2002 Galicia - Our Holiday Diary
Sat Aug 17th.
We (Rosemary, Andy & Bobby) left Shaftesbury mid morning, on a very hot day, and made our way to Dover. On the way we stopped off at Chartwell, where we spent a couple of hours looking at Sir Winston Churchill's house in the Kentish Weald. THIS is a house we could live in (were it not for the crowds!). Reached Dover at 1900, and spent the night on the seafront.
Miles so far (MSF) 203
Sun Aug 18th
Early alarm (0500) to catch 0700 Sea France ferry to Calais. Sea was like a millpond. We drove via Boulogne, Abbeville (A28), Brionne, Alencon, (N138), Le Mans, La Fleche, to Bauge. Spent night at a free air de camping car at Le Guideniau, near Bauge (to the right of Angers). This is a beautiful spot, by a public garden & the mill pond, with v clean toilets. Walking round the village, it has a boulangerie, a bar/tabac/journaux, a church and its own classically French little Mairie. MSF 535
Mon Aug 19th
We had intended to buy some croissants for breakfast, but the boulangerie was closed (Many are on Monday mornings). We were impressed that someone arrived to clean the loos etc at 0800. So we emptied what needed emptying, and filled what needed filling, and left this pleasant little village at 1000, intending to return one day.
Taking some tiny little roads back to the D938, towards Samaur, D147 to Poitiers, N10 round Angouleme, Bordeaux, almost to Bayonne, the cross country to Peyrehorade where we stopped at another free aire de cc. As we moved South, it got hotter, and as we finished our meal & set out for the town, a thunderstorm arrived overhead. The aire de cc was fairly busy, with about 12 other vans, all French, and noisy because it was close to a main road. We got into the town, which was "unexceptional" and back, with only gentle rain to contend with, but as we arrived back at the van the heavens opened. A Champion supermarket was within 100 yards - useful.
Tues Aug 20th
Setting of slightly earlier than yesterday - 0900, we headed into Spain via Bayonne (which looked an attractive old town worth a visit), then the N10 avoiding the motorway (French tolls for motor caravans are similar to lorries, in Spain, they are charged as cars). On crossing into Spain, the most obvious difference was the petrol prices, which were about 20% lower in Spain. Between St Sebastian & Bilbao we tired of the very twisty and narrow coast road, and joining the peage. 20 miles cost £3.50 or so, before the motorway became free. During lunch, in a lay-by near Santander, we saw a number of huge birds, that looked like eagles but sounded like buzzards. Wing tips turned up, and "fingers" on the ends of their wings. (We now think these were vultures). At the western end of Cantabria, we struck inland on the N621. This was almost immediately the narrowest, twistiest main road I've ever driven on, and it went on for about 15 miles before we reached Potes, in the Picos de Europa. It was all in the bottom of a very narrow gorge, with rocks overhanging at various strategic bends. Suddenly, you pop out into a wide valley, in which nestles the bustling tourist town of Potes. Not far away, but up a very steep hill, is one of 3 campsites - Camping La Viorna, and we managed to get one of the last free spaces, albeit only just big enough, and sloping. Apparently we had come during a Spanish bank holiday - the site emptied over the next couple of days. However, it had electricity, and the fridge worked. It is terraced, family run, has a small well stocked shop, a bar & restaurant, and a beautifully clean swimming pool. The showers (free) are as good as we've seen anywhere. Late in the afternoon we walked into Potes, about 1 Km, to find a good walking map and a supermarket. We found the supermarket, but Spanish maps continue to be hopeless! However, there were some interesting ironmongers - one even had a selection of very spiked dog collars.
Wed Aug 21st
We have been on the road for 4 days, and the washing is building up. We sorted this out first thing, and it was dry by the evening. We have been investing in quick dry clothes, and this is proving to be a good investment. We decided we would make our own walk, without maps or guides. Just up the road from the camp site is the monastery Santo Toribio de Liebana (which claims to have a piece of the true cross), which we walked up to. Here there is a large map showing various walks - but even this was as clear as mud. Our first path trailed off into a steep, narrow overgrown scramble, although I did see a slow worm. After a picnic lunch, we retraced our steps, and tried again. This time we had quite a pleasant little circular walk. Later, back at camp, we went for a dip in the pool. Spotlessly clean, large enough for a good swim and the chlorine not so strong as to affect your eyes.
