3rd March 2022
Well as you may all be aware this blog should have been written from the sunny depths of the south of Spain. I am however writing this from alongside the Leeds to Liverpool canal on a damp cloudy cold English March day.
But to get up to date… the last blog was written on 1st February whilst we were on the Brittany Ferry heading from Portsmouth to Santander and the promise of long sunny days with blue skies in Spain and Portugal for two full months.
The ferry trip was pretty impressive, with a vast improvement on our previous ferry memories from the old days. We had a four berth cabin just for the two of us with a terrific en-suite modern bathroom and everything we needed. We even took loads of towels and a blanket up from Ruby into the cabin as our expectations were so low. It was in fact brilliant and we were both pleasantly impressed. One of us was not impressed for too long however…. this was a 33 hour ferry crossing which started off nice and gently but as we crossed into the Bay of Biscay the ship started to bounce around quite a bit. It starts off being quite funny doesn’t it…watching people try to walk in a straight line as the ship rolls around. Feels like being on one of those moving walkways in a Fun House at the seaside ! But after a while Michelle became a little under the weather, which was a surprise as it was me that was worried about this for weeks in advance. Apart from the obvious discomfort for poor Michelle, we also had an inclusive dinner booked for the evening which I had to enjoy on my own. Damn shame, it was quite posh with ‘black tie’ service provided and high-end three course menu. And no I wasn’t totally cruel, I did nip back to the cabin between courses to ensure Mich was ok and to offer her some ceviche (raw) tuna. – ‘No thank you darling’ was one version of her response..! But at least being ill in your own en-suite cabin does make things a bit more civilised. Anyhow she slept well and recovered enough to enjoy breakfast the next morning and enjoy the arrival into the port of Santander.
We, as ever, had no plans on where to visit/stop/sleep on our journey but we knew we needed to head south through Madrid to then drop down to the Mediterranean. First night we stopped over at Aranda de Duero, just north of Madrid. This was one of those great free overnight stops that the Europeans are good at. It is a most welcome location, on the outskirts of the town in a public car park. Nothing to pay with special motorhome parking bays and the provision of free water and a chemical toilet disposal point. This was a little chilly overnight as we are several hundred metres above sea level but ideal for us. We spent an hour or so in the morning taking a look round the town and buying the compulsory fresh French (!) stick for lunch. At this point we had randomly decided to head straight down to Malaga and skip Alicante as we thought of slightly warmer days. However our friends Garry & Julie messaged us saying they would be visiting their house in Torrevieja in a couple of weeks so we simply chose a different road out of Madrid and headed towards Alicante.
3rd February and we arrived in Albacette for another stop over. (Its still a long way from Santander to the Costa del Sol area.)
Again, a big car park with a ten minute walk into the town and everything provided for free. Coffee shops nearby completed the package with the delight of having the promised blue sky and warm days. It was exactly what we wanted and this meant we could slow down and just enjoy each moment. Even had the opportunity to try our basic Spanish words. Erm… ‘beer’-‘coffee’-’toilet’- ‘I would like to pay the bill’ or something similar.
We were back on the road again the next day and with both of us sharing the driving it really was a breeze. So little stress compared to back in the UK. There are miles and miles and miles of long quiet dual carriageways and at this stage we were avoiding many of the toll roads. Even so, many of the roads are still clear and simple to use. Cruise Control was in use for probably 80% of the driving.
So on arrival at the coast on 4th Feb we eventually located a site at Playa San Juan, north of Alicante. We were however surprised at how busy the campsites were and found the first two of our choices surprisingly completely full. There are many motorhomers that stay for the whole winter, mainly from France and Germany, that block up many of the sites. We did however get space at Camping El Jardin for a few nights- eventually staying for four. These Spanish sites are challenging as they squeeze you into pitches which, in themselves, are a decent size, but getting in and out is tricky as the roadways are narrow and there are trees on all sides meaning the additional chore of checking overhead as well as trying not to damage Ruby on the sides. There are always friendly folk on hand to help with guiding you in.
Not the best of sites, just a bit scruffy I guess, but the toilets were immaculate, modern and with hot showers so all was well. Cost €18 per night. There was an easy walk to the beach and as we now had the pushbikes with us we could take a ride to the nearby Consum supermarket for provisions. Now this was where we developed a love affair with the Consum supermarkets. – (other brands are available!)- Never before in my travels have I seen a deli counter do so much in a supermarket. I was awestruck. It was a busy Saturday on our first visit and as we are keen to eat more different types of fish during our travels, I waited in the long queue for some time. This gave me the chance to just watch two workers prepare the fish to order for each customer. They were skinning, boning, de-scaling and cutting to size any collection of fish, squid, prawns, mussels the lot. And the locals were buying more fish in one session than I have eaten over a full year! Wow- there ain’t nothing like that in the UK. So I watched and learned and grabbed … 2 small tuna steaks..! Well it needs a bit of planning to order unusual stuff in a busy store just by using the language of pointing fingers and waving arms…!
