Thursday, 30 January 2014

And so we reach the Algarve.........

It's a month now since we left the UK. Portugal is growing on us, a couple of days ago we reached the Algarve, the weather is improving a little though it's certainly not tee shirt weather! Most days and nights we have had at least some rain, (often a lot) but days without some sunny spells have been few and far between so we mustn't grumble.

After Cabo Espichal Lighthouse and our two very windy nights, we headed inland to visit the Roman ruins of Mirobriga at Santiago do Cacem. Unsurprisingly we were the only visitors and it was a lonely spot but set in gorgeous countryside.

Remains of the temple at Mirobriga

We then travelled through cork oak forests and vast numbers of Eucalyptus and pine trees. Cork is a threatened industry and I'll never look at a cheap plastic 'cork' or screw top bottle in quite the same  way's why. POP

Fallen acorn from a cork oak tree

We've had just 2 more camp site nights since my last post, mainly to get laundry done, it's the drying of it that's the issue when it rains so much. The day after our last campsite stop we went into the nearby village and had lunch in a beach bar and then took the dogs for a run on the sand. Most beaches ban dogs but no-one seems to mind in the winter, we often have a whole beach to ourselves. From the town of Vila Nova de Milfontes we could see another beach on the other side of the estuary that looked a good place for stopping overnight and indeed it was, as we had plenty of food and water we had two nights there.

Looking across the estuary to
Vila Nova de Milfontes
from our overnight spot

We have now made our way down almost to the “Land's end” of Portugal and are camping for the third night on a huge almost empty car park at this beach, having been shopping for supplies today and to get some water so that we can be independent for a few more days, just need some sun on our solar panels to charge our batteries. When we first arrived here Nigel went off to explore with the dogs and when he came back he said, "It's worth the drive from Manchester just for this beach!" It's a great spot, gently sloping, firm sand and crashing surf. 

Current campsite,  Liberté Too almost in the centre

Praia do Amado, stunning in the sunshine!

The coastline for the last 100 or so kilometres has become increasingly rugged and wild, some beaches can only be accessed via steep, sometimes rickety wooden staircases from the cliff top villages from which they take their names. Often the beach totally disappears at high tide. I can imagine the scurrying in the summer as people gather up their belongings and flee upwards as the tide comes rushing in.
Rugged coastline of Western Algarve

On the way here, we had another two nights under a small lighthouse. In Portugal the lights have blinds on during the day, presumably to protect the lenses from UV. This was only a little one and we watched while the blinds were lifted off and put back on the next morning. No automatic ones here, not that we've found yet.

Cabo Sardāo Lighthouse

Suppose I have to tell you the irony that ended in me measuring my length on the sand yesterday. This beach has three coves and we had just passed the third one, around a large expanse of rock that was jutting out when Nigel said “Do you realize you could get seriously cut off here when the tide comes in. (He just loves to wind me up and get me panicking!) “That's ok,” says I, “I won't panic for another 6 hours, the tide's going out,” whereupon a huge wave (must have been that rogue seventh one) rolled in and threatened to submerge us. We both started running towards the other cove and I lost my footing and went sprawling flat on the sand, fortunately the wave didn't quite reach me. Needless to say this caused huge mirth and luckily I wasn't hurt, just my pride!

Just to the north of "our" beach we found another interesting spot, the preserved ruins of a Muslim fishing settlement

Muslim fishing village

Oh, another “first” on the birdwatching front. While motoring down a quiet country road towards the coast the other day I spotted a bird we hadn't seen before...a black winged kite. Very rare and we both had very good views of it. I was very pleased to have seen it.

photo courtesy of

Belle and Dash are still enjoying themselves, they seem quite tired some days, not surprising the amount of exercise they are getting. They just love digging for stones on the beach, Belle has learned to copy Dash, I'm not sure she would have done it on her own but she hasn't quite got the technique right. 

Dash the digger

Belle the copycat!

Phew, this is exhausting!

They are very good in the motorhome though and settle down quietly in the evening while we eat and watch some TV. Oh, one sad thing, we've been watching House MD for a long, long time, excellent American medical drama with Hugh Laurie. We were rationing ourselves to make it last but we've just finished (about a week ago) the last ever episode of Series 8. We felt quite deflated when we got to the end. We're part way through Breaking Bad now interspersed with The Vicar of Dibley, which neither of us watched first time around and the first series of The Likely Lads in black and white.

Tonight's meal of fish curry and home made naan breads was finished off with a piece of this each, a car came around the car park at dusk selling bread and cakes and in order to support local business it would have been rude not to buy some!

