Sybil’s Big Adventure has returned

After an absence of over a year I’m pleased to announce that Sybil’s Big Adventure is returning, albeit in a slightly different direction.

We’ve had a really tough couple of months since returning to the UK. John’s Mom was very poorly and in hospital for weeks (thankfully she’s fully recovered now) and then my beloved Dad passed away very suddenly & unexpectedly just after Christmas.

We’d already decided to put our travels on hold for the foreseeable future and October saw us moving in to John’s family home & embarking on something we swore we would never do again …. major renovations 🙂

I’m currently in the process of setting up my own business (eeek) after leaving a part-time job with Calderdale Council whilst John is returning to work (part-time) as a Caretaker at a local children’s centre.

Otto is still with us (no longer covered in scabs & bites) and is making lots of doggy friends. He’s now quite the handsome chap – with the biggest ears in Halifax!

Nobby (the van) is in hibernation at the moment, resting her wheels at a secure site near Elland. As the weather gets better we hope to do lots of weekending trips in her with Otto.

Next job is to sort our travel photo’s so I can share them but in the meantime, here’s a link to the map of the route we took home – it seems so long ago!

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Feliz Páscoa!

Happy Easter! The weather’s a bit mixed here in Portugal this weekend – we even had a mini-tornado on the site yesterday. I hope you are all enjoying a lovely Bank Holiday weekend back home in the UK.

We’ve spent the last few weeks splitting our time between Alvor & Silves – our favourite two places on the Algarve. The week in our timeshare apartment went too quickly – the weather was awful but we didn’t care as we were snug in the complex enjoying all the facilities – especially the bath!

Loving the bubbles - now that's what I call a proper bath!

Loving the bubbles – now that’s what I call a proper bath!

We have been a bit very lazy recently so to that end we have started volunteer dog walking at the Municipal Kennels in Portimão every Thursday morning. Depending on how many other volunteers there are, we usually walk around 3 dogs each – stopping halfway round the route for a tickle and a roll around in the grass (the dogs, not us!).

As you may know, we are coming back to the UK for 6 months this summer & will be renting somewhere to live. Our plan was to get another lovely little dog when we’re home, thinking it would be easier to home & train etc when we’re in a static location.

Ho hum – the best laid plans and all that! So, without further ado (drum roll please), may we introduce our new addition Otto.

He’s a cheeky little chap who caught our eye at the kennels and we have adopted him. It’s fair to say that he’s not the prettiest of dogs! He was a bit scraggy when we brought him home but his condition is improving daily as is his confidence. Our legs are aching already from all the walking! Oh, did I mention his ears? They are MASSIVE! They are really comical as he has such a small face!

We’re going to have lots of fun that’s for sure.

At the moment we’re planning our route home & will be setting off back in a couple of weeks.  We’re hoping to follow the Med coast around Spain before hitting France & all those lovely markets!

Here’s a little slideshow of what we’ve been up to recently – enjoy!

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Into the hills we go …

We’ve been off the beaten track somewhat since our last blog update – into the hills & far away!

Our first mini-adventure was taking the N124 from Silves to Portimão.  The road is so bumpy & rutted I thought the van would shake itself to bits.  In places it resembled a patchwork quilt, there were so many differing blotches of infill & repair.  This route took us past traditional villages with white rendered cottages, veg growing in the gardens, fruit trees in the fields and dogs snoozing at the gate.   

Spring has most definitely arrived in the Algarve and the surprisingly green fields and verges are awash with yellow and white wildflowers, bees and butterflies.  Elderly orange sellers line the route selling their produce at road-side stalls, 2.50€ for a 5 kilo bag!

After filling up with diesel & LPG (which runs our hot water & heating), we made our way up to Barragem de Arade around 10Km north of Silves.  The hustle & bustle of Portimão was a real shock to the system & I couldn’t wait to fill up & go!  You very quickly leave town behind you in Portugal and we were soon once again driving past isolated quintas (farms) and traditional hamlets.  At the barragem there were a few vans parked at the bottom of the dam wall but we decided to venture up the track to the parking area that overlooked the reservoir & our view was pretty special.




