Exploring the ruins of Lliria and Xelardo

Monday 01 and Tuesday 02 May 2017 – Lliria, Spain.

We arrived back in Lliria around mid-day and were met at the station by Paula and Paul. We decided to do a walking tour of the centre of Lliria as El and I had not seen much of the town in daylight. We have visited various cafes and restaurants in the evenings, but have not seen the old town in daylight. I was pleasantly surprised!

I have always like Spanish domestic architecture, the plastered and painted homes, and the colour contrasts between neighbours and sky. No long rows of red brick terraces here.

I was surprised to find that Lliria is an ancient town, the old centre on the hill in middle of town was first occupied by the Iberians and was sacked by the Romans in 76BC. There is a small historical trail and a modern museum with artefacts from the Roman period. As it was a public holiday, and a Monday, most of it was closed.

The 17th century Church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion was our first stop, the doors were open so went inside for a look around, only to discover that it was actually closed and the workmen were just moving things outside. We were gently shoo-ed out, but I did get a photo. It would be worth going back for a better look another time.

At the top of the hill was the museum, which we discovered was closed when we got there, it is a short, though nice walk through what I think is a typical hillside Spanish streetscape of narrow lanes and predominantly white houses. There are a few signs of Roman occupation outside the museum.

Just down from the museum is the Church of the Blood, the first Christian church to be built in Lliria in 1238. Like a lot of other churches in this and the southern region of Spain it was built on the site of a Moorish Mosque. There is not a lot to be read about the Moorish occupation of the region, something I am going to have do some research on before I return.

This building is from the 15th century and was an old furnace, it is part of the old walls of the town. I do love it when an ancient home is still being used, buildings that are older than the European occupation of New Zealand.

Walking back down to the station we passed the old station, and interestingly a sign on the old station house with the name of Liria – with only one l. When and why did it change?

After a bit of a rest back at the house in Xelardo I decided to go for a walk into the nearby orange groves. Paula and Paul’s house is the last house before some orange and olive orchards, though there is some scrubland next door. Even though it was still quite sunny, and only very early in the evening I took my camera and went for a stroll. I wanted some harsh light, cactus has to be photographed with a blue sky and bright sun.

The area of scrubland was a lot bigger than I expected, I was not sure if it was private or not, so I took a tentative walk up a dirt path into it. I found out late that the area is open land and everyone walks through. Next time I will not be so circumspect. I walked up the path as far as these old stuck open gates, they led into the neighbouring orange grove, but I suspect no one has been through them for a while.

Returning back to the road I strolled along until the road ran out at what appeared to be the entrance to someone’s house, so I turned round and walked back the way I came. Stopping to take a photo of the weeds growing up the side of an old shed.

I spotted what appeared to be an abandoned house between the scrubland and the orange trees, I could not see anyone around, so took a slow and innocent looking walk up the old track to the house. Ready to run if I heard a dog, or shrug my shoulders and explain that I did not speak Spanish if someone stopped me. I didn’t see anyone on the approach.

I had a good look around, and inside the building. There was this fabulous old stuffed chair in there, I wish I had the big camera and my tripod. Next time. (Next time seems to be quite a regular refrain in my blog posts these days, hopefully there will be some next times).

When I was approaching the house I had seen the roof of what appeared to be more dereliction beyond. I was going to sneak over there next, but heard voices and then could some kids there. This was obviously private land, so I snuck back to the road and walked on home to find El and Paula sitting by the pool enjoying the last of the sun. It was far too cold to go swimming!

I told Paula and Paul about my walk and the abandoned building I had seen, they told that it was a derelict campsite that had closed a few years ago. This really piqued my interest and I was quite keen to go out and find it. Paul offered to come with me and show me the way. I cannot find out anything on the campsite or why it is closed, I am guessing due to financial reasons, as it is a massive site, and miles from anywhere.

I was expecting a campground for tents, but there were loads of chalets, caravans and other buildings. It is all fenced off, and with Paul reluctant to go in I held off, quickly sneaking in to take a couple of photos via a hole in the fence. It must have closed very suddenly as there were so many personal effects lying around. There has been some damage, but not as much as I would have expected. Next time……

Nearby there is a completely bonkers house, the Mansion San Jorge, it too looks deserted. I think it was built as a guest house or small hotel, but it is totally mad. I loved it. All these Gaudi-an towers, and the mouldy paint just added to its madness. Wonderful.

