Category Archives: Swimming

Norway – Risør, Marivoll & Rønnes

Norway – Arrival from Denmark and our initial travels along the southern coastline

Leaving our lovely vineyard WorkAway in Denmark we drove north again, heading north to Hirtshals and the ferry to Norway.  We completed a final food shop and filled up with diesel before reaching the port, checking in and rolling on to the huge ferry.

Hirtsals - ferry arrives

We passed an easy four hours on-board then disembarked in a busy line, a little nervous for the upcoming customs check due to Norway not being a member of the EU.  When saying our goodbyes at Guldbæk Vingård we had been very generously gifted several bottles of wine, and we realised on the ferry we had more than strictly allowable.  We straightened our story as we queued in the ‘nothing to declare’ line, but on arrival we were simply waved through with a friendly ‘welcome to Norway and enjoy your trip’.  We quickly moved on, happily bemused and very relieved there was to be no inside check. NOTE: Stocktaking a few days later, after remembering older purchases that had previously been squirrelled away and forgotten, we shockingly found that we had the volume equivalent of eighteen bottles of wine (!) and two bottles of whiskey over our import allowance.  Still, we lucked out and were now very nicely sorted for the weeks ahead.

We drove a few hours along the coast, our eyes sucking in the very different, wildly dramatic scenery that grew and grew as we progressed.  We passed a few tolls and hoped the automatic recognition will simply bill us later as we hadn’t registered anywhere.  Or not bill us, if they prefer.  We saw that diesel was actually quite reasonably priced, around 12 NOK per litre, a lot less than we’d been expecting although there were wild variations at times.

Risor - wandering

Making good time, we arrived in the town of Risør, where there was a large aire, with electric included, in the centre of town.  It was meant to be payable, but asking around no one knew how to pay except via some smartphone app that first had to be downloaded, but there was no Wi-Fi available.  We tried to pay through the adjacent car-park ticket machine, but to no avail, so our first night in Norway became a very comfortable free stopover.  We walked around the neat, white timber buildings of Risør, thinking the appearance was more New England than what we had envisaged for Norway.  The centre was quiet but filled with lots of seafront restaurants and quirky, boutique shops, so we imagined it a popular tourist haunt in the busy summer months.

Pothole Pools - n walks in

Pothole pools - swim

We skipped town early the next morning, eager to see more of Norway.  We followed the coast back south west, clockwise, as we would continue to do for the next few thousand kilometres.  A short hop away we reached our first stop, the interesting granite Sild Åsmundhamn potholes, near Krabbesund.  We parked in a wide lay-by a little past the path and walked in, through a short forest trail and then over slippy, volcanic coastal rocks.  There were many water-filled holes, of varied shape and depth, scattered around the wide coastal expanse of smooth rocks, said to be the largest in northern Europe.

Norway potholes (1)

Norway potholes (2)

We found a large, deep pool very near the sea, dark and interesting.  We stripped in the cold early morning air and skinny dipped in the frigid water, a short but invigorating dip that really shocked us awake on our first morning in Norway. (read more in our ‘Seven Wild Swims’ post).

Pothole Pools - walk in

Pothole pools - panorama

We stopped next in the celebrated coastal town of Arendal, still glowing from our early morning swim. We parked on the marina front and went in search of Norway’s second largest timber building, the old Town Hall.  We enjoyed a long walk around the centre, seeing old boats and tall churches, taking in all the sights on the overcast day.  But we had not located the large neo-classical styled timber building that had formed the foundation of our stop.  That was, until our return to Benny after fruitless searching, only to realise we’d parked directly outside it and not even noticed.

Arundel - Town visit

Arundel - Park spot

We drove on to stay at Marivoll, an ACSI campsite opposite to but quite a drive from Grimstad.  It was positioned down a narrow road on a beautiful, rolling peninsula beside a clear, calm sea inlet jutting off a main fjord.  We had chosen here for convenience, but were wowed by the setting and could not restrain ourselves from undertaking our second swim of the day, this time a much longer dip, fully suited and booted.  We got curious looks from a few kids playing in the designated shallow swimming area, but we soon moved away out and down the fjord as we explored, hugging the coast.  We passed neat holiday chalets with private jetties, swans and plenty of jellyfish on our travels.

Marivoll camp - (view down fjord)

Marivoll camp - (post-swim seat)

Later we walked over a rickety timber bridge that crossed the fjord and down to the nearby village of Rønnes, remarking at how stunningly beautiful each property we passed was.  They were all immaculately cared for, neatly painted with colourful planted gardens and flowing hanging baskets, creating an overall image of clean, idyllic calm.  Nearly all homes had a private jetty and a boat on the fjord, allowing immediate access to the water and we mused as to how nice it could be to live in such an area; perhaps, perhaps.  We always like to dream of what our ideal permanent home could be like.

Marivoll camp - (timber bridge)

Marivoll camp - (n on bridge)

We stayed a second day, as the weather was wonderful, sunny and still, and we wanted to indulge ourselves with a second swim around the fjord.  We followed a similar route, pushing on further around the inlet and back on the opposite side, covering around 2km.  This swim was more relaxing for us now feeling we knew these waters a little, but was also harder work than the previous due to stronger winds churning up the surface of the fjord.  Nicky had a wobbly-leg bounce on the water-based trampoline after our swim, with her jelly-like post-swim bambi legs.   We spent the rest of the evening sitting in the sun, with wine, feeling smug that we found this beautiful oasis on the south coast.

