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1999 May (Morocco, Spain) PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

MOTORHOME TRAVELLERS' DIARY FOR MAY 1999

MOROCCO & INTO SPAIN

Barry and Margaret Williamson

What follows are extracts from a diary we kept during our travels in mainland Europe by motorhome, bicycle and sometimes motorbike in the years since we early-retired in 1995

01 MAY 1999 MA CAMPING ASMA, CHEFCHAOUEN

In which we slide down to explore Chefchaouen

After hearing thunder in the night, we woke to a cold, wet, muddy campsite, the mountain peaks shrouded in cloud. We decided against moving on to Martil, the campsite on the coast near Tetouan, for our last night in Morocco (the Green Card expires tomorrow) as rain was still pouring, the first in 8 weeks here. We spent the morning updating and printing the April diary, drinking coffee and watching the German New Age Travellers squatting in a circle, preparing and passing round a long thin Kif pipe and dancing in the rain! How do they get their ancient buses through the customs?

After lunch the downpour turned to showery intervals and we donned boots and waterproof jackets to scramble several hundred feet down to the town, taking the shortcut round the edge of the hillside cemetery and through the incredibly steep and slippery cobbled alleys (15 minutes down, 30 back up!) The town was built by Muslim refugees from Spain after the Reconquest and remained isolated and Spanish-speaking. It was later occupied by Spanish troops from 1920 till independence in 1956. The old whitewashed houses with tile roofs and balconies look Spanish, though many in the medina have been painted a garish ice-blue. As we slithered down the wet cobbled inclines we could see into tiny ground-floor rooms crowded with weaving looms working the local wool. Shopping at the market and the pâtisserie Magou we found Spanish still spoken rather than French. We took the April diary for photocopying and observed local organisational skills (the 2 men on the job had to abandon attempts to back up the copies if we insisted on including all the pages with none upside down!)

During a shower we sat at a cafe in the main square, the shady cobbled Plaza Uta el-Hammam, opposite the 15thC Great Mosque and the 17thC Kasbah, with glasses of coffee supplemented by delicious fresh cookies from a pedlar. The kasbah walls enclosed a lovely garden and the buildings housed a small museum with old photos of the town, traditional costumes, jewellery, instruments, and good views from the roof. It was built by Moulay Ismail (he of the Mausoleum in Meknes) to defend the town against unruly Berber tribes and the Spanish. The dreadful dark cells, with neck chains at floor level, were on view. Here local hero Abd el-Krim who threw the Spanish out during the Riffian Rebellion of 1924 was imprisoned when they came back in 1926. We crossed the Plaza de Makhzen, a second square lined with souvenir stalls and shops, very quiet and peaceful (only 4 attempts to sell us a carpet) and then climbed back up to Hotel Asma and the campsite. We gave our neighbours Jack & Sandy a copy of the March and April diaries to help them plan their tour (they have many weeks left) and Sandy produced the March MMM - she'd recognised us, getting it out to read on a wet afternoon!

After dinner they joined us for coffee, bringing their Scrabble set, and we learnt more about them whilst letting Sandy win! She is the widow of a TV scriptwriter (including many episodes of 'East Enders'), while Jack had been a soldier, with 2 tours of duty in Northern Ireland. Like Barry, his first posting had been to Hong Kong. Having sold their homes, they are in the process of deciding whether to buy a large motorhome, a canal boat or a cottage in Wales. Meanwhile, they just hope their ancient van keeps going round Morocco!

02 MAY 1999 E CEUTA PORT CAR PARK

In which Rosie is strip-searched before crossing the border into Spanish Ceuta

Dry and cool, a good day for travelling. Sorry to leave the lovely Rif Mountains, though not the weather they attract, we drove north to Tetouan, capital of the Spanish Protectorate from 1912 until independence, now a big bustling city which didn't tempt us to stop. We did pause at Martil, a little seasise resort 5 miles away to make coffee with a first view of the Moroccan Mediterranean, then followed the coast to the border of the Spanish enclave of Ceuta. Along the way we passed incongruous large hotels, golf courses, a marina, even a Club Med - this is another country!

Crossing the Moroccan border seemed straightforward, a matter of completing yellow exit forms and queueing to present them with passports and the green vehicle form issued on entry. We exchanged our remaining Dirham notes for Pesetas (at a very poor rate), gave our loose change to 2 old jellaba-clad beggars (who knew a good place, there must be a waiting list!) and proceeded to Customs, our last contact with Morocco. Here we were singled out for a search by 2 morose scruffily-dressed men with large blunt screwdrivers, though a sniffer dog might have been more efficient. Ignoring the proffered backhander of 2 packets of Marlborough cigarettes, they trampled in and out in muddy boots, took up the carpets (leaving them for Barry to screw down again), banged energetically on walls and ceiling looking for secret panels (and chipping a cupboard), had all the outside lockers emptied, and were finally driven to ask 'Have you any drugs on board?' Perhaps it's all show, since there are hundreds of places we could have hidden them if we'd been smugglers, or perhaps they'd been tipped off by the police in Ketama that we'd been touring in Kif country?

We watched them more carefully than they watched us, fearful that they would plant a packet or two to justify their existence. After about 45 minutes of this stand-off they gave in, we crossed the no-man's land, through the cursory Spanish inspection and were back in the tiny Spanish enclave after a total of 1½ hours at the border. With relief, we closed another circle after 3,000 miles, parking for lunch by the sea where we'd paused for coffee before entering Morocco exactly 8 weeks ago. After putting the clocks on 2 hours the day was nearly over, but we liked it staying light till 9 pm. Next stop Camping Marguerita (mentioned in our recent guidebook and by fellow-travellers we'd met) - wrong, it had closed down! With no other sites in Ceuta, we headed for the port, filling Rosie's tank with duty-free diesel (20p/litre compared with 30p in Morocco) on the way.

There was no ferry until tomorrow morning (0800 or 1030 hrs), so we parked at the harbour for our last evening on African soil. The local TV showed the delightful film 'Babe' (dubbed into Spanish). The story was simple enough (from an Australian children's book) to follow and we felt virtuous that we had eaten no pork for weeks (soon to change!)

80 miles. Free parking.

03 MAY 1999 E STADIUM CAR PARK, LA LINEA

In which we sail to Algeciras with 2 penguins!

