Thursday, 3 August 2017

Farewell Morag. Hello Mirabel

Friday July 21st

We drove Morag to Cara Motorhomes today to trade her in for a replacement vehicle. Mirabel, our new motorhome, has all three of the features that we felt were lacking in Morag; a fixed bed (so we don't have to make it up every night), outside storage (so we don't have to bring all the wet stuff inside) and a more powerful engine (so we don't have to change down to first when on a hill).

Friday July 28th

Our first trip in Mirabel was to Warwick Folk Festival. We loaded her up a couple of days before and drove to Warwick arriving at lunchtime. We were offered hard-standing a s rain had been forecast, accurately as it turned out! We set up, had a sandwich and went to explore the festival site.
Over the next few days we saw lots of different acts. Some of our favourites were Spooky Men's Chorale, Granny's Attic, Rob Halligan, Daisybell, Tiltson and Lowe, Jez Lowe and the outstanding harmonica player Will Pound.
Mirabel at Warwick

Jez Lowe

Monday July 31st

We left Warwick before 10 am and, after a short stop for coffee at Lyn's sister in Kenilworth, made our way back to Leek. A successful first trip and we found the fixed bed to be very comfortable.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Morag's Last Holiday

Devon, Kings Sutton, Milton Keynes, Berkhamsted

Monday, 19th June to Saturday, 8th July

We left home at lunchtime staying overnight at a free CL at the Gloucester Old Spot pub near Cheltenham. The next day we completed our journey to Devon  and set ourselves up at the Glendale CL near Totnes. Our friends Sue and Andy have recently returned to the UK from France and have bought a house in Totnes so we went to visit them in the afternoon.
Morag at the Gloucester Old Spot CL

The following day we met Sue and Andy in Totnes and took the "Round Robin" trip via river to Dartmouth, rail to Paignton, and bus back to Totnes. In the evening we drove to Teignmouth where Andy was playing and singing in a blues evening. We found Teignmouth to be very confusing in layout and had some difficult finding parking for Morag.
Andy (right) playing at the blues evening

We had a lazy day on the Thursday once again visiting Sue and Andy and taking Button for a walk by the River Dart. She had a chance for a swim which she enjoyed as always.
On the Friday we upped sticks and travelled to Bigbury. Button had a great time on the beach and we had a pint at the Pilchard pub on Burgh Island. Our pitch for the night was at Chapelcombe Farm CL. This is the best CL we have stayed at so far with water points, hook-up and rubbish bins for each pitch, very friendly and helpful owners and a short walk to a pub. Unfortunately the weather deteriorated on the Friday night and we woke the following day to misty, drizzly weather. The pub came in very handy again!
Lyn at The Pilchard Inn

Burgh Island and Bigbury Sands
We moved on from Bigbury on the Sunday morning stopping and Aveling Giffard to take Button for a "short" walk. The walk proved not to be so short as we had not taken a map and ended up walking for several miles before we found our way back to Morag. Our destination for the night was the Steamer Quay site in Totnes itself. A good site, very convenient for the town, but with no hook-up. We met Sue and Andy for Sunday lunch at Maisie's Cafe in the town.
On Monday the 24th June we walked the mile or so along the riverside path to the South Devon Railway station and caught the steam train to Buckfastleigh. The train ride alongside the Dart was very pleasant. We made the return journey after a pub lunch.
South Devon Railway

Our next move was from Steamer Quay to the CMC site at Hillhead. This large site has excellent facilities including a swimming pool, bar and restaurant. Unfortunately the restaurant was closed because of a fire but a mobile fish and chip van was on site. We, however, had steak cooked outside Morag and chips from the van.
Lyn woke up on Wednesday with a very sore hip and, as the weather was poor, I took the bus from the camp site entrance into Kingswear to collect a sculpture that I had purchased the previous week from a shop in Dartmouth. The weather remained wet all day.
By Thursday the weather had improved a little, as had Lyn's hip, so we took the bus to Brixham. We liked Brixham, particularly the harbour are. We had our mandatory Devon Cream Tea and Lyn had her hair done while I wandered about taking photos.
Brixham Harbour reflections

