Alcoutim

Jo’s Monday walk : Castelo Velho de Alcoutim

Discarded hilltop ruins are ten a penny in Portugal.  Truth be told, I had no idea that this one even existed.  Numerous times I’ve been to Alcoutim and admired the castle, sitting solidly on its hill, protecting the town and looking out over the Guadiana River.  Little did I know that there was a predecessor, whose ruins I could still see.  Castelo Velho de Alcoutim came as a complete surprise to me.

What else does one do on a Sunday morning with the temperature climbing towards the 30s?  ”Just a short walk” was how he sold it to me.  A pleasant drive up to Alcoutim, with its lovely views across the river, and a mere 4km stroll.  No mention was made of a castle on a hill.

So we walked out of town, following signs for the PR3.  Already it was hot and I loitered whenever I came upon a scrap of shade.  Rounding a corner, a hill rose in front of me and, perched on the top, the aforementioned ruins.  I hesitate to say that I was surly, but I was!  I’m as fond of ruins as the next person, but a cooler day for them might have been nice.  Uphill was no pleasure at all, especially when the views were left behind.  While the river was in sight there was the distraction of whoops and cheers from the zipline, which stretches over from Spain.

As I grumbled to myself, Michael paused and indicated a short uphill scramble.  It didn’t look like a promising access to me but, as we hesitated, a car drew up on the stony path and a young woman stepped out.  Our timing was good, for she had come to unlock the gate, promptly at 11.00am.  Apparently the old castle is regarded as unsafe if the wind is strong.  There was almost no trace of a breeze that morning, and after walking all around the site to ensure that we were safe, she left us to explore.

It did feel a little precarious in places, but the views were superb.  It would certainly have been a good place from which to keep a lookout on Spain.  Built in the 8th-9th century, this castle was once an important Islamic military structure.  Exactly why it was abandoned in the 11th century is not known, but the younger castle was constructed in the 13th century, a kilometre away, within the town of Alcoutim.  It stands proud to this day.

As so often, the way back down was much more easily achieved.  I’m not sure that all of the zipliners felt the same way.  I was very happy to have my head back in the shade, and a magnificent view stretching before me.

I can’t remember cake, but maybe there was?  You’ll have to imagine your own.

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A few more walks to share this week.  Many thanks to all of you.  Please enjoy!

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Liesbet was happy to hit the road again, with a beautiful  destination :

Getaway to the White Mountains

Fancy counting butterflies with Sharon?  Hopefully there’s still time!

Salthill Quarry Nature Reserve

I love a seaport, and these are perfect examples from Drake :

Walk back time

The sunny side

Life at the beach isn’t always peaceful, as Alice can tell you :

Tropical Storm Isaias Passes By

Been a while since I shared one of Jude’s.  This is a beauty :

Summer on the Hill

Just time to slip in a little culture from Ulli :

Gothic Lady of Naumburg

Temperatures have seldom dipped much below 30C since we did this walk a few weeks ago.  Not walking weather, I’m sure you’ll agree.  I’m taking myself off for an anniversary jaunt into the Alentejo this week (correction- he’s taking me!).  It may, or may not be cooler.  Have a good week, whatever your weather!

Six word Saturday

If he could see the future?

This is a special place for me.  I love the outlook from this simple café, across the River Guadiana to Spain.  But more than that, it’s a place where I have a clear and vivid memory of my Dad, standing beside the soldier and smiling back at me.  I have to wonder what he would make of our world today.  From a perspective before Covid-19.

For a lighter mood, pop over to Debbie’s for a bit of Saturday shopping.  Have a good weekend!  I’ll be back with a round-up of walks on Monday.

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Jo’s Monday walk : Alcoutim, with the choir

I love the approach to Alcoutim!  You can follow the road from the coast out alongside the River Guadiana for much of the way, with tantalising glimpses ahead and back as you round the many bends.  Just as you come to the village, the road curves and you have a fine view, down onto Alcoutim, and across to whitewashed Sanlucar de Guadiana on the opposite shore, in Spain.  With morning mists swirling above the water, it’s a wonderful sight, and the promise of another beautiful day.