As our return ticket was 'open dated', we had to find the place to get boarding cards for the 10.30 ferry. As we waited, along with a circus, to see if there was room, we were checked over by a Customs Alsation, sniffing in vain for Kif, an altogether quicker and more dignified way of doing it. In fact, the boat was practically empty, with only a few lorries, one caravan and the circus! Rosie was easily reversed into a space alongside a strange smell coming from one of the circus vans. The side door was open and 2 bedraggled penguins stood in a cage inside along with a plastic bowl of water and pained expressions! A bigger van with an enclosed trailer bore pictures of sharks!! Above deck, we had a smooth 1½ hour crossing, the Rock of Gibraltar looming ever larger.

At Algeciras we were asked if we had any animals to declare (the circus got pulled over!), then drove through a disinfectant tank into Christendom. We headed straight along the familiar motorway to junction 112 for a McDonald's lunch, then trolley-dashed round the Lidl and Dia stores as both closed from 2.30 until 5 pm (Spanish siesta). Cheeses, ham, pork chops, cornflakes, instant coffee, honey, sliced brown bread, plain and chocolate digestive biscuits ... foods unseen and unbought for 2 months! Barry also found a Black & Decker rechargeable screwdriver on offer at the Continente to replace the well-used one which wore out in Morocco.

We then continued a few miles past San Roque to La Linea, the Spanish frontier town at the entrance to Gibraltar, across the bay from Algeciras. There is no campsite but in La Linea there is a large expanse of empty ground between its stadium and the perimeter fencing of Gibraltar and its Airport.

This space is used for a weekly market, for joggers and for parking by coaches, cars and campers visiting Gibraltar. It's free of charge and only 5 minutes' walk from the border post. (Inside Gib, parking is difficult, costs £5 per day and vehicles can take up to 2 hours to get out again past bloody-minded Spanish Customs.) We parked by a small ancient British-registerd Bedford van, occupied by an old reprobate originally from Oldham and his (very much) younger Brazilian girlfriend who only spoke Portuguese! He confirmed it was a very safe place to stay, with the Guardia Civil constantly patrolling the border and keeping an eye on things, and told us the water from the beach showers was good for drinking, if you could collect it. He was right on both counts (indeed, the police tried to arrest his dark-skinned companion as an illegal immigrant while he was away at the bank next morning!) We were able to tune in to local Radio Gibraltar and Radio 4 (the Archers!) as well as the usual World Service, but still no English TV - it was scrambled and needed a decoder.

16 miles. Free parking.

04 MAY 1999 E STADIUM CAR PARK, LA LINEA

In which we visit the apes at the Top of the Rock and eat fish & chips

A fine day with a cool west wind off the sea. We walked through the frontier and across the airport runway (the only way in or out of Gibraltar). Back into Britain. Armed with a map from the Tourist Office we explored on foot, past Victoria Stadium and the British War Memorial, along Winston Churchill Avenue, past the scene of the cold-blooded shooting of 3 IRA members, through Casemates Gate to narrow, pedestrianised Main Street (BHS, M&S, etc) bustling with Spanish visitors, British tourists, day-trippers from the Costas and Americans/Japanese from 2 cruise ships in the harbour. We bought film and batteries and a Travel Jug mini-kettle (the old u/s one was given to a souq trader in Midelt). The excellent Gibraltar Books, at 300 Main Street, made another dint in the Visa card, though the Penguin book of Mediterranean fish (the recognition, preparing and cooking of) remains out of print. Past the Governor's Residence (Union Jack flying, armed sentry on guard) to the cable car station and a one-way ticket for the 10 minute ascent up the west face to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.

The views back over the town and dockyards, out to Europa Point and across the Strait to Africa, were brilliant and even Margaret had to look. At the upper cable car station, at 412 m/1360 ft, we had coffee, scones, butter and jam before meeting our first group of playful apes (Barbary Macaques), Europe's only wild primates if you don't count tourists. We walked on a rough path up to the highest viewpoint on the Rock, by O'Haras Battery (2nd World War fortifications, closed to everybody else for restoration), with views down the steeper side of the peninsula to the eastern beaches and away along the Mediterranean Costa del Sol. Then a 20-minute walk down to visit St Michael's Cave, at 300 m/990 ft, a huge limestone grotto, inhabited in prehistoric times, prepared as a military hospital in WWII, and now used for concerts and plays - well lit, clearly labelled in 3 languages, soft music playing, entry included in the £3.65 cable car ticket, we liked it!

Walking on through the nature reserve (600 different plants and trees) for another 10 minutes we came to the Apes' Den, where food, water and climbing bars attract many of the colony (though they are free to roam over the Rock). There were a couple of tiny babies with their mothers, being nursed in a very human way, and many amazingly agile youngsters, very friendly (one leapt over and tried to hold on to M's tee-shirt). The cable car has a middle stop by the Apes' Den for those who don't want to walk all the way down, so we had the footpath to town via the Devils Gap Stairs to ourselves.

Ready for lunch, it was hard to choose between the many places offering all-day-breakfasts, fast food, traditional pub grub, English cream teas ... We decided on fish & chips and had an excellent meal (with mushy peas, tea, bread & butter of course). We rounded off a self-indulgent day with ice creams, collected 3 weighty packets from Alan at the post office and, laden by now with kettles, books, mail etc, caught a bus (open-top double-decker) for the last mile to the border.

While moving Rosie nearer the border (recommended by the man with the Bedford, who said we'd be surrounded by the weekly market tomorrow), we collected about 30 litres of water from the beach showers (not easy if you don't like being sprayed with cold water on a windy day), then settled down to open our post over a pot of tea. Margaret had an interesting letter from Peter and a birthday present from Alan, 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' set on wartime Cephallonia, which we've heard abridged on radio and now look forward to reading in full. There was also a postcard from the Swatman's (presently in Australia), a letter from Turner's saying the tenants had renewed for another 6 months, new insurance policies from Endsleigh (health) and CGU (49 Heaton Rd, Buildings), the usual wadge of bank statements and phone bills, MMM for March-May, a cheque for the A-Z series, tax return forms and junk for the bin.

Margaret prepared the May competitions for the post (undaunted by apparent failure to win the Elddis Hi-Life!) and we listened to a moving radio play about the submarine 'Thetis', which failed to surface after pre-war trials in the Mersey - 4 escaped, 99 drowned.

05 MAY 1999 E STADIUM CAR PARK, LA LINEA

In which we shop at Safeway and dine at the 'Viceroy of India'

After breakfast Margaret looked round the weekly market in La Linea, which though big didn't actually extend to our earlier parking spot. Mainly clothing and bedding, she bought a good fitted polycotton sheet for about £4 (size = matrimoniale). Then we went into Gibraltar for its largest supermarket, a new Safeway in the Europort development by the main harbour, a good 2 miles' walk. It was a rare chance to buy such British favourites as English cheeses, sausage, bacon, a pork pie, kippers, golden syrup, jelly, custard, Oxo cubes, baked beans, tea bags and liquorice allsorts, to mention but a few, though we couldn't find any Beanfeast. There were even English tabloid papers, our first for 6 months, to read in the coffee bar (strange and worrying to see the Express and the Mail supporting Tony Blair's policies in Kosovo and on education!)

