.Yes – it will.…..
Click the pictures to enlarge them
The older I get, the happier I am in familiar surroundings….. at least for this long winter visit. So it’s to be another winter spent at El Pino in Torrox. But then a lot of younger people must feel the same as me because I know that I’ll be meeting up with a lot of friends from previous years. But that’s not to say I follow the same route across Spain each year. I like to take a couple of weeks to meander from north to south, stopping off at interesting places on the way. I began planning what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go several months ago. Next a route was chosen which would include as many of those places as possible. But my itinerary remains flexible depending on the weather. If it’s cold and wet, I give that place a miss and move on to the next. When I reach El Pino, hopefully I will find my usual pitch being kept free for me
The first leg of my journey will be from Bilbao to Riaza where I hope to stay for a couple of nights. I wanted to stop at Riaza two years ago but when I arrived shortly after mid-day, the temperature was down to 6oC with heavy rain. I decided to continue south and by the time I reached Puerto de Somosiera, I could see brighter skies ahead of me.
This will be my route for this year.
I’m travelling on Brittany Ferries économie service this year. I’ve not tried it before but as it was showing a saving of £150 over my usual Sunday night departure on Cap Finestere, I thought it worth a try..
And first impressions are good. The cabin I have is on deck 8 and it’s an inside two bed version with a fold-away third bunk.
The on-suite shower room compares favourably with the two cruise ferries I’ve travelled on previously. The only difference I can see so far is the lack of carpet on the cabin floor. Of course there are far fewer cabins on this ferry.
HGVs are parked on deck 4 whilst motor-vans and cars towing caravans drive up a ramp to deck 6. On boarding, the first vehicles on are required to do a wide U-turn, then park in lanes ready to disembark.
Those that board later will need to do the U-turn before disembarking. The vehicle deck on level 6 is partially an open car deck.. Some vehicles, mainly motor-vans, but there’s at least two cars towing vans are parked at the extreme rear end of the deck in a cul-de-sac.
They will have the unenviable task of reversing out. Cars are parked on a mezzanine deck above level 6.
Just along the corridor from my cabin is a self-service restaurant, with a bar beyond that. On the next floor down is a small boutique and a café. Unlike the two cruise ferries, there is no waiter service restaurant, no cinema, no hair dressing salon or beauty therapist. And as far as I know, there is no entertainment in the bar, although there is a large screen TV with the inevitable football match being screened. The self-service restaurant has a limited menu but last night the choices were roast beef, roast ham or fried fish with a choice of vegetables. Soup and desserts are also available.
I live about a 90 minutes drive from Portsmouth so I calculated that to be at check-in at a reasonable time I would need to leave home at 04.30 on Tuesday morning. However, when I happened to look out on the previous morning at 4am, the view was one of thick fog. I decided that it might be better to leave home the night before. And so on Monday whilst it was still daylight, I moved the caravan from its parking spot out onto the drive where I plugged it into the household supply. At 21.00hrs I set off down the A3 for Portsmouth, reaching the dockside at 22.40.
Several motor-vans and caravans had already arrived before me. I was told to begin a second column and having ascertained that I would not be required to move before 06.30, made preparations for bed. We all spent a quite and peaceful night. Check in opened at 06.30 and I was on board by 07.45hrs. At 08.45 the ferry left its berth and began its journey through Portsmouth harbour and round past the IOW.
We are now well down Biscay with about three hours sailing time before reaching Bilbao. The weather has been excellent with many people sitting out in protected spots on deck. For someone who is not a good sleeper, I had a really good night.
02-11-2016 – Evening.
During the morning I got to talking with a fellow traveller. It was his first journey with Brittany Ferries and he thought the service was brilliant, whereas compared with the two cruise ferries, IMHO it’s OK. He is a self-employed joiner who has been working in USA for ten years but decided to return to the UK last year. Now he has bought a 22 year old Abbey caravan and with his Transit van is travelling to Benidorm where, if he finds work, he intends to remain.
The ferry docked on time and as I was in a prime position close to the ramp, I was amongst the first to disembark. Passports were given a perfunctory check at the dock area exit and before long I was heading west along the A8 towards the slip road for the AP68 then AP1. That is the toll motorway which ends close to Burgos. It is possible to use N-roads but the toll saves going through many towns and villages. I took a coffee stop at the Briviesca service area and at the same time considered whether to overnight at Burgos or go on to my planned stop at Riaza. I would be at Burgos within 20 miles and I was just a little over half way, but the sun was still high in the sky. I stopped at the peage barrier, paid €20.40 and decided to continue on for another 95 miles. The A1, the road which goes from Burgos to Madrid is a toll-free, dual carriageway motorway with a beautifully smooth surface. I finally reached my exit point just as it was getting dusk. By the time the 10 miles along country roads were done, it was dark. The time, 6.15pm.
I presented my ACSI card, asked for “dos noches” and the barrier was raised. I pulled onto a convenient pitch, dropped the jockey wheel, plugged in my power and decided to leave all the rest for the morning. Dinner was quickly prepared because my chicken casserole only needed a few minutes in the microwave. It was one “I’d prepared earlier.” Five days earlier in fact. It was frozen solid together with three cartons of orange and a litre of milk. The chicken with two cartons went into the caravan freezer box and with the fridge on gas overnight at Portsmouth dockside, but without power for 30 hours on board, when I arrived this evening the three items were still fairly hard.
Temperature during my drive yesterday was around 20C with it falling to 15C by the time I was settled. During the night it plummeted to zero, but of course we are situated at around 4000feet above sea level and only 12 or so miles from Puerto de Somosierra. However once the sun was up, the temperature quickly lifted.
First job this morning was to get the water barrel filled. No wonder I couldn’t see a stand pipe last night. There doesn’t seem to be any. The Aquaroll had to be filled at the sinks in the toilet block. Shortly after plugging in the water and getting the water heater going, I noticed water dripping on the ground from under the fridge area of the van. I came in to check inside the bed locker. To my horror I saw the steady drip from the hot water connector on the Truma boiler.
Fortunately I had a spare kit bought, but not used when I replaced the element two years ago. It was quickly changed and made secure. However the mopping up operation took longer which included dealing with a lot of damp pillows and bedding.
So my planned departure for Segovia had a delayed start, even so I was there by 11.00am. My first call was to Mercadonna to collect some of their oven fresh seeded wholemeal rolls and a few other essentials. Next was to find a parking spot. The place I’d chosen several weeks ago on Google Earth Street View was in a ‘blue zone’ which is metered but their parking charges are so much more reasonable than in the UK. The space was only 200 yards from the Aquaduct and cost €1.40 for a two hour stop. I unloaded my bike and cycled first to the Aquaduct.
On arrival in the city, it’s impossible not to see it because its huge size cuts the city in two. It was built by the Romans in the first century to bring water into the city. Over its entire length it’s designed not to go beyond 2o of fall so the water never becomes a torrent. They built several aqueducts in Spain and many of them are still standing, however this one is reputed to be the best preserved. It’s estimated to consist of about 25000 granite blocks with the entire structure being built without mortar. It stretches across the city for more than half a mile being supported on 170 arches.
Then it was back to the bike for the climb through the old city to the Cathedral. It’s a comparatively new building, the original Cathedral having been destroyed during a bygone war. The present Cathedral was started in 1525 at the suggestion of CharlesV. — How unlike the activities of our own Henry VIII. At about that same time Henry was actively destroying abbeys and cathedrals for his own gain.
A lot of the materials for the new Cathedral were brought from the old site, including the 116 Walnut seats in the Choir. It was interesting to see two seats side by side. One in the seated position with the other in the standing position – but still with a little perch.
Also the cloisters were removed stone by stone.
Just off the cloisters is the Chapter House with a lavishly decorated ceiling and walls hung with Flemish tapestries.
Back on the bike again I cycled to the Alcazar, the royal palace built on a stone peninsular between two rivers.
The original palace was built in the 11thC but was destroyed by fire in 1862. It was then that the present palace was built.
Before returning to the caravan site I went to see the local medieval village of Riaza. The Plaza Major is at its centre. It is in the shape of an ellipse with stone steps joined by iron railings. All the buildings have porticos on pillars with balconies above.
In one corner of the Plaza is the Church of Nuestra Senora del Manto which was open for viewing.
For a review of Camping Riaza see Sites and Routes section.
The temperature didn’t fall quite so low last night – only to 8.5C. Which is probably why I heard the rain in the early hours. But today was moving on day so preparations had to be done in the wet. I was ready to leave by 10.30 and had just 100 miles to do to reach my next stop at Aranjuez. Within a short time I was at the foot of the climb to Puerto de Somosierra. It’s a five mile climb but is a well-engineered three lane motorway which at it’s highest point reaches 4700 feet. Before I was half-way up not only did we have the rain but fog also. But that cleared once we were lower down. At KM29 – north of Madrid I pulled into the filling station for a coffee break. At the rear of the station there is sufficient room to park for a time. Also on site is a MacDonalds. I was curious to know about the luxurious double decker coach lying derelict in a corner of the park.
