Pinar San Jose….So Good We Just Had to Come Back!

Our first trip to Pinar San Jose was in March 2017, and we loved it so much then that we stayed a week longer than we had planned.

That time we met up with a group of campers who regularly came back to this site year after year. We were hoping to meet up with them again this year but I guess Brexit and Covid have played their part in keeping people away.

I contacted a friend of mine who I bumped into by chance here on our last visit, and who has a house down here, and he thought that most of the gang would be down after Christmas………well there is another thought!

This is the first place that we pitched for a few days……………

And this is the second and final pitch. We had to change from our original site because we couldn’t get a satellite signal, and Jane (not me) wanted to watch TV and the recordings we’d made before we came away, so we moved. It took us longer to move 500 yards than it normally takes us to move 200 miles!

It doesn’t get light here until about 8.30am and that has thrown us a bit, my early morning walks don’t start until about 9am so our whole day starts a little bit later…….which is no real hardship, just a little longer in bed reading my book!

This is Cape Trafalgar on my first morning walk.

At that time of the day the beaches are deserted, you might happen upon a lone fisherman or a dog walker or as on one occasion 20 horses running by you at full gallup!

This is our occasional neighbour. Jane had heard a grunting noise from outside and thought I had fallen asleep on my lounger and was snoring, only to find it was a friendly pot-bellied pig…….not too much unlike me then!

We met up with another English couple, Simon and Caroline, with their dog and cat. Apparently the cat had caused a few problems by disappearing for a few nights on the tiles before finally coming back home for some food!!

Simon and Caroline’s lovely VW van was a subtle red colour with a union jack roof. You couldn’t miss it even if you tried! Simon and I liked G&Ts and Jane and Caroline liked wine so that sounded like a good recipe for an evening together under the stars putting the world to rights, and so it turned out….mind you we did come to some earth shattering solutions but none of us can remember them now!

This is Barbate Beach which is some 10 miles away from our campsite up and down a very steep, long hill about half way. Jane didn’t mind that too much as she has an electric bike, and the hill wasn’t too much of a struggle for her and also has the added bonus that it keeps me quiet as I don’t have an electric bike and I need all my puff to get up the hill!

We arrived in Barbate at lunchtime and settled down to a leisurely meal (local tuna) with a great view.

The cycle home was a bit of a disaster as Jane got a puncture half way up the hill! Those of you who know me know that I would struggle to fix one at home with all the tools I need around me, let alone at the side of a dusty road in the heat after a meal and a glass of wine!

My plan was to cycle back and get the car and put the bike in the back but Jane was worried about all the recent murders of lone women on this road on bikes with punctures so we had to come up with another plan! This was to push our bikes two miles uphill until we found a cafe where Jane could wait in safety whilst I got the car………my god, when we ordered those drinks and finally got them down our necks they tasted like nectar!

The nearest bike repair shop was in Vejer de la Frontera, and as I said I’m not particularly good at mending punctures, I thought we could kill two birds with one stone……. have a visit and also get the bike fixed at the same time.

Vejer is one of the 10 most famous of the Pueblos Blancos of Andalusia (White Villages) We had already visited here on the previous trip along with Ronda which is closer to Marbella.

These whitewashed Moorish towns have a certain laid back charm, windy lanes lead you to stunning views or to little bars where you can sit and while away a few hours people-watching whilst sipping a chilled drink and sampling the local tapas and waiting for your bike to get fixed!

That evening after all the walking around Vejer and getting the bike fixed, we decided to eat at the restaurant over the road from the campsite. Jane had pizza and I had squid and chips and they were both lovely, and as I wasn’t driving we had a couple of glasses of wine!

We can hook up our T.V to the campsite’s satellite network, which allows you to tune in to about 20 or so pre-selected channels, the only one we can find in English being ITV, and that is the Granada region, I wonder if this was a mistake by the person who selected the channels……maybe they were hoping for the major Spanish city 200 miles away to the east!

Russell and Jane were our neighbours on our first pitch. They had been staying on site for about a month and one evening they popped over to our caravan for a long boozy evening of G&Ts and wine.

Russell invited us over to their place a few nights later for a curry. Well let me tell you that this curry was fantastic! Russell even made his own curry paste by blending in his own special mix of herbs and spices, I definitely think he has missed his vocation in life, and that he should have moved to cheffing years ago!