Marivoll camp - (kids swim area) Marivoll camp - (trampoline play)

Seven wild swims: musings on their meaning to us

1: Wild Atlantic Ocean swim, Loch Slapin inlet, Isle of Skye
One Christmas Day, after placing our turkey to roast in our rented cottage’s oven, we quickly drove the short distance to the raging Atlantic coast.  We were on the western edge of the rural coastline near Torrin, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. We stripped and suited up, then braced ourselves for entering the foaming, coast-battering surf.  We swam short lengths parallel to the coast, through breaking waves and fine, salty spray, feeling the raw power of the sea hit us with every new fold of incoming waves.

Isle of Skye (2)

Isle of Skye (1)

Rain began to fall as we swam, adding a new, stinging dimension to our activity. We returned to shore to face a deluge and no possibility of drying off, so drove back still in wetsuits wrapped in sodden towels, dripping and slightly delirious with laughter. Nothing builds an appetite like a hard swim in a wild sea.  With the heat sucked from your very bones you crave the warming caress of excess calories, consumed by the comforting warmth of a log fire.  Our afternoon Christmas feast that day was a study in contrast to our bracing, exhilarating morning. 

2: Refreshing River Dart dip in Sharrah pool, Dartmoor, England.
After a forty minute forest hike loaded with anticipation, we finally arrived at the celebrated Sharrah Pool on the River Dart. We gladly found ourselves alone and changed into wetsuits quickly, with excitement growing for our cooling dip.  The deep pool is easily 80 metres long and crystal clear, surrounded by thin, bowing trees and dark granite rocks. The fast-flowing river makes a strong entrance at one end of the pool, creating an ‘endless pool’ treadmill useful for longer training sessions.

Sharrah Pool (1)

Sharrah Pool (2)

The water soon slows and the central, deepest area of the pool is calmest, allowing for mellow reflection or restful floating. The water enticed us, nymph-like, to remain in its grasp for at least an hour, swimming lengths and playing joyfully, like the free, unburdened children we once were. A few walkers passed us silently, but no other swimmers joined us in the inviting water, and we felt gladly selfish for having the intoxicating experience all to ourselves.

3: Small stream-fed moorland loch swim on the Isle of Arran, Scotland
We swam in a small lake hidden in the mountains, surrounded by tall dark cliffs of granite on three sides.  This was on the day before our wedding, on a chilly afternoon on the Isle of Arran.  Like a required ritual, a physical extension of our vows to-be, taking to the brooding water together became an integral part of the story; our story.

Isle of Arran (1)

Isle of Arran (2)

The bracing hike in, the changing into wetsuits, the first tentative dip to the deeply chilly plunge, the tingling relief from the gripping cold on exit; all these actions were complicit in the creation of a personal, meaningful and shared memory for us both.  The chilling water temperature precluded any lingering so our swim was bracingly brief, yet the remembrance of the fading sunlight on the dark water and the silent, personal solitude of the remote loch setting will long remain with us, alongside our committed vows. 

4: Small circular tarn near Wrynose Pass, Lake District, England
We walked one New Year’s Day to Blea Tarn, in the Lake District, where we changed by a stone wall away from the dog walkers.  We slowly, hesitantly, readied ourselves to slip into the reflective darkness. The wetsuits, hats and goggles, once on, transformed us into curiosities, persons of interest, and we were watched by many passing eyes as we made our way to the water.

Blea Tarn (1)

Blea Tarn (2)

A landscape photographer setting up his tripod nearby was disappointed by our first splashes as we rippled the silky mirror on the tarn and removed the sharp, mountainous reflections. The peaty water would take hours to reform to the same glassy stillness, and we felt a little guilty that our passion had trespassed into that of another.  But the view from the centre of the lake revived us and reconfirmed our reasons for being here; to be surrounded by wild beauty and enveloped in the masterful, soft embrace of the haunting black masseur. 

5:  Coastal rock pothole plunge pools, Risør, South Eastern Norway
We had three swims in Norway within our first 40 hours after arrival.  The first of these was very special and memorable, if only for the contrasting difference from our wet-suited norm. We parked a few miles away, hiked through sparse woodland and skipped over volcanic rocks to find the pothole-strewn coastline of south-eastern Norway, close to Risør. Skinny-dipping in chilly pools doesn’t lead to lengthy swim times, but it creates a sharp shock in memory of the shared, vital experience.

Norway potholes (1)

Norway potholes (2)

We felt freedom from convention as we shed clothes, stood naked on the edge of a deep, unknown pool and slowly progressed in, suppressing the instinct to scream aloud as the water slipped around our goose-bumped skin like a coat of ice.  We faced the gripping, tactile sensation of cold water on flesh head-on, exciting nerve endings and chilling blood flow and digits. We kept our heads free and above the surface to avoid deep brain chill as we breast-stroked lengths of the formed pool, breathlessly inhaling and exhaling to repel the deep cold.  We left the water and towelled off, shivering and smiling.  Walking back, we felt so awake, energised and alive; buzzing, readied for anything; a wonderful introduction to our explorations in Norway.