We let the bus carry us, 4 carrier bags and a rucksack-full of goodies back to the border, unloaded it into Rosie and walked back into Gibraltar again for the ultimate treat - the 3-course set lunch we'd seen advertised at the 'Viceroy of India' restaurant off Main Street for £6.75 each. The customers were businessmen rather than holiday-makers and the food was delicious - pakoras with spicy salad, followed by chicken tikka with plenty of sauce and rice. The 3rd course was just ice cream or coffee, but no-one could have eaten a pudding! We called at the post office on the way back in search of mum's packages and were given a chitty to take to the parcels office. This took some finding, tucked away under a bridge in an unfamiliar part of town, and they questioned Margaret about the contents, as no customs declaration form was attached. (Not necessary in any other EU country!) The postmaster eventually decided against opening the 2 parcels (they could have been mailbombs) and handed them over! It reminded us of the difficulty of getting into Northern Ireland (our own country) compared with Eire. We walked back to Rosie, the familiar trek across the airport runway and through 2 passport checks, and enjoyed opening the parcels, each containing 4 videos, and reading mum's long letter, birthday cards and cheque. There were 3 films (Clint as Dirty Harry in 'The Dead Pool', Sean in 'Highlander' and the Ealing comedy 'Kind Hearts & Coronets'), along with many hours of Inspector Frost, Kavanagh, the Bill, etc, which will entertain us for weeks. Splendid.

Later Margaret rang to thank mum and learnt that Auntie Hilda is still in hospital. Peter too had written that his dad can no longer drive after a mild stroke.

06 MAY 1999 E CAMPING EL SUR, RONDA

In which we drive to Ronda via Jimena de la Frontera on a mountain road

Post collected, shopping done, we are sorry to leave Gibraltar. Less than a mile wide and 4 miles long, known to Greeks and Romans as one of the twin pillars of Hercules (which he set up to mark the edge of the known world - the other is on Ceuta's matching promontory), it's now a fascinating outpost of Britain, and the ultimate capitalist culture shock on returning from the poverty and destitution of Morocco. We explored this a bit with our Anglo-Brazilian neighbours (or rather with him, his just-post-pubescent nubile friend hasn't learnt much English yet - we think he's training her to be a slave!) He (we never did learn his name) is a genuine rough diamond, an orphan out of a Bluecoats School in Oldham, followed by the navy and coal-mining, a house in Huddersfield once, eventually becoming some kind of 'businessman' in the Caribbean and Portugal. We can't imagine what the business is! He strongly recommended Brazil, for its low cost of living, and especially its meat, its bars, its Carnival and its women. He was returning there (with his amiga) in 2 weeks, selling his van to a friend in Portugal.

We left with plenty to think over as we took the motorway briefly towards Algeciras, turning off after San Roque to head north on the wonderful mountain road to Ronda, past other White Towns clinging to the hillsides, the route we'd cycled going to Algeciras at Christmas 1991 before our first brief visit to Morocco. We well remembered seeing the peaks rising through the cloud in the valleys, a first glimpse of Africa across the Strait, a magical day. Today we had time to pause at Jimena de la Frontera, on the eastern edge of the Alcornocales natural park - a series of medium height sierras. Leaving Rosie at the bottom of the village we walked up through the steep medieval lanes (a whitewashed, wrought-iron-balconied, flower-decked affluent version of old Chefchaouen). Above the village among the ruins of the Moorish castle we clambered on the ramparts, with a view of the Rock of Gibraltar 20 miles to the south.

Driving on, we climbed out of the orange groves and cork woodlands to scrubbier heights, stopping to make lunch in Gaucin, another pretty 'White Town' below a Moorish Castle, with a last view of the Strait and North Africa. Then over the Puerto de las Eras (780 m/2574 ft) and, after Atajate, the higher pass of Puerto de Encinas Borrachas at exactly 1000 m (another memory from that Christmas ride). A couple of miles before Ronda we turned into the campsite, well provided with a waste-dumping and water-filling point, usable toilets, hot showers and clean sinks, but at what price! (Spain is only for the well-heeled, or well-trousered, camper, which reminds M to patch B's shorts again!)

We installed ourselves, did 3 loads of dhobi and had supper before watching the 'wallpaper' layers at the end of the 'Mrs Brown' video - an interesting collage of historic commercials, News excerpts and chilling weather forecasts.

64 miles. £9.70 inc elec.

07 MAY 1999 E CAMPING EL SUR, RONDA

In which we take a 'day off'

Warm in the sun, cool in the wind, a better climate up here than the Costa del Sol at this time of year. (We're told Cilla Black lives in Ronda!) It was a day for re-charging batteries - the mobile phone, flashlight, toothbrush, new screwdriver and ourselves. Margaret spent the day writing the May diary and checking and filing the recent bank statements, etc, while Barry worked hard washing and polishing Rosie back to her normal state after the Rif Mountain mud of Morocco. She has performed brilliantly for all the 3,000 miles of Moroccan heat, sand, dust, stones and potholes and has come shining through (Inch Allah).

08 MAY 1999 E CAMPING EL SUR, RONDA

In which we cycle into Ronda

We removed and cleaned the rooflights and their dust-blocked insect screens, making our indoor world several shades brighter with the light no longer filtered through a film of Saharan sand. A new 'Which Motorcaravan' mentioned a map and information on free overnight places in Germany which 'Promobil' have produced for 5 DM, so Margaret wrote directly to 'Promobil' for one, enclosing a Eurocheque. We also wrote a card to Auntie Hilda.

After lunch we cycled a couple of miles into Ronda to buy a phonecard and stamps (from any Tabacos but they close for siesta till 5pm) and revisit the archetypal White Town, set astride the 100 m/330 ft deep El Tajo gorge. The old Muslim Medina is huddled on the south side of the Tajo, the newer post-Reconquest town to the north, over the majestic 200-year-old bridge, the Puente Nuovo, whose architect fell to his death engraving the completion date on it. We peered down into the gorge and walked through the fragrant gardens of the Alameda del Tajo, a cliff-top park with plunging views across the valleys below. But it has all become so gentrified in the 8 years since our last visit, so obviously a coach-tour destination for the Costa resorts, so busy with queues to visit the ancient (1785) bull-ring, that nothing felt real - or has Morocco changed us too much to appreciate imposed orderliness? Disappointed, we cycled back uphill to the campsite and prepared to move on.