It’s a shame that they have moved on to Denia as I could have eaten another one of those!

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AT LAST…….SPAIN AGAIN!

So, the last time we attempted this trip we only got as far as Santander. This was due to the Spanish Government announcing whilst we were on the ferry that Spain was going into lockdown and all campsites would be closed immediately. We had been regularly checking government websites and this was not what we were expecting! We had to spend two nights in a supermarket car park before returning back to the UK on the next available ferry!

At last, we are going abroad again in our caravan.

With car and caravan safely on board it was time to explore Brittany Ferries’ newest ship, the Galicia. The ship was modern and spacious and we had a very comfortable cabin. As we didn’t sail until 10.30 pm we thought that a quick explore and a nightcap or two was in order before bed.

The crossing was very smooth, the sun shone, the Bay of Biscay behaved itself and we got some nice views of the French coastline .

At last we are back in Spain!

This time we have a new van, a Bailey Cordoba, which is slightly longer than our previous one and has a  least a couple of advantages over our Cadiz. The first is that we now have a full size fridge freezer (ideal for storing up all the local chilled delicacies) and the second, and best advantage as far as I’m concerned, is that we now have long enough sofas so that I can fully lay out to watch T.V!

It is, as I say, nearly a metre longer than our last van, and there is no problem towing along most roads, but it is a bit more tricky getting in to some of the tighter campsites!

We made good time, and after pitching up took a quick trip to the local supermarket to stock up. (Brexit means we can’t bring half the stuff we used to…. no milk and not even pork pies!) After that I still had time to cycle alongside the river into the old town.  

As soon as I was back from my cycle ride, and my bike was secured on top of the car again, it was time for my first G&T of the holiday!

The next day the weather looked a little bit iffy, but we still thought we would cycle back into the old town and explore, and also have some lunchtime tapas with a glass of wine. The weather was kind to us and we managed to dodge the showers and ended up in the Plaza Mayor just as the sun was making an appearance.

Salamanca is a lovely old city with plenty of little lanes and alleyways to explore. We were there on a Sunday and the place was very busy with people coming and going to church, socialising and meeting up for lunch.

When we returned to the van we found that we had an unannounced Spanish visitor!

Next stop Seville, even with the large aerial on top of the caravan we still couldn’t get radio 2!

The campsite just outside of Seville was lovely ………….but very tight and with very small pitches. It was quite nerve-wracking and tiring, especially after a 6 hour drive, to get set up for the night!

Next stop Pinar San Jose………The traffic leaving Seville was very busy, not so much a traffic jam but more of a marmalade…..boom boom!!

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Fortrose

From Skye on the west coast to Fortrose on the east coast. Our next campsite was less than a stone’s throw from the shores of the Moray Firth………….

The views were stunning, and yet again the weather was very kind to us………

When booking in to our campsite I noticed a chalkboard sign hanging next to the door. The owner mentioned that every day on the rising tide there was a chance that you might see dolphins at Chanonry Point which was only a short walk away. When we arrived there, I was amazed at how many other people had also come down to hopefully get a glimpse of a dolphin or two ……..

The first nights’ viewing was unsuccessful, all we got to see was a few fins swimming past, but the next evening our luck was in. It was just like they were putting on a show for us! I took so many failed photos on my phone, always a fraction too late, …… but I did manage to capture this shot which I’m very pleased with considering it was on an I-phone!

There was a German T.V film crew there making a documentary, and they had been there for weeks so they knew where to look as the tide was changing. We took our lead from them………although I did employ a couple of expert dolphin spotters myself !

A short walk from our campsite was Fortrose and Rosemarkie golf club and it was alongside here that we took our nightly stroll to Chanonry Point, I wish I had brought my clubs with me, it is one of the oldest clubs in the world and looked beautiful……still there is always next time!

Chanonry Lighthouse as the sun is setting.

A Highland cow……. a very hardy breed, well it would have to be up here as it gets bloody cold in the winter and some parts of the summer as well!

Just across the other side of Rosemarkie Bay was the site of the battle of Culloden.This was the final confrontation of the Jacobite uprising. This took place on 16 April 1746 and Culloden was the last pitched battle on British soil, in less than an hour, around 1,300 men were slain – about 1,250 of them Jacobites.

The further North we ventured the later it took to get dark, the sun is setting here at about 10.45 pm!