It didn’t seem to be damaged although rear axles were missing and almost every window was broken. I decided to take the M50 round Madrid. It adds about 10 miles but carries less traffic than the M40 and M30. Also I dislike the slip road from the M40 to the A4. You leave the M40 via the fast lane. By 13.00hrs I’d reached Camping Aranjuez but instead of booking in for my planned three nights, I booked for one night. The rain is forecast to continue tomorrow, so a re-plan may be on the cards.
Several times throughout the night I heard the rain. Sometimes hammering; sometimes pattering. By breakfast there was no let up so I switched on the computer to check the forecast for Madrid. Rain all day! I decided that if it eased for a while, I would prepare to move on.
By 10am I was ready to roll and not too wet. The shortest way south is to go through Aranjuez but the roads around the Royal Palace are narrow and lined with high curb stones. Instead I headed through open country towards Madrid then rejoined the A4 towards Cordoba. After 15 miles I’d climbed out of the valley and was getting up onto the flat plain known as La Mancha. Ahead of me the sky looked brighter but there was a strong cross wind blowing – so strong in fact I thought it better to reduce speed. By the time I’d reached the services at KM98, not only was the sun shining but I was ready for a coffee break. Only when I got out of the car did I realize how strong the wind was.
After another 20 or so miles I’d reached Madridejos and could see across the flat plain, situated high on a hill, a line of windmills. As I had plenty of time I turned off the highway towards Consuegra which was four miles distant so that I could take a closer look.
Just outside the village, attached to a wall was a wrought iron knight in armour sitting astride a dejected old horse. Behind him was a fat little man mounted on a donkey. This is depicting Don Quixote, the fictional character made famous by Miguel de Cervantes, written in the 1600’s in his book, “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.” The character, having lost his mind, believes he is a knight and sets out to put the world to rights. In one of his adventures he attacks the windmills believing they are a group of giants. All over La Mancha one sees references to Don Quixote in the naming of restaurants, hotels and even garages.
Back on the highway I turned south again and after another dozen or so miles I reached my exit for Ciudad Real. I was back on a single track road and heading directly into the wind. Within 20 miles I met another motorway and thankfully I turned on to it – but I was not so pleased to see dark clouds ahead of me again. After thirty miles I’d reached the outskirts of the town and it was pouring down again with a leaden sky. This is where I’d planned to stay for two nights. What to do? I thought it best to get back to the A4 and continue my journey south.
My route out of town took me past the new airport. Except that it isn’t new. It was built in 2007 taking three years to build at a cost of 1.1 billion Euros. It has stood abandoned for the past six years.
The airport opened in 2010 as Don Quixote International Airport. But it was a failure from the start. Very few airlines chose to operate from it and within a short space of time there were only four flights each week, operated by Ryanair. It has only the one runway but at 2.5 miles long it’s the longest in Europe. By 2012 the airport was closed with its management company having filed for bankruptcy with 300 million Euros of debt. The Airport has also undergone a name change. Now it is known as Ciudad-Real International. Although the airport stands empty and deserted, it’s on the market awaiting buyers. Last year a Chinese Investment Company unsuccessfully put in an offer to buy the complex for just ten thousand Euros. Negotiations are currently taking place around a figure of €56million.
Back on the A4, looking towards the Despeñaperros Gorge, the weather and sky looked awful. I took the decision to pull into the site at Santa Elena which was just on the far side of the gorge. At least, I knew that if I had to put up with rain, I’d at least have free wifi. I checked in telling “Mr Grumpy” that I didn’t know how long I would stay. Since I was here last they’ve had a barrier with swipe cards fitted. I’ve used it five times and it’s worked three times! With the caravan set up in the rain, I thankfully got into the warm and dry with the kettle on. My next job was to Google “Mercadona in La Carolina”, and lo and behold there was one. With coordinates copied down, after a very late lunch, I set out to find the afore said supermarket. With my supply of wholemeal rolls depleted I bought a further supply and together with dinners taken care of for the next few nights, I looked for a filling station for some diesel. Sure enough, off the main highway I found a small station charging just €1.039 per litre.
Thanks to some copying onto a memory stick my El Pino friend, Graham did for me last year, I spent the evening watching Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. Even with headphones on the sound could not drown out the noise of the rain on the van’s roof.
What a pleasant change. I raised the front blind and the sunshine poured in.
After breakfast and chores, I prepared a packed lunch and set off for Cimbarra Falls. It’s in the next valley only 8 miles away as the crow flies but via the mountain road, the journey takes 14 miles. As the road twists ever higher, looking back there are some spectacular views of the tunnels and viaducts which now carry the A4 motorway across the Despeñaperros Gorge.
The twisting road passes through woods filled with a type of oak trees which during the summer are harvested for their cork.
Only so much may be taken from each tree so as not to do it harm. Eventually the road drops again and one arrives at a small, scruffy looking town. From there an unpaved road goes through olive groves
After yesterday’s heavy rain I expected to see much more water cascading over the drop. Where did it go? An hour and a half later I was thrilled and exhausted to arrive back at the car where I was ready for a late lunch and a beer. To return to the site I chose to travel along the old A4 which first weaves its way down one side of the gorge, along the bottom, then up the other side.
Yesterday, I was probably the only car on the route. I couldn’t help but think back six or seven years ago when the road was filled with nose-to-tail, crawling HGVs.
Yesterday was another pleasant day weather wise so I did a bike ride around the village. During the late afternoon dark clouds rolled in and not too much later the rain started. But then the temperature plummeted and the rain turned to snow.
My Trumatic heater worked overtime in it’s endeavours to combat the 1.5oC outside. Very soon the snow stopped but the temperature remained low throughout the night.
By10am today I was the last outfit to leave Camping Despeñaperros and at reception the guy was as surly as when I arrived. I gave him €51 for the three nights. (A review of the site is in my Routes & Sites section) Within minutes I was back on the A4 heading south – my next destination being Camping Albolafia in Villafranca de Cordoba – a distance of about 75 miles Although it was only 11.30 when I arrived I was able to book in and I had a free choice of pitches. Legs down, water and electric plugged in. Then an early lunch.
The information sheet handed out at reception informs that there is free wifi – but only around the reception area. It must be a good signal because it works fairly well from inside my caravan – so that’s a bonus.
As it was still early afternoon I thought I would do one of the visits on my to do list. I chose the Medina Azahara which is the archaeological site of a vast Arab medieval fortified palace and city built during the 9th Century by the Caliph of Cordoba and at the time was the capital of al-Andalus. However its existence was comparatively short lived. In 1012 the city was sacked during a civil war and thereafter was abandoned.
The site is a few miles outside Cordoba built on a hillside to the west of the City. Car parking is at a large complex of buildings which houses a reception centre, museum, artefact storage rooms and a cinema. Admission is free.. Having toured the museum, visitors then wait for a shuttle bus which takes them to and from the archaeological site up on the hillside, two or three miles away. The return fare is €1.50 and journey time is 15 minutes or so. The palace and the city is on different levels so there are lots of ramps and steps to negotiate. Whilst we waited for the return shuttle, a fox visited the waiting area, hopefully scrounging from the passengers.
Today has been one of those days best forgotten. It’s been cold, dull and often wet. What would we do without books, computer and dvd’s? The high point of the day was a visit to the supermarket to stock up on provisions.
Quite a turn around with the weather. Very foggy at first but the weather forecast is promising so a lunch and a beer is packed. By 10am the fog had cleared and with the sun beginning to break through, I was on my way along the A4 to Cordoba. I had previously looked on Google Earth Street View at the streets across the river from the historic centre on and they looked promising for parking. With coordinates set I found the area and fairly quickly found a space quite close to the end of the Roman Bridge. I left the bike in the car and took a walk towards the Bridge. It was built by the Romans in the 1st Century but was extensively rebuilt at the start of the Arab occupation. The Torre de la Calahorra at the southern end of the bridge was built by the Arabs for the defence of the city but altered in the 14th Century.
As I crossed over the bridge I could see to the right the Mosque/Cathedral and to the left the Alcazar with the Puerta del Puente at the northern end of the bridge. A short walk bought me to the Cathedral.
To enter requires a ticket purchased for €8. The interior is vast and Islamic architecture is everywhere.
Columns and arches in every direction. After the Christian conquest in 1236 part of it was converted into a Catholic church.
Later in the 16th Century a nave was inserted. With so much carved wood, it must have been the work of a life time for an army of craftsmen.
Across the orange tree courtyard is the remains of the minaret now integrated into the bell tower.
I retraced my steps back across the bridge to the car where a lunch and a beer awaited me. After a rest I unloaded the bike and cycled back across the river to explore the Arab and Jewish quarters of the old city.