First job for us once we’re parked up is to get a brew on!  Apparently Italians start cooking & eating, the French start shouting but we get the kettle on!  Fully refreshed, we set off for a walk around and discovered an abandoned & derelict restaurant/bar at the top of the trail.  It was in an idyllic spot and the grounds must once have been beautiful but were now very overgrown – such a shame but the recession has bitten hard here too.

It is processionary caterpillar season at the moment & we noticed a couple of nests in the pine trees around the trail.  These furry little devils are highly toxic and sadly a number of dogs have already been killed by them this year.  They come out to feed at night in a long procession (hence the name) but they also fire something from the nest if it’s disturbed.  Last year in Brittany I suddenly felt as if a thousand tiny arrows had been fired into my face when we were out cycling in the pine woods & now I think I might have been squirted on by these prickly horrors.

Processionary caterpillar nest at Barragem de Arade, Portugal

Watch out – there’s a caterpillar about

Picture the scene – it’s late in the afternoon and John & I are sat out both reading when we hear the roar of a motorcycle powering up the hill to the parking area.  It pulls in & stops somewhere behind the van then … crunch crunch crunch … footsteps on the gravel coming towards us, round the side of the van.  I look up (warily I must admit) and am confronted by a 6’ 5”ish golden-haired vision clad all in leather – wowsers!  Turns out that he & his girlfriend have opened a motorhome stop in the area & he was spreading the word & handing out cards!  At 5€ a night with showers, loos & wi-fi (but no electricity) we said we’d definitely be visiting.

Our photographs really don’t do this place justice.  The weather was beautiful and the only noise was the birds singing and bees buzzing.  Being so high up, we could hear any vehicle coming for miles even if we couldn’t see them.  Apart from a couple of quads, tractors seem to be the popular vehicle of choice up here.



We stayed a couple of nights at the Barragem before setting off for the new motorhome stop.  Once again it was a beautiful morning and a van full of kayakers were arriving at the dam just as we were leaving.  The water looked very tempting but it was too bloody cold for us!

Camperstop Messines

Our trip up to the motorhome stop took us via São Bartolomeu de Messines, a busy little town up in the hills.  Parking on the aire we headed into the town for some essentials – cash, bread, salad and olives.  The local market was still open so we headed in. 

Stalls of fruit & veg lined the right hand side of the building with freshly baked bread in glass cases lining the middle.  The left hand side of the market held the fish stalls.  Even this high up into the hills fresh fish, shellfish & octopussy-things are available as a matter of course.  The floor was cobbled and the building was filled with noise – bartering, greeting & gossiping! 

We bought our salad & bread from some very little old ladies inside the market and our olives from a little old man outside, selling them by the pint pot from a washing up bowl!  People sell their own produce here and they are very proud of it.  I was given a very thorough guided tour of one stall and when I eventually selected something I was made to feel as if I had picked the very best lettuce in the whole building.  What a lovely experience and so much nicer than Tesco!

Following our sat-nav directions we were heading further & further into the countryside and eventually onto a track rather than a road. Three big black barking dogs chased us part of the way but we left them in a cloud of dust when John put his foot down! 

The camperstop is in a fantastic rural location & somewhere we would never have ventured under our own steam.  We chose our parking spot alongside a stream in the blazing sun – gorgeous.  There were around 10 other vans there and together with the facilities I’ve already mentioned, they also provide a free shopping service!  Very handy should you run out of wine (John).


Maps of treks & hikes of varying length & difficulty were available along with guided walks during the week.  We went for a small potter up the track, not too far from the campsite and found a couple of ruins (no, not us) and a field full of pretty, furry cows with their bull.  It was so peaceful, the only thing to be heard at night was the frog chorus from the stream as we watched the full moon rising.



