Author Archives: Ruby Motorhome Travels

About Ruby Motorhome Travels

We are Glenn & Michelle who are currently free to roam with a love of the outdoors and travel. We have recently purchased a Bailey motorhome which has been named Ruby and we are intent on getting around as much as possible. Initially in the UK but Europe and beyond in the near future.

March- April 2022

So….For some- Life Goes on

At the last blog we had rushed home from southern Spain in time to see my mum Corinne before she sadly died of cancer on 24th February. Very bad, sad days for all of us. 

The next two months were therefore in turmoil for us and many family members. We were blessed with the generosity of the neighbours of Mum and Dads who let us park Ruby outside their homes and even more generously let us plug our electrics in to keep the winter chill out. Thank you.

Mum had ,managed to hold on for four days after we arrived there before dying peacefully in her own bed. RIP mom.

Afterwards we stayed very close to support Dad for several days before moving away for a few days to give him space and time to gather his thoughts and continue his grieving without us helping (nagging !). There were also plans for the funeral and the painful paperwork to sort out. 

We spent three nights at the Beechwood Caravan site near York which gave us the chance to spend a few days in this wonderful, interesting and buzzing city. One visit by bus and and the second day with a five km walk each way into the city. We loved it for the famous Walls, unusual attractions and the huge history.

We then headed for a couple of wild (free) camping nights at the attractive (not) Rodley area alongside the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. To be fair the joy of this place was somewhat hidden behind heavy grey clouds and huge puddles of standing water everywhere. It would be difficult to ‘sex’ up anywhere in that weather.

We did also manage a couple of hours at the Temple of Elland Road. Home of the awesome Leeds Utd. Always room to fit another Leeds shirt in our wardrobe in Ruby !

We then went back to parking outside Dads house again for a few more nights to give our support.  

7th March arrived and once again we took time away whilst awaiting the funeral. We planned on visiting the west coast with Blackpool in mind and the surrounding area. Trouble is that we found ourselves driving through Ilkley alongside the moors on the way…‘Remember when we stayed here last year?’ Says I ‘ Yes, what a great place it was. Why don’t we just pitch up here instead’, says Mrs B.  So (because we can) we pulled over into the quiet, level, tarmac car park below Ilkley Moor and stayed for two nights. Michelle even took the plunge and booked an appointment to have her hair cut/coloured/dried/girl-hair-stuff at a local salon. Thus giving us an excuse to return again a few days later. Win Win. Turns out it was the best salon ever.. and bloody cheap too. Defo a favourite place of ours to stay for nowt. 

We then headed to the east coast and via the delights of the SearchforSites app found another cold, wet, grey and ugly place to wild camp at Carnforth in Lancaster.

Rather desolate in Carnforth

So after just one unexciting night we headed into Morecambe and plonked ourselves on the sea front through the day and into the night. A recommended site directly alongside the sea wall with views across the bay. Trouble is…the road was far too busy, for far too many hours, and with cars and buses passing far too close. Don’t think we slept an hour all night. ! Time to move on again. To be honest I don’t think our hearts were in it, for wild camping. Wrong time of year and wrong circumstances really. 

We therefore pitched up at a proper site at Pot Haw farm near Malham for two paid nights. This turned out to be a brilliant stopover. This is a working farm with half a dozen pitches (all empty this week) and it was in the first week of lambing season. The farmer and family were amazing and so welcoming. ‘Yes, come on over, you can watch the lambing any time’- So there I was spending several hours on each day in the lambing shed. The farm has 600+ acres of land and 500+ sheepses. I was up close and involved with a sheep giving birth and seeing how the whole process worked, from ewe to field. There I was sitting in with the nice farmer chap, taking the ewes and fresh lambs out into the field in their buggy/trailer (The farmers buggy NOT the lambs buggy…!)  Really enjoyed it. Well worth the £30 per night for the pitch including electric. There were plenty of places to walk nearby on quiet country lanes and with a splendid farm shop and cafe to provide sustenance it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. 

13th March and we got back to Ilkley for two more nights. Michelle got the hairdressing sorted and we enjoyed a tasty posh evening meal at the Bistro Pierre restaurant. We may have to move to Ilkley as we Likley (sic..!) it so much. 