Another dank foggy day. A quick decision to be taken, and I think I’ll move on. Forty-five minutes later and I was hitched on ready to leave. A stop at reception on the way out to settle the bill, and within five minutes I was bowling along the A4 towards Cordoba. A new toll-free motorway, the A45 goes from Cordoba, through Antequera and down to Malaga. When I last travelled this route the only way through the mountains was the N-331, a twisting, hilly single-carriageway road which seemed to go on for ever. Just outside Malaga I joined the A7 and after a further 35 miles I reached the exit for Torrox. Only five minutes more – but then I caught up behind a guy on his two-stroke bike wobbling along with a five feet wide load strapped to his rear carrier.
A not uncommon site in these parts. A bale of hay on a carrier is another frequent sight. But I eventually arrived outside the site, where I parked on the road.
I was greeted by Sylvia, one of the receptionists and after a bit of small talk got down to the business of booking in. My usual pitch had been kept for me but she explained that some landscape work would be commencing within a couple of weeks and it would be noisy and I might like to choose a pitch in another part of the site. But what concerned me more was the fact that a large motor van was parked on the adjoining pitch – the one on to which I encroached a bit more than a few inches and where I also park my car. I decided to look around for an alternative – and quickly found one. Sylvia explained that work would also take place on that pitch as well however, I said I would put up with the work. After all, it takes place between 8am and 3pm and if it is too noisy, I can always go out for the day.
So I was finally leveled and settled by 1pm but decided not to start putting up the awning till next day. Within minutes I had my first visitors – Bob and Graham, two full time motorvanners. Graham has a London flat (where he can’t take his Hymer because of the congestion charge) so he has the flat on permanent let and he lives in his motor van. He left the UK in September and slowly made his way through France and Spain arriving here at the beginning of October. Bob has left his motorvan in the UK because just as I was leaving the site at the end of February he was negotiating to buy one of the wooden chalets here on the site. Now he spends a lot of time here – then flies back to Manchester where he has his motor van stored.
I made an early start unpacking the awning from the car. Then the next fifteen minutes were taken up with chatting to Graham & Bob again. They were on their way down to the front for a “full English” – their Saturday morning treat – so they said!. So back to the awning erecting. I carry a light four tread stepladder with me so a little squirt every foot or so along the awning channel with silicone furniture polish, and the roof cord threaded along easily. Then the poles laid out in their approximate places quickly got them installed under the roof. With the four panels zipped into place then came the part I dislike most. The knocking in of the pegs. I find it difficult getting down to them. No ———- it’s getting up again that’s the problem – old joints!
But by mid-day it was done. Then a welcome lunch with a couple of beers followed by some horizontal time. Being Sunday tomorrow and all the shops being closed, I had to get down to a supermarket. Here in Torrox Costa we are particularly well-served with shops. Along the short ribbon of coastline we have a Lidl, an Aldi, a Mercadona, a Super Sol and Russell’s English shop. Yes! We’re spoilt for choice.
How pleasant it was at half past nine to unzip the front of the awning down to the verandah bars, let in the sunshine and contemplate a pleasant 15oC of temperature. The job for this morning was to lay the groundsheet, get the mats and chairs in place and install my kitchen range in the awning. By lunch time it was all done and working. Although I’m a bit further away from reception than I’ve been for the last four winters, the internet signal in the van is still good so I spent half an hour or so on Skype talking to my two girls.
Market day here in Torrox so I unloaded the bike from the car, attached the pannier bag to the rear carrier and set off down the hill to the coast road. The market is in a street which runs parallel with the prom and it was to the prom that I went first. Having not too long ago left the autumnal weather of the UK behind, it’s unbelievably good to feel the sunshine, see the sparkling sea, and the parasols and sun loungers on the beach – even the odd brave soul in the sea, and then you think — this is November!
I locked the bike to a post then wandered through the market. Lots of clothing and shoe stalls plus a few attractive fruit & vegetable stalls.
Then there are two or three stalls with displays of nuts, nougat and sugary sweets, but with the amount of flies there are around just now, I gave those a pass. I came away with a nice cauliflower, a courgette, some leeks and a few potatoes. Then it was back to the bike to continue my ride along the prom. But hang on….. this didn’t feel right….. bump, bump, bump. And then I realized the rear tyre was quickly deflating. Before long it was riding on the rims and it was more than two miles back to the site. Fortunately it wasn’t too far to where the taxis wait so with the bike in the boot, I travelled back in style which left me €6 lighter.
Amongst all the spares I carry was a new bike tyre and tube. Being an electric bike, removal of the rear wheel is slightly complicated by having to disconnect the motor wiring before removal of the wheel. But the job went well and by coffee time the tyre was pumped hard. An early lunch followed by siesta then it was a ride down to the prom by way of a road test .
No sooner was I back and sitting comfortably in the awning with a cup of tea than Yvonne & Willy arrived on site with their Mondeo and Fleetwood. They had taken the Sunday morning sailing from Portsmouth, arrived in Santander at Monday lunchtime, and journeyed down in two days with an overnight stop at Aranjuez. Being regular visitors, reception had kept their favourite pitch for them.
One of the Norwegian guys stopped off at the awning wanting to know if I was happy with my new pitch. We had been near neighbours last year. He then asked which route I’d taken; whether I’d driven through France. I told him about taking the ferry to Bilbao then driving straight down the middle, but had spent ten days doing it. He then told me about his journey. From his home in Norway to Torrox is 2300 miles and they’d spent seven weeks on the road. I pointed to the pitch across from mine where Ormond (another Norwegian guy) usually parks, and asked if he was coming. Apparently he is on his way but has reserved the pitch next to his friend. Ormond drives a Hymer motorvan towing a four wheel box trailer. To anyone who is interested he’ll proudly show you the interior of it. It contains a plumbed in domestic washing machine, a 4 cu ft domestic freezer containing several meat joints including their Christmas dinner), his motor bike, his push bike, a generator, an air awning for the motorvan a motor mover and a 12volt battery. On the trailer roof is a roof box which contains a water tank to serve the washing machine. All it lacks is the kitchen sink!
Incredible – Today will mark the end of my first week here. And every day has been one of sunshine and blue skies. Temperature at night hasn’t fallen below 12o C and by mid afternoon has been pushing 20 or so.
But things look set for a change over the weekend. There’s rain forecast for three or four days. But then it is winter, the reservoirs are at an all-time low, there isn’t a drop of water in the river, the ground is as dry as a bone and the authorities are worried.
Psychologists say that it’s the herd instinct that makes people do it but if that’s the case, I’m not part of the herd because it’s the last thing I’d want to do.. It used to make me quite angry, but now I’m just left wondering why. I’m talking about people who want to park alongside you. Quite late last Friday evening, long after I’d pulled up the drawbridge, I became aware of the revving of engines and slamming of doors. I presumed that it was a late arrival coming on to the site. When I opened up the awning on Saturday morning all was revealed.
A motor van was parked on the pitch next to me and all I could think was why? See the choice he had.
Why did he make the choice that he did and not choose one of them? Across the road there are seven empty spaces with a second level above them completely empty. My next thought was to wonder how long he might stay and at the same time hoping he might just be a weekender. But by lunchtime on Sunday that had proved to be correct because he packed and departed taking with him his infernal radio – all without a nod or a word.
The promised heavy rain arrived as predicted. It pattered on the caravan roof from the early hours of Monday morning, then continued throughout the day. Sometimes heavy but mainly light. But not at all cold. Even throughout the night the temperature hovered around 16oC where it’s stayed for most of the day. More of the same is promised for tomorrow. In fact till even after next weekend it looks wet and unsettled.
The most exciting thing that happened today was a visit to Lidl.
After forty-eight hours of almost continuous rain the day began with bright sunshine and clear skies. But sadly the rain is predicted to return by tomorrow for a further two or three days My first caller of the day was Pat with her three girl friends. My late wife and I first met Pat and husband Mick fifteen years ago on this site when they were pitched next to us in their motor caravan. Then about seven years ago they bought one of the site’s mobile homes and then spent more time in Spain than in England. But in more recent times their circumstances have changed for now they just make infrequent visits here. I felt so sorry for them. They flew into Malaga on Saturday with a return flight home booked for next Saturday.
Taking advantage of the lull in the weather, I did a ride down to the prom. Even after all the rainfall, there’s not an awful lot of water in the river. I rode round to the lighthouse and stopped on the cantilevered viewing platform with it’s glass floor.
Torrox Costa’s beach often gets washed away during November and December by the tidal current and the force of the waves.
Then in February hundreds of lorry loads of sand brought from elsewhere are dumped and bulldozed to reform the beach. However, during the nine months since I was last here a wide stone groyne stretching for a hundred metres or so has been built out into the sea close to the point on which the lighthouse stands.
It seems to have had the desired effect because there has been no erosion of the beach – so far!
But coastal erosion has been going on for centuries. In Roman times there was a large settlement with a sea port and industry here.. Most of it has been lost to erosion and all that is left are the foundations of a pottery in which storage jars were manufactured for the export of Garum – a fish sauce which was used in Roman cooking. A recipe for its manufacture tells that the fish should be crushed; fish innards should be added and mixed with brine; the mixture should be left in the sun for six weeks to ferment and allow the liquid to evaporate. The resulting thick mixture was then collected and put into containers, later to be used to add flavour to main dishes.
