Fietsknoop to Delft

Just to be clear, Fietsknoop is not a bizarrely named Dutch town but an ‘App’ that enables route planning along the many miles of Dutch cycle ways. Jacky had mapped our route, 23.5km one way, with a plan to catch the train back to Leiden. There is only so much cycling Kim can be encouraged to do.

This morning, we discovered Leiden’s historic centre complete with obligatory windmill

Cycling in Holland is a joy. Well maintained, wide, signposted cycle routes feel very safe and the cyclist is king of the roads. It continues to amaze us that cars give way to cyclists and even treat pedestrians with respect. If it wasn’t so blooming cold, we’d want to live here. The App was fantastic, reminding us to pay attention to route markers, and taking us away from the main roads.

We took 1.5 hours to cycle to Delft, just in time for lunch! It would have been rude not to try the local speciality of krokotten. Delft, like many Dutch towns has a very pretty historic centre with a lot of canals and some stunning architecture.

We were surprised by the alarming angle of lean on the ‘Old Church’ tower which stands directly on the ‘Delf’, the old word for ‘canal’. When plans were made to add a tower to the church in 1325, there was nowhere to put it. It is likely the canal was diverted, filled in and the tower built on top of it. This turned out to be a bad idea when the tower started to subside during construction. They managed to stabilise the structure and continue building it straight and that is why the tower has a kink.

Our route to Delft had been so straightforward, we thought we’d cycle back to Leiden. Now we’re not sure if it was all uphill, but it was far more challenging and we battled with a bitterly cold headwind. It was a relief to get off the bikes at the hotel and collapse with a cold beer.

Tomorrow, we are taking the train to Amsterdam and have a walking tour booked. Thank goodness we hadn’t planned to cycle, a break from the saddle will be welcome. The only problem is the weather – heavy rain and high winds are forecast.

Are you paying attention?

Every day for the last two years during lockdown, Kim has spent time diligently improving her ability to speak French. So as the world begins to open up our first post-Covid adventure is to…. Holland.

Neither of us know any Dutch but our passports are dusted off, the car has it’s post Covid UK stickers. We are staying in Leiden, with Jacky and Ken, and cycling to see the tulip display at the Kuekenhof gardens. Trips to Delft and Amsterdam are also on the itinerary.

If you have been paying attention to the news over the last couple of days, you will know that the last place you want to be, in the UK, is Dover and that is where we headed for our ferry crossing.

This is where you really do need to pay attention… our original crossing to Dunkirk was scheduled for 8am, DFDS changed it to noon. Bad weather and crashed ships had upset their timetable and that’s without mentioning the P&O debacle. We complained about the noon sailing so DFDS helpfully re-arranged for 8:30 to Calais.

We left home at 4am for the 2 hour journey, made really good time until we were 2 miles from the port and it all started to go wrong.

Dover was at a standstill and we mean the whole of Dover.

You have to feel sympathy for the lorry drivers, hundreds parked up on the Dover approach roads, many of whom had been there without any facilities for over 24 hours, it’s easy to see why they are becoming increasingly relectant to deliver to the UK

Eventually we made it to check in at 11am, and booked on the noon Calais sailing. Yippee, we thought. Ken and Jacky were checked in an hour ahead of us and on the same ferry. Never mind the delays, we were now the correct side of the check in barrier

To cut the rambling short, we drove straight onto an empty ferry which promptly departed early at 11:30 and left Ken and Jacky, in Dover, wondering how on earth they weren’t in France ahead of us.

Amongst the first to disembark, after a 3 hour effortless drive on some lovely roads we reached our first planned stop at Willemstad. We’d stayed there on a previous cycling holiday and it was still beautiful. The sun was out but the wind was bitter so we didn’t stay long.

So we haven’t done much today, other than sit in queues and drive a long way. An early night beckoned and you have to love a hotel that hides cards like this in your bed

Is Wales ‘abroad’?

We decided a micro adventure was needed to celebrate our 27th Wedding Anniversary. ‘Abroad’ still feels far too complicated so Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ was our destination. Please bear with us, Wales will feature at some point and, because we passed a sign saying ‘Welcome to England’ we feel we have been abroad.

Anyway, the Gormley statues have been on our list for a while and 2021 became the year to make it happen. We started early, stopping for a romantic breakfast at Keele Services before arriving in Crosby.

Neither of us were sure what to expect when we clambered over the sand dunes to find the statues. 100 life sized cast iron versions of Anthony Gormley spanning across 3km of beach and stretching 1km out to sea was not it. It’s difficult to convey the impact of all the statues, looking out to sea, in a single photo. You really need to visit to appreciate the emotional impact they have, it’s really very impressive.

Crosby is also home to the grand Plaza Cinema which first opened its doors on 2 September 1939 and was immediately closed again that same day, due to regulations introduced by the outbreak of war! Luckily it was saved from redevelopment and is now run as a successful independent cinema.

By midday, we’d walked the length of the beach and back through the town to the car. It was too early to head to the hotel so ‘what next’ we asked ourselves. John had always wanted to visit Rhos on Sea and it was only an hour away, so we headed under the River Mersey using the old tunnel and out along the North Wales coast.

Whilst eating lunch, John suddenly announced we could visit the aqueduct at Llandudno, we were only a few miles away and the aqueduct is famous although Kim had never heard of it. Luckily Google maps told us it was the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen, not Llandudno, and only a short detour on our route to the hotel.

The aqueduct was stunning, especially if you like views with sheer drops either side! Thomas Telford designed and completed in 1805, it carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee and is the highest canal aqueduct in the world and the longest aqueduct in the UK. It consists of a cast iron trough supported 126 ft above the river on iron arched ribs resting on eighteen masonry piers. The bridge is 310m long but only 3.5m wide. Much respect has to go to some very skilled and brave bricklayers, pattern makers and foundry workers.

We finally reached our hotel, the rather grand Netley Hall, just south of Shrewsbury as it got dark.

