The rush along the coast was worth it when Margaret and John arrived in La Coruña in time for her birthday on the 1st October. They had flown into Santiago de Compestela on the Saturday and had booked a hotel there for the weekend. This was partly because they wanted to see the beautiful city of Santiago, but also because, in arranging visits, it isn’t always possible for us to be somewhere by a certain date, and they wanted to make sure that they had a bed when they got to Spain! Just think of how long it took us to get out of the English Channel! The weather had deteriorated a little and we had a couple of dull days at the beginning of the week, but that didn’t diminish our enjoyment of having some company again.
The city of La Coruña is the capital of the region, and has more than a quarter of a million inhabitants. It is situated on a peninsular surrounded on three sides by the sea. It’s most famous landmark is the Tower of Hercules, the oldest working lighthouse in the world. It was built in the 2nd century AD by the Romans, when it was the port of Brigantium. It was held by the Moors during the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries, by the Portuguese during the 14th century, and was reconquered by the Spanish in the 15th century. In 1386 John of Gaunt, the English duke of Lancaster, landed there in pursuit of his claim to the throne of Castile. On July 26, 1588, the Spanish Armada sailed from La Coruña against England after taking refuge in the port from squalls. The next year a British fleet under Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris burned the shipping at La Coruña and sacked the port.
The city comprises an old section (Ciudad Vieja), on a peninsula, and a new section on the mainland and a narrow isthmus; and expanding residential suburbs. A characteristic feature of the houses is their miradores, or window balconies, glazed for protection against the wind.
Again, we found a big city a bit overwhelming apart from the old town which was luckily very near to the marina. It was a haven of peace and quiet away from the noisy city streets. We walked to the Tower Of Hercules one day, and it was a superb sight with wonderful views of the surrounding coastline.
On the Thursday Mike finished his work on the boat and we were able to get away for a couple of days’ sailing. We went up towards Ferrol and anchored for lunch in the Ria. We then stayed overnight in the marina at Sada in the Ria de Betanzos. This is a small seaside town and was a lot quieter than La Coruña. We would have liked to have stayed longer but Margaret and John had to be back in Santiago on the Friday evening for an early morning flight to London, so unfortunately we had to leave after lunch the next day. We did find, near the sea front, a perfectly built and maintained petanque court, and were so annoyed not to have time to play a few games. This was the first petanque court we had found outside of France, even though the game is played in Spain, although probably more popular on the eastern border with France in the Pyrenees.
So back to La Coruña we went, and our visitors left with plans to rejoin us early next year, and we set off again towards Finisterre on 6th October. We travelled 38 miles to the Ria de Corme Y Lage and dropped anchor for the night in Lage harbour. Mike rowed ashore to buy some butter but apart from that we didn’t see anything of Lage. Again, it was a small seaside resort and fishing port. The following day we sailed the 19 miles to the Ria de Camariñas and tied up in Camariñas marina.
Camariñas is an attractive fishing village set in wild but beautiful scenery. The small Club Nautico was most welcoming, along with the marina manager Pepé, who spent much of his time crocheting net funnels for octopus pots in his small hut. One day he gave us several sardines which were delicious. We also met up with friends Paul and Phil on their catamaran Sea Spirit, who we first met in Gijón in September. We also made a new friend, Jeffrey from Belgium, who is travelling on his own in his small home built boat Brandy. Paul and Phil are great fun and are, like ourselves, wandering along with no set plans and in no great hurry, except to keep in as warm climes as possible. Paul and Mike are keen, if not always successful, fishermen, and Paul caught a small fish from the boat in Camariñas. Mike was casting from our boat, to no avail, and when he went ashore later, Pat had a try and on her third cast caught an even smaller fish than Paul had (Paul had to unhook it for her)! At least she caught one! Neither were big enough to eat.
A walk along the Ria to the lighthouse at Cabo Villano was an exhilarating outing one afternoon. The lighthouse is set on a great pinnacle of pink granite and was one of the most spectacular we have seen. The path wends through woods and dunes amid small areas of maize and curly kale plants. It seems every small corner of wooded areas have been cleared and maize planted. We passed a massive fish farm at the end of the cape which must provide much needed employment in this part of the world. We also watched an angler fishing from the cliff at the outfall from the fish farm. There were literally hundreds of Sea Bass feeding there and the angler only had to wait a couple of minutes for his next bite. Mike take note!
Camariñas is famous for lace-making and there are several shops in the town where the local ladies are sitting with their pillows and bobbins and flying fingers. There didn’t seem to be many young women there though. Let’s hope the art will not die out with this generation.