In the grounds of the lighthouse there is a recently excavated Roman Villa which I’ve yet to visit.
Since early Thursday morning the rain has hardly stopped, and because there’s been no sun, it has got much colder. According to the local papers the farmers are cock-a-hoop about the amount of rain we’ve had, but for us poor caravanners and tenters, the incessant clattering on the roof becomes monotonous. A young Spanish couple packed up their tent (in the rain) this morning and left after a week here. With so few opportunities to get out and about, they must certainly know each other well by now!
But by two oclock this afternoon the rain stopped, the dark clouds rolled away to be replaced by blue skies and fleecy whites. I quickly got my bike ready to do a ride. Even if it was only down to the coast road one way and back the other it would be a little bit of exercise. As I cycled down the hill I passed the Australian guy walking his dog. I wondered why he pointed over to my right however, when I reached the coast and changed direction I understood. He was pointing to the dark, threatening clouds rolling towards us. I would be cycling towards them and not quite half way round the three mile circuit. Yes – I would continue and by the time I stopped to have a chat with Sylvia and collect a washing machine token back at reception, it was still dry. But not for long. Shortly afterwards the rain was back again accompanied by rolls of thunder. Laundry day tomorrow is going to be a no-no but the forecasters have things looking brighter from Monday. We can only hope so.
The sun returned on Monday morning after almost a week of continuous rain which ended with a grand finale of thunder and a torrential downpour at about bed time on Sunday night. How wonderful it was to open the front of the awning and see a clear blue sky again. After so many wet days, I guessed there would be a big demand for the washing machine so I took my laundry bag down at 8.30 and sure enough as I was loading it, another couple arrived with arms full. The washing cycle takes 40 minutes so I got it on the line early and it was dry by lunch time.
In the afternoon I did a quick bike ride down to the shops to pick up a few essentials, On my return I looked longingly at the pitch I’ve used for the past four winters – which together with the adjoining one was empty again. I’ve been considering for a day or two about moving. My present spot is a nice pitch but it’s shady and off the “High Street” so I don’t get to see many people passing by. As I stood pondering, Yvonne came by saying, “Yes – Go on. Move back to your old spot” I told her that I’d been thinking about it for a few days. “Just give us the word and I’ll bring Willy & Fred down to give you a hand”, she said. That was it! I went to see them at reception, got the OK, and told Yvonne it was on.
I made a start at about 9am carrying down all the awning contents. Tables, chairs, oven, microwave, bike – you just wouldn’t believe how much stuff there is, and how many trips it took. At 10 o’clock Willy and Fred arrived. Between us we got the groundsheet out and the plastic underlay. Those of us who stay for a long time lay plastic down under the groundsheet. With occasional heavy downpours of rain it keeps the underside of the groundsheet relatively clean. We also lay black Yuzet outside the awning which saves dirt and grit being carried into the caravan on soles of shoes. All that had to be lifted, carried down and refitted 150 metres away. Finally there was only the van left to move. We took down the curtains but left in the four panels. We decided to leave the awning attached to the van and only remove the veranda bars and legs. With the mover engaged and Yvonne and Willy holding the awning clear of the ground, we made our way out onto the road and slowly down through the site to the new pitch. By the time the van was manoeuvred between the trees, the poor old battery was probably gasping for some volts. Once there, underlay, groundsheet and Yuzet were refixed, awning pegged down and by lunchtime all four of us were able to sit back and enjoy a cold beer. What good mates they are!
After an early lunch I loaded the bike into the car and drove along the coast road towards Nerja. It’s a beautiful drive along by the seashore.
I parked the car on the diirt road at the back of Playazo Beach on the outskirts of the town.
The bike was unloaded and I cycled along until I arrived at the first of several short sections of promenade. Playazo Beach ends at a headland which marks the start of Torrecillia Beach. On the headland are the remains of a fort which once stood here. The marker board tells that it was “blown up by the English to prevent its use by the French”
A bit further on and because of old buildings being built up to the cliff edge, the promenade ends and to continue further, one needs to take the narrow street through the town. Today I wanted to see two streets in particular, and more to the point see what they were now called.
During the past few years the Spanish conscience has been coming to terms with the events of the Franco years. In 2007 the Congress of Deputies passed the Historical Memory Law. Amongst its rulings was a condemnation of the Franco regime. A prohibition order was announced forbidding political rallies near Franco’s burial place. State help was to be made available for individuals in tracing and identifying relatives who may be amongst thousands of bodies often buried in mass graves. Orders were given for the removal of Francoist symbols from public buildings and places. This last order included hundreds of streets throughout Spain named to honour Franco’s henchmen. But the new law has not met with the approval of all sections of the community.
By referring to my map and riding around several streets I found myself in Calle General Asensio Cabanillas.
This street was named to honour the man who in August of 1936 whilst acting as 2nd in command to General Yague forced hundreds of citizens of Badajoz into the town’s bullring where he gave orders for the entire crowd to be machine gunned to death.
Round the corner another street carries the name Calle Garcia Alted.
General Alted was the officer in command when a massacre was carried out along the coast road just a few miles from where I’m staying.. When in August of 1937 the Republican city of Malaga was threatened by Franco’s army, thousands of elderly people and mothers with their children fled the city and set out to walk the 125 miles along the coast road towards the comparative safety of Almeria. General Alted, with the aid of Hitler’s air-force and Mussolini’s navy gave orders for his troops to attack the columns and between them they killed around 5000 people. Thousands more were systematically rounded up, raped, killed, and piled into mass graves. Alted went on to enjoy a long and highly decorated career in the army..
In this same street there also happens to live an elderly gentleman, Jose Molina, one of Franco’s ex-government ministers. His name goes down in history as the man who in 1974 was responsible for ordering the world’s last state execution by garrotte. I’m told that an Argentine court, since 2014 has been seeking his arrest and extradition to answer allegations of torture.
(Edit as of 25th April 17: Jose Molina (aged 91) was reported to have died last week)
But nearly ten years on from the passing of the law, these two streets, as with many others are still awaiting a new name.
I ended the afternoon on the view point at the end of the Balcon.
It’s another period of unsettled weather. Sunday gave us some torrential downpours with rain water cascading down through the different levels of the site. The run-off doesn’t always take the same course. Unfortunately yesterday one of it choices was to flow through my awning.
The heavy rain caused a landslip a few miles along the coast road. A huge boulder detached itself, rolled down the side of the ravine, smashed through the armco barrier and came to rest in the middle of the road. Fortunately with the motorway now taking most of the traffic, the road was quiet.
However Torrox it seems got off lightly. Just 40 miles along the coast at Malaga they had much more rain. Several streets were flooded with hundreds of cars submerged. Apparently nearly 4” of rain fell in the 24hrs.
A complete turn around with the weather. Back to sunshine and blue skies. Very quickly the tables and chairs are brought out at the prom bars and the sunloungers are back on the beach. After so many dull, wet days it was nice to be out on the bike again.
Another cloudless sky from first thing so I decided on a day out. With lunch and a beer packed and the bike loaded I headed westward along the A7 motorway for a few miles before turning inland and skirting around Velez-Malaga. I drove through agricultural scenery along the wide valley bottom. On both sides of the road are plantations of palm trees ready for transporting and replanting elsewhere; avocado and olive trees together with fields of potatoes growing under black plastic. When I reached Trapiche I turned left and headed towards the mountains. My aim was to drive to Comares, one of the highest of the white villages. It sits on the top of a mountain at more than 2400 feet. After leaving Benamargosa in the valley bottom, the road quickly steepens. Fortunately there are places where I was able to stop to admire the views and take pictures.
After many hairpins bends I arrived at the carpark on the edge of the village. Cars are unable to proceed further because the streets are so very narrow and steep. Often a series of steps in the steepest parts.
The first fortification to be built here was built by the Romans but of that, nothing remains. When the Moors invaded they built much of the village and by the 11th Century it had developed into the area’s main stronghold. But by the 15th Century they were loosing their hold on several nearby areas. In 1487 the Catholic monarch captured Velez-Malaga and later in the year Comares itself capitulated.
Within Malaga Province there is a strong tradition of music playing accompanied by singing and dancing which they call Verdiales.
It’s very similar to the English Morris – there are even those who claim that ‘Morris’ is a derivation of ‘Moorish’. Whether or not that is true, it cannot be denied that there are similarities, particularly in the costumes: hats decorated with flowers; bells and ribbons adorning clothes and the instruments. One Verdiales group is centred in the village where a small square is devoted to their performances and competitions..
On the site where once stood one of the fortified town gates, a new entrance has recently been built in the Arabic style. Looking out over the railings there are some spectacular views across the surrounding countryside.