Thurs Aug 22nd
One of the advantages of walking up one side of a valley is that you can see all the tracks & paths the other side. Using yesterday's knowledge, we made up our own walk, walking up to quite a high ridge, then striking up even higher, along the ridge. The path eventually goes over the top of the pass and down the other side. According to the only walkers we met, Spanish, the path becomes "challenging" near the top - we don't do "challenging". Baulked by cows with very large horns laying down in the path, we decided that was a good point to turn round, and we walked right back along the ridge to a signal station overlooking Potes. On the way I saw and photographed a fox cub, and later saw another. The views from the ridge are stupendous. The worst part of the walk was the descent, down a very steep concrete road laid to service the signal station. The road came out in the middle of Potes. Despite this, it was one of the nicest walks we've done, with some great views - Lake District without tghe crowds! Whilst it wasn't sunny, it wasn't raining either, and this kept the temperatures at a reasonable level. After shopping in Potes, we finished off with a swim.
Fri Aug 23rd
We left the site at 0930 - seriously expensive - €66 for 3 nights ~ £44. Back down the hairy gorge (Desfilada de La Hermida, ~ 16 miles), down the N621 to the coast, along the coast on the N634 to Oviedo & Grado, up the N633 into the mountains again to Pola de Samiedo, where we turned up VERY hairy road up a series of steep hairpin bends to a quite basic, and quite expensive, site at Valle de Lago. Here, despite space in the field, we were crammed against another English van - there were about 6 other small motor caravans. Another field had quite a few small tents on it. After a late lunch, we went for a short stroll in the drizzle that had now descended.
The site has one communal room, which serves as a very cosy bar, reception, restaurant, shop, information centre and family games room, with lots of local maps, books, games, and we spent the evening playing Mastermind, & Connect 4, with a glass of local beer. We came away stinking of cigarette smoke, though.
Sat Aug 24th
A day of discovering that not only are Spanish maps not to be trusted, neither are their sign posts! We walked up the valley, then up over a pass to the various glacial lakes. At various points the mist would descend, or it would rain, and it was so cold at times we were glad we had brought our full waterproof coats. At one point, an inappropriately dressed Spanish couple appeared out of the mist, overcome with gratitude at having found somebody else. We set them off o the right course, and they walked on ahead. Then they would reappear behind us, having got lost again! We completed about 16 miles, and climbed about 2000 ft, and were glad to get back for a cup of tea at 1830, and another cosy evening playing Connect 4 in the bar.
Sun Aug 25th
Rain overnight. Left the site as early as we could, before traffic started coming up the zigzag. Near the bottom we clashed wing mirrors with a van, but no damage. Back down the N633, twisty all the way, but gradually getting wider, past Belmonte, then left along the N634. This is a main road, quite wide, and follows the contours of a very twisty gorge for miles and miles. I was glad when the N634 reached the coast, and became a lot less tiring. At the coast, we tracked West past Viveiro, planning to stop at a site at Porte de Bares. This is the most Northerly place in Spain, at the seaward end of the Bay of Biscay. However, the site proved to be a typical seaside site - crowded with all the wrong people on it. We beat a hasty retreat, and parked up 200 yards from the lighthouse at Punta de Estaca de Bares. Here we discovered water was dripping out from under the water heater. Some minor dismantling failed to show anything obvious. More serious investigation risked losing more water, which we couldn't replace. The weather on the coast was warmer than in the mountains, but by no means hot.
Mon Aug 26th
In the morning we found quite an international gathering of motor caravans - German, French, Spanish, & British. They all seemed to be still asleep as we left at 0930. We paid a short visit to Porto de Baqueiro, the quaint little fishing village that attracted us in the first place, and stocked up at the local supermarket. It is interesting to note the quite high proportion of women dressed in black, with black head scarves, even one or two young women. Baqueiro was very similar to Cornish fishing villages, tumbling down the hillside, but without crowds of visitors.