On the Sunday when we first arrived we were walking round town and heard the sound of football on TV from a small bar so of course Pat insisted they slake their thirsts for a while. Well, you had to see it to believe it! There were THREE large screen TV’s with three different games showing in a tiny room! Real Madrid were playing Recreativo, Seville were playing Deportivo and Barcelona were playing Atletico Madrid. You didn’t know where to look! The locals all seemed to be Real Madrid supporters, as that game was on the largest screen, the local team, Deportivo La Coruña, didn’t seem to interest them so much.
Well, the time came to leave Camariñas, and we set sail again, this time travelling 41 miles to Portosin in the Ria de Muros, passing Cape Finisterre on the way. We weathered a Force Zero wind and had to put our engine on to fight the glassy seas round the cape! Better too little wind than too much we say!
Portosin is another small fishing village but the town itself lacked character. The surroundings, however, are spectacular, Muros being amongst the most beautiful and unspoilt Rias on the coast. There were paths leading from both sides of the town, and each turn and rise and fall of the track brought another beautiful beach or cove into view.
Again, every spare piece of land seems to be covered in maize and kale plants, and we saw great stooks of cut maize drying in fields all along the paths.
There are many small towns around the Ria de Muros and we would have loved to visit them all, but time was pressing so we had to leave, but not before taking the bus to the old town at the head of the Ria, Noya, then catching a further bus the 30 kilometres or so to Santiago de Compostela.
Santiago de Compostela is the cultural capital of Galicia, and is a sight not to be missed. The city has been attracting visitors - medieval pilgrims and modern tourists - for over a thousand years. The old city, containing the Cathedral as well as many other historic buildings, can be walked round in an afternoon and the architecture is quite stunning. Many churches, of course, also university and civic buildings and museums, line the narrow streets and the whole place, although slightly touristy, is breathtaking.
Santiago is Spanish for St James and according to Spanish tradition, the body of the apostle was discovered nearby in AD 813 and brought here. A church was built to house the remains. The discovery of the relics provided a rallying point for Christian Spain, then confined to a narrow strip of the northern Iberian Peninsula, the rest of Spain occupied by the Moors, and since then the city has grown in importance to be the third most important place of Christian pilgrimage, after Jerusalem and Rome.
The present cathedral was begun in 1078, the finish of the Route of Santiago de Compostela. The route itself was designated a World Heritage site in 1993, a series of roads through France and Spain that converge on the city. Throughout the Middle Ages this route was travelled by thousands of pilgrims and is now again traversed by many people, not always Christians, either on foot, bicycle or horseback, for many more reasons. It is something Pat would like to do one day, but she may be too old by the time we return from this trip!
There is a Pilgrim’s Mass held every morning and evening in the cathedral, and we were lucky enough to be there when, at the end of the service, the church is filled with smoke from the giant censor, or Botafumeiro which is swung almost to the ceiling. This was preceded by Holy Communion given by a ‘posse’ of priests to the hundreds of worshippers. It was more of a performance than a church service. We enjoyed it immensely.
Came the time to leave Portosin, and we sailed to our last port in this part of Spain, Bayona, on the Ria de Vigo. As we arrived, we saw that Paul, Phil and Jeff were already there. This was where we had our first bad experience of a Spanish marina. Everywhere we had stayed since the beginning of October the prices were almost halved for winter rates. The lads had paid €14 for each boat for the night, and when Mike went up to the office to book in, the girl showed him the rates on a sheet of paper and said €32. He said, “But the winter rates”. “No winter rates. That is the price” He came back to the boat fuming, more so when he told our neighbours, a nice French couple on a 15m boat (El Lobo is 11.7m long). “We are being charged €21 a night, but we have been here before and they know us”. Mike went back up to the office armed with this new information and the b...h didn’t even blush when she repeated, “ €32. That is the price”. It was a miracle Mike didn’t punch her in the mouth! He grudgingly paid up and we moved out into the bay the next day. As it turned out, we had a much better nights sleep on the anchor, as we didn’t have the fishing boats and motor boats charging past us all day and evening.
Consequently, we didn’t stay too long in Bayona, which didn’t seem to have much to interest us anyway. It is a tourist resort with a promenade and winding back streets in the old area which would have once been lovely, but now contain nothing but bar after bar. There is a badly made replica of the Pinto in the harbour, which is the ship in which Columbus returned to Bayona in 1493 from the New World. The town is overlooked by a medieval castle on the headland, which is attractively surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, we can’t say anything more about it as we left the following morning headed for our next country, Portugal.