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Blue Skye Thinking

Dunvegan Castle was our first stop on our whislestop tour of the Isle of Skye. Dunvegan Castle has been the stronghold of the Chiefs of MacLeod for nearly 800 years and it remains the home of the Clan Chief. Not the most attractive of castles from the outside, it looks a bit like a block of flats with turrets!

The castle houses a collection of memorabilia, including a fairy flag. Legend has it that this sacred banner has miraculous powers and when unfurled in battle, the clan MacLeod would invariably defeat their enemies. There are also some items belonging to Flora MacDonald, who apparently is not the margarine burger heiress!

Jane took great delight when purchasing the tickets to the castle as this was the first time I was eligible for the seniors’ rate!

When you are out and about exploring there’s alway ample opportunity to do a little geocaching and, as on this occasion, you get to go to places you might have missed.

This is the Coral Beach in Claigan, just north of Dunvegan. The beach is made from crushed white coral like seaweed that makes the water look tropical blue when the sun comes out. A truly magical place!

We were very lucky to see this place on such a lovely day, although when the wind blew it was still a bit chilly! Just a random fact, the name of this bit of water is the “Little Minch”…….I just liked the name!

The next stop on our tour took us to Neist Point and this is where one of the most famous lighthouses in Scotland is situated. It is on the most westerly tip of Skye near the township of Glendale, where we stopped for our fish and chips lunch and an ice cream……..lovely!

We were still holding on to the beautiful blue sky but it was getting chillier, and we were running out of energy so we didn’t walk down to the light house……..which I regret now that I’m sat here in my study writing this!

After about 12 hours of touring around Skye it was time to head back to our caravan, which was pitched at Reraig Camping and Caravan site on the shores of Lock Alsh, to have some tea!

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How I Conquered Ben Nevis

It has been a long-held ambition of mine to climb the 3 highest peaks of the U.K. Jane and I were close to starting the ascent of Snowdon but the bad weather had other ideas, and it didn’t seem like a wise idea for us novices to attempt the summit in the rain and fog! I think Jane was secretly pleased but I was disappointed and have kept that one for another day.

As luck would have it the weather was great for my climb of Ben Nevis.

This time I was to be accompanied by mountain man Kev Heard. Although I thought I was fairly fit, I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but Kev had climbed the mountain several times before and convinced me that I could!

You can’t actually see the summit when you start off as it’s hidden by the hills you have to climb early on in the journey, and with every corner you turn you hope to get a better view!

On the lower slopes the pathway is well defined with large flat-ish rocks for you to climb over…………

And the further you ascend there are some handy boulders at the side of the path where you can take a breather, sit down and admire the view……………..

The further you climb, obviously the views get better, and when you look back the broad, wide path that you were walking on an hour ago now looks like a piece of string hanging on to the side of the mountain!

When we passed it on the way up I didn’t realise how important this stream would be on our return journey. It is recommended that you take at least 1.5 litres of water when you start your climb and that’s what I did. I also took the advice that the weather can change very quickly, and that you should take warm waterproof clothing with you and enough food to see you safely up and down. However, we were lucky enough to time our climb for the hottest day of year which meant that we got through our water so much quicker than we anticipated, and so we eagerly filled our empty bottles on our return!

As we climbed and talked to other climbers along the way, we were told how lucky we were to be on the mountain today as they only average 15 days a year when it is as clear as it is today!

It’s now getting a bit more serious; the boulders are getting bigger, and with larger gaps which are filled with loose easily moved shingle!

But the views are certainly getting better!

This was certainly the most difficult part of the climb, and you really had to concentrate on every step so that you didn’t twist your ankle

The loch that we passed a couple of hours ago now looks like a small puddle!

Mountain Man Kev takes a well deserved break!
Loch Linnhe in the distance
Nearly at the snow level!

By the time I had reached this point in our journey I had just about enough energy to take a photo, let alone build a stack of stones!

As you can see, not everybody can easily cope with the changing conditions underfoot…………

Even Mountain Men can slip……………and on the way back down Kev’s slip, and consequent descent on his bum, made everyone else think that this was certainly the easiest and most fun way to get down!

We made It!

One more photograph and now it time for my SANDWICHES!!!!

Well worth the effort!

A well deserved pint!
But just an orange juice and lemonade for me!

Back at ground level it doesn’t seem that bad.

