Walking in central Portugal top tips

09.26 Serra da Estrela drive (26).JPG
Near the highest point of the Serra da Estrela at 1,993 metres

The Serra da Estrela are another of Portugal’s inland secrets, although no secret to the Portuguese as they are known for Torre, Portugal’s highest mainland point.  You can drive up to Torre and it isn’t the most stunning mountain top but there are plenty of places in the Serra da Estrela to find excellent and peaceful walking.  Our campsite near Gouveia on the western slopes of the natural park was an idyllic spot and also well organised with a folder of instructions in English for twelve local walks [more than enough even for us].  We had a perfect day’s walking, firstly to the top of Gravanho with a distinctive white trig point and then on to Folgosinho, the second highest village in Portugal, a sleepy place on a hot Monday afternoon where the most activity was at the newly renovated communal wash house.  We didn’t meet any other walkers all day on the sandy tracks and cobbled paths through pine and chestnut trees as well as fig, apple and walnut trees.  Descending from Folgosinho we passed the remains of a tungsten mine.  Mining and selling this rare metal bought prosperity to the area during the first and second world wars.

After a few days walking from a small and comfortable campsite near Meruge where the campsite dogs who accompanied us on a walk helped us spot a mole and a day of culture in Coimbra we crossed the river Tejo [or Tagus] and headed towards the border with Spain.  The scenery changed, to rolling plains, straighter roads, fields of cattle and olive groves as far as the eye can see.  We found a perfect campsite a few kilometres outside the lovely town of Castelo de Vide and were almost overwhelmed by the information on local walks and attractions that the helpful owner loaned us during our stay [campsite owners note, this meant we stayed longer than intended].  From the site we followed medieval paths over the hill to Castelo de Vide where we walked between some of the town’s many fountains, sampling the water from each one.  This was a great area for bird watching and we spotted a little owl, griffon vultures, fire crest, black cap, sardinian warblers, blue rock thrushes and many others.

Portugal is a land of castles and these Spanish border towns all have their own.  In Castelo de Vide the stone walls enclose the old town of white-washed houses and you can climb up to the tower for the view, walking along the apex of a roof and climbing steps with no handrails.  This is the beautiful Parque Natural da Serra de Sao Marmede  and there is plenty to see.  Another superb day out started with a taxi ride to the picture postcard lofty village of Marvao and after exploring the village and inevitable castle we walked back along the old lanes.

Near the interesting town of Evora is the Almendres stone circle with 95 standing stones in two circles, one inside the other.  The circle is in a woodland clearing on a hillside with a view of Evora in the distance.  The 4 kms track to the stone circle is a fairly well-made sandy track but we decided to cycle to the stone circle, rather than drive the ‘van up the track.  The cycling was hot and dusty in the lunchtime temperatures of over 30C but arriving in this way gave us a better sense of the landscape the stone circle sits in than if we had driven in our air-conditioned van there.

09.30 Castelo de Vide walk (43).JPG
Looking down on the winding streets of Castelo de Vide from the castle tower
Advertisements

Being a good Ebay seller: My top tips

P1090100
Bags packed at the West Somerset Railway

I would certainly not claim to be the best Ebay seller there is but I have a lot of experience.  My current score on Ebay is 1,484 transactions and I have 100% positive feedback.  I have been an Ebay member since 2004 and 981 of these feedback ratings are for items I sold on to someone.  When we were down-sizing I sold all our surplus stuff on Ebay and when a relative died I sold the contents of their house, including a few hundred ornaments, 175 pictures, loads of furniture and a dozen tea sets on Ebay.

Friends have got to know about my expertise as an Ebay seller and occasionally I sell something for a friend and more often I have been asked for tips on how to be a successful seller, so here are my top tips:

Is it worth selling? – Ask yourself, is this something you would like to buy yourself, is it in good enough condition to sell, is it useful for parts or is it so unusual someone might just want it?  Just because you no longer want an item it doesn’t mean it isn’t useful to someone else but check it for damage as disappointed buyers will leave negative feedback.