We park the car on the edge of the village and walk across a rivulet and down towards the water.  The mist is already beginning to clear and the sun feels warm.  There, waiting for us, several members of the choir, Ossónoba, and a guide.  It’s the third time we’ve walked with them, and we’re greeted enthusiastically and made to feel welcome.  A representative of the Via Algarviana joins us, to promote the walks and ensure there are no problems.  Once assembled, brief explanations are given, and we set off.

It’s normally a peaceful spot, with the ferry crossing, when summoned, in a desultory fashion.  Today a regatta is taking place and there’s an air of bustle.  We chat to a Dutch man who has moored his boat midstream and joined the walk, hoping the event will be over when we return.

We leave the village and start a gentle ascent, looking down on the river.  Yachts dot the water, lazing the day away.  But not for us, the idle life.  As Alcoutim recedes, we reach a junction and begin the climb in earnest.  The walk is not long, but challenging in places.

But there is the distraction of the view and the distant sparkle of the water.  A small patch of arable land surprises.  Despite the nearness of water the soil is bone dry underfoot.  Rock Cistus cling to the slopes, and I am delighted to find one or two already open and flaunting their beauty.

At the crest of the hill the roof of a tumbledown watchman’s cottage appears, through a froth of weeds.  I peer through the sorry window, and out at the landscape beyond.  So frail, the skeletal timbers.  No place to hide.

I don’t envy the chill nights up here, a lonely vigil, watching for the enemy.  But in the brightness of day I could be seduced into a watchman’s life.

And then it’s time to begin the descent.  Slowly, at times, keeping my knees together and pigeon-toed, or sideways like a crab, on the steep parts.  A helping hand is extended if I wobble, but I’m glad to return to level ground.  I have little in common with mountain goats.  Some of the choir begin to sing, purely for the joy of it, and I smile as I recognise the tune.

Back in the village, we follow the signs for the river beach.  A chorus of delight greets a large family of black pigs, rootling about as pigs will.  Pork is plentiful in the Algarve, porco preto appearing on many menus.  Lamb is more expensive, and I can never bring myself to enjoy it, especially when, as now, they frolic in the fields, pestering mum for another feed.

Sand has been imported for the river beach, and there’s a pleasant little café and seating area.  Plans are afoot to extend the beach, for this is a hot spot in summer.  We carry on into the village, heading for lunch, where we are joined by the rest of the choir.

A poster on a weathered door announces their presence.  They file into the restaurant, laughing and talking, and we meekly join them.  We share a table with 2 Belgian ladies, trading experiences throughout the meal, a Portuguese stew and carob and almond desserts.  As coffees are hastily produced, the choir master counts them in, and a rich, full sound fills the restaurant.  Minutes later we are climbing the hill to their venue.

Performance over, it’s back into the hot sun and a gentle saunter, past the river and towards the car.  Yes, I know there’s something missing, but we were busy talking during the meal and I didn’t like to interrupt with photos.  But I can share with you a rather wonderful pastry that’s special to Loulé.  Folhares are flaky and sugary, and oozing with warm custard.

We will be joining the choir again next week, for a final walk on the Via Algarviana.  I expect I’ll share it with you at some point, but for now I intend to step back from the blog for a while.  I hope you’ve enjoyed walking with me, and I’m sure that we’ll do it again.  Many thanks to Ossónoba!

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Guess what?  Janet’s found a little warmth this week :

Monday’s walk to the rookery

I think it’s always warm in Charleston, isn’t it Alice?

St. Michael’s Alley

If you like the peaceful life, and don’t mind a little wind…

Scotland Tour: Hiking in the wild North West

Have you ever been to Charles de Gaulle airport?  If so, you’ll know exactly what Drake means :

Track to the sky

Or you can stay closer to home, and a place that I love :

New look, old charm

Winter seems endless in some places.  I don’t suppose birds mind grey, Irene?

Along the Icy Marsh

And Ice Sculptures last much longer in cooler climes, Natalie?

Do You Love the 80s?

A gentle sunset stroll with Carol.  Is there water in the river?

