The huerta (veg patch)

Part of our big plan is to produce a lot of our own food, and if we end up hosting guests, producing enough to provide tasty dishes for them too. The reason for this is that we believe that the way food production is happening now is unsustainable. Global population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion people by 2050. Meat consumption is increasing as developing nations become richer and aspire (in some cases) to western diets. We don’t think the world can cope with that!

We think that the diet of the future is going to have to be mostly vegetarian, and that, where possible, we should be using the land we currently use for livestock to produce locally grown veggies.

Our personal contribution has been to cut our meat and dairy intake, which we started about a year ago. We basically eat meat now when someone else offers us leftovers. Going further, we wanted to reduce our consumption of plastic-packaged, airmile-heavy fruit and veg by growing them at home.

Richard and Suzanne kindly allowed us to use their dormant veg garden, so that was our first major obstacle out of the way. Jose Pedro, the handyman and erstwhile farmer lent us a rotivator (a small plough) to turn over the soil, as well as some other tools, and we were away!

Our first plot was approx. 4m x 6m below an existing but neglected strawberry bed. When we arrived it was all overgrown with weeds. Jose Pedro and I rotivated it, then we threw on a wheelbarrow of rotted cow manure, watered it and left it for a few days for the weed seeds we’d disturbed to germinate. After that we weeded again, hoping that we would have got rid of the worst of the weeds before planting.


Raking out the rotivated weeds with Jose Pedro and Richard. How good is that view??

I decided that since our plot was on a hill, we should have terraces. Anna wasn’t too bothered with that concept so I dug out the terraces all by myself. I used an azada, a short handled pull-hoe, which is the ubiquitous gardening tool in Spain and Portugal, and once you get used to it, an absolute winner. I assumed my back would be crippled within five minutes of picking it up, but they are actually far superior to spades for all tasks except digging deep holes in my opinion.


Our initial plot, terraced and prepared for planting

We had four terraces in our first plot. On the top one we planted carrots, broccoli raab (like sprouting broccoli) and turnip greens (you eat the leaves). The carrots were extremely patchy; not all of them germinated, and of the ones that did, we would occasionally find a sad, dried up stem which something had severed from the root. Suzanne tells us this is probably cutworms, it could also be mice. The remaining carrot tops are looking nice and bushy now, and we just harvested our first carrots! They are a bit smaller than supermarket ones, but very tasty! We have more carrot seedlings growing in planters to protect them from predators, and we will plant them out when it gets a little cooler. The turnip greens grew very fast for a few weeks, then went to seed (flowered) so we pulled them up and fed them to the chickens, getting 10% of the energy back in delicious eggs! The greens are a distant memory now, but we think they were very nice fried up in a bit of oil. The broccoli raabs are still growing, the flower spears haven’t developed yet, and if they don’t hurry up we will miss them while we’re back in the UK in September! Lots of things that we didn’t want to flower have done so because of the heat, so I find the broccoli raabs’ reluctance slightly annoying!

The next bed down contains lettuces, onions, basil, chillis and what we thought were ordinary cabbages but were excited to discover the other day are actually romanesco broccoli! The lettuces were awesome for quite a few weeks, we had two big bowls of salad per day from them. Now, lots have gone to seed and others are just going rotten and dying – we think it might be chafer grubs in the soil as we have dug a few out. We are replanting and hoping for an autumn crop!

The onions are brilliant so far. They have required very little maintenance and look like they will give a good crop, although we haven’t tried any yet. The basil went in a bit late, but is absolutely loving the long hot days – it has developed huge leaves which taste amazing! Our two chilli plants are doing well and have produced a lot of very hot fruit, we are just hoping it all ripens before it gets cold at night. The brocollis are just starting to show their heads so we are watching them with baited breath, hoping that they get big enough to eat before something else eats them for us!


Lettuces, chilli and romanesco brocolli

The second bed contains tomatoes, with more onions and lettuces planted in between. The tomatoes have been relatively high maintenance. We were told to watch out for fungus so we have sprayed them with a copper spray as well as watering them separately from everything else and making sure the sprinkler doesn’t get the leaves wet. Some of the leaves have become diseased and we have had to keep an eye on them and cut off any bad ones. We also spent a lot of time at first pinching out extra stems to stop the plants getting too unruly. For all the hassle though, the tomatoes are delicious – the best we’ve ever had. We have a lot of fruits ripening on the plants now and it looks like we will get a good main crop in a few days.


