Calypso Capers

Aviles – countryside, culture and coal dust..

We left Gijon with the promise of a grey windless day and a 23nm motor to a large harbour that barely gets a mention in the Reeds Almanac because, it is said, the harbour is a bit of an industrial hell hole. The following photographs will not contradict that view, but would the town of Aviles make up for the harbour as we had read in more than one blog? We hoped so.

En route we passed well outside Cabo Penas (pronounced Penyas – stop giggling at the back!) We could not quite work out why the chart shows an isolated rock half a mile off the cape in about 60m of water with no contours around it – could that be an error? We didn’t bother trying to find out and went the long way round.

Off Cabo Penas is a rock that strongly resembles Moby Dick (yes we giggled too!!)

We never bothered with sails and struggled against a bit of tide with our undersized or under-pitched propeller (still a mystery) and eventually arrived at the entrance to the long narrow harbour, with chemical works in the background…….

The harbour first heads North to South, past large tanks of sulphuric acid, before turning through 90 degrees to head East, and on the outside of the bend is a pretty little hamlet overshadowed by a dry dock for large ships:

…..but then as we headed East towards town we saw the raw material for the acid being unloaded – with clouds of sulphur dust only partly controlled by the numerous water sprinklers and mist fans… we donned Val’s scarves around our mouths for a few hundred metres to protect our lungs from sulphur dust. Can’t believe this is legal!! And behind the sulphur hopper you can see the huge mounds of coal – we had heard that this was a major coal port.

We decided to find this interesting rather than an eyesore, and upon arrival celebrated on pontoon 11, the arrivals pontoon, in time honoured fashion:

The arrivals procedure here is to find a space (ideally pontoon 11) and then telephone the berthing chappy on +34 60781 0888.

The very nice gentleman from the marina office, Angel, speaks just a little English, but we got by and arranged to see him at the boat at 7.30pm. He texted the gate pass, and came later as arranged. We paid the low season rate of 20 euros a night, taking advantage of the buy 4 nights get one free offer. This rises to 25 euros from 1 June (for up to 12m).

We were appraised of the location of the toilet and shower block some half a mile away, in the fishing port, behind a nice bar. The showers are good but needed cleaning, one consolation being free use of the washing machine (3 loads done in the first 2 days here) – but no dryer. Angel was very apologetic when he learned of the lack of cleaning later, and I suspect that the cleaner was about to receive a stern talking to! With so few visitors at this time of year the cleaner obviously thought he/she could get away with it. Each cubicle is large, has an internal door separating the changing area from the shower, and the excellent flow of hot water was uninterrupted – no pressing a button every few seconds. So the long walk is well worthwhile.

Similarly the wi-fi here was as good as we have had in any marina, enabling uninterrupted video streaming and video calls to the kids at home. Maybe that was because there was no-one else using bandwidth, but it didn’t change noticeably when other visitors were in.

Angel was very friendly and helpful. The marina is obviously very keen to attract visiting boats here. When we twice renewed our stay for another 5 nights in June (now into high season) we were given the same low season rate and the same 5 nights for 4 offer. Our man told us that if we wanted to leave our boat here to fly home from the nearby airport they will offer good rates – such as the British 43 foot yacht opposite us – where the owner had booked in for a month at only 300 euros and flown home.

Note that fellow Cruising Association Mike H and his very good friend Mike H (confused?) arrived on day 2 and parked in the space alongside us – only to be moved to the end of pontoon 10 as the space they had taken – on the pontoon signposted as the transit pontoon – was in fact let to a long term berth holder who might come back. We shared a beer before they got moved on, and may see Mike H again before the end of the year after his wife has joined him in Vigo for a cruise back North (although the other Mike H will be going home shortly).

After our arrival we quickly went to see if the town is as amazing as some have said, and as the pictures below illustrate, it really is very special and historic – one intact long row of property dating back to the 17th century (not shown here).

There are a couple of great squares and a few historic old streets, in addition to a larger that anticipated shopping area – and a decent indoor market. Some of the older streets are indeed paved in marble as we had read.

The tourist information centre was very helpful (and the young lady speaks reasonable English).

The indoor market hall opens daily and has 3 good fish stalls, a few butchers and several greengrocery stalls etc.. We discovered the black cured Morcillas sausages here – similar but much tastier than chorizo. The fish stalls had an excellent range of fish at good value.

“Can I have five fish please – and where’s the bread shop?”…….”Oh for goodness sake, every Friday!”

Sorry – I do not mean to be disrespectful, but couldn’t resist, given the stallholder’s expression. We have enjoyed the tranquility of the wonderful churches around here, spending time just sitting in a pew reflecting……………..