Photographs – Take time over your photographs, think about the background, the lighting and the arrangement.  This is your shop window and you should make it look as attractive as possible or as informative as possible.  With tech items it is worth photographing the detail, model numbers etc and if an item has some damage a clear photograph of this can help to show you are honest and sell the item.

Use the whole word-count in your item title – Ebay will tell you that items with longer titles sell better, so give as much information as you can fit in the title.  Make sure you include the size or model number, if relevant, in your title so that browsing buyers can pick yours out from the list.

Do your research – Find out how much the sort of items you are selling might sell for on Ebay by checking out the completed listings in the advanced search settings.  Sometimes things are listed at high prices but they never sell.  These completed listings will help inform where to start an auction or what price to ask.  Your research should also reveal as much as you can about an item.  When I started selling my relative’s ornaments I knew nothing about Italian figurines but I quickly learnt.  If you have receipts for an item these may provide additional detail.

Descriptions – Put in as much detail as you can in the description.  Always include actual measurements [I have lost count of how many Ebay sellers I have had to contact regarding the measurements of an item] but cover yourself by telling buyers these measurements are approximate.  Be honest about any damage on the item and don’t sell anything you wouldn’t want to buy yourself.  Tell buyers how old an item is and how much it has been used.  We sold our high quality back-packing tent on Ebay and although I said how much it had been used and how long we had owned it I still got a very good price for it.  I think it helps buyers to feel confident by telling them why you are selling; for example I might say I am having another clear out or a spring clean or I have lost weight and this item no longer fits me or that my interests have changed.  It is also helpful to tell potential buyers if your item is from a smoke and pet-free home.

Posting and packing – Consider whether an item can be posted or if it is only suitable for collection.  Home collection can be inconvenient for you [as you have to be in] and limits your number of buyers plus someone will always ask if you can post something to them.  If possible always offer a postage option but this will mean you need to ensure you have suitable packing materials and with delicate items you can’t skimp on these.  Make sure you check the postage cost as the Royal Mail charge on size as well as weight.  When I was selling the hundreds of fragile china ornaments we bought double-wall boxes, bubble wrap and packing chips in bulk and I packed each item with care, this packaging took time and cost money and was reflected in the packing charges.  Despite travelling across the world everything arrived in one piece.  At other times I keep packaging from parcels I receive and recycle these keeping costs down.  All that said, I offered many of the 175 pictures from the walls of my relatives home and some of the bric-a-brac as themed lots of around eight to ten pictures [all the cherub pictures, all the floral ones etc] and people collected these.  These lots were attractive to dealers and I arranged a number of collections on the same day and displayed other items I hadn’t listed on Ebay and managed to sell a number of these to buyers.  Buyers like free postage and packing and this can make sense for buy-it-now sales, although of course you have to add the cost of P&P in to your listed price.

Auction or Buy-it-Now – Ebay has got much smarter at recommending whether you should offer an item on buy-it-now or auction [although it isn’t always right].  In general I find that unusual technical or collector items are best as an auction as guessing the price these will reach can be difficult and they sometimes fetch more than you expected.  I often get asked if I will change an auction to buy-it-now and I am willing to do this if there are no bids and they are offering what seems a fair price.  I do often have to tell potential buyers that I am not prepared to end an item that someone is already bidding on just so that they can buy it immediately.  Also be aware; some buyers may ask for a buy-it-now option and then not actually buy it.  Buyers need to know that as soon as you have changed an auction to buy-it-now anyone can buy the item; sometimes buyers are not quick enough and miss out.  I have had good success with the best offer option on buy-it-now auctions.  I have accepted fair offers or suggested a counter offer when something has been listed for a few days and I can see there is little interest.

Length of your auction – This has to fit in with you, so that you can post an item as soon after it has been paid for as you can, but it also needs to reflect the type of item it is.  Something unusual is better left on for ten-days, for example the rare tank regiment drinking glasses I sold were not something that is offered on Ebay everyday and it took time for everyone interested to find them.  Other items are more common place and can be listed for just a few days.  Ending auction items during the day on weekdays can limit working buyers from bidding and ending auctions early on Sunday morning isn’t always wise but as you might be selling to people in different time-zones [see below] this is complicated.