Young tomatoes

1_Tommies now

Almost ready!

The third bed has beetroots as well as more lettuces and onions. We got purple beetroot seedlings from the market in Potes, which turned out to produce quite bitter roots – they are nice cooked but we can’t eat them raw. Anna also got some golden and albino beetroots from The Real Seed Catalogue which have a much more delicate flavour and have been delicious sliced thinly in salad. They are also a lot lower risk when it comes to staining clothes / furniture!

beetroot onions

Beetroot and onion seedlings

03_White beetroot.jpg

White beetroot

In the fourth bed we planted five tiny plants which we thought were pumpkins but turned out to be marrows. They grew super fast, quickly covering their own bed and beginning to invade the surrounding ones. They have produced loads of massive marrows, which we now have to find a way to eat, or give away. Apparently the locals feed them to the pigs over winter, but since we are without pigs, we will have to look up some recipes!


Marrow seedling

1-1 Pumpkins

Things developed rapidly


Marrow! With more encroaching in the background.

A few weeks after planting up our first plot we decided our ambitions were bigger, so we decided to develop the other side of the garden as well. This side was similarly overgrown. The first thing we did was put in some more lettuces, just loosening enough soil to plant the seedlings. They have never done as well as their neighbours on the rotivated side, we aren’t sure if this is because the ground is too compacted or they didn’t get any fertiliser (or both), but we definitely saw a difference. We then planted coriander and a few cucumbers alongside the lettuces, but this time we dug out bigger holes and made sure we mixed in a fair bit of manure to give them a chance. These plants have all done well, the cucumbers are really prolific and the coriander grew very strongly through several harvests before going to seed in the dry weather.

We had been reading about no-dig gardening, which is basically where, instead of digging and turning the soil, you use a thick layer of compost or rotted manure to both kill off underlying weeds and create a bed for planting. Apart from saving you the trouble of digging, this is meant to be good because it allows the underlying soil to retain its structure, along with any beneficial fungi that are in there. We decided to give it a bash so we built two more beds filled to a few inches depth with rotted cow manure and left the underlying soil intact. In went cucumbers, beetroots, more carrots, courgettes, melons, pumpkins and beans. So far everything has been really good. The one issue we had early on was that the manure was too coarse for the seedlings and didn’t hold water very well, so the plants were loose and dried out easily. If we did it again we would use older manure and make sure it was broken up finer. The beans have done really well and we are harvesting every other day at the moment. The cucurbits (melons, courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers) are all “heavy feeders” and have grown really well; we discovered today even the melons are producing fruit! The beetroots and carrots are a bit smaller and less tasty than their compatriots on the ploughed side; we found out after we’d planted them that carrots don’t do well in very rich soil, producing a lot of leaves and not much root. That has certainly been our experience.

05_First bean

First bean (of many!)

2 Pumpkin

Pumpkin nestling in the weeds!

Overall the garden has been a great success for us. Almost everything grew well, and it is extremely satisfying sitting down to a lunch that you produced yourself, especially when it tastes so good!


A morning’s harvest

We have learned loads about gardening that will inform our future project. The main thing is that anyone can do it given the time and inclination and a bit of investment for tools. The next lesson is that time invested up front pays off later with better crops and less maintenance. We will definitely need to plan more thoroughly for a bigger garden and take into account crop rotations and disease control (since we started from scratch this year we didn’t have to worry about diseases built up in the soil from previous years’ crops).

We weren’t sure how we would take to gardening, but we have both really enjoyed it so far, and we would encourage anyone who is interested to grab a fork (or an azada!) and start cultivating! We would absolutely recommend The Real Seed Catalogue ( to get your seeds. These guys provide an amazing range of seeds, which are all open-pollinated (meaning they are not hybrids and if you want to, you can save the seeds from your crop and plant them next season). They are based in Wales and have also gardened in Spain so they are well-placed to advise on varieties that will grow well in British or Spanish climates.

We have tried to save some of our seeds this year; we have courgettes and pumpkins. We will see how we go, and maybe expand our efforts next season.

By volume, our diet has come largely from the veg garden over the last few weeks. We’ve grown strawberries, beans, broccoli, courgettes, cucumbers, lettuce and other salad crops, coriander, basil, onions, carrots, cabbage, chillis, tomatoes, pumpkins, marrows, beetroots and melons. Richard and Suzanne already had several fruit trees here giving figs, plums, greengages, apples, mulberries, hazelnuts and pears. They also have five chickens which lay too many eggs for them to eat, so we are having some of those too, but before we left the UK we weren’t eating eggs and we could manage fine without them. We didn’t try to grow staples like wheat or chickpeas this season (the learning curve is steep enough already), although we are keen to try sweet potatoes and perhaps chickpeas next year.

