Today we head back towards the UK in the midst of a Coronavirus storm. Back to the mythical land of rainstorms and tea. From royalty down to the average citizen, a land of disunity. But fear not, the pandemic has brought us something to unite against. Expect the good old British wartime spirit to emerge, minus the mortal combat, of course.
As we drifted northwards I was staring out Barri’s passenger window, aimlessly counting magpies.
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl and
Four for a boy,
Five for silver and
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss and
Ten for a bird you must not miss.
Ah, ten, surely a good omen, I mused, the bird of good fortune. With Covid 19 closing in with zombie like persistence we might need some folkloric protection. Having seen ten magpies, and avoiding the sorrowful number one position this leaves me trying to evade further encounters. Luckily no more magpies. Phew! Coincidently it’s Friday the thirteenth, it’s a good job I’m not superstitious.
Who knew that the whole of Europe and us, the UK, it’s stiff, upright, tiny neighbour, would begin to close down all fun? Our drive back has to take into account that whole areas of Spain are closed to itinerants passing through: actually it is two areas of the country and four villages relatively close to our Friday 13th campsite. Both of the locked down areas are on our route to the north. Like the entire human race, we have spent our lives navigating a path through this life; so, how hard can it be to do it now?
I glance out of Barri’s window and catch a glimpse of an ancient fort, high atop a rocky hill. Over the centuries, terrified communities have retreated up into these bastions until all danger has either passed, or been fought off, or they all die. Which ever comes first.
With Coronavirus closing in from every quarter, we are in the same situation. No castle to huddle in, to share our meagre resources, or our weapons. We have our homes, some have freezers and our weapons are soap and water. Vats of boiling oil wont cut it this time, but strategic thinking always comes in handy, I am reliably informed by Radio 4 and it’s never ending stream of experts. Well, we all need to be experts now. It really is do or die.
At our first overnight stop on the way north, we are greeted by a young man in reception, who wears a hygiene glove and tells us that we can stay for tonight. We had pre-booked for two, with an option for a third. He has no idea if we can stay more than one night, or if we will need to stay for two weeks. The Spanish president had just made a speech on national TV saying that he will announce his intended measures tomorrow. He is considering locking down the whole country for two weeks meaning that we may have to stay here, in Ampolla, on a decent campsite, whether we like it or not. We like it. It has FLAMINGOS!
On the flip side? The campsite might be closed down for the two weeks and then …… what?
It is Friday the thirteenth
It is Friday the thirteenth
I have now seen eleven Magpies – Sorrow!
And a whole host of Castles on hilltops
We are in a little red van.
We have no freezer
We need our oil for food – not for warding off the enemy.
How hard can this be?
The original version, as published 1846:
One for sorrow
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the Devil, his own self.
Yep, it could be pretty hard.
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Windless February days along the Mediterranean coast, bring a golden dusting of pollen that rains down from the pine trees. On breezy days it billows about in great khaki coloured clouds. When the wind is up, it flies, thickly, horizontally, until it rams into the crevices in vertical surfaces. Nothing and no one is spared. It even finds it’s way into sealed containers. No part of a motorhome, camper van, awning, car, motorcycle, canoe, bicycle, or body, is spared. The dust is released so consistently, that the moment it is cleaned away, more lands. Gleaming surfaces recede into distant memory. A romantic dream of halcyon times, when the world and those who people it, were not a dusty and jaundiced yellow.
The old trope that no part of a pine tree is poisonous is no consolation for a small minority, for whom this is a tissue issue. It is boom time for the local pharmacy, as sales of antihistamines rocket. Misery ensues. Inhalers whizz.
Pollen on a puddle of water.
After a few weeks, the pollen stops falling and we all breath a sigh of relief, apart from the allergic gang who still cannot breath. By now there is a thick, puce green meets yellow, layer of pollen on every possible surface and without rain, it is whipped up into the air with every puff of wind. It is nature battling to assert itself, one pollen grain at a time, in the face of the might of millions of pounds worth of huge, shiny white, diesel guzzling, planet destroying, motorhomes hunkered here on this tiny site of 109 pitches. The final assault is the ‘attack of the maggots’. Bucket loads of small male cones, the spent remains of all that masculinity, fall, pitter-patter, onto every surface. The final fling of the campsite sentinels.
‘Maggots’ (male cones), spent of their pollen and ready to fall to the ground.
Of course this rather tatty, basic campsite could go the way of many on the Spanish Mediterranean and cut down all trees, spread tarmac, add sun screening in the form of giant, overhead, horizontal blinds and pack in almost twice the number of vehicles in neat ranks. Seasoned travellers call this type of campsite a ‘car park’, because that is how they look and feel.