Back at the house it was time to pack up ready to leave tomorrow morning, then dinner, followed by the final episode of series two of ‘Fear the walking dead’ which we have been watching each evening. I took one last photo, and the first colourful sunset we have had, over the hills of the Sierra Calderonas, where we walked on Friday.

We did not have a madly early start on Tuesday, but the alarm was set for 7:00 so we could get to the airport in time. I loved how Ryan Air gets the passengers all excited by starting the boarding process, only to have everyone queue outside.

We left it so we were almost the last people to board so we didn’t have to stand in the sun for too long. This turned out to be quite fortunate as there was a technical issue and the flight was delayed. After some indecision we were eventually all trooped back into the departure lounge.We were delayed by an hour and a half, so our plan to be home by mid-afternoon was completely thwarted and we arrived back in London for rush hour : )

It was a brilliant trip again. I really do like hanging out in Spain!

A night in Valencia

Sunday 30 April and Monday 1 May 2017 – Valencia, Spain.

Today is NLD day. For those not in the know, this is the North London Derby; a football match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur that occurs twice each season and a rivalry that has been going since 1913 when The Arsenal moved from south London to the north. No forgiveness given by the Spurs fans. 

El is a long term and ’passionate’ Spurs fan and I have supported The Arsenal since I was a nipper. We watch a lot of football in our house, but the NLD is not a game we watch together.

Before leaving London we had booked a room in the Excelsior Hotel in Valencia for tonight, the plan was to find a pub in town, break house rules and watch the game together then enjoy an evening in this lovely city. This morning we decided it was best to stick with house rules and not watch the game. Just in case. It was a stunner of a day, so no point in ruining it with sporting results!

We caught the Metro from Lliria into Valencia, I have done this journey a couple of times and am familiar with getting from the train into the centre of the old town where the hotel was located. One of the main streets near the hotel was closed to traffic when we arrived in the middle of the afternoon. I was not sure why, it is the May Day holiday on Monday, and I thought there must be something happening then, but the road was open again on Monday morning. We did find a small parade late in the afternoon, though I am not convinced it was for that. The more roads closed the better in my book!

It was a glorious day today, so we dumped our bag in the hotel room and headed straight out for a walk.

We decided to walk to the Science and Arts Centre; though we had visited last February, it is a lovely stroll down an old river bed; with a pond below one of the ancient entry points in to the city.

I really like this walk, it is shaded and cool, and today the light was playing in the wind blown trees, there were loads of people, but it a big wide area and it was never too crowded, just nicely busy.

The ultra modern sci-fi buildings that make up the Science and Arts Centre are just stunning. Last week’s episode of Dr Who was filmed here. I am going to come back here on my own one evening and spend some time taking photos. I could wander all day, though it was very warm and bright.

We arrived back in the centre of town just as the NLD finished, we had managed to avoid the game and checking progress on our phones. Sadly Arsenal lost, a result I was expecting. At least one of us was happy! It was time to find a bar for a celebratory/commiseratory glass of wine.

On the road up from our hotel we came across this parade forming outside the church of Saint Martin. There were a lot of kids and adults dressed in traditional clothing. Though I am still not sure what the parade was about.

We found an open air bar in the Place de Lope de Vega and decided to sit and relax for a while over a glass of Rose. We were not sitting long when the parade came through the square, we had front row seats!

As the parade passed, unseen by us, one of the paraders set off a of string of very loud fire crackers on the far side of the small square, at the back of Santa Catalina church. It gave us (and most other people) one hell of a fright! I went to investigate afterwards and saw this little sculpture embedded in the stone work on the church. Very cool.

Finishing our glasses we set off again, this time to find somewhere to eat. Lunch, at the science museum had been a disappointment, we had had such good food in LLiria so we didn’t want touristy downtown Valencia to let us down. It was much busier out than I thought it would be; it was still quite early by Spanish standards, but it was a nice evening to stroll and we were not in any rush and we did find a place and did really enjoy the food.

I love the small winding alleys and streets in this section of Valencia, and that it is all a little dishevelled. I could easily live in this town. If I spoke Spanish or the Valencian variation. Bodega de la Sarieta was a nice spot to people watch and the food was great.

With very full bellies; the food was too good :), we sauntered around the cathedral area for a short while before waddling back to the hotel for the night.

There was even a little bit of street art to keep my urban soul happy.

I didn’t have a brilliant sleep, the very small room was either too warm with the air con off, or too noisy with the air con on, I suspect the full belly didn’t help much either… We were in no particular rush on Monday morning, we did have a room with a balcony, though there was no great view or anything; it was still nice to be outside relative peace in the city.