Posting abroad – It is worth considering posting abroad for collectors and unusual items.  Many of the ornaments I sold in 2014 went to Russia but others went to Italy, the Netherlands, the USA and Australia; collectors of particular items can live anywhere.

Questions – I often get asked questions about an item and I strive to answer these as quickly as possible and as accurately as possible.  Sometimes these questions are about something that I should have included in the listing and I will then publish the question on the listing for other buyers to see.  Answering these questions clearly and efficiently demonstrates that you are a reliable Ebay seller and helps to give a buyer confidence in you.

Communication – I always write a personal post card and place it in each parcel I send to an Ebay buyer, I might tell them a story about the item they are buying or just express gratitude for their business and hope they enjoy using the item.  Many buyers appreciate this and mention it in my feedback.  Using Ebay’s messaging I also tell buyers that I have received their payment and when I am posting their item and the method of postage so that they know when to expect it.  I always post items when I say I will as reliability is important.  I leave feedback after I have posted an item and I politely ask buyers to consider leaving feedback for me.

Happy Ebay selling and I am sure I have missed all sorts of stuff out of these tips so if you have any questions just ask!

 

Walking and cycling tips for northern Portugal

09.13 Ermida cycle ride (26)
The mountain village of Ermida

We started our tour of Portugal in the north with an intention to gradually move south.  The Peneda-Geres National Park is in the north-western corner of Portugal and offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor pursuits.  We based ourselves in two places in the national park; firstly in Entre Ambos-os-Rios at Lima Escape, a shaded informal campsite by the river that was €13 a night and later in Parque Cerdeira in Campo de Geres, which at €23 a night was a tad expensive for us and much more regimented.  Both had good walks from the campsite and we also did some uphill cycling from Entre Ambos-os-Rios.  Lima Escape had good information about walking at reception.

On our walks we visited the granite villages of Sobredo, Germil and Ermida and we also travelled up to the picturesque hillside village of Sistelo.  In all of these villages the streets are narrow winding paved lanes and the old grey granite houses have small windows and often have steps up to the first floor with the newer houses built around the edges of the village hub.  These are agricultural villages and grapes and corn are the main crops grown on terraces lined with stone walls, the grapes often grown along pergolas over the road or around the field edges.  The corn cobs are dried in espigueiros, sheds sitting on stone legs to keep animals away, and the corn stalks are dried in stacks for animal feed.  The local horned caramel-coloured cows wander the lanes along with dogs and cats and small flocks of sheep.  We cycled to Ermida, only 8 kms along the road but the ride involves over 400 metres of ascent and some of this over 10%.  Weary and thirsty we searched out the village cafe finding it only because we noticed a couple of men chatting outside an open door.  There was no cafe name or sign, no tables with umbrellas, nothing to give it away as a cafe until we got inside and spotted the crates of beer and coffee machine.

From Campo de Geres we used a leaflet bought from the information centre for 10 cents and followed a 9 kms way-marked trail through the mountains and down to the reservoir where we had spectacular views and the route followed a Roman road that was busy with butterflies.  The information centre at Campo de Geres is well worth a visit as it has a number of self-guided walking leaflets available.

Away from the national park we stayed in the small town of Arco de Baulhe.  The campsite overlooks the river and terraces of vines and the work-a-day Portuguese town [that is no less pleasant for that] is just five minutes walk away.  For cyclists Arco de Baulhe is at the end of 40 kms long cycle route along an old railway line which provides excellent and scenic cycling along the river Tamega.  The tile below is one that decorates the public toilets next to the old railway station.  All of the old railway stations along the route have beautiful tiling and I had to stop and admire every one.