In fact, our site cannot chop down it’s pines as they are protected by law. The pine here, the Stone Pine to the British, Pino Pinonero to the Spanish and Pinus pinea to the overly interested, has to stay put, or else. They are a very tall, hard wooded, but light-weight, useful tree and can totter on for about three hundred years. With their parasol shaped tops and long, shingled trunks, they are a prehistoric beauty. The site owners could quite easily get rid of them, storm by storm, tree by tree, until there was nothing left. No one would be any the wiser. Thankfully the owners love the trees as much as the regulars here: despite the pollen and the ‘worms’.
Ancient species are always food for something. The Western Conifer Seed Beetle (Leptoglossus occidentalis) an American immigrant, is a sap feeder and deprives the baby cones of nutrient, which makes them drop off. The other pest is our old chum, the Processionary Pine Moth; more about his little house of horror here.
These are the trees that give us the uber trendy, uber expensive pine nut. It has been a food source for us for about 6000 years. Around the time that some of the local, neolithic cave art was created. These inventive people were collecting the cones from high up in these trees for the little seeds inside. A very long pole with a hook in the end and, I imagine, good eyesight are the tools of the trade.
The cones are gathered whilst still immature, at about three years old, they are large, tightly closed and often still green. They are stored until they open up and release the hard shelled seed. The shells are broken open to reveal the fat and protein packed nugget within. A valuable resource to early peoples and us to us modern sophisticates alike. Some things never change.
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We got the impression that the artist was so impressed with the impressionists that s/he decided to to paint their own impressions of them and then offer them for sale to see if we, the public, would be impressed. And we were.
This is the first of 3 walks we are going to offer you that head to the top of Montgo. This is the most demanding of the three, but for us, it was the most fun, which is why it is the first one to be covered here. We filmed it just under a year ago. Take a look at the video at the end which gives an idea of the surprisingly committing nature of this undertaking!
Afore ye go ….
On this first walk, us deviants are true to our nature and leave the beaten path to one side. If you decide to join us, you will have to pick your own route up the mountain. If this type of walking and scrambling, the terrain and the possible exposure are new to you, this walk is best avoided until you have developed a heightened level of stupidity, just like us Wallys. There are plenty of less worrisome routes to choose from that will take you to the top of Mongo, emotionally and metaphorically. Allow a full day. If you have knee problems, or suffer from vertigo, it may not be the walk for you. Remember it is the coming down that tends to make vertigo worse, so always be prepared to backtrack and if you feel things are getting to a point where you wont be able to reverse, stop and go back while you still can. Remember GRIEM (Spanish Mountain Rescue) charge for their services. Google the scale of charges and then hail our British equivalent, all volunteers, who will turn out in all weathers, to all in need, at all hours, at no charge. They are always glad of funds, so please donate a little something every time you hit the hills. On that salutary note, I guess we should sally forth.
Take the ‘Las Rotas’ DeniBus (bus) from beside Denia Marina, almost opposite the main shopping street called Marques de Campo. The bus will be pointing the wrong way, as in the photo; do not worry about that, it will turn around just after setting off. The bus leaves on the hour, starting at 8am; there is no 3pm bus. Get off the bus at the bus stop beside El Poblet, wedding Venue. The return bus is diagonally opposite, outside the Bavaria Jardin Restaurant, and leaves at quarter past the hour, but, again, no bus at 3.15pm.
Time to get those walking legs going. Follow Map 1 above until you arrive at the the ‘X’ on Map 2, below.
Follow the red route, on Map 2, through this steeply up hill housing estate. It is possible to drive to the top of the estate and walk from there, but the final bit of road is very narrow, the locals get quite upset about lazy walkers leaving their vehicles in the way. Better, if you drive, to leave your car well within the estate, on one of the wider roads. The path begins at the top of the estate and runs off to your right, towards Montgo Mount.
Follow your nose until the narrow, ruggedly rocky path ends at a wide and well maintained track, the Cami de la Colonia. Turn right, walking towards the tiny white building that sits beside the path.
Just past this building is an indistinct, unmarked path that can be seen forking off on your left. Take this path.
Stay on this path as it rises very gently across the lower flank of Montgo. You will arrive at a scree slope. The Senda D’esgarracabassos really starts at this point and is a classic scramble route to the top of Montgo. You can see the well worn tracks left by keen walkers. We are not taking this route today, we are taking a punt, seeing if there is another scramble route up; and there is!