09 MAY 1999 E CAMPING SIERRA NEVADA, GRANADA

In which we drive to Granada on Barry's birthday

The first part of the journey followed our 1991 cycle route on a minor road north-east through the rugged mountainous country of inland Andalucia. We had coffee with a view of a reservoir/lake before joining the Seville-Granada Autovia (toll-free dual carriageway) near Antequera. The snowy backdrop of the Sierra Nevada (with 14 peaks over 3000 m) came into view as we approached Granada. Past the airport at Santa Fe, the ring road took us to the north of the city and we found a busy, expensive motel/campsite a couple of miles from the centre.

Squeezing onto a pitch, we noticed the Rolling Hotel bus from Passau (registration number PA-PA-) was among our neighbours (seen in Morocco at Meknes and again at La Linea for Gibraltar).

Barry's birthday was marked with a pork chop casserole and a rich chocolate-almond cake, courtesy of a good hook-up for the microwave, plus the Moroccan white wine given to us by the Bungee Jumpers, which was surprisingly good (from the French legacy of vineyards round Meknes). We found a birthday message from mum when we put the mobile phone on, and a final treat was watching the first of the 4 new 'Frost' stories she'd sent on video.

120 miles. £10.48 inc elec.

10 MAY 199 E CAMPING LA PAZ, SANGONERA LA SECA

In which we drive to Murcia, with a detour to the Sierra de Espuña

Observing the other campers trooping off for the bus to the city ('their knapsacks on their back'), we decided against revisiting Granada. Our delicate memories of 2 cycle-rides there in the depths of winter, of finding rooms near the Alhambra and exploring its delights all alone, would be spoiled by hordes of tourists. We manoeuvred off our tree-hemmed pitch and drove on the autovia to Guadix, retracing part of Christmas 1992's ride. The road climbed above Granada through wild, forested mountain country to the Puerto de la Mora at 1390 m/4587 ft. The landscape became more arid, famous for cave-dwellings round Guadix (started by Muslims expelled from the city and still inhabited).

Reading the guidebook over coffee, we learnt that Leonard Cohen's muse, the poet/painter/playwright/actor/musician Federico Garcia Lorca, was born and worked near Granada, where he was to die with hundreds of others at the hands of the Nationalists in the Civil War in 1936.

Crossing from Andalucia to the smaller region of Murcia, the road bypassed the city of Lorca overlooked by a 13thC castle. 20 miles later we turned off into the little town of Alhama de Murcia, where we'd been told (by 'Sean Connery' in Tarifa) that there was a small country campsite and also free parking places in the Sierra Espuña National Park. Following campsite signs through the town, we realised too late that 'Camping El Berro' lay high in the hills up 10 miles of tortuous narrow roads and it was some time before we managed to turn back. We never did see the free car parks! Continuing on the autovia towards Murcia, we turned off a few miles before the city at Sangonera la Seca and immediately found a beautiful new campsite/hotel. It was almost empty, with huge level pitches separated by scented rosemary hedges (no low trees), a tap and waste outlet on every pitch, splendid showers and toilets and a huge swimming pool, all at a special offer of 1900 ptas (under £8) per night. We settled in gratefully, it had been a long day.

190 miles. £7.92 inc elec.

11 MAY 1999 E CAMPING LA PAZ, SANGONERA LA SECA

In which we write, swim and bend iron bars

Murcia's climate is described as sub-arid, with fruit grown by irrigation from the Sangonera river. Today is very hot and airless, a good day for Margaret to do more dhobi and a few lengths of the pool. She also wrote letters to the Pensions Agency and to mum, and we made a parcel for mum containing 4 videos to re-use, the April diary, a 'Rough News' report on Indonesia and a Moroccan leather glasses case bought in Chefchaouen. Barry had to work on dismantling and then straightening the back of the cycle carrier, fixing a crack in the rear numberplate and getting the brake lights to work again, since we noticed that it was bent into a curve - unwittingly nudged on a tree as we awkwardly exited the site at Granada. He fitted a new catch and lock on the roof box (bought as a spare over 2 years ago from the now defunct Goodall's Caravans in Huddersfield), replacing one that had already been repaired several times. The 2 spotlight covers were also re-built with Duct Tape, the previous repair cracked again by the heat and sun of Morocco.

A fluid check showed that Rosie had still used no water, oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid or power steering fluid in her 3,000 mile passage through the heat, heights, climbs, falls and vibrations of Morocco. Amazing. (Allah Akbah).

12 MAY 1999 E CAMPING HERCULES, VILLAJOYOSA

In which we reach the Costa Blanca at Alicante and follow it to Villajoyosa

We began the day by driving into nearby Sangonera la Seca to post mum's parcel, to find that the small village we'd imagined it to be was in fact a busy industrial town with no parking, an extension of burgeoning Murcia. We quickly back-tracked to the Autovia del Mediterraneo. This remained toll-free, bypassing the city of Murcia and crossing into the Valencia Region, until it reached the Costa Blanca just before Alicante where we stopped for lunch by the sea. From here, the A7 becomes a toll-motorway to Barcelona so we followed the N332 along the coast. We remembered Alicante's long sea-front boulevard and palm trees when we cycled in from the airport in 1992 at the beginning of our second Christmas tour in Spain, but now the town has grown out of our recognition and we glimpsed the sea only down narrow alleyways between tall hotels as we drove through. We did remember climbing up to the Castillo Santa Barbara, the 16thC fortress overlooking the city, to meet the colony of feral cats.

On the road to Benidorm, just before Villajoyosa, we paused at the roadside Camping El Paraiso but it was a tiny site full of statics. Between Villajoyosa and Benidorm we turned up a track to a pair of spacious beach sites, Hercules and Sartorium. The prices were outrageous if staying less than a week but it was too late and too hot to drive much further and we'd seen nowhere to park overnight. We were also keen to re-visit Benidorm, which we'd seen briefly at Christmas 92, so we settled on a scruffy pitch on the cheaper of the 2 sites and coaxed the microwave into life on a 5-amp hook-up, repeatedly walking 50 metres to re-set the over-sensitive cut-off switch.

