Walking and camping around the Algarve

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The view from Foia, the highest point on the Algarve

We eventually reached the Algarve, the southern part of Portugal and although we did spend some time on the coast, we also explored the inland area of the Algarve and continued to find some good walking options, particularly in the Serra de Monchique, the wooded chain of hills in the south-western tip of Portugal.  The highest point of the Serra de Monchique is Foia at 902 metres above sea level.  This isn’t the prettiest summit, with telecommunication masts and a radar station dotted around the plateau but turn your back on the masts and it is a great viewpoint over the Algarve.  We wild camped here overnight and it is a peaceful spot once the cafe and gift shops have closed and we watched a spectacular sunset from our lofty spot.  At the summit there is an information board with details for the Trilho da Foia PR3 path which is 6.5 kms long and follows stone tracks beside well constructed terraces and ruined barns with shady stretches under chestnut and walnut trees.  The path winds steeply downhill, traverses along the road [and passes a couple of cafe stops] and ends with a knee-trembling climb back up to the summit.

The second highest summit in the Serra de Monchique is Picota at 774 metres high.  By contrast this is a more attractive summit than Foia with just a rickety look-out tower on the granite top.  The well-marked walk up to the hilltop is cool and shady through orange groves, cork oak and eucalyptus trees and is a perfect half-day excursion.  From the top the view across the town of Monchique to the wooded slopes of Foia is worth the climb.

We moved on to the lively and charming town of Silves, staying on one of the many aires in the town which has long been popular with motorhomers.  Here we followed a walk from the Sunflower Walking in the Algarve guide book that takes in the old windmill above the town.  This is an excellent view point back to Silves and its castle and over the green Arade river valley.

We don’t make repeat visits to many places when we are in continental Europe but we made an exception for Serpa and headed there as we moved back north away from the Algarve.  Serpa proved you can go back to places you love; I still think this small town in the Alentejo punches well above its weight.  The municipal campsite is very good, the local sheep’s cheese is sharp, fresh-tasting and excellent, the local pastries, Queijadas de Serpa are delicious and the pretty town has a relaxed atmosphere that easily detained us for a few days.

But our time in lovely Portugal is running out …

10.09 Sand sculptures and Silves (48)
The old windmill above Silves
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Swinton cemetery: #surprisingsalford #23

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Swinton Cemetery in the sunshine

Wandering through the residential streets of Swinton in Salford on a sunny afternoon recently I stumbled across Swinton Cemetery.  The cemetery creates a beautiful square that is surrounded by housing.  The rows of graves are neatly arranged and the trees provide colour and shade.  There is a small red brick mortuary chapel within the cemetery.  This beautiful, peaceful and neat cemetery has been used for burials since 1886 and is still in use today.

Today the cemetery includes the re-interred remains of over 300 burials from the previous Unitarian Church in Swinton that was closed and demolished in 1985.  The burial ground land was undisturbed until 2013 when the land became part of a development for a new supermarket.  The development caused considerable concern locally.  The Unitarian burial ground included a war grave and the graves of three men who lost their lives in the Clifton Hall Colliery Disaster in 1885.

In his book From Salford to Tucson and Back Again, Robert Carter describes his childhood in Swinton in the 1960s and a character on his street who was the gravedigger at Swinton Cemetery.  This man always wore clogs that ‘clanked as he walked’ and owned a scary black dog that would walk a few yards behind the gravedigger often with a piece of meat in its jaws, apparently to tenderise the meat.

 

 

 

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

Being a good Ebay seller: My top tips

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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

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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

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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.

 

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The aqueduct in Segovia