593-594: Monsaraz … Men-here, but no Dogs

593 – Tuesday 10th January 2016:  Luz Museum and Monsaraz

Early morning saw a lovely mist over the lake from our stunning waterside pitch. After a peaceful night’s sleep, we ran for 3k with Oscar (who seems to have recovered from his irreverent peeing of yesterday. We brekkied and set off to visit the Museo da Luz – leaving O in charge of the van again, having ensured that K’s coffee beaker was stowed away safely this time (last time, it had been carefully placed out of the way on the table; on our return it had been Oscar-up-ended … onto a seat … coffee drained).  The highlight of the museum is definitely the film of the relocation of Luz village – the original homes were demolished for the new lake caused by the Dam. We could write a lot about this film – it’s heartrending and we can only recommend it highly to any of our motor homing friends who may visit the area…

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We were parked up by the motorhome on the shore … one of our best ever spots.  And there’s a free aire in the village.

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The Museum had info boards in English with some bare details about the dam and flooding the reservoir, but most of the information came from the film with English subtitles.  It was very moving, as people had lived in the old village all their lives.  

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The new village was an approximation of the old in terms of layout, so most people had the same neighbour.  But the houses were not the same:  there were reports of bad build quality and people were left without large fireplaces where they would smoke their slaughtered pig etc.  One improvement J spotted was that the electricity cables went underground.  Of the 400 residents that were relocated only about 200 are still alive / here.  As with all these rural villages, many young people have headed for the towns so there are many vacant cottages.

We pointed Jez in the direction of Monsaraz – another mountain town (?) we thought…  No way Jose (not Mourinho!) !  It’s that word again…stunning even on the approach. We passed the first wild parking area as we had seen vans parked up higher. Got to the turning in and balked at the narrow entrance – millimetres wider than Jez. I walked up to do a recce and enquired of the chap in the first GB van about access – Norman.  He very kindly came to our van and sat in the cockpit to guide us up a different entrance – milk of human kindness?  Now our reader(s?) will gape at this – Norman is 80 and his wife Beryl is 90 – and they are virtually full-time and have been travelling for over 22 years)!!!  How about that for inspiration, fellow bloggers? They have driven across the Pyrenees in snow with our snow chains, went to Morocco without a map, currency or Satnav and got lost, but reached the Sahara Desert and travelled 2500 km – a Moroccan man offered to buy Beryl for 2 camels and Norman had verbals with some local policemen about having taken movies of police road blocks … he stated he would have taken a pic of the Queen and suitably impressed the policeman backed down.  To be fair, Beryl was only 86 then! And it was before her stroke a couple of years back in Denmark.

We then realised it was a collection of UK vans – 5 in all with some French and NL neighbours.  The parking is just below the castle.  Lots of vanny chats – and up to the town.  360 degree views – very narrow cobbled streets – no vehicles up top. I cannot use the word stunning again, can I?  How about “Stunazing” or “Amazunning” – that might scratch the surface… By far the most impressive hill town we have seen in Portugal. K bought some more rugs for Jez because a certain K9 likes to decorate the floor with sand – but, we do our bit too.  We were only intending to stay one night but immediately increased it to two. We only saw parts of the town and not the castle.  We will walk to some menhirs tomorrow and see the Castello.

Sunset with wispy clouds to spread the light was ’stonkingerazingesque’ !

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That’s where we’re headed … of course, I’d checked the route is suitable for Jez, James!

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Views can’t get much better than this.

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The Pillory and well between two churches in the main square.

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From every side street, a view of the surrounding countryside.

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The flags are at half mast because some days ago Mario Soares died – he of the ‘Carnation Revolution’ fame that ended the rule of Dictator Salazar on 25th April 1974.   

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The reservoir is quite unlike a lake as it has many many islands on it and the coast is not smooth, unlike a glacial or river formed lake.

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594 – Wednesday 11th January:  In Search of Mehirs and Lunch

I managed to capture some sunrise photos at 7:00 am this morning – the emerging light was ‘nice’ – or maybe gorgeousness personified.  We waved goodbye to Beryl and Norman this morning – where will their next adventures be?  Wish we had a way of knowing … so inspirational.

