the washing in the machine and went for a walk into the town. Because we’ve seen Lagos on airport destination boards we thought it was going to be a bit on the big urban-sprawl side of things, and there is some of that. The old town however is still very much alive and kicking in the middle of things, it’s also got a lovely big estuary and harbour and some fantastic cliffs and rocky coves nearby.

On Saturday, emptied, washed, full and after making full use of all the campsite facilities, we drove about half a mile round to the next beach. Praia de Donna Anna isn’t very big as beaches go but it has these fabulous sandstone cliffs and pillars on the beach.
The rock they are made from looks like builder’s rubble and you can crumble it in your fingers. The sea and the wind are eating away at it and the cliff edge is obviously eroding at a rate of knots.
There are warning notices all over and it all looks very unstable with big cracks in it; you can see lots of places where the path used to go that now just aren’t there. Confident that today wasn’t a cliff collapsing day, we walked back along the path to Lagos and looked round the bits of the town that we missed the day before, including a marina with money dripping off the walls. Then we drove on to the end of the road at Ponta de Piedade; there is a lighthouse and a long flight of steps down another, slightly more substantial cliff, to a cave network where the sea comes in and turns it into a giant washing machine
Back in the van we went west again, stopping at Boca do Rio; a middle of nowhere beach that would be completely deserted if it wasn’t for the two or three seemingly resident campervans and the ones like us, stopping for a night or two.
Another night lulled to sleep by the waves.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Dam! We're on the wrong road!

Tuesday saw us in Faro. It was a bit big and touristy for us, we almost fitted into a parking space by the harbour and put a couple of Euros in the meter. That’s when we found out that we’d been an hour ahead since entering Portugal nearly a week ago. It’s on the same time zone as the UK; we were still on Spanish time. We had a quick walk round the town looking at the shops and Christmas lights (it’s still weird seeing them in blazing sunshine).
We got our first sighting of nesting storks on top of a church tower in Faro; they seemed to be having some sort of dispute over who owned which nest and there was a lot of flapping and clattering going on. They are really big birds and very graceful in flight, but they make a right racket!
We had a half hour Mcwifi and then returned to the N125. After following the coast for a while we took a little white road towards the sea which got thinner and rougher as the golf courses and villas ran out. it finally ended in a car park in the dunes at Ancao with boardwalks to two beach cafes and another big, deserted sandy beach.
We exercised our calf muscles on the soft sand for a couple of hours picking up yet more shells before finding out that the beach cafes had just shut. We consoled ourselves by finding out that one of them is frequented by Judith Chalmers who apparently owns a house around here.

On Wednesday morning it was grey and rainy again, so with the hope that it would clear up later we set off away from the coast into the hills. We stopped in Loulě in the rain and sat in the van with a cup of tea. After a while it did get a bit brighter so, armed with umbrellas we ventured forth. There was a small but very energetic covered market with some fantastic fish stalls; everything from shrimps to barracuda on sale. Portugal seems to have a disproportionate number of hardware shops per head of population so Dave was in his element.

As the weather was improving all the time we drove further into the hills following a white road towards a dam which we thought would be a nice place for lunch. We wound up the hillside without seeing another vehicle and the picnic area we stopped at was on top of the world and really remote.
The sun had come out and views were fantastic; just the place for an afternoon siesta. It was only when we tried to follow the road down the other side and found ourselves at a dead end at the base of the dam that we realised we were off the map and actually at a different dam altogether.
When we’d re-traced our steps and got on the right road it turned out to be thinner and twistier than the one we had been on. After a long day we drove into Silves just before sunset, found an empty car park and stopped.

Fish for dinner and Flamingoes afterwards.

