Above and beyond the Picos

Years ago we did a whole load of work with BP Retail. One of the sessions was about customer service and going above and beyond to delight. The examples the BP trainers used were rubbish, their main example being “Flowers in the toilet”. It was a bit of standing joke amongst those of us who worked on the contract.

We have however experienced amazing help at the marina in Santander where we left the boat to head up for a jaunt into the Picos Mountains. More later on that. Back to the marina where ‘our main man’ let us log onto their office super fast wifi, most helpful, then when we asked about the nearest cash point, bundled us up into his car and drove us to one a couple of miles away. The following morning he arrived knocking on the boat at 8.55am to take us in a golf buggy to the bus stop. Now that’s outstanding customer service.

Dave spent two months in the Eastern Picos when he was an impoverished student at Lancaster University in 1985, mostly underground, scaring himself on 120m entrance pitches. We had a rough plan to retrace some of those steps from over 30 years. Without any underground nonsense. We started at 100m and walked up the Urdon Gorge which is just over 5kms in length and gains 830m in height. Impressive switchback after switchback. We discussed if we were on a zig or a zag and what is the difference between the two. No conclusion reached. Dave recalled walking up it with a massive pack carrying caving gear. We had camping kit but thankfully not as heavy.

We reached the village of Treviso then carried on another 12km to track upto a refuge where the caving expedition had been based. The hut had been upgraded but was still pretty familiar to Dave. In fact the Guardian said a group from the university had been based there earlier this summer. Old habits, traditions and links die hard.

We camped 15 minutes away from the refuge on a flat grassy patch. We used our friend Stevie’s tent. Thank you Stevie. It was pretty chilly with frost on the ground the following morning but after some porridge and a consult of the map (thanks Becca) and guide book, we came up with a plan to do a circular route up high. It was a blue sky day so we had a fantastic walk although the terrain wasn’t straightforward and we lost the path down from one of the peaks and ended up scrambling / climbing down and up to find the path again.

Around 6pm we headed down to the road and hitched to the village of Sotres, checked into a fab little hotel and ate and drank well. We’d covered close to 50km and climbed more that 7,250 feet on our two day trip which felt pretty good and a bit achy.

Here are a few snaps of our trip. Back on the boat now, fridge had stopped working but fingers crossed its chugging away now.



Feeling Small

There have been occasions in my past when I’ve felt important and key to what’s going on. What I like about the scale of nature is it that it puts everything into a different perspective and gets my ego back onto an even keel. Nature forcibly reminds me how small and insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. I like this. To me this way of thinking is healthy and appropriate.

In the last few days, we sailed 200 miles from La Rochelle in France to Santander in Spain. My night watch was illuminated by a sky full of stars filling the vista from horizon to horizon. Then the moon came up and many of the stars disappeared as the light was so bright it rubbed them out. Setting a cracking pace as the sailed on a beam reach towards Spain, I could feel myself smiling and just enjoying the moment. Simple, uncomplicated, special.

We haven’t posted anything for a while. I was back in the uk for 12 days doing a bit of work with the lovely people from Nando’s, seeing some friends and family and collecting a few odds and sods from the store which we’d forgotten to pack. That’s one for you Matt. Electric dinghy pump, bike pump, spare bilge pump bits, etc etc…mostly pumps it would appear.

Dave spent around 40 hours recaulking one side of the teak decks, a pig of a job that involves stripping the old caulking out, sanding and cleaning the grooves with acetone, taping where necessary then using a gun to squeeze new caulking into the cleaned gaps. This then goes off over 48 hours, leaving the job of removing the excess caulk, sanding the deck and finally stripping away the tape. Not sure how long it will take for him to have recovered mentally to face starting the port side of the boat. He will have ‘crew / skippers wife’ to help next time.

My Bro and family came to visit in La Rochelle. It was great to see them and for them to see the boat too for the first time. We ate, caught the water taxi into town, had ice creams and fished off the boat in the marina for mullet. My nephew Toby is a particularly keen and successful fisherman unlike his fish free aunty. Evidence in photo form here.

We’re currently anchored off the beach in Santander. Last night we embraced the Spanish way of life and went out to have tapas and Rioja. Most excellent. It was gone 1130 when we got back onto the boat, late for us but we both enjoyed the buzz wandering the busy city streets late at night.

We plan to leave the boat somewhere on this coast and head off into the Picos mountains for a few days. So some research needed on buses, routes and weather. Not sure either of us or our legs are ready for walking up big hills but that’s not a reason not to go. Dave spent some time in the Picos when he was a student in Lancaster on a caving trip. We may well try to retrace some of his journey. Without the caves.

Three things

I think I’ve mentioned already that I’m a serial list maker which as afflictions go is probably not the worst possible although I know some of you will find it unnecessarily structured and pedantic. We were sailing from Saint Gilles Criox de Vie to Les Sables d’Olonne yesterday evening with the last of the evening sunset, when I started pondering about lists of things.


  1. Ile de Brehat. Delightful, like going back in time, no cars, great anchorage, a beautiful water mill and quiet and understated. Been before, loved it then, still loved it now.
  2. Belle Ile. Great coastal walking, not unlike Cornwall. Small coves and sandy inlets and an impressive Citadel overlooking the main town, Le Palais. In fact the footpath goes through part of the Citadel. Save up and go for lunch. We hadn’t but someone arrived by helicopter who had. There’s something to aspire to …maybe.
  3. Iles de Glenan. Described to us by a local as the French version of the Caribbean or the Galápagos Islands. St Nicolas where we anchored takes about 20 minutes to walk around. Crystal clear water, white sandy beaches. We swam with wetsuits  on – wimpy?!?


  1. Rob Knowles, Mark Ludbrook and my dad will be polite and make supportive noises about my dolphin photos because that’s the kind of people they are. In reality they are pretty shoddy and some more photographic work is required here. Dolphins swimming on the bow wave make us smile every time.
  2. Not sure this really fits under wildlife but the queue to the trawler that arrived with sardines got bigger and bigger as locals and tourists turned up with buckets and Asda plastic bags.
  3. Being at anchor in Cameret where the evening entertainment was watching gulls dive no more than 4m from the boat and coming up with beaks full of fish. My personal fishing attempts have so far drawn a blank. Hum.


  1. Crab Mayonnaise. A whole crab arrives in pieces with an array of tools that could only have been invented by a dentist or someone from a horror movie to help dissect it. A painstaking hobby with lots of delicious reward.
  2. Moules a la crème. Top Nosh and another time consuming but delicious dish.
  3. Ice cream. Lemon for Dave. Mango for me. No need to embellish. Buy one and walk round the old town which is in the ramparts of a castle on an island in Concarneau.

Les Sables d’Olonnes is an iconic sailing location. Pete Goss was welcomed back here by over 500,000 supporters after forsaking his own race to sail 2 days into 80 mile an hour winds to rescue Raphael Dinelli from his life raft in the southern ocean. Epic. Yesterday a few families out walking along the piers waved to us and the fishermen and women retracted their lines as we motored in along the canal. It still felt iconic to me.