Sunday was the highlight of our stay as we were picked up by the owner & taken to a local restaurant for a lunch of either goat or wild boar – the traditional dishes of the region.  As we sampled wild boar very recently we decided to try the goat & it was fantastic!  We shared the car with a lovely couple from Sheffield and met up with 3 other Dutch couples who had cycled there from the campsite. 

The restaurant was busy with local families (always a good sign) and full of atmosphere.  The restaurants look really basic from the outside and a little bit tatty but step inside & it’s another world.  Heavy, dark traditional wooden furniture complimented the sunny, yellow walls and our tables were soon heaving with bread, olives, pates, cheese meats and wine.  Our mains were served in earthenware casseroles and after some initial confusion over who was having what, we all got stuck in! 

John & I both had the Cabrito no Forno (translation – kid in oven) and it was FABULOUS, so tender it was falling off the bone.  The other dish was wild boar with braised chestnuts & that was pretty tasty too.  I had Tarte Amendoa for pudding which is almond cake whilst John had an ice-creamy thing with nuts, caramel & chocolate lumps.  Coffees followed & all too soon our ride home arrived & it was time to go.

I know I’ve said it before but one of the best things about travelling is the people we meet and the new experiences we’re having.  Just like the street party at the campsite & the leaving lunch, we were all chatting & laughing away like old friends over lunch, sharing stories and swapping tips, regardless of nationality and language barriers – life affirming stuff. 

We’re back at Silves again at our favourite site.  The storks are still busy building their nests, the swifts/swallows/house-martins are performing mid-air acrobatics & the frogs are serenading us with their special song at night.  Ahh, simple pleasures – life is good!

Posted in Day to day stuff, General, Portugal | 6 Comments

Time Flies

Well, it’s been over 2 weeks since I updated our blog – I’m glad to report that it has stopped raining & the sun has come out.

We’ve been cycling, on train rides, had a bash at kayaking & have even sampled roast wild boar for the first time – delicious.

The van has been well-fettled so we’re ready to travel & are now protected against the onslaught of buzzing, flying things – bring it on!

We’ve left the campsite & are currently at Silves at the Algarve Motorhome Park – again!  We have a great view of the storks building their nests and the goats, sheep & lambs come gambolling by each morning.  There is even a frog chorus to gently send us off to sleep at night – it’s just heavenly.

Tomorrow we are heading up to the local barragem (dam) for a spot of wild-camping so we will be off-line for the next couple of days. 

I’ve put together a little slideshow of some of our outings & activities – hope you enjoy it and don’t forget to keep in touch.

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Happy Anniversary!

Well, doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? 

I can hardly believe it but it’s a whole year since we sold our house, most of our belongings & bought the motorhome to go adventuring.  Looking back it seems a lifetime ago, not just a mere 12 months.

A very cold day at St Annes on Sea, UK.

Brrrr, a very cold day at St Annes on Sea, UK the day we bought the van.

We’ve had plenty of ups, a couple of downs and lots of memorable experiences.  The best thing, I think, is just the feeling of real freedom and having the ability to move on when & where we like.  We’ve visited some brilliant places and met some great people.  Obviously, the worst thing was losing Sybil but she’s still here, travelling with us in our hearts.  We do still miss her every single day though.



We’re still dug-in at the campsite in Portugal, cocooned in the van waiting for the awful weather to pass and the sun to come out.  In fairness, we’ve just caught the tail-end of all the storms that have been battering the UK but boy, when you’re in a motorhome that’s quite enough.  From what we’ve read in the Portugal News, the west coast of Portugal has been the worst affected – it’s pretty wild there during the summer let alone during the stormy season.

January has brought a flurry of new arrivals to the campsite and it’s almost full now.  All the Northern European nationalities are represented – snowbirds (as the Americans call us) travelling south for the winter.