It took us 4 hours up, we had an hours rest at the top and then another 4 hours down. It was probably one of the hardest, most demanding things I have ever done and I’m pleased that I accepted the challenge .

Now that we have reached its summit we are now entitled to just call it “The Ben”!

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Linnhe Lochside Campsite

At Fort William we stayed at the Linnhe Lochside Holidays site, and as the name says we were right beside the loch. It was picturesque at all times of the day, but for me it was best at sunset when you could admire the view with a glass of wine and watch the sun slowly disappear behind the hills.

Fort William to Mallaig on the Hogwarts Express. Thanks to Jane’s forward planning we had pre-booked our tickets for this famous steam train. What a truly lovely scenic journey through the Scottish countryside, and this time we didn’t need to drive so we were all able to admire the views!

The only down side was that we all had to wear face masks. Mind you, I do think they really suit Kev!

It was a real trip down memory lane for Jane, Val and Kev as they all remembered steam trains from the time when they where actually used day to day!!!!

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Next Stop Fort William

There are a lot of waterfalls in Scotland and you would think after you had seen a few you might get a little bored of walking to find another one, but not so for me. I found them thoroughly relaxing and almost hypnotic !

I have had quite a few derogatory comments about this picture, mainly to do with the apparent hiding of a cushion just above my waist…….all I can say is that it’s a trick of the light which has been accentuated by the ruck sack straps……..

The drive from Loch Lomond to Fort William took us through Glen Coe and was stunning. It was a shame that it was a bit overcast but this was the weather that we had expected up in Scotland, and any sunshine would be a bonus!

Thank goodness that there were some big car parks en route where you could stop and take in the view……..and maybe partake in a haggis burger from the burger van, served by a man in a kilt!

Mind you it’s best not to leave your van unattended for too long as you just never know what might happen!

It certainly wasn’t too much of a chore towing along scenic roads like these, although I’m not sure that the lorry drivers behind me would have agreed!

This is the Glenfinnan viaduct close to the shores of Loch Shiel, and I’m sure most of you will recognise it from the Harry Potter films. We were lucky enough to time our visit to see one of the twice-daily steam trains from Fort William crossing the viaduct. This time the Hogwarts Express was without a flying Ford Anglia anywhere to be seen!

We took this opportunity to do our first “hike in the hills”, well little more than a short stroll actually but quite taxing on the calves with all the ups and downs!

We still had enough energy to walk alongside Loch Linnhe to find the Corpach Shipwreck and in the distance admire the majesty of Ben Nevis……..one day I’m going to plan an attempt on the summit of that awe-inspiring mountain!

This old fishing vessel, the MV Dayspring was marooned here in 2011 when a heavy storm caused a chain to fail and she ran aground and has been here ever since. It’s been a magnet for local photographers ever since. It doesn’t appear in many guide books and it was only a tip from a local that led us here!

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I’ll Take the Highroad

I have finally got around to updating the blog and telling you a little bit about our 6 week road trip to Scotland.

We had always meant to explore the Highlands, but the lure of the warmer weather in France always seemed to sway our minds and it was put off for another time. It has always been too easy for us to drive the 20 minutes down the M27 to Portsmouth and get onboard a Brittany Ferry. Once you are onboard your holiday has started and 6 hours later you are in France.

This year was different as COVID had put a stop to most travel plans in this country let alone going abroad. So early in the year, about March, we started to make plans for a road trip “Up North”. It’s just as well we (when I say we I mean Jane, Kevin and Val) planned the trip early as many of the campsites were beginning to fill up and in some cases our first choice sites were not available at all!

Grange-over-Sands in the Lake district was our first stop on the way up country to start our epic 6 week tour of Scotland. It was a long 7 hour drive, mainly motorways which was tiring more than stressful, and the hardest part of the journey was trying to find a parking spot at the motorway services for the car and caravan! A few badly parked white vans can make things very difficult when you are towing!

I find a great way to relax after a long journey is to settle down with a locally produced pork pie and a packet of Walkers cheese and onion crisps. Grange-over Sands had one of the best pie shops that I had seen for many a day, so I was able to have a nice relaxing evening…… I think the wine also helped!

We had decided on a couple of days break in the Lake District before continuing our journey and as there was a National Trust property nearby we decided to make a visit.

Sizergh is a beautiful medieval house with lovely gardens. The house was fully booked up so we were only able to see the gardens, which were thoroughly enjoyable!

