Week 4 - On the road again.

5th - 11th November 2017 (plus some bits before)

Week 4, seems strange to call it that as it’s actually week 7 if you count from the start of this adventure. However we have been at home (we call Little Henham home when we are in UK) for three weeks during which time if I listed all the problems we have had, caravan heating packing up, partial electrical failure on the car etc., etc., etc., you would all be in tears it is so tragic.

So we will confine those weeks to the dark, the very darkest, recesses of our memory and week 4 it is, as a bonus I am including bits of the last few days of last week, week 3 or should that be week 6 . . . . . 

We had stayed in the UK later than usual in order to attend the wedding of nephew Mark to Jaquie, a splendid day at the Leez Priory that the couple truly deserved. A great start to what we hope and trust will be a long and happy life together.

M & J Wedd - Pic 1.jpg

The exchange of rings - photo © R S Ghost

From Little Henham we moved to Chapel Farm CL, it was the closest site to Basildon we could find so that we could unload a few last minute items and then, after a  24 hour delay caused by gridlock on the worlds biggest free car park - the M25 - we set off to Exeter Race Course Camping Club Site where we overnighted before continuing on to Plymouth Ferry Port for our crossing to Santander.

Plymouth Ferry Port is not the easiest to get to as trucks, motorhomes and car/caravans must follow a route that seems to take you through the city via crowded roads requiring frequent lane changes, fine for confident, pushy drivers like me who consider that with a total rig length of 41 ft other drivers should avoid me not ‘tother way round but probably a bit intimidating if you are less confident when towing. The ferry we were booked on was the Pont-Aven, what Brittany Ferries call their “flagship” ferry which was easy and roomy to board after waiting till almost everyone else had been loaded, a pain but, as with most ferries, it is last on first off.

We have been having the more de-lux cabins for crossing over the last year or two, partly because of Sue’s increased susceptibility to seasickness and partly because as we get older we increasingly value the extra comfort. On this occasion we booked a “Commodore class” cabin the poshest yet, a sleeping area with twin beds, a separate sitting area with sofa, small armchairs and desk and best of all a private balcony complete with teak table and chairs and, by chance, on the sunny side of the ship.

One of the main advantages of the cabin didn’t manifest until we approached the dock. In every crossing we have made so far we have been required to vacate the cabin up to an hour before docking, this time although a staff member came and took away all the laundry we were invited to stay in our cabin until the ship was tied up in Santander at which point we walked through a deserted ship, took an empty lift down to the garage deck and within a few minutes of arriving at the car was driving off the ferry - so easy, so civilised and only 195km to our first Spanish campsite Kemping Red De Haro Kemping.

Haro is the capitol town of the district of La Rioja, the most famous wine growing region of Spain. The town has been at the centre of the wine industry for many centuries, indeed it was from Haro that the French wine makers bought vines when in the 1860’s the phylloxera epidemic destroyed most of the vineyards for wine grapes in Europe, most notably in France, whilst vines from the Haro area were unaffected until the late 1880’s. It was during this period that French winemakers realised that using French techniques the quality of the wine produced in Rioja could surpass the great vintages of France. Of course being tight we will not spend the dosh necessary to get that quality of wine as so far we have bought just three bottles of Rioja the first at €1.85 (£1.64) and the other two at €1.09 (£0.97) each, and surprise surprise all three were very drinkable.

We visited the Vivanco Winery in Briones. The Vivanco family have been making wine in La Rioja for four generations since the early 1900’s. They have purchased a lot of land and built a number of wineries since the start all of which are still owned and run by the family but the jewel in the crown is the Briones winery modern and built with oak fermenting vessels by a French company and although it has a small number of stainless steel fermenting vessels where it produces white and rose wines the bulk of its production is aged red wine. The two mainstays are a “Crianza”, which must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 12 months, and be two years old before sale, “Reserva” must also be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of a year and a minimum of three years old before sale

Vivanco Winery is the only winery in the region that use only grapes from their own vineyards, they age “Crianza” for 18 months in oak barrels and with a further six months ageing in the bottle and “Reserva” for two and a half years in the oak barrels with another six in the bottle. We tried both in the tasting room after the tour and they were very tasty too!!

Attached to the winery is a large very impressive museum which houses the Vavanco family collection of all things wine. We were told to allow 1.1/2 hours for our visit but stayed the best part of three hours.

It was rather late by the time we left the winery tour so the next day we went back for a few bottles one of which we drank that night with our roast beef dinner - fantabulous!!!

The weather has been pretty awful since we arrived here it has rained for either all or part of every one of the six days. Such a shame because in this area the vines are not pruned immediately after harvest as in some regions. The leaves are left to shed naturally then the pruning done in January so the area now is a huge carpet of green, red, gold and yellow as the vine leaves adopt their autumn colours. We are told it’s a stunning site when looked on from one of the high villages in the mountains that surround the area. We can’t see the mountains or the villages just the low, low cloud, and as for seeing the valleys below them. . .

Got up this morning and although cloudy the rain has stopped so after getting a load of washing done (well Sue did) we set of to visit a local Cathedral of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, whose main claim to fame is a miracle that involves a roast chicken coming back life not unlike that of the Portuguese legend of the Rooster of Barcelos. In 1350 Pope Clemente VI granted a dispensation to allow live animals to be kept in the church and a hen and a rooster have been kept there ever since (not the same ones of course) in a cage built high in the church. The birds looked happy and in good condition so we must assume the birds we saw are short term internees from a larger free range group.

It was quite pleasant when we left the cathedral, virtually clear blue skies and warm sunshine. We searched our maps and found a circular route around green roads that looked as if they may just take us high enough see the vineyard autumn colours from above. It was a stunning drive, we rose 1862 m (6109 ft) above sea level, thats nearly twice the height of Mount Snowden’s summit. Sadly by the time we started the serious climbing the cloud started to roll back in and by the time we reached the highest point we were enveloped in cloud, all we could do was play in the snow as we could could not see anything of what we are assume were magnificent views all around us.

© S W Ghost 2017