A kind of custard tart with apple and honey...
it was delicious!
Unfortunately he only comes round once a week!

Monday, 20 January 2014

Glossy ibis, crested larks and wind, rain and more wind!

Almost two weeks have passed since my last update, three weeks and two days since we left home.
As I recall, we were just about to drive half way up the Duoro Valley and catch a train the rest of the way to the Spanish border. Well we did and it was spectacularly underwhelming! The drive to Peso de Regua which the Rough Guide describes as one of the “Must Do” drives of Portugal was tedious and when we got there the aire we'd planned to stay in was in the corner of a huge and very busy car park. However, it was much quieter than we anticipated and had the bonus of free electric hook up which is normally only found on camp sites so we stayed there over the weekend. There were pleasant riverside walks for the dogs and a cafe selling delicious bread rolls just across the road, not to mention a Lidl a short walk away.

One of the Sandeman Quintas

The weather was awful while we were there, the day of the train trip was overcast and miserable though it didn't actually rain while we were out, making up for it the next day. We left the dogs in the motorhome, walked up to the station and bought our tickets, sat an hour and a half on the train waiting in vain for the spectacular views. We had planned to get lunch in a cafe during the wait for the return train but there was nothing there apart from the station, a cement factory and a bar which was closed and we had nothing with us, only a bottle of water. As it was cold we sat on the train and read our kindles while we waited to go back to Regua!
Inspiring end of the line scenery!
To be fair, we did see many Quintas, (Port wine vineyards) some of which had familiar names e.g. Sandeman, Dows, Cockburns, Taylors. The terraces of vines stretched up precarious hillsides as far as the eye could see, sometimes interspersed with olive groves.
Nice little diversion in the station at Regua

On the walk back to the MH we stopped in this emporium for a treat to dispel the disappointment.
Spoilt for choice!

After Peso de Regua we were going to head to the mountains but as snow was forecast we decided to chicken out and head back towards the coast.

Next stopover was Fatima, the religious capital of Portugal where pilgrims flock in their hundreds of thousands on certain dates. Still raining, we explored the town and were astounded by the numbers of gift shops selling tasteless religious tat! We didn't even find a bakery, plenty of items for the soul but none, it seemed for the body. There was an atmosphere of peace pervading the place and the religious buildings were beautiful but I cannot imagine how it must be when it's crowded with pilgrims, some of whom approach the basilica on their knees.
Fatima Basilica

Belle on the walls at Ourem Castle

After Fatima we headed to Tomar, a little further inland. On the way there we stopped at a castle at Ourem, it was closed but we explored (in the rain) the outside and the dogs were able to have a charge about as we were the only people there.

Tomar was a good overnighter, again the weather was naff but we had a very acceptable place to stop under the walls of the former Knights Templar abode. We arrived at dusk and it was quite atmospheric, lights twinkled below us in the town and we could see for miles around. In the morning the view was completely shrouded in mist. We went into the convent and spent several hours exploring, it was very complex inside with many cloisters, having been added to several times over the centuries.
Cloister, one of many!
Tomar's bell tower
Unfortunately there were no English guidebooks available so we made do with the explanatory panels which were in dual language and actually that was probably enough information to take in. The main feature of the building, the octagonal chapel is being restored and we could only glance from one side and not go in, but it was beautiful and very ornate. We had a bowl of soup and a coffee in the cafe before going back to the motorhome, after which we set off towards Setubal on the coast south of Lisbon.

Figheurinha sunset

A lovely parking spot at Figuerinha beach was our next stopover and the following morning dawned bright and clear so after a dog walk we decided to stay another night and not rush off anywhere as the weather was good for once.

Making the most of the sunshine at Figheurinha.
solar panels raised but not by the wind this time!

Nigel spotted otter tracks on the beach and I saw a bonellis eagle soaring over the cliffs above. We watched a few large ships coming in with the aid of pilots, one of them was a car transporter from Italy, we looked it up on a marine website and found it had been to Bristol and was now unloading at Setubal before heading back to Italy, presumably delivering Fiats.

Fiat car transporter ship heading for Setubal

I wondered if my little blue Panda had been on that ship. Just as we were planning to leave the morning after our second night, a huge thunder and lightening storm blew up with torrential rain, Belle was a quivering, salivating wreck for half an hour or so until it subsided and we were able to leave.
Cabo Espichal lighthouse

Off we went at last to Cabo Espichal, another lighthouse stopover, we had the lighthouse strobing behind us and the lights of Lisbon twinkling through our windscreen. During the night it was so windy, Nigel went out for a recce to find a more sheltered spot behind some buildings as neither of us could sleep for the buffeting we were getting. I stayed in bed whilst he drove us 100 metres to shelter and we both got back to sleep. Little did we know the next night would be even worse!
A bit later....yes more rain!