6: Sheltered Atlantic bay swim, Isle of Harris, Scotland
Another memorable New Year’s Day swim, another Scottish island set in bright, turquoise Atlantic waters. This time we hiked from our cottage to a nearby beach, armed with warming flasks of tea and cake to enjoy after.  First we changed out of our hats and winter coats on the empty, misty sand, feeling wary of the chill in the still January air.  But the water surprised us, and we surprised ourselves; the Gulf Stream had gifted us a warmed stretch of coast, relatively speaking.

DCIM100GOPRO

DCIM100GOPRO

We weathered the winter temperatures easily and swam long lengths along the shore, enjoying cutting through the low mist hovering just above the calm surface. The swim lifted us, prepared us mentally for the upcoming year, it acting as a symbol of barriers crossed and obstacles overcame. Afterwards we felt ready for anything, the warming tea back on shore creating a deep bubble of happiness and rising contentment inside; a moment of sublime connection to water, and to each other.

7: Fast flowing swim in the river Nene, Wadenhoe, England
We drove from home to the pretty village of Wadenhoe, one warm, quiet weekend morning. We parked at the King’s Head pub, our usual spot, and prepared to swim.  We entered the water and swam right, upstream, in chilly fast-flowing water from the recent rains. We worked hard, a proper training session more than a necessary hit for our swim addiction.  We passed curious cows and tickling trees reaching into the water.

Wadenhoe (2)

Wadenhoe (1)

An hour of graft up-stream later, we thought it best to turn and head home, not quite realising the strength of the rain-fuelled flow we had swam against.  We lay on our backs, legs entwined, and floated much quicker than we had swam, reliving the journey with no effort other than holding hugs and smiles of pure joy.  We arrived back, suitably rested from our earlier efforts, in less than twenty minutes, delivered like logs on a flume.  A workout with a built-in reward; the relaxing, current-assisted float an uplifting delight.

Denmark – Rajberg Mile & Skagen

Rajberg Mile and around the very north of Jutland

We had an easy drive northwards in the hazy sunshine.  We stopped briefly at a picnic place quite near to our destination at Rajberg Mile, to quickly check out Bunken Strand on the east coast.  It was a two minute walk to the beach through pretty, managed woodland, to reach the wide stretch of beach that looked very neat and clean.  The inviting sea was much calmer on this side of the country, and there was no one around – a perfect, private place to return to later.

On the road - n and scarlet

Bunken Strand - east coast beach

We decided on an ACSI campsite, the closest one we could get to Skagen.  The normal price was listed as over €40 per night, but with the ACSI discount card we only had to pay €17, which was cheaper than other aires in the area with no facilities.  It turned out our campsite had two lovely pools, one outside and one inside, so we went for a long swim, followed by a relaxing time in their sauna and Jacuzzi.  The ACSI card was proving itself to be an essential item for leisurely travel in Denmark.

Rabjerg Mile - campsite

Skagen (main harbour)

On our first full day, we cycled north to visit the main attraction of this area; the town of Skagen.  The route was mostly cycle lane adjacent to the road, where we were fully exposed to the high cross winds.  On some stretches we could cut through forest fire-tracks for a bit of shelter and variation.  We rolled into and through the busy tourist town, checking out the large marina ships as we passed.  We continued to Skagen Fyr, the Grey lighthouse, and past until we reached the end of the road at Grenen, where we locked up our bikes and continued on foot.  Suddenly there were people everywhere, flowing out from a large, almost full car-park.

Skagen (busy carpark)

Skagen (poet grave)

We walked over the dunes, where we paused to look at the burial place of Holger Drachmann, a renowned local poet and artist.  We navigated over and around several German-made concrete bunkers to reach the main stretch of beach.  We dipped our toes in the water, The Baltic Sea on this coastline, to test the temperature; cold was the verdict. There was a long procession of people shuffling along the harder, compacted sand at the water’s edge, so we rather reluctantly joined the crowded line, all moving along in step as if in a sombre parade.

Skagen (approaching the spit)

Skagen (on the tip)

There were many more visitors who either couldn’t or wouldn’t walk the 1km from the car-park to the end of the beach, so several tractors with large carriages would instead bring them to the end point. We queued for our turn to take a photo at the apex of the spit where the North Sea and the Baltic Sea meet, standing with one foot in each ocean.  The North Sea was, surprisingly, noticeably warmer than the Baltic.  Walking away, we thought the strange view of the long queue and the tractor-trailer delivering and removing people was an even more interesting phenomenon than the meeting seas.

Skagen (the queue)

Skagen (dunes)

We ate lunch in the dunes further along the beach, away from the crowds, then lay down a while and dozed in the hazy afternoon.  We intermittently watched more crowds arrive and leave by tractor as we enjoyed the sun from our sheltered beach hide.  We walked back along this empty section of beach, following the tractor route, first to visit the on-site Art gallery and then the visitor centre where we bought a few postcards for home.

Skagen (n in the dunes)

Skagen (marina after race)

We visited Skagen again on our return, to see the many sailboats from an Oslo to Skagen race celebrating in the marina.  There was a party atmosphere all around as the crews enjoyed their many beers as they relaxed on board and around the marina front. We later cycled home through scrub woodland on fantastic gravel paths that criss-crossed a railway line, where we saw a church now partially buried in migrating sand.