The following day, our first stop was Ralph Court Gardens near Bromsgrove. Now this was an experience to put a smile on your face.

Each of the garden areas depicted different countries and most were quirky and entertaining. We don’t want to give too much away, you may not want to visit for the planting schemes, but if this place doesn’t make you smile, there may be no hope for you.

Next stop Old Court Nurseries and the Picton Garden. The nursery holds a national collection of Asters and has a lovely garden to showcase them, together with some more unusual specimens. Well worth a visit and only £4 each to wander round.

That was followed by a visit to Mahlakas Plants in the Vale of Evesham. A hobby turned into a career by a former music teacher. He grows and sells succulents from his back garden with the assistance of two dogs and a opinonated cat.

Our final stop was back in Worcester, the view of the cathedral from the river was lovely. 600 miles in 36 hours, we need a holiday to recover.

One in one out

Here’s a rather delayed final day on the Isle of Wight. It’s taken until now to recover from Friday’s journey home.

We had a few hours to while away before our crossing home. There was no chance of changing our booking, according to a number of people we had met it seemed that most residents were leaving the island ahead of the festival and, as well as clogged roads, there were clogged ferries!

With nothing else to do we decided the Bromptons deserved one more outing and that was a round trip between Sandown and Shanklin. Now this was Kim’s sort of cycling – five miles of flat esplanade alongside beach huts.

As we sailed out by ferry ahead of schedule, our good luck didn’t stay with us, severe delays on the M25 more than made up for any saving. Of course the alternative would be to use a helicopter in the same way that Tom Jones and other festival performers do, although if you have seen the photos of Liam Gallagher’s face after falling out of his helicopter, possibly not.

Finally, do you know what happens if you post a letter to your neighbour on the Isle of Wight? We’re assuming ‘no’!

It is taken from the Post Box, put on a ferry to be sorted in Portsmouth and transported back across the Solent before being delivered to your neighbour.

From Sun Wars to paddling

Sunshine together with inhaling sea air were seen by Victorians as beneficial for health. They started measuring sunlight hours using a Campbell-Stokes sun recorder where a glass globe is used to concentrate the suns rays and burn a paper card.

Sunshine-wars broke out between resorts as they tried to attract visitors, especially those promoting treatment of good health and alleviation of chest ailments. One of these resorts was the Royal National Hospital in Ventnor offering 130 separate south-facing bedrooms amid a micro-climate for its patients.

Mild climate treatment for tuberculosis became obsolete in the 1960’s replaced instead by the use of antibiotics and other drug treatments, and the hospital closed. But fortunately for Kim the gardens remain as Ventnor Botanic Gardens one of her top ten favourite gardens in the world and we have visited many.

All week we have been trying to walk to the Botanic Gardens from our apartment. 30 minutes Google said. We are beginning to distrust all forms of technology, it may have been 30 minutes for a fell runner but not us. We have to admit the coastal path was scenic and we were pleased to have seen the rather lovely Steephill Cove which certainly lived up to its name when leaving.

We arrived for breakfast at the Botanic Gardens and, despite being cooked by a man who only has two pans and two working cooking rings, it was voted the best breakfast of the week.

Kim is tempted to move here, she just loves the abundance of agaves and aeoniums and feels the tortoises would be right at home with temperatures averaging 5 degrees higher than the rest of the island.

Our walk back along the road was far kinder to our legs and we coveted lovely houses with amazing views along the way.

There was time for one final cycle ride before the Bromptons were stowed for our journey home. Kim had assessed the hills and they were judged suitable for pushing a bike up without crying. We headed down to the sea front and along the Coast Path to Bonchurch. We were hoping to get to Shanklin but the nice flat route petered out at a shingle beach. John, wisely didn’t suggest trying to cycle up the steep hill out of Bonchurch. Instead he sensibly opted to turn around and head back to the Sea Pot cafe for a cuppa.

We hadn’t cycled far so carried on into Ventnor and, for the only time this week, Kim took her shoes off and paddled. We haven’t been sure quite why we’re not more taken with Ventnor, but a little paddle in the sea bumped it up in Kim’s estimation.

Daguerreotypes, festivals and Hendrix

Yesterday, we took the opportunity to meet up with John’s cousin Julie. Despite decades on the island she is technically still a foreigner according to her husband Jim an authentic caulk-head. We wiled away the hours, over lunch at the Spyglass Inn, discussing family and island life. Well to be precise, Julie provided John with an updated family history which he is embarrassed to admit he has very little knowledge of.

As an electrical engineer Jim worked on control systems for the Black Arrow rockets, which were proof fired from the nearby High Down Test Site. Despite the success of the program including launching Britain’s first satellite Prospero, Government Ministers declared there was no future in satellite technology and announced an end to the Black Arrow programme. Rocket testing moved to Woomera in Australia, while Jim and Julie built a successful international electronics business.

On first hearing the term caulkhead, Kim thought it was a reference to wine drinking, but it simply means a third generation islander. This boat building term originates from caulking (sealing gaps with rope and tar) as opposed to dropping new born babies into the Solent to see if they will float which we hope is just a local myth.

Today started with a return visit to Freshwater Bay and breakfast at The Piano Cafe followed by the ‘Iconic Jimi’ exhibition at Dimbola Galleries. The galleries are the former home of Julia Margaret Cameron, pioneering Victorian photographer. It’s amazing to see how physically large early cameras were (about the size of microwave) compared with todays pocket sized Smart Phones. Part of the exhibition includes posters and photos of the 1970 music festival featuring some legendary acts performing within sight and sound of Dimbola.

Julie and Jim had told us how pretty the north west Wight coast is, so our next stop was Yarmouth. There was so much going on, as you would expect from a ferry terminal and marina.

Somehow we had missed this rather unusual feature as we left the harbour for our wander around the town. It came as rather a shock on the way back. There is a prize for the first person to name it.

This evening, we had managed to get a reservation at The Smoking Lobster in Ventnor, the downside was that we had to be there at 5:15. It was worth the early meal. The food was delicious, staff and service was friendly and relaxed. We’ll only bore you with one photo of food and tell you that the cheeseboard included Tunworth.