05_Mulberries and hazelnuts

Mulberries and hazelnuts

Fruit and veg production is going to tail off in the coming months, and we are not able to preserve much at the moment, although we have made loads of mulberry and elderberry jam! Anna has just ordered a canner (an expensive pressure cooker) so we will soon be able to preserve loads of other fruit and veg and keep our surplus production for consumption during winter and spring.

We are still buying most of our calories. We buy chickpeas, cereal, flour, bread, beer and wine, margarine, chocolate, citrus fruits and oil as well as salt and spices. We’re nowhere near self-sufficient, and for the effort it would take, we’re not sure we want to be at the moment. What we hope we have done however is massively reduce our carbon footprint and some of our other environmental impacts We are no longer responsible for having lettuces wrapped in plastic and flown in from all over the world. Our biggest victory is cutting out meat. That alone over the last twelve months has apparently saved approx. 2 tonnes of CO2 equivalent between us. In terms of fertiliser, we are very lucky where we are because there are heaps of cow dung going spare all over the place. Of course in our ideal world there wouldn’t be heaps of cow dung everywhere because there would be far fewer cows, but we could use other methods like growing nitrogen fixing ground cover like borage or clover.

This season was about testing out our ideas and seeing if we could hack the work involved. We have been extremely fortunate in that Richard and Suzanne have provided so much input and advice, as well as providing us accommodation, land and tools in return for our willing but haphazard assistance with their own gardens and odd-jobs. Jose Pedro has also been really nice, lending us tools, helping out and giving useful advice. We really appreciate how lucky we are to have made such good friends! We still have loads of challenges ahead: finding and buying a property, navigating the planning permission minefield, working out a viable business model and eventually welcoming guests. So much to think about, but at least it’s good to know that the earth will provide if we are willing to put in the work!


A small selection of produce!

– Dave


Full moon and guided walk

There was a very beautiful full moon this week. The moon rises right over the old woman, and there were some small clouds which made for a wonderful view and interesting light effects with the clouds throwing moon shadows! After the thunderstorms a few days ago, and the daily treat of sunrise over the hills I’ve decided that our little balcony has the best view in Liebana!

02 moon 1a

05 moon 311 moon shadow 212 moon hidden

We went on another hike; a short guided walk up a small knoll, from which we could once again see the tantalising boundary peaks of the National Park; we also got a great view of the plot of land we were thinking of buying. The guide explained about the landscape and the local economy in Spanish as we went along, we found we could understand quite a lot of what was said, so that was encouraging. The rest of the group were either Spanish or French; we tried a little Spanish but I ended up talking in English about Brexit, much to Anna’s disgust.

The other big news was Anna found a cricket / grasshopper (let’s say grasshopper in honour of David Carradine) on our balcony.

02 Guided walk

Reaching the high point of our walk, with the National Park in the background

006 the view

Our plot is on the left side of the valley, the highest clear area with one big tree in the middle

006 a griffon

Griffon vulture scanning her / his domain

07 grasshopper


The day after the walk we went to the Estate Agent to see Francine and Veronica. They had some bad news for us. The land we were interested in buying is owned by two cousins. One live here in the Liebena and is keen to sell. The other lives in Santander, and is prepared to sell, but for an outrageous price. It seems there is little chance of negotiating to something reasonable from their starting point, so we are back to the drawing board. A bit annoying considering we initially hoped to have somewhere by September, but not an unusual situation here apparently. Richard and Suzanne have been in the process of buying a ruin in the village for six years and counting!

The garden continues to grow and develop, although we don’t have any pictures this week, we will remedy in the next post. Anna’s mum and Dad arrive tomorrow for a few days’ holiday so there is excitement afoot after a fairly quiet week!

– Dave

Dry heat and cold beers

We arrived in Alentejo in Southern Portugal to a landscape of huge grass pastures liberally sprinkled with cork oaks and wild flowers lighting up the journey with waves of colour. The sky was a rich blue and the temperature went past 30°C and kept on going. We were trying not to turn the air con on – our car is already an environmental disaster zone – but we couldn’t help ourselves, it was roasting!