I’ve been able to keep myself entertained by dressmaking whilst John has been E-Baying a large collection of original WW1 postcards he bought at a flea-market in France way back in August.  The van table folds out double-width so I can use one end for my sewing whilst John is all set up with the computer at the other.  It’s compact but it works, although pressing seams without anyone getting scorched is a bit tricky! 

Shared workspace in the motorhome. Jane sews whilst John E-Bays.

Our shared workspace in the van – with special table leg.

So far I’ve made a skirt, some shorts and two dresses (1 of them fully lined) and am currently battling with creating a perfect fitting good fit top.  Apparently, most sewing patterns are sized for B-cups and, as I am currently considerably more generously proportioned than that, I’ve been really struggling with fitting.  I am determined to succeed though & am now ploughing my way through lots of “how to” instructions – int the internet BRILLIANT!

Did I mention that we’ve been watching TV recently?  Thanks to a loan of a working satellite dish from our lovely Welsh neighbours I’ve been able to feed my “Homes Under the Hammer” and “The Sheriffs are Coming” addiction most mornings.  It’s certainly made hibernating all the more easier when the rain’s battering at the windows and we’re all snuggly watching “Murder She Wrote” or “The Real Housewives of Somewhere or Other” (John’s particular favourite) – great sew-along shows.

But alas!  Trashy TV happiness is no more – the transmitting satellite has changed its beam & is now focused solely on the UK – sob!  The only channel we can receive is QVC – arghhhh.  Non-stop QVC viewing could well lead to our own “Murder She Wrote” or “Husband Under the Hammer” if it doesn’t stop raining soon!  There are groups of men congregating all around the campsite discussing this very important and thorny issue!

Tune in next time for the next gripping installment – we might even go out if it ever stops raining!

Posted in Day to day stuff, General, Portugal, Sybil | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

John & Jane Go Shopping

After last week’s exciting “fun with bleach” episode, John and Jane go shopping – see John wince.

The Eastern Algarve, where we are, is far less developed than the central region, made up of fishing villages rather than bustling coastal resorts.  There is, however, quite a large shopping centre about 3 miles up the road on the way to Tavira & having managed to avoid it thus far, we eventually succumbed to temptation one gloomy afternoon. 

The Gran-Plaza shopping & cinema complex in Tavira

The Gran-Plaza shopping & cinema complex in Tavira

The shopping centre houses a Continente hypermarket, fashion shops and loads of kitchenware/home décor places along with a large electrical store, cinemas and a food court amongst more practical stores such as opticians and stationers.  One thing we’ve noticed locally is that the shops appear to be either unlit or very dimly lit and it was the same in here too.  I was fully expecting to be completely dazzled and hyperventilating after 5 minutes but it was a really pleasant experience browsing around. 

Shops, shops, shops!

Shops, shops, shops!

There was a really good choice of shops including Seaside, Mango and even a C&A!!!  Sadly, the C&A did not have a ride-on pony like the store in Bradford used to have – sigh.  Just like at home however, the sales are on & I bought a pair of deck pumps for the staggering sum of 6€ -quality items no doubt!  We treated ourselves to lunch before setting off to our next exciting shopping destination – the fabric shop – hurrah!

About another mile down the road towards the campsite is another complex made up of a couple of warehouse type buildings housing a furniture shop, the fabric shop, a “Shopping China” and a “China Moda” (clothing) shop.  Over here, the China Shops are like a huge pound shops, selling just about anything you can think of & the one here is enormous.  The China Mode shop had some lovely clothing but the sizes are absolutely tiny – made for an Asian body frame I think, rather than my chunky form J

So … the fabric shop.  Those who know me will know I love sewing and dressmaking.  I like to search out fabric shops & haberdasheries everywhere we go, especially since John bought me a new sewing machine as a belated birthday present a few months ago.  The fabric shop is called Pagapouca and is, I think, the strangest shop we’ve encountered yet.  You enter at basement level into a display area of umbrellas, PVC cushions and a few racks of the oddest clothing I’ve ever seen.  At first we thought it might be a charity shop but I’m guessing it is clearance stock (from when & where I wouldn’t like to say).