The market hall sits in a large square, entirely surrounded by old apartment buildings with attractive facias. On Mondays this comes alive with an outdoor market. As well as the usual clothes/shoes/bric-a-brac and larger greengrocery stalls, a particularly attractive feature for us was the line of older ladies (mostly) and gentlemen selling home grown vegetables and herbs from their smallholdings.

The prices were attractive too (a familiar theme here in Spain). We bought a whole kilo of juicy cherries for just 3 euros (it would have been 2 or 3 times that in France).

Paul had intended to play golf at the Los Balagares resort course on our first Thursday. However when looking at the website he discovered that whilst the normal green fee was 28 euros (half the lowest he paid in France), there is a special Tuesday offer of a round of golf and a 2 course meal for just 23 euros. So here he is on Tuesday, at the scene of his only birdie in one of those “nearly” rounds (78 gross, for his golfing pals).

The subsequent meal was very good, and the staff were very friendly – especially the pro, whose English was much better than our Spanish, and who made sure that we were well looked after throughout the day.

We got to the course on the number 5 bus from opposite the bus station. We caught the 9.00 bus there and 4.30 bus back as these detour into Los Balagares. One thing we don’t have here in Aviles is the ability to step off the boat and walk into open countryside or along an attractive sea front. However the excellent bus and train services from the nearby station give us the opportunity to explore the area.

In addition to the normal rail services is the narrow gauge  Feve line, which runs through some very attractive scenery in Northern Spain, including skirting the foothills of the Picos de Europa. We intended to explore the possibility of a Michael Portillo-esque day trip, but in the end instead hired a car from the hire depots next to the station (using the website we got great weekend rates). We hired a VW Golf for 3 full days over the weekend for the princely sum of 62.64 euros in order to visit the Picos De Europa mountain range and other parts of very beautiful rural Asturias. A separate blog on our road trips follows.

Opposite the rail and bus station, (up the hill in a parallel street) is a large, excellent Mercadona supermarket. There are several others in easy reach within the town.

On our return from the road trip we saw the excellent new(ish) Woody Allen film, Wonder Wheel, at the Neimeyer Centre (of cultural activity). We subsequently visited an art exhibition there – in the last hour from 7pm when entry is free!

The centre is named after the apparently famous architect who designed it. It looks good now, but we do hope that the bright white buildings with yellow panel does not go grubby, as some modern building materials have a tendency to do.

The centre is built at the head of the harbour on a kind of island. The view of the harbour from here is good (the start of the marina can just be seen extreme right)

We had great excitement in our second week here when Adam and Lynne set off from Rochefort (just south of La Rochelle) to cross Biscay and head to Aviles to catch up with us (well, they don’t like us that much – they picked here as it is next to the airport!)

However Adam got his winds wrong and they ended up in Santander! Adam blames the weather app that I recommended (PredictWind) as apparently it gave a horribly wrong forecast. I’ll show him how to use it when they eventually arrive here!

OK – that’s my little joke (which will come out from time to time no doubt) – as when they reached mid-Biscay there was no North in the wind as predicted and with a West to WSW wind, also stronger than forecast, they took the sensible decision to  change course.

So whilst waiting for them to get here over the following few days we caught the bus to the Asturias region’s capital, Oviedo. The direct bus goes from the bus station at regular intervals and takes just 30 minutes to get there via the motorway. We had not researched this trip and as we got off the bus and headed towards the centre we wondered why Woody Allen once described this place as a “fairy tale”

But then we stumbled across the old quarter, dating back to the 8th century, and it all made sense (well, maybe fairy tale is a bit over-egging it). We quickly came across the market – we knew there was an excellent indoor market hall here but had no idea that Thursday was market day. Once again the little old ladies were there selling their hard grown provisions:

The indoor market hall, open every day (well, maybe not Sunday in this Catholic country) was indeed amazing. Judging by the stalls the Asturians love their fish…..

……….and a bit of pork sausage……..

……along with anything else that comes from a pig, it seems. Centre left and bottom left of the photo are pigs snouts and ears, plus rolled skin with an inch of fat. No trotters here, but there were plenty of stalls that did sell them.

Just around the corner from the market is a beautiful square, where there was a small, noisy but peaceful protest – something about pensions.