On our walk back, we discovered that we’d missed most of the ‘Cascade Challenge’. An event organised by the local running club to raise funds for members competing in the London Marathon. The challenge was to run up and down the Cascade as many times as possible in an hour. Apparently the winner lost count at 20 and, to give you context, we hate walking up it once!

Our spirit of adventure took over as the light faded and after five days, we have discovered a route along the coast path which seems to provide a wide, flat route into Shanklin. Kim might be tempted back onto her bike and give it a go.

Only 396 left

Today we collected the last two IoW Quest clues. The first was in the picturesque village of Calbourne in West Wight arguably the prettiest village on the island. It’s famous for the film-set perfection of Winkle Street with its thatched 18th-century stone cottages, each with small but delightful front garden facing a brook. We had a lovely chat with the single resident family, all the remaining cottages are holiday homes.

After a brief stop at Chessell Pottery where we opted for a pot of tea rather than pottery painting, it was on to Freshwater Bay and our final quest clue on the island. We had to find St Agnes Church which competed with Winkle Street for historic cuteness.

As a treat for finishing the IoW challenge, we sat on the Esplanade and basked in the sun. After watching the kayaks paddle off into the distance, Kim declared that she was tempted to give up cycling and try a kayak instead. This is from someone who has no real sense of balance and doesn’t like getting wet.

Voted one of the best driving roads in Europe by the Telegraph, our run back took us along the old Military Coast Road from Freshwater to Ventnor. Part of a great driving road is of course the view and this road doesn’t disappoint.

Tomorrow we have a meeting planned with Jimi Hendrix.

Faint foreign odour..

Our day started with breakfast at the Garlic Farm. To John, the smell hit you as we arrived in the car park and he panicked at the thought of garlic being added to his porridge. It turned out he needn’t have worried, his food was (fairly) garlic free. As to Kim’s breakfast, let’s just say he’s keeping his distance and the windows are open.

Our different opinions of the Garlic Farm neatly sum us both up. Kim thought it was wonderful, quaint and very pretty. John thought the piped music was atrocious and hated the smell.

Garlic first appeared on the Island during the Second World War courtesy of French soldiers stationed on the island who brought bulbs from France to add to their cooking. Chalky soil combined with a favourable micro climate enabled garlic cloves to grow in abundance.

Since it first started in 1983, the annual Garlic Festival is one of the most popular events on the island. Goodness knows what they do at the festival unless you enjoy Garlic and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream or a pint of Garlic Beer..

Brading was where we started today’s Quest, which was a clue at the top of a very big hill above Bembridge Fort called Culver Down. Both OS Maps and the Wahoo cycle computer were brought into play. It started badly with OS Maps sending us down a footpath when it knew we were cycling, but the Wahoo was for once more reliable. It was less than a 10 mile round trip with an ascent of 340 ft. We don’t wish to dwell on how steep the ride was and will simply say that Kim pushed her bike for at least 2 miles. The panoramic views from the top back across the Solent were glorious.

At the top, Kim felt a cup of tea and sit down were far more interesting than who the Monument was dedicated to so John climbed the final few feet by himself. By the time he was back for coffee, the people at the next table were having a conversation about how easy it is to illegally import whale meat from Iceland into the UK. For a fee, we will pass on our knowledge

Since we’ve been here, we’ve been through Brading several times and each time we’ve asked each ‘What’s that bull all about?’ and ‘why does Brading have a Bullring?’

Before 1835, if you were a bull, you wouldn’t have wanted to be near Brading or pretty much anywhere else in the UK. It was believed that meat was more tender if the animal was tortured before slaughter. Unlucky creatures were tied to the bull ring and attacked by dogs hence the name of a Bulldog. Butchers could be required to have a bull baited before slaughter and were often fined if they failed to do so. Luckily, a sense of compassion prevailed and this barbaric practice was outlawed in 1835.

Bromptons and Bridleways….

Today’s challenge was two more Quests from Cycling UK one in Godshill the other in Havenstreet. They were less than six miles apart so the route was plotted on our smart new cycle computer and we set off from the car park in Godshill.

Our first Quest clue was to establish the penalty for not closing a gate at Havenstreet Steam Railway, which by pure chance was also hosting a Cider and Cheese Festival, well it would be rude not to and after 10 miles of cycling and carrying bikes we were thirsty.

Those of you paying attention will have noticed we took ten miles to travel six. The smart new computer tried to take us to Cowes and we reached Newport before we noticed. It was not a good moment when we looked at a map and realised we were too far north west. There was only a little grumbling because the hill out of Newport meant there wasn’t much breath. As we pushed the bikes up the hill, even the postman commiserated with us.

We finally reached the Steam Railway, our Quest photo was taken and we settled down for a late lunch. Although there were some very tempting cheeses at the festival, 30 minute queues were not for us so we settled on tea and a corned-beef sandwich accompanied by the aroma and sounds of various steam locomotives.

Stan will add an in depth description later
Cheese Gromit

Sitting next to us was clearly a professional cider tasting expert, surprisingly he was still upright when we left.

Just a few left to try

Amongst many questions we are asked about our bikes is ‘what are they like to ride on such small wheels?’ They are in most cases, absolutely fine apart from when riding over sand and gravel. Today’s journey back to Godshill involved a number of loose and sometimes deep gravel bridleways and we struggled. Quite why Google Maps considers them suitable for cycling will forever remain a mystery. We were tempted to part exchange them for a couple of ebike’s!

Very tempting. possibly an electric gravel bike

Four hours after leaving Godshill we arrived back to find the answer to Quest Two of the day – the date of the Wesleyan Chapel and, to be quite honest, neither of us really cared.

Tired and sore, we made it back to Ventnor. Luckily the late afternoon sun was still on the terrace so we toasted the success of a cider and cheese fair with alcohol free beer. Sadly it was all we had and neither of us could face a 15 minute walk in to town to buy something more robust.