I’m looking for some lovely lightweight cottons for simple tops and nice stretchy colourful dress fabrics but alas I was not to be satisfied – I’m shopping in the wrong season!  Although it feels like Spring/Summer to us, it is really winter here.  The locals are all wrapped up in boots, coats and scarves and the fabrics on offer were all beautiful but very wintery!  Heavy, dark woollens, tweeds and corduroys will make super trousers, skirts and jackets but not what I was looking for.  Oh well, back to the internet!

A chicken in Aldi car park at Tavira, Portugal.

The great escape? A chicken strutting it’s stuff in Aldi carpark, Tavira.

Talking of odd shopping experiences, every time we’ve been to the Aldi in Tavira there’s been a chicken roaming around the car park along with a gaggle of cats.  When we did our shop a few days before Christmas there was no sign of it & we feared the worst but I can happily confirm that it’s back – in fact this week there were 2 of them!

Following on from last week’s appeal, I’m delighted to announce that Dillon has been re-homed!  Thanks to my smashing cousin Elaine, a wonderful lady and her grandson who live in my home village of Hove Edge have provided him with a comfortable retirement home full of love and cuddles! 

Thank you for all your kind comments and here’s to a happy ending!        


Happy Endings!

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Windows, windows, windows- DIY in the Van

This week, a prolonged spell of dry weather has enabled us to start refurbishing our windows, which has proved a lot trickier than expected!  It was only once we’d purchased the van & experienced some hot weather that we realised the fly-screens were less than perfect (to say the least).  Fraying & so torn around the edges that Sybil could stick her nose right through them to get a better look at John outside (swoon), they were not exactly doing their job.

The net we bought off t’internet when we were last in the UK has turned out to be inadequate (although perfect for fairy wings it’s too insubstantial for the windows) so we ventured out to the ferrageiro (ironmongers – with the rudest shop assistants in Portugal) to get some proper stuff.  Kitted out with the right material we’ve been able to make a start at last. 

The first problem we encountered was that to get to the screens, the whole frame has to come off the wall – easier said than done.  Getting the screw caps off was a job in itself – some had been glued on – and I am now bereft of my best quick-unpick.  Although the perfect size for prizing the little caps out of their lair, it just didn’t have the strength and finally snapped L

Getting the screws out was the next hurdle and, once done, the screens come away from the wall to reveal about 12 years’ worth of dead insects – grim, very grim.  Donning rubber gloves and equipped with buckets of bleachy hot water we’ve spent the week scrubbing, scrubbing and scrubbing again until all the components are sparkling clean!  I really enjoyed sewing the new mesh on to the battens as keeping it all exact and within the tiny grids really appealed to my OCD tendencies!!!  Ho hum.

Windows, fly-screens, Hobby motorhome, Algarve, Portugal

When I’m re-furbing windows.
Life in the fast lane with John & Jane!

So, after a couple of days of hard graft (!), we’ve managed to refurbish 5 out of the 9 windows & they look bloody marvellous.  No longer will I be shamed by our quite frankly shoddy fly-screens.  We’ve even managed to get the telly up & running so all in all we’ve had a successful week!

And now for something completely different ….

Can anyone help rehome our lovely 12 year old tabby cat Dillon?  We didn’t feel it was suitable to bring him travelling & his foster mom has developed allergies. 

He’s very fit & active and loves to play out before coming home & chilling out in a comfy spot.  Although he can be very timid, once he gets to know you he’s a really loving, super-furry purring machine.

We’ve never had any bother with him or any health problems.


If you do know anyone who would be willing to provide a comfortable, loving retirement home please let me know, thanks!

Posted in DIY, Nobby, Portugal | 3 Comments