09.18 Walk around Arco de Bauhle (5)
Portuguese tiles are always worth stopping to look at

 

Livia Silverdale: #surprisingsalford #22

Livia Silverdale.JPG
Spring flowers at Livia in Silverdale

In 2007 the Manchester Evening News reported that Salford was getting its own version of Central Park.  I have never been to Central Park in New York but it must be a point to debate whether the regeneration of this former brown field site quite managed to meet this extravagant aspiration.  That said, the Lower Irwell Valley Improvement Area [Livia] is an improvement on the previous derelict site, joining together a number of smaller green spaces that give wildlife the green corridors that allow them to move around in.

Livia is in Pendlebury and lies between the railway line and Bolton Road and is surrounded by housing.  The 1950s map shows the land was previously Newton Colliery with some farms surviving at that time.  There is a public art memorial to the colliery on a grassy corner of Bolton Road and Queensway.

The regeneration created woodland and wild flower areas and the whole park is criss-crossed by a network of winding footpaths.  There are some sculptures and structures that are now overgrown and it seemed to me that there is currently little management of the area ongoing.  The green space seems to be mostly used as a route away from the traffic between home and the main road for local people.  Even on a sunny day it was quiet here and the wildlife are probably all the happier for that.

 

 

Touring and walking around northern Spain

09.01 Canyon de Rio Lobos walk (33).JPG
In the beautiful Rio Lobos Canyon

After arriving in Bilbao on the ferry we immediately drove inland to explore parts of Spain we hadn’t reached before.  We were heading for the Canyon of the Rio Lobos Nature Park but took some detours along the way, driving through the vineyards of Rioja and seeking out the fascinating dinosaur footprints north of Soria near the village of Enciso, where over 1,400 footprints have been recorded [obviously some more impressive than others].

At the visitors centre of the Canyon of the Rio Lobos our Spanish was tested to beyond its limits as we discussed options for walking with a member of staff.  As far as we could tell he seemed to be insistent in talking us out of taking the Gullurias footpath, as he said this just went through lots of woodland and was not worth following, but maybe we lost something in translation.  The circular path does take a route through varied woodland at first before reaching a stunning view point over the limestone cliffs of the canyon.  The path then descends in to the canyon and follows the river back to the visitors centre.  It is a fantastic walk and if you find yourself here just go for it.  We camped near Ucero and also walked up to the spectacular castle overlooking the village and on another day cycled in to the canyon beyond the hermitage where the paths are quieter and the canyon is narrower and greener.

Many of you will have heard our plans to visit the three cities of Segovia, Salamanca and Toledo on this trip.  Segovia came first and it was stunning but it also helped us recognise that we didn’t want to spend all our time sightseeing in cities and Toledo soon got dropped from the list for this trip.  Instead we spend a few blissful days in the Sierra de Gredos regional reserve.  In the sunshine we cycled along the old drove roads and walked up to a glacial lake.  Leaving the high ground, we drove along the river Jerte through fields of cherry trees and as the altitude decreased the weather got hotter.  With temperatures in the mid-30s we only spent a day in the Monfrague National Park, known for the variety and numbers of birds, before heading north again.

Salamanca stayed in the plan and we couldn’t have timed it better [absolute chance], arriving at the start of the Festival of Santa Maria de la Vega, the patron saint of Salamanca who intervened to save the city from ransacking in 1706 during the war of the Spanish succession.  On our first evening we joined the throng, many in the elaborate national costume, at a flower-based ceremony outside the cathedral and then to watch fireworks over the river.  The campsite is an easy 6 kms cycle ride away from the city centre allowing us to go back and forth and visit the city over a number of relaxing days.  We enjoyed the peaceful setting of the two-storey and five-sided cloisters in the Convento de las Duenas, where we also bought a box of cakes the nuns bake.  Mostly we wandered around the city awestruck at the elegance of the sandstone buildings and dreamed of living in a flat with shutters at the window and a balcony overlooking one of the city’s plaza.