85 miles. £14.39 inc weak elec (Costa Mucha)

13 MAY 1999 E SEASIDE CAR PARK, EL SALER, VALENCIA

In which we cycle into Benidorm for a 2nd breakfast, then drive on to Valencia

We cycled the 5 miles into Benidorm, the well-known package resort with its splendid beaches and promenade lined with concrete skyscraper hotels, and were amazed that they are still building them - each one rising higher to see over the one in front! Flabbily packaged holiday-makers, tacky souvenir shops and bars aplenty, but where is the post office, a greengrocer, anything useful? After 2 circuits of the town, which had grown enormously since our 1992 visit, we finally located the Correos and sent mum's parcel on its way. Among the sea-front cafes we found a Great British Breakfast offer and tucked into an early lunch of double fried eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, tomato, toast and tea for 495 ptas (just over £2) each. Perhaps Benidorm does have some redeeming features!

Replete, we cycled back to the campsite to leave before the 3 o'clock deadline, not wishing to pay for a second night! (The robotic receptionist had actually said noon, but we knew she disappeared for lunch until 3 pm!)

We called at the Benidorm Lidl for supplies, then continued up the coast towards Valencia, where our 98 Spanish guidebook promised a Camping Municipal at El Saler, open all year. The road turned inland through hills after Calpe, cutting off a headland, rejoining the sea at Oliva where we parked by the beach for a drink, though signs discouraged 'camping'. At Cullera we were denied access to the minor coast road by a low bridge so we continued to Sueca, where we found a way through the lanes between rice paddy fields to El Perello. From here the road ran between the sea and the fresh-water lagoon of Albufera to the small resort of El Saler, a sandy beach backed by pine forests and a few hotels. We found the Municipal campsite, locked up and dead! There was a large parking area between it and the sea so Margaret asked a Guardia Civil patrol jeep whether it was OK to spend the night there. 'Follow us to a better place' they said, and led us 2 miles back to a beach-side car and coach park near the 5-star Hotel Sidi where we had a quiet night between the flood-lit tennis courts and the sea.

107 miles. Free parking.

14 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we pass Roman Sagunto, visit Oropesa and settle at Benicasim

After a paddle in the Mediterranean we drove 5 miles into Valencia, Spain's 3rd largest city but quieter than Barcelona or Madrid. It was pleasant and green, the dry river-bed of the Rio Turio forming a linear park. The Costa Blanca (named after its bright White light) became the Costa del Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast) and we soon saw orange plantations, backed by green mountains, bordered the road for the rest of the day. About 15 miles north of Valencia we drove through Sagunto, intending to view the Roman remains and theatre, set into the hillside below the Moorish castle. Sadly, there was no sign of an approach to, or parking for, the Roman site. We couldn't plunge Rosie into the narrow steep streets of the old town and so it was left unvisited. (Hannibal's destruction of Sagunto in 219 BC led to the 2nd Punic War when Rome took on Carthage, won and rebuilt the town.) Avoiding the toll motorway again, we continued on the N340 past Castellon and Benicasim to the little resort of Oropesa. Here we parked by the sea for lunch, checked the 2 campsites which were small and cramped, and decided to turn back to Benicasim, where Stan & Celia had recommended an overwintering site.

We took the unsigned scenic route on a 5-mile narrow winding road over a rocky headland and dropped with relief into Benicasim. Camping Azahar is still busy and we were directed past the Spanish, German and Dutch areas to the British quarters where we parked neatly between 2 caravans. The generous 800 ptas per day offer (+ 7% VAT as ever) runs until the end of June, for a stay of at least 7 days, and includes a 4 amp hook-up (with 6 or 10 amps available for a supplement).

Before dinner Margaret wrote letters to MMM (re missing issues) and to Vodafone (re Airmiles and the tariff) and then cooled off in the swimming pool. Barry gave Rosie an all-over wash.

74 miles. £3.57 inc elec.

15 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we cycle 20 miles to Castellon de la Plana

Margaret used the washing machine and wrote to Alan with a postage cheque while Barry did some routine maintenance. We then cycled alongside Benicasim's 4 mile sandy beach, pausing for an excellent chicken, salad and chips lunch at the busy restaurant El Pollo. Benicasim is an up-market 19thC resort, where wealthy citizens of Valencia and Madrid have built summer residences. Even with the 20thC additions of concrete apartment blocks, it's not over-run with holiday-makers and was quiet enough to cycle along the promenade. It has a total of 7 campsites.

We rode south until we reached the port for Castellon, an industrial town a couple of miles inland. Past the commercial docks lay the marina and fishing harbour, where we got ice creams before cycling back in an increasingly strong head wind.

We talked to the occupants of the only American RV on our site, a new 27 ft Coachmen Leprechaun on the latest Ford E-Super Duty chassis, with slide-out! Kurt (Swiss) and Jean Hartmann are a retired, sold up, full-timing couple from the Lake District, where he was head chef at a large hotel in Borrowdale. They lent us David Berry's book (the dreadful title 'RV in UK' a portent of worse to come inside) and we lent them our MMM articles. We also exchanged 3 paperbacks at the campsite 'Swap Shop' and borrowed today's 'Sun' (the only English paper on offer) from Reception. All we learnt from the latter was that 'We're Gonna Klobba Slobba'! Strange to again see a Tory Tabloid has become a Tony Tabloid. Finally, Margaret had a swim and we rounded the day off with part of a video of 'Kavanagh'.

16 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we shelter from the rain!

A sudden change in the weather, cooler, raining, black cloud shrouding the backdrop of hills! Barry wrote to Martin, enclosing a letter of enquiry about the Baltic Republics to be E-mailed to Mark Thomas (address given to us by Kevin & Nurcan in Ouarzazate). Kurt & Jean came in for a chat and we gave them copies of our Greek campsite list and the text of the A-Z articles to keep. Margaret up-dated May's diary (amazing how quickly it falls behind!) And so the day passed quietly, ending with the rest of the 'Kavanagh' video.

17 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we ride into Benicasim

The rain has passed, cloudy, pleasantly cool. The site is emptying, as people return home to the Midlands, the Ruhr, the Tulip Fields or wherever. We cycled into the town to post Martin's letter, find the Tourist Office for a map of the Natural Park in the hills behind Benicasim, known as the Desierto de las Palmas, and shop at the Consum supermarket. It's a nice little town which is growing on us, with a railway station and a new sports stadium being built. Spain has certainly become very affluent very quickly, quite different from Portugal.

After lunch we read the bumph from the Turismo, talked to Kurt (and listened to Jean) and washed our blankets. Margaret enjoyed swimming in an empty pool while Barry finished reading Bettina Selby's 'Riding the Desert Trail', about her cycle ride from Cairo to the source of the Nile in the Mountains of the Moon. Later the second of our new 'Frost' videos completed another peaceful day.