We then returned to park outside Dads house for several more days as we were now approaching the date of Mums funeral and we were able to assist with some planning and support. We did manage however to skip along to Elland Road with brother Jez to watch Leeds United under 23s give Man Utd under 23s a thrashing… ( Shame the first team can’t follow suit ! ).

We moved into the Pontefract Premier Inn at Xscape on Thursday 17th for a couple of nights. The extended family were all arriving in preparation of the funeral and mostly stopping there too, along with dad. So, of course, a Wetherspoon’s posh dinner and a few drinks was entirely necessary. 

Despite the sadness of the occasion it was great to catch up with the family.

The 18th March was the sad day of the funeral. I will not share the details on this blog but it went well and Mum had a good send off. She would have loved it..! Followed by a buffet/ drinks then an impromptu, raucous family celebration of Mums life at the hotel late into the morning. Emotional and fun at the same time. Goodbye Mom….

Now you may not be surprised to learn that many of us then got struck down with Covid.! All that hugging and kissing in close proximity was bound to have an impact. Thankfully it was mainly little more than heavy colds/flu symptoms. 

So after a few more days hanging around and getting in the way… we headed back off onto the road. We had some photography work to do back in Bristol so needed to head back down country…slowly….

21st March and we visited a site previously recommended in Anglesey. A paid site called Shoreside is also alongside RAF Valley and right at the end of the runway. We had RAF training Texans and Hawk jets looping round every day, starting at 9am (can’t get out of bed too early those RAF types !). Due to decent weather we were able to just sit outside Ruby and watch them taking off / landing and giving them marks out of ten for their skill level..!  Add to this a beach very close by and some walking areas and all was good.

Apart from the actual site facilities. Once again they charge the earth and provide very little. £30 per night and a scabby pitch, unheated shower block with a shower that dribbles water gently onto your back. ! 

Thankfully the following few days didn’t have that problem. On the 24th we upgraded to a nicer camp site at Llanberis – in the foothills of Mount Snowdon. We had some work to do now… a mountain to climb. The Llanberis Touring Park is a vast improvement on the Shoreside site we had just left. Much cleaner, warmer, welcoming and £1 a night cheaper. It was also within 5 minutes walk of the town centre and 20 mins walk from the footpath up that big mountain. We wanted to have another go at walking up it but hadn’t done much exercise at all over recent weeks so we were expecting it to be a challenge. It was..its a bloody long way… and its uphill… quite a lot…But we made it (blisters and all) up the Pyg Track route. Which is a bit of a cheat to be fair as you catch the bus to the start of this footpath gaining 360m of the 1085m before you start.! The top was probably the best weather we have seen up there and in fact the best of any mountain top we could remember. We were able to sit and enjoy warm sunshine with a gentle breeze for our picnic rather than the usual hiding behind rocks, stuffing our food in quickly because of the cold, wind and wet. It was a most pleasant break before heading back down the long Llanberis track and back to the camp site. Simples… Well, perhaps not… but we did it and it only took us three days to recover! So we then spent four days at the Llanberis Touring Park. Hobbling round..!

We were then into a stretch of ‘Wild’ camping. Having been excited by the sight and sound of RAF jets at Valley we were keen to get back to one of our previous haunts. The infamous MACH loop. Just outside of Machynlleth in mid Wales, (still within the Snowdon National Park) is where the RAF and foreign air forces test their skills at low level flying. Once seated precariously on the hillsides we can watch Hawks/F15s/Hercules/Typhoons and helicopters flying BELOW you through the valley and down towards the lake and turn in a loop, returning a few minutes later to get lower again. Absolutely awesome, exciting, breathtaking and frankly unbelievable. There is a large lay-by just below the favoured hillside where we parked up and stayed overnight. We trudged the 15 minute hike up the hill on the first afternoon and sat in the warm sunshine, picnic to hand and waited, and waited and waited. Well we have been before and know that sometimes nothing happens, people sit there all day with nothing more than a passing buzzard or two. Though in the warm weather it is pleasant enough. But later in the afternoon we had the arrival of an Osprey. Not the dickie bird of prey but the twin propellor-ed military vertical-take-off aircraft. This is a bit of a rare sight anywhere but a real joy to see one pass below us. After a thoroughly peaceful sleep in the lay-by the next morning we returned back up the hill with a serious lunch pack picnic.