All or Nothing

It’s pretty dry where Cathy was :

Morocco: a short walk through Todra Gorge

Candy offers up some great photo opportunities :

Paseo do Monte Boi in Baiona

And Georgina shows us a different side to Spain :

February Fun, Fotos and Short Walks

Let’s end with a bit of squidge from Margaret!  But at least there’s blue sky :

Winter Walking in Nidderdale-with Added Mud

Keep walking!  I certainly will, and you know that I can’t resist sharing for long.  We have a short trip to England in April, but we’re back here for Easter.  More parades, I hear you sigh!  And hopefully some pastures new.  Take care till then!

Walking on water

I’ve done and seen some wonderful things down the years, but I never had any thought that I could walk on water!  For one thing, I’ve never worn a halo.  Water wings would be more useful.  Nevertheless, last Saturday I found myself joining a queue to walk across the River Guadiana- a distance of approximately 720 metres- from Alcoutim, on the Portuguese side, to Sanlucar de Guadiana, in Spain.

Alcoutim is normally a sleepy little place and, over on the far shore, the enticing white village of Sanlucar is even quieter. If you have any desire to cross the river, you first have to summon a ferryman, who may or may not be located somewhere near his craft, but will always greet you with a friendly smile.  Not so on this occasion.  The ‘Festival do Contrabando’ was in full swing and, even as I walked down towards the river, I could hear the hubbub of the crowd.

Entertainment was in full swing, with a feisty matador swinging his cape at a ‘burro’ as the band played on, and the crowd cheered as clay pots were hurled through the air and skilfully caught.

This was not the Alcoutim I knew!  I eased through the crowd to the ‘ticket office’, where I purchased the mandatory bandana, for my admission fee of 1 euro.  I joined the queue to cross the river, wondering at what rakish angle I should wear it, and why some were wearing red ones when the vast majority were blue, like mine.  Just then the washer ladies arrived, and I was scolded gently and treated to a rub with scented soap.  I obviously wasn’t clean enough to join the party.

Slowly the queue shuffled forward, controlled by customs officers, of course.  The red bandana folk caught the ferry.  Maybe they had a pressing engagement in Spain.  I followed the washerwomen, laughing and calling out to each other as they flounced ahead.  The moment finally arrived and I stepped out onto the pontoon, trying not to look concerned as it wobbled.  What a bizarre sensation!  The river lapped gently all around me and I rolled slowly with its motion.  Gasps and giggles came from my partners in crime, as we staggered towards the middle of the river, not quite believing in what was happening.

Fortunately it was a calm day.  I think I might have felt a little seasick otherwise.  As it was I had assumed the rolling gait of the mariner by the time I reached dry land.  And a huge smile split my face.  I had walked on water!

Over in Sanlucar de Guadiana the antics continued.  Flamenco, involving the crowd and a very attractive ram.  A good time for all was guaranteed.  I wended my way past wondrous craft stalls to a quiet corner where I could survey the scene.

A mooch among the stalls and it was time to join the ever growing queue to return to the other side.  A few clouds had rolled in and there was talk of storms brewing, but fortunately the weather stayed clear and dry all weekend.  One last look back, and I’m home.

For a fuller account, including the story of the ‘last smuggler’, all of 97 years old, read Becky’s An unusual walk into Spain.  That’s it from me, as my son arrives tonight.  I’ll be back with a walk on Monday, 15th April.  Take good care till then!

Jo’s Monday walk : Following mountain goats!

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Now don’t be too alarmed!  It’s not as bad as it seems, and if you really don’t have a head for heights- well, you can tak’ the low road, and I’ll tak’ the high road.  To be completely truthful, I was out of my comfort zone for a short while, but we can blame the partner for that (and he’s not here to defend himself).

The area along the River Guadiana is wonderfully peaceful at most times of the year.  In places the road stays quite close to the river, making for a lovely scenic drive.  But, of course, you have to get out of the car to admire the scenery properly.  You never know quite what you’ll find.  Parking alongside the tiny village of Laranjeiras, our first discovery was the ruins of a Roman villa.  Not a lot to see, but the remains appear to date back to the 7th century.

Strolling into the village, life seemed to centre around a little riverside cafe, from which you could watch the occasional boat mooring at the jetty.  A couple of youngsters indulged in that age old pastime of skimming stones.  Entertainment for me presented itself in the form of a boatman, with a delivery of tarpaulin for the little boatyard.  His antics, trying to find a convenient space to offload his cargo in the minute space, kept me happy.