Today was Willys 75th birthday. Many of his friends gathered at his caravan at 2pm to wish the Birthday Boy all the best. It was a lovely cloudless afternoon so the festivities were held outside. Yvonne and Joanne looked after the catering and put on a great spread for us. Happy Birthday Willy!
Many of the caravanners who will be staying over the Christmas period have their vans decorated with Christmas lights. The other evening I took a walk around the site to see some of them. Here’s a selection. The first is my own – but if you’ve read my previous blogs – you saw them last year – and the year before.
Monday 12-12-2016 to 16-12-2016
I would prefer not to have another week similar to the one just gone………………………. For nearly four years I’ve lived happily with my Warfarin medication. I’ve obeyed the rules about what is ok to eat and drink, and what isn’t. Several menu items which I once enjoyed are on the ‘forbidden’ list. I still haven’t forgotten how I used to enjoy liver & bacon with fried onions! Warfarin patients are also advised not to drink “alcohol beyond your usual daily consumption.” My normal amount is a 25Cl bottle at lunchtime. However with parties on two consecutive nights I went a bit beyond that. Consequently during the second night I was kept awake with stomach discomfort. By the following morning it was obvious that I’d developed a stomach bleed. When I’m away in the caravan I check my INR level by doing a self-administered blood test. I did one that morning which showed that I was off the scale at the high end. Normally a visit to A&E is needed where an injection of Vitamin K to aid coagulation is given but I decided to try and handle it myself. A carton of cranberry juice and a plate of brussel sprouts (both forbidden because of their high vit.K content) seemed to have the desired effect because my INR level quickly dropped. Of course loss of blood left me feeling weak and unable to walk very far. But by the weekend I was feeling much better.
Being the last Sunday before Christmas it was the day of the Migas Festival in Torrox Pueblo. I’ve enjoyed attending in past years but I gave it a miss this year. It was quite cold and the forecast was for the rain to continue for most of the day. It would be a terrible disappointment for the stall holders and the musicians and dancers who will have spent so much time preparing for their performance.
But it wasn’t a wasted day. In preparation for visitors arriving on Tuesday, I spent the afternoon baking a couple of cakes in my awning oven.
I went to Malaga today to meet my two girls and grandson who will be staying close by in an apartment for Christmas week. Their plane landed at 13.30 and after collecting them we drove to the apartment. It’s has three bedrooms on the top floor of a block which overlooks the promenade and beach at Torrox Costa. Having looked around the apartment and admired the view from the balconies,
Shopping for provisions was the first priority for the day but by 11 oclock that had been done and the shopping put away. We set off along the coast road, eastwards to have lunch at Marina del Este, a yacht harbour formed by the building of a breakwater from one end of a huge rock situated 200 yards from the foot of the cliffs.
Into the hillsides apartments have been built in tiers with chandlers stores and workshops on the ground floor. Several years ago some of the apartments were sold even before they were built. Unfortunately before the owners could move in subsidence was discovered, leaving the properties uninhabitable. For years the courts have been trying to resolve the matter but no doubt it’s difficult dealing with insolvent builders who have probably disappeared.
Later in the afternoon I drove over the headland to Herradura where I dropped my visitors at one end of the Bay having arranged to meet them at the other side.
We had several proposals on the table last night for today’s visit. Eventually we decided to visit Alhama de Granada, a town built on the edge of a gorge during the Arab occupation, although there’s evidence that the Romans were here first. It’s situated high up in the mountains at 3500 feet and is mid-way on the old trade route from Granada to Malaga Province.. The journey began with a 7mile drive along the coastal motorway, before turning inland to climb to the reservoir at Viñuela. Even after all the rain we’ve had in recent weeks, the water level is as low as I’ve ever seen it. The road twists and turns for the next eight miles before arriving at Ventas de la Zafarraya
. Being high up in the mountains, unexpectedly for the next six miles the road is level and straight, passing through a wide plateau of agricultural landscape. Then the road makes a left hand turn and begins to climb again. At the top of the hill we were able to pull in and admire the view of the snow covered Sierra Nevada range.
The road then drops slightly into the town. After we’d had a packed lunch sitting out in the warm sunshine, the girls and Sam ventured down the twisting path into the gorge where they followed a circular walk.
Then it was back to the car for the short ride along the river bank for a few miles to the thermal baths. All the remains of the Arab buildings are within the grounds of an hotel so are inaccessible to the public but outside the perimeter of the grounds hot water was pouring out of a culvert and cascading into three pools. Several young people had changed into swim wear and were enjoying the warm water.
On our return to Torrox we visited one of the promenade restaurants close by for dinner.
Whilst I prepared lunch in the caravan the girls and grandson took the opportunity to walk from the lighthouse along the river bank and up to El Pino. Later in the afternoon we drove up to Frigiliana; one of the Arab white villages.
The old part of the village is traffic free because not only are the roads narrow but many of the steeper ones are stepped. There are several vantage points which have some superb views across the valleys and down to the coast.
In the evening we went to one of our favourite restaurants, the Bamboo in Nerja for dinner. Before driving back to Torrox we walked through the town to the Balcon to see the Christmas lights.
Spain doesn’t normally have a Bank Holiday following Christmas Day but this year because the 25th was on a Sunday, Monday was declared a Bank Holiday. Although having said most of the shops were open.
Our choice for today was to drive one of the five planned routes in the Axarquia region. The one we chose was the Mudejar route. Mudejar is the name given to the style of architecture built by Muslims living in Christian areas after the reconquest. Our route began with the seven mile drive along the coastal motorway to Velez-Malaga. From there we turned inland and climbed up to the Lake at Viñuela.
After finding viewpoints and taking some pictures we continued on our way heading to the first village on the route. After another seven miles of twisting, turning and climbing up the mountain road we arrived at Canillas de Aceituno.
My dashboard indicator said we were at 2140ft. It’s one of the white villages built on the lower slopes of the Sierra de Tejera during the Arab occupation of Spain. The houses are box-like, built close together with steep, narrow streets often built in steps.
The cultivated hillsides were terraced in Arab times forming flat shelves. Today the produce now is mainly olives and almonds but in the 14th Century mulberry trees were grown to attract the moths for the production of silk. Canillas together with several more villages nearby earned themselves a reputation for producing silk of the finest quality. The material was then carried by pack mules through the Zafarraya Pass and then to Granada.
After a stroll around the village we found some benches in the sunshine on the mirador where we enjoyed a packed lunch. After a while it was back to the car for a further five miles to the next village, Sedella. Once there I turned off the main road and drove into the village through a fairly wide but well parked road but very quickly it narrowed to a typical Arab street. With a bend ahead of me I thought it wise not to proceed further, so it gave myself the job of reversing 200 yards back to the main road. Having parked in a suitable spot, we walked through the village to the tiny Plaza. At one end of the square was the church rebuilt in the 16th Century on the foundations of the mosque but utilizing the minaret as a bell tower.
There’s evidence that the Romans were active in the area during their occupation of Iberia. Apparently, as Mark Twain wrote “There’s gold in them thar hills” – and the Romans mined for it. Fortunately there was a large parking area just off the main road but to see the village meant climbing up some of the steepest and narrowest streets I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t help but wonder how removal men manage on house moving days
We returned to the car but in view of the hour we drove past the last two villages. With several more miles of twisting mountain road still to cover, we decided to head back towards the sea and the motorway. For our evening meal we revisited La Blanca Paloma on the promenade.
This was the day that I hadn’t been looking forward to. It was the day when we had to make the forty mile drive to Malaga Airport so that my three could return home. We left Torrox with enough time in hand to visit Torremolinos beach where we enjoyed a stroll along the prom, a coffee and a half hour’s sit in the sunshine. With the opening of the fairly recent slip road from the A7, the journey from beach to airport takes little more than five minutes. By the time I was back in my caravan I was already missing them.
It was on this day last year when I flippantly posted topic 112073 on CTalk that an unusual noise had awoken me at five in the morning. The noise of course was rain pattering on the caravan roof. What was unusual about it was that it was the first rain I’d experienced since I was in Salamanca on the 4th November. That made 55 days without any rain. Well, it has certainly made up for it this year. All the regulars here agree, we’ve had more rain this year than most people can remember.
With my visitors gone it was back to my previous routine today. A morning spent pottering around the caravan; some time spent chatting; lunch in the awning followed by siesta, then a bike ride from the site, along the coast road to the lighthouse, a sit on the promenade in the sun, then back again for a cup..
With two days of shop closures coming up I did my essential shopping on the way to Nerja. Then I drove down to Burriana Beach – my first visit there this year.
Afterwards I drove up to Maro (a nearby village) to see the Acueducto del Águila. The Eagle Aqueduct was built in 1880 to carry water to a nearby sugar refinery. The San Joaquin Sugar Mill was built in the early 1880’s but closed down thirty years later. It was then bought by the Larios family who reopened it, part sugar mill and part distillery
But the premises have long been abandoned and now stand derelict. Sugar cane growing in the area began in the XVI century and rapidly became a thriving industry, consequently there are several derelict sugar mills in this part of Axarquia. The aqueduct however, is still in use since it carries water for irrigation for the local growers.