Rabjerg Mile (buried church)

Rabjerg Mile (local cycle)

Rabjerg Mile (forest cycle)

The next day, after a typically lazy start, we cycled again, this time to the wilder west coast.  Our plan was first to visit the famous migrating sand dune at Rajberg Mile on the way, the largest in northern Europe.  It was a rogue tongue of this dune that had buried the main body of the church we visited the day before.  We left our bikes in the car-park and climbed the sprawling ridge, running and playing like big kids all over the wide expanse of virgin sand.  The four million cubic metres of sand migrates around 18 metres a year in a north-easterly direction; a fascinating place.

Rabjerg Mile (running on dunes)

Rabjerg Mile (on migrating dune)

Rabjerg Mile (dune approaching forest)

We continued on to the west coast beach at Kandestederne, famed for its high dunes.  Because you can simply drive along this extensive beach until you locate your own private stretch, it is very popular with naturists.  The sea was much rougher than we had seen on the sheltered east coast, with rolling breakers crashing on the shore, so it was of less interest to us as a possible swim location.  We cycled along a short stretch on the hard sand, enjoying the different feel beneath our tyres, before returning the same way back to camp for a  restful afternoon in the sun.

Rabjerg Mile (climbing dunes)

Kandestederne - cycling beach

We ended up staying a fourth night, our longest stay in a campsite, because the weather was so good.  We were also enjoying having the pool to use for swim training, in anticipation for our upcoming Arctic Circle swim.  Also, our desire to remain in one place was stronger than the draw to explore any further parts of Jutland before our next WorkAway destination.  The temperature hit 28 degs C on our final day, so we packed a lunch and walked out on a little used route from the bottom of the campsite through a forest to the beach we had seen when we first arrived, Bunken Strand.  We popped out after 2km of pleasant strolling at a sand dune, and climbing over this rise we were rewarded with a wide, clean white sandy beach stretching miles in each direction.

Bunken Strand (walking to beach)

Bunken Strand (a on beach)

There were maybe six people in view on the entire beach, so we walked only a short way along and settled into our own private spot for a long day of relaxing.  We dabbled with the idea of swimming, but the differential between our sun-drenched bodies and the Baltic Sea water temperature was extreme, so a short, chilly dip was all we could muster on each occasion. It was still lovely for a cool-down.  We played Frisbee on the beach, enjoying an almost windless day for the first time in Denmark.  The rest of the time we read or dozed, peacefully enjoying that supremely satisfying feeling of having absolutely nothing to do.

Bunken Strand (panorama)

A wonderful, exploratory and restful stop was most certainly had, but now we had work to do; Guldbæk Vingård beckoned.

Denmark – Blåvand and the west coast

Denmark – Blåvand and the west coast

We drove north from Ribe along empty roads, first through flat, cultivated farmland and then neat, managed forests.  We barely saw any traffic, passing more weekend cyclists than cars.  We arrived suddenly into the town of Blåvand and surprisingly there were people everywhere, enjoying a busy, bustling Saturday morning in the resort.  We rolled through the central spine of the holiday town, passing many boutique shops and neat tourist stores, soaking up the sunshine buzz; the day was clear and a very pleasant 22 degrees, out of the wind.  Beyond the town we reached a long stretch of road lined with timber-built thatched holiday homes nestled, rather uniquely, into the deep sand dunes.

Blavand (beach and lighthouse)

Blavand (holiday cottages)

We parked in the end of the road car-park, near a lighthouse that doubled as a tourist information office.  There were many visitors enjoying the sunny day, walking dogs and picnicking on the beach.  We walked along the water’s edge, relishing the simple pleasure of white sand underfoot and the sun on our faces.  We passed large German-built concrete bunkers that still littered the beach from WW2, most of them toppled over and covered in graffiti.  The warm weather and the inviting calm of the protected sea convinced us we must linger longer and enjoy a dip.

Blavand (waters edge)

Blavand (on the sand)

We retrieved our wetsuits and returned for an afternoon swim in the cold, calm water.  The depth never reached more than about 1.5 metres due to an extended sandbank reef off-shore, itself covered with thousands of resting birds. We swam parallel to the shore for five or six lengths of around 100-150m each before the deep cold started to adversely affect our digits; not an excessive distance, but a good first try in the cold waters of the North Sea. It was, shamefully, our very first open water swim of the year; we’ll most definitely have to fit in lots more miles of training to be prepared for our upcoming time-travelling midnight Arctic Circle swim from Finland to Sweden.

Blavand (swim selfie)

Blavand (all suited up)

After checking signs and asking at the tourist office, we confirmed that we were able to stay overnight, as long as no camping activities took place.  We did initially have other plans, but that welcome information made up our mind to stay, so we happily snuggled into a quiet corner away from the day-trippers and relaxed into our lazy beach mindset.  It was so easy to sit in the afternoon sun, drink copious amounts of tea and people-watch as our rash vests and wetsuits dried.  This is the real value of life in a motorhome; the complete flexibility you have over your own travel decisions.