18 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we cycle 21 miles, climbing over 1500 ft to the Desierto de Las Palmas

An early morning message on the Vodafone, which turned out to be mum saying the parcel posted in Benidorm had arrived (5 days). It is warming up again, the cloud cover has gone, a fine day for the 6-mile climb through the natural park to the Carmelite Monastery of Desierto de las Palmas after which the chain of hills behind Benicasim is named. (Spanish Carmelite monasteries are always called 'Desert of ...' to convey their seclusion from the world) Once over the railway, the N340 and the motorway, a narrow road zig-zagged up the hillside, with more cyclists than cars and super views back along the coast.

A large sign exhorts the Spanish motorist to 'Please Respect the Cyclists', which they do. At 459 m (1515 ft) stands the monastery, with palm trees and vines in its gardens, founded in 1694 and still in use. The museum was closed for refurbishment so we didn't see the old equipment used by the Barefoot Carmelites to distil liqueur from the mountain plants, but we looked in the simple church before continuing, past the park's information centre, for a long free-wheel down to join the N340 between Castello(n) and Benicas(s)im. Place names in this area often have alternative Catalan spellings, and roadsigns are amended with spray-paint by local activists (eg Playa for 'beach' becomes Platja in Catalan). Returning through the town, we got a card for brother Michael's birthday and were home for lunch.

An afternoon of reading and diary-writing. We found an American RV Magazine in our box (July 98) with a full review of Kurt's 'Leprechaun', so passed it on. Talking to him (Jean, who is severely asthmatic, was resting) we learnt they'd met Stan & Celia at their previous site at Los Lobos, another overwintering retreat in Almeria, offering the same deal as this one.

19 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we cycle 15 hilly miles to Oropesa

We cycled the scenic route up the coast to Oropesa, only 7 miles but with 3 stiff climbs over the rocky headland. Warm, a slight breeze, wispy clouds, blue sea, empty beaches, narrow quiet roads. We rode out to the lighthouse, got coffee and croissants on the prom, and returned to Benicasim by the same route rather than the N340. (The main roads are very busy, the inevitable result of charging tolls on parallel motorways.)

Back at the campsite, the weather changed to light rain. Margaret settled into domestic chores (defrosting the freezer, cleaning, etc) and Barry dismantled, cleaned and checked all the external lights and bulbs. Another 'Kavanagh' video followed dinner.

20 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we go to market and spend the evening with Kurt & Jean

Market day in Benicasim and we cycled in for fruit and veg (delicious local new potatoes and strawberries) and called at Amica, one of 3 supermarkets in town.

After lunch Barry wrote to Comfort insurance re the Baltic Republics and to 'Which Motorcaravan' re Midland International. Margaret baked and pottered.

We'd been invited to the Hartmanns' slide-out for the evening, and found Kurt studying a book on fungi (gathering mushrooms is one of his interests) and Jean talking (her interest, not ours!) But she had made some nice sandwiches to go with the wine, nuts and crisps, and we got Kurt to talk about his life as a chef, working on cruise ships and in restaurants from Holland to Jamaica. His last 24 years were as Head Chef at the 5 Loden Hotel in Borrowdale (now owned by Ladbroke's) from March to October each year, while working in a luxury hotel in Montego Bay in the winter. Jean, a native of Cumbria, was a barmaid. He retired 5 years ago, at 60, and they travelled widely in a Hymer. Last autumn they sold their Lake District home and upgraded to the Leprechaun, to spend winters in Spain for her health and summers travelling (he has children in Switzerland, she in England). They talked too of autumn apple-picking in Hereford, earning £100 a week each for 7 weeks while free-camping at the farm, making us wonder how disabled she really is? It seems it is he who has the handicap! It was well after midnight, Jean still going strong, when we got away.

21 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we rest

Unused to late nights and wine, we spent a quiet morning. Later we cycled into town to post our letters, Margaret did some housework and washed cushions while Barry cleaned and oiled the bicycles ready for tomorrow's assault on the Pico del Bartolo above the monastery. We watched part of another new 'Frost' video, finished the Gibraltar liquorice allsorts and had an earlier night.

22 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we cycle 30 miles and climb 2,500 feet before lunch

Away by 9 am, we re-cycled the 5-mile 1,500 ft climb to the Monastery of the Desierto de las Palmas without a break. High above, a large cross and a microwave station marked the Pico del Bartolo at 2,500 ft, reached by 3 km of narrow hair-pinning road closed to cars. Laid out as a hill-climb for racing cyclists, distances to the finishing line were written on the road along with the current gradient which sharpened to 26% (steeper than 1 in 4!), relaxing to 22% before settling to a comfortable 10%. Barry rode the whole way, though M had to walk the steepest stretch. We were rewarded with a 360º view, seeing the coast beyond Oropesa and Castellon, and the natural park stretching as far as we could see inland. A lone Spanish mountain biker joined us, spoke English (unusual) and explained that he worked at the BP refinery at the port of Castellon. He was training for a team ride on the Pilgrims' Trail from Pamplona to Santiago de Compostella.

After an exhilerating descent to the Monastery, we soon turned off the road back to Benicasim and took a newly asphalted track through the natural park, past large plantations of almonds and fragrant orange groves, meeting more racing cyclists than cars, gradually descending to join the N340 near Oropesa. We returned along the hard shoulder of the main road for the last few miles and were back just after 1 pm, good timing as the sun and wind get stronger in the afternoon.

Then time to rest, read, talk to Kurt & Jean (who leave tomorrow) and make a strawberry cheesecake with the last of the market fruit. (The hardest part is persuading Barry to part with some digestive biscuits for the base!) We bought a whole roast chicken for 1000 ptas from the camp restaurant and ate well before finishing the 'Frost' video. A message on the Vodafone this morning was from Stan, following the message we left with his son-in-law - who'd been unable to find Stan's number for us because he looked under 'Stan & Celia' when it was actually under 'Mum' ('he's a dumb bugger' said Stan).

23 MAY 1999 E CAMPING AZAHAR, BENICASIM

In which we say goodbye to Kurt and write to Stan

Observing Kurt's slide-out sliding in, and waving to them as they slid-off to applause from the crowd, occupied a good hour. We couldn't help being helpful like checking and correcting the pressure in his rear-suspension air-bags, which he didn't know he'd got. His tyre pressures couldn't be checked at the rear since there were no valve-extenders. On the road 6 months and no check of tyre or suspension pressure! We also admired the number of things they had got which they didn't use, for a variety of reasons - freezer, microwave, gas-oven, gas-hob, shower, hot water, etc. It didn't look as though he had ever emptied the 40-gallon toilet tank (there was no dump-hose). Unprepared and poorly briefed by the dealer? As ever. Diary-writing and reading took the rest of the morning.

