Monday, 23 December 2013

Portly in Portugal

After a memorably successful badminton club dinner at the excellent Star Inn in Talybont on Usk I drove across to Bristol in foul weather and settled down for a good kip at 1am in the long stay car park after the ANPR had granted access. Around 8.30 I wandered over to check in and drop my bag off - the Easy Jet app making both these tasks pretty straightforward and then read the papers until my flight was called. The route over Cornwall, the Bay of Biscay and northern Spain crossed much of the terrain driven last Christmas and we arrived after a bumpy landing in Lisbon where a Fiat 500 sat waiting for me. Not having driven a left hooker before I was pleased to have my own sat nav with me which soon set me on the A road to Marvao and I arrived around 5 - an hour or so before dusk.

Gary had allocated me his cosy and comfortable twin single room with ensuite kitchen and bathroom and I was soon settled in - for me it makes a change to have to pack a suitcase but most essentials seemed present. After an excellent meal and a catch up I slept a solid 10 hours waking to blue skies and a sharp frost. A trip to the supermarket put local delicacies in the boot for lunch and I then explored the Sierra de Mamade National Park that sits in this corner of the Alentejo.

Hilltop fortified Marvao was as remarkable as I remembered it with the setting sun adding greatly to the scene but of course it soon turned cold under the almost cloudless sky so I dropped back to Camping Asseiceira in time to join Gary and two friends for a meal at a small family run restaurant in Portagem where the bemused owner indulged me with a taster of all 3 desserts on one plate. It was a good evening with Joao and his mother looking forward to their trip to Germany to see his brother and a new addition to the family. Gary left for Spain the next day and after checking all was well I took a spin south to a couple of small towns and the local mountain from where a panoramic view extended in to Spain and I took a doze in the sun.
Back at San Antonio all was well and the cat and I sat in the cosy kitchen enjoying the peace and quiet.
Yesterday I walked up to Marvao following a network of farm tracks and cobbled routes passing smallholdings where little has changed in the 5 years since I started coming here. Cork oak trees mix with olives and vines, goats and sheep graze beneath and presumably the same old lady was bashing away at her laundry in the large font tucked away beneath some of the huge granite boulders that are strewn around.
After some more photo opportunities in the town I enjoyed a good lunch and on my return leg met Joao and his mum who were just leaving for the airport. They had very kindly dropped in with a card, wine and some choccies - what a lovely gesture but not good for the waistline.
Further trouble lies ahead in this area as today I discovered that Gary's fridge has packed up so a steak, several pounds of sausages and a nice piece of salmon need eating up soonish - well you have to help don't you?
I moved everything salveagable in to the camp site fridge and freezer and thought initially we had had some sort of power surge as my phone was also dead - however as no other appliances were affected and no warning lights were flashing  I think it was just a strange  coincidence and after a quick search on Google found out how to overcome 'sudden death' on the Sony Xperia and all is well again.
I also noted whilst checking to see if the car insurance was valid in Spain that it expires before I return it to Lisbon so made a quick call to Europcar who assured me that that was fine and that if I did get stopped by the police they would foot the bill   ................  I see another of my letter exchanges coming on! Incidentally my good friends at Sadtanduh logged my latest complaint on the 12th but only wrote to me on the 18th which, considering the nature of it, is already a black mark against them but let's not prejudge - it is Christmas after all.

Talking of which on C/Eve the local villagers light huge bonfires that burn until New Year so I hope to walk down tomorrow night and watch the spectacle.

Anyway today saw a foray in to Sapin where Valencia held a large colourful market and side roads took me down to the calm waters of the Tejo that are backed up behind a large hydro scheme. Bonelli's eagles floated lazily around - I wonder if he knows they have escaped?
Back at the site which seems very strange without its usual array of campers the neighbours were picking the olives - ladders saw them in to the trees and nets caught the black shiny prizes which were bagged up to be pressed in the New Year.
During the course of some Skype calls I learnt that a friend and his two sons had had a very close shave with a falling tree on the A40 - quick thinking saw them pass under it as it fell causing 'only' a cracked windscreen, dented roof and frayed nerves. Thus a beer has been cracked open and I am looking ahead to a revised 2014. There is much to look forward to with bothy forays, a week in Knoydart and the 2014 HUBB event already booked in - I shall probably give a presentation or two at the latter but you guys can have a sneak preview by clicking here and follow my locations at the reinstated Spotty Spot here.

Wishing you all a safe and festive Christmas - FELIZ NATAL

And finally - click here for a track from my old favourite JW : the lyrics seem strangely pertinent to the situation pertaining ; a pity the video clip is a bit cheesy.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Langdale Luxury

The prospect of a fortnight based in Langdale filled me with anticipation as I trawled around Tesco's in Skipton to assemble the groceries to feed the forthcoming visitors. I arrived on a fine afternoon to find the lodge in the usual perfect order after a lovely drive through the Dales from York, once troublesome glow plugs (last changed in Portugal in 2006 and 140,000 miles ago so not bad) had been overcome by a jump start.

Friends arrived later that evening and a few pleasurable days were spent catching up, enjoying local walks and some settled weather. After a brief interlude during which I headed over to Wasdale, Buttermere and Honister via the Wrynose and Hardknott passes to enjoy some spectacular views I greeted another group of friends from my caving days.

On the Friday we caught a bus up the valley and began to ascend the impressive fells that close off Great Langdale. Our walk from Dungeon Ghyll up to Crinkle Crags and round over Pike O' Stickle was quite a challenge in very windy but dry conditions and we arrived rosy cheeked in the pub that as a group we had last sat in perhaps thirty years ago during memorable New Year's Eve celebrations.
Saturday saw a completion of the Fairfield horseshoe in almost spring like conditions with a large raven providing additional interest on the summit as a front drifted in from the north. The Langdale facilities were enjoyed to ease aching bones and joints after another strenuous day.

Sunday's walk over Wetherlam and the Carrs was enjoyed in dry conditions with a moment of reflection at the Halifax wreckage before a descent towards dusk and an excellent meal in the Britannia.
On the Monday we all enjoyed a nose around Tilberthwaite and its spectacular slate quarries after which the boys headed home and another quartet of friends from Brecon arrived. Another relaxed and highly amusing few days passed with only a brief but severe storm on the Thursday interrupting activities and even this had blown itself out by mid morning - the accompanying power cut caused some problems at the leisure complex with sliding doors but otherwise as ever the level of service was superb with the housekeeping girls accommodating my interruption of their routine with good humour. All those who came were very appreciative of Mum's generosity in allowing us all to stay for the fortnight and indeed for me it was the best spell there for years - thanks guys.

The knackered glow plugs which are being replaced in Bristol this week necessitated a jump start from the maintenance van after which I headed south to catch up on family affairs including chasing yet again my good friends at Santander who continue to provide a remarkable level of customer service, a cheque book issued last year was cancelled the same day thus rendering it useless : a fact that did not come to light until I submitted important ones to HMRC which has caused great inconvenience and some embarassment.

Anyway my fortnight in Portugal is fast approaching with lots to do before then so here are some pics from oop north and a link to an excellent video of the new LCB bothy sits here

Nice one Alan especially the time travel trick given the date on your video !!  I hope to get up there and inside (ongoing door swelling issues may well be resolved by then) in mid January when a group of us also hope to assess a new project in Snowdonia.

Unlikely to post until in the Alentejo in a week or two so again Crappy Histmas to one and all..................