Speedwell of Rhu Ship's Log

26 th of February to 2 nd of March 2018 - Exploring Andalucia

Crew : Helen and Andy
Destinations : Aracena, Carmona, El Rocio and DoƱana National Park.

Having hired a car we decided to use it to explore the local area. As is becoming the norm for us it rained so we were more restricted than we hoped. However, we had a beautiful walk in the hills around Aracena. These were full of cork oak, olive trees, orange trees and black pigs. We were also circled by a large flock of Griffon Vultures, but they disappeared once we had had a beer!


The following day the weather looked set to rain so we headed along the road to Carmona. This turned out to be a lovely old white Andalucian town on a hill with a Roman bridge and road, old sand stone quarry and Moorish buildings. There was a lovely walk outside the town which took us across the bridge and gave us lovely views of the surrounding countryside.


The following day Storm Emma started to have an impact. We heard a lot on the radio about the severe cold weather at home and the affect that this was having. The route that Storm Emma was taking across the Atlantic was delivering blizzard conditions to parts of the UK as it came face to face with the Beast from the East. With us it brought strong south westerly winds and thundery rain. Although these brought fairly warm weather the strong winds and rain gave us some anxiety as we were moored on the river which had a large water catchment area giving rise to strong currents, made worse by the fact that it was spring tides and the wind was coming from the direction of the flow of the river. We also got covered in seed, twigs and leaves from the eucalyptus trees growing on the bank next to us. A lot of flotsam also got trapped between us and the pontoon and took some clearing each morning.

We were slightly worried about leaving Speedwell for our planned couple of days away. However, we checked Speedwell was well tied up and headed off to El Rocio, the village nearest to the Doñana National Park, where we had a cheap hotel booked. It was still very windy when we got there and it rained all night. The hotel leaked and it was incredibly quiet in the town which was very strange. El Rocio is the site of one of the largest pilgrimages in Spain which takes place at Pentacost. There are a number of brotherhoods, based in towns in Andalusia, and they all have there own places to stay in El Rocio with the name of their town written on them. They apparently come down at weekends and of course for the religious festival. It sounds like a good excuse for a big party as we were told it is a party town at weekends. Midweek it was like something out of The Good The Bad and The Ugly.  There are a lot of stables around and the bars and houses have rails to tie horses up to and notices to say that some of the tables are reserved for people on horseback. This clearly explained the road situation. These were just sand with potholes and no signposts. They were made particularly bad by the rain which formed rivers down the the middle and filled the potholes to make small ponds. Apparently the way not to get stuck is to drive as fast as possible, which is what the locals did, washing any other cars around in brown silty water. Anyway we managed to not get stuck thanks to Andy's cautious driving.

We were up at 6.30am the following morning to go on a tour of the national park with a man called Jose. We met him and two British lads for an amazing drive through the park. We were soaked by the time we got into the 4 wheel drive as we didn't think it would be sensible to drive through the town in the dark, so walked in torrential rain. Jose's knowledge of the birds was fantastic. The marshes were starting to fill with water which pleased him as there had been little rain this winter and the birds need the water to feed from. We saw an amazing number of birds, despite it not being the high season and the fact that it rained heavily off and on. The scenery was reminiscent of the fens and east of England reserves, only on a much bigger scale and less accessible.


We saw: Black Kite, Red Kite, Black Winged Kite, Buzzard, Common Kestrel, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron, Black Crowned Night Heron, Cormorant, White Stork, Black Stork, Crane, Flamingo, Spoonbill, Avocet, Gadwall, Coot, Purple Swamp Hen, Red Shank, Spotted Red Shank, Green Shank, Ruff, Green Sandpiper, Golden Plover, Stilt, Snipe, Bartailed Godwit, Gadwall, Shoveller, Mallard, Woodchat Shrike, Raven, Azure Winged Magpie, Magpie, Stonechat, Hoopoe, Swifts, Spanish Sparrows and I'm sure I missed some.

After a tour which took over 6 hours, as Jose stopped every time he saw something interesting, we got back to our hotel. We decided to go back home as it continued to rain and the wind was picking up again.

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