Almost but not quite cider and cheese
We know you wanted to know the answer

So, in total we have cycled 18 miles, ascended 1120 feet and descended 1125 feet. Tomorrow we’re attempting the Quest at Culver Down. We may just park in the car park and cycle the last few feet. We are definitely not trusting the cycle computer! And, finally, it’s garlic for breakfast for us.

It’s been a while

As we returned from our lovely walking tour of Andalucia in early 2020, our thoughts were looking to our next adventure repatriating a motorhome from Tuscany. However little did we know that in Wuhan a few mischievous bats had other plans.

Now we are slowly emerging from 18 months of lockdown we are faced with confusing colour coded travel corridor options followed by nose swabs and other restrictions. The easier option is to stay in the UK so our first micro adventure in 18 months is to Vectis although, now that the Romans have moved on, it’s called the Isle of Wight.

Our day started with another trip aboard the world’s most expensive ferry, as we left Portsmouth we were reminded of a previous flight to the island aboard the amazing (and less expensive) Hovercraft as it gracefully passed by.

When we landed at Fishbourne, it seemed strange driving off a ferry and not having to drive on the wrong side of the road or put clocks forward by an hour. There are clear indications that the Island’s famous music festival is back. It’s unlikely we will attend although there is a very good line up and Tom Jones is on the list while we are here.

Rather than stand in a muddy field, we have opted to sit on our backsides and attempt to take part in British Cycle’s Quest scheme. This involves cycling to various grid points collecting answers to clues. Our first Quest point, in Cowes on the seawall of Egypt Esplanade, was to identify the names of the Engineer and Clerk to the Board of Health responsible for building the popular Esplanade.

A short cycle back to the car and our next stop was Eddington House Nurseries. What would a trip to the Isle of Wight be without Kim visiting one of her favourite succulent nurseries? The place was spotless and the plants neatly lined up. We wondered what would happen if one dared to drop a leaf.

Finally, tired from our early start, we decided to take a chance and check in early at St Joseph’s, Madeira Road, Ventnor. Luckily, cleaning had been completed and, an hour ahead of schedule, we sat down with a cuppa and the fantastic view.

Our day finished with a walk down to the Esplanade. John suggested cycling – a nonsense idea when it’s so hilly here. Kim might have been able to freewheel all the way down but the challenge of cycling back up was too much. Ventnor is rather quaint with some of its history still on display.

Most of the Information Boards refer to Villa Amanti, a grand villa dating back to Ventnor’s heyday. The villa is beautiful, a little piece of Tuscany on an English sea front. Who needs a JustGo Motorhome adventure? (Note: this rhetorical, Kim needs one!)

On our walk back, we noticed this sign proudly displayed on the front of a cottage. We are puzzled by the dates, can anyone help us ?

Italian Adventure 2020 or Bagnoles de l’Orne in retrospect

It’s that time of year and we should be on our annual Motorhome adventure. Covid-19 put paid to that, and we started thinking about all the years we were fortunate to have an apartment in Bagnoles de l’Orne. We never kept a record of the memories so, in one post, we’ll attempt to capture some of those.

Living in France had always been an ambition for John and in 2006 we had the opportunity, to some extent, to realise that.

Despite a desire for a warmer climate, we set our sights on Bagnoles in Basse Normadie, we knew the town from previous trips to Le Mans and it felt good. Set overlooking a lake in the Andaine Forest, it is the only thermal spa town in North East France and has a history going back to medieval times. Bagnoles became prosperous as a result of its hot spring water, Thermes, and their associated magic powers which became fashionable during the late 19th early 20th century. It helped that the wealthy ‘curistes’ attracted a casino too.

In typical Brit style, initially, we were seduced by large properties with lots of land for a fraction of UK cost usually located in small remote villages. We decided we had enough of ‘rural’ at home and fell for an early 20th century first floor apartment. It was in the old Post Office building in Tesse la Madeleine, a small commune absorbed into Bagnoles de l’Orne in 2000 and walking distance to local shops and town centre.

It needed work but had lovely high ceilings, large light rooms with shuttered windows providing views over the town and distant hills beyond….and rooms far more useable than the cottage which was our home in Jacques Lane.

A new Post Office had been built in the 1970s and the old one had been converted into three apartments. We bought the apartment from the owner of the hotel we were staying in while house hunting and managed to find some old postcards showing the building in its former glory back in 1912. We even talked about reinstating the very grand balcony!

It was very French, we loved it, and set about the renovation with assistance from various friends and relatives. It’s a shame there are no photos of the pink flocked hallway and the waterlily wallpaper covering the bathroom ceiling.

Our neighbours seemed to watch for the shutters to open indicating occupation. There were many ‘conversations’ with elderly ladies in the Villa Desiree opposite, renowned for its wonky chimney, or Madame in the apartment below us. They mainly consisted of smiling, nodding and gesticulating with the odd french sentence thrown in. We were never sure what we’d talked about but everyone enjoyed the chats and we always felt very welcome!

Tesse was a small, thriving community built around a church square, with a selection of local shops and restaurants within a couple of minutes walk, the car wasn’t needed and life slowed down. It was a joy to head out each morning, to pick up fresh bread and pastries for the day. Even Matt could be persuaded, probably because he always came back with added sweets.

The Canasta bar and La Chandeleur creperie were amongst our favourite haunts, less than a minutes walk and owned by such friendly people. There numerous games of England versus France bar-football, Matthew became quite proficient but no one could beat Sandi, the landlady at Le Canasta. And David, at La Chandeleur, never tired of trying to improve our French.

As you would expect in France, there was a weekly market but the town really came to life during July and August with Bric a Brac Brocante market stalls lining the streets for miles. Weekends saw auctions and entertainment in the grounds of the Chateau – where most of the town would wander up to watch followed by a firework display set on the lake.

