A girl, a grannie and two dogs – camping in Northern Spain
‘satnav gr8. got here in 4 hrs! thx J’
I pressed ‘send’ and laid back on my sunbed to watch my ten-year-old granddaughter Lauren hurl herself into the pool. The borrowed SatNav had indeed done itself justice, and delivered us right to the door of the Aranjuez campsite reception. Phew! It had been years since I’d tried my hand at camp cooking, so we stuck to basics -beans with powdered mash- and settled in for the night.
I had bought one of those pop-up tents from a local supermarket and it proved to be one of my best purchases ever: undo the zip, it springs to life; squash it down and twist a bit, and it’s flat once more and ready to stow back in its circular bag.
I had a fixed itinerary, but was prepared to be flexible and above all, to pay for hotels if the weather turned inclement. We pootled from Aranjuez to Salamanca and then on through Northern Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, the Picos de Europa, Cantabria and the Basque country, and back through Zaragoza and Albarracín. It was an ambitious route, including most of the places I’ve wanted to see since my arrival here six years ago. And with my two little dogs as escorts no one would approach our tent undetected!
We settled into an undemanding routine, Lauren with her chores and I with mine, the two dogs eyeing us lazily until walkies time. Lauren became an expert at pulling up stubborn tent pegs, and we both relished hours of Roald Dahl CDs to stop me from falling asleep at the wheel (my greatest fear - I even took up drinking caffeinated coffee again for the duration).
I had thought I was done with tramping across wet grass with a torch for a three a.m. visit to the potty block, and with turning over in my sleep to find my sleeping bag unzipped, leaving one side of my body goose-pimpled - but the prospect of seeing so much so cheaply enticed me. The average cost of a night in one of Spain’s campsites was around 24 euros for the two of us including car and dogs. All the sites we stayed at had a restaurant, shop and electricity supply, as well as the essential facilities, and almost all had a pool.
We pitched our tent as close as possible to the shower and loo block – I don’t think anyone will ever again feel confident about allowing a child to walk more than a few metres in the dark a strange place. Wherever we went were greeted warmly, offered advice and assistance with our route planning, and there was usually an interesting person or two to share a tinto de verano with at sunset.
We succumbed to solid shelter only three times in fifteen nights. The scenery around the Fuente De cable car was so stunning that I knocked on the door of a sweet pousada in nearby Espinama as it looked as if it might rain in the night. This turned out to be a good decision - if expensive by comparison with campsites - as it did indeed tip down while we were comfortably ensconsed under our duvets.
Only one site refused dogs – the beach site at Santander, which was a disappointment as it looked very pretty. We ploughed on to Bilbao where the rain was torrential and found ourselves holed up in a pensión for the night, watching Cristiano Ronaldo arrive at Bernabeu on TV. Just walking from the car park to the pensión soaked us, and I had no qualms about forking out the 65 euros the proprietor greedily grasped from my fingers.
In Bilbao I gained half a kilo in one day, unable to resist the famous ‘pinchos’ – a killer if you like seafood and mayonnaise piled high on soft bread – and we were knocked out by the stunning architecture of the Guggenheim museum, where they were exhibiting the work of Cai Guo-Qiang, a chinese artist who believes that art should disappear, so works with gunpowder! Fans of the Olympic Games will recall his footprints in the sky at Beijing last year.
Our third night under bricks and mortar was in Pamplona, where we had the great fortune to be kept awake all night by the partying in the street below. They sure know how to have fun, these Spaniards – every time I stepped out onto our tiny balcony the street was heaving with bodies and flowing with a river of beer and wine. Processions passed every two or three hours, the participants getting more and more raucous as the night drew on. Then suddenly the alarm shrilled and we staggered along the packed streets to the Plaza de Toros where I had decided it would be safest to watch the bull running. We donned our red and white clothing in true San Fermín fashion and squeezed our way through the bodies to sit down. At 08.00 the bulls were released and we watched on the huge screen as they appeared to trot sedately towards us. Fortunately we were oblivious to the fatality, as we gazed with jaws dropped at the insanity of the runners.
When the first bulls reached the bullring the crowd began to get out of their seats and head down into the ring. I couldn’t believe that grown people were hurling themselves at the bulls, but somehow it all seemed as if it were meant to be just as it was – as if there were some kind of weird beauty about it all. The crowd was amiable: I was offered red wine from a porrón, which I duly dribbled down my chin and onto my new white shirt (young men do this deliberately to give the impression they are covered in blood, bless them!)
From the floodlit dignity and animation of Salamanca’s main square, to the concrete-hard pitches of Zaragoza’s municipal camping ground, every moment was a joy. Our last night was spent in Albarracín, its quaint beauty already calling me back for another visit. Next time I’ll stay in one of the gorgeous-looking hotels and stuff myself with the delectable fare on offer.
All in all, a girl, a grannie and two dogs had a ball, and we all feel that we know our chosen land a lot better - even the dogs have assured me that northern lassies are just as accommodating as southern chicas.