What did we spend during our 7 week campervan trip to Spain?

09.23.2018 Sierra de Urbassa walk (2)
A shepherd in the lovely Sierra d’Urbasa

You might recall we’re trying to keep within a budget and that this year achieving this has proved to be tough going with our spending feeling somewhat out of control.  I was therefore keen to keep costs low on our fantastic autumn trip to Spain from September to November.  So how did this plan go and what did we spend?

Diesel – £390 (we avoided the temptation to visit all of Spain and travelled 2,430 miles)

Supermarket / food shopping – £536 (around £100 less than we would have spent at home and we returned with dozens of bottles of wine for the cellar!)

Cafes & meals out – £326 (Coffee in a cafe is inexpensive in Spain and we do this much more on holiday than at home but we ate out in the evening less and so spent almost £100 less than we would have spent at home so a small gold star to us)

Campsites – £708 (we had a few nights wild camping to keep costs down but could have done more)

Public transport – £51 (we stayed off the motorways with tolls in Spain and managed to spend a little less than we would if we’d stayed home)

Entrance fees – £98 (similar to when we are at home)

Miscellaneous – £80 (new sunglasses, maps, washing machines, occasional wi-fi)

Ferry Portsmouth to Bilbao – £895 (ouch!  A lot of money to suffer the high seas of the Bay of Biscay)

Fixing the power steering & a new wing mirror for our van – £377 [power steering electrical fault]

Total spent £3,461

I’m feeling reasonably pleased with this total.  It really is not that much more than we would have spent if we’d stayed at home so hasn’t had a massive impact on our budget.  The lesson is that there are really no excuses not to go away again!

 

 

 

Playing knock Knock, who’s there in Spain: Spanish door knockers

Knock Knock, Who’s There?  Theodore!  Theodore who?  Theodore wasn’t open, so I knocked!

On the first house I lived in one of my favourite things I bought for the house was a cast iron door knocker of a cat happily sitting on top of a dog kennel.  This door knocker made me smile every time I arrived home.  The door knocker moved with me to a couple of houses but eventually it got left behind somewhere.  I’ve not had a door knocker that has made me so happy since and on our flat we don’t have one at all [electric intercoms don’t give me the same pleasure but they are practical].  Nevertheless I have retained my interest in handsome door knockers.

All over Spain we found plenty of door knockers worth stopping and admiring on their magnificent doorways.  On our latest trip I first started to give door furniture a thought while we were in the charming town of Aínsa.  Look carefully at one of the photographs above and you will see a door knocker in the shape of a pair of testicles.  Having this sort of fertility symbol nailed to your front door is apparently traditional in Spain.

After Aínsa I started to notice all sorts of decorative door knockers.  Some were fierce and unwelcoming or perhaps protective.  In the hill village of Pedraza I spotted a dragon, in Burgos I noticed a somewhat fierce dog [nothing like the cute one I had owned] and the magnificent door knocker with three snakes was in Albarracin.

As well as protective or bringing good fortune, these decorative and ornate door knockers are an outward display of wealth and status.  Attached to a front door they are often the first thing your visitors will note and are a visible indication of taste or your financial standing.  My cute cat and dog door knocker must have said oodles about me.

I’ll finish with another Knock Knock joke!

Knock knock, Who’s there?    Lettuce.   Lettuce who?

Lettuce in, it’s cold out here!

 

10.23.2018 Abarracin town (44)
Three snakes door knocker

23 Spanish campsites and aires

09.30.2018 Ordesa walk (19)
The stunning Ordesa Valley

We spent over two months in Spain this autumn and stayed mostly on campsites where we could use our ACSI discount card.  We had an occasional night staying on an aire.  These were all good and as we are trying to save money we could have done more.  Most campsites were a reasonable price but the one in Toledo was exceptionally expensive.  The list is below with my notes on how we found each spot.