Sat and waited, and waited from about 9am until just after 2pm when our first visitor arrived. A lonely black hawk trainer (from RAF Valley) came fizzing through. (Now this is always an interesting moment. When one of the occupiers of the hillside suddenly notices signs of an approaching aircraft, they leap into the air shouting ‘Incoming’ in an excited voice. At this point every one of the 30-40+ folk on the hillside spit out their sandwiches, knock over their coffee flasks and eagerly grab a camera/binoculars/mobile phone and turn towards the incoming aircraft. Cannot miss one moment of its passing on film. None of us actually watch it passing through…We have to catch it on our camera then replay the footage in order to enjoy the moment afterwards. ! We all do it and we all regret it and wish we could just sit there and enjoy the moment. But no…. Gotta capture it on the camera to share with others..! )

Top Gun. Superb…!

 Followed shortly after by two F15 Eagles thundering through, alongside our level before tanking down the valley and turning left by the lake.. Wow. Incredible. They returned again about 6 minutes later having completed a circuit of the MACH Loop. This time being chased energetically by the little black hawk trainer. Peddling like hell to try catch his bigger sisters..!

29th March and we headed south again and towards Abergavenny. We had located a free camp area in the car park near the town centre. Lots of signs saying ‘No Vehicles over 2 Tonnes’ at the entrance, but this was ignored by many campers and motorhomes. We had ‘permission’ from another camper van owner who said ‘its ok, I have stayed here for weeks now’ – So that made it OK…!

On the way to this spot we did have a bit of bother and yet more damage to Ruby. A passing white van (again) smacked his wing mirror into ours and completely smashed the previously cracked mirror casing on the right hand side. Bugga! Fault was maybe 50/50 because of the narrow roads (and to be fair our motorhome wing mirrors do stick out a long way (bit like my ears really ! )). So it was probably more of a 60/40 blame-wise. But either way this decided us to buy some bullet-proof, armour plated, carbon-fibre covers to prevent too much further damage in the future. Watch this space!

Anyway a quiet night (apart from the road sweeper at 6am!) in the Abergavenny car park and then off to Totnes in Devon. Gawd do we get about a lot…! We had yet another visit to Alan Kerr Motorhomes who we bought Ruby from, in order to have another go at repairing the mischievous electric control panel. So the night before we stayed in one of our old haunts of the Totnes Longmarsh car park alongside the River Dart. Nothing exciting but a comfortable, dark, cosy nights sleep for £10. No facilities but we are at least welcome and safe. 

Next morning we dropped Ruby off at Alan Kerr’s in Paignton and with the use of the courtesy car spent a night in the Premier Inn at Goodrington Bay. Not too shabby to be fair. 

Anyway in short…. We didn’t get the control panel repaired (again!) but with grim resolution we collected Ruby and headed up back to the homelands of Portishead as we now entered April. As you may recall our reliable red Mini was left parked up over the winter in the motorhome storage park near Weston super Mare. And yes, of course, she wouldn’t start as the battery was flatter than my wallet….. And of course, it is at this point that it starts to rain heavily as we grab jump leads and strain every Amp/Ohm to eventually get her started. Joy. Shame that Michelle then stalled it 50 metres down the road..!

So, it seems that the Mini is now out of MOT – by several weeks (but keep that to yourselves!) We had no chance of getting it booked in for several more weeks either but as we all know….there are no police officers out there so it was pretty low risk..!

Now this was an interesting thing.. on one of the nights parking in Portishead by the Lake Grounds we noticed a car drive past us and around the lake, quite noisy, about 10.30pm. Not totally unusual however this same car went round again, and again, and again….probably over 30 times, the clown driving it just drove in circles. Think he was unhappy about motorhomes/campervans parking around his lake. He was absolutely bonkers. He didn’t honk/toot/wheelspin/blast-music but just kept driving round. WTF was he on…! I went from curious to laughing, to irritated, to angry, to gettingmypantson and stepping out to challenge him on this next circuit. Trouble is, by chance, this was his very last lap and he disappeared out of sight on the other side of the lake. Dammit…! But this was by now almost midnight. Hate him…!

