Our first big adventure with Ziggy and Rocky. Part one – Planning and the Picos. ( Can we hack it and will we love it or hate it?)

I am happy to report that yes, we all loved our big adventure. We are home again after 18 days on the road and are confident that there are lots more journeys to follow. We have learned some more, picked up tips and overall are pretty chuffed at our teamwork but most of all delighted by the freedom Ziggy has given us and the fun of course!

In the planning stages we had a few concerns – would Ziggy be big enough to accommodate us, Rocky and the extra ‘stuff’ needed? Would we still love or even like each other after living in such close quarters? Would we feel like this was a holiday and not a chore after a few days ? Up until this trip, we had only been away for weekends. Two to three weeks would be a whole different ball game. Remember please that we are newbies to this , I know there are many van lifers out there who will scoff at our two to three weeks but we all have to start somewhere!

On the road – in search of cooler climes!

We started at 2am on a Thursday morning. It was fresh, even here, and we planned to go from the Mediterranean to cooler Cantabria and our favourite little village on the edge of the Picos- Riaño – in one day. It might have seemed crazy but the Iberian peninsula was in the grip of a horrible heat wave , even Riaño was recording 30 degrees ➕ and stopping off to camp in our usual half way halts of Toledo or Ávila where it was nearer 40 did not appeal. We did it! With a picnic in a service station carpark, lots of comfort and ice cream breaks and a fan rigged up for Rocky, we rolled in to or up to the campsite overlooking the lake and views we love so much and as the evening wore on, it was cool enough for a sweat shirt! Sheer bliss!

Definitely worth the journey!

Walt is the driver, and a brilliant one at that, I will do an hour here and there on a long , straight motorway but as we were planning only to do motorway driving for day one and the return leg home, I was happy to be quartermaster. We were doing this trip on a budget as we wanted to see how feasible a much longer ‘on the road ‘ would be once I stop teaching. Could we feed ourselves using such limited space, two IKEA storage boxes , a small portable fridge and a picnic cool bag? Yes! It was a challenge but in 18 days, we only had one dinner , one lunch , one breakfast , a snack and a few beers out. I love cooking but wasn’t too sure about it before we left . Inspiration came in the form of ‘ Campervan Cooking’ by Claire Thompson and Matt Williamson . I pre- prepared our first two days at home using recipes from this great book and then adapted ideas and simple ‘cheats’ from it as we went along.

This is a fabulous little cooker….I need my ‘real’ coffee!
Great recipes and tips for ‘home cooking ‘ on the road!

Day Two…. slowly, slowly. Coffee with a stunning view and then around midday, a drive to a very special place…Mirador del Oso or ‘The bear’! Two years ago in the middle of the pandemic but when we were ‘allowed’ to leave our municipality , Walt brought me here on the motorbike. It has become our our personal pilgrimage. The mountain air, cowbells, snow on the higher peaks and quiet away from the madding crowd! It is magical ,in the moment and totally relaxing.

Oso, Rocky and me!

We continued to another favourite view point, the deer , where Walt was able to use his new toy. Walt loves making films of his travels and added a small drone to the equipment used for this. He is still learning but has created some beautiful memories already using it. I just love the Picos and the mid 20s temperatures meant we could do all of this in the afternoon. Rocky was loving it too. I am writing this now under the fan in the bedroom, Rocky is on the floor beside me…we won’t be going walkies until about 9 this evening! Too hot! After our meander we returned to Riaño and a beer at the Hotel Presa, our digs on previous trips.

Rocky loving day time hikes.
The staff know us , we’ve been here so often! Walt was here in May, doing a bike tour with his brother and sister in law.

Day 3. A quick stroll up to the ‘ biggest swing in Leon’ breakfast, coffee in the Hotel Presa then on the road through the Picos National Park and Asturias. We thought it would be cooler still as we climbed higher, on twisty roads that Walt thought nothing of on the bike – they were a bit more challenging in Ziggy! It wasn’t cooler, the humidity was fierce. We had a picnic lunch on a Park for Night spot outside a village. It felt like a sauna! Very pretty but very sweaty!

A quick stop of as we went in to Aturias…this time the biggest bench!

Our next challenge in the van life adventure was to use the Park for Night App to find somewhere to camp. We wanted to be brave and try either wild or semi wild camping after the comfort of the Riaño site. Lots of people do it and we had a tiny bit of experience in Almeria. How would we fare in Asturias?