Grange Lido

Whilst walking along the prom in Grange-over-Sands we came across this deserted lido. It’s a shame to see it in such a sorry state, and there were signs outside telling us about the campaign to restore it to its former 1932 glory. It would be sad to see it go and I miss the old Southampton lido which my nan used to take me to during the long school holidays!

Nearly there……..

Look out Nicola Sturgeon we are here………..

Although Jane is not sure where she is………….

And that comment earned me a quick kick in the “Trossachs”

One thing to be aware of in June in Scotland……watch out for the “mozzies”. I was slightly offended when Jane said that she preferred this look!!!

Loch Lomond, our first campsite in Scotland…..

I initially thought that this dog was smoking a cigar but on closer inspection it was just carrying a stick!

When you see this street sign you automatically know what city you are in……….

Glasgow!

The Willow Tea Rooms

We had taken the drive from our campsite to the city centre on Kevin’s recommendation to the world famous tea rooms. As you can imagine it is always difficult to get me involved when there is something to do with food, and it was with great reluctance that I joined everyone for afternoon tea!

The Tea Rooms were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and first opened in 1903, and the building is internationally recognised for its design significance and as one of the finest examples in the world of a complete Art Nouveau scheme………and the cakes are lovely!

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The South West Coast Path

The South West Coast Path

It wasn’t that long ago that we were all walking a few sections of the south west coast path.  When I say ‘we’ it was the normal caravanning gang of Kev, Val, Jane and myself. We have set ourselves the target of walking the whole 630 miles over the next few years and as foreign travel seems to be on hold at least for the moment hopefully we will be able to get a few more miles under our belts………as long as we don’t have anymore lockdowns!

I am writing this blog whilst looking out of my study window at the rain lashing down on my recently polished car. I have just spent most of the day giving the motor a good clean and polish. Our household is in isolation after my dad was tested positive for COVID and hospitalised, and the 3 of us all then tested positive, so a good way for me to get some fresh air is to get a few outdoor jobs knocked off the list!

We were so lucky with the weather, it was less than a month ago and the sun was shining and shorts and t-shirts were definitely the order of the day!

Along with the stunning views and the good company, we were able to find a few geocaches. Val and Jane were very grateful for the moments when we were searching for a tupperware container amongst the rocks and heather as it gave them chance to catch their breath after climbing the steep hills.

You are totally spoilt for choice when looking for a spot to photograph whilst walking the coast path.  However, Jane did have to ask me to hold my stomach in, so that she could get more of the view on the photograph!

Of course keep-fit Kev didn’t have to hold his gut in…………during lockdown he was out walking 5 miles a day and he was definitely a lot slimmer than last time we met!

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Devon Sent

The Long and Windy Road to Devon

The view over Dartmoor from our caravan site on our first morning in Devon was not only stunning but also very welcome. I say very welcome because our journey to the west was not without event! All was well until we missed our exit off the A38 and the gentle mist turned into a thick fog where you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, let alone any helpful road signs!  

Oh well at least we had the sat-nav…………although in hindsight I should have remembered it didn’t know we had a caravan behind us! I’m not sure if many of you know how narrow even the major “A” roads in Devon are, but let me tell you the minor roads are mighty narrow. They are so narrow in fact that small cars often have to pull their wing mirrors in when passing cars coming in the opposite direction, so you can imagine the fun I was beginning to have whilst following the roadworks diversion signs.  You know the road is narrow when the driver of the dustcart coming towards you (which is behind an articulated lorry) gets out of his cab to guide you through the gap between the hedge.  The truck driver then says “you’ve got about 4 inches from the hedge on the left”, and when you look out your window on the right-hand side you can clearly read the make of the lorry tyres, which are only about 6 inches away from your nose!

Then things really went from bad to worse, a left turn took us down a single track road, and the sat-nav said we only had 3 miles to go………what are the chances that something would be coming in the other direction in this sleepy little back water?

Well, very high as it turns out…….and then this is where we were saved by our guardian angel.

Our saviour was Cathy Tor from Markstone Farm, and she saw what was going on outside her gates and set about directing the traffic, enabling me to reverse up the road and then turn around in a field in her farm. Not only that, but she then led us to our destination along far wider roads!

An hour or so later Kev and Val turned up at the site with a story to tell………they had been led to safety by Cathy as well….what a small world!

I am very glad to say it was worth all the effort!

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