Make your way across the scree slope. Go right to the other side. This is where the fun begins.
Our strategy was to head right on the plateaux (level/shelf like bits) and up where the rock faces were about scramble height, usually that is no more than 3 times your height. Any higher and it feels more like a rock climb, and we do not want that, do we?! There are no paths here, and no sign posts. You are very much at your own devices. As long as you stick to today’s rule of moving right on the level, green bits and moving up the lowish rock faces, you should be fine.
If you prefer, you can take the classic scramble route; it is well worn, you will not get lost and the scrambles are good. If you choose to take this route instead, keep to the well worn path up the side of the scree slope and follow your nose. If this all looks a bit too much, head back down to the Cami de la Colonia and enjoy walk 2 or 3 on the map. The views are awe inspiring. Your day will still be superb.
We stopped on the way up for a little lunch and finally topped out some way to the left of the Creu de Denia (the cross).
The route is now straight forward. Walk to the cross and admire the views, and then retrace your steps and keep walking ahead along the path and onto the Cap Gros del Montgo (trig point). Please make sure to linger long enough to take in the stupendous views along the way.
Once you have tired of the views, head for the rocky exit that overlooks Javea. You may need to take a look around to find it, but it is there and is very well worn. The initial way down is a gentle scramble followed by a pleasant zig-zag path to the bottom.
Once at the bottom of Montgo, turn left onto the well made up path and then right to follow a well signed, small path that will lead back onto the Cami de la Colonia.
On the way back to the Cami de la Colonia, take time to visit the well sign posted Cova del Camell (camel cave). It is a very short detour, so why not?
Shortly after the cave you will leave your current rather rough and narrow path and rejoin the very obvious and welcome Cami de la Colonia. It is an easy walk from here back to the junction with the housing estate path, on your right.
If you reach the little white building, you have, as you know, gone past the path junction you are looking for. Go back and take another look.
Retrace your steps to the bus stop. If you are too early for the bus, or simply fancy a breather before leaving, there are two options. The Bavarian Jardin bar/restaurant makes a great place to have a drink as you wait for the next bus back to town. Sadly, it is not open during the winter. Alternatively, Take a very short stroll down the Cami de Badia and have a drink in Helios Bar. Here you can sit on the terrace overlooking the sea. It is open all year round. Last bus into Denia is at 9.15pm.
Enjoy this little video of the walk/scramble up Montgo. It was fun.
Please let us know what you think of our wander up Montgo. Should we encourage folks to strike out on their own paths, with all those risks to their own safety and to the rare and beautiful flora of the hillside? Or should we stick to the well trodden paths, like the sensible people we pretend to be?
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At the end of this piece there is a video, lasting just over 2 minutes. It showcases some of the wildlife you might come across here. Please do not expect wandering herds of Wildebeests, or a David Attenborough commentary. Do expect all participating creatures to have been filmed on, or near, the campsite and not in a zoo ….
What a luxury it is to lie in bed in the morning, cup of tea in hand and watch the wildlife parade before your bedside window. Some mornings, almost nothing happens. Other mornings,we are treated to a panoply of creatures, doing what ever it is they do, as we slurp our brew.
This winter, we have added more ‘rarities’ to our list of visitors. We have also crept about the site at night, like a couple of weirdo’s, seeking out the shy and/or nocturnal; slugs,snails, cats and geckos.
The results are a host of critters, all dropping by to forage and feed, or hanging out in their favourite places, waiting for a meal to wander past.
To be honest, most of what we see will be familiar to you, so we wont bore you with long descriptions of the obvious. Instead we will add a few notes on those unusual characters that brighten our day, or force us to consult Dr Google for more information. The numbers below, should match those on the picture at the top.
1. We are very fortunate to have a Red Squirrel colony on site. Many of the squirrels can be hand fed and are very fussy eaters, refusing all offerings except nuts. Each squirrel is identifiable by it’s colouration and damage. There are no black coloured Red Squirrels here. The squirrels feature heavily in our little video.
5. Sardinian Warbler. Yes, you knew it was a bird, but not one we see much of in the UK, unless you are a bit of a twitcher. It is cute, often holding it’s tail up like a Wren. It has a bright red eye and it is very common on site. Males are black headed and grey backed and the females are ….. need we paint a picture? Generally it does not migrate, it nests in low shrubs, although here it would lose it’s young to the many cats on site. I cannot explain why I constantly call it a Siberian Warbler; old age getting the better of me?