6th April and it was time to prepare for a few weeks of graduation photography. We had both been booked for ceremonies at the Students Union of Bristol University and then a week at Ashton Gate- home of Bristol City Football Club..(clowns!) This amounted to 12 days working in April wrapped around two big family events and included the arrival of Kelly, Alana & Scarlett from Australia for a month. Never a dull moment. 

In short we booked Ruby into the Brook Lodge Farm site in Redhill near to Bristol Airport for two sets of nine nights (18 in total for those of you needing help!). Despite the fact that we spent most of the working week leaving Ruby at 7am and returning at 9.30pm at least she was in a safe environment and there were good quality showers on site. And as we had the weekends off we could at least get the camp chairs out and chill. 

The family events comprised firstly of the brilliant wedding of daughter Nicola to Paul at the Walton Park Hotel in Clevedon. The location was good (it is where we got married) the weather was perfect (sitting outside beyond midnight) and the company was terrific (no actual fisticuffs!). Result. A really, really good weekend. Thanks Mr & Mrs Cocking. 

The Monday morning was our second family event which saw us up and running over to Trecco Bay near Swansea in that-there Wales for four nights with the Oz kids, staying in a caravan at the seemingly Chav infested holiday park. Well… this was in fact an extremely good and surprisingly entertaining spot. Walking on the beach, climbing rope-walks and visiting Dan Yr Ogof Caves added to the fun. Worked out well and gave us the chance to catch up on the overdue Oz bonding. Top Gig. 

Our second period of photography work at Ashton Gate (tossers!) had the added bonus of being joined by an old (ish..!) friend – Di. She has joined us as part of the graduation photography team on a trial period and she fits right in. Gave us the chance to work again with my previous ‘work-wife’ from a couple of years ago. 

So, all in all, March and April was busy with a chunk of working hard and playing hard. It gave us chance to earn some money to put fuel into Ruby and pay for some more camp sites. We did eventually get the mini through its MOT (seven weeks late!) And we had a dental check up (two years late..). See, its never tooooo late..!

And what better way to end the month than for me and Mich to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary. A very pleasant romantic lunch at the Inn at Yanleigh (near Bristol) followed by watching Leeds United on TV – getting their asses kicked (AGAIN). Oh well. Happy Anniversary Michelle. I love you. 

Did you know….Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales, at an elevation of 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) above sea level, and the second highest point in the British Isles. It is located in Snowdonia National Park. The Snowdon Mountain Railway is a narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway running to the top from Llanberis during tourist periods topping out at the Summit Cafe which is also open during peak seasons.

There are six recommended paths to reach the summit. They are all classed as ‘hard, strenuous walks’ and you should allow at least 6 – 8 hours to get there and back, even if you’re pretty fit. 

1- Llanberis Path (9 miles/14.5 km) is a popular ‘first time’ path. It’s the longest route but provides a gradual climb up to the summit. 

2-The Miners’ Track (8 miles/13 km)starts from Pen y Pass car park. It starts off gradually until you get to Llyn Llydaw. Then it’s a steep climb pretty much all the way to the top. 

3-Pyg Track (7 miles/11 km) also starts from Pen y Pass. It’s a steep start but the views are worth it. It joins the Miners’ Track before the final ascent to the summit. A popular circular route is to go up one and come down the other.

4-Rhyd Ddu Path (8.5 miles/12km) starts at Rhyd Ddu car park. It’s one of the quieter routes, but you’ll need a head for heights and sure feet as you’ll be following a narrow ridge near the top.

5-Watkin Path (8 miles/13km) takes you from Nant Gwynant to the summit. Starting from Pont Bethania car park, you can see some of the old copper mine workings along the way.

6-Snowdon Ranger Path (8 miles/13km) winds up the side of Snowdon from Llyn Cwellyn car park, giving you views of the many lakes in the area.

Adiós

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. 

Santander

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. 

Spanish Roads

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. 

Tight and Tatty

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…!

Favourite Consum Fish Deli

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.

Alicante and The Med

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. 

Winter in the UK !