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We walked to see some baby Stonehenge-esque Mehirs – K and O posed for photos. It’s Spring and the little lambs have sprung. We thought we would spring a little Monsaraz restaurant lunch on ourselves – no!  Each of four establishments didn’t want dogs on their terraces – dog unfriendly – loss of revenue for them – money saved for Team Jez.  Lovely homemade soup in our van and knitting chats between Katherine and Rosemary from the van next door.  

The Castle of Monsaraz beckoned and an artisan shop for one more floor rug to compliment the two we bought yesterday.

Our two day stay has been one of the most memorable experiences of many fantastic journeys. 

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One way of keeping the grass down in the vineyard.  The region has some rather good Alentejo reds.

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Is that another men-here?  No it’s a fem-here.

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Coffee between menhirs … K basking.

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Discovered in 1970 and placed atop a granite base to take it up to original height … why are they so often phallic?

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Views from the castle.

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Oscar still attracting a lot of attention; this Brazilian showing me his dogs back home.

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The castle doubles up as a bullring.

 

 

59-592: Alentejo Sines to the Hills

590 – Saturday 7th January 2017: Porto Covo and Sines

Villa Nova de Milfontes is one of the best wild camping spots we have ever had – alone, views out to sea and cliffs (lemmings on the cliffs!), the sound of waves crashing during the night – slightly reminiscent of Capo Lo Vito in south west Sicilia for the sounds of the sea…

AM – K ran (too many wild dogs around though, so retreated) and Pilate’d – I rested – not really wimping.  We are still on the coast but now in Alentejo – now itching to move inland and back up into the hills and away from most of the tourists.

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The view that greeted us in the morning.

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Yes, we really were on the cliff edge.

Porto Covo – van services and relaxing coffee – we regularly remark that these days of sun would pass for high summer in UK and most of west/northern Europe – how lucky are we?  K:  It had been raved about by several motorhomers, but was essentially a very smart and touristy one horse street.  J went to see if the amply stocked newsagents had an English speaking newspaper… it had … The Mail, which said it all.  He left empty handed.  I spoke to a British motorhomer, they’d been here a month already as they had services, some shops and the sea … what more could they want, he asked?  Something to do, thought I that is not exactly the same every day.  I did speak to a charming Frenchman (in French) and we shared good camping spots.

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Porto Covo is essentially a street down to a cliff above the sea; brimming with cafes.

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A view from Porto Covo with industrial Sines in the distance.

Sines” – how many of you have jested that you “Followed the signs to Sines sinefully and after purchasing a Sinecure (for a late night) – Signed out of Sines?  It can’t be just us, surely!  

The town is a busy working port, with offshore oil rigs,  but pretty.  Vasco de Gama was born on the top floor of the Castle – a very impressive man according to his statue – does he look a tad like Henry V!!! ? K:  the guidebooks raved about the Vasco da Gama museum in the castle, sadly it consisted of a film about his life … but only in Portuguese.  We left none the wiser. A good romp for us and Oscar along the beach, ducking under the long fishing lines the locals had cast about 40 metres to the sea from the pavements.  As we left, our road took as along and over the wide river of oil pipes inland to the refinery … they were quite a sight.

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The castle at Sines looking out over the fishing harbour.

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Vasco da Gama was born in the caste here.  His father was the equivalent of the mayor.

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From the castle looking east to the industrial port.  Whilst J was in the museum, I watched a container ship lumber by.

Our overnight intended location was Santiago do Cacem – now Colin (CoPilot SatNav) brought us unerringly to the road in question – it was closed.  Never mind, we said – go to the next town aire – OK, team?   We drove around not quite aimlessly  – the exit route was also closed – and then we spotted – the Police Station.  K hopped out and received great directions from the Duty Officer who said “Ignore the no entry signs and drive on!!!”  It took us down a dirt track with a marvellous sump damaging hump where K had to navigate me forward inch by inch, having set off, yet again, all the local barking dogs.  Our location was to the Lousal mining town – and off we sailed again.  The aire in Lousal was well paved, level and quiet on the edge of town but private, with some houses around – sorted…

Fed, Oscar walked – we settled to sleep ‘perchance to dream?’   Now then, fellow motorhomers – what are the unwritten rules about townside wilding on Saturday – local party night???   Before we are deluged with replies – the answer of course is – you don’t go there at all…  The very close barking dogs started the party (well, their party) – then the quite close (within our earshot) local bar revellers – loudly – the little motor cycles we call ‘gnats’ – racing around in their only engine gear – ‘gnattygear’.  Around 1:00 am, a car entered our parking place (we were the only van) and parked close by. I was awake anyway due to the noise and I rehearsed in my head the ‘vanevac’ rules – we always leave the driver’s seat in position – face the car park exit, etc.  The car left eventually – at 2:00 am (?) and we breathed a sigh of relief- back to bed – to sleep?  No.  