We were in Alentejo visiting Jacquie and Neal who are friends of Anna’s parents. Eight years ago they created a project to protect nesting loggerhead turtles from hunters on the island of Sal in Cape Verde. After almost a decade of battling hunters, disinterested  Government officials and hostile residents, SOS Tartarugas lives on, but Jacquie and Neal have decided they need a break so have come to live the good life in Portugal. Sounds like a plan to us!

We arrived at the end of a very long and bumpy track to be greeted by Jacquie, Neal and four excited dogs, Pluto, Kuka, Monty and Mama. They are all dogs rescued from the streets, or hellish Midnight Express style dog pounds on Sal. They have gone from emaciated and terrified to well fed, energetic and boisterous – these dogs have won the lottery of life!

The property the guys have bought is big – 7 hectares of meadows and woodland, with two olive groves, an orchard and a big veg garden thrown in. There is a beautiful slow river with deep clear pools  running round three sides of the land. A couple of chickens were also part of the deal, more on those later! The lady who had the property before hadn’t done much to manage it over the last few years, so things have gone to seed a bit. We planned to help Jacquie and Neal get back on track!


Our main job was to re-locate the chicken range. Chickens weren’t envisaged in the plan, but the vendor insisted they either stayed at the property or be summarily executed, so the guys gave in and inherited them. The old run covered one of the best views from the house so we helped move it. This turned out to be quite a lot of work, removing rolls and rolls of rusty old wire, pulling out concreted fence posts and relocating everything, all the while keeping one eye on the chooks and the other on the dogs in case they got any ideas. Eventually we finished and were very proud of ourselves until we came out one lunchtime to find the rooster had hopped over the fence we’d just built and was hanging out in his favourite old haunt. It took quite a while to get him back through the gate, which was annoying having just found out he could hop the fence with ease! Having said that, the new vista looked good!

One of the cool things about the property is that there is a borehole (free water) which, apart from supplying the house, supplies a drip-irrigation ring going to the orchard and the veg garden. This means that trees and plants all over the property can be watered just by turning on one tap, and the drip system also saves a lot of water – Neal said a neighbour had recently installed a drip system and gone from using 10,000 L per day to 2,000 L – an 80% reduction! The problem was that everything was covered in waist high grass and we didn’t know how the system was laid out, or really whether it still worked. There were lots of bits of loose hose lying around – was a working irrigation ring just a pipe dream? The solution as it so often is, was a strimmer . After a day of petrol powered destruction I was able to dig out the whole orchard irrigation system. Once we’d found the main (satisfyingly large) tap we turned it on to the exciting sound of high pressure water rushing through the pipes. As we watched the orchard we started seeing jets of water spurting up all over the place – more of a large scale ornamental fountain than a drip system, but it works and with a few tweaks Neal will be able to water the orchard from his sun-lounger!

One hot afternoon we went to visit a family who are just starting out on their sustainable living dream. Mica and Sandra and their two kids have bought four hectares of land at the end of another very long track! The land is on a big slope so they had to get a bulldozer in to chew into the rock and create a plateau. On this they have built a small wooden cabin with outdoor toilet, shower and kitchen. Mica is now busy building a garden to feed them all. He said the plateau has actually come in handy. It is made of the rock fragments that the bulldozer chewed out of the hillside and is actually quite easy to dig. It is very infertile of course, so when he wants to plant something he digs a hole, fills it with topsoil from the bottom of the valley, then plants into that. Seems to be working so far, everything is coming up vigorously! We would love to come back and see how things are looking in five years’ time!

log house

We were with Jacquie and Neal for just under two weeks. It was an amazing time, characterised by work in the morning, long lunches, then afternoons spent chilling in the shade, going for a walk or a dip in the river. It was so hot when the sun was out – the first beer of the evening always went down a treat! The river around the property was a massive benefit. There was loads of wildlife to be spotted or speculated about. We saw mallard eggs and turtles as well as otter scat – an exciting prospect for Jacquie and Neal! A river has definitely been added to our wish list, which keeps getting bigger and bigger!

One clear night Neal set up the telescope out and we spent a fascinating couple of hours stargazing. First we focused on Jupiter, which was high in the sky, affording a good view relatively unobstructed by atmospheric interference. Once we’d found our planet we sharpened up the focus to see a small orb featuring a shaded stripe through the middle – the famous colour bands across the gaseous surface. We could also see three of Jupiter’s moons orbiting their planet as they have for billions of years. This view, first scientifically recorded by Galileo, allowed him to prove that celestial objects orbited things other than Earth, and was the first real scientific challenge to the theory that Earth was at the centre of the Universe.