Our first landfall in Portugal was Viana Do Castelo, a small holiday resort with a fishing fleet and some industry on the north bank of the Rio Lima. The old town was within walking distance of the small, friendly and - cheap - marina. Mike was in heaven again as there were numerous small Aladdin's-cave like ironmongers with secret drawers containing everything you could imagine to buy.
Viana Do Castelo grew rich in the 16th Century from trade with Brazil and from cod fishing on the Newfoundland Banks. The Portuguese fishermen swapped their local fortified wine for nets brought out by England’s West Country fishermen. This wine then went back to England as ‘Portuguese wine’, later shortened to ‘Port wine’. English merchants then came to Viana Do Castelo to develop the trade, but when the harbour began to silt up the industry moved to the Rio Douro at Vila Nova da Gaia opposite Porto, where the main Port warehouses still are.
The town of Viana Do Castelo remains a thriving town of beautiful white granite and stucco houses, with brightly coloured ceramic tiles and cobbled streets. Above the town on the Monte de Santa Luzia is a granite basilica which was built in the 1920’s. It is the most amazing church with a wonderful painted ceiling and intricately carved stonework. The view from the Miradouro is magnificent, looking south along the coast with mile after mile of golden beaches, and inland towards the mountains. The photos don’t do it justice as it was a very hazy day when we climbed up there. We returned to the town via a funicular railway which is purported to be the highest in Portugal.
We took the bikes ashore and had a good day exploring a little inland and along the coast to the first of a series of ‘Martello’ type towers we had seen from the boat as we sailed south. We also made friends with the same French couple from Bayona who were there at the same time. Jacques and his wife Adrienne, who was Dutch, were on their beautiful ketch Lambarena, and were sailing straight to Madeira from Viana. We went aboard and shared some champagne and exchanged addresses. We certainly hope we bump into them again. They had only bought the boat in April this year and hope to travel round the world in her. You see, we are not the only people with this mad ambition!
Altogether, Viana Do Castelo was a lovely place, and if it had been earlier in the year, we definitely would have stayed longer. However, we were well aware of how lucky we were being with the weather, and that it was going to break sooner rather than later, so we reluctantly said goodbye on the 24th and sailed the 23 miles south to our next port of call, Póvoa De Varzim.
Póvoa De Varzim is another holiday resort and fishing village but we didn’t find it as elegant as Viana Do Castelo. It was unfortunate that the main square and street in the old part were both being refurbished on our visit and we had to pick our way between building sites. The marina is surrounded by a wasteland which will eventually be built on, but at the moment it is a fair walk along the front to the main parade, which is quite nice, but overlooked by high-rise hotels. We did find a restaurant there, however, in which Mike cooked his own steak fillets on a hot stone at the table, and Pat partook of the local speciality, Bachalhau, (salted cod) with mashed potatoes.
The main reason for stopping at Póvoa De Varzim was that there is a fast, pleasant Metro train direct to Porto, which we duly took on the Thursday.
Porto is the second city of Portugal and is situated on the River Douro which flows through both Spain and Portugal. The houses in the old quarter cling to the steep sides of the river and make a magnificent sight from the opposite bank at Vila Nova da Gaia, where the Port wine lodges are situated. We of course had to visit one of the lodges and chose at random, not being Port aficionados, the Lodge of Ferreira, where we had a tour of the warehouse and a tasting of both white and ruby port. Very nice too they were, and we bought a couple of bottles for the boat, also a special bottle of 10 year old tawny for our Jim. He’d better like it!
We must confess to enjoying a lunch in an Indian restaurant in Porto. Sometimes you just long for a taste of home - although a curry is not exactly English, we could at least understand the menu! We do miss some English food, although not the baked beans and Marmite you hear about. We long for a decent hard cheese like a Cheddar or Red Leicester, also Mike is finding it hard to buy his porridge in Portugal and Spain, but we did find some packets in the baking section of the supermercado, rather than among the breakfast cereals.
After a long day in Porto we returned to the boat and left the next morning to sail the nearly 80 miles to Figueira da Foz.
Figueira da Foz is yet another seaside resort come fishing village, and reminded us of Viana do Castelo a little, although a bit smaller. The old town is behind the marina on the north bank of the Rio Mondego, with the resort stretching along a wide bay to the north. We have never seen a larger expanse of bathing beach, which was almost empty at this time of year, but is obviously very popular during the season. We intended to leave after a couple of days to carry on down the coast but Mike was struck down with a ‘tummy bug’ and we had to stay longer while he recovered. We eventually left on 1st November and travelled another 38 miles to Nazaré, another fishing town. More about that next month.
Photos below as usual.
See you soon.