Lesson relearned – more care of wilding on Fri/Sat/Sunday nights – always and everywhere – even in the country, ‘gnatspartyville’ can come and bite you on the bum!  We were reminded of Trapani harbourside in Sicilia a year ago…


591 – Sunday 8th January:  Lousal Mine Museum and Beja

Anyway, untainted – sorry, dotnaughtied – bugger – UNDAUNTED, we left Oscar in the van and walked to the museum at 10:00 am with heavy eyes – ours, not his – he slept through all the fuss…

The Lousal Mining Museum is one of those rare gems that is not even in our guide books.  We were only here as it had an aire!   Our personal guide, Andrea who is working full time whilst studying at University for a veterinary degree (she has permission to not attend all lectures); full of enthusiasm and superb knowledge.  It was like one-to-one tuition – we learned a huge amount – Belgian owners – treated their employees brilliantly (unlike the British owners at the Sao Domingoes mines, which we visited before Christmas. There were schools, a hospital and a maternity wing.  Workers were given their houses for free until their death.  As the mine only closed in 1988, there are still ex-mining residents.  Health and Safety rules were very different, even in the 1980’s – no safety gloves, shoes or protective suits – only hard hats…  and they worked at 500m underground.

The Belgian owners still own the rights to the mine and have been heavily involved in the redevelopment of the town as a mining museum and science learning centre.  At its height, there were over 2000 residents in the town, now about 400.  So how few residents had been out last night making all that noise?

Andrea also explained that State universities expect higher grades than the private ones, and are therefore better regarded.  Every town and village had a road named after the dictator, Salazar – these have been renamed 25th April 1974 after the peaceful revolution (white carnations in gun barrels – Like :)). Students learn English in Primary school.  And how there is currently snow in the North!

K’s photos speak for themselves!  

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The electricity control centre.  It supplied the mine and the local community.
 

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All the machines were kept so they could be brought back on line if a later engine failed.  They could still be run.

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The electricity boxes just still clinging to the wall of the roofless and collapsing building that once housed the women who worked a long conveyors, smashing up the rock and separating it.  They and the menfolk consequently suffered from silicosis.  

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The Green Lagoon.

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Even kaolin was found here.

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There were two mine shafts for ore and men.  This one for ore is right beside the departing building.

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Next, Beja – capital of Lower Alentejo – nice unassuming town – highlight – amazing museum in the  ornate old Convent – cloister tiles and love letters from a lovesick nun to her French paramour, which were published in 1669 – must have made erotic reading!  Beja municipal campsite was our overnight (no free motorhome parking) – ‘basic’ facilities but adequate – I mile walk from town centre – price with electric – Euro 6.96!!!  About the price of a small glass of wine in UK?  

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The tiles in the regional Museum, former Convent, were stunning.  

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Off the ‘net, as too dark for my hand wobble pix … and sadly it doesn’t do justice to the C16 ‘azulejos’ (tiles).
 

592 – Monday 9th January:  Showers and Serpa

Due to the basic campsite facilities, we showered in our van – luxury indeed – then refilled with fresh water and off to Serpa.  

A truly beautiful town – ancient aquaduct, castle (closed) – excellent meat/veg/stew/soup lunch – lunch with orange juice, James!  Having consumed most of our Aged P visit and Christmas / New Year booze to remove temptation, we are now largely on the wagon!!!  Drinkaware App being deployed!

We had noticed a lovely outdoor Nativity  scene set in a square – Portugal doesn’t bother with taking decorations down soon after Christmas.  Oscar – in his K9ndness – peed on the Nativity scene!!!  Sorry to upset you devout believers – but – the saving grace was – he missed (thank goodness the typing key for ‘p’ is not near the ‘m’ key) the baby Jesus…  

 A lovely place to wander … pretty narrow and cobbled streets and lots of open squares.