After Jupiter we moved on to Saturn. Neal set up the focus and I looked through the eyepiece to see a bright white planet with an extremely distinct white band around it – the rings of Saturn just sitting there right in front of my face! I’ve never actually seen them before and it was a really awesome. I guess I always assumed they were there since I learned about them as a child, and I’ve seen plenty of satellite pictures and artists impressions, but I never imagined what they would look like from here. A weird, wonderful and VERY FAR AWAY neighbour! Thanks Neal for re-awakening our awareness of the Universe!

team photo

It seems like the guys have landed in their paradise, but we are still on the hunt for ours. After two wonderful weeks it was time to hit to road again and head North, back to the Picos de Europa. We had a little stop to make on the way though…

– Dave

Homeward Bound

Today we had a 30 km ride to Brussels, a Eurostar journey to London and a 15 km ride to my parent’s flat in west London.  We waved goodbye to Alex as he headed off to work on his motorbike.  It was great to see him and a nice end to our trip.

We found a bakery and breakfasted before the ride to Brussels.  The 30 km seemed to be really long, mostly I think because we were on quite busy roads and it wasn’t that enjoyable.  But we were lucky to escape the forecast rain and the sun even came out when we arrived at Brussels Midi and found a cafe to wile away an hour in.

Taking the Eurostar with the bikes is actually quite good (although you have to pay £30 for each bike!).  We dropped them off no problem but then had to tackle security and boarding with all of our panniers on a trolley!  Not ideal but at least the luggage racks are plentiful.

The journey was only two hours and I had a sleep whilst Dave read his book and then we were in London!  That’s where it got annoying.  Dave piled all the bags onto the platform whilst I went in search of a trolley.  There were two on the platform that had both been commandeered by Eurostar staff to help old people with their bags.  There were no other trolleys to be found, and a few other people looking for them, so I followed one of the staff helpers and his trolley until he got to the lift and decided that the one wheely bag on it could just be wheeled and I could have the trolley!

We loaded up and walked out through customs, through the whole of St Pancras station to find Despatch at the end of the Earth where our bikes were waiting for us, by this time 40 minutes after the train arrived!

Now for the fun bit – a 15 km ride through central London with touring bikes at rush hour.  Gulp.  It was actually pretty fun though.  Dave navigated smoothly and we zoomed out of town past Hammersmith and into Chiswick, feeling at home again amongst the kind of traffic we’re used to.

I thought it was going to be strange or uncomfortable to be back, but I actually feel pretty good about it and I think Dave does too.  It’s nice to see everyone again after 5 months and I actually feel pretty at home being back in this city.  We’ve got quite a long time here before the next tour, so hopefully the feeling lasts!

After our return, I was hoping for a rest, but I’ve got a job interview tomorrow and Dave’s going to start helping out with the flat and there are people to visit and things to organise and no time to catch up on sleeping in a bed!  But it’s good to keep busy and I’m looking forward to the next few weeks.  (But also boo! The tour is over! I can’t believe it!)

Until next time 🙂


Palatinate Forest Weekend

This weekend we planned to do a walk with Julian to a place called the Teufel Tisch (devil’s table), a strange rock formation in the forest. Julian had a late night last night and so we had the morning to ourselves and caught up with some reading and writing whilst he caught up on sleep. When Julian got up, we had lunch together before heading to the forest. It was about an hour’s drive to get to the car park and 5pm by the time we started the walk! But the weather was so hot, we were glad to be past the heat of the afternoon.

We set off gently uphill through the forest, chatting about the lynx’s return and what it would mean for people and wildlife. Then the path wound up some steep switchbacks and we sweated our way to the top. From there, it was gently undulating all the way to the devil’s table. It was quite a sight to behold! The stone here is sandstone and the erosion at this location happens to have left a rather large piece of rock standing on quite a skinny plinth. There’s even a tree growing on top, which is lovely.

Nice bit of climbing

Nice bit of climbing

Cool formations

Cool formations

It really is a spectacular rock

It really is a spectacular rock

After a water break and a few piccies, we headed back down to the car park, talking about the local landscape, people and history.  The evening light was beautiful, the orange sunlight glowing through the leaves on the beech trees and bringing out the red bark of the Scot’s pine.