We then drove to find a camp site near Corunna - the map shows quite a few dotted about - but could we find them? During the search, I managed to find myself driving on the wrong side of the road - most unnerving! After 2 hours searching we found one of them, at Santa Cruz. Quite small, and all the inhabitants appeared to converse in English, although they weren't English. The reason for using a camp site was because we needed to do some washing. Because it took us so long to find a site, the washing didn't get long in the sun to dry, and we had to continue drying in the van the next day.
Tues Aug 27th
After a reasonably late start, we drove into Corunna. I had wanted to go there because of the famous poem about the death of Sir John Moore there during the retreat of 1809. We were not expecting to find such a fascinating place, a mixture of shipyards, interesting architecture, wide promenades, beaches. It was also a chance to find an Internet cafe to pick up mail. Corunna was surprisingly sophisticated, with some lovely old fashioned shops. One in particular, a jewelers, is worthy of note. The manager, seeing us admiring the shop from outside, proudly invited us in for a guided tour. The shop itself was a work of art. All the shops,/except supermarkets, are served behind a wooden counter with an array of shelves and drawers behind, just like in England in the 1950's. Corunna is on an isthmus, and on one side there was a bustling sea port, on the other there was a clean and spacious holiday beach, with a wide and very pleasant promenade running round the edge of the isthmus. Definitely a place to return to.
Leaving Corunna on completely the wrong road (Spanish maps and road signs again), we made our way to Luxa to wild camp. It turned out to be a much larger town than we thought it would be, and very lively. We squeezed in beside cars at the little port for the night, but it proved rather noisy, being woken by lorries at 0600
Wed 28th Aug
At about 0800 the gas man arrived. In Spain, most people cook with bottled gas, which is quite cheap, and a man comes round with a lorry on a regular basis, replacing cylinders. There was no doubt he was coming - he was playing pop music through a loudspeaker that was deafening when he was round the corner 100 yards away! It seemed that audio distortion was all part of the scene! To rest our shattered ear drums, we went for a walk, described in Lonely Planet's "Walking in Spain" (The "Spindrift Walk"). This is a walk along the coast, involving rocky paths & miles of perfect & almost deserted sand, just a few surfers. Overall the walk took 6 hours, & was of the order of 12 miles. It was rather like walking the Cornish coast, but almost deserted. Walking on sand was quite tiring. As we passed the surfers, we noticed a number of tents and motor caravans, obviously wild camping, and when we got back to Tilly we drove round to join them, 20 yards from a large and nearly empty surf beach. I went for a quick dip, and once I was in, the water wasn't too cold. (The last time I swam in the Atlantic, we were 1000 miles from shore, and the bottom was 3 miles down). Also here was a an Englishman, early 40s, who had sold his house in Great Yarmouth, bought 2 houses to let, and an old motor caravan, and was living in Portugal on the income of one house, having a great time doing so.
Thurs 29th Aug
Moved on round the corner (only a few miles as the crow flies, quite a few miles by road), to Camelle, to continue the Spindrift Walk. We parked by the harbour, not far from El Musee de Alleman. This was a German who arrived 30 years ago, and never left, making sculptures of things he found on the beach. A wild and gentle looking man, long hair and loin cloth, he charges €1 entry, and another €1 to take pictures, and asks you to sketch in a notebook. Following the Lonely Planet's Spindrift Walk, day 2, we got as far as overlooking the Cimitery de Ingleses. In 1890 the Royal Navy training ship HMS Serpent sank offshore, and all except 3 of the 190 crew drowned. Only a few bodies were found, buried here. Probably the Serpent hit the rocks that stretch out to sea like teeth. A treacherous coast to say the least, especially in a square rigger. We had a beer in a local bar, then spent the night on the seafront - an idyllic spot.
Fri 30th Aug
Dawn broke over a quiet & peaceful harbour. By mid morning every day a stiff breeze was blowing, but at dawn everything was still. Dawn is not until about 0830, so being up for the dawn wasn't a real effort. Following a walk along the harbour arm, and some local shopping, we headed south for Portugal, - we avoided peage motorways out of principle - via Santiago de Compostela (where we got lost due to poor signing!), Pontevehdra, where we did a big shop up in a huge Carrefour supermarket. Almost all parking was underground, which we couldn't get into because of our height. We did find one area, which had a twisty one way single track in, but out via the underground car park. So when we came to leave, Rosemary walked to the entrance dressed in an official looking reflective jacket to hold back traffic whilst I brought Tilly the wrong way up the road. To her disappointment, no traffic came. She was looking forward to doing her schoolmistress bit with oncoming Spanish drivers! Anyway, we bought some delicious Rioja (Rioja Vega). Must try to find some more. Then into Vigo, where, due to appalling signposting, we got thoroughly lost, then on into Portugal at Tui. This time it did not take us 3 days to discover Portugal is an hour behind Spain. Judging by a large number of ferretaria (ironmongers) just over the border, that sort of stuff must be cheaper in Portugal, but we found petrol was about 12% more expensive.
We needed a campsite because the loo was full, and we found one on the Rio de Lima at Entre Ambos-os-Rios, a few miles east of Ponte de Barca. This was in the national park, amongst pine trees, a lovely spot. We were slightly nervous because there were a number of fires on mountainsides around us (but not so close as to be a serious concern). A feature of the site was a nearby carillon, with an unusual tune and deep and mellow bells. About a minute later another similar carillon would sound from some distance away, with the same tune. All rather pleasant. By now the weather was quite hot, and we had lost the pleasant coastal breeze.
Sat 31st Aug
A lazy day around the camp site, in the shade of the pines, with a cooling breeze on the top of the hill. A chance to catch up on a number of jobs, (e.g. washing), reading, strolling into the tiny and totally unspoilt village (where we bought a circular loaf, and masses of delicious red grapes.) Just as we were going to bed, having carefully noted where the fires had got, a firework display started, just over the river. It seemed amazing that anyone would do this - the woods are tinder dry!
Sun 1st Sept
Drove to the port of Viana de Castelo. A long drive for not very much. On the way back we attempted to have a look at Ponte de Lima, but it was chock a block with cars. Every Portuguese car must have been on the road Sunday afternoon! So it was back to the camp site to listen to the British expats give us (& the rest of the camp) the benefit of their stereo system. Thanks, chaps!
Mon 2nd Sept
The site worked out at €19 for 3 nights inc electricity, which is a good deal cheaper than Spanish sites. We rather wanted to look at a larger Portuguese town, largely to see what's in the shops. We decided on Braga, but when we got there parking was an absolute nightmare, although we found somewhere eventually. Like most reasonably sized Portuguese towns, it was liberally endowed with parks gardens, statues and fountains. We again failed to find a good road atlas of the Iberian peninsula, but unsurprisingly, there is more detail in Portuguese maps than Spanish - they did have Henry the Navigator. Continued on N101 to Guimaeres, where we stayed on a rather grubby hilltop site. However, there was a "telerifico" (small cable cars) back down into the town, the centre of which is a world heritage site. This classification is well justified as the maze of old streets are really charming. Guimaeres was the first capital of Portugal, in the 12th century. We bought a traditional door knocker (a hand holding a ball) from a very old fashioned ironmonger. Actually, the traditional one is cast iron. We thought this was so heavy it would destroy our door, so we bought a lighter bronze one. Some of the shops looked as if they had not changed in a hundred years - scrubbed wooden counters, old shelves behind, and very little lighting, if any.
Tues 3rd Sept
Very narrow & twisty dive from Guimaraes to Amarante on N101. The road then improved on the N15 via Vila Real, and we briefly visited Braganza (i.e. got lost in) before taking the N103-7 to Puebla de Sanabria in Spain. N525 to Benavente Here the road to Palencia (N610) became a long drive across a very boring plain - long straight roads with many heavy lorries sweeping past. There were many earth brick farmsteads & dovecotes, many of which were in a tumbledown state. At Palencia we picked up a dual carriageway to Burgos, still straight and boring, but much easier to drive. It got dark at Burgos, & hence difficult to find wild campsites, but we ended up beside pilgrim church in Villafranca - Montes de Oca on the N120.