From Capo Espichal we returned to Setubal and caught a 15 minute ferry across the bay to a spit of land which gives direct access to the southern Atlantic coast. We headed to Praia de Melides a surfing beach in summer with a huge almost empty car park where we settled for the night...I say became so windy during the night that whilst we were rocking all over the show, about 2 a.m. there was suddenly an almighty thumping noise above our heads and we realized one of the solar panels had been blown upright. Nigel went outside and climbed up onto the roof (after having to remove his bike so he could access the ladder) to investigate and put a 5 litre bottle of water on each panel to hold them down. He then wound down our stabilizer legs which helped a bit and eventually after a cup of tea and a read, the wind subsided and we got back to sleep.

Lovely when the sun's out and the sky is blue!

We stayed put the next day, the sun came out and the wind and rain held off, we had a good walk and watched the birds on the lagoon which included a huge flock of glossy ibis. Today we have driven just 20 k down the coast to another lagoon, we've had sun again and a pleasant day strolling along the beach and bird watching, ibis again, crested larks and even some swallows!  

Amusing sign spotted at Tomar.....

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Searching for Winter Sunshine

After what seemed (and was) months of uncertainty and waiting for various events to happen and decisions to be made, we set off from home on Saturday 28th December 2013 for our winter destination of Portugal.

Off we go again...wherever you go,
we'll come with you x

First stop was Great Malvern in Worcestershire where we visited some old family friends. We overnighted in a pub car park in the delightfully named village of “Upton Snodsbury” where we had a lovely meal on the Saturday evening. Sunday morning dawned crisp and clear and we set off on frosty roads towards Warwick and met up with Richard and Aoife and were joined by Drew, Alana and Hattie who came down to Warwick for the day. We had a very pleasant day with all the family together for the first time since before Hattie was born.

I was plagued by my usual undermining feeling of the blues at leaving loved ones behind which lasted for several days but it was good to finally be leaving for what we hoped would be warm and sunnier climes for several weeks.

We have now reached Porto in Portugal after 12 days of travelling through the UK, France and Spain and are using our first fee paying campsite, we have been lucky to find free overnight stops up till now and today chose a campsite stop so that we can do some laundry and use the wifi!

Some local lads having a tug of war
on the beach at Anglet

Dash found a "small" stick on Bayonne beach
So far the overwhelming features of the weather have been rain, wind and grey skies. Nigel has not enjoyed the driving conditions, at one point it was so windy that one of our solar panels decided to elevate itself en route, we wondered what the thump was but assumed it was something inside falling over in the turbulence, then when we stopped for lunch we discovered what had happened. Thankfully it does not appear to be damaged. During our journey along the north coast of Spain and seeing the breakers in the Bay of Biscay we have actually been very glad we changed our minds about catching a ferry direct to Santander or Bilbao from the UK!

The sea at A Coruna

The best day so far (apart from the day in Warwick with the family) has been A Coruna in the far western corner of Spain where we stopped for the night under the Tower of Hercules lighthouse. In a brief break in the rain and even the vestige of a little weak sunshine, we had a superb walk with the dogs around the headland with stunning Atlantic waves forming a beautiful ever changing seascape.

Tower of Hercules, A Coruna

The following day was also very special, we left A Coruna and headed south to Cap Finisterre of shipping forecast fame where we spent the night, a lighthouse stop two nights running.

Spot the motorhome...WINDY!!!
Cap Finisterre

The view from the other direction,
 Cap Finisterre lighthouse from the MH

Tonight we are in a campsite just to the south of Porto and tomorrow we intend to drive part way up the Duoro Valley and park the motorhome in an aire from where we can catch a train the rest of the route to the Spanish border and back. The weather forecast is might even be sunny on Friday when we intend to do the train  trip.  The guidebook describes it thus.........

Nativity scene still on display outside
Bom Jesus Church, Valenca de Minho,
Regua marks the point at which the Duoro line turns from a good route into a great one, sticking closely to the river from then on, cutting into the rock face and crisscrossing the water on rickety bridges.........

Hopefully, some pictures of our train trip will feature next time. 

Walking round the walls of Valenca de Minho