Hot air Balloons

I was in Cumbria with a friend when I noticed an ad on Facebook relating to an event at Houghall and the Sands in Durham. It was a hot air balloon display and nighttime views of the balloons lit up. I’ve long wanted to see some hot air balloons up close so I drove all the way back for the weekend. 

Inflating the balloon
Inflating the balloon

I was expecting the ritual rip off of drivers but they asked £5 per vehicle however that was all day and night, and I stayed on the parking field on the Saturday night, and you could leave and come back if you wanted without paying again. So in that sense it worked very well for me. 

Sadly on the Saturday they couldn’t fly because of the weather, but we got to see them being inflated., I had never known that they actually inflate them with cold air from an engine driven fan. Then use the burners to heat that air up. When fully inflated they weigh over 5 tons! We did see one balloon that was caught by wind and it lifted up the 4×4 that it was tethered to. It was then that they decided there would be no flight that night. 

I walked around the little fair that was at the other end of the field, but it was the same old tat as usual. Surprisingly it was quite cheap though at between £1.50 and £2 a go. However the bouncy castle was a wallet busting £5 for each child. The food was exactly as you’d expect: expensive and not that tasty. The coffee that I got was vile so I threw that away. I noticed a huge number of people who had brought picnics, and when my daughter met me there with her two kids she also had made a picnic. Why spend £7 each on kids when you can do a lovely picnic for a third of that?

Balloon in flight
Balloon in flight

There was some live music and one particular young woman was an excellent singer, I really enjoyed her. Me and my daughter both said at one point the music was far too loud and we started laughing saying we both must be old or something. However, after a few minutes they turned it down quite a lot so it wasn’t just us. I’ll never understand why they set the music so loud that you can’t hear yourself talking to other people. high five to the organisers for knocking that volume down. 

The atmosphere was excellent the whole 2 days and on the Sunday we got to see balloons take off so that was it for me. There was an extra event at the Sands where a Virgin balloon was going to light it’s burners so you could see it lit against the evening sky. This started way too early and had gone on for well over an hour and a half before dusk started. Most people had left by then so I grabbed a few shots and left myself. 

Overall though it was an excellent weekend which cost me £10 for 2 days parking. I’ve got a new notch in my photo belt and it was a very welcome change from the norm and a very well managed event. Well done whoever organised it and as always, here’s a few photos.

 

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Angers, France, what a nice day I had here.

As I head back to Calais to get the ferry I decided to make the straightest, fastest route there was, then look at places I could visit that were within 20 minutes driving time from my route. That way I wasn’t doing excessive mileage or taking excessive time, but I was still seeing some things along the way.

A view up the river Maine with the Pont de la Haute Chaine in the distance, this was just behind where I was parked
A view up the river Maine with the Pont de la Haute Chaine in the distance, this was just behind where I was parked

Today’s stop was Angers, a city I have vaguely heard of but not for anything important I don’t think. Probably just seen it on the map a couple of times. Anyway, I got here late last night and headed for the aire that I’d sussed which was an enormous car park by the river.

It is huge but with a beautiful avenue of trees on the river side, and plenty of large space at that side for my van. As I was parking I noticed a car drive out of a bay and come down to where I was parked, then slow down and cruise past me with the internal light on. As he passed me he flashed his hazards twice and then turned around at the end of the row and came back. 
DOGGER ALERT!!!

Actually in my experience they’re not real doggers, they are almost exclusively men looking for sex with other men. The first time I found out about all of this was over 25 years ago before I had a camper and used to camp in a tent. Flick down the the next section if you don’t want to hear it 🙂

 

I digress…

So I’d pulled into this lay-by near York, really tired and could not be arsed to put the tent up so I was going to sleep in the car which was big and comfy. It had an alarm on which when activated flashed the hazard warning lights like most alarms do. Shortly after getting settled a car came along and drove passed me just as I explained above, internal lights on and flashing his hazards. Then another one did it…I didn’t know what it was but it slowly dawned on me it was some sort of messaging. 

I’m the type that likes to know what is going on so I got back up and drove to the top of this very long lay-by to find out what was going on as all the cars were going up there. I pulled in to the top and straight away I could see 3 sets of couples all leaning against cars just chatting, and the first one who’d driven past with his internal light on, a bloke about 50 years old maybe was leaning against his car. 

