Skye tours

We must be exceptionally righteous, still in the north west of Scotland and still the sun is shinning down on us. Not that we are smug – well we are, so much so I insisted on wearing shorts today to prove that it was worth bringing summer clothes to the north in October.

Day started with a drive out to Waternish point on the north west of Skye. Beautiful views over to the Outer Hebrides and more craft shops and galleries than you can shake a stick at.  We made our way along aiming to be in the hamlet of Stein for lunch. Our previous visit here a few years ago ended  with an amazing fresh lunch at the Stein Inn. So, we had saved our pennies and were aiming for a big treat of lobster or fresh fish for lunch.  We ordered a coffee and sat outside in the sun, at which stage Iain heard to owner say no shellfish or fish for lunch as there is bloom on the loch 😦 – typical.

We drove round to Dunvegan and realised that in 10 days we had yet to visit a castle, so Dunvegan castle it was. The castle is home to the clan McLeod and the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland.  Inside was a self guided tour or a few of the public rooms and some of the servants quarters, then outside some amazing gardens including a walled gardens and a water gardens.  Lunch was courtesy of the castle tearooms, being that staple offered at every castle we visit – soup and a roll followed by a scone.

Stein - Waternish

Stein – Waternish

Ok so moving on the highlight of the trip was calling – it was only time to visit the museum of the Giant Angus MacAskill, we drove along, there it was – and Iain did the usual of straight past and “did you really want to stop?”. Hmmm yes, so back we go and what an absolute blinder of a place, made more amazing by someone starting something with such a tenuous connection to the subject. The story of the Giant Angus MacAskill is true – however he has never, every been anywhere near Skye! The reason there is a museum here to him is the museum owner is a 15th cousin or something to the giant – who was born on the Hebrides and died in Canada. Well lets not let that little matter spoil a brilliant little tourist spot.

Poolewe

Poolewe

A tiny little croft house with a life sized statue of the giant and one of General Tom Thumb, some bits and pieces of Skye history and an enormous pair of hand knitted socks. The best £2 I have spent for a long time – just to take photos of Angus the  “true giant” – one without underlying medical conditions or notable deformities – who ever lived.

Me, The Giant Angus MacAskill and General Tom Thumb

Me, The Giant Angus MacAskill and General Tom Thumb

Leaving the museum we spotted a lovely campsite just over the road.  Kinloch campsite is on a small headland out on Loch Dunvegan, looking down the loch towards the castle. There are quite a few campervans on here but no signs of the owners so we have pitched up and we are sure someone will come round for money sooner or later. So that is the end of our day so far, sat outside the van making the most of the sunshine with a good strong brandy coffee to ward off any loch breezes.

Poolewe

Poolewe

And, we have an internet connection for a change – so have included some photos from the last 10 days.

Fatima, bells and rosary

Portugal 2013 (22)

Another early away today – destination Fatima. Sav Nav doing its job well until we found a brand new motorway and she got a little confused as she thought we were driving over fields. Iain doing fine until suddenly motorway ends, Sat Nav is in melt down and road signs show everywhere but Fatima! A bit of quick finger in the air and a good guess and we are back on the right road, passing two Pilgrims walking to Rome on our way!

We had heard there was a good aire in Fatima in one of the carparks – understatement of the decade. We have a bay twice the width and length of the van, water, drainage and a concrete picnic table/bench. Add to that we are 100 yards from the Basilica and have a wonderful view of the tower from our window and I am not sure we could pay for a better parking spot – and this is free! There are 20-30 other vans here with more arriving hourly, its a busy little carpark for sure.

Fatima itself – so not what we expected. The plaza is the size of a couple of Wembley football stadiums with the Basilica at one end and Ingreja Santissima Trindade at the other. Despite the size the place has a calm and reflective mood, we lit candles for those no longer with us and sat in at one of the open air masses for a few prayers then just wandered around. We were surprised to see people crossing the plaza to the Basilica on their knees, we read it was an act of penance and is a daily occurrence as people arrive on bloodied knees at the edge of town. It wasn’t as busy as we expected though so no queuing to see anything.