The moorings at Laranjeiras

The moorings at Laranjeiras

Never content to sit for too long, I had a mooch about while Michael consulted the map.  A path seemed to lead up the hillside and run parallel to the river before dipping back down at the next village, Guerreiros do Rio.  Gamely, we set off.

But not before I had admired this 'Maypole' in the village

But not before I had admired this sign of celebration in the village

And soon we're out of the village looking down

And then we climbed out of the village, and looked down

There wasn’t much sign of the path and it was a bit of a scramble.  Stopping to catch breath, we heard a tinkling sound, and suddenly two dogs burst out of the scrub.  They darted to and fro, rustling between them a magnificent herd of goats.  Sighting us, the creatures pressed on, with nervous sidewards glances.  The goatherd gave us a nod, a third dog rounded up the stragglers, and the pack headed for home.  Happy to have found a proper path, we followed them.

Keep moving boys- they're watching us!

Keep moving boys- they’re watching us!

The trail rolled off across the hills, but we were quite happy to take a branch that led back down to the riverside.  Enough of adventure!

All was calm down on the riverbank

All was calm, down by the river

It looks dry, doesn’t it?  It had been a long, hot Summer and was still very warm in early September.  Just around the bend we reached the next village, Guerreiro do Rios.  Time for a drink!  As usual, I left Michael sitting in the shade, while I went off to explore the back streets.

When I returned, one of those village cats had attached itself to Michael and was greedily begging the ham from his toastie.  Good job he didn’t have the tuna kebabs he’d been fancying!  Strangely, the cat was not at all interested in my glass of delicious white.  I didn’t have time to hang about because I had discovered that the Museu do Rio was open! (the link is in Portuguese but you can translate it if you like)

We had passed the sign before, but never gone into this small museum, tucked away from the road.  Here was my opportunity!

And interactive displays too

There were interactive displays

Telling the history of life on the river

Telling the history of life on the river

A lot has been achieved in the space available.  I chatted to the nice young lady at the till, who sold me a ticket for 1.50 euro.  This was also valid for admission to the castle at Alcoutim, a few miles up the road.  A bargain, I thought!  The museum is open daily except Mondays.

For us it was time to amble back along the riverbank, occasionally stopping to admire passing craft.

Back to our start point

Back at our start point

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

The tiny harbour at Laranjeiras

I hope you enjoyed our little Algarve adventure.  It’s quite easy to just walk along the road and back between the two villages, if you don’t want to go following goats.  It’s not a busy road.  The riverside junction leading south from Alcoutim is the easiest way to find the villages.

Don’t let anybody tell you that the Algarve is just a strip of boring beaches, will you?  Not in my experience, anyway.

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And now it’s time to turn our attention to other people’s walks.  Thank you so much to all my contributors.  You take me to places I might never reach on my own.  Anyone is welcome to join in, and it’s very straightforward.   My Jo’s Monday walk page has all the details.  Just click on the logo above.   Let’s put the kettle on and settle in for a good read, shall we?

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Benches actually have several uses in Anabel’s world.  Highly useful on a walk!

Balloch benches

Fancy taking the train?  Let’s go to Montreux with Drake!  No regrets, I promise :

Heaven for everyone

I gather there has been lots of rain in Texas, but Amy’s found some sunshine :

Monday Walk : Texas Countryside (Part 2)

A lady I’d never heard of next, but an interesting post from Jackie, in Canada :

Laura Secord

Demonstrating her versatility, Violet Sky finds us some very scenic caves!

Seeing the caves

So many lovely things to discover in Tasmania, thanks to Ruth :

Taroona Coastal Path

I need to pull my socks up!  I haven’t even made it to Amsterdam yet, and here’s Rotterdam looking so beautiful!

Rotterdam in a Day (part 1)

We’re joined this week by Fifi and Hop- isn’t that a great name?  Please go and say ‘hi’ to Corey!

Walkway over the Hudson : World’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge

Indra at Trav Trails certainly covers some ground.  Can you keep up?

