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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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…
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.
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 , Pays-de-la-Loire, France, 49100, 47.47717, -0.55738
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.
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
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
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.
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!
I did say I was staying around for market day and although Trip advisor said it was 9 am til 11 am on Sundays, market day is actually all day Saturday in Vila Nova de Cerveira. (Which I’ve found out means New Town of the Deer.) It’s well worth going in search of the deer up the mountain too 😉
The very large car park where all the motorhomes park was blocked off this morning with bollards: both the entry and exit. I saw one lad carrying a bit of fence along so I watched where he went and he was parked in a car on some waste ground that adjoins the carpark. He was putting up a sign that said people had to pay. So, block off the free, town car park, then open up waste ground and charge people for parking there? There has to be reasoning behind that but I’ve no idea what it might be.
Anyway I took Jack for a nice walk then left him in the van as markets aren’t the best environments for small dogs. They’re crowded and bustling and he could easily be stepped on so he was left in the van with a nice chicken strip to chew on. I got such an accusing look from him too. I half expected to come back and find something chewed lol
I made this panorama shot so you can see just how big it is. The scale of the vans in the centre of the photo gives you an idea as they are quite large vans. It was designed with plenty of room though so although it was busy and crowded I never felt hemmed in. I noticed a monotonous regularity of stalls though as I went round. There were only a dozen or so different types of things for sale, but repeated a dozen times. The prices on each stall were pretty much the same too so if a pan was €200 on one stall, it’s price didn’t very by more than a euro or two on the other ones. Jeans were common for €10 and shirts for €14, and each stall that sold them was pretty much the same price. Leather goods I noted were fairly inexpensive and that’s the first time I’ve seen that. Belts however were still silly prices with the cheapest one I saw being €15 for a very plain and simple belt.
As I walked round it was apparent people were haggling though. I did see one man haggling about a €10 pair of jeans lol Maybe it’s just what they do? I wanted a wire brush on a long stalk for some of the cleaning and rust proofing I’m doing to the van. I got a fairly robust one with brass bristles for only €2.50 which was a good price. I had one out of Poundland some time ago but it was rubbish and became useless very quickly. When I pretended to brush my beard with it and made a satisfied face and put a thumb up at the stall holder his face was a picture 🙂 Oh and a lady who was selling me a new wallet and haggling for all she was worth let off the longest fart I’ve ever known! She did not bat an eyelid and did not break stride with her chatter (whatever the heck she was saying) and even when I put my finger over my nostrils she simply knocked €1 off and wrote the new price on a piece of paper lol If anyone’s wondering I got it for €10 and as long as it is really leather than it’s a good price cos it’s exactly what I wanted.
Wild dogs and Englishmen
An Englishman came up today to say hello. First time that’s happened to me I think in all the years I’ve been travelling. I was working on replacing the rocker cover gasket but sadly I don’t have the right tool for the bolts. It’s becoming increasingly apparent though that the head gasket might really be gone, so I may as well start biting the bullet and saving money up for this to be done. It’s a fairly large job and the garage in Germany wanted to do it for €2000! lol Anyway we had a good chat about all sorts so it was nice to meet you Martin and Pam.
At least I got the exhaust sealed up properly and the EGR valve seated correctly so that’s a step forward. So, my mission until returning to the UK in April is save money so I can get the head done when I get back there.
This is a pretty town with good enough shops and plenty of nice walks so I may stay around for another week. I’m off work this week so I can do as I like and maybe explore for a bit.
So, I drove at night to get to Portugal, and my Monzo card failed at the toll booths YET again Grr! But to be fair so did 2 Nationwide bank cards and a Santander bank card and my Revolut and Tesco cards. I was told in one shop today that they only accepted Portugese cards! Hmmm.
Anyway as Monzo doesn’t have any security on the app on the phone I’ve decided to stop using it. What’s that got to do with being in Portugal? Nothing really!
But this little town is lovely. It’s just what you expect from an old Portugese town and although it’s small, it’s really nice to wander around. Wednesday is my first night off work so I’m going to have a try of some of the little cafes and restaurants and bars over a few days.
I found an amazing shop called Hiper Bazar where everything is dirt cheap, and they sell everything. I got a new ceiling lamp for the loft, new cable cutters, a brass brush for the drill, 2 new hose fittings and a few other things all for €12. I may even go back again and see what else they have haha
The van doesn’t seem to be using any less fuel now the exhaust is fixed, and when I first start up there is still that smell of exhaust comes through to the cabin area. I might strip down the EGR valve and pipe connections again and make sure they are all sealed and fastened correctly. Also at idle it’s rattling so I wonder if they’ve loosened the heat shield or something.
Anyway I found the aire ok and there’s tons of room so I think I’ll stay here at least til the weekend. It’s bloody raining as usual so maybe if I wait it out I might get a sunny day if I’m lucky!
Where I stayed: Vila Nova de Cerveira, Viana do Castelo, Portugal, 4920. N41.938103, W8.746711 Free with waste dump and fresh water.