7. Blackbirds are not a rarity, except that here, they have a gene that gives rise to some birds having white markings (leucism). Ours has an almost entirely white head and is disputing the pitch boundary with a very ordinary Blackbird. Some short footage of one of their typical battles is included on the video. At home we have a similar gene in our garden’s Blackbird population, giving us the lovely Roger Moore, he had one white ‘eyebrow’ permanently raised and was the son of whitey.
13. The snails here are a revelation. So many new ones to us. All you need do is look out for the ‘dead’ shells during the day, or head out at night with a torch. 11o’clock onwards is the best time to go hunting; what else would you be doing at that time of night? Our favourite, the Decollate snail, lovely shell.
16. Gecko’s are plentiful on the campsite. They emerge, year round on warm evenings, clinging impossibly to walls and waiting for food to pass by. Generally, they seem to be territorial; if you find one, it will be there every time you pass. They try to stay out of reach and here they keep within range of a light fitting so that they can catch and eat the insects that are drawn to them. They like to have a cable, or roof tile, or loose bark to slip behind and out of sight.The wash house has a good sized specimen where we have placed the number 16 in the picture. The most easily seen type of Gecko we have seen here (January – June) is the Moroccan or Crocodile Gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). The hugely common, Mediterranean Gecko (Hemidactylis turcicus) does hang out at this campsite, but all we ever find are babies. The Mediterranean Gecko has colonised huge swathes of the world.
22. Mediterranean Pale Glow-Worms are to be found glowing, in our experience, low down in the shrubby areas beside the seafront promenade. We saw them in mid March, at about 2am as we walked back from the Fallas shenanigans. In January this year, in the middle of the day, we also picked up this beauty on the path to the lighthouse. It was crossing the gravel track. A clumsy mover, it made it’s way caterpillar style at the back end, whilst using it’s legs, all at the front end, to haul itself forward. Like the proverbial chicken, we guessed it was probably trying to get to the other side. These are unmistakeable creatures and it was great to help it cross it’s road.
23. We wandered past the biggest wasp we have ever seen, and although it was sipping nectar from a plant beside the path, outside the campsite, we have included it. It is a Mammoth Wasp (Megascolia maculata), Males have a black head and the much larger females have a yellow head. Females can be 6cm/2.4ins long. Only the females have a sting and venom, which they use to paralyse the host grub for their young. They lay an egg in the pre-paralysed grub of the Rhinoceros Beetle and the rest you are welcome to imagine.
24. Humming Bird Hawk-Moths (Macroglossum stellatarum) are common around here, once the weather warms up. One balmy evening, here on the campsite, we enjoyed watching one as we drank a beer in the bar. Despite being two a penny, they look so exotic that, whenever we see them, we get far too excited for our own good health. The very best place to see them locally, is where the sandy beach starts, just as you leave Denia. The plant borders alongside the boardwalk thrum with them when the temperature is up around the high twenties, we saw them in June. Often seen in the UK too.
28. This campsite has no problem with the infamous Pine Processionary Moth, because it has a regime of spraying in place in order to prevent infestation. Despite this, we have one colony on site, next to us, which will be ‘dealt with’ very soon (now gone). The colony I am shaking up in the movie was off site, but nearby. The life cycle is straight forward; eggs laid in pine trees in the summer by the parent moth that has one day to complete the task before dying. The hatchlings emerge in the Autumn, and feed on pine needles. In January the caterpillars get together and form the distinctive nest which becomes home for the winter. They sleep by day in their nest and forage in their pine tree for needles to eat by night. In the spring, they leave their nest and their host tree to find somewhere suitable to pupate, often, but not always soil. This is when they can be seen processing along the ground, nose to tail.
Why the concern over a moth? It is all because when the caterpillars come out of their spidery nursery cocoon, high in trees, to wriggle along the ground, in single file, they look very sweet. Pets and young children are fascinated by them and love to investigate anything new. However, if the caterpillars are touched, their hairs can cause an allergic reaction, fatal in some cases.
27. The Black Redstart is a nice enough looking bird until it flies off. Then you get a flash of it’s red tail; all very flamenco.
Whilst here on site, we have seen or heard everything, from the tiny and yet complex Ant up to the top predator, the Tawny Owl. All this in an area no bigger than our courtyard garden at home. It is remarkable what is out there waiting to be admired.
We hope the little movie was to your liking. Let us know if there are other must see creatures here on the Costa Blanca and what you think of this article, by clicking on the reply box below and leaving a message. If you would like an automatic email whenever we post articles, click the ‘follow’ box below on the right.