After lunch we wrote to Stan & Celia and Barry began working on an account of Morocco to send them and others. M swam 30 lengths of the large quiet pool in lovely Whitsunday sunshine, curried the rest of the roast chicken and tired of fetching the surly camp guardian to reconnect our hook-up, which went off 3 times in the evening. Grumbling only in Spanish, he insisted on keeping the box locked and blaming us for the frequent fusing of his antiquated system (despite our long-term Scottish neighbour saying it kept tripping well before we arrived).

24 MAY 1999 E CAMPING SOL DE RIU PLAYA, VINAROS

In which we drive north to Vinaros

Preparing to move on, we talked to 2 neighbouring sets of caravanners (why do they only speak on the day we leave?!), pruned the overhead mulberry trees in order to exit unscathed, and filled and emptied our various tanks. Stan's letter was posted, with the finished account of Morocco, and we finally got onto the N340 and away after lunch. After Oropesa the road runs inland and we turned back to the sea at Peñiscola (meaning Peninsula). Once a pretty old town clustered round the 13thC castle of the Knights Templar on a rocky promontory, it had all but disappeared behind high-rise apartments and hotels. We followed the coast for 5 miles north, to Benicarlo, and found it developed the whole way - no free parking by the shore here. We rejoined the N340, paused in a Lidl car park to shop and brew up, then stopped just past Vinaros at the Sol de Riu Playa campsite. One of the 'Garoa' chain, it has good overwinter rates on a sliding scale (1-2 days, 3-16, 17-34, 35-90, and the cheapest for over 90 days, when it's 1000 ptas per day all-in.)

We settled on a private hedged pitch, with German and Dutch neighbours, and talked to a gentle retired ex-Scot. He has bought a small flat near Benidorm in order to claim Spanish residency, re-registered his van and now lives on campsites all-year round without having to return to the UK for taxing, testing, etc.

50 miles. £7.24 inc elec (1-2 day rate)

25 MAY 1999 E CAMPING SOL DE RIU PLAYA, VINAROS

In which we cycle 10 miles into Vinaros

Warm and sunny again, though it's raining in northern Spain and floods are drowning people in Austria and Bavaria. We cycled 5 miles south along the sea-front into the fishing port of Vinaros, a lively working town. After watching the boats unloading their sardine catch onto waiting lorries, we found the new tourist office on the promenade, bought veg in the splendid indoor market and visited the huge 16thC Parish Church. It has thick walls, indicating the threat of Berber pirates, few windows, a Baroque façade whose elaborate doorway and barley-sugar columns are being restored, and a tall bell tower. We liked the town, couldn't afford the recommended seafood restaurants and cycled home.

After lunch Barry finished updating the StarWriter database, Margaret swam 30 lengths of the pool and washed the interior lightshades (20 in all!).

26 MAY 1999 E CAR AND COACH PARK, MORELLA

In which we drive inland to Morella and climb to its castle

A lovely drive on the N232 from Vinaros climbing to 1080 m/3564 ft at the Puerto de Querol where we paused for coffee before our first glimpse of Morella, a medieval town on a steep hill, surrounded by 14thC walls and crowned by a crumbling castle rising out of the rock. At 1004 m/3313 ft, the town is sometimes cut off by winter snows and was pleasantly cool and airy after the sticky coast. The access road wound its way up outside the walls to the San Miguel Gate (2nd of 6), by which there is a good car park. It was free of charge and a sign showed that 'camping' was allowed. Well-lit, with a splendid view of the fortress above us and the valleys laid out below, a good welcome.

Crossing from Andalucia to the smaller region of Murcia, the road bypassed the city of Lorca overlooked by a 13thC castle. 20 miles later we turned off into the little town of Alhama de Murcia, where we'd been told (by 'Sean Connery' in Tarifa) that there was a small country campsite and also free parking places in the Sierra Espuña National Park. Following campsite signs through the town, we realised too late that 'Camping El Berro' lay high in the hills up 10 miles of tortuous narrow roads and it was some time before we managed to turn back. We never did see the free car parks! Continuing on the autovia towards Murcia, we turned off a few miles before the city at Sangonera la Seca and immediately found a beautiful new campsite/hotel. It was almost empty, with huge level pitches separated by scented rosemary hedges (no low trees), a tap and waste outlet on every pitch, splendid showers and toilets and a huge swimming pool, all at a special offer of 1900 ptas (under £8) per night. We settled in gratefully, it had been a long day.

190 miles. £7.92 inc elec.

27 MAY 1999 E CAMPING TARRACO, TARRAGONA

In which we drive through the hills to the coast at Tarragona

Light rain, dark clouds, almost empty roads. We drove north on N232 through the Maestrazgo, a rugged mountainous area riddled with caves. The road soon climbed to the Puerto de Torre Miro at 1259 m/4155 ft, crossed gullies and ravines, dropping gradually through forests of pine and oak. We spotted another Griffon Vulture and also a couple of Hoopoe (which we hope escaped his eage eye). Empty land, a few abandoned farms and cottages, very few villages, yet a new road was under construction, blasting a raw scar in the green wood and shrub-land. Joining the slightly busier N420, one of the roads linking Zaragoza with the coast, we turned right, the scenery gradually changing to olive groves, vineyards and peach orchards. We crossed the wide Ebro, one of Spain's longest rivers which forms a huge delta north of Vinaros near Tortosa (an important bird sanctuary and rice growing area). The road climbed again to the Puerto de la Teixeta at 546 m/1802 ft where we parked for lunch below a windfarm, before dropping to the industrial town of Reus and a further 10 miles to Tarragona.

With at least 6 campsites to choose from, we headed for the largest, Las Palmeras, a few miles north along the N340 and jammed between the busy road and railway and the sea. All the beach-side places were taken by statics. We were soon in dispute with our unfriendliest reception to date and promptly left, knowing we'd already passed 2 smaller sites nearer the city. After missing the turning on the edge of Tarragona and circling the one-way system, we found our way back to Camping Tarraco, a good move - quieter (apart from the unavoidable railway line), welcoming, cheaper and with an easy sea-front ride into Tarragona. The campsite we'd left did get its revenge - the water taken on board there (after 2 assurances that it was potable) tasted so bad that we had to drain and refill the tank.

After dinner we watched part of our 4th new 'Frost' video and finally got used to the trains rattling past!

129 miles. £7.81 inc elec.