I loved the stairwell in our hotel!

After a late breakfast we were back on the train to Lliria. The mission to watch the NLD in a bar, a complete, yet welcome failure.

I really like the centre of Valencia, it is small, very touristy, very friendly, attractive and fun. One of my favourite cities.

Walks and wine in Spain.

Thursday 27 to Saturday 29 April 2017 – Lliria, Valencia, Spain.

Two days after getting back from our trip to Cornwall we were off to Spain for a few days with friend Paul and Paula. We have stayed with Paul and Paula at their holiday house in Xelardo, which is an ‘urbanisation’ on the outskirts of Lliria, itself on the outskirts of Valencia. We were really looking forward to the trip, though not to the getting up at 4:00am to go to Stansted Airport bit. Some sacrifices had to be made!

We arrived late morning, and were greeted by a gentle shower of rain. The forecast for the next couple of days is not brilliant, but it does get better over time and is really good on Tuesday – the day we leave. The shower did not last long and was clear by the time we left the super market with a very full trolley and arrived at Casa la Adams.

We had no real plans for the time away, except El and I had booked a room on Sunday in a central Valencia hotel, so after unpacking and eating lunch we decided to take a late afternoon walk through the orange groves to the nearby village of Marines. I took a few photos, but don’t seem to have any of the orange groves. I have a lot of derelict buildings under moody cloudy skies….

And one not so derelict building, where I enjoyed the contrasts of colours and lines.

I really enjoyed the walk, it was down a very rough dirt road, we were passed by a couple of cars, but it was mainly quiet apart from the barking of very aggressive dogs, fortunately from behind high fences and gates. We stopped for a drink in a small cafe/bar in Marines, before having a brief look around the square.

One of the things I like about this part of Spain is that the flora is a mix of things we see in the UK, like daisies, lavender, gorse and thistle and things you expect to see in the desert like cacti.

Friday was another quiet day, I cannot remember what we did in the morning, but in the afternoon we drove to another small and nearby village; Olocau, where we took a walk up to Puntal dels Llops, or Wolf Point. A small hill on the edge of the Sierra Calderonas. On the top of the hill lie the ruins of an Iberian fort which was built in the 4th century BC and destroyed during the Second Punic Wars of the 2nd century BC. A walk up a hill, in the country, to visit an ancient ruin. There is not much that makes me happier. I was not let down!

It was a great short walk, like yesterday the fauna was quite interesting, totally different to the UK, very Spartan, and I really liked the contrast between the red soil and varieties of greens and yellows in the trees and shrubs.

I have also never seen this in a fur before, this was quite a common site on the walk, though this was the largest bushy outgrowth I saw, quite remarkable.

The walk to the top took about 40 minutes, and was well worth it, the ruins are quite cool and there is plenty of signage around the place, with a mix of Spanish and English writing. 

The fort was a place of refuge from invaders or troublemakers passing through the nearby villages, and was not a major permanent settlement.

I got a bit sidetracked on the walk back down, I had sort of planned in my head when we went away that I would not spend lots of time faffing with photos, I would take a couple here and there and not hold people up, but I did get a bit a carried away here. Visually it is a stunning location, with plenty of colour and interesting lines and layers.

Being spring the broom was in full and glorious flower and I just loved that yellow, and took rather too many photos of it and its contrasting neighbours.

Paul had booked us into a wine tasting late on Saturday morning at the Vera De Estanas winery about an hour away by car near Utiel. I enjoyed the drive in the country, though did have a brief moment of car sickness after spending time gawping at the news on my phone. Lesson learnt.

I am sure the tour was really interesting, sadly it was all in Spanish and I have none at all. It was also a bit wet outside so I was glad I had my coat..

Here are some barrels that contained wine,

some dusty wine bottles, that contained wine,

and some people that also now contain wine. Though not a lot as Paula was driving.

I really liked the building and the grounds, and I am sure I would have enjoyed the tour more if I could have understood any of it. The tile floor was lovely!

Actually the wine was pretty good too, especially their premium red at a whole 10pounds a bottle…

On the good ship Bessie Ellen.

Monday 24 April 2017 – Cornwall.

John, a good friend of ours, had his 60th birthday at the end of last year, with winter not being the best time of year to have a nautical party, the celebration was not held until this weekend. John and his wife Deborah organised, and paid for a group of us to go to Fowey in Cornwall and then spend two nights on board the gaff rigged ketch, the Bessie Ellen. Wow !