Using the Park for Night App, we found a free campervan stop on the edge of a lovely park and only 9kms outside Oviedo. Perfect? Almost apart from a very happy, loud celebration or party in the park! Happy families of all ages dancing and having a ball, they were there for the long haul judging by the trestle tables groaning with with goodies. The music was getting louder and chilling or taking Rocky for a walk was not an option. Time to look again. We turned to go down the narrow track from this park up when we were stopped by a very agitated cyclist in an adapted bike/ wheelchair. Were we going too fast down the narrow road? Didn’t feel like it. As we climbed out of Ziggy , we found two equally agitated Spanish ladies trying to free an old man who had been eating fruit on a bench, dropped his fork and tried to retrieve it. Hard to explain but he was wedged between the bench, a tree and a metre high drop in to his hen run! The wheelchair cyclist was simply asking us for help. Walt managed to free him and pop him back on his bench with lots of thanks from his carer and rather cross wife…’ we told him not to move’ . Thankfully the old gentleman was only a little scratched and shaken . He was probably in for an evening of ‘ I told you sos’.

We set of again, this time high up in to the mountains and El Mirador del Angliru… a mountain hostel’s carpark . The hostel seemed mainly dedicated to touring cyclists, brave and super fit to make it up here! For 10€ there was water, waste disposal if you have a big van with all mod cons, loos, a cafe and the most incredible views. It was still very humid even at that time of night, we had a good walk, snack and drink in the cafe and rigged up the mosquito net so we could sleep with the tailgate up. The park up was closed at midnight and super secure. Our first, not quite free park up but a good compromise!

Good night and good morning . Not a bad spot for that early morning cuppa.

Day four- Sunday morning seemed like a good time to visit the first city on our route. Oviedo is the capital of Asturias and one of the starting points for the Camino de Santiago. Ziggy was becoming a pilgrim! There are several different routes and we seemed to criss, cross them everywhere we went!

Ours was a double edged mission that morning, one to see the historical centre of this beautifil city and two to find a cafe with wifi. Our Orange contract was not working despite umpteen attempts to contact them and sort out the problem. I have a pay as you go UK sim that I use when in Scotland. Luckily it has roaming and worked perfectly in Spain but that wasn’t the point. Ironic that 3 UK was better than Orange ES. We had breakfast in a shady side street, the wifi was fine but Orange continued to play up. Time to put the phones away and take a stroll. The main square and cathedral are beautiful. There was a medieval market and procession of an Astursian pipe band in progress. Rocky wasn’t too impressed. He isn’t keen on drums! Memories of Ben and the North Berwick pipe band on parade…he slipped his collar and bolted. Where is their Celtic blood? The band was excellent however and the ancient part of the city very interesting. We had parked in a residential part of the city, about 20 minutes walk away. Parking in cities is not one our favourite things to do. Like so many Spanish towns and cities the ancient and medieval centres are ringed by modern flats and commercial areas. Some are 60s and 70s concrete and grey but this area , while made up of uniform and neat blocks was surrounded by trees and green areas. I still wouldn’t want to live in a city…definitely a country mouse! It’s always a relief to get back out in to the open.

Happy on coastal walk!

We planned one more night in Asturias, on the coast but it turned into two. We needed a rest and when we found ourselves wedged into a corner of a huge ‘family ‘ campsite near Gijón -the touring/camping area was tiny and our pitch was blocked fairly effectively by a large German holiday home and a gang of teenagers camping in two tents plus lots of stuff scattered in teenage fashion all around- the enforced time of the road was actually pretty welcome! Camping El Molino might not sound like the rural idyll we were looking for but it was only a five minute walk from a beautiful beach and coastal walk. What was even better was that the ‘ola de calor’ broke on our first night there. We walked in to the small seaside town and back before dinner, a couple of miles each way without breaking sweat, what a wonderful relief. The following day was cool enough for a long morning walk, then as the teenagers’ parents came to round them up, we were able to squeeze out and explore a beautiful sculpture park on the edge of Gijón. It was a ‘let your dog of the lead park’ . Thank you Gijón ayuntamiento! Rocky had a wonderful run about.

A hike from the campsite
Sculptures and the stunning Asturian coast.

We were now just about to celebrate a week on the road! After two nights in our cosy corner it was time to move on. I had my first swim in the Atlantic ( Bay of Biscay) while Walt and Rocky took some photos and drone footage then we said goodbye to Camping El Molino and Asturias. Now to explore Galicia.