I know I was a bit of a cheeky bastard but I stopped by one of the couples. Both had skin tight jeans on with their cock and balls showing clearly and both had that effeminate disposition. Now, people who know me know I am the furthest away from homophobic you can get…as long as I’m not hassled. So I wasn’t insulting or rude but I asked them if this was where gay people met and should I leave and find somewhere else to park. They both said no they were just having a fag.

Well it wasn’t true clearly but I just drove back to where I was and settled down again, hoping I’d sleep. I stayed at the far end so I was out of their way to let them get on with their thing. 

A short while after I was settled though I heard engines and I got up and here’s 3 of the cars, headlights on, coming to a stop in a row in front of me, effectively blinding me and blocking the exit at the same time. I don’t mind saying that my bottom started to twitch…LOL I just watched them for a while but they kept revving and shouting things I couldn’t here then laughing between themselves. 

I could have sat it out but I had no idea what was going to happen so I decided to make my move and I started up, put my main beams on and raced toward them, stopping very close to them and blaring the horn. After a few minutes of doing this which seemed like an hour, I got out and used a baton torch to hit one of their headlights with. You need a mighty heavy or sharp thing to break a headlight so I knew I’d not break it but I knew it would make a loud bang inside the car. It got the reaction I wanted anyway, and after a few more minutes of revving and shouting they started to move and I shot out of their like a shit from a drunk. 

I actually did not stop til I got to Middlesbrough hahah

Back to Angers…

The car park where it all happened...
The car park where it all happened…

So my mind went back to that time in York and I got my baton torch out. Yeah I still have it, it’s helped me several times out of dodgy situations 😉 But I have a curtain that I fitted that basically closes off the cab section entirely, so I shut that and put the lights out and he drove away and parked up again, presumably to wait for someone else. For all the world like a spider waiting to ensnare someone.

I liked that he left it because I don’t mind what they do if they only try once. But I recall another time in another lay-by in Middleton Tyas when the guy would not take no for an answer and I actually had to get out of bed and go outside to sort the twat out. Bad times.

By this time my daughter was on the phone so we’re chatting and I’m telling her about my light-flasher and we’re having a little chuckle about it, and I notice another guys wandering up and down a short area of the path outside. Then I spotted 2 more standing talking together in the bushes. Then I spotted 2 more! 5 in total, wandering aimlessly, sometimes chatting to each other, sometimes just walking up and down about 50 metres. Clearly they were either prostitutes or it was just an area where men met for sex. It was kinda funny in a way but I did think if I get any hassle I’ll just find somewhere else to park.

Luckily as I chatted on the phone they all eventually drifted away and I hadn’t been hassled once. Nice one. 

Anyway, my day in Angers?

Yes anyway, the day wasn’t too bad at all, a bit of a cold wind but some sunshine and no rain so a perfect day for wandering around town. I found a lovely chateau which to the French means castle. It’s a small but fairly solid looking edifice and in great condition considering it’s about a thousand years old. 

There were plenty of places to eat and they were quite reasonably priced too. I saw one place offering a full kebab with everything on, served on a plate for €5. You can’t beat that if you’re hungry.

There was also a nice cathedral although with having Jack I couldn’t go inside but I got a nice photo or two of the outside. There were some lovely old, almost medieval buildings and independent quirky shops that sold art and hand made things and clothes that weren’t designer labels. 

Getting the 'death stare' after she walked into my shot!
Getting the ‘death stare’ after she walked into my shot!

While I was walking up the hill to the cathedral a young woman walked into my shot and gave me a right glare as if it was my fault that I was taking her photo. I ended up taking 3 shots because others walked into the scene too. It can’t be helped that’s just what happens but when she glared I did feel like shouting ‘Get the fuck out of my shot!’ Hmmm…what would that be in French? Sortez le baise mon photographie? Probably not, my French is dire.

Anyway, what a lovely city and I am going to explore it some more tomorrow, I’ve got 6 days before the ferry and it’s less than a day’s drive away and I am going through Rouen anyway so I may stop there the last night. I love Rouen. 

 

 

 

Where I stayed: Angers, Maine-et-Loire [49], Pays-de-la-Loire, France, 49100, 47.47717, -0.55738

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Battery equalising

Some battery manufacturers recommend equalising their batteries a couple of times a year. You can do this with a dedicated device, or a function on your charger if it has one. 