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Walking into the centre along the aqueduct and town walls.

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The Porta de Beja with its ‘nora’, Arab water wheel won from the Moors in 1232 … amazing how the wood has lasted!

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The landscape is gently rolling hills with cork, olive trees and cattle.  The hill top towns are really only hill top mounds, but this view caught my eye.  The roof top terrace was crammed with kitsch that looked like lego.

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A really tasty half “dose” (portion) of veal and vegetable stew in one of the many squares of Serpa … and yes, not a drop of vino in sight … that is fizzy organge!

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We had to buy some and I can verify it is truly yummy, if a little whiffy.   “Perhaps the most famous traditional cheese in southern Portugal, Serpa gets its strong scent and spicy flavor from the unique climate, soil and pasture of the Alentejo region. Made from sheep’s milk, the cheese is curdled with vegetable rennet and wrapped in cloth to mature. Inside the natural rind, the flesh is so creamy that it almost spills when cut. Serpa is one of the most genuinely crafted and high quality cheeses from Portugal.”

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And a queijada da Serpa – a cheesecake sort of cake … a bit of a a gastro day.

Now to Luz…. a town completely rebuilt after the Aguavera dam flooded the area in 2002…..

We have rarely, if ever seen a more peaceful wild camping setting near major water – fairly remote – 2 other vans in a large lakeside area – completely peaceful – and a mega beautiful sunset – can our life get any better???    Not a ‘gnat’ within miles…

More about Luz and the dam in our next blog….


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Luz was rebuilt when they flooded the local area … we are right on the lake shore…. as the sun goes down.

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580-584: Still on Holiday in the Algarve

580 – Wednesday 28th December:  Luz and Cleaning

Wednesday – already?  Mega cleaning – garage unpacking and floor washing – I used the ladder with the intention of climbing on to Jez’s roof – and wimped with lack of handrails – hence no roof washing.  K reorganised lots of cupboards – result, I cannot find my – socks!  Never mind, I can ‘reorganise’ something…   Motorhomers will know -when you unpack and then repack, things don’t quite go back where they should be?  

We drove down into Praia de Luz (pronounced ‘Loose’) – is nice – but ordinary.  Just discovered that this is infamous for Madeleine McCann … K bought a cream wool cardigan from one of the street stalls, who did the sob story that she had 100 children to feed and no sales!  Full of English and the bar where we had coffee had a Portuguese / English only menu.  No dogs signs for the beach.

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Lovely rocks again along this part o the coast.

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I forgot to add this pic to the last posting … on Christmas Eve when ‘home alone’ Oscar had unwrapped one of J’s Christmas pressies … so when it came to opening his own, he was an knew exactly what to do!

And here is Shirley’s Christmas song that she wrote and performed in Christmas Evening.  Boo is one of their dogs.  

A Christmas Song (sung to the tune of “Mary’s Boy Child”)

 

We’re all having fun in Portugal

Far away from ice and snow

While friends at home sit shivering

In several degrees below

 

Katherine and James and Oscar Dog

Have travelled from afar

Their van is packed with so much stuff

They’ve had to hire a car

 

Chorus

Tapas, chicken, Christmas pud

And jolly good company

I couldn’t eat another bite

Ah, go on, it’s Christmas Day.

 

Chris and Mary have joined us here

Bringing tidings and good cheer

They also bring their cocktail skills

And plenty wine and beer

 

Mags and Shirl love to celebrate 

And any excuse will do.

Someone has a birthday today

The baby Jesus and of course Boo!

 

Chorus

 

So Happy Seventh Birthday Boo!

One of our cheeriest kids

We’ll take you for a birthday walk

And avoid the cattle grids

 

Let’s raise a glass to absent friends

And to those we hold most dear

And give thanks for this Christmas Day

And all the gifts of this year

 

Chorus

 

581 – Thursday 29th December:  High Alte in Rocha da Pena

As I write this, our Oscar dog is sitting on K’s knee sprawled across her – and loudly “snoring”!!! He’s “Osnoring! Pic to follow…

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Back on subject – Alte is a small hill town and a cold wind prevailed – We had coffee and a nice picnic lunch. 

