Friday, 13 October 2017

Fanning the flames on National Day

We knew the Kikopark rural campsite would be busy. It's one of the few all year site in this part of Spain. Also, with National Day falling on a Thursday and a sunny forecast for the following weekend, it was obvious what was going to happen - an en-masse exodus to extend National Day celebrations into a long weekend. Traffic was heavy heading south towards the coast as we sped inland in the opposite direction. Nevertheless there was a queue in reception to book-in when we arrived at Kikopark a little before lunchtime. Luckily most people were collecting keys for the bungalows so there were plenty of 'parcelas' to choose from in the camping area.

The border between Valencia region and Castilla la Mancha is remote and sparsely populated, a fact reinforced the moment we left A3 autovia, as we drew onto the roundabout a herdsman complete with sheepdog, donkey and a small mixed flock of sheep and goats trotted by. Gill grabbed her phone and managed to get a slightly fuzzy photo of them as we passed.

The site itself is based in an old pueblo and the restaurant and facilities look like something out of spaghetti western film set. The only thing that prevents you being convinced that you have slipped backwards in time is the Madrid Valencia high-speed railway runs past about 500 metres from the entrance.

Luckily the trains are very fast, the service is infrequent, every half hour or so there is a short lived whoosh as an express rockets past. As a fan of 'Great Railway Journeys' I became convinced that each train must contain at least one cultured Englishman with Hispanic roots dressed in a stylishly tailored dusty pink jacket, quietly thumbing through a first edition copy of Bradshaw's guide.

Back in the real world there seems to have been a temporary truce in the Catalan versus Madrid stand-off. As it becomes clear that no international support is emerging for the Catalan government's threat to secede - even Nicola Sturgeon was luke warm about it - then it looks ever more likely that the issue will be resolved through negotiation. Certainly here on Kikopark there is a celebratory mood on National Day, but few overt symbols. The emphasis is on having a big family meal at lunchtime and another in the evening, this time involving big braziers piled high with wood.

The group on the next aisle from us placed three across the road, the family's shadowy forms were barely discernible through a wall of flames. In the warm night air, under a sky glittering with stars the moment felt ancient and elemental. A fine way, I feel, to celebrate tribal belonging and a sense of place, much better than waving silly flags.

As at camping Ribenor, celebration translates into noise. During the day with kids flying about, using the Moho service point and the wide entrance to the laundry as football practise areas, it's the sound of children playing that predominates. It's a happy hubbub. By evening a full scale impromptu fiesta breaks out, it sounds like camping in the middle of Bedlam. Mostly it's fine, but it only takes a slight increase in the mayhem for it to become nerve jangling. 

Two things happened to tip us over the edge. The first was the arrival of a British campervan a couple of pitches away from us. As evening fell the chap got his guitar out and proceeded to serenade us all with a series of folksy melodies. As Gill put it, "We appear to be camping next to Ralph Mctell's untalented younger brother." It was true, the same reticent baritone accompanied by tinkling finger style guitar. No matter what Hamish Mctell might have opted to play, whether his repertoire included Led Zeppelin's greatest hits, popular excerpts from Rogers and Hammerstein or Ave Maria - everything would have come out as sounding disturbingly similar to 'Streets of London'.

The surreal of mix of Carmen meets Cropredy was now joined by a chorus of howling dogs. I was about to say that the culprit was a young Labrador cross that had taken umbrage at being tied to a car bumper, but the real culprit was the dog's careless owner who had abandoned the mutt in the first place. The result, the cross Labrador's protestations provoked every other dog on the site to howl, yelp, whine and whimper in sympathy. 

"I think we should move on tomorrow." I commented to Gill. She nodded, without saying a word, wearing a somewhat glazed expression. What we realise is we are travelling a tad earlier in the year, by about a fortnight or so. In past years we have become used to having places more or less to ourselves. Camping on busy sites has come as a surprise. Like last week in the Parc Natural de la Serra d'Irta outside of the camp site itself the tracks and footpaths are deserted. 

Yesterday we pedalled down towards the nearby Embalse dear Contreras. The scenery is spectacular, red rocks, forested hills and fields of olives and vines, their leaves tinged rusty red in October. The closer you get to the water's edge the wilder the landscape looks. The reservoir itself, after the summer drought, is at its lowest, revealing the bare valley sides usually hidden beneath the water in winter and spring. The turquoise water contrasts with the arid, buff coloured earth. The interlocking spurs of the old river valley are revealed, the forms and colours look surreal, otherworldly.

Today we found another grit track over the railway bridge. It leads upwards for about 4kms through forest mainly, to the hilltop village of Villargordo de Cabriel. A big wine cooperative dominates the place. Otherwise it seems barely populated, remote and unfrequented. The gradient on the grit track was steep, without ebikes we would never have made it.

However, neither of us relished the prospect of a downhill trip on such an uneven, loose surface. We decided to use the metalled road to the campsite on the return trip, if anything the descent was even steeper, but much less hazardous on the asphalt. Nevertheless we descended at a sedate pace using the brakes most of the time. We are definitely sedate cyclists these days, well sedate at everything really.

We liked Kikopark rural, both the pueblo style of the site itself and the immediate environs which allow you to get close to the wild, remote beauty of inland Spain, yet accessible on roads that are easy to drive in a motorhome. We just happened upon the place on a public holiday when it was somewhat frenetic, but that was interesting at times too, apart from Ralph's brother and his heartfelt guitar. I kept a note of the registration number of his van,just in case, for future reference.....

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