19 - 21 June at Luarca
Sunday in Gijon was designated as a laundry day, with the boat ‘dressed overall’ to avoid waiting hours for the tumble dryer and the shrinking hems on my trousers! The new Lakeland sock dryer paid for itself in one outing. God, the excitement of the liveaboard life – those little victories! We liked Gijon: despite a lack of architectural inspiration, it was lively, prosperous and generally at ease with itself. The people were very friendly - I think that the football team won on Saturday, which probably helped. It has everything we needed and is a great base from which to explore this part of northern Spain.
So on Monday, we sailed. Or rather, we motored as there was precious little wind. It perked up a bit around a couple of headlands, usually from dead ahead, but we responded enthusiastically and sailed off at unhelpful angles just to restore the peace of progress under sail. But by mid-afternoon, even the most diehard yachtie had to admit that moving a 25 tonne yacht against a 3 knot headwind would delay our arrival in Luarca beyond sunset and we were slightly anxious about the berthing arrangements there.
In the end, it was all a bit of a doddle. Inside the splendid ‘New Mole’ there are five visitors buoys where you attach your bows to the buoy and your stern to the pier. You need very long ropes and a dinghy to achieve this. We were well prepared and Julie rowed the tender to a slippery vertical ladder, shimmied up it and attached the stern rope as I made the headrope longer and longer in an attempt to join buoy to wall by rope and boat. No shouting, nobody got wet, nothing fell in the sea and we felt quite pleased with ourselves. We selected La Barometra restaurant as our target and set off ashore. Closed… only open lunchtimes out of season… So we opted for some tapas and resolved to return onboard to eat the rest of the chilli. In the event, we didn’t need the meal onboard.
On Tuesday we set off on a Big Walk. The aim was to climb up the hill on the west side of the town and follow the cliff path along to some attractive looking beaches. The climb was easy enough, but the cliff path did not exist. Instead, we found the Pilgrims’ Route to Santiago de Compostela and set out along it for about 100 yards, feeling quite spiritual – before turning off down an interesting looking lane. This led through rural Spain – lots of smallholding farmhouses stitched together by huge fields of maize inhabited by the world’s largest tractors busy spraying something unmentionable. I explained the difference between pig poo and cow poo (the latter is sweeter smelling) and we examined the parlous state of the timber barns and the fantastic slate rooves (‘roofs’ if you prefer) that look like an inspiration for Gaudi or Salvador Dali.
The road led to a campsite, excruciatingly close to the beach we were aiming for. The signs said ‘campers only’ and so we thought we should ask for permission to enter. Which reminded me of Rule 3: never ask a question that you don’t want the answer to. We retraced our steps towards the Pilgrim’s Way and took solace at a bar on the waterfront. We ate the chilli as the Barometra was still shut.
Today we walked in the other direction, around the top of the town above where the boat lies patiently at the buoy. The chapel on the headland used to provide a light for the fishermen of the town and the setting is picture-perfect. The steep streets and narrow steps present a maze of options for descending to the waterfront, but many of the older buildings have been replaced by rather uninteresting modern equivalents. Those that remain are mostly in a very poor state of repair.
It's a curious contrast with France and England in that respect. In France, they go to great lengths to rebuild places like St Malo. In England, we tend to slap ‘Listed Building’ status on anything remotely historic or linked to a minor celebrity. Not here: the older buildings either fall down or are mercilessly replaced and it is common to see wrecked, derelict buildings attached to modern apartment blocks. There is an abundance of uninspiring graffiti and a tendency to erect abstract sculptures in the hope that one of the artists turns into the next Picasso. Sadly, rust or concrete cancer seems to set in first. There are some quaint sights though: aside from the slates, many older buildings have what appear to be rows of French windows fixed to the higher floors like galleries. They are hardly wide enough for a deckchair or a line of washing, but they give the impression of reaching out across the street to the one on the other side, like the gorges in the Picos.
Four lights… A small squadron of the immaculate fishing fleet at sunset
Tomorrow we plan to move 20 miles west to the Ria Ribadeo.