Four Cities and an Island

Geoff’s Dog has had a poorly paw, so we might have to slow down a bit on this one :

The Capital Ring- Highgate to Stoke Newington

‘Do you want this walk’, asked Meg?  You HAVE to be joking!  Wait till you see it!

Eurobodalla beaches : Bingie Beach North

Come and sing some Bruce Springfield with me?  I love this song!  Thanks, Kaz :

Travel Album : Philadelphia 

Nearer home, I don’t think I’ve been to Anglesey!  Have you?  Looking good!

Flashback Walks : Holyhead Mountain

And it’s simply impossible not to enjoy one of Tish’s posts!  Look and learn!

It’s a wonderful world

As Jaspa demonstrates, on his trip to South America :

Cartagena, Columbia : UNESCO World Heritage Site

But you don’t have to go past Worcestershire for beauty- or pretty much anywhere on Jude’s blog!

Garden Portrait : Arley Arboretum

Aren’t they a fantastic selection?  Thank you very much everybody!  I’m off to the Lake District on Thursday, celebrating another birthday, so hopefully I’ll have an English walk for you next week.  Have a great time till then!  Monday Escapes is on again this week if you’d like to join in.

G is for Guadiana

My next post seems to flow quite naturally from my recent trip across the Guadiana River.  More than 800 kilometres long, if you look at it on a map it’s very clear that the bulk of this river is in Spanish territory.  It rises in Castile-La Mancha and shortly after the Spanish city of Badajoz, turns south, forming the border with Portugal for most of the remainder of its length.

Guadiana’s origin- from Wikipedia Commons

It’s this southern area that I love, and with which I’m familiar.  The Guadiana glides out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At the river mouth a brief ferry ride connects Ayamonte on the Spanish side with Vila Real de Santo Antonio in Portugal.  The difference between the two cultures is tangible, and the time difference simply serves to accentuate this.  Unless you time it carefully you will frequently find that Ayamonte is engaged in a prolonged siesta when you arrive.  The elegantly tiled main square and pretty calles are still worth a stroll, but remember to switch to buenas dias when you order your tapas.

Main square, Ayamonte

A street corner in Ayamonte

Vila Real de Santo Antonio (as opposed to Vila Real in the north) is one of the architecturally more interesting towns in the Algarve.  Demolished by a tidal wave following the 1755 earthquake, it was rebuilt on a grid plan by the Marques de Pombal.  Using the same plan he had pioneered in Lisbon’s Baixa district, the rebuild was completed in just 5 months.  The attractive main square bears his name and is often the scene of lively cultural events.

I love to stroll along the mosaic tiled river bank, picking a favourite yacht from the dozens moored in the extensive marina.  4km to the north, the arcs of the bridge linking Portugal with Spain are clearly visible.  In summer a very pleasant boat trip can be taken up the Guadiana, to the Foz de Odeleite, where a restaurant and refreshing swimming pool await.

River front at Vila Real de Santo Antonio

The swift and often empty IC27 runs north from Vila Real to connect with Alcoutim, the next town along the river.  Alcoutim has a long history as a river port.  It was fortified by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs, and the commanding castle dates from the 14th century.  Not much battling goes on these days and Alcoutim is a delightfully sleepy spot to simply sit and stare.  Across the river, idyllic Sanlucar de Guadiana looks back.  If you can catch the small ferry, a wander through Sanlucar’s immaculate white streets is a lovely distraction.  Restoration is taking place on the castle ruins so that might prove a rewarding trip for the future.  The Romeria takes place the first weekend in May, for a feast of flamenco frocks. Just ask Flat Ruthie.  She’s been!

Alcoutim from the river

Sanlucar de Guadiana from the river bank at Alcoutim

The banks of the Guadiana are wonderful for walkers, and the riverside road back down towards Castro Marim, from Alcoutim to Guerreiros do Rio, is one of the loveliest I have ever driven.  For now though, continue north on the N122, over the border into the Alentejo.  Set high above the Guadiana, at Mertola, are the mighty ruins of yet another Moorish frontier castle.  The region is home to the rare black stork and little other than birdsong disturbs the peace, though copper was once mined locally.  At the top of the winding streets the mother church, Igreja Matriz, looks down.  Behind the altar on the eastern wall the mihrab (prayer niche) testifies to her former life as a mosque.