Underneath the plaza we found there were several more chapels and rows of confessionals, above each door showed the languages that priest could take confession in – at least 20 languages at a quick count.

If inside was amazing, outside in town was weird to extremes. Hundreds and hundred of religious shops, literally. You could buy a keyring for €1 or a bronze Madonna for €2000, plates showing Jesus in flashing lights and everything in between. Shops that were just stalls, shops that were department stores – even the hotels and coffee shops were selling statues and crosses. Did we resist? haha no, we look like we are heading to a rosary convention, I couldn’t stop myself.

Not sure I have ever been anywhere like this before. I think it is somewhere that needs to be seen to be understood, for sure it is inspiring. Whether you believe or not everywhere you go you see images of the 3 shepherd children who look so innocent and tales of the final vision which was witnessed by 70,000 – then you realise this wasn’t back in biblical days it was during WWI so fairly recent – it is a very thought provoking place.

So the good of being right next to the Basilica is going to be tested as the bells are rung – loudly – every 15 minutes, could be a long – but tuneful – night.

Portugal 2013 (25)

Barrill beach and beyond

Woke up to an overcast sky this morning, so stuck with plan A and headed out on the bikes. For a change we were organised, knew the route, packed a picnic lunch, bought drinks and wore enough clothes –  destination of San Luzia – known as “Capital De Polvo”  (The Octopus Capital).

First stop was a pastry shop in town to pick up a couple of Pasteleria De Nata to keep himself happy on the outing, then straight down to the Ria Formosa and found the cycle track we wanted. Fairly cool day but loads of cyclists about, the path is probably at its best around Fuseta and well used by local cycling clubs and tourists. We headed East and and when we got to Luz Tavira came off the track and went down towards the coast.

We were going to see the famous Barril beach. At 18 km long its one of the longest islands of the Ria Formosa. To get there we had to cross a pontoon bridge over the lagoon (somewhat unstable) and then a mile or so ride to the sea (if we hadn’t had the bikes we could have taken a miniature train ride).  The point you arrive at on the beach is a former Tuna station. All the buildings are still there and are converted into several cafes and bars. We had the obligatory coffee stop and then a quick wander on the beach, miles of sand and very few people – bliss.

Walked over the sands to the Anchor Cemetery, just a few yards up the beach. It’s on the edge of the sand dunes and consists of hundreds of huge rusting anchors. These were used by the local fishing fleet to anchor the nets to the seabeds and when the industry collapsed the anchors were brought to the cemetery as a lasting memorial to the tuna fishing industry in the area.

We traced our paths back to the road and headed into Santa Luzia hoping to see the fishing fleet landing the hundreds of octopus they catch. Plenty of boats in but not too much action. Iain walked down the jetty and saw a fisherman hanging the octopus up to dry before the tentacles are cut off for cooking. By now it was getting chilly so we stopped for our picnic on a bench on the waterfront, eaten fairly sharpish before turning round and heading home.

An uneventful ride back which was broken briefly for some bird spotting at Fuseta (Flamingos, Avocet, Black winged stilt to name but a few, its spotters paradise down there). Round trip of 28 cycling miles – and no disasters, yes we feel a bit smug for a change 🙂

Final update of the weather for the day – its cooler, its cloudier and we haven’t seen the sun 😦  Fingers crossed it changes back to fried eggs by Wednesday.

Much ado about doing nothing

We have been all out working on the suntans again for the last 2 days, I think I now have enough colour to prevent the “you aren’t very brown” comments on Wednesday:)

This morning we both walked into town for a bit of shopping. Our essential shopping for a week seems to cost half as much here than at home, it isn’t just because prices are that much cheaper, just we buy much less and make do with whatever we have in the fridge. Every fourth day we have a “leftover pasta bake” the contents are a little odd at times but add some chilli’s and garlic and all tastes fine to us. Having limited space for storage also helps, as we can’t store too much so we shop every other day and try out as many local brands as we can, Dutch and German foods are also plentiful in the likes of Aldi and very cheap – we struggle slightly with cooking instructions not being shown in English but we do find almost anything will cook in 20 minutes in simmering water – it may not taste how it should be hey its food.