The town received significant income from both the Casino and Thermes, invested back into the community, and clearly visible in how the town was literally washed and hoovered early each morning and an abundance of manicured container planting in public spaces. Classical music was played through speakers discretely placed on lamposts which turned off at 10pm. For those of you that can remember ‘The Prisoner’, it gave the town a very similar feeling……

Matthew would often disappear for a couple of hours at a time. He’d head up to the Chateau and usually find someone to play football with. In later years he’d disappear for a run, exploring various forest trails and coming back with ideas for walks. One memorable afternoon he was invited to join a group of locals playing pétanque!

Dot and Stan had introduced us to Bagnoles when Matt was only two years old and made several trips out to stay, making the most of their ballroom dancing skills at Tea Dances held in the Casino and Thermes. There was a price to pay, they had to work and spent hours emptying the cellar of rubbish left by previous owners and cleaning windows and shutters.

Over the years, family and friends made use of the Apartment. Ken Moles made a trip out to ‘help’ with decorating, while Diane made a trip with Kim to tidy the garden. There are no photos, but they were there on Bastille Day and the afternoon was spent betting on horses at the local Hippodrome track, drinking beer, eating ice cream and staying up late to watch fireworks over the lake.

Ken and Jacky made quite a few trips, so many in fact that most of the locals thought it was their apartment rather than ours. They were even invited to barbecues at Le Grand Chalet although the owners eventually realised their error and we became good friends. Mike and Lynn the owners didn’t miss much about having left the UK apart from…….Warburtons bread! Each visit we would take them a fresh supply so they could demonstrate to their guests how to make a proper bacon sandwich.

Over the years we tried various ways and routes of travelling to Bagnoles and learned our best option was the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham (Caen) followed by an early breakfast and leisurely drive through picturesque French countryside and sleepy villages to Bagnoles in the morning.

At some point, John decided it would be a good idea to have a boys adventure and cycle from the ferry port to the apartment. According to the map it was only 100 km’s and about 5 hours. What could go wrong? They’d trained hard (two return cycle rides to Ampthill) and had a picnic (a cereal bar each). As the ferry docked at 06:00, in August 2009, they set off in early morning mist making good time alongside the Orne canal past the famous Pegasus Bridge and through the town of Caen at a pace that would see them in Bagnoles by 10:00.

We are not sure quite what went wrong. Mountain bikes were not probably not the best choice and navigation wasn’t as sharp as it should have been. John thought he knew the route but clearly didn’t as they zig-zagged across the French countryside. After 7 hours cycling, while in the middle of nowhere, they came across an English Pub (the Rugby Tavern in Le Bourg). Refreshed, but still some distance away, it was decision time. Should the team car be called to rescue them? Failure wasn’t an option so they pressed on and eventually as they found themselves on more familiar roads, the journey became easier. 10- hours after setting off they finally arrived in Bagnoles.

Finally a selection of family photos from Bagnoles-de-L’Orne, thank you Katie and Emma!

Writing this, we wonder why we ever sold, so have to mention several floods orginating from the apartment above – Pauline and Benjamin were both school teachers and lovely people but should never have been allowed access to water! After one flood they negotiated use of our bathroom in exchange for what turned out to be very nice case of wine. Two more floods finally wrecked our kitchen and dining room.

As their children grew older, and we stopped visiting in school holidays, when they were usually away in Paris, the noise from above became a challenge. Small children on wooden floorboards can be a bit much especially when playing football, piano and trumpet practice…..

Final thoughts from Andalucia

We’ve been back for 24 hours and recovered enough for a summary of our trip.

Yesterday, the journey back to Almeria Airport reminded us of the bubble we’d been living in for the last few days. The minute we left the national park we were back in the land of tatty plastic greenhouses and they go on for miles. We’ve been told these greenhouses are the only constructions to be seen from space because they reflect so much light.

From plastic greenhouses to snow across the top of the Sierra Nevada, the first 10 minutes of the flight were interesting.

We had a fun and exhausting few days so we asked our friends for their most memorable moments but first our final group photo.

Ann was particularly proud of negotiating the steep descent into San Jose without falling and killing herself. That was the nastiest part of any of our routes and we were all relieved to reach the bottom. As to the most memorable? Standing in Eckhard’s garden at Rodalquilar and experiencing the stillness and quiet of such a beautiful place – it was very special.

The descent into San Jose will stay with Dave for a long time too but his moment was looking back at it, across the bay, from the terrace of the hotel and the sense of achievement. Dave used to play football and as a result has knees that don’t work as well as they once used to, we can’t begin to imagine how difficult it had been…..but we won’t tell him that.

Jacky and Ken enjoyed the walking in such an unusual environment, with amazing scenery and warming sunshine. Now it has to be said that Jacky is fit, competent and organised but still managed to fall over while looking at her phone. There was talk of confiscating it in much the way you would with a dippy teenager.

For John, a holiday is always about local experience and meeting people and to be fair, he doesn’t really like walking. Each day at Rodalquilar we visited Chrisol’s Bar. It’s run by an elderly, heavily bearded biker playing John Mayall blues music really loud and John loved it. He was also taken with the ice cold beer at the end of a long, hot walk.

And Kim? Well, she would have happily stayed at Rodalquilar looking after Eckhard’s garden but her highlight was somewhat different – the relief felt by her feet when she went for a paddle at Los Genoveses beach. Is now the time to admit that she slipped over three times and has grazed knees? At least she wasn’t looking at her phone….

Kim is taken with the Agave flower stems. Some of them have been over 3m high and everywhere we’ve been they are used decoratively. She finally recognised, with poor grace, that she couldn’t get one in the suitcase or on the plane as hand luggage. Research indicates that, if she’s lucky, she might get one to flower in about 50 years. It might be worth the wait for an alternative Christmas Tree.

Cabo de Gata lighthouse and some flamingos

This morning, breakfast resembled a group of poor students needing to save money. A taxi was booked for 08:30 to drop us at Cala Cabon for a 10 km walk back to San Jose. We’d decided that Inntravel’s options were too far and identified something shorter. Unfortunately we’d forgotten to arrange a packed lunch so our objective was to create lunch from breakfast items instead. Jacky won the award with a very dainty cheese and ham sandwich.