28 MAY 1999 E CAMPING TARRACO, TARRAGONA

In which we cycle into Tarragona and explore its Roman remains

A short ride along the sea-front to Tarragona, which was already a Cyclopean-walled town when the Romans took it in 218 BC. In 27BC Emperor Augustus made Tarraco the capital of the Province of Hispania Tarraconensis (most of modern Spain) and stayed for 2 years to direct campaigns in the north. Pontius Pilate was a native of the city and Christianity came early with St Paul converting the patron saint and martyr, St Thecla (whose arm is in the Cathedral). Another saint, Bishop Fructuosus, was burnt to death along with 2 deacons in the gladiatorial amphi-theatre in 3rd century. The city fell to the Moors in 714 but re-emerged in 1089.

After climbing past the 2ndC AD Amphitheatre we reached the heart of the Roman and medieval city. The Museum of the Roman World, the vaults of the Roman Chariot-racing Circus, the National Archaeological Museum, the great Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral (12-14thC on the site of a Roman temple), even the Archaeological Promenade (a stretch of medieval town wall, with Roman and pre-Roman courses) - all had a separate entry fee of 300 or 400 ptas each. The many groups of school children or over-65's went free, but we would have paid a total of over £20 to enter the sites, in a very wealthy city. Instead we cycled round getting an impression of the size of the Roman city and seeing what we could from the outside. Our LP guidebook (1997) mentioned a general admission ticket to all the Roman remains for 400 ptas, but this scheme had obviously not satisfied the greed of the city elders.

The Roman Forum with its temples, law courts and shops lies in the modern city centre, again fenced off with an entrance fee. 'It's free in Rome' we said, to an uncaring custodian. We took in lunch at McDonald's on the main street, Rambla Nova, then rode out to find the Paleo-Christian Necropolis, where 2,000 graves of the 3rd-5thC had been uncovered when a tobacco factory was built in 1926. The aroma of tobacco leaf filled the air, the necropolis had recently been 'refurbished' (meaning they put a wall round and charge an entry fee). Enough of Tarragona - we rode to the fishing harbour and returned past the port, the artificial beach, Platja del Miracle, and back to our campsite on the genuine Platja Arrabassada.

We used the washing machine and talked to a couple of 75-year-olds who had just arrived in a small elderly motorhome. He had a fund of anecdotes, including serving in India in WWII, full of life despite his pacemaker, 3 drain tubes on his intestines and crushed bones in his back! They had to get back to the UK soon as his Missus had an operation scheduled in mid-June.

29 MAY 1999 E CAMPING MUNICIPAL, BENABARRE

In which we drive to Benabarre in the Aragonese Pyrenees

The N240 climbed steadily inland, passing a sign for the 2-tier Roman aqueduct outside Tarragona (we'd seen a photo) and over the L'Illa pass at 580 m/1914 ft where we had coffee with a hazy view back to the coast. Down past the walled medieval town of Montblanc and through rolling countryside, glimpsing the Monastery of Poblet (12thC and still in use) on a hilltop. A new ring road took us round Lleida (or Lerida), Cataluña's second city, from which roads and motorway radiate in all directions - Zaragoza, Barcelona, Andorra, or the Pyreness and thence France through the Bielsa or Vielha Tunnels. We took the N230 Vielha road, crossing the border into Aragon and stopping for lunch in a scenic layby with our first view of the distant mountains.

At Benabarre, 40 miles north of Lleida, the Spanish camping guide listed a small site on the edge of the delightful village, which is clustered on a hillside below a ruined castle at 782m/2580 ft. A splendid, brand new municipal campsite with springy green grass, views of open countryside, rugged hills in front, the castle behind, griffon vultures circling overhead, copious hot water and just one English couple in a hi-top Autosleeper Symphony. Very peaceful - or it would be apart from the annual Sant Medardo fair in full swing in and around the adjacent sports centre, with bouncy castle and go-karts for the kids, amplified music and stalls of local crafts and produce in the pavilion.

Barriers closing off the road were moved to let Rosie pass and the campsite guardian came up to welcome us - our warmest Spanish reception at the best price yet (Benicasim aside).

Once settled in we talked to Annette & John, the Autosleepers from Poole, and went across to the pavilion to see the arts and crafts and sample the produce (cheeses, hams and charcuterie were on offer, along with locally made chocolate).

After dinner we walked into the medieval village where a stage had been set up in the Plaza Mayor for an evening of folksinging and dancing. Sitting on a wall in the square we watched the Agrupacion Folklorica perform, singing and dancing to their own music, with beautiful costumes and castanets clicking (not only used in flamenco). The atmosphere was lovely with the whole village out to watch, dusk falling, swallows wheeling, and it was dark with a full moon as we walked back along the narrow lanes after 10 pm.

107 miles. £5.61 inc elec.

30 MAY 1999 E CAMPING MUNICIPAL, BENABARRE

In which we cycle 32 miles and see the snow-capped Pyrenees

Bright sunshine, mountain air, porridge for breakfast and out on the bicycles. A minor road rose north from Benabarre for about 5 miles, through wooded countryside with signs forbidding truffle-hunting, before zig-zagging steeply down to Laguarres, the first of several empty hamlets on our circular route. We searched in vain for a bar or cafe, drank our lemonade and continued through Lascuarre to Castigaleu, climbing steadily in the noon-day sun. The buildings were mostly deserted, shuttered holiday homes or tumble-down hovels, but we finally found a tap to refill bottles and splash faces before the last climb through a pinewood gorge past Luzas to join the N230 for the last 5 miles home. The snowy peaks of the Pyrenees came in and out of view, wild flowers lined the road, the wheatfields were shaded blue with cornflowers and studded with crimson poppies. This the 'Green Spain', another world from the Costas.

We'd missed free bacon sandwiches at the Sant Medardo fair but found samples of salami, cheese and chocolate still on offer which went down well with our boiled eggs for a late lunch. Over 30 miles, climbing 2,000 ft, meant a short restful afternoon, exchanging books and experiences with the Autosleepers. They'd toured for a year when first retired, as far as Crete and Turkey, but were now home-based going out for a couple of months at a time.

Half a 'Kavanagh' video rounded off the day, as thunder rolled and lightning flashed on the far mountainsides.

31 MAY 1999 E CAMPING MUNICIPAL, BENABARRE

In which we enjoy the peace at Benabarre

With the fair gone and rain threatening, it was very quiet and peaceful. After strolling up the hill to the ruined castle (under restoration), Margaret did some diary-writing and window-cleaning while Barry cleared and sorted the external lockers and did a few Superglue jobs.

Later we had a short stiff cycle ride, climbing the first 5 miles of yesterday's route before turning to freewheel home, avoiding a huge snake in the road (40 mins up and 15 mins back!) After a drink with the Autosleepers, we had dinner and the rest of 'Kavanagh'.