After the grueling task of walking a mile this morning Iain needed (and believed he deserved) a treat so we stopped off for coffee and cakes and to pick up some bread. Iain has developed an addiction to Pasteleria De Nata– a bit like a custard tart – and he is consuming them at an alarming rate. We read the other day that Portuguese food is exceptionally healthy as no cream, fats etc other than olive oil, apparently the cakes make up for it with on average three times as much sugar per cake as anywhere else on earth. Unhealthy yes – amazingly good – definitely yes.

By the time we had ambled back the sun was blasting so we agreed the plan for the rest of the day may as well be to sit in it. Campsite is now full but as always very peaceful. Our next door neighbours are the Dutch couple we parked next to last year, other than that its all British couples on site and a few British staying in the villa too. The pool is still covered and we are awaiting the cover coming off to take a proper dip. Iain thinks it will be too cold – I think it will be fine but will let him go in first to give him the opportunity of saying ‘ I told you so’ if he is right and save me freezing.

The forecast is to cool down over the next few days so we will get active and go out and do some sightseeing.

We aren’t really moving too much

Day three at Casa Rosa and time for an update as we haven’t done so for 3 whole days – at this stage would like to be able to tell you we have been busy visiting cultural attractions, cycling the whole of the Algarve coast to coast route or at least been on a shopping spree. None of which would be true, to be honest we have been sat outside the van enjoying the sun. Hardly moved since Sunday other than a couple of quick trips into the village for bread. My Kindle is working overtime, I couldn’t have carried the amount of books I have got through, been onto Amazon and downloaded a load more this week to keep me stocked up for the next 6 weeks.

This afternoon we decided it really was time to do something so we got the bikes out and cycled down to the coast. As always, we got lost! What should have been a simple ride downhill all the way became and up hill and down dale for 4 miles. Finally got to the main road and we weren’t sure which way to go, of course we chose the wrong way so ended up cycling back on ourselves. We finally made the Ria Formosa and did a few miles along the cycle paths. We saw several White Storks flying low overhead, they still amaze us, gigantic great things with wingspans up to 7ft across. They build the most enormous nests on the top of telegraph poles or chimneys and look like something out of Jurassic park. The locals never even seem to notice them, I can’t see how as I am sure I would be very aware of something that big sat on my roof.

From there we then headed into Fuseta for a coffee and cake stop, and then   found the correct route back and so managed to get to camp without further  navigational errors. Round trip of 22 miles so that has made up a bit for the last 3 days of idleness. We plan to ride more over the next few days as forecast is to be very warm and there are good breezes down on the coast.  Failing that we will revert to Plan B and sit in the sun:)

Hey Macarena

This morning we woke up to the sound of a woodpecker pecking the hell out of a nearby telegraph pole. But that was the only sound – bliss. We have moved on from the massive campsite at Cabanas and we are now about 15 miles inland at Moncarapacho. Complete contrast here with only 6 vans on a little site at the side of a villa, its really like camping in someones garden. The owners are a lovely Norwegian couple whom we stayed with last year, sometimes when we go back to a place it isn’t quite as good as our memories told us – not the case here, just as good if not better. 

It was warm enough to have breakfast outside the van in our pj’s today so we did.  Sian kindly bought us about 3 kilos of oranges yesterday from a road side seller, so we had freshly squeezed juice with our weetabix and decided the diet starts today after eating out for the last 3 days. 

We were extremely energetic this morning and moved all of 5 feet after breakfast to put the chairs into a sunnier spot, then did some catching up with the sunbathing and reading for a few hours. After a quick lunch we decided we should head into town as its the local Mardi Gras Carnival this weekend in most towns and villages.

Moncarapacho is a smallish town, a fair few shops and loads of bars but more like a market town than a touristy town. We thought the carnival would be a few groups of people parading around and a couple of floats, how wrong could we be. We walked in and it was due to start at 2.30pm. Speakers had been attached all over town with wires running all over the place, music was blaring and it seemed like everyone was in costume, even those who had just come to watch. We thought before it all got going we would get a quick coffee, popped into a bar and whilst Iain got the drinks I headed for the loo, narrowly missing have a dart embedded in my head – why put the loo door right next to the dart board?? Well it amused that dart players but I was a little nervous off how to get back out again.