Rising so early meant we saw the sunrise.

Ricardo our taxi driver explained he couldn’t drop us at Cala Cabon because vehicles are forbidden in the Park and he showed us the route he needed to drive. It had always been our intention to see the nature reserve at Las Salinas but now we had to walk the extra 5km Inntravel recommended. Heroes that we are we decided to give it a go.

Kim had been keen to see the Flamingos that migrate to the salt marshes and was expecting huge flocks of brightly coloured birds. This is the best photo we managed…. how many Flamingo can you see?

Inntravel suggest that you add 4km to the 15km route by walking from the salt marshes to the lighthouse. We were having none of that and were dropped off right outside the lighthouse. 4km doesn’t sound much but the route was winding and surprisingly hilly. We whizzed, rather than limped, past the salt mines.

This protected area produces ‘Flower Salt’ relying on temperature fluctuations in salt pans which create floating crystals of salt flowers, these are collected manually using large shovels. The salt contains a micro algae called ‘Dunaliella Salina’ and is responsible for the pinkish colour of the salt flower. This is where pink flamingos in this area get their colour as the micro algae dyes the flamingos legs and feathers while they stand in the water. Obviously these particular flamingos hadn’t been standing around long enough.

The route elevation showed the toughest walking would be the first 5km with an elevation of about 300m. We delayed the start with photo opportunities of the lighthouse but Ricardo had gone, we were off the public road and had no choice but to walk.

The first hour was indeed tough with 500m of scrabbling up and down gullies before reaching the closed road and steep climb. The sun was shining and the views were fantastic. Each time we turned a corner, it was a relief to be briefly out of the sun and it was only 9:30

The highest point was the at La Vela Blanca. Helpfully, our notes told us we’d walked 4km and were within the estimated time. We might still have over 10km to go but we’d conquered the ‘mountain’. It wasn’t long before we rounded a bend and could see much of our route stretching ahead of us.

John made us stop for a photo opportunity. We’re not quite sure why he kept telling us to step back just a little further.

As the route flattened out we had views across a plain, dotted with Agaves and the odd European Fan Palm. Despite the green, the plants tell a story of an incredibly hostile environment with stunted growth. There are, however some pretty flowers doing their best to survive.

Our lunch break was taken at Monsul Beach which, like Los Genoveses in the next bay, has been used as the set location in numerous films. Now, we can be quite critical of beaches. Nothing ever meets the standard that Porthcothan set for us years ago. Monsul was a little bit special. Cliffs created from molten lava lead down to the sea and give a very special feel. It’s also one of the few beaches that has sand dunes.

Our greatest achievement of the holiday was working out how to use the timer to take a group photo. You’ll notice Ann and Dave are missing, yet again they found something interesting and cultural to do that doesn’t involve blisters and aching joints!

The next stop was Los Genoveses and it felt like we were almost back. We’d walked from here yesterday, knew the route and estimated it was only another 30 mins to the hotel. Time for a paddle! Ken and John are in this photo somewhere, you can’t see them because they’re snorkelling (not sitting on the beach, snacking, under eucalyptus trees)

5 hours and 12 km later we were back at the hotel! We’d cheated a little and chosen to stay on a more direct route than the official one. Unexpectedly it had saved us 3km and we were grateful it had. We may have missed a couple of bays out on the way but we’d probably seen the best.

A day in San Jose

The consensus was to take it easy today. A leisurely breakfast was a pleasant change but the weather couldn’t seem to decide what to do. Glorious sunshine or thick fog, it was changing by the minute!

Jacky looked at the map, plotted an easy route round to Los Genoveses beach and off we went leaving Dave and Ann, sensibly, reading on their terrace in the sunshine.

The walk started comfortably enough on pavements and roads before becoming another challenging rock strewn path.

The beach came into view and from our vantage point looked stunning. Scenes from Laurence of Arabia and Raiders of the Lost Ark have been filmed here.

We admired the view and decided to head back into town rather than going on further. There’s a long walk planned on Monday and we were feeling the effects of Saturday. Looking back over the beach was a very different landscape to any we’ve seen so far with wide open plains.

A better route back into town was identified, thanks to Jacky and her map. The path was reasonably flat and took us past the windmill at Molino del Collado

A leisurely afternoon was spent on the terrace, reading in the sun. Before we knew it, it was 4 pm and hunger drove us out to find a snack. We walked round to the harbour and found a table in one of the few restaurants open at this time of year.

We are used to tapas portions at home and they’re not generous. Taking that into account, we ordered three dishes….

There was enough to feed four and, luckily, we saw Ken and Jacky passing by. Ken was more than happy to help us work our way through grilled sardines, patatas bravas and a Roquefort salad.

The weather has been a real mix of sunshine and cloud but the evening ended with a beautifully clear sky.

Rodalquilar to St. Jose

It’s been long day! Finally after 8 hours of mountain climbing, and walking, we arrived in St. Jose and had our first disagreement. Ken recorded 12.9 miles against Kim’s meagre 11.5 miles while Dave and Anne were past the point of caring unless another hill was involved…… in that case they would have a very strong opinion..

This morning, we said goodbye to Eckhard our German host, but first we had to listen to another lecture. This time it was about which restaurants to avoid and why his boutique hotel was the best in Spain, so far we haven’t seen any other Nissen hut based accommodation so he may be right and he does have a fantastic garden.

Approaching the first road, we were passed by a peloton of Movistar team cyclists practising team tactics which they can do easily down here. Similar to Portugal and Madeira the lovely roads built with EU money, most of which John is convinced he donated personally, are completely devoid of traffic. They whooshed past us as we struggled up the first hill of the day to the viewpoint at Mirador de la Amatista. On a clear day, views along the coast must be spectacular. We checked route instructions and, at 2.7 km, we were 20 minutes ahead of schedule – go us!