We left Hillhead on the Friday and, after calling on Sue to say goodbye, we made our way to Stover CP. This country park is very pleasant with good paved walks around lakes. It would be good for dragonflies if the weather was a little better though it did stay dry while we were there. That night we returned to the Gloucester Old Spot pub CL for our overnight stop.
After a stop at the Rollright Stones for photos and to give Button her walk, we drove to Bob and Lucy's in Kings Sutton for Amber's first birthday party and BBQ. We slept that night in Morag on Bob's drive.
The Rollright Stones

Amber opening her birthday cards with Rowan and Lucy

We had Sunday lunch with the family at a pub in Adderbury and relaxed in Bob and Lucy's garden in the afternoon and evening.
On Monday the 3rd we left Kings Sutton to travel to Milton Keynes. We stopped for groceries in Buckingham, then again at the Stony Stratford Nature Reserve for a walk, before driving to Milford Leys Farm CL in Castlethorpe, very close to Hanslope where we live some 14 years ago. This CL is very peaceful with only the baa-ing of the sheep and Moo-ing of the cows to disturb us.
By the River Great Ouse at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve
Milford Leys CL

Our friend Karen came to visit us on the Tuesday and we walked across the fields to The Navigation pub. This pub has changed greatly since we lived in the area and is now an Italian style gastropub. We enjoyed our lunch sitting in the sunshine on the terrace before walking back to the CL.
Our very good friend Noel and Rosie live not far away in Newport Pagnell and we spent the Wednesday catching up with their news, eating and drinking.
I had arranged to meet with some work colleagues at The Navigation on the Thursday. Simon, Angela nd Richard joined us for a drink and a bar snack. In the evening we drove to our friends Rory and Marie in Stony Stratford and went with them to a Japanese restaurant in Wolverton. The meal, and the company, was excellent! Noel and Rosie looked after Button for us as we felt that leaving her in Morag on such a warm evening would not be good.
On Friday 7th July we drove to Summer Leys NR near Wellingborough to do some bird watching. This was one of our regular bird watching haunts when we lived in Hanslope. The best sighting of the day was very good views of several Bullfinches at the feeding station. Later that day we went to see Alison Billings, another friend, in Hanslope. The evening saw us at the vicarage BBQ. The vicar of Hanslope is another good friend and used to be a regular visitor to us when we lived in France. For some reason he doesn't see Leek as such a suitable holiday destination!
Poor camera phone shot of Bullfinch and Chaffinch at Summer Leys NR 

We left Milford Leys on the Saturday morning driving to Berkhamsted via the Ashridge Estate for a walk. The visit to Berkhamsted was for lunch with our nephew David on the occasion of his 40th birthday. We left for the journey home to Leek in the early evening.
Us at Ashridge Estate

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Winter in Spain - The Final Week

Saturday 21st January
Starting Back

We left El Puerto de Santa Maria at 11 am and made our way north. The weather was sunny but quite cold. We stopped for a break at a service station at 12:30, then continued on our way. We stopped again for a snack lunch near Mérida before continuing on to Caceras where I had noticed that the road passed very close to a large reservoir, the Embalse de Alcantara. We  found a pleasant spot to stop for the night off the road near the reservoir. It is huge, formed by damming the River Tojo, though the water level was quite low. We had our evening meal and I tried taking some photos of the night sky as it was very clear with no light pollution.
Morag at the Embalse de Alcantara

Sunset over the reservoir

Starry sky, the constellation of Orion

Sunday 22nd January
No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Morning mist over the reservoir
We woke with frost on the ground and a mist over the reservoir but the day cleared to bright sunshine again. Our journey continued along the Autovia de la Plata until we stopped for a break at a signposted picnic area near Banos de Montemajor. The "picnic area" had no tables, no grass, no bins nor any other facilities. It was nothing more than a large tarmacked car parking area.
We continued past Salamanca and had a lunch break at a service station. Onward past Valladolid and Palencia before looking for somewhere to spend the night. After leaving the motorway we eventually found an aire de camping for motor homes at Torquemada, the birthplace of Tomas de Torquemada, the main inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition. We took Button for a walk in the cold sunshine and had our evening meal. No-one asked us any questions!
Morag (leftmost) atTorquemada