On the right is the town hall and on the left is the Church of San Isidoro El Real, built between 1578 and 1740, and originally part of the Jesuit college which stretched out to the left, where now the old market hall stands. As we stopped for a cuppa opposite the market, in the street we could see where the old college once joined on to the church, and former surveyor Paul remarked what a poor job had been done in making good the church wall after the building had been demolished, and how strange that no works had been done since. You can just see the outline of the old college against the church and the gaping holes that remain in the photo below, with the market hall now abutting the church;

The church of San Isidoro El Real was one of many we saw in the city centre, but we decided to look inside and were pleased we did – the carvings in here, all around the outer walls, are just amazing. Here are a couple:

We had lunch in an ancient tea room (well, dating from 1926 – it felt that way) and caught the bus home having had a thoroughly enjoyable but of culture! As you can tell from the photos, we had one of our few sunny days so far here in Asturias – it’s been depressing reading the much better weather forecasts for home in Yorkshire. And sure enough the next day saw the rain return.

We decided not to leave for a few days so we could have some quality time with the Bisphams and beat them at Wizard again (but that backfired)! However we were running out of things to do in Aviles (here 12 days already) and so decided to book a car and hotel again for the weekend and have a second trip to the Picos de Europa – having been foiled the first time by a closed road. More on that soon in the next blog, dedicated to our Asturias road trips.

However during that trip we visited the Bisphams in Ribadesella, East of Gijon. We thought that the photo below might be of interest to any sailors who have ploughed through this post and got to this point! When Adam and Lynne arrived at the large new visitor pontoon they were aware of the “training wall” sitting outside the pontoon, but it was fully covered. They were a little surprised when the tide went out to see just how close it is – especially at the seaward end of the pontoon:

The next day Adam and Lynne arrived in Aviles and we enjoyed a few days of good company (after 2 weeks of being here on our own with just the odd day when the Mikes were here). We had scheduled our departure to Cudillero for Friday 15th June – exactly at springs. We would have to leave very early to ensure we have at least a half rise of tide on arrival. However the wind promised for Saturday to assist us on our 45nm trip from Cudillero to Ribadeo has vanished, so we put the trip off for a couple of days.

We could break the 45nm journey by stopping at Luarca (roughly mid point). However we visited Luarca by car to look at the mooring balls off the harbour wall:

We had read that there is very little depth in this area (with tales of one yacht throwing down an anchor to pull itself away from the wall, and another having just 0.4m beneath the keel at low tide). Certainly the balls nearest to town end of the wall looked to be in relatively shallow water with a rock bed – and hard to tell for those farther out. Added to that the need to launch the dinghy to take the line ashore and having to either climb a tall rusty ladder or take a very long line into the steps at the corner (with apparently nowhere to tie the dinghy that we could see) and the fact that we had seen what we needed to of this town now by car – we prefer a long day at sea than to stop off here.

The season seems to be getting into swing as we reach mid-June; the sun is making a regular appearance and from being on our Billy-No-Mates for 2 weeks there are now 4 British, Cruising Association yachts here including ourselves. One of them was told that the weather has been exceptionally poor, even for cloudy Asturias. Which is good to report, as the weather so far in Spain has been very poor!

We visited the Neimeyer Centre again with Lynne B (when Adam returned to the UK for a few days from the nearby airport. We had told the Bisphams before they arrived that there is a good bus service to the airport from the station. This time we walked to the centre to see two exhibitions (one a contemporary art installation and the other a superb exhibition of photography by Frank Fonatana). We got a different view by walking:

And here’s a shot inspired by Fontana’s urban photography, just lacking in expensive camera equipment – and technique – and talent!

And Aviles got even better when the circus rode into town. Tickets were booked for Friday 15th June, to be followed by the second half of Spain v Portugal’s world cup match in a Spanish bar!

We went with Lynne (Adam still in the UK), and the girls loved the show. Not quite Cirque du Soleil but it was pretty good.

And Paul didn’t complain at being dragged along – circus is a bit like panto – it works on different levels!

Before we left we had wanted to visit the beach we had seen at the entrance to the 3 mile long harbour – at Salinas. So we caught a bus (eventually, after waiting at the wrong bus stop – twice!) It’s a nice enough spot, and the first ice creams of the trip were excellent. We actually felt to “be beside the sea side” for the first time in a while – this being our final but 20th day in Aviles! Here’s Val getting sand in her toes, with the “anchor museum” on the promontory behind:

The Shakespeare Company, currently on their world tour, were at the Neimeyer Centre on our last night in Aviles – we were tempted – but we’d had enough culture to last a while already here!

So our impression of Aviles? An interesting harbour, a lovely historical and cultural town, great public transport and airport links and cheap car hire, giving easy access to the amazing natural parks of Asturias and its capital, Oviedo. This has been our longest stay since we set off over 2 years ago, but we didn’t get bored – far from it. Calypso does have a fine coating of coal dust – but that will wash away easily enough. And we never witnessed sulphur again after we passed the dust cloud on the first day.

And on our very last night we got one more surprise from this industrial harbour:

Distance traveled since leaving Arzal – 407 nm

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