Campsite name Comments Cost
Bakio Motorhome Parking near Bilbao Sloping parking area near the beach popular with surfers and peaceful enough, public toilets nearby £0.00
Camping Etxarri, Etxarri Aranatz, Navarra Hedged camping pitches & lots of bungalows & permanent caravans, some pitches very shaded, facilities reasonably clean, showers cramped & push button were only warm.  ACSI €19.00
Camping El Molino, Mendigorria Large organised site with some shade & some grass, clean facilities & powerful showers with adjustable temperature & hot, nice walk by river, ACSI €19.00
Camping Valle de Hecho, Hecho Terraced site with trees, near to village, scruffy year-round caravans, facilities clean, showers cramped but mostly hot, wash-up out of doors, no bread out of season €21.27
Aire, Jaca Tarmac car park with reasonable size bays near to the town, very popular, quiet by 23.00, bells & neighbouring buses noisy in the morning €0.00
Camping Ordesa, Torla Terraced site with fantastic views of mountains, facilities dated but roomy and good hot showers €21.20
Camping Rio Ara, Torla Terraced site, grassy with trees and tidy, steep access road, lovely modern facilities and good hot showers, adjustable & free flowing, supermarket & bar, good size pitches €22.60
Camping Pena Montanesa, Ainsa Large site with open views to mountains, information about walks, 2 kms from Ainsa, a lovely old town, facilities a bit scruffy but good hot showers & bread, ACSI & bottle of wine on leaving! (Ainsa has an excellent aire too) €19.00
Alquezar Camping, Alquezar Terraced sandy camping site with narrow access routes & trees for shade, small shop & cafe, some good facilities, near to lovely town & good walking, ACSI €17.00
Camping El Roble, Valderrobres Small gravel site by the road, pleasant & helpful owner, modern facilities, good hot showers, marked good-size pitches, cycle routes from site, ACSI €15.00
Camping Els Ports, Arnes Large site with marked pitches, 1 km from town on main road & some noise, facilities clean & okay ACSI €19.00
Celler El Masroig Flat parking by the wine producer with emptying point, quiet village, car park used by staff from around 07.30 €0.00
L’Orangeraie, Calig Nicely laid out small site with marked pitches, facilities clean & showers okay, friendly welcome & peaceful, ACSI €17.00
Los Pinos, Peñíscola Gravel marked sunny pitches with narrow access roads, 1.5 kms from the town, clean facilities, good hot showers & good value €12.00
Aire at Morella Pleasant gravel aire by picnic site with views to hilltop castle and town, popular €0.00
Camping Altomira, Navajas near Segorbe A terraced campsite by a small village, views from higher levels, English at reception, underfloor heating in toilets but facilities a bit dated & showers only warm, cycling nearby, ACSI €17.00
Camping Ciudad de Albarracin Terraced ACSI site with gravel pitches about 1.5 kms from old town, some in full sun, clean facilities & excellent hot continuous showers, great views & walking €17.00
Aranjuez Camping Large organised site about 1.5 kms from lovely town, English at reception, facilities dated but clean & good hot continuous showers & heated, supermarket, trains to Madrid, ACSI €19.00
Camping El Greco, Toledo Level site with marked pitches 3 km from the city, hourly bus service, 30 mins walk from town, clean facilities & good hot adjustable & continuous showers €27.90
Camping El Escorial, El Escorial Level ACSI site with lots of tree cover & some frames to give shade, scruffy, busy reception, no heating in toilets, showers hot, disco can be noisy €19.00
Camping Riaza, Riaza Level site with grassy & sunny pitches, some road noise but mountain views, near to pleasant town, facilities clean, showers continuous & very hot ACSI €19.00
Camping Fuentes Blancas, Burgos Level grassy site, some trees, 4 buses a day to Burgos, some road noise, shower block 3 is heated with good continuous hot shower, block 4 is unheated, wash-up is outdoor, ACSI €19.00
Port at Bilbao Flat tarmac area with toilets, cafe only open in the morning this time €0.00

A colourful Spanish autumn

10.10.2018 Valderrobres cycle ride (10)

Spain is beautiful … this goes without saying.  One of the things that added to the allure during our trip this year through September, October and November was the autumn colours.  They were stunning!  We spent a lot of time in Aragón and around Madrid and in so many places we visited I would stop and exclaim at the variety of the colours as the trees turned from green to shades of yellow, bronze, orange and russet.

I think of myself as a spring-soul rather than an autumn-animal so this excitement by what I generally think of as an ending, rather than the new beginning of spring, was a bit of a revelation.  Did all that sunshine turn my head or am I changing as I reach my own autumn years?

We visited so many dazzling places but a few stand out for the autumn colours.  Torla and the Ordesa National Park is an area we had previously visited many years ago in high summer.  Our trip here in early October had a different vibe.  The crowds were less, many of the campsites were closed, the nights were chilly and the Ordesa Valley had an autumnal feel with the leaves on the trees just beginning to turn.  Of course, the days were warm and sunny and it was perfect hiking weather.

We spent a few days cycling along the Val del Zafán Via Verde near Valderrobres, a route on an old railway line that runs around 105 km from Alcañiz to Tortosa.  While the pine trees and olive trees remain green, the leaves on the vines, beech, plane and sweet chestnut trees were turning golden.  The landscape, dotted with stone houses and barns, was a rainbow of colours and this made for glorious cycle rides.

Albarracin is famed for being Spain’s prettiest town and it is certainly gorgeous.  In the autumn it is spectacular as the colours of the red sandstone boulders among the dark green pine trees are complemented by the brilliant yellow of the deciduous trees.  A walk along the river around the town is worth exploring at any time of year but in autumn the turning trees change it in to a passage along a radiant corridor.

