Tag Archives: Beaches

Travels in Portugal, A Wild River and A Cliff Top Walk in Odeceixa

Odeceixa Fish Statue

The soft sound of the rolling sea, no longer a lullaby but now an alarm call, woke me early so once awake I dressed and quietly left the room for an early morning stroll.  I left Kim to sleep on.  The beach that was busy yesterday was deserted now and I felt like Robinson Crusoe as I walked across the pristine sand.  The tide had washed away all of the footprints.  No Man Friday.

To the north of the beach and across the Ribeira de Seixe there is a cliff top with views both north and south and it was our plan today to take the path to the top.  At breakfast the owner of the accommodation told us that we would have to wait until the afternoon for the tide to go out so that we would be able to cross the river.

I may have mentioned before that Kim can be rather impatient at times and she was not in the mood right now to accept the guidance and she didn’t want to wait for the water level go all the way down to paddling depth so ignoring the local advice from someone who had lived here all of his life and knew well the tides and the flow of the river and  at mid morning marched us off to the beach to find a suitable crossing place.  I thought that she was being rather optimistic but I said nothing, I find this is best, and she pointed out that there were people on the other side and they must surely have crossed the river somehow.  She chose to ignore the obvious fact that these people had either swum across or were already parked on the opposite side.

Odeceixa Beach

So we walked the length of the arc of the mouth of the river until Kim was finally satisfied that she had found a suitable crossing place.  In a previous life I am convinced that she would have been a jungle explorer or the leader of a wagon train going west in America.  I wasn’t nearly so confident but she sent me across first to test the depth and the current and after I had made a successful crossing she followed me over.

Odeceixa River

Once safely across and not having been swept out into the Atlantic Ocean we were no longer in the Algarve region because the Ribeira de Seixe marks the boundary with Alentejo, the largest region in all of Portugal.

We followed the path through a car park full of camper vans where people were sitting and enjoying the simple life and then continued to a steep path with shrubs and bushes on either side without flowers but with large deposits of tissue paper.  We wondered why this might be and came to the disagreeable conclusion that the bushes were the bathroom facilities for the camper-vanners simple life style.  We continued to climb but stuck to the middle of the path and watched carefully where we were treading.

A surprisingly short and easy stroll now took us to headland with magnificent views extending north and south and west over the sea as far as the horizon.  It had certainly been worth the effort.  We walked back the way that we had come across the cliff tops, through a pine forest, along the tissue trail and then once more across the river.

Odeceixa Walk

Having safely negotiated the river crossing for the second time we stopped now for refreshment at a busy bar near the beach and then continued our walking by turning in the opposite direction and headed south where thankfully there was no water to cross.

We walked for a mile or so but it soon became clear that there was little to see, the path stayed stubbornly away from the cliff tops and the views and the sand was soft and difficult to walk across in beach sandals so after a while we turned back and returned to the accommodation where after a swim in the sea we spent the rest of the day on the balcony enjoying the view over the Atlantic Ocean.

Odeceixa Tree in Sand

In the evening we dined again at the sea food restaurant.  Kim had Padron peppers and I had a simple tomato salad and then we shared a lobster, crab and prawn rice and I received instruction on how to crack a lobster claw from a helpful waiter.  It seems that you don’t just smash away at it because bits of flying shell can be a hazard to other diners and it has to be covered with a cloth before applying the hammer.  How was I to know, lobster is not a main ingredient of my regular diet.

We had walked seven and a half miles today.

Lobster

Travels in Portugal, Time Zones and Revisits

Algarve

We arrived at Faro airport as it was beginning to get dark and by pure chance managed to walk to our accommodation without making any serious mistakes.  We settled in to our basic accommodation and the first thing that I remembered not to do was to change the time on my watch.

Normally travelling to Europe involves adding an hour on but not so Portugal because along with Ireland and Iceland, Portugal is the only other European country that shares Western European Time with the United Kingdom.

Looking at a map of European time zones this looks odd but there is an explanation.  France, The Low Countries and Spain should sensibly be in the western zone but during World-War-Two the Nazi occupiers changed France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg to Central European time for the convenience of Adolf Hitler in Berlin.  For the sake of consistency Nazi sympathiser Franco changed Spain at the same time but anti-German Salazar of Portugal stayed as they were.

Time Zones.jpg

I got caught out by this several years ago when I first visited Portugal.  When we landed in Porto I instinctively added an hour and thought nothing of it.  During the visit however something puzzled me because all of the clocks seemed to be an hour behind and even at the railway station the displays said four when our watches said five.  I thought that this was strange so asked an official who confirmed that it was indeed four and smiled when I showed him my watch and suggested that it was five.  It turns out that we had been an hour ahead of ourselves for almost two days and this explained why it was still light at half past six at night in January, why the restaurant staff were surprised when we turned up for dinner an hour early, why the breakfast room was empty at six in the morning and also why it was so cold when we went out sightseeing in the dark.  This, let me tell you was a most disorientating experience and one thing is certain, I will never make a Time Lord!

For my first meal in Portugal I had imagined grilled sardines or piri-piri chicken but there was an absence of restaurants at the airport site so we had to settle for a burger and fries in a nearby American diner which I have to confess was really rather good.