We left London early on Friday morning, 13 of us in a rented van. Over the past month we have all been watching the weather forecast and it had been looking decidedly average for most of the month, taking a turn for the better the week before we left. It was going to be cold, but not wet. Our first stop was a Little Chef, I have always wanted to stop at one of the (in)famous road side cafes but have never been brave enough. This one on the A303 is a Little Chef with a difference, it featured in a 2008 TV series when celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal revamped the menu and the decor. Though Little Chef have dropped his menu now. The food was fine, the coffee was a bit meh though.

We arrived in Fowey mid-afternoon and were soon heading out on the charming water taxi (“DON’T STAND ON THE SEATS” !!!!) to our home for the next two nights, The Bessie Ellen. We were welcomed on board by owner and skipper Nicki and her small crew.

The majority of us were sleeping in the main cabin, which had 12 small bunks along the sides, they were quite snug. I was very glad I had remembered to bring ear-plugs with me, 12 people in their fifties were likely to form an informal middle of the night snoring chorus.

Once we had dumped our gear below decks and had a welcome cup of coffee and some cake we were split into three groups and, in my group’s case, literally shown the ropes. My group were shown how to raise the mizzen sail – the sail at the back of the boat. There are no fancy rope pullers here, only human power. The Bessie Ellen was built in 1904 to ferry clay over to Holland, and other freight around coastal UK and Europe. Originally she was not built for comfort, and there have only been a small amount of luxury added since! One of the other groups were taught about map reading and navigation, and El’s group were shown how to raise, and lower, the foresail and the three jibs, the small sails the front.

Once the sails we were up, we were on our way out of Fowey and into the channel. Magic !

There was not a lot of wind, enough to get a little bit of wind in the sails, but we were also using the motor to keep forward momentum. The group who were taught about navigation before we left were given the task to sail us to our first destination.

As we approached Charlestown, our destination for the night, it was all hands to the decks to drop and tie up the sails.

We were offered the opportunity to go ashore for an hour or so, and all took the chance to go for a short walk, and to sit in the sun and sup on a couple of pints in one of the many bars in this small village with its gorgeous tiny walled harbour.

Dinner was prepared for us by Pete the Chef. We guests were involved in working the ship, but the kitchen and cleanup duties were all cared for by the crew. We got to drink wine and beer and chat about the day while the work was all being done in the tiny kitchen. It was a really nice meal as was the evening drinks and chat!

After a ‘varied’ night’s sleep El and were up on deck reasonably early to watch a very nice but not spectacular sunrise, though there were some great clouds for me to photograph.

After breakfast it was all hands on deck with mops and swabs to clean the decks, sadly I arrived to late and missed out on this chore.

Very soon it was back to the sails again, and we were off for another sail/motor along the Cornish coast towards the west.

It was a gentle trip, the sea was dead flat calm so there was a lot of chat and a lot of gazing towards the land.

We stopped off the coast at Portscatho; where we all disembarked for a long afternoon walk over to St Mawes, where we will be picked up again for some afternoon sailing – hopefully with more wind. 

It was a really nice walk, back on my beloved South West Coast Path to Towan Beach, where there was a small discussion at a signpost, before we headed inland and off the path.

We found a lovely little tea truck on the way, which we pretty much took over.

We walked inland to the estuary, though a lovely forested section of track toward St Anthony, where we caught a very expensive small ferry over to St Mawes. There just happened to be a very nice pub here, so it would have been rude to not stop for a drink.

Soon enough we were back on the boat, and with a decent breeze we were sail up and for the first time on the journey the motor was off and we moving fully under sail. It was lovely. Almost peaceful; just the creak of rope, or rope on wood, the sails crackling in the wind and the rush of the sea on the hull. There is not much like it!

Soon enough we in the Helford River, our home for the night. Lobster was served on the deck as a pre-dinner snack, and with a glass of bubbly at hand and good friends it was perfect.

The sunset was pretty decent as well !

Sunday morning was glorious, very very sunny, with a lovely crisp blue sky, it was also quite cold! After breakfast we were sail up again and off out of the Helford River, sadly to sail back to Fowey. Once out of the river I was given charge of the tiller, we were under sail , but the wind was really not doing us any favours so we were back on the motor as well. I quite enjoyed myself though !

There was quite a swell on the sea and some of the crew were feeling it a bit. Nicki, our skipper decided to give us a short break in the lovely hamlet of Polkerris. unsurprisingly there was a pub there as well, so yeah it would have been rude not to.