We spent a few days in the lovely town of Aranjuez and every day we walked in the gardens of the Royal Palace.  These gardens are full of trees that give welcome shade in the summer but it was the arcades of plane trees, heavy with russet coloured leaves, that were the star during our October visit.  Kicking dry leaves as you walk brings out the inner child in everyone.

Burgos is a city that is made for walking and the city centre has tree-lined pedestrian routes.  Most popular is the Paseo del Espolón where, once again, plane trees provide the shade.  Following the river, this paseo is made for strolling and in autumn sunshine the colours of the leaves is an added bonus.  We were here on a sunny Sunday and Burgos residents of all ages were out sharing a family walk.

Spring will continue to be my favourite season but I think I am learning to enjoy the back-end of the year too.

10.23.2018 Abarracin town (54)
Colourful Albarracin

 

 

 

 

Meeting a personal guide to the Spanish Civil War

10.28.2018 Morata and Chinchon (14)
The Civil War memorial above Morata de Tajuna

Looking over hundreds of olive trees, fringed by fragrant thyme and rosemary, it was hard for me to cast my mind back to the bloody scenes in February 1937.  We were south of Madrid at the site of the Battle of Jarama and between 1937 and the end of the Spanish Civil War around 15,000 people from the Nationalist and Republican sides lost their lives here.

We had driven our much loved campervan along more gravel tracks during our seven weeks in Spain than the ‘van had been on for all of it’s previous three and a half years and every time we were searching out something relating to the Spanish Civil War.  Off-road driving was starting to become the norm and the blue of the ‘van was disappearing until a layer of dust.

It was a sunny but breezy Sunday morning when we bounced down the tracks above Morata de Tajuna looking for an insignificant memorial to the International Brigades who had fought in the battle for Madrid.  It was a Sunday morning and on the tarmac roads we had passed hundreds of cyclists in large groups and on their own, all out for a ride, this is clearly a Spanish thing.

After parking up we stood looking at the slightly disappointing memorial of rocks and rusting tins and other debris.  This isn’t the stunning clenched fist memorial in the photograph and I was struggling to take much from it as we tried to read the faded plaque.  I guessed it related to the Spanish Civil War but couldn’t be sure.  Then a knight in shining armour / cyclist pulled up and said, ‘I guess you are from the British van’ in excellent English.  Remarking on his fantastic grasp of our native tongue he explained his mixed European heritage and that he had lived in the UK for around 15-years but now lived near to this hill of olive groves.  He explained that cycling around the area every week he became interested in the history and had done some research.

He told we were standing on Suicide Hill and the Republican 15th Brigade, including the British Battalion [not all of them were from Britain], were killed in huge numbers over three days of fierce fighting here in February 1937.  A few of the 500 – 600 men in the British Battalion had seen previous combat but many had never fired their weapons and ill equipped, unprepared and newly trained, these volunteers faced an attack from Franco’s elite Nationalist Army of 40,000 experienced troops that were well armed, had some air support and tanks.  The Nationalists had control of most of the main roads to Madrid and had a clear objective to cut the Madrid to Valencia road, thus circling and isolating Madrid and forcing its surrender.

The numbers and certainly names of the soldiers who died here are mostly unknown.  It is estimated 600 British soldiers fought for the Republicans at Jarama and many died on the first day of fighting.   Remarkably, although so many lost their lives, courage and conviction enabled the Republicans to more or less hold their positions and after three days of desperate fighting the two armies dug in here until the last days of the Spanish Civil War in 1939.  The name Suicide Hill started to make sense.

Our guide told us that on his regular cycle rides he passes the remnants of old trenches among these olive groves and bullet holes are still visible on the tree trunks.  This is a landscape still scarred by the war but does not receive the huge numbers of visitors seen at the World War One battle areas.  After sharing the history of Suicide Hill, he pointed us in the direction of the stunning memorial in the photograph and recommended the small and moving museum in Morata de Tajuna at Mesón El Cid and open at the weekends 12.00 – 14.00.  If you’re passing I recommend you take a look.

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Dirty Old Town: #surprisingsalford #34

Gas holders Nov 2018 (6)
The new local history board and the remaining gas holder

‘I met my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town’

Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl wrote ‘Dirty Old Town’ in 1949 about Salford.  The gas works wall encloses the gas holders that have stood between Liverpool Street and Regent Road for around 150 years.  I can see them from our kitchen window and often find myself humming the tune but not for much longer; these familiar landmarks are in the process of being  dismantled.  The ‘gas works wall’ will remain and this now has a board that records the memories of local people and the history of the gas works and the area.

On Friday 15 November a small group of us gathered to see the new board, meet some of the people involved and have a chance to get up close and personal with the remaining gas holder.  As we walked over to the site from home I said, ‘Surely we will get to sing the song.’  It almost didn’t happen but someone else was keen and standing in the chilly November air we all managed to remember the words to the first verse.