Beautiful evening

Beautiful evening

Scot's pine in the evening sun

Scot’s pine in the evening sun

Then we zoomed back to Trippstadt in time for last orders at Julian’s local Italian. It felt good to have a hearty meal after a hot hike!

On Sunday, I went for another walk with Lea and Caro and their dogs whilst Dave submitted a job application for some winter work, which is exciting.

Tomorrow is our last day at the lynx project, then we’re on our way home!! Can hardly believe it.


Working hard

Today we had chatty breakfast with the guys in the house before back at the castle offices to help out with some jobs. Everyone was busy in the morning, so we took the time to try and plan and book our journey home. I don’t know why it’s so bloody difficult to travel on the train with your bike, but it is. Some trains don’t take bikes, so you end up having to go hundreds of miles out of your way, spend more than twice as long on your journey, make four times as many connections, and then pay double the price for the privilege!

After phoning Eurostar and Deutsche Bahn several times, we weren’t really getting anywhere, so we left it all to mull whilst getting stuck into some jobs. We were helping them make some wooden cut-out animals, based on ones owned by the hunting committee. We placed the existing animals on top of ply-board panels like a jigsaw puzzle to find the best fit, then traced around the edges so that they could be cut with an electric saw. I did the drawing and Dave did the cutting, managing to finish a wild boar piglet before we were going for lunch with Julian.

After lunch, I left Dave to his sawing whilst I tried to sort out the travel arrangements. 4.5 hours later, he had cut out a hare and a fox and I had found a route and booked the necessary trains. Phew! Feeling exhausted, we picked up some oven pizzas and headed back to Julian’s place for a beer. Then he was going out but we declined the party in favour of watching Soylent Green (so weird) and getting an early night.

I feel a lot better that our transport is all sorted and I’m sort of looking forward to being back in London…

– Anna

To Trippstadt

Our efforts of the last few days put us within easy distance of Trippstadt today – we only had 20 km to go. We headed out of Hochspeyer and were immediately confronted with a 4 km hill. Knowing that the hill comprised 20% of our total journey for the day took the edge off it however, and we cheerfully ground up to the top of a lovely forested ridge.


Woodland riding

The ridge went around a big basin with Trippstadt at the other end of it, and we enjoyed rolling through the trees with a forest vista occasionally opening up to our left. We were struck with the size of the forest, in our experience you just don’t see miles of unbroken woodland in the UK. We were a bit sad to see a tiny bat dead at the side of the road, we took some photos in case it had white-nose fungus (link), but I don’t think it did. I guess it got hit by a car. We also saw the remains of a bad car accident with skidmarks off the road up a steep bank, and then a bit of road with murky brown stains; the entirety colourfully marked out with police spray paint. It makes you feel extra vulnerable on the bike when you see that stuff and think what would happen if you were in the way of it when it happened!

We climbed one final hill to the outskirts of Trippstadt, and since we were early for our meeting with the Project Team, we settled down at a bench and table under a spreading oak tree for some lunch and a read. I was reading Kith, a book about childhood by Jay Griffiths, working my way through some particularly horrendous accounts of bad parenting, when a landrover pulled up, and a khaki-covered guy jumped out. ”Anna and Dave?” This is becoming a common occurrence for us! The guy turned out to be Michael, one of the Project employees. He was on his way home to get some sleep before going on a night-time red deer count in the forest. We had a nice chat and he welcomed us to town before heading off. We decided we should just go along and see who was in at the Project.


Last uphill

We rolled up to the address we’d been given, which turned out to be a rather grand castle, reminiscent of the Swiss National Park offices. Not sure what it is with all these stately homes containing rewilding projects! Sylvia welcomed us in, and we spoke briefly about the project before a local journalist arrived to ask us some questions about our trip. I think we were a little more coherent this time; we’ll soon be media-savvy rewilding spokespersons if this continues! All good for the UK rewilding revolution!


Posing with a lynx!

Julian, our contact at the project, arrived a little later, he’s just come back from a holiday and came straight to the office to welcome us. Dedication! We are also staying at his place while we’re in Trippstadt, thanks Julian! We jumped on the bikes and followed him back to his apartment. There we met housemate Marten and Marten’s friend Konrad. We had a lovely evening eating dinner round the kitchen table. I’m afraid I might have bored Marten and Konrad with my garbled ranting about British politics; Anna just isn’t interested in that stuff, so those poor guys got everything I’ve been saving up since the General Election in May!

We eventually settled down on the sofabed at about midnight and got some sleep ready to help out at the project tomorrow.