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A pint of lager in the sun, in a pub almost on the beach. Nothing wrong with that at all. There was nothing wrong with lunch back on the boat either!

Another hour of motoring against the wind saw us back in Fowey late in the afternoon, our sailing trip was sadly over. We had a great time on the boat, memories I will cherish, I love this bit of England and seeing it from the sea for the first time just added to the magic.

We had dinner in Fowey, and a fairly early night. I think we were all pretty tired from sleeping in a single room on the boat. Having our own rooms in a hotel, and the chance for a hot shower (there was one of the boat!) meant some very solid sleep. After breakfast on Monday we had an hour to look around Fowey before we had to jump back into the van for the drive back to London. I really liked the bits of Fowey I saw. There is a castle, which we discovered was private (boo) and some nice old fishing cottages. The village felt good, and having nice weather certainly helped…

Far too soon we were all piling into the van for the six or so hour drive back home, I had a stint of driving for a couple of hours, mainly on the motorway. The van is easy to drive, it doesn’t feel that big, and it handled well. The only issue was it was restricted to 62 MPH, which is kind weird when you are accelerating and then all of a sudden you are not accelerating any more, and over taking was a slow process!

I had some really good news about a couple of jobs I had applied for while I was away, one of which I was really excited about it. More news on that another day…

It was an amazing weekend away, and I feel lucky to be welcomed into such a great group of people.

The bluebells of Danbury

Sunday 16 April 2017 – Danbury, Essex.

It has been a while since I last posted, as usual it is because I haven’t really done much of interest. Though there are a few activities coming up that I know I will be taking a camera along to, so expect more posts soon. I really do not want to let this blog languish if I can avoid it.

It is coming up to bluebell season in the UK, the best time is usually the end of April / beginning of May, but I am away for the weekends around that time. With winter being pretty dry and warm I was hoping for some early blooms and took a drive out in to rural Essex to have a look see.

A FaceBook associate had posted some photos of bluebells near Danbury so rather than visit the usual spot in Wanstead Park I took a chance and took the 30 minute drive. Plus it was good to get the car out of the city for a while.

The drive out was pretty good; once I got out of the city and in to some country roads it was window down and music up. I love English country lanes. I was looking for the forest I had been told about when I came across a small strip of trees between the road and a golf course that had a nice display of bluebells. I pulled the car over and jumped the barbed wire fence for a quick look. It was worth it.

I love the little skull, I am guessing it is from a young fox.

When I arrived at the forest I was told about I met a couple of people walking dogs, asking them about the bluebells I learnt about Blakes Wood, a ten minute drive away and supposedly spectacular. I took a walk around this small forest and found another nice little field of bluebells under the trees.

One of my aims for this trip was to try and take some pictures that were different to the usual broad sweep of the bluebell field that I have done in the past, I was going to try some close ups and some good old fashioned panned blurry shots.

The forest was edged on one side by a rape field, it is such a wonderfully colourful time of year in Britain, I was hoping to find some bluebells rubbing up against the rape, but that was not to be. No clash of colours this time round.

I found Blakes Wood pretty easily, I was told it would be really busy and they were right, the small car park was full and there were cars up and down the narrow road. I squeezed my car into a small spot and headed off for an explore.

It is quite a big site, a number of people had maps, but I had none and was a bit blind. I wandered off down a path that looked likely, but in the end it wasn’t. At the end I looped back up a different path that was sort of heading back to where I started and soon came across a field of devastation. All the trees had been cut down and dropped on to a field of bluebells, truck tyres had dug them or quashed them flat. I was pretty gutted, thinking this was it. What looked to have been a large section of bluebells flatted by foresters. There were not many left standing.

I took another path back in what I hoped was the direction of the car park and came across a sort of Essexian bluebell nirvana. I took a lot of pictures, including some wavy blurry shots, ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) as it is now called. It was called impressionist photography when I was last doing 8 or 9 years ago. I am trying to let loose the inner Monet here.

The same field with the camera on a tripod!

The area is quite large, so there are quite a few angles and views to make images from. Given the number of people in the forest this area was very empty and I only saw one other photographer while I was there. Must be too late in the day for the real pros 🙂

I really enjoyed Blakes Wood, and will definitely go back there next year for bluebell season, now I know it is there I will aim to get up for dawn and get some better light, and if possible some magical glowing mist as well. Clichéd I know. I guess I could always make my mist with a bit of vertical panning.