We found a space in the square and settled down for the start, by 3pm nothing was really happening but we could see a big JCB at the bottom of the road with several people in the ‘bucket’. We realised they were lifting people onto the top of the floats from the JCB! Portugal does not do health and safety that is for sure. The floats were amazing but they looked like they were made from plywood. Kids were hanging onto little poles and there were women dancing 20ft on top of some of them with nothing holdiing them on. Each float was pulled by a local on a tractor, each of which was being steered with one hand and holding tightly to his bottle of beer in the other as they merrily drive round the tiny streets. The floats fitted through the streets with literally inches to spare, but no one seemed to bothered and the crowds just stepped back a few paces each time a float was coming to make sure it could get through.

The floats themselves were all covered in thousands of tiny pieces of crepe paper, the costumes ranged from homemade bits and bobs to really elaborate outfits. Behind each one were groups of people dancing, it was fantastic. I guess that’s why they call it a “Carnival Atmosphere” as there was no other way to describe it. I did feel the need to get in with the crowd and have a quick salsa, Iain on the other hand felt it was best I didn’t!! so I was duly banned from showing him up:(. Iain on the other hand was quite entranced with the Brazilian show girls – he was muttering about the lovely float but think the outfits (read – lack of) had more to do with it, so whilst his mind was on other things a group came along doing the Macarena so I managed to get into the swing for a few minutes and even knew the words 🙂 

East bound by bike

Yesterday we had a day off from cycling, gave the van a clean out and did some washing then headed into Cabanas for a coffee break. Iain found the best cake / coffee shop so we treated ourselves then went for a walk around the village and out through some of the tourist complex’s. Three hours later we got back -some day off.

So today we thought we would head East on the bikes. From the campsite it was down to the village then the path took us out past a massive old fort that has been restored and turned into holiday homes (the doors were kept looked to the fort so we couldn’t get in).  A goodish cycle path up through the villages for a good few miles and we came across Cacela Velha. Tiny little village perched on a hilltop overlooking the Ria Formosa.  There were no more than 20 houses,a church, a graveyard and three cafe / bars. From the old fort on the edge of the hill you could see for miles along the Algarve. We guess it was typical Algarve village – but seemed to us like a little Greek village.

From there the cycle path became more proper paths and was looking good. Until we came to the bridge that had literally disappeared. We had spoken to a guy in the cycle shop yesterday and he told us it fell down years ago, but as the river is dry its not worth fixing. So that’s alright then ?! – except you have to cart your bike over the rubble and up the other side. From there we went into Altura. Quite busy with tourists and lots of cyclists around, we headed straight through and found the bike route became part of the N125 main road as you came out of town. We followed for a bit hoping a cycle path would re-appear but it didn’t   We considered whether to risk riding down to the border on this road – and thought better of it, not that much fun with traffic within feet of you on a fast road.

So we headed back into Altura and investigated the beach, miles of sand and a few bars right on the beach. We stopped for a coffee break where Iain ordered himself a slice of toast – and ended up with a ham and cheese toastie (someones translations aren’t doing so well are they?) and then headed in the general direction of camp but detouring to all the beaches on route.

Manta Rota was glorious, rode the bikes along a board-walk right out to the sands. Plenty of motor-homers around and the massive car park on the beach was charging €4 a day for overnight stops – not bad considering they had laid on water and it looked great parking right by the sands.

Next stop was Fabrica beach, tiny little cove with 10-20 houses and a bar. We stopped and had our butties on the sand, then went for a paddle – water was warm, not sure we would have swam – but there was someone out in the water.

Back to camp after a nice 24 miles, slightly browner, slightly fitter and significantly exhausted. Off out for tea at the campsite bar. I had mackerel – slightly off putting having the eyes glare up at me – but to be fair very tasty.