Blavand (drying our gear)

Blavand (ecology display)

We walked to view a local nature exhibition in a small custom-built room near the car-park.  It was lined with rough cut timber to offer the appearance of rugged, handmade authenticity.  The timber decking on the floor was stopped short of both exhibits and perimeter walls, allowing portions of the floor to be infilled with clean white sand, completing the beach-hut natural feel. The exhibits were interesting and informative about the local ecology and birdlife and we felt we learnt a lot.  The building also housed immaculately maintained toilets, very handy for saving our WC while we lingered.

Blavand (n on horse)

Blavand (bunker horses)

That evening after dinner we undertook a long beach walk east to see a line of fallen bunkers that had been transformed into slightly cartoon sculptural horses.  It was around 8km total down to a prominent stone groin and back, taking us around two hours as we meandered along the beautiful, empty beach.  We searched for amber, having read that the fossilised tree resin floated over from the Baltic Sea and was washed ashore by the tides.  We found a dozen or so small pieces of various colours and quality, just ready to be fashioned into Viking jewellery.

Blavand (sunset from bunker)

Blavand (heading west)

We returned the same way, now being slightly blinded due to facing west with the sun slowly setting in front of us.  We slowly approached the most westerly point in Jutland, and thus by default in Denmark too.  There we stood and, with awe, stared at the final death throes of the sun as it disappeared below the watery horizon.  The sky, sea and rippled sands were turned blood-red in the final moments, bringing our first, wonderful beach day in Denmark to a suitably dramatic end.  We scrambled back to Benny over the steep dunes, passing the tall lighthouse one last time.

Blavand (most westerly sunset)

We considered remaining in this small contented corner for a few more days, relishing our languid beach life and enjoying more walks and swims.  But we had plans to criss-cross Denmark and we had other places to explore, so it was back on the road again.

Blanes – Christmas Camping

Blanes – Christmas Eve

From Colònia Güell in eastern Barcelona, we fought our way through the morning traffic to reach the northern ringroad, then with no particular rush, we cut back onto national coast roads to both avoid any unknown tolls and to enjoy the expansive sea views.  We stopped for a big grocery shop in a very busy Carrefour, as all shops would be closed for the next few days, then we made our way to our chosen Christmas campsite on the coast at Blanes.

blanes-our-site

blanes-beach-shadows

We booked in and picked out a quiet spot in the shady trees, noting that all the other motorhomers had already bagged the prime real estate – the beachfront sites.  Still, the clear, calm blue sea was only a 20 second slow walk away, and still clearly visible from our windows.  We had a quick walk around the facilities and out to see the beach promenade, happy with our choice of rest for the holiday season. After settling in for a while, we returned to sit on the beach with a glass of red and enjoyed the calm tranquillity of the lapping waters as the sun set; a very different Christmas Eve to the norm.

Blanes – Christmas Day

After opening some very thoughtful gifts, we kick-started our day with large bacon butties that would set us up for our obligatory festive swim.  Before we could make it into the water, we got invited by the campsite owner to attend their Christmas day celebration meet, where we were immediately inundated with snacks and booze.  We met a lovely Dutch couple and chatted to them as we all consumed far too much pink bubbles and sweet, nutty treats.  When turning down further top-ups we mentioned a desire to swim later and after heard the word loco mentioned a few times with furtive glances in our direction.

blanes-xmas-morning-bacon-butties

blanes-christmas-morning-on-beach

blanes-christmas-party

The owner sang a few a cappella flamenco tunes and the local ladies shook out a few basic dance moves as the party got flowing. A little tipsy after the lovely festive campsite get together, we had to postpone our swim plans until later in the afternoon.  Around 3pm we finally suited up and went for a long sea swim, perhaps an hour or so, doing lengths parallel to the coast. The sea was still around 16 degrees, so it was comfortably warm in our wetsuits, not the usual deep chill experienced when completing swims in Scotland or the Lake District over previous Christmas breaks.

DCIM103GOPRO

DCIM103GOPRO

We cooked large chicken breasts stuffed with mushroom, cheese and tomatoes for our Christmas dinner, and served them with all the usual trimmings.  We enjoyed it all with soft background music and smooth wine, with a view of the calm blue Mediterranean Sea from our window.  We later walked over to the beach to watch a glorious sunset, followed by samplings of Amaretto and Laphroaig Select to finish off our special day.

Blanes – Boxing Day

We woke up to another beautiful, bright day and a cloudless sky, so thought it necessary to go for a long, unhurried walk and enjoy the sunshine.  We proceeded along the coast into the local town of Blanes, where the weekly market was in full flow.

blanes-harbour

We bypassed the markets in favour of a loop around the marina and harbour walls, before returning through the town and seeing the local squares and central church.  We climbed up some local rock formations on the beachfront that offered a great vantage point back over the town and coast.  We returned the same route to the campsite, passing many people sat out in cafes or walking the promenade in the sun, some with young children playing with their obviously new toys – roller skates, bicycles and scooters.

blanes-n-rests-after-swim

blanes-xmas-day-swim

blanes-post-swim-bliss

We had a leisurely lunch and then decided to go for an even longer sea swim again, as the water had been so inviting.  We swam longer lengths along the coast this time, back towards the town centre, loving the calm waters flowing easily by us.  We dodged a few lines cast from fishermen sitting with rods pointed into the lightly breaking surf.