– Dave

Lessons learned?

Today we had a 45 km ride to do, so we weren’t in a hurry to leave. It was a beautiful morning at the winery and we had a relaxed breakfast and caught up on some internet-related chores. After drinking a bottle of their delicious wine last night, we ordered a whole case of it to be sent home this morning! Then it was 11am and time to get going.

It was getting hot and we set off along a paved farm track, both feeling slightly cranky for some reason. (Perhaps the late night, bottle of wine then sleeping in a tent?) We’re planning on finishing the cycle tour early and heading back to the UK sooner than originally intended in order to help out family and friends on a project that Dave co-owns. This means trying to find affordable transport back and deciding whether we’re going to travel together and whether Dave is going to miss the last rewilding project. The debates got heated as we sweated up a few hills in the midday sun but cleared up after our lunch stop.

Enjoying a nice paved farm track

Enjoying a nice paved farm track

Then Google had some more delights in store for us on our route. Most of the farm tracks had been paved so far, but a few of them were becoming gravelly and then the ‘route’ went along a field boundary that was barely a footpath, let alone a cycle route. We followed a detour along a minor road to rejoin the route, carried on along it for a while before it disappeared into nothing once again. Then we abandoned Google in favour of and planned our own route along minor roads through fields and villages, which was very pleasant in the end, a lot faster and a lot more direct!

At this point we're supposed to turn off.... into the field?

At this point we’re supposed to turn off…. into the field?

Suspect but still doable (slowly)

Suspect but still doable (slowly)

Let's find a detour

Let’s find a detour

That's better!

That’s better!

When we made it to the edge of Hochspeyer village, it was somehow almost 5pm. We went to find an affordable hotel in the absence of any campsites in the area. We rode down a steep hill into town and found one of the two hotels, looking very much closed. So we rode back up a steep hill to the other side of town and found the other hotel. This one at least had a doorbell, but there was no answer. We met one of the guests outside, who said it was open, so we just had to wait. We sat around in the garden in the sun for half an hour then checked into our room.

Not feeling excited about having to go shopping and cook, we went for dinner and then watched a movie, which was all very nice and relaxed. Tomorrow, we visit the Lynx project!

– Anna

Rhine and wine

The wind was insane last night, we both woke up a few times and were glad we had big trees protecting our tent from the worst of it. On the plus side, against all expectation, our washing was dry this morning, hooray!

Apart from the good air-drying facilities, this campsite pretty much sucked, and we were happy to leave. Never good when you arrive in the pissing rain and the manager shouts at you that you can’t put your tent together under a shelter. Oh well. We said goodbye to our fellow cycle tourist and headed off. It was really complicated following the Google route through Frankfurt, if we didn’t have GPS it just wouldn’t be possible I don’t think. We’d have to take the road or something crazy like that.

As we were going along a river path beside some allotments, Anna spotted a red squirrel with its head stuck in a fence. She was so quick to jump of her bike and release it that I didn’t even see the thing until it scaled the fence and launched itself into an allotment. Anna Heslop, Nature Protector!

We stopped for first lunch in a park and discussed all the stuff we need to do when we get home. There’s a lot of stuff! Dunno how we’re going to find the time, or the money! Ah well, we’ll worry about that in a few weeks!

We eventually escaped Frankfurt and headed towards Alzey. We were still following Google Maps, which was taking us on some weird and wonderful routes to keep us off the roads, but thankfully none as ridiculously agricultural as yesterday. We went through some lovely woodland and along some horrible windy riverside. We also crossed the good old Rhine again, pity about the lorries whizzing past right next to us!

Nice ride in the woods

Nice ride in the woods

Get me of this bridge now please!

Get me of this bridge now please!

Just as we were wondering if we’d taken one diversion too many to make it to Weinheim tonight, Anna found a cycle track along an old railway line that suddenly sped us several kilometres in the right direction, and the game was on once again.

Railways - great for cycling!

Railways – great for cycling!

We tried to follow the line till our destination, but sadly they must have given up restoring it at some point because we had to revert to horrible busy roads and very roundabout cycle paths, but at least the end was in sight!

