The first thing to say is that for once Dot, the dodgy sat nav, finally earned her corn. There is no way we could have found Camping Roche without her. It is signposted but the route is tortuous, the roads diffiult and the signs intermittent.
We arrived in bright sunshine and it continues (more anon) and picked a site in the popular area but towards the edge since it was crowded. Happily the wind blew and by morning we had realised why there were spare pitches on the edge of the area, which is in fact the newest part of a pretty big site. So we cruised around and moved into the older area, good wind protection and nearly as much exposure to the sun.
This is the first long term location so the awning is up, everything we have is out, the van is a lot clearer. Laundry has been done, shops found and all is well with the world.
Conil de la Frontera proved a nice little town, clean and tidy and with some character and not too much development (we have found more but it is still pretty low rise so not too bad). It possesses a absolutely huge beach, kilometres long, soft sand, shallow water and some dunes. The wind does blow but to be honest, one decent windscreen and it could be mid-summer in the west of England. The sea is enticing and often provides good surf. Indeed surfing in various forms is key ingredient in the entire Costa de la Luz economy.
We later toured some more of the coast towards Cadiz, finding smaller but equally delighful beaches and a small cove that is superb. We also found Conil's fishing harbour – some 6 kilometres by road (two by sea) along the coast and filled with resting fishing boats and plastic tubs.
A later foray in the opposite direction proved there is an almost unbroken sandy beach from here to Cape Trafalgar. Indeed it is the one off which our county hero Nelson did his stuff against the French and Sopanish fleets. At school and ever after I have scoffed unknowingly at our American cousins for stressing the last syllable. But what I was taught at school was tosh – the Spanish and indeed Moorish word stresses the GAR! Oh my England!
Arrival – Graham and Jane are now with us for ten days, en route from Portugal to Alicante where they will be joined by Janes parents for Christmas. Their 8 metre Hymer would block the sun if the sun was ever that low around here! A fine vehicle for living in.
With them we visited Tarifa, the furthest south point on the Iberian peninsular, a mere 12 kilometres from the African (Moroccan) coast. Tarifa, like Cadiz started life as a port the thick end if 3000 years ago as a Phoenician port, then Roman before the switchback of the Visigoths, Moors and Catholics. It provides amazing surfing, along with its neighbouring locations like Zahora and as a result has a distinctly ex-hippy feel, laid back and relaxed – very oleasing. It boasts a huge castle overlooking the harbour from which high speed ferries dash back and forth to Tanger. We shall ride one soon.
Near to Tarifa we detoured to a beach called Bolonia and a Roman ruin which turned out to be more than we margained for. First the location is a stunning little bay set between high and craggy mountains and backed by a dune area which the Roman filled with a sizeable town, indlouding baths, forum, temple and beach side vills. They made their money by fishing (tuna I expect) but then turning it into garum, in huge vats which remain. This black goo, smelling and tasting strongly of fish was a staple of Roman cooking. In fact you can get a sense of it if you want – take a shoulder or leg of lamb, slit the skin allover, fill the cavities with anchovy, garlic and rosemary, roast slowly and enjoy. You will be astonished at the richness of the flavour and may suddenly get a grip on Romans and garum! And as a result of that I shall now set about seking a suitable lump of lamb for the weekend (whatever SWIMBO says!).
December 8 and the sun still shines - And there is little to say really. We have, both parties done a lot of domestic stuff. In between we did make a trip to Medina Sidonia, a pueblo blanco but maybe more famous as the ancestral home of the man who largely bankrolled the Spanish Armada. The Duke of Medina Sindonia he was, descendant of Guzman El Bueno, hero of the defence of Tarifa against the Moors - much good it did him and hi son!). Here in Medina his successors settled down with the grateful thanks of the monarch ensuring their destiny as one of the richest families in Spain. But, cometh the hour, cometh the come uppance and the King of Spain called in his credits and got Medina Sidonia to assemble the fleet to upset the upstart Queen Elizabeth, albeit in Papally inspired revenge for her dad's heresy!
I have read that the said Duke,unsettled by the news that English Galleons had four decks of cannon to his three insisted that a further forty guns be deployed on his largest ships. The mounting of these above the existing gunnery left the vessels unseaworthy and played into the hands of Howard and co, who then harried them with a following wind all the way to Holland. Where they docked only to be unable to leave for weeks on end until, depleted and demoralised, they started the ill-fated circumnavigation of the British Isles – only those washed up on Ireland had much hope of any sort of salvation!English weather always wins out.
But the town is rather fine, with a grand square, a superb church on the hill, marginally below the ruins of Duke-ship's massive castle. The view from here is 360 degrees and demonstrate why even the King of Spain may have said “after you, Medina Sidonia” on occasion. Impregnable is not in it.
While they are here J and G have a birthday - Graham's - coming up. So we have been seeking a venue for a night out. Spoilt for choice really with magnificent cliff top mirador restos in plenty. One has been found. But another may also prove our own repose for Christmas Day – more anon.
One point of interest is the prices of some foods in these places. 100 euros a kilo for ordinary lobsters; 140 for Norway. 75 a kilo for red prawns – allegedly of course from Garrucha in Almeria but the Med is empty and making them red is fool's play to a wily oriental which is where 95% of all prawns these days come.
December 11 – and the sun still shines: Graham's birthday is a reminder for me of course - my father's birthday was the 10th; he would have been 103 this year! He made 83 but to be honest with better hospital care could well have lasted longer. Graham chose the Fontanilla Restaurant which is virtually on the beach and a one time REAL chiringuito. Today it is smart and potentially pricey – in fact we eat well and reasonably. Graham seemed to enjoy having some company for the day – in addition to Jane that is. Anyway it was also their last day with us -setting off the next morning for the western end of Andalucia and a Christmas date with Jane's mum and dad at Alicante.
We have hit one small problem – deciding to stay here an extra 2-3 weeks posed a problem; our site is booked from Jan1! So we chose another and decided to move early so we could have a settled 5-6 weeks. Move day was this Sunday but lo – an enormous motor home of virtually two-storey dimension arrived on the site next door and to the south. Thus shaded seriously the site lost it s appeal and we had to choose yet another. We move Sunday – this time there is nothing to our south!
Our water filter problem remains. Truma (German) took over Cristel (UK) and have decided NOT to support the Cristel filter housing we have. So no new filter is available! I have removed the filter casing and replaced the screw-fit sealing unit without it. But it leaves a large void into which water has to be pumped and stored. If it leaks at all the whole thing gurgles annoyingly. I may yet have to re-route the incoming supply to by-pass the filter casing entirely. The only good news is that the filer is for aesthetic rather than health purposes – and which are largely irrelevant in these days of decent water supplies.
Elsewhere the van is fine beyond the fact that the design is lacking common sense in a few areas and we seem to have ample evidence that a previous owner was a ham-fisted twerp who over tightened many things. Heigh ho I guess!
This coast continues to please -it is far less commercialised and so far less spoilt than most of Spain. We have real clif walks, proper fishing ports, decent sandy coves without high-rise. And the weather here is even better than the long -run climate figures suggested. Portugal is less appealing right now – 4-5 degrees cooler, more cloud and less sun. So we may head west instead of east. Or not. Time will tell.