My plan for today was to go and see the Christmas lights at Malaga. Parking in the city is almost impossible so I spent the morning debating how to travel. My choices were to drive to the dock area then along Calle Pacifico which runs for two miles along the coastline. Parking is usually possible towards the far end. Then I would unload my bike and cycle into town. Alternatively I could drive to Plaza Major which is a large out-of-town shopping precinct beyond the airport. It has its own train station with a frequent service into Malaga Centro. In the end I decided that cycling around the busy city streets in the dark was perhaps just a bit too dangerous, so opted for parking at Plaza Major.
I left El Pino and drove along the A7 arriving at the Plaza around 4pm. Fortunately I found an empty parking bay adjacent to the train station. Having parked, I wandered around looking at the shops. Most seemed to be offering “Hasta un 50% de descuento.” But the shop which grabbed my interest was a huge showroom selling all things electrical from electric bikes to washing machines. In spite of having spent a long time in there, I came out empty handed – as did most other people!
At around 5.30 I walked to the station. Tickets are obtained from an automatic machine with the only instructions on how to use being in Spanish. As there’s a choice of ticket for four different companies, dozens of different stations and several types of travel, all done on a touch screen, I found the process bewildering. Fortunately I was rescued by an English speaking local. What did impress me was the value of the ticket – a thirty minute ride covering five stations for less than £1.75
Many streets are decorated with Christmas lights and there are a dozen or so Nativity Tableaux set up, but I headed for the pedestrianized shopping arcade, Calle Larios. Here there is a huge lighted archway erected, with several street performers doing their own thing along the way. As they say, “A picture is worth a 1000 words.”
Most Spanish people love a fiesta when it includes a dressing up parade. Throughout the year they have several. The first one of the year is on the 6th January when they have the Fiesta de Los Reyes – the Festival of the Three Kings. In traditional families the 6th is the most important day of Christmas. It’s when the children receive their presents. Having said that, more and more of the population are moving towards Christmas Day for present giving. To mark the Festival, the 6th January is a Bank Holiday and in many towns and villages the fiesta begins at dusk on the evening before.
I wanted to attend Nerja’s Festival last night so at 4pm with the bike loaded into the car, I set off along the coast road. I was lucky to find a parking place in town close to the sea front and well away from the parade route, but more importantly close to a couple of my favourite restaurants. I unloaded the bike and set off along the promenades. It was a beautifully sunny afternoon; the sun sparkling on the sea which was like a mill-pond.
The beach had quite a sprinkling of sun loungers and one or two swimmers had ventured into the water. I cycled along to the end of the prom then turned up the path alongside the dried-up river bed. Eventually I arrived at the large car-park where the parade was forming up. I spent some time wandering around taking pictures of the various groups who are only too willing to pose for a camera.
In spite of their young average age, they make a very professional sounding band. The band is followed by floats carrying the Kings on their thrones, surrounded by their retinue. Each float has sacks of sweets which are thrown by the handful into the crowd. Having seen them on their way, I cycled back to where my car was parked. With bike put away, I went across to the Mirasol for dinner. Afterwards, with the sun gone, it had turned colder so with a jacket on, I walked to the Balcon and arrived just in time to see the head of the procession arriving.
Set up outside the church was a stage on which a stable has been erected with a Joseph & Mary already installed. In due course the Kings with their retinues climbed on to a raised walkway, and with their gifts, approached the stable, during which the story of the first Christmas was retold in words and music.
I told myself it was time for another day out! I got lunch and a beer packed into the cool box; my list of “places I want to see” looked at; coordinates put into Tom-tom then I was off.
As with many of my destinations, the route started with a quick sprint along the motorway to Velez-Malaga; a turn inland along the wide valley, then up the hills to Lake Viñuela. Although I’ve seen it dozens of times, I can’t resist a stop to admire the scenery and take a picture or two…………. and wonder where all the rain we had a few weeks ago has gone.
After a while I continued my journey, but decided to detour and have a look at Viñuela village – a place I’d never been to. The village grew around La Venta La Viña, an 18thC Inn, which stood at the junction of two ancient routes, the track over the Zafarraya Pass to Granada, and the other to Antequera. Looking at the building today, it’s obviously had several face lifts because it looks quite modern. A bit further up the village street I came to the 16th Century church of St Jose. I’m told it contains an interesting 19th Century statue of the Pieta – but unfortunately the church was locked.
Back in the car and five minutes later I’d reached the main road and was heading towards Periana. As I turned off the main road I passed another abandoned building project and saw it looking just as it did as I saw it five years ago.
When I reached Periana I took the road around the village because my destination lay a few miles beyond. I was looking for Baños de Vilo – some baths which are sometimes referred to as Arab, sometimes Moorish or even Roman – no one seems to be sure! One thing that we can be sure about is that in the 18th Century the pool was considered to be one of the most important in Andalucia, so much so that in 1892 its waters were declared to have “medicinal mineral”.
People with skin complaints flocked to bathe in the constant 210C evil-smelling waters. My guide book was correct on one thing – they are not easy to find! Fortunately, I was half way up a steep hill when Tomtom announced “You have reached your destination”. I pulled in and got out to investigate. I soon found the guide book’s “large iron gates” so I went through into a patio area. No one was around; every door of the building securely locked, so I explored. Soon I could hear the sound of rushing water which was easy to follow along the track.
After a storm in 1907 the baths fell into disrepair and were left to decay but in the late 1990’s the site was acquired by the local council. With the aid of a 90% EU grant improvements have been carried out. The Authorities now promote these types of thermal baths and have said they will “work towards promoting the touristic exploitation of mineral and thermal springs and to renovate other abandoned baths.”
Since 2005 the Authorities have spent 200000 Euros on this project which includes five self-catering apartments for visitors. Whether or not the project has been a success, I know not, but during my visit, there were no signs of visitors.
I fancied a change for today’s bike ride. It was another beautiful day and I knew the promenade would be crowded on a Saturday with local families, making bike riding difficult. But where to go? I decided on a circular route going through Torrox Pueblo.
The Pueblo stands on the opposite side of the gorge to El Pino so my ride began with a run down the steep hill, across the wide river bed, then up the other side of the gorge. At the top of the hill the first thing of interest that I saw was another derelict sugar mill. This one was built in the 1800’s and used in an industry which first started in the area during the 16th Century.
A little further on, and the motorway was beneath my feet.. The building of the A7 through the Malaga and Granada Provinces has taken most of the years that I have been coming to the area. Only gradually have new sections been opened. But it’s difficult countryside to work in. Most of the sections have required either tunnelling, cuttings being excavated or high viaducts being built. My picture shows the motorway entering and leaving the tunnel built under Torrox.
Round the next corner and situated on the lip of the gorge, in a position which in the 17th C was close to one of the town gates is the Monastery of Señora de las Nieves. This building was first opened as a hospice in 1646, only changing to a monastery a century or so later. Most of the building now functions as a centre for social services.
The road continues through 500 yards of more modern buildings before veering to the left to go round the old town. However my route was through the Arab quarter so I took the narrow road up the hill. I’d almost reached the Plaza, puffing and panting from my efforts to get up the hill, when I saw a familiar face. It was Muriel, our one time receptionist at El Pino. We had a pleasant chat for a while before I went off to find a seat in the Plaza.
One of the few accessible roads for wheeled traffic stretches for nearly a mile through the old town. Most of the other streets are narrow, steep and often built in steps. My first stop was at the Arab Watchtower. This is the only remaining one of six which was built into the walls of the town. The street continues, barely wide enough to accommodate modern traffic, passing houses some of which have been beautifully decorated with flowering pot-plant.
Eventually the road widens into another small square, the Plaza de San Roque with its Ermita built n the early 1900’s on the footprint of a previous 15thC church. The street continues through to the far end of the town where it meets the main road again at a new roundabout.
From the roundabout my ride continued down the hill to cross the river at a bridge. From there the route turned into a dirt road which wended its way along the opposite side of the gorge. There were views in every direction – back towards the old town;
Eventually I turned a corner where the dirt road abruptly became a metalled surface. The road has parking bays, white centre lines, lamp-posts, tiled pavements, soil filled verges containing orange trees, roundabouts and even pedestrian crossings complete with road sign
But all with a deserted feel about it. Orange trees are long-since dead; pavements blocked with landslip and electric sub-stations pillaged for their cable and equipment. In fact the place has turned into a wilderness with not one house being built. Work suddenly ceased at the start of the financial crash in 2008. This expensive piece of road continues for two miles until it reaches Torrox Park. Just one of thousands of abandoned building projects throughout Spain.
We have the builders in! The site work which receptionist Sylvia warned me about on the day I arrived at El Pino has been going on for several weeks. What’s happening is that some of the site roads are being widened. Not only widened but edged with curb stones. Also some gulleys and drain pipes are being installed. All in an attempt to stop the soil on the pitches being washed away during periods of heavy rain.