Monday 23rd January

The final stretch of the crossing of Spain to Bilbao was pretty uneventful passing through Burgos and Miranda de Ebro. The later part of the journey passed through some very nice scenery including a passage through the Sierra de Cantabria via tunnels and deep gorges.
Bilbao was very busy with traffic but our Sat Nav guided us to the camp site I had identified for our stay here. Unfortunately the camp site at Gorliz we found to be closed until the 1st March. I used the internet to find an alternative.
We drove to Sopelana and found the camp site. Although open it was quite rudimentary. We were only able to park on the access roads as most of the grass pitches had been reseeded and were taped off. The facilities were rather poor. The wash block had no heating or external doors so was very cold and none of the wash basins had hot water. There was hot water for showers but these, like everything else on site had seen better days. We thought the charge of €20 per night was excessive but we had found no alternative.
The good thing about the site was its proximity to the beach just a short walk down a steep road (and a steep climb back up to the site!) We took Button down for a run and a dig and for us to try and find somewhere for our evening meal. None of the restaurants and hotels were serving meals before 9 pm. Normal for the Spanish but far too late for us so we returned and ate our evening meal in Morag.
Atxabiribil beach, Sopelana

Climbing back up the hill

Tuesday 24th January
Pleasant Plenzia

We had arranged for Button to visit a vet in Sopelana for her pre-travel worm treatment as required under the UK PETS scheme. The vet clinic was near a nice park so we took Button for a walk there before her treatment. The vet was very pleasant and Button swallowed her two worming tablets, helped down by a generous wad of luncheon meat! The bill was only €12, easily the least we have ever paid for pre-travel treatment.
We drove on to Plenzia, an attractive coastal town on a river estuary. We strolled along the riverside walk and later went for lunch in a café/bar. After lunch, Button got her playtime on the beach before we drove back to the camp site.
Elegant footbridge at Plenzia

The riverside walk

Plenzia beach

Sunset at Atxabiribil beach

Wednesday 25th January
Guggenheim Art Museum

We took the metro from Sopelana to Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim Art Museum. The museum was as impressive as I had hoped with its titanium and limestone clad building with sweeping curves all around. We walked past Jeff Koons "Puppy", a giant floral sculpture near the entrance to the museum. Inside, we were impressed with the vast open spaces, particularly in the atrium. The individual galleries were also large and never crowded with too many separate works so it was possible to really look properly without feeling overwhelmed.
Guggenheim curves

Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye
Jeff Koons, Puppy


Jeff Koons, Tulips (Myself and Lyn reflected)

Curves and Glass
Lyn left at about 4 pm so that she could return to Button who had been left in Morag in Sopelana. I stayed on until nightfall so that I could get some photos of the museum building and its environs at night. I took dozens of photos during my wanderings, many of Louise Bourgeois "Maman", a giant, 9 metre high sculpture of a spider. I returned to the metro and to Sopelana at around 7:30.
More curves

Guggenheim and me (I hate selfies!)

Guggenheim generated mist

Yves Klein, Fire Fountain

Louise Bourgeois, Maman (and approaching meal?)
When we got back to the camp site we found that our pitch had been usurped by a German motorhome! Nothing we could do but park up nearby and make do.

Thursday 26th January
The Voyage Home

We packed up Morag ready for our return voyage to England this afternoon. We drove to the port and had a snack in the café while waiting to drive on board. We were loaded onto the ferry ready for our 3:30 departure and settled into our dog-friendly cabin. We would not have been happy with Button staying in kennels during the voyage. We ate our evening meal from the snack bar and settled down for the night.
Leaving Bilbao

Button settled in our cabin

Friday 27th January
Back in England

The passage was quite smooth and we woke early to go for breakfast in the restaurant. We arrived in Portsmouth on time but due to a problem with one of the loading ramps we had a long wait before being unloaded. Once off the ferry and through the pet screening routine, we drove via the M27, M3 and A34 to Kings Sutton to stay the night with Bob, Lucy and family.
Arriving in Portsmouth

Saturday 28th January
Home at Last

We left after breakfast and drove to Kenilworth to visit Lyn's sister Gillian. After a very nice lunch we continued on our journey home in grey, drizzly weather, arriving back at 4:30 pm. We were certainly back in England! Morag had behaved very well during the 2,900 miles of our trip.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Winter in Spain - Week Eight

Sunday 15th January
Cartagena to Granada

We left Cartagena for Grenada at about 10:30. This time we took the recommended motorway route. We made good progress in the bright sunshine but a strong crosswind did affect Morag. We stopped a couple of times to change drivers. The last part of the journey was very scenic with good views of the snow covered Sierra Nevada.
Sierra Nevada
We reached the campsite at about 4:30. It is small but has reasonable facilities. We had intended to eat in the restaurant but it was not open on Sunday evenings, so we has Pasta and pesto in Morag.