Mertola hilltop fortress and Igreja Matriz

North of Mertola the river carves through a deep gorge with limited access by road.  For intrepid types the reward is the Pulo do Lobo waterfall and some remarkable rock formations.

Despite a lot of opposition to the project initially, the Alqueva Dam today presents a serene surface.  It’s a developing market for gentle boating holidays.  The 250square metre reservoir was created by damming the Guadiana, causing substantial loss of natural habitat, not to mention the compulsory relocation of the hamlet of Luz.

One of the best vantage points for viewing this vast expanse of water is the tiny hilltop village of Monsaraz.  It has to be one of the most charismatic places I’ve found in Portugal, and believe me, I’ve found a few.  Within its fortress walls there is essentially just one street, Rua Direita, with a village square, two churches and a castle, topped by the Torre das Feiticeiras (witches tower).  Following Moorish occupation, it became a stronghold of the Knights Templar.  Strangely the fort now contains a small bullring, which comes into its own for the annual village celebrations.  The festive fireworks must be visible for miles.

The Guadiana from Monsaraz

Monsaraz, remote and interesting on a grey November day

From here the Guadiana continues north, swinging a right into Spain, through Badajoz and Merida, and is, sadly, lost to me.  This is, after all, my A-Z of Portugal.

If you would like to join Julie Dawn Fox’s My personal A-Z challenge, just follow the link or click on the banner below.  It doesn’t have to be about travel.  If your passion is food or books you can still join in.  We have an A-Z of Art on Alyson Sheldrake’s The Thought Palette and and lately an A-Z of Films by DML Designs.  Be as creative as you like.  Read my posts on my A-Z pages.  Hope you’ll enjoy!

A day with Flat Ruthie in Portugal and Spain

Who better than Flat Ruthie, with her keen observational skills, to accompany me on a short foray across the border?  For a number of years the snow white village of Sanlucar de Guadiana has been calling to me, across the still waters of the Guadiana.  The village of Alcoutim, on the Portuguese side, is blessedly peaceful, but I always wanted to look back at it.  Mission accomplished!  With a little help.

Alcoutim, with a little help from a friend

Just minutes later the breeze caught her and she’d fallen out of a tree!  She was gallantly rescued from the rocks by my husband, looking daggers at me.  It’s a good job a Flat doesn’t bruise easily.  Maybe a beach umbrella would be a better option?  Softer landings, anyway.

Johanna, am I quite safe here? And by the way, it prickles!

Into my pocket she went, just for a little while, so we could have a proper look around, without her blowing away.

Such a delightfully pretty place

Can I be in this one, Jo please? I just love castles.

Just a minute- what’s happening here?

Ah, now I understand. It’s a festival!

We chatted to a lovely local lady who explained that the village of Sanlucar and the village higher up the hill. El Granado, compete in a yearly festival.  The procession would be lead up the hill by the mayor, with a floral cross and a donkey, to a meeting place, where the fun would begin.  What luck!  I hadn’t known anything about it.

In all their finery.

Such a patient donkey! And such lovely little boys.

Side saddle and very elegant

Incognito?

Take me with you!

And then they were gone, and our lovely villager was heading off to get changed to join in the fun herself.  The village was effectively closed to business.  We waved to the ferryman and crossed back to Alcoutim, where we sat with a drink and watched as the procession slowly mounted the hill.

The riverside cafe at Alcoutim

Of course, Flat Ruthie wanted to see another castle and flirt with the fountains a little, but that was fine by me.

New fountains at Alcoutim

Castro Marim main square with church and castle

The orange blossom is choking me!

A drink before we climb those steps? Is my foot stuck?

But it wasn’t!  The funny thing was that we had gone to Castro Marim expecting a festival to be taking place, and with the promise of an Algarvian goat contest.  The place was quiet as can be.  Reading the leaflet later, my husband pointed out that the festivities were actually taking place in a village called Azinhal, “near to” Castro Marim.  Ah well- something for another trip.  All’s well that ends well.

Many thanks Big Ruth for loaning me your little gal, and for your wonderful idea.  To join in and read Flat Ruthie’s other adventures, you should contact Cardboard Me Travels.  She even ventures to Hartlepool marina you know.