Anyway on our second visit I was prepared and came away with a whole salmon, originally displayed with head and everything attached- and came away with two fillets cut into about 12 huge steaks ready to eat. They are so patient and helpful and God this was sooooo much a cheaper way to buy it. Thankfully Ruby’s freezer is pretty big (though we had to sacrifice a bit of our ice cube store)!.
The other joy of this campsite was the tram which ran right along the promenade and into Alicante or Benidorm. We took advantage and headed into Benidorm an hour away on 6th Feb. Quite funny really..we thought we had the system sorted regarding timings and tickets etc and jumped on the next tram. Only to discover after a few minutes that we should have been on the A1 and we were in fact on the A3 by mistake. Could have taken us anywhere, but by chance it all worked out fine and we luckily switched trams and got to Benidorm without much delay, but much panic!. Phew. We do seem to be a bit too relaxed some times! We did quite enjoy Benidorm. Mainly because it was out of season so not as manic as a summer visit would be. There were still large groups of English stag and hen do’s shouting and misbehaving on the seafront though. The sun had come out to make it nice and warm and enable us to sit outside for both coffee time, lunch time and maybe a crafty beer. ..Even had a McD for supper before heading back to the tram and a late evening back to Ruby.
So as we were keen to get back to ‘wild’ camping we headed off in search of a nice free spot from our faithful ‘Search for Sites’ app. We discovered a large section of beach just south of Alicante and below the airport flight path. There were dozens of motorhomes and camper vans (mainly French and German) in two sites in this area. Signs at the entrance to the sand-covered parking areas said ‘Max 5 metres length’ permitted to enter. Well just about all the vehicles were much more than that. Ruby is 7.4m and many others must have been over 10m long. Maybe because it was out of season this was overlooked by the authorities.
Our location was close enough for us to walk the 5 miles into Alicante for a quick look round. Spending time near to the marina before having some lunch lounging in yet more sunshine. Then once again we performed a miracle of good luck and found a bus back which dropped us within half a mile of Ruby. Dead easy / jammy!
The weather for all our trip thus far was pretty impressive. The main thing was the regular daily wall-to-wall sunshine and blue sky. This makes all the difference. The temperatures were generally rather cool (15-16º)which requires staying on the sunny side of the street and avoiding shade and the night time dropped to rather chilly temperatures but it was a far cry from the UK weather in February. We were really starting to get in our element and enjoying the relaxing lifestyle. Free camping, Mediterranean Sea and blue sky was bliss for us. Bit of cycling, bit of walking, plenty of chillin’.
As we gained in confidence we wanted to continue with the wild camping but needed to top up our LPG gas for heating and cooking and more importantly get some water. We regularly beg/steal water just about anywhere we can but as we were on a shop visit to stock up on food we were approached by a Brit who introduced himself as Chris and was obviously just up for a chat. ‘We are also hoping to find somewhere to top up our water tank’ says we after a short while. ‘ No problem’ he quickly adds, ‘just come round to my house and use my hose- I just live around the corner’ – Great stuff. So Chris escorted us to his house and he merrily chatted his little heart out whilst we filled the tank and our containers sufficient to keep us going for days. Cheers Chris. Aren’t people so kind. It’s really heartwarming that he put himself out for nothing more than a bit of a chat.
Next stop then was another beach further away from Alicante near Santa Pola. Fully stocked up we were confident we could last for several days, and so it proved. We found yet another large beach parking area which was occupied along the five mile length by dozens and dozens of campers/motorhomes. – Still hardly any Brits, but Italian, Swiss, German, French and even the occasional Spanish traveller. Very cosmopolitan. We established ourselves immediately alongside the Med again, just ten paces from the sea and spent four glorious days there. Again just cycling, walking lounging and even a little swim in the sea… Beautiful. We took the chance to visit Santa Pola and Gran Alicant and to just laze around enjoying the sun. Twas still a little chilly and occasionally very windy but otherwise perfect. Exactly what we had in mind for our winter sun.
However…….. my mum has been ill for several months having been diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. She was very stable and comfortable throughout the early months however contact from home now suggested she was getting weaker and going downhill. From a standpoint of planning to cut our trip down from two months down to one, a phone call on 16th Feb meant we really, really needed to get home. So… our planned weekend to visit Garry & Julie in Alicante was modified to a quick brunch the next morning before we headed straight back home.