Wed 4th Sept
We awoke to see at least a dozen pilgrims climbing the track behind us. We continued on the N120, one of the numerous "Camino de Santiago" - pilgrim route. Sometimes the path was beside us, crossed the road, or into a village while we took the bypass. But all the time there were loads of pilgrims - we must have seen at least 100. Thence shopping at a huge hyper market at Logrono, with a great choice of Rioja wine, not surprising as it is the capital of the Rioja region. Then on to Pamplona - a huge city (to my surprise). Where can they run the bulls amongst these tower blocks of apartments? As we looked (in vain) for some where to park, we found ourselves led into narrower and narrower streets, culminating in a pedestrian precinct (we think) with the end blocked by road works. Reversing along the narrow streets with cars parked either side was unthinkable!. Luckily, the road works were moved to allow an ambulance through, and we hung on to its tail! More futile attempts at parking got us more and more lost. Eventually we followed a main road - any main road! until we came to some sign posts setting us on our way - OUT of Pamplona! We must have another attempt, but camping nearby and catching a bus in.
From Pamplona we followed the N240, a pilgrim route, and must have seen another 100 pilgrims trekking towards Santiago de Compostela. We passed a couple of dammed lakes, and in both the water level was well down. Much of the water is piped south, apparently, causing some controversy in the north. At Jaca we took the N330, then N260 & A136 to Col de Portalet, at the watershed of the Pyrenees. As we crossed into France, we pulled into the car park at the top, for the night. This is where we spent the night on the way down last year.
Thurs 5th Sept
Awoke to wind and rain - and we're only 100 yards out of Spain! Long drive via Pau, Lourdes, Montauban, Auch to Souillac, on the Dordogne (avoiding the peages.). This certainly is a beautiful area. It is striking how green everything is, after the browns of Spain and Portugal. Even Green Spain wasn't this green. As we got lost (again) in Montauban (again due to poor road signs) we stopped to study the map. We found we had stopped opposite a police check point, where they were pulling motorists in at random and breathalysing them. In the event, we drove down the road, round a roundabout and back past the police, wondering if we also would be pulled in (but we weren't). At Souillac we stayed at an aire de camping car, and wandered round the little town in the evening. Casually looking in estate agents, we noticed that house prices are roughly half those in England.
Fri 6th Sept
When I went to buy some bread before we left Souillac, I discovered a market was in the process of being set up. The French do good markets! We bought "draft" sausage, crevettes, (prawn) fruit & veg, olives. The fish looked really good, but we didn't buy any..
Drove past Rouen, to an air de CC at Farges Les Eaux. Excellent aire, but inhabited by 2 large caravans of diddicoys and their paraphernalia. Presumably because of this, the water and free electricity had been turned off. During the evening we were joined by 3 French motor caravans.
Sat 7th Sept
We had planned to visit a French hypermarché, but found that we were strapped for time to make the ferry. We lunched in the ferry terminal car park at Calais, where the sky was a dramatic black, and the wind blew. We were expecting an uncomfortable crossing, but in the event it was quite reasonable. Whilst there, we noticed a line of derelict cars. This seemed strange, but closer inspection showed they were being lived in by potential illegal immigrants to Britain. The ferry left at 1415 French time, arriving in Dover 1445 British Summer Time. Despite the black clouds and rain in Calais, the visibility in England was excellent, and Dungeness nuclear power station could be seen clearly. The weather remained variable and dramatic all the way home, with some spectacular scenes lit by a low sun from the A303. We arrived home at 1830, to a mountain of mail and 10 voice mails.
Total miles for the trip, 3579. In hindsight, this was too far for a 3 week holiday.
We listened to 2 talking books during the holiday- "The Lost Continent" by Bill Bryson, about travels in small town America, and Agatha Christie's "The Moving Finger". Talking books are excellent on long journeys - if only we could agree on the book!
www.pippins.me.uk Page Last updated: 29 December 2007