Most of the landscape is low growing and scrubby but a short detour down to Cala los Toros through a grove of palms created a very different atmosphere. In this terrain, 3 trees are a grove – we are in the only official desert in Europe.

Next stop was La Isleta del Moro, a little fishing town with a cafe. Our walking location is quite remote and this is the only cafe mentioned in all seven walk options. According to our notes, we were still ahead of schedule and treated ourselves to a cuppa. 5k down only another 12 to go!

An hour later we’d rounded the bay and stopped for lunch at Los Escullos beach, in the shadow of the ruined fort of Castillo de San Felipe. Already tired and not yet halfway, with our highest climbs still to come, we had a great view across the bay to La Isleta. The white fossilised dunes lining the beach are oolite – calcium carbonate from animal bones worn down and encrusted with sand.

Leaving the beach we joined the ‘Loma Pelada’ route along the coast taking us all the way to San Jose. We’d walked 12 km in 4.5 hours and were flagging just as the terrain became hilly with lots of loose stones under foot. It was very hard work and we seemed to be taking it in turns to slip and fall. We will spare you the photos of grazed knees but here’s a taster of the terrain.

San Jose tantalisingly came into view but there was another 3km descent on nasty loose stones before we came to a beautiful tarmac road into town.

We arrived at the hotel and collapsed, rather too tired to appreciate the views from our terrace.

Eckhard had told us sternly not to eat in the hotel. In low season there’s not much choice so that’s where we are! Kim was pleased that Dave offered to share Creamy Lobster Rice with her, she’s just not sure it was lobster

A circular walk from Rodalquilar via Cortijo del Fraile

The day started with an al fresco breakfast on the terrace. Our host, Eckhard, pointed out that we wouldn’t be able to do this at home and thought we might like it. It was a little chilly, but he was correct. Today’s walk took us inland through mining and farming country across 14.5 km of dirt tracks and rocky paths. We started with an early detour into Rodalquilar’s Botanic Garden. It is presented as an environmental management centre for the Cabo de Gata – Nijar Natural Park and divides plots into distinct plant groupings and environments. Apart from Palms and grasses not much is happening this time of year so here’s a photo from the hotel garden which is interestingly planted.

Walking out of town we passed an old abandoned gold mine. The area has a long history of mining starting with lead and silver. Gold was discovered in the late 19th century and was mined until 1966 when it became too costly and environmentally destructive. As a result the town population dropped dramatically from 1400 to about 200.

We walked through the valley, following a dry riverbed, before heading up along a pass with glorious views back down to the coast.

We turned a corner and the view changed completely. Suddenly we had views across lush agricultural fields to the Sierra Nevada in the distance.

The route for sensible people was fairly flat, following another dry riverbed and taking us into farming country and the fields we’d seen from the top. Rows of lettuce, fennel, cauliflower and broccoli greeted us and this was the prettiest.

At this point, and after a long climb, we became a little confused. Our holiday is categorised ‘easy walking’ but the route was taking us up yet another steep climb. There was dissent in the ranks so John, heroically, offered to check it out. He scrambled up the mountainside and, by the time the rest of us had read the instructions properly and realised we didn’t need to be up on the ridge, he decided it was too dangerous to scramble back down. We didn’t see him again!

The highlight of the walk was the ruin at Cortijo del Fraile. Not only was this farmstead the inspiration for Garcia Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’ but it has featured in many Westerns including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and a Few Dollars More.

The long walk back took us past more abandoned mines and, if you look carefully, you can see the evidence of mine shafts in the cliff face.

The next stop, accessed through a short tunnel, was the abandoned village of El poblado minero de San Diego before finally arriving back at the top end of Rodalquilar, overlooking the mining buildings we’d seen earlier.

Back in town we met up with John in Crisol’s bar, for a well earned drink in the late afternoon sunshine. Today’s walk was a tough but enjoyable 9 miles, tomorrow’s is longer and steeper……….ouch

Walking in Andalucia

We are walking in the Andalucian reserve of Cabo de Gato park with friends. The trip has been meticulously planned and started, last night, at Gatwick. Today’s flight was an early one and we didn’t trust Thameslink trains or the M25 to get us there on time.

Up before 5, our luggage checked by 5:15 and on the plane by 7. Everything was running smoothly until the pilot announced our take off slot had been delayed by a French Air Traffic Control strike! That gave fellow passengers the opportunity to mess up the schedule even further. The first was an elderly gentleman who felt faint. A paramedic arrived and it was agreed he needed to leave the flight. While we waited for an ambulance, another passenger was discovered to be so drunk he couldn’t be woken! Quite how it’s possible to get that drunk that early is beyond us!

Passengers were removed, safety checks carried out and we were off…. or not as it turned out. We taxied back to the terminal -the luggage door was showing a fault. Finally, 4 hours later than scheduled, we left the ground accompanied by applause and cheers from fellow passengers.

We flew South West over Normandy and the Pyrenees and as Almeria approached we were greeted by the Greenhouse Revolution. It is the largest number of Greenhouses in the world, in reality thousands of plastic greenhouses, which grow most of the fruit and vegetables eaten in the UK. It’s a huge contributor to the local economy but with significant environmental costs.

Our approach to Almeria airport was accompanied by more cheers and the Captain announced how emotional he was at the thought of us leaving. We had been together for such a long time.

We headed into the Almeria Miracle which is a tiny corner of Almeria preserved from development by Francisca Diaz Torres who refused to sell her family estate to commercial pressures. It became the Cabo de Gata National Park where we will be walking for the next few days.

Our hotel is unusual to say the least, located five minutes outside Rodalquilar, with glorious views.

And the ‘rooms’ are quirky, set inside what look like Nissen huts.

We wandered into town and found an open bar. Run by a motorcycle enthusiast, the beer was good and music even better

Finally, after a very long day, we dined out at a local restaurant where we sampled grilled artichokes, beef cheeks and rosemary smoked cheese.

Our Silver Wedding adventure

Contrary to expectations we made it to 25 years and it warranted another micro-adventure – Brian Augers Oblivion Express featuring Alex Ligertwood in Bensheim.