When we got into Weinheim we were full of trepidation. If the campsite was closed there was nothing for miles. We’d already decided we would just go knocking at farms until someone let us lay down our stinky carcasses in a field. Luckily this proved unnecessary; the campsite here is tiny, but amazing. It’s part of a Winery, the facilities are brilliant, and the lady here welcomed in with a tasting of four delicious white wines, which worked pretty quickly on our dehydrated brains! We liked them so much we bought a couple of bottles. We were worrying if we’d have enough money to pay for them, and them they turned out to be €3.50 each. Best campsite ever. So we just had dinner with a delicious chilled bottle of Gewurtzstraminer and we have another in the pannier for tomorrow. Bring it on!

Guess we're back in wine country!

Guess we’re back in wine country!

Oh yes

Oh yes

The view was nice too

The view was nice too

– Dave

Over fields and hills

Today we had to ride 10km into Gießen then stop there to go the shops for food and try to find an eye doctor. Since we went swimming in the sea in Holland (3 weeks ago?), my eyes were itchy for a while, then the right one was sore and never felt better. I was worried there might be something stuck in it and wanted to get it looked at.

After shopping and using McDonald’s internet to load up the day’s directions, I found an eye clinic on the map just 1km away. But when I went in and asked if I could see a doctor, the guy told me that was a university building! He sent me in the direction of likely clinics and off we went. The first clinic I tried said that since my eyes weren’t swollen or gooey, it wasn’t an emergency. “I can book you an appointment. The next available one is in the new year.” What?! By then I’ll either be blind or better and I’ll definitely be in the UK. I asked in the optician but he said they can’t look into your eyes, perhaps I should try another clinic and make it sound more urgent and push for an emergency appointment? Hmm, good advice!

So I went to a second clinic and said I was worried there was something in my eye, can I please see the eye doctor! She said yes of course, can I see your ID? Being a foreigner, I would have to pay privately. It turned out to be only 25 euros though so I was up for it! How long will I have to wait? Oh, about… 5 minutes. Awesome!

That means that after finding out how the system works, I managed to see an eye doctor within 10 minutes of asking to see one, for only 24 euros. Bloody amazing. She looked in my eyes, told me I had an infection and gave me a prescription for some antibiotic eye drops and I was on my way.

A trip to the neighbouring pharmacy then we were on the road again, happy that I was going to continue to have depth perception. By this time it was almost midday and we were going to have to stop for food before we’d really gone anywhere, but at least we rode out of town a bit.

After a pit-stop, we’d probably done about 20km in total and it was the afternoon. We’d better get cracking! But there were a few things slowing us down. One was the wind! It had been in our faces since we left Rothaargebirge and it was still blowing fiercly. The other thing was that we were following a Google maps route, and it was all over the place! It started off not too bad, just a few nice tracks through field and forest. Definitely a longer route than taking the road, but quieter too. Then things started to get dodgy. One track turned into a narrow trail with the odd large stone to swerve around – not easy with a heavy load. Then we were on sandy forestry tracks in the creepy middle-of-nowhere. Then it told us to turn off into the trees. No path at all! Just trees. And it was starting to rain. So we switched to for a bit to find a way back to proper little roads.

I directed us over the motorway, around a golf course and through a village to meet the B455. In the rain. We joined it but then pulled over after 200 meters. It was so busy! There was no shoulder and nobody slowed down to pass us, not even the trucks. Dave was eyeing up a farm track opposite and I tried to map an alternative route. There wasn’t anything good though, so farm track it was. The gravel track turned into a grass track and we were riding between fields in the wind and rain, hoping we’d meet up with a path soon! Luckily we came out onto a track and some dog walkers looked at us like “where did you two come from?”. Good question.

Thanks Google!

Thanks Google!

On the paved tracks we made it to the outskirts of a village for second lunch on a bench under a lovely tree with dense rain-stopping foliage. We were aiming for City-Camp Frankfurt, just north of the city, and it was still a little way away. But we got back on the bikes to re-find our lost Google route and make it there. Thankfully the route redeemed itself in the latter stages and we found ourselves on a gorgeous riverside cycle route as the rain started getting heavier. With no more route finding to do before the campsite, we enjoyed the ride. We even found an abandoned airstrip to play in on the way!

Joining the riverside route

Joining the riverside route

Ready for takeoff...!

Ready for takeoff…!

And at 6pm we finally arrived dripping at the campsite, got set up in the rain and went for warm showers. It was a pretty crappy campsite but we’ve learned not to expect much from city campsites. We did meet another tourer there, who was training for a spring charity ride to the northern most point in Norway!

The rain stopped in time for us to hang out the laundry, and we snuggled up in bed as the overcast sky went from grey to black, hoping tomorrow would be nicer.