The memories of local people bring the industrial landscape of Salford alive.  Today this part of Salford is an odd mixture of recycling plants and car show rooms but once housing, shops, pubs and cinemas crowded around four gasometers and a power station.  Built in 1869 and 1879 the gasometers have not been used since the 1960s.  We donned hard hats and fluorescent jackets, walked up to the remaining metal gas holder structure and peered into the hole that is gradually being filled before the surrounding structure is removed.  Although functional, there is a charm in these gas holder and I admired the detail on the columns and the crisscross pattern of the structure.  I will miss them.

From the work of the community artists who recorded the memories of local people I learnt that there is a railway tunnel underneath West Egerton Street and from Les’ story I found out just how close this part of Salford came to being blown sky high:

‘An incendiary bomb landed on top of the gasometers during WW2.  It was moved by an auxiliary fireman.  He managed to put it out and save the area from being blown up.  He was awarded the George Medal.’  Les

How to be an award winning travel writer

P1140693
The Caravan Writers’ Guild Douglas King Award crystal glass trophy

‘How did you get into journalism,’ Terry Owen, the former Secretary of the Caravan Writers’ Guild asked me.   I was visiting Terry and Alison to collect the crystal glass trophy I had won for the Douglas King Award for written journalism.  Terry’s question was a good one that deserved a better answer than the waffle I came up with on the hoof.  What I did say is that I have been practising and improving my writing for a long time.  The night school class I took in English Literature in the 1980s got my fingers itching and I learnt from others while I worked on an alternative local magazine, Preston Other Paper.  Studying for a degree in Geography and Environmental Management and a higher degree in Applied Public Health and keeping my first blog from 2009 helped to hone my writing skills so that in 2011 I was ready to dip my toe in to being paid for writing about life in a campervan.  My journey to winning the Douglas King Award has been a long one and I continue to strive to ensure that my travel articles are entertaining, accurate and informative.

I  write travel articles because my friends don’t always want to listen to my stories of my travels and the need to share the beautiful places I visit is strong.  These travel articles are not aimed at my friends, my audience, the campervan and motorhome owner [or potential owner], is always at the forefront of my mind.  In practice this means that my travel articles are not only the story of tours we have completed in our own ‘van, they include practical information about places you can park a long vehicle, where campsites or wild camping spots are and the state of the roads.

As well as improving my craft and remembering my audience I thoroughly research the area I am exploring.  Typically, I always learn more snippets of information than I can fit in to one travel article but part of the art of a writer is knowing what fits the story you are telling and what might be fascinating but is a digression and needs to be ditched.

I like to weave a thread through my stories as this helps them to hang together so that they are more than a list of places we visited.  This thread might be something personal such as a childhood memory or a visit to an area that has long been on my wish list.  For other articles I might concentrate on the weather or the local food.  Sometimes the narrative emerges from the research and I might link together literary connections or historical sites.

I am chuffed to bits when people I meet or on social media tell me how much they like a particular travel article I have written but winning an award for my journalism is a different level of recognition that has blown me away.  It is such an honour to have my writing appreciated and judged to be award winning by other professionals and I still have an inner glow from having won.

I entered the Douglas King Award for the first time a few years ago and in August this year I thought i would give it another go.  Checking through my articles that had been published in the preceding twelve months I chose to submit the article about a tour of Scotland’s beautiful west coast, published in MMM in January 2018 and a piece I was proud of.  You can find the article in the list of my MMM articles if you want to have a read.

In September we had just arrived in Spain and I got a call to tell me that I was short-listed for the award; I was over the moon at receiving this recognition for my writing but certainly didn’t expect to hear anything more.  So imagine my elation when the following month I heard that the judges had decided that my article was good enough to be declared the winner!  The judges thought the piece was a, ‘Beautiful descriptive feature’ which certainly goes to prove that you don’t need perfect weather to write a good travel article, which must be a comfort to many UK based journalists.  We were in the lovely Spanish coastal town of Peñíscola when I received this news and so I unfortunately missed the glittering presentation evening.  I was both delighted and astounded to win and only Mr BOTRA got to see my blushes.

The Caravan Writers Guild covered the award on their website and MMM published a news story.  It was a particularly big night for MMM as the magazine scooped two awards at the October presentation evening with their Road Test Editor also winning the John Wickersham Award for Video.

Both the Caravan Writers’ Guild’s awards are open to non-members and they manage these awards efficiently and courteously with the aim of encouraging excellence within the sector.  Membership is available to those who have been writing and published for at least a year, so if you’re a motorhome or caravan journalist writing in print, on a blog or producing a vlog then give joining the Guild a thought and maybe enter a piece yourself in 2019.

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Receiving the Douglas King Award from Alison Owen [photograph taken by Terry Owen]