We drove to nearby Rocha da Pena – walked for a couple of hours on a limestone ridge with some beautiful mixed wildlife – and only the end of December – Spring flowers!  We met an English couple who just bought a house here and raved about the area.  Having been coming to the Algarve for over 10 years, they’d bought in the more fertile and less populated with Brits western Algarve.  We can see why they like the hills.

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The Nossa Senhora da Assuncao containing more wonderful carvings and rare blue Sevillian painted tiles.

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The Fonte Grande in Alte, where towns folk collected water and did washing.  Now a picnic area with tiles and statues dedicated to a local poet.

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Picnic lunch:  Oscar just gets water.  And yes, he’s up on the bench.

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Yummy Portugese custard tarts … warm.

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We’re going up there?

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We made it!  Wonderful views.

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A ridge dated from the Iron Age and used as part of a defence system by the Moors.

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Would that be ANOTHER stick, Oscar?

 582 – Friday 30th December:  Crumbling Cliffs in Carvoeiro

Lonely Planet describes Carvoeiro as a “cluster of whitewashed buildings rising up from tawny, gold and green cliffs backed by hills.”  Seemed like a good idea to walk along the cliff to a light lunch in the town …

Stunning scenery along the cliff walk – a walk which would have been banned by the HSE in the UK – but it was doable….. just.  Having scrabbled and largely kept Oscar on the lead as he has no sense regarding staying away from the crumbling cliff edge, we decided the cliff path was exhilarating, but just getting to the town was excitement enough.  We would go back to the car by road!

We met an English family in town – why Oscar’s fur feel funny?  That would be because K gave him a mega short crew cut!  She told the young lad that as a teacher she used to ‘improperly’ stroke the head of any students with new crew cuts … !?!  We explained about his origins – most questions came from a 10-year-old boy who lives in France and is completely bilingual. Oscar’s non-verbal communication is – ‘globalingual’.  The inevitable ice creams just launched themselves at us from a shop – yummy indeed.   Loads of hugely upmarket villas here. 

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So much new rock fall so fresh colours. 

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We hugged the fence on the left clambering up.

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Caves washed out from under where we’d walked!  Just ready for a big wave and then another part of the cliff will come crashing down!

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A recent landfall.

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No sex please, we’re British!  Saturday and Sunday are named, but Monday to Friday get numbers, starting with number two.
 

583 – Saturday 31st December: New Year’s Eve

K was lying in bed – and had a brainwave – I thought she was looking romantically at me with intent – she was gazing at the roof light thinking ‘”can I stuff my hubby up there?”  She can stuff the knocking out of me anytime… Let’s knock the knocking on the head now, James… We both crawled out through the romantic roof light and – cleaned the roof thoroughly (had a romantic kiss up there) and then cleaned the bodywork too – a very satisfying afternoon. 

The gorgeous girlies Shirls and Mags kindly drove us to the New Year fireworks in Lagos after a prandialissimo ‘KHC’ (K Haut Cuissine’.  Now Ocsardog doesn’t like noise – if somebody sneezes, he wonders where the earthquake is!  When the wireforks started, he commenced his quivering – and our bravest team member – the Rt Hon Member for Oscarbury in South Gloucestershower – retreated with O to a nearby bar and forced herself to drink port!!!   

“Bo Anno” to all our friends and families – everywhere…

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More help with my Pilates – at one point Oscar’s little Dutch friend Fluffy was helping too.

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584 – Sunday 1st December: Barragem Bravura Walk

The old braincells were in 2nd gear after a wonderful night with some Vino Collapso – thus our perambulations around the Baragem Bravura were cut somewhat short.  We do work in sync – we both weren’t feeling the planned mega trek.  How long shall we walk for?  10 mins, no make it 20 then we’ll turn.  We retreated to Jezville and barbecued  – and then to early zzzzburgh…. not even a wirecog!

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Barragem Bravura.

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Is it time to turn around?


Oscar is our second Welsh Springer Spaniel … even though he is most un Spaniel like.  

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Our Oscar.

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And I dug out a pix of our last Welsh Springer, Will the Wuss.  Oscar is definitely more butch and heavier set.