Algarve Sardines

The following morning I collected the hire car from the airport but there was a problem because I had made a mistake with the start date.  Here I was making sure I had got the time right regarding the issue of the hour but I had somehow managed to be a complete twenty-four hours out on the car hire and I should have been there the day before to collect it.

Anyway, we sorted it out, the car was still there somewhere waiting for me and after the staff located it handed over the keys to a street scarred Peugeot 305 we were soon on our way heading west away from Faro.

I had visited the Algarve twice before, the first time in 1986 on a road-trip with pals and then in 1994 on a family holiday so I was curious to see if the southern Algarve was anything like I remembered it to be.

The first stop was Albufeira which once had a thriving fishing industry but sometime in the 1960s turned to tourism and began a hotel building programme to attract visitors from Northern Europe.  I remembered sitting on the promenade drinking beer and looking over a beach where there was still some working fishing boats to see.  There is no room for boats on the beach anymore because today it was completely covered in sun-beds and parasols and flanked by bars and tourist shops.

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Actually I didn’t find that it changed a great deal except that it was so much busier than I remembered.  We stayed for a while, walked through the shopping streets of the old town through the tunnel cut through the rocks for fishing boats that no longer use it and down to the beachfront.  On the way out we stopped briefly for an excellent light lunch and then left and continued west towards our destination, the seaside resort of Carvoeiro where we would be staying for three days.

In 1986 I stayed in the small village of Alcantarilha which I remembered as a single street dusty little place with one shop.  Not so any more as it has grown into a big holiday village and I quickly abandoned any thoughts of attempting to find the villa or the shop.  The villa I know is still there because I know the people who live there but I imagine the old shop to be a modern supermarket – ALDI most likely.

This was the shop…

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My plan was to drive through Armação de Pêra which in my memory was a pleasant fishing village with a big sandy beach but from the main road all I could see was a string of tall hotels and a sprawl of holiday accommodation so I abandoned that idea as well and drove on to Carvoeiro and hoped that this may not have changed too drastically since 1986.  But of course it had…

Old Carvoeiro

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Family Holiday Memories

Mundesley 1959

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England as life returned to normal after the war. Most people went by train but we were lucky because granddad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a starting handle, pop out indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery, which meant that we could travel in comfort and style. Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.

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Kessingland Family Holiday

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Travels in Spain, Alternative Images of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia Sand Castle

Spotted on a nearby beach constructed by two children with the same imagination as Antoni Gaudi.

Yellow Pictures from Portugal

Lisbon ArtLisbon Doors and windowsLisbon Tram PostcardPorto Douro PostcardCarvoeiro Algarve Portugal

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Ireland, Jellyfish Pizza

Jellyfish pizza

Road Trip – Portimão, Carvoeiro, Praia Vale de Centianes and Silves

“The ancient handsome litter of the sea front had possessed its own significance, its vivacity and its charm.  A spirited collection of abandoned windlasses, the ribs of forgotten boats, the salt wasted, almost translucent gallows on which the fish had once been dried, the sand polished sculpture of half buried driftwood … was now abolished at a stroke”  –  Norman Lewis – ‘Voices of the Old Sea’

On Wednesday the weather was still excellent so we decided to drive west to the secluded beaches all along the coast on the way to Portimão.

First we drove to the pretty little fishing village of Carvoeiro, which was stunningly beautiful, especially when viewed from the hills on either side of the town, so we walked all around it and from the cliffs we admired the village layered with white-washed villas and buildings, undulating in perfect harmony with the natural rocky landscape.

Carvoeiro Algarve Portugal

The beach was small but sufficiently spacious when there aren’t many people about to share it with and it was fringed with shabby seaside cafés,  inviting seafood restaurants and the homes of local fishermen whose colourful boats completed the picture postcard scene.

Before tourism this was a very small and intimate fishing village and in 1965 a foreign resident wrote about the place; “the mode of living remains essentially medieval”.  Well, in 1986 it was a bit more modern than that but still very quaint and although I have never been back I understand that now, thirty years on, it has lost any resemblance whatsoever to its modest origins.

Leaving  Carvoeiro we took the scenic coast road west that ran adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean along an orange ridge of rugged sandstone cliffs.  All along the route there were beaches and secluded bays and after a short while we stopped at Praia Vale de Centianes, which from an elevated position looked totally idyllic in a Robinson Crusoe sort of way.

We parked the car by a stairway but found that about half way down it had been blocked off by someone who had wedged a fishing boat into a rocky entrance gorge that completely prevented people from passing.  This wasn’t going to stop us however so we bypassed the obstruction by climbing down the cliff in a tricky little mountaineering manoeuvre before rejoining the steps, which wound endlessly down through the rocks until we reached an enclave surrounded on all sides by towering rocks.  At the bottom was a perfectly secluded beach, which we had all to ourselves and we laid out our towels and lay in the warm November sun.

Not long afterwards we found out why the steps were closed because the tide started to rush in quite quickly and the troubled turbulent sea was being funnelled in by the cliffs on both sides, which had the disturbing effect of intensifying the power of the waves.