The guys started work in our area at 8am this morning. By nine I decided it was maybe time for another day out. Within the hour I had the bike and lunch loaded into the car and I was off along the motorway. This time in an easterly direction. My destination was Almuñécar, fifteen miles along the coast in Granada Province. After driving through the town and reaching the sea-front, I followed the coast road until there were empty parking bays cut into the cliff faces. Within minutes, I’d taken my first picture – a shot through the palm trees of the sun sparkling on the water.
With my bike unloaded, I cycled in the direction of the town and the promenade. After a couple of miles I came to a huge rock dividing the sea-front into two separate beaches. Stretching out into the sea are two other rocks, the whole being known as Peñones de San Cristóbal.
As I climbed the steps I stopped to look at the statue of Abd al Rahman I, a twenty something sole surviving member of the Umayyad dynasty. He is reputed to have landed at Almuñécar on the 15th August in 755.
Five years earlier his family in Damascus had been overthrown by another powerful family and assassins had been hired to track down and kill all the members of the Umayyad family. Abd al Rahman and his Greek slave, together with his brother, who was later caught and killed spent five years travelling via Palestine, the Sinai and Egypt, finally arriving in Morroco, where he learnt that several Arab leaders would welcome him in Al-Andalus. Eventually Abd al Rahman became the Emir of Cordoba taking up his residence in the Palace which he built close to Cordoba and which I described visiting at the start of this blog – the Medina Azahara. He founded a dynasty which was to last for the next three hundred years, making the City of Cordoba one of the most important centres for art and learning in the western world.
After much strenuous climbing up the steps I reached the top where there were fantastic views in every direction.
As I looked out to sea I couldn’t help but notice the “Love locks” attached to the railings. There were hundreds of them; an idea which has been copied from the bridge over the River Guadalquivir at Seville. Couples have their names engraved on a padlock, attach the lock to the railing, swear their undying love for one another, then throw the key into the sea.
After a while I cycled back along the front to the car where I had lunch and a beer sitting on the beach.. From Almuñécar my route took me inland along the ancient route which goes through the Valle Tropical then over the mountains to Granada. The valley is filled with plantations of avocado, melon and cherimoya trees. My destination was the two villages, Jete and Otivar. But I wanted to get to the far side of the canyon at Otivar so that I could get as close as possible to the Palacete de Cázulas, a Moorish stately home, built at the end of the Arab occupation of Andalucia but now in private ownership. Together with two villages and thousands of acres of land, it was owned by the same family for more than five hundred years. The last of the family line, The Marquesa de Montenaro y Barcinas died in 1972. Such was her popularity in the district that only three mourners attended her funeral service. In her will she left her home to the Church. But the church had no use for it so they sold it to a consortium of villagers who formed an agricultural cooperative. The house continued to slide towards ruin until it was sold in 1988. The new owners have restored it to its former glory where it is used now as a wedding venue and conference centre. Apparently rooms can be had for as little as £540 per night!!
On the return journey I stopped off to see one of the sections of the Torrecuevas Aqueduct. This is an Aqueduct built by the Romans during the first century of occupation as a fresh water supply for the town and also for use in the fish-salting process which the Romans carried out on the coast. Several sections are visible in the valley, some readily accessible from the road, others requiring a hike along the river bed.
This afternoon I got on the bike and set off down the hill to the prom. Nothing unusual in that. It’s what I do most days! What was unusual was that the piece of parkland close to the beach, alongside the dried up river bed was packed with motorvans.
At first I thought it was an organised rally but then I saw the variety of registration plates and decided it wasn’t. For a start they were packed too closely together for a rally. All these new vans were in addition to the dozen or so which normally makes the Faro car park inaccessible to day visitors.
It always amazes me why anyone, having spent several tens of thousands of pounds on a motor van is happy to spend their lives living cheek by jowl in a car park, without any normal site facilities. No water (other than the beach showers which is non-potable); no toilet emptying facility and no electricity. And no security – just to save less than 9 Euros per day.
There was excitement in the air today. I was driving to Malaga Airport to meet my youngest daughter who was coming for a long weekend. The 40 mile drive is easily done within the hour and as her journey has a scheduled flight time of 2.5 hours, arrival times can be checked on the computer before leaving the site. The website showed her plane was ready to leave Gatwick at 9.35am………….. but then the delays began. According to the text messages I was receiving, the delay was because some passengers hadn’t stored their hand luggage; then later because all the food hadn’t been delivered to the plane I sometimes wonder if these simple reasons are announced so as to be less worrying than being told about some technical problem that needs sorting.
However………. The delay stretched to 50 minutes before the plane took off, but as the time passed, the loss was not being made up so arrival would be at 2.15. By 3.30 we were back at the apartment she had booked, and after admiring the view from balcony, I left her to settle in. We decided that as we have three favourite restaurants in Torrox and Nerja and also three nights, we would visit one of them each evening. For the Friday evening we went to La Blanca Paloma on Torrox Prom. We were just in time to see the last of the sunset.
“So where would you like to go today?” “Could we take a walk through Frigiliana?” So much for me thinking it might be a high-mileage day, but the village is less than eight miles away so we were there very quickly. Traffic is not allowed through the old part so a parking spot must be found outside. We’ve visited many times before but there’s always something new to see. And so it was today. I locked my bike in the Plaza and set off to climb a narrow, stepped road.
On the way back down to the Plaza I found a pathway leading down into the ravine. I wheeled my bike down the path to the first corner – much to steep to ride – then stood and pondered. I would have loved to have continued down, but the steepness for coming back was just too daunting. Instead I rode up the familiar main street.
The first building in the village is a bar where for a Euro one has the choice of a bottle of beer or a glass from one of several barrels of local wine. I thought “Why not?.” – so I sat in the sun to enjoy a beer.
When we met up we decided to zip along the motorway to Torre del Mar where we planted our sun loungers on the beach and had lunch. That was followed by the inevitable forty winks and before long, daughter set off on the walk along the proms to Mezquitillia, some four miles along the coast. Meanwhile I drove to the meeting point and then cycled for a while. The day was rounded off at the Bamboo in Nerja.
– and also some steep hills with tight hairpin bends around the ravines.
Salobreña is built close to the sea but on the top of a huge rock sitting in the midst of a flat landscape. The roads are narrow; very narrow in places and parking is difficult. But at last we found a place and then we set off walking. Always uphill and with so many turns, I began to wonder if we would ever find the car again. We eventually arrived at the church which was built in the 16th Century on the foundations of an earlier mosque. Naturally it was locked, but why at 11am on a Sunday morning? We continued onwards and upwards finally arriving at a T junction in the streets. Close by was a ‘native’ so with hands outstretched I asked “Castillo?” He pointed skywards! But then he pointed to the right, where round two more corners, we found the entrance. With free admission!
The Castle was originally built in the 10th Century by the Nasrid Dynasty; the same family which built the Alhambra in Granada. From the battlements there are some fantastic views over the surrounding landscape and across to the sea shore. Down below us on-going work with new roads was taking place.
Then soon it was time to make our way down the hills and around the corners till at last we saw our car. We made our way down to the seashore and drove along the prom. At sea level the wind was strong with some huge waves crashing along the seashore.
Fortunately we were able to pitch our loungers on the lea-side of a closed chiringuito, so although we had sun, we didn’t have the wind. Later in the afternoon we took our walk/cycle ride along the prom as far as the Peñón. Parked close by were two old but cherished VW motorvans; one 24; the other 25 years old.
After a welcome cup of tea we made our way home and ended the day at the Mirasol.
And sadly it was back to the airport today. We left the apartment by 10am with the aim of spending an hour on the beach at Torremolinos. The beach promenade stretches for a couple of miles and at the far end, the inevitable motor vans are parked. Amongst them was a young man using his car as his bed/living room. What was unusual was that the car was a Trabant
– a vehicle built in east Germany between the early 60’s and the late 80’s. They were slow, noisy and very polluting with a two-stroke engine. This example had a tow bar and was pulling a trailer. And it was attracting considerable interest.
After a coffee and a last half hour of sunshine, we did the short drive from beach to airport in five minutes or so. By the time I was back at El Pino I had a text message tellling me the flight was loaded, doors closed and ready for take off with an arrival time 30 minutes ahead of schedule. And for a change, in the evening, I had dinner in the caravan.
Another sunny day so another bike ride along the prom then to the shops for a few essentials. But as I rode over the bridge, I couldn’t fail to see the difference.
Not a motor van to be seen. Both the park and the beach car park completely empty. Obviously the Guardia had paid a visit. But where had they gone? There was no sudden influx at El Pino.