 

09.03 Segovia (79).JPG
The aqueduct in Segovia

 

Our plan to avoid obsessive parking behaviour with our campervan

2017 July August Scotland (65) Burrwick.JPG
Parked at the lovely harbour at Burwick on South Ronaldsay Orkney

I am obsessed with my campervan and the vanlife and it is my fourth love [after Mr BOTRA, son and daughter-in-law] what I am trying to avoid is an obsession that leads to anxiety every time we park up the ‘van.  It isn’t surprising really that in the seven-weeks since we had our campervan returned to us I still get that sick feeling of panic in my stomach regularly when I remember seeing our lovely campervan roll down the Greek slope and hit a wall.  Even though we fortunately were not in the ‘van when the incident happened, these feelings of panic are worse when I am in the camper and we are parked on a bit of a gradient, in my head I can start to feel that the ‘van is moving and I am gripped by anxiety.  On our trip to Scotland I kept waking in the night [everything is worse in the dark] and eventually I would have to get up and check that we had left the van securely in gear.

We have thought about buying chocks to hold the ‘van but these would take up space and I know in my rational mind that when the handbrake is fully on and the Renault is in gear it won’t go anywhere.

Clearly being in the ‘van should be relaxing rather than anxiety-creating and we needed to come up with a way to stop this pattern of behaviour.  We have now developed a routine to follow every time we park up that we hope will ease the anxiety.  The handbrake will be engaged and the van will be put in gear and then we chorus, ‘reverse gear engaged’ or ‘first gear engaged,’ depending on the direction of the slope, no matter how slight this slope is.  We laugh as we do this as we feel pretty stupid but hope that by voicing the procedure we will remember that it is done and we can then both either leave the ‘van confidently or relax while we sit in it, certain that we have made the van safe.

What we want to avoid is sleepless nights [for me, Mr BOTRA is anxiety-free] or finding ourselves a mile or two in to a walk and starting to have doubts as we ask each other if we can remember putting the ‘van in gear.  This self-imposed torture would end up with the absurd situation of us running back to the ‘van just to check and we would never be relaxed.

 

Caithness in northern Scotland, so much to see

2017 July August Scotland (159) Duncansby Head.JPG
Dramatic sea stacks at Duncansby Head

We had raced through Caithness on our way up to Orkney and we were determined to linger on the return leg of our trip as there were so many things we wanted to stop and see along the way.  Of course, we climbed up Morven, the highest point in Caithness, and that was certainly a fantastic day but we did plenty of things that required less exertion.  The coastal scenery of Caithness is hard to beat.  The sea stacks at Duncansby Head on the north-easterly tip of Scotland are dramatic and worth the mile or two of walking from the lighthouse to see them.  We also visited Dunnet Head, mainland Britain’s most northerly point, where after a wet morning the sun started to emerge and sea mist flowed over the cliffs; the beauty of it was mesmerising.

Following the coast we sought out some of the historical sights of Caithness.  In the cliffs south of Wick are Whaligoe Steps, 330 flagged steps that zig-zag down to a rocky harbour inlet.  The climb up and down the steps is beautiful in summer, surrounded by wild flowers and with views down to the harbour.  The steps date back to the late 18th century and the harbour was used until the 1960s.

Inland we took the single-track road to the remote Loch of Yarrows Archaelogical Trail, which was a bit damp under-foot after the rain and where there are ruins of burial cairns and a broch.  I learnt that stones in Caithness are not arranged in circles, they have rows and U-shaped arrangements.  We wandered around the 22 rows of short stones [less than one metre high] of the Mid Clyth stone row and at Loch Stemster we  walked the U of the isolated Achavanich Standing Stones.

We explored more recent history at Badbea, north of Helmsdale.  The stones that mark the houses of the former village are perched on rough and steep hillside above the cliffs.  Why would anyone choose to live in this spot that has no shelter from the north sea winds you wonder?  The interpretation boards told me that this wasn’t a choice.  In 1840 the people were cleared from their farms in the valleys to make way for sheep and this inhospitable land was all that was available.  The people tried to scratch a living but within 60 years they had all left and the ruined buildings are now a reminder of how rich landowners exploit and mis-treat the people.

2017 July August Scotland (181) Whaligoe Steps
The bottom of Whaligoe Steps