Brittany Ferries could only change our trip from the Santander pre-booked journey to a cross channel trip from St Malo in northern France to Portsmouth meaning we had a drive of nearly 1500km (940miles) in just over 48 hours. !
Now, I do not wish to include the obvious emotion and stress involved in this vital trip back home so I will keep to some more factual blog information.
The mapping showed we just had to head north and more north and keep going straight north. Right through Spain and then right through France, bottom to top. A simple plan was put in place. Two hours driving, stop, change drivers and repeat with a couple of fuel stops. Thankfully having a toilet on board meant we did not always have to stop for a comfort break. ! There was in fact quite a bit of time in hand so we stopped overnight just short of Pamplona in Spain on the 17th and then into France stopping overnight just north of Nantes on 18th. This meant we could easily arrive in St Malo with 6 hours to spare surprisingly. Even managed to spend a couple of (freezing cold) hours in the beautiful Old Town. The Brittany Ferry port is within a few hundred metres of the old town of St Malo so we just left Ruby parked at the head of the Brittany Ferry queue and wandered round the corner into the beautiful, amazing, buzzing town.
Some of the details of the journey north are quite interesting… as our need was urgent we simply took the most direct route which inevitably involved lots of Toll Roads. You may recall from previous blogs that none of the Toll Roads on the Spanish east coast were open. Well, the roads were open but they were free due to a contract change. However the rest of Spain were still charging for their tolls. And, of course, France is well known for its Toll charges. To be fair it was a decent exchange. We paid Tolls of €96.20 total (£79.80) for the 1500km – ( €29.60 in Spain and €66.60 in France). One stretch alone in France was 330 km for €45. That’s a long way.! This was almost entirely on open dual carriageway with very light traffic. Well worth it on this occasion.
One place of particular interest was in Valencia when Michelle was driving. ‘Its fine’ says the expert navigator – relying on Satnav- ‘we will just pass Valencia on the highway outer ring road and stay away from the Friday rush hour traffic’. Mmmmmm… twenty minutes later and there we were right in the centre of the City and going round one particular roundabout three times whilst the ‘navigator’ tried to work out which way to send Michelle. (To be honest she was right enjoying herself fighting with all the Spanish nutters trying to push us off the road!. ) At this point we heard a crunch behind us and looking back saw a large chunk of what looked like Ruby coloured white plastic bumper on the road and some guy getting out of his car.. Oh No……. ! So Mich pulls over onto the centre of the roundabout whilst I stepped back to challenge the goon in the white BMW behind in my excellent Spanish(!) . Turns out the white plastic bit was his wing mirror that had been knocked off his car by another vehicle… nothing to do with us…. ‘Quick, just one more time round this roundabout and lets get out of here..’ !
Otherwise uneventful… In fact we quite enjoyed the journey itself as it was challenging but rewarding and reminded us of what great teamwork can do.
Now for the ferry back to Portsmouth..this was another of those pleasant surprises. We knew the ship was an older one and it spends its life plodding backwards and forwards across the English Channel so we expected low quality grime. However once again it had good, clean modern cabins (this time with a round window to the ocean) with an even better en-suite bathroom and shower. The restaurant was of high quality and the staff were great. This time we had a faultless crossing with both of us having a good appetite. Arriving back in Portsmouth on 20th February.
So was this just down to pure luck and a calmer sea? Or did our new found experimenting with ginger make a difference.? It is well known that ginger helps prevent seasickness. Apparently it purely stops the messages going from your unbalanced body to your brain that tell you to throw up! Well I believe it works and having tried to find ginger biscuits in France without success we bought a small knob of neat ginger and sucked on small pieces of this prior to sailing. – (I don’t recommend you chew on it as it is gives a rather uncomfortable burning sensation). Well that is my latest survival advice anyway…!
After a successful sailing to Portsmouth Michelle had the pressure of driving the first vehicle off the ferry, leading the way through the ramps and lanes and through passport control onto the M27. We now had only the small business of driving the 230 miles to West Yorkshire to endure.
Good= Driving on the correct side of the road. Good = No toll roads to pay for. Bad = busy, busy, crazy traffic. Bad = wet, very windy, cloudy. Welcome back to the UK. !
Crucially…. we are really grateful that we got home in time to see mum-still able to communicate with us.
However Mum sadly died peacefully, four days later at home in bed……..
Did you know…… In Loving Memory of Corinne Nova Blakeborough nee Goldup. b 28 Nov 1936 died 24 Feb 2022.
Adiós Mum. We love you.