Monday 16th January
NOT a good day

Not the most successful day of our trip! We decided to take the bus into Granada. We walked to the bus stop and waited about 15 minutes for the bus only to be told that we could not take Button. We walked back to the site and drove Morag into the city - but couldn't find anywhere to park. All the public car parks appeared to be underground with height limits.
So we drove back to La Zubia, the suburb where the camp site is located, to find somewhere to take Button for a walk.We eventually found a parking space but in manoeuvring I backed into an unseen litter bin and damaged the bodywork at the back of Morag! After Button had her rather grumpy walk we returned to the campsite.
We had a drink in the bar followed by an improvised meal of mussels and tuna omelet in Morag.

Tuesday 17th January
The Alhambra

We drove to the Alhambra, the must see sight in Granada. We wandered through the extensive site looking at the buildings and the gardens. The highlight was the visit to the Palacio Nazaries. The intricate plaster-work and the enclosed gardens were both beautiful and fascinating.
Astounding plasterwork ceiling in Palacios Nazaries

Lyn and the famous lion fountain

One of the internal gardens
Lyn walked back to Morag to give Button a break as she had been left for nearly 4 hours while I went on to visit the Generalife site nearby. This was just as interesting with many attractive water gardens.
After the visit we drove to a supermarket to stock up on supplies. Then on to the campsite for our evening meal and to rest weary legs.
Water gardens in the Genralife

Wedenesday 18th January
Skipping Seville

We packed Morag for our journey onward. We had intended to go on to Seville but, with our experience of parking problems visiting Granada, we decided instead to go on to El Puerto de Santa Maria near Jerez. Once again, the scenery on the journey was very interesting but with very few places to stop and enjoy the views.
The Sierra Cadiz on the way to Jerez
We reached the campsite at about 4:30. The site is very large and surprisingly full! We were shown to our pitch and, after "dropping anchor", we took Button for her evening walk on the beach, just across the road from the campsite.The beach was super; extensive with fine soft sand and clumps of palm trees here and there. Button loved it and rushed around like a puppy.
The beach at El Puerto de Santa Maria

Our 8 year old puppy!

We went for a meal in the site bar/restaurant. The meal was OK but the room was quite cold. I don't think they are geared up for low temperatures here; it was only about 4 degrees C.

Thursday 19th January
Searching for a restaurant

We took Button for her morning walk to the beach then walked into the town in the hope of finding somewhere for lunch. We had a coffee in a bar but were unable to find a restaurant that we fancied. Looking at the map later I realised that the restaurants were concentrated around one area near the river.
We walked back to Morag and had a snack lunch of bread, cold meat and cheese. We had passe a restaurant on the way back and decided that we would try that for our evening meal.We took Button back to the beach and through the nearby pine woods for her late afternoon walk, then walked to the restaurant only to find that it was closed! We returned to the campsite and had our evening meal in the bar/restaurant. We had a very good dish of mixed fried fish including shrimps, calamari, anchovies and battered fish pieces.

Friday 20th January

After Button's now regular morning walk on the beach, we drove into Jerez to visit one of the Sherry Bodegas. Once again we had difficulty finding a parking spot for Morag as the car park near to Gonzales Byass was underground with a height limit. We eventually found an on street parking place.
Our visit to Gonzales Byass was excellent with a comprehensive tour of the site followed by generous samples of four of the sherries accompanied by tapas. The sherries included Tio Pepe and Croft Original with which we were already familiar but my favourite of the four samples was a dry Oloroso sherry called Alfonso. We bought some bottles at the bodegas shop to take home. It was a very good value tour at €21 each.
Sherry casks

Lyn sampling the Tio Pepe

Four sherries and tapas
We drove back to the campsite via the supermarket, stocking up our supplies for the journey north to Bilbao tomorrow.