Obviously the beach was quite dangerous in winter and the boat blockade was there for a good reason, which was to prevent foolish people like us from going down there.  The sea rushed in quite quickly so we gathered our possessions and made for the steps and by the time we had reached the boat the whole bay of previously golden sand was completely submerged.  That was a a bit too close for comfort so we decided that we wouldn’t risk any more deserted beaches and returned instead for an afternoon at Armação de Pera where we shared a beach with local men attending to their fishing nets and getting ready for work.

This was to be our final night in Portugal before we set off on the drive home so tonight we drove to the nearby town of Silves for an evening meal.  Silves was once the capital of the whole district that was still referred to as late as the nineteenth century as the “Kingdom of the Algarve” and standing proudly on a hill the thousand year old town is practically the last urban area before the mountains of southern Portugal rise up dramatically like an impenetrable wall behind it.

It was quiet tonight and didn’t look too promising until we found a pleasant little fish restaurant that was busy with local people and we interpreted this as a good sign.  A man dining alone could see that we were having some difficulty with interpreting the impenetrable menu and he offered us assistance with what little English he possessed and based on his recommendation we enjoyed a very tasty traditional fish of the day meal.

After dinner we drove back to Villa Estrella and had more beer and at some point in the evening there came the point where we had had obviously far too much because we decided that we were enjoying ourselves so much, the weather was so much better than expected and Anthony couldn’t bear to leave without saying goodbye to the girls from Leeds so we foolishly agreed that we could probably manage the drive back in two days instead of three and we would rather like to have an extra day in Portugal.

Fuelled by excess alcohol, common sense was completely abandoned, thrown into a bonfire of insanity and although Tony claimed to be running short of Portuguese cash we calculated that between us we had enough Escudos to support us for the additional day.  We were also encouraged because the map that we had, which to be fair was not an especially good one, suggested that the journey home was motorway all the way so this really shouldn’t be a problem at all!  How naïve we were and we had no idea how much trouble was coming our way!

Coimbra Mosaic

And that was how we came to abandon our carefully made plans and spend a fourth day on the Algarve.  We drove again to Albufeira and Richard and I looked around the back streets once more and Anthony and Tony walked the entire length of the beaches, several times, looking for the girls from Leeds.  In the afternoon we walked along a path on the top of the high cliffs to São João with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean, which was a brilliant blue under the strong winter sunshine.

Later we took up position at a table overlooking the beach and quite simply, just wasted the rest of the day away.

Anthony found the girls he was looking for and I think they were a bit surprised to see him on account of the fact that by about this time we should have been well on our way to Madrid.  He arranged to meet them that evening and then we all returned to the villa to pack our bags so that we could get a good early start the next day.

We returned the empty bottles to the lady at the shop and again she invited us to buy as much bread as we liked and she looked rather disappointed when we explained, as best we could, that we were going home tomorrow so didn’t need any.

I felt bad about that and I have always wondered if she managed to sell the additional supplies that she had obviously bought in especially for us.

Have you ever recklessly changed your travel plans?

Travel Memories – Family Holidays

Until last year I had not been on a proper holiday in the United Kingdom since 1986 when I went to Wales in a self-catering chalet near Caernarfon and it rained so much that the wooden chalet leaked and it was so cold and damp that I gave up after four days, returned home and vowed never to do it again.

Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed, the beer is always cold and ladies wear fewer clothes.  It wasn’t always like this of course.

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was totally absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and certainly unusual.  As for going further than Europe we might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Body Builder

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England as life returned to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because grandad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a starting handle, pop out indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery, which meant that we could travel in comfort and style.  Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.

There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating.  Well, I didn’t worry obviously but I’m sure the driver did.  Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.

Grandad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and Battenberg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

I seem to remember that one of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.

I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I said that I would never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there is no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a six-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

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After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

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We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with Mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Actually my grandparents were probably some of the first people that I knew who went abroad for their holidays when in the mid 1960s they went to Benidorm and came back with gifts of flamenco dancers and bullfighters and I can remember thinking how marvellous that sort of travel must be.  I went to Benidorm myself in 1975 and although the sun shone most of the time I think on reflection I probably preferred Mundesley and Herne Bay.

I Spy At The Seaside

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  We would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.  There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic things that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look when I thought no one was watching.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.  I think that this is what put me off school dinners later in life.  I once worked in a holiday camp kitchen, at Butlins on Barry Island in 1973 and based on what I saw believe me you really don’t want to eat in a holiday camp restaurant because it isn’t Masterchef I can assure you.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1976 I went to Sorrento in Italy and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.

Do you have any family holiday memories to share?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Alphabet

Names in the Sand

My Grandchildren leave a temporary calling card in the sand!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist

Shell on a Beach:

Just south of Santa Clara was the beach of Azuraia where we parked the car and walked over the golden sand that had been washed clean by the high tide and went down to the waters edge.  There was a good clear view back to Vila do Conde and the fort that we hadn’t had time to visit. The beach was deserted and instead of people we were outnumbered by the seagulls that stood at the edge of the water but paid little attention to us as we walked along the sand.

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