It was dull and cloudy on Sunday morning; by the time we got Castro Marim it had started to rain. We did our water filling under an umbrella then drove to Villa Reâl with lights and wipers on. That doesn’t leave a lot of juice for battery charging and we haven’t covered a lot of miles for a while. It’s a good job we swapped most of the lights for LEDs and bought a big 110amp deep cycle leisure battery. We have an isolator switch that separates the interior electrics from the engine battery so we can always start the van, and if we’re careful we can go for about 4 days before we have to drive somewhere. We’ve discovered, by trial and error, that the fridge takes a lot of power on 12v, so we only run it on electricity when we’re plugged in to the mains. The rest of the time it’s on gas; that works well enough to keep the little freezer compartment frozen. We got the LEDs from a little firm called Searolf. Normal LEDs are quite harsh and only operate at or near 12 volts; they sell ones that can tolerate a range of voltages so they don’t flicker when you’re getting low and they won’t blow when you’re charging. And they do them in a range of colours and tones. We’ve got some mellow, halogen-like self adhesive strips that plug together; we had them in our H van and liked them so much that we bought some more for this one. We’ll definitely have some in the boat too. We’re always on the lookout for things to make life easier and we’ve seen several vans down here with solar battery chargers; if we ever find a camping accessory shop we’ll see how much they are.

At Villa Reâl we parked next to the harbour in the rain to find we were in a free wifi zone so we stayed there checking emails and generally messing about on line till the skies cleared, then went for a walk round. The entire town is cobbled; lots of black and white patterns on the pavements, and was built in a grid, rather like a small New York. All the streets are named after members of the Royal Family of the time (Reâl=Royal); the most important in the middle, lesser members further out. We do like to educate our reader. Anyway it’s very pretty and it’s got a lighthouse.
We decided that as we’d been in Portugal for four days and were still only on the other side of the river separating it from Spain it was about time we went further into the country. We got onto the N125 once more and this time managed to get past Tavira before stopping at a nice little spot alongside an estuary near Santa Luzia. There was a pontoon bridge onto the Ilha de Tavira which we walked over then followed the path to the beach.
All the sandbank islands along this bit of the Algarve are part of the Parque Natural da Ria Formosa, which covers a vast area of wetland and tidal marshes. It’s very well looked after; there has been a lot of work done to re-establish the dunes and there are flora and fauna information plaques everywhere. With their help, we were able to identify egrets, redshanks and other waders, as well as an endless variety of terns and gulls. Apparently chameleons are native to this part of the world; we don’t know if we saw one or not. Needless to say the beaches are beautiful, and at this time of year, almost deserted.
In the evening we had a walk into Santa Luzia; a small fishing village with a recently, and very artistically re-vamped sea-front. Pictured in the cobbles are shells, crabs and fish as well as abstract patterns and a lot of the houses and apartments are covered on the outside in ornate glazed tiles.
On Monday we cycled through Santa Luzia and on through the middle of some serious road-works to Tavira. We were thoroughly taken with this place; we left the bikes in the middle of a large pedestrian area by the river, surrounded by pavement cafes, shops and a park with a band stand. At the top of the hill in the middle of the town, next to the castle ruins, there is a water tower which houses a Camera Obscura. This is one man’s obsession come to life; he’s constructed it himself from bits he’s collected over the years, and for 3.50€ you get to see the whole town laid out before you on a big dish, while he gives you a commentary and points out places of interest. Fantastic!
There were no end of pavement cafes along the river front and we eventually picked one for lunch. Sitting in the sunshine with the fishing boats tied up to the quay on the other side of the road, Ann-Marie had the biggest tuna steak we’d ever seen and Dave had a delicious sea bass.
In the afternoon we cycled out through the salt beds. Sea salt is a big industry in Tavira, there are mountains of it all over the place, but that wasn’t what we were looking for. After a couple of kms we spotted what we had come in search of. Flamingos. A big flock at the other end of a salt bed.

We left the bikes by the road and quietly walked towards them. We got quite close before they gracefully took off and landed in the next bed. We took hundreds of photos and Ann-Marie got this amazing shot.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...