After the warming bliss of very long, hot showers we enjoyed a second Christmas meal from yesterday’s leftovers.  Later in the evening we again had a lazy walk to the beach to enjoy a similar cloudy-red sunset over the beach.

blanes-a-swims-at-xmas

blanes-xmas-sunset

Blanes – Day 4

Feeling idle and fully relaxed, it seemed like it would have been rushed to race off this morning, so we decided not to leave as originally planned.  Instead we arranged one further night on site which meant we could catch up with some other menial jobs we needed doing and organise our next moves while we still had WiFi.  We put laundry on to wash and played a competitive game of table tennis in the sun as we waited for the spin cycle to end. We reorganised clothes, made lists and readied ourselves to get back on the move.  It is sometimes difficult to break out of the calm, easy campsite mindset, retake the reins and ride into the complicated, sometimes difficult, unknown.  But to make progress we must; the celebrated Costa Brava coastline was stretched out in front of us, ready to be discovered.

 

Fonte da Telha and Porto Covo

Fonte da Telha

After leaving Lisbon, we headed south in search of solace and tranquillity.  We found it at the end of a long, dusty, unpaved road.  With a rough, bumpy and difficult approach leading along the sea front, this quirky, run-down but vibrant village was once a beach resort-of-sorts.  The surroundings consisted of small beach-fronted restaurants that spilled down onto the sand, punctuated with palm trees.  Many were closed up at this time of year, but a few remained open to mop up the small dribble of visitors still managing to find themselves in this out of the way place.

fonte-da-telha-benny-on-seafront

fonte-da-telha-early-sunset

We parked up with a sea view out the front window, our nose less than a metre from the edge of the beach, facing due west.  From here we enjoyed the repeated pleasure of incredible sunsets, perfectly visible from inside Benny, or from just sitting quietly outside overlooking the water.  Occasionally we would walk down to the water’s edge to watch the reddened waves roll in up close, and listen to their gentle lapping.  We luxuriated in long, slow days on the sand, only metres from both our motorhome and the sea, and the weather remained at a constant 28 degs C during the days of our stay. It was a great, quiet spot to unwind fully.

fonte-da-telha-early-mornng-teas

fonte-da-telha-evening-beach-walk

One morning we decided to exercise our restless legs and we walked along the incredible extent of beach, over five miles long.  We discovered that, a mile or so from where we were parked up, a specific stretch of the sand was designated as a nudist beach. We passed quite a few walnut-skinned sun-worshippers taking full advantage of this designation, as they had for many years according to the evenness of their tans.  Beyond here, very few people had made the effort to reach this end of the beach, so we enjoyed a long stretch of beautiful golden sand all to ourselves.  The high cliffs set behind the beach were yellow ironstone, similar in colour to Northamptonshire stone.

It was in Fonte da Telha, finally, that we enjoyed our very first meal out, some 55 days into our trip.  This premier event took place in the ‘Cabana Bar’ on the seafront.  This was a great, quirky little bar with friendly staff and a real laid-back vibe. We had a burger and fries with a large beer each for €20. Then we had an additional beer each to celebrate the rarity of the occasion; quite the luxury for us.

fonte-da-telha-long-beach-walk

fonte-da-telha-cabana-bar

The next day we walked to a local shop, on Sunday, to buy bread and wine, like a humanist communion.  It was 28deg C, the day before Halloween, and much too hot for sunbathing.  The waves were also too large for swimming.  On our return, we watched surfers in the water, and one sole stand-up paddleboarder riding a few waves, showing great control on such a large board.  We overcame our reticence and joined them in the water sans board, splashing and jumping in the large waves, our joviality punctuated occasionally with a longer swim out beyond the break.  The only downside of this was the loss of my favourite goggles after momentarily letting down my guard and falling foul to a sneak attack by a rogue large wave, just as I was leaving the water; a slightly disappointing end to a day’s play in the surf, and a search of frothing waves turned up no sign of them.

fonte-da-telha-n-at-sunset

fonte-da-telha-sunset

Although we spent only three days and nights here in total, time slowed down and we became the quintessential beach bums.  With us fully recharged and relaxed, our wanderlust grabbed us again and we decided sadly we needed to move on, further down the coast to another beach resort.  It would be all too easy to linger, but there’s always some place else to see.

Porto Covo

After a long drive south, racking up bills on the toll roads with abandon (€14.50 over two separate charges for this stretch) we found ourselves back in civilisation, of sorts.  The aire just outside the town of Porto Covo was quite full, with around twenty motorhomes parked up on the clifftop, enjoying the wonderful views to the sea. We joined them, finding a spot near the edge, before having a quick walk to the edge to look over our new local beach.

porto-covo-our-local-beach

porto-covo-typical-village-building

After settling in, we walked into town to have a quick look around.  It was silly hot, around 25degs but sticky, humid and draining, so we walked slow, exploring the tidy streets and neat squares.  Porto Covo was an absurdly picturesque village, with most buildings painted in a uniform white with blue trims to windows and doors.

We relaxed on our new local beach to read a while; my third book in six days now underway.  Again we watched the huge waves crashing wildly against the sand, enjoying the power of the ocean, and let ourselves be battered by them.

porto-covo-selfie-on-the-beach

porto-covo-n-playing-in-the-waves

The next morning we decided to cycle south along the coast, exploring other coves and quiet beaches, with the hope of locating an idyllic one to claim for ourselves. From the centre of town we descended and forded a small sea inlet at a point where it was a miniscule river, then had to endure a steep, rocky climb back up to the neighbouring cliff top.  Dusty gravel tracks kept us close to the coast from where we could see all the nearby coves and sandy bays, enabling us to keep an eye out for which might become our beach spot for an hour or two.

porto-cove-coastal-cycle

We were initially attracted to a nice sandy cove and cycled to the edge of the beach, before having a walk about to explore the area.  It was entirely deserted, all but a few footprints from an earlier dog walk. Swathes of sandy beach were interspersed by jutting rock formations segmenting the beach into what would be several separate areas with the tide higher.  Our idyllic spot was shaping up nicely and we quickly changed from bike to beach clothes, yet when we returned to the bikes a noisy campervan had driven down to the edge of the grassy bank directly behind the spot we’d chosen, ruining our tranquillity and privacy.  With this beach no longer to ourselves, and with a sudden weather change and the sky clouding over like a dark grey sheet, we decided to continue our cycle.

porto-covo-on-the-way-to-beach

porto-covo-clifftop-vantage-point

As we got back onto the coastal path, we were greeted by more ominous dark rain clouds overhead, both in front and behind us.  It was not to be a chilling beach day after all, so we called short our cycling explore and returned to Porto Covo to relax for the afternoon.  Later had a brief spell on our own local beach, having fun getting battered by the powerful Atlantic waves as we played in the surf, before sitting on the rugged clifftop overlooking the bay and reflecting on a lovely couple of days in the company of beautiful Porto Covo.

Portugal’s Central West Coast

Author’s note:  The following post refers to a collection of stops we made in the process of exploring beaches and interesting towns along the central west coastline, north of Lisbon.  From two of these stops we cycled or caught a local bus into the main tourist centres of Sintra and Cascais.  These town visits, although undertaken in the same timescale, will be covered in a following blog post. 

Nazaré

We pulled off the coast road into our targeted aire, to find a scruffy piece of disused land, sandy and litter-strewn, with around twenty other vans hastily parked.  Not quite the dream beachfront parking we’d hoped for, but it was close to town and free, so we couldn’t complain too much.  We walked a few hundred metres to the main beachfront.

The beach looked wide and clean and the sea quite gentle, until we approached more closely.  We found that what we were seeing was the sea much further out from shore and in reality the crashing surf was hidden behind a large dune running the entire length of the beach. When we topped this dune, we found that constant three metre high waves were curling and crashing wildly behind, disappointingly leaving no doubt that this sea was not for swimming in.

nazare-incoming-waves

We played in the water, then we sat a while and watched the huge breaking waves as they towered and fell, churning up the sand in a frothy surf.  We met a fellow Brit who now lives in Nazaré who informed us that for a short time each year, around November, the cove experiences incredible 100ft (30m) high waves that surfers from all over the world arrive to test themselves with, being towed out behind jet skis with the hope of riding the ‘one’.

nazaren-runs-from-surf

nazare-az-runs-on-beach

We walked along the wavy, noisy beach to a small red and white lighthouse built on the stone harbour wall, still mesmerised by the size and sounds of the crashing waves.  We had not seen the sea since the eerie, still morning in Boiro, and somewhere deep inside we had missed its clear representation of nature’s raw power.

nazare-beach-from-harbour-wall

We saw old, heavily wrinkled fishermen, their skin the colour of leather, standing on the beach casting into the huge curling waves, but saw no one catch anything in the time we were watching.  Joggers ran along the shore close to where the water was hitting the land, occasionally veering wildly inland when a larger wave crashed and flowed in further than normal, catching them unawares.

Foz Do Arelho

From Nazaré, we continued south along the coast to find another place to overnight, in Foz Do Arelho.  This was a large commercial aire right on the beach.  There were lots of other motorhomes already here, maybe 50 or so parked up, all tightly packed along the front edge to claim a sea view.  We parked away from the crowds, side on to the sea, on a peaceful end bay that still allowed us commanding sea views.  This was not a beautiful aire, but at only €3 per night including services and wifi it was practical and restful and offered great access to the beach.  Unfortunately heavy rains and wild storms later hit and made it quite wet underfoot and removed the possibility of any lazy, sunny beach time.

foz-do-arelho-the-inlet-meets-the-sea

In a short weather break, we walked the length of the long inlet beach in bracing winds, over high dunes to face the Atlantic Ocean rolling in.  With the wide bay and flat coast, the waves were not quite as wild as at Nazaré but watching them was still impressively mesmerising.  We sat on the damp dune and hypnotically stared at the waves for a time.

foz-do-arelho-walking-on-the-dunes

We walked up over the hill behind into the local town where we posted some previously-written postcards and bought a few essentials, before holing up to wait out the next barrage of wet weather.  It was quite relaxing and invigorating to watch the incoming storms battering the beach and whipping up the sea from the comfort of our motorhome.