Equalising means charging them fully, then charging it again at a 10% higher voltage than normal. What this does is removes the sulfation that is a normal part of battery use and helps the battery achieve a longer working life at a greater efficiency. 

Remember your battery will vent much more during this process so good ventilation is necessary due to the risk of explosion. Also it should only be done in cooler temperatures. 

It’s recommended that once fully charged you check with an SG (Specific gravity) meter if your battery is OLA (Open Lead Acid) and only equalise if the SG difference between the cells is 0.030.

You also have to check the SG of the battery during the equalisation process, if you don’t you could damage it when it no longer requires the higher charge. The voltage also should be about 10% of the charging voltage. So if you normally boost at 14.4 the equalising charge should be +10%, ie: 15.8 volts. 

DON’T leave anything connected to the batteries while equalising and only do it in a very cool environment. 

Check with the manufacturer for dedicated advice.

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David goes to Ponte de Lima

The hat overlooks the river Lima to the church of Santo António da Torre Velha in Portugal
The hat overlooks the river Lima to the church of Santo António da Torre Velha in Portugal

I’d seen a post from someone about Ponte de Lima on one of the forums so I decided to have a little hike down there. It turned out to be a 45 minute drive but never mind, the van hasn’t been driven in weeks so it was nice to give it a run. 

Ponte de Lima is an old town with an ancient Roman bridge across the river. That’s really it’s main attraction! Although to be fair it’s a quite a pretty town, they’ve gone some lengths to ensure there’s a mix of the old with a fountain, old buildings and some very old trees forming a boulevard, and the new, with bronze art works and some steel depictions of Roman soldiers. It makes it quite interesting and quite pleasurable to wander round the town.

I only spent a couple of days there because the massive car park which is only gravel, had been flooded the day before I got there. The river was still high when I arrived and in fact I slipped in some mud at one point as the entire car park had been covered. 

However I did enjoy the town and managed to fill up with diesel, petrol and gas while there. I found a sort of city farm on the last day and Jack was loving it kissing cows, bulls, goats and pigs. I’d definitely not class this as a tourist destination, but I did enjoy being here: I hope David did too. 

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Ponte da Barca, Portugal, and the land based canoeists

I’d found Ponte da Barca by accident as I was just driving down back roads and came across this town. They have a dedicated parking spot for motorhomes on the edge of town, right by a park and a nice shallow, wide river. 

Ponte de Barca, the aire by the bridge
Ponte da Barca, the aire by the bridge

When I pulled in there was about 10 vans already there, all of them had kayaks and water boards on the rooves. There were lots of young people milling about in wet-suits, but although it was a warm, bright day no-one was actually in the water. I mooched around the town and there wasn’t much to it, a glorified village really rather than a town. However there was a supermarket on the edge of town and 2 small shops in town. I went to them and the one that sold fruit and veg had the most god awful fruit I’ve ever seen on display lol Bananas were black, apples were bruised and had holes in, and some of the oranges were actually mouldy!

The veg though was worlds apart. Fresh and dark green and looking as if it had just come out of the ground. I got a nice bag full of all sorts and it was only €9, utter bargain. 

I stayed 2 days and in all that time I never saw one of those present take their kayaks or boards down to the water. The weather was good so if you’e into water sports I’d have thought it was perfect and they’d all be loving it but obviously not. 

I had checked out the supermarket just to see what it had and on the way back I heard a band. I went over to check and it looked like about 10 people playing a tuba, a few drums and some other instruments. Probably a band practising out of the way where they’d not disturb anyone else. They sounded really good and soon I was beat boxing like mad doing a fairly crap trumpet with my mouth. Jack got all upset and started attacking me, I think his ears were sensitive lol 

Screeching parrot
Screeching parrot

I also heard coming back from town what sounded like some mad old woman screeching at someone. I realised it was a parrot so I went to find it. There it was on a balcony rail, not tethered, just running along the rail and screeching for all it was worth…in Portuguese! So obviously I had no idea what it was saying but it was clearly having a right old tantrum lol My cousin has a parrot that they have to be careful swearing in front of as it picks up all sorts of bad words really quickly. Maybe this one was swearing in Portuguese who knows. 