‘Who’ and ‘where?’ you might be thinking….we like to think you’re vaguely curious.

The easy part is Bensheim, a small German town about 1 hour south of Frankfurt or 6 hours drive from Dunkirk. Bensheim lies in the Bergstrasse mountain region on the Rhine rift and forms part of the German Riviera because of its mild climate and early Spring.

Brain Auger, a british keyboard player, best known for supporting Julie Driscoll of Wheels on Fire fame. Alex Ligertwood was lead vocalist with Santana for many years and these days they perform some rather cool Jazz.

Tickets, and a hotel, were booked months ago in case there was a rush and we missed out. Last week, we asked Google about our trip, the distance was far too much to cover in a day so we booked a stop over in Maastricht.

Our last minute booking in Maastricht was a room in the tower of the 18th Century Kasteel De Hoogenwerth, overlooking the river Maas. Unlike Kim’s usual choices, which can be rather dubious, it was rather special.

Heavy rain had kept us company since leaving home at 04:30 but it eased enough for a walk into Maastricht to see the famous square where Andre Rieu hosts his annual concert.

Far more interesting was the visit to Maastricht’s bookshop, described as the most beautiful in the world by The Guardian. We’d have to agree and it was a shame we didn’t have long enough to do it justice but dinner was calling.

We ate in ‘Sofa’, a small restaurant next to the hotel. There are no pictures of food, we ate too quickly but Maastricht, the hotel and the restaurant are on our list for a return visit.

On Thursday, rather than a simple drive to Bensheim, a detour into Luxembourg for Luxembourgieose cremant was needed. Apparently, France and Luxembourg are the only two countries in the world that can make fizzy wine and call it cremant.

We stopped at Bernard Massard, overlooking the banks of the Mosel and for elevenses settled down to taste five fizzy wines and a Pinot Noir. The environment was smart, wines were scored according to taste and heroically, we managed to find room for a case in the car.

Rain continued to keep us company and it was a relief to arrive in Bensheim. Our accommodation went down a couple of notches.

The old town was quaint and cobbled. According to Wikipedia, it’s currently economically strong and that’s reflected in a broad range of shops and a town that’s well maintained. Before the war, it became the centre for the regional Nazi Party and suffered greatly as a consequence. Wandering round, its difficult to imagine the massacre of local Jews and Gestapo killings in the surrounding woodland.

The main event, the concert, was held in Musiktheatre Rex, a converted warehouse with a capacity of about 800. As is our way we arrived too late for a table and spent the evening propping up the bar, drinking beer. John was particularly keen to see Alex Ligertwood who was unable to appear as a result of a recent hernia operation, it appears that even singing can be hazardous. Kim was hoping to hear something she might recognise….. it was a long way to go and not be able to sing along!

We left Bensheim before 10 with a six hour journey ahead of us in the Beetle with dodgy windscreen wipers. It has poured with rain for 90% of our time away and the car has made its views known. As to the Bromptons? They’ve not left the back seat of the car.

Heading home

Glorious sunshine and a light breeze, an ideal day for yesterday’s plans!

Hotel Wilhelmina vied for ‘Best Hotel of the Holiday’ together with Hostellerie Schuddebeurs, both would be high up our list for another visit.

We filled up on probably the best breakfast of the holiday, although they have all been good, had another conversation about Brexit with perplexed Europeans, and wandered up to the beach for a final look. Domburg prides itself as having the cleanest beach in Holland

We discovered the monument to the paratroopers from UK, Belgium and Norway who died trying to liberate Holland. The plaque above the Belgian memorial reads ‘United We Conquer’, a message that loses none of its power with the passage of time.

An old bathhouse dominates the seafront, following its restoration in 2007 it houses a well regarded restaurant and apartments with spectacular views.

Would Kim consider another cycling holiday? Probably, although she’s still rather alarmed by John’s desire to cycle St Malo to Nice and the book to this effect at home may mysteriously disappear and the tortoises blamed.

As to this trip, Holland is a joy to cycle and we’d come back with enough confidence to plan our own route and travel light enough to carry our luggage, rather than send it by taxi, (Kim can’t believe she’s just written that!) Dutch Bike Tours were ok but the quality of hotels and roadmaps weren’t a patch on those from Inntravel who organised our Portuguese walking trip.

Finally, after a 2.5 hour drive, John was almost in petrol head heaven at Dunkirk, as half the cars on board are heading for the Goodwood Revival Meeting.

Finally, finally JustGo 2020 is booked. 15 nights in a motorhome, John is hiding his excitement well.

A day at the seaside

We’d booked an extra day at Domburg and had a number of plans. We could relax on the beach or a 35km cycle ride taking in Middelburg, Zoutelande and Westkapelle. The route along the North Sea looked glorious. Now we’re professionals hilly, windy dunes pose no problems for us!

We left Burgh-Haamstede with our options open and had a sunny 40 minute drive to our hotel. It was too cold for the beach so the Bromptons were unfolded and we were off…….

2 km down the road, cycling into a headwind, the rain started and we were soon soaked. We managed another couple hundred metres before stopping for a cuppa in the vain hope that weather conditions would improve.

This wasn’t as easy as it sounds. We had been told to look out for large wooden steps from the road, which is below sea level. These go up and across the dunes and lead to little beach clubs. We (mainly John) carried the bikes 72 steps up one side, 52 down the other.

Our plan backfired as the weather deteriorated further, we tried to carry on cycling then common sense kicked in. Sometimes you just have to give up, return to your hotel and drive the route. Our bikes were in the back of the car so, technically, we were still cycling?

We managed to park in Middelburg, not enough time to visit the museum but sufficient to have a little potter round the cobbled streets.

We ventured out for dinner and in true seaside fashion……we had pizza. John’s not keen on fish and won’t touch shell fish so the lure of a fresh catch is lost on him.

Domburg was lovely to wander round at dusk.

Tomorrow we head to Dunkirk then home. It feels like we’ve been away longer than a week.