In 1385 Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “All good things must come to an end.” – And it’s still true because it’s time to think about going home. First – the ferry is booked for the 25th. Second – my Red Pennant insurance runs out on the 28th. That will have been a total of 122 days, the maximum that I’m allowed. So for the past few days I’ve been looking at the weather forecasts. First to decide when to take the awning down. A day without rain is needed so that it can be packed away dry. Secondly, I’m looking at the forecast with a view to spending a week doing some sight-seeing on the journey north. I would like to spend a couple of nights at Toledo and another two at Burgos. But if the weather in Central Spain is cold and wet, I’ll stay in Torrox and do the journey north in two days. The trouble is the forecasters keeping moving the goal-posts.
But with rain forecast for tomorrow, I thought it best to do the awning today. I’d made a start by 9am. First by dismantling my kitchen then storing all the bits in the car. By 9.15 Willy came past taking Bentley for his morning walk. Normally they go along the beach for a couple of hours but today he was back within 15 minutes, having taken his dog back at his van. It’s several days ago that he told me to let him know when I intended to start packing so that he could come and help. What a good friend he is. (It’s OK he won’t be reading this and getting embarrassed – he doesn’t do computers!) By 12.30 the job was done, all cleaned and packed away. During the afternoon I went around saying a few good byes. I called in at Willy’s van to see Yvonne. Willy was busy in his awning making his pebble men. As he walks the beach with his dog, he picks up small pebbles, then drills them turning them into figures. He’s made lots of them which he gives to his friends. He was working on one for Martin – a Scotsman whose favourite pastime is boules and who likes to wear his kilt and sporran on special occasions. Of course, the figure being made for him had to be dressed in a kilt.
There’s to be a leaving party for Joanne and Martin on Tuesday night. It will be given then……………… Later in the evening it was with a thankful heart that I listened to the rain pattering on the van roof.
The forecasters got it right. We had a wet morning but by lunch time it had brightened up sufficiently for me to unload the bike and take a ride down to the front and along the prom – my last view of the Med – at least for this winter.
Another wet day to put in but the 5-day forecast for Central Spain looks good so the decision is made to move off tomorrow morning. Later in the afternoon I heard that some of the roads in the site are going to be re-surfaced tomorrow. Another good reason to be leaving. In the late afternoon I wound up the legs, engaged the mover and turned the caravan so that it’s in a convenient position to hitch up and pull off the pitch. Happily the three or four yards of movement were sufficient to wake up the tyre pressure sensors on the van and send the information to the car’s dashboard. They were both showing no loss of pressure during the four months of standing.
After a sad farewell to Martin and Willy I left El Pino at 8.30 and headed up to the motorway. With the completion of this section of the A7, the journey is on toll-free dual carriageway all the way north. First to Motril, then a turn inland for the climb up to Granada. Although it was the morning rush, traffic was fluid on the A44 through the city. After 120 miles I’d reached the junction with the A4 and pulled into the services for a quick lunch. Within another 30 miles I would reach the site at Santa Elena but I decided it was too early to stop and so continued on the A4 to Madridejos where I turned on to the CM42 for Toledo. As I drove a long I came up behind a car transporter carrying a very damaged Kia Sportage. I quickly realized that it was brand new – but now a write-off.
Interesting to know the story! When I reached the outskirts of Toledo I headed for Camping El Greco which I reached after 290 miles. Although it’s listed as an ACSI site when I flashed my card for a reduced fee, I was told there was no discount. So for one person the site fee was €20.20 per night. After paying almost €5 for electric and with the temperature down to -2C during the night, I didn’t let the caravan get cold!
After such a cold night, the sun took it’s time to warm up the day. By 9am I was in the car driving the short distance to the city. All the parking places were taken at the end of the San Martin Bridge so I drove on round the Circunvalacion and parked in a layby close to the Puerta de Alcantara.
Facing me was a steep pathway which quickly turned into long flights of steps. Gradually (and slowly) I got higher and higher until eventually I arrived at street level. After another three hundred yards I arrived in the grounds of the Alcazar where there were superb views along the gorge. After a further walk I arrived at the Cathedral. Building was started here in 1227 and continued for the next 250 years. It has eight doorways however entrance and exit is confined to one. Around the outer aisles are twenty or so chapels, many of them housing some fine tombs. Eventually I had to find my way down to the river level and back to the car. Rather than negotiate the steps, I chose the road route but that zigzagged it’s way downwards to the bridge. It was with some relief that I got back to the comfort of the car. On the drive back I stopped at a high point on the Circunvalacion to admire the view across the Gorge to the City.
Time to move on again. This time to Burgos. Very soon I was on the A42, the toll-free motorway to Madrid. After 35 miles I took Tom-tom’s advice and ignored the exits to the M50 and M40 and continued on to the M30. This is the shortest ring road across Madrid but also it carries the heaviest traffic. However I reached the A1 without any delays. By the time I was at the service station at KM38, I felt ready for a coffee so I pulled in. I didn’t stop again until I was within 15 miles of Burgos. As it was already 1pm I took advantage of a rest area and stopped for lunch and a nap. On the road again and within twenty minutes I arrived in Burgos with my satnav taking me to the correct exit for the campsite. Being a few years old, Tom-tom’s directions were hopelessly wrong since its choice of route is now closed to traffic however the route is well sign-posted. I arrived at Fuentes Blancas and checked in with my ACSI card and paid €38 for two nights.
I drove into the City from the camp site and tried to find a parking space close to the Cathedral. That was impossible so I parked in a paying underground car park. After a five minute walk I was approaching the Puerta de Santa Maria, the principal gate of the ancient city. The river was crossed by a Bridge with the same name. The Cathedral was just a short walk away. Admission is by ticket priced at €8 (€6 for Seniors) which includes the use of a hand-held audio guide. Burgos Cathedral is the largest in Spain. It was built on the foundations of a Roman Temple and work started on the orders of King Ferdinand III in 1221. By the end of the 13th C most of the work was completed. As at Toledo, the side aisles are filled with chapels, each one finely decorated with carvings and gold leaf.
In the afternoon I drove to the top of the hill to visit the Castle. Disappointment awaited me – it was closed. According to the notice at the gate it is only open on Saturdays & Sundays. It was here in October of 1812 that the Duke of Wellington’s troops spent many weeks attacking the fort in the hope of driving out the French invaders. Eventually he succeeded but at a fearful loss of life – both English and French. A memorial has been erected near the Castle entrance in memory of those who died. From the surrounding roads there are some good views over the city.
The last lap down to Santander today. But there was no hurry – it’s only 112 miles. So I didn’t leave till 10.30. There were two options for a route – go westward on the A231 to join the A67 or go across country on the A73 – at least as far as it goes. It was the second route I chose. The motorway very quickly ends and the dual carriageway becomes the N627. I pulled into a handy filling station to fill my tank on the outskirts of Vivar. This is the small town which is the birthplace of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar who was born in 1040. Thanks to Charlton Heston who played him, we know Rodrigo Diaz became known as El Cid, a famous character in Spanish history. He died in 1099 at Valencia and is buried in Burgos Cathedral.
In spite of wind and rain on the journey, I reached Virgen del Mar shortly after 1pm to find myself the only caravanner there. There’s a review about the site on my blog review pages. Since I wrote the piece nothing has changed. It’s main attraction is that it’s very close to the port – only 10 miles via the motorway, or about five miles across town. But for what it is, it’s expensive. One night for me on my own – €22, the most expensive site I’ve used during the whole four months.
By morning no one else had checked in. During the Saturday morning I used the time to give the inside of the caravan a clean. It’s nice to get home and not be faced with a cleaning job straight away.
I left Virgen del Mar shortly after 12.30 and parked in the large car park a short distance away and close to the Island where there’s a small chapel dedicated to the Virgen. Being a good day, the bay was looking at it’s best.
After a short walk around I got back to the car and drove down to the port. Although it was 3.5hrs before departure several boarding lines were already full. Pont Aven had already docked and unloaded.
The ship left almost on time and most of the passengers appeared to be on deck watching a glorious sunset.
The particular crossing on which I travelled is supposed to take just 30 minutes short of twenty four hours. However because of harbour traffic, there was a 20 minute delay in reaching the berth. There was a further delay in leaving the ship because the caravan I was parked behind had a flat tyre. But eventually I was able to drive out on to the dock, then to the motorway. After a sixty mile drive in drizzly rain and a partially blocked driveway, I couldn’t really say “It was good to be home”.
As I’ve done in previous years, this is a breakdown of my expenses for four months:-
Ferry fare Portsmouth/Bilbao Santander/Portsmouth for a 5mtr car and a 7mtr van.
Both journeys had a ‘friends’ discount.
Outward on Economie £290
Site fees & electricity El Pino £822
Site fees on journey out €138
Total journey site fees £202
Fuel for journey there and back £196
Toll charges £17
Red Pennant Insurance for 122 days. £290
The total cost for four months this year is roughly £200 more than it was last year. This is mainly due to the difference in the Euro/GBP exchange rate between last year and the present. El Pino site fees haven’t increased since last year although the electricity charge showed an overall increase of £25 however, El Pino’s total bill was £117 more. Also last year I didn’t incur toll charges and Red Pennant increased by a further £10.