Where I stayed: Ponte da Barca, 4980-020, Portugal, 41.808439, 008.421434

 

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Ponte de Lima, Portugal…the place of the lens death

I’d come down to Ponte de Lima after hearing on a forum about how it was a pretty old town by a river and decided to take a look. For whatever reason my Garmin told me it was 15 miles away but when I said “Go” it decided it was 30 miles away! The TomTom used to do that too, I must find out why it does that it’s so off putting. 

Anyway I got there and the car park is a massive gravel field beside the river which had just burst it’s banks and a large part of the car park was still under water. What wasn’t under water was soaking wet so simply walking over it meant getting soaking wet feet and up to the eyes in mud. The sun was out though and it was pretty.

I was quickly accosted by a tiny little man in an old peaked cap and a fluorescent jacket about 3 sizes too large for him, who came rushing up to me on crutches. I had no idea what he wanted til he rubbed his finger and thumb together. I’ve been told there is no payment for this car park so I said “No, no pay!” However he produced a badge on a lanyard around his neck. I actually laughed out loud when I looked at it, it was very clearly designed in Microsoft publisher in about 1997 and printed off on a cheap inkjet. I stopped laughing though when I caught the stench of urine from him, it was very strong. I decided it was a novel form of begging and he wasn’t confrontational or self pitying so although when I asked he said €1, I gave him €3. 

Jack saying hello to a cow
Jack saying hello to a cow

I explored the town a little and it’s very nice with a good mix of old run down buildings and new ones too. I discovered a sort of open working farm just on the edge of town where you could watch dairy cows being rested, watch a sow feeding pigs and see the fattest bull I have ever seen. They were even giving 2 cows a haircut using proper shearing tools and wax etc. I guessed maybe there was some sort of animal beauty pageant going on.

Jack loved it of course and tried to kiss every animal going. The only ones who didn’t wanna play with him were the sheep and goats. Cows as always were loving his attention. He’s learned over the years how to cope with cows too, recognising their shyness and backing off then coming back repeatedly until they allow him close and get a sniff of him. He likes to lick their nostrils as he does with most animals, what that’s about I’ve no clue. 

I love seeing him be so friendly with all types of animals, even though I know it’s simply because they’re too big to kill and eat :s

 

 

I think comparing Portugal with many of the other European countries I’ve been in I can say less people speak English than any other country I’ve been to. That could be down to the fact I am not in traditional tourist areas, and I tend to stay off the beaten track a lot of the time. I always manage though with the odd word, hand gestures and google translate on the phone when the going gets tough. 

Despite the language barrier I find the Portuguese friendly enough and I’ve never once felt threatened or even uncomfortable. It’s very quiet at night and although they don’t know what indicators are for the traffic is usually light. 

On the second day I was accosted by the ‘car park attendant’ again. I was not averse to giving him maybe 1 euro for the same reason I gave him 3 yesterday, until he started shouting at me the instant I left the van with the dog. He was a little loud and sticking his hand out and rubbing his finger and thumb together. The smell of stale urine and old sweat was honestly almost overpowering and I just had no time for him at all. He didn’t bother me at all the next day thankfully. 

On the last evening I was taking night shots and one of my own rules is ‘Never walk with the camera attached to the tripod.’ The reason is the tripod was not designed to have such a heavy weight attached while moving and especially when it was not upright. Neither was the camera meant to be supported by the tripod mount, it was simply meat to sit there. Of course most importantly, it’s much simpler to drop it. 

What did I do? I walked about 60 yards to set up for a night view of the Roman bridge and broke my own life long rule and left the camera attached. Of curse due to the mud etc from the flood I slipped and hit the ground hard as did the £700 lens on the front of the camera. (Karma for not giving the smelly man a €1?)
I left the shot and ran back to the van to rinse everything off. Luckily the 5DSr has good water resistant properties so a good rinse to get the mud and gravel off worked fine and there was little damage to the camera except for a scuff on the paint in 2 places. 

The lens however is buggered. The lock was off so the zoom had opened fully so when it hit the ground the zoom action was damaged. It now feels as though there’s rocks inside it when I try to zoom. The lens lock is also broken as is the hood. The lens still works but I’m unsure if auto focus is accurate so I’m just using manual til I get back to the UK and get it looked at.  My own fault? Definitely. I made that rule years ago for good reasons and broke it and the first time I ever break it this happens and could end up costing me hundreds of £’s. 

Where I stayed: Main car park in Ponte de Lima, Portugal, 41.768522, -8.585539

Anyway, here’s some photos as usual, before the lens broke!

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