31st January 2022

So… at this point -(17th December)- we have now arrived back in England though restricted by Covid rules. Requirements at the time were for us to self-isolate immediately on return and arrange a PCR test within two days. It seems never ending…. Can’t complain though as we did get chance to visit Europe for the month and we certainly expected big restrictions. 

Return via Le Channel Tunnel

Michelle had previously booked a PCR test kit collection from Bexhill on Sea – as you will recall this is where we stayed overnight prior to heading to France. We had a great place to stay overlooking the sea ‘wild’ camping and with a view across to the town too. 

We collected our PCR test kit (£35 each..) from a local garage then parked up on our chosen spot and out for an immediate walk into town and a fish and chip supper….yum. The following morning saw us painstakingly going through the process of sticking swabs up our nostrils and tonsils again (or was it the other way around!) but with the added bonus of a very comprehensive bunch of paperwork to submit online to accompany this. We were then required to locate a drop-box on our travels and drop off the PCR sample package. This was done at a service station near Newbury. It works pretty well to be fair. It is a flexible enough system to allow us to still deal with the process wherever we were in the country. We were, of course, still required to self-isolate whilst we waited the next 36hrs for the email (thankfully)saying we were clear. 

By this time we were still on the road despite isolation, and headed west back towards the Somerset area for the Christmas period.  Our plan was to spend a couple of nights ‘wild’ camping on route to North Somerset so we could start to hunker down for the dark, cloudy, cold nights before us. Our research found a decent looking lay-by set back from the A36 near to Salisbury. It was quiet, with a toilet block and with good views during the day. Sounds ideal…… It actually turned out to be one of the worst places we have found in all our travels. Two things really. Firstly there were rats the size of Yorkshire terriers running round the site. I had the joy of watching Michelle walking cautiously to the waste bin to dump some of our rubbish. Already spooked by the rats she slowly sidled up to the bin in the near dark, one step at a time ‘You can hear something in there’ – she says but bravely moves in….. as she gets close the monster rat jumps up into the air, flying out of the bin like a cork out of a bottle whilst Michelle leaps a similar distance backwards. ! The brave girl still managed to hold her ground and dispose of the rubbish whilst Roland scampered into the undergrowth…and we both burst out laughing..

Now the second thing, the worst thing- the thing that stopped me even getting out of Ruby – was the prevalence of cars arriving and leaving the parking area outside the toilet block. All containing males on their own. All wandering in and out of the toilets then sitting alone in their cars for 20 minutes at a time. Bad enough during the daylight but once it got dark. I was bloody livid. How dare they take over public toilets for their own gratification and make it seedy and forbidding. Not only was I angry, I was also too scared to go outside…. Ha!  – There was no way we were going to spend the night there. 

’Time to move on- there is no way we are spending the night here’ says I by 8pm.  We made the decision to just get back on the road and take the hour and half drive to one of our favoured overnight spots in Burnham on Sea. Despite the hour and the ‘road fatigue’ we knew it was a straightforward easy drive on fast A roads and motorways. No problems. …… Except…. Some handy Highways chaps had decided to close the A303 near Yeovil for overnight roadworks…. Noooooooooo. Big diversion, round tight back-roads in the dark with our fanciful satnav adding a few circles to keep us entertained. I also have to admit to a couple of Glenn short-cuts that I knew. – These added another 20 minutes or so! This was a painful trip after all the miles we had travelled over the last week. 

But three ‘wild’ nights on the seafront in Burnham on Sea gave us chance to step out of Ruby for a while and recover from the road.

Burnham on Sea

There is a long quiet cul-de-sac piece of seafront road in Burnham that has no restrictions in the winter and it makes a comfortable parking space. 

AND a Wetherspoons nearby to provide posh warm toilets when needed… Luxury…!

During this time we became aware of a problem with the ‘leisure’ part of Ruby’s electrics. There are two batteries in Ruby, one for the Peugeot cab and chassis, and a second leisure battery for all the ‘camping’ elements such as lighting, heating, pumping and stuff. This is charged either by electric hook-up and/or by the solar panels. Now as we are distinctly short on bright sunshine in the UK, the solar panels struggle to provide enough power for daily needs. Understandably this will then flatten the leