We started our tour of Portugal in the north with an intention to gradually move south. The Peneda-Geres National Park is in the north-western corner of Portugal and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits. We based ourselves in two places in the national park; firstly in Entre Ambos-os-Rios at Lima Escape, a shaded informal campsite by the river that was €13 a night and later in Parque Cerdeira in Campo de Geres, which at €23 a night was a tad expensive for us and much more regimented. Both had good walks from the campsite and we also did some uphill cycling from Entre Ambos-os-Rios. Lima Escape had good information about walking at reception.
On our walks we visited the granite villages of Sobredo, Germil and Ermida and we also travelled up to the picturesque hillside village of Sistelo. In all of these villages the streets are narrow winding paved lanes and the old grey granite houses have small windows and often have steps up to the first floor with the newer houses built around the edges of the village hub. These are agricultural villages and grapes and corn are the main crops grown on terraces lined with stone walls, the grapes often grown along pergolas over the road or around the field edges. The corn cobs are dried in espigueiros, sheds sitting on stone legs to keep animals away, and the corn stalks are dried in stacks for animal feed. The local horned caramel-coloured cows wander the lanes along with dogs and cats and small flocks of sheep. We cycled to Ermida, only 8 kms along the road but the ride involves over 400 metres of ascent and some of this over 10%. Weary and thirsty we searched out the village cafe finding it only because we noticed a couple of men chatting outside an open door. There was no cafe name or sign, no tables with umbrellas, nothing to give it away as a cafe until we got inside and spotted the crates of beer and coffee machine.
From Campo de Geres we used a leaflet bought from the information centre for 10 cents and followed a 9 kms way-marked trail through the mountains and down to the reservoir where we had spectacular views and the route followed a Roman road that was busy with butterflies. The information centre at Campo de Geres is well worth a visit as it has a number of self-guided walking leaflets available.
Away from the national park we stayed in the small town of Arco de Baulhe. The campsite overlooks the river and terraces of vines and the work-a-day Portuguese town [that is no less pleasant for that] is just five minutes walk away. For cyclists Arco de Baulhe is at the end of 40 kms long cycle route along an old railway line which provides excellent and scenic cycling along the river Tamega. The tile below is one that decorates the public toilets next to the old railway station. All of the old railway stations along the route have beautiful tiling and I had to stop and admire every one.
In 2007 the Manchester Evening News reported that Salford was getting its own version of Central Park. I have never been to Central Park in New York but it must be a point to debate whether the regeneration of this former brown field site quite managed to meet this extravagant aspiration. That said, the Lower Irwell Valley Improvement Area [Livia] is an improvement on the previous derelict site, joining together a number of smaller green spaces that give wildlife the green corridors that allow them to move around in.
Livia is in Pendlebury and lies between the railway line and Bolton Road and is surrounded by housing. The 1950s map shows the land was previously Newton Colliery with some farms surviving at that time. There is a public art memorial to the colliery on a grassy corner of Bolton Road and Queensway.
The regeneration created woodland and wild flower areas and the whole park is criss-crossed by a network of winding footpaths. There are some sculptures and structures that are now overgrown and it seemed to me that there is currently little management of the area ongoing. The green space seems to be mostly used as a route away from the traffic between home and the main road for local people. Even on a sunny day it was quiet here and the wildlife are probably all the happier for that.
After arriving in Bilbao on the ferry we immediately drove inland to explore parts of Spain we hadn’t reached before. We were heading for the Canyon of the Rio Lobos Nature Park but took some detours along the way, driving through the vineyards of Rioja and seeking out the fascinating dinosaur footprints north of Soria near the village of Enciso, where over 1,400 footprints have been recorded [obviously some more impressive than others].
At the visitors centre of the Canyon of the Rio Lobos our Spanish was tested to beyond its limits as we discussed options for walking with a member of staff. As far as we could tell he seemed to be insistent in talking us out of taking the Gullurias footpath, as he said this just went through lots of woodland and was not worth following, but maybe we lost something in translation. The circular path does take a route through varied woodland at first before reaching a stunning view point over the limestone cliffs of the canyon. The path then descends in to the canyon and follows the river back to the visitors centre. It is a fantastic walk and if you find yourself here just go for it. We camped near Ucero and also walked up to the spectacular castle overlooking the village and on another day cycled in to the canyon beyond the hermitage where the paths are quieter and the canyon is narrower and greener.
Many of you will have heard our plans to visit the three cities of Segovia, Salamanca and Toledo on this trip. Segovia came first and it was stunning but it also helped us recognise that we didn’t want to spend all our time sightseeing in cities and Toledo soon got dropped from the list for this trip. Instead we spend a few blissful days in the Sierra de Gredos regional reserve. In the sunshine we cycled along the old drove roads and walked up to a glacial lake. Leaving the high ground, we drove along the river Jerte through fields of cherry trees and as the altitude decreased the weather got hotter. With temperatures in the mid-30s we only spent a day in the Monfrague National Park, known for the variety and numbers of birds, before heading north again.
Salamanca stayed in the plan and we couldn’t have timed it better [absolute chance], arriving at the start of the Festival of Santa Maria de la Vega, the patron saint of Salamanca who intervened to save the city from ransacking in 1706 during the war of the Spanish succession. On our first evening we joined the throng, many in the elaborate national costume, at a flower-based ceremony outside the cathedral and then to watch fireworks over the river. The campsite is an easy 6 kms cycle ride away from the city centre allowing us to go back and forth and visit the city over a number of relaxing days. We enjoyed the peaceful setting of the two-storey and five-sided cloisters in the Convento de las Duenas, where we also bought a box of cakes the nuns bake. Mostly we wandered around the city awestruck at the elegance of the sandstone buildings and dreamed of living in a flat with shutters at the window and a balcony overlooking one of the city’s plaza.
I am obsessed with my campervan and the vanlife and it is my fourth love [after Mr BOTRA, son and daughter-in-law] what I am trying to avoid is an obsession that leads to anxiety every time we park up the ‘van. It isn’t surprising really that in the seven-weeks since we had our campervan returned to us I still get that sick feeling of panic in my stomach regularly when I remember seeing our lovely campervan roll down the Greek slope and hit a wall. Even though we fortunately were not in the ‘van when the incident happened, these feelings of panic are worse when I am in the camper and we are parked on a bit of a gradient, in my head I can start to feel that the ‘van is moving and I am gripped by anxiety. On our trip to Scotland I kept waking in the night [everything is worse in the dark] and eventually I would have to get up and check that we had left the van securely in gear.
We have thought about buying chocks to hold the ‘van but these would take up space and I know in my rational mind that when the handbrake is fully on and the Renault is in gear it won’t go anywhere.
Clearly being in the ‘van should be relaxing rather than anxiety-creating and we needed to come up with a way to stop this pattern of behaviour. We have now developed a routine to follow every time we park up that we hope will ease the anxiety. The handbrake will be engaged and the van will be put in gear and then we chorus, ‘reverse gear engaged’ or ‘first gear engaged,’ depending on the direction of the slope, no matter how slight this slope is. We laugh as we do this as we feel pretty stupid but hope that by voicing the procedure we will remember that it is done and we can then both either leave the ‘van confidently or relax while we sit in it, certain that we have made the van safe.
What we want to avoid is sleepless nights [for me, Mr BOTRA is anxiety-free] or finding ourselves a mile or two in to a walk and starting to have doubts as we ask each other if we can remember putting the ‘van in gear. This self-imposed torture would end up with the absurd situation of us running back to the ‘van just to check and we would never be relaxed.