Praia Foz

After a two day stopover in Foz Do Arelho we planned to move a short distance down the coast to the next large beach at Praia Foz.  We pulled into the village only to find this large and popular beachfront aire, surprisingly, entirely empty.  We parked up and wandered across a timber walkway into the dunes to look at the rough seas, again enjoying the show of strength and power from the huge crashing waves.  Due to the isolation and the lack of other travellers, we decided not to overnight here, so instead moved on to another local aire instead, this time inland to where we hoped to complete a cycle – Turcifal.

Turcifal

We drove on to the small village of Turcifal and parked in the central aire adjacent to a primary school, where the kids were making a loud wall of background noise not dissimilar to the crashing waves on the beaches.  The pretty church sat high above the village houses, on a raised platform, commanding decent views over the village.  There was precious little to see, but we had hoped to cycle a loop to Torre Vedras and around the local countryside, but soon after our arrival the heavens opened and dissuaded us.  Instead of braving the weather we huddled inside and spent the day with the driving rain storms battering us outside whilst we watched movies in bed.

Mafra

After a wild weather night in Turcifal, we decided the planned cycle ride wasn’t viable.  So we moved on to visit the town of Mafra, to visit the much lauded Palácio Nacional de Mafra.  We parked on a very small, gated aire on the outskirts of town, and walked into the centre along a busy road. From here we soon arrived at the National Palace – impossible to miss.

mafra-palacio-nacional2

The Palácio Nacional building dominates the entire town, being visible from a long way out.  We approached the centre and explored a little of the streets opposite, lined with small shops and neatly cobbled squares, before crossing the main road to the National Palace.

Previously a Franciscan Monastery, construction of this Royal Palace was began in 1717, as a gift from King John V to his Queen for bearing his first child.  It is one of the largest palaces in Portugal, extending to over 40,000 sq M and housing over 1200 rooms.

mafra-palacio-nacional1

We had a quick look inside, although there were no other tourists and it was difficult to see an entrance that was obviously for public use.  We opened a few large timber unmarked doors but were reticent to proceed within, so had to be content with a quick view.  Many of the spaces behind the large doors were cathedralesque, in both size and grandeur, so at least we captured a small glimpse of the monumental Baroque interior.

Externally, we got suitably chastised and turned around by an Armed Forces guard for walking along the right-hand side of the building, although there were no signs posted that it was restricted to military access only. We didn’t linger much after this, so we had a final look around then returned to Benny by the same path, completed a shop at the nearby supermarket to stock up, and got ourselves back towards the west coast.

Odrinhas

We treated ourselves to a reasonably well-provisioned campsite aire, as it was the only place around with services, and being only 12km north also provided an ideal base for visiting one of the most renowned tourist towns in Portugal; the historic town of Sintra.

odrinas-az-at-pool

There was a small, walled off swimming pool at the end of the campsite aire, where between walks and wild weather, we managed to have a few relaxing moments and a good catch up on reading on their plastic loungers.  The weather was against us, but Nicky still enjoyed doing some pilates on the grass surround, and then completed a few lengths in the cold water. We had a reasonable weather window the following morning, so we caught the local bus south into Sintra (as noted in a separate blog) for a fantastic day of exploring.

odrinas-n-doing-pilates-at-pool

The village of Odrinhas had one small shop and very little else, other than lots of nasty, local dogs, with their hateful barking and chasing, so was not too pleasant for short walks.

Cabo da Roca

After Odrinhas, we headed to beaches a little further south to see if we could shake our continued misfortune with poor weather.  But firstly, as it was nearby and we were passing, we felt compelled to call in and visit Cabo da Roca.

cabo-da-roca-trig-point-and-lighthouse

This is a headland with a lighthouse and a short coastal walk that has the honour of being the most westerly point in Portugal, and by default also that of mainland Europe.  This arbitrary geographic quality* would appear to be the only thing going for it, but from a trip conclusion or achievement perspective, it still felt like an important stopover point, as we’ll soon enough be visiting the most southern and northern; why not the most western?

* To steal a line from ‘Black Books’ – “It was everything I expected; and less“.

cabo-da-roca-az-at-wall

 Praia do Guincho & Praia da Crismina

A short drive further on we arrived at a cliff top parking area with absolutely fantastic sea views.  We parked up at the very end of the western edge of the available parking, so no other motorhomes could impede our view, and smugly sat back and enjoyed the first of several sunsets over the Atlantic and our local beach.  Quite the spot for a few days.

praia-do-guincho-benny-parked-up

Just a few metres from our door, there were steps leading down to a small coved beach, with beautiful white sands and wild, crashing surf.  At low tide this small local beach tripled in size, with the central rock formations forming the left hand side of the cove being passable and providing access to a much larger area of beach beyond. Again, the ocean was simply too rough to properly swim any distance, but was absolutely great for splashing around and getting soaked by the powerful waves and foamy surf; a childish delight to spend time just fooling around in. Plus, the sun had finally found us again.

praia-do-guincho-our-local-beach

On another day we walked through an elaborately built timber walkway, threading itself through sand dunes on the opposite side of the coast road.  Much of the area was protected for conservation due to erosion and being over walked, so the walkway made a perfect vantage point from which to both observe the lands and allow for their protection.

From here one day we cycled into the popular resort town of Cascais (covered in a separate blog), which was only 9km along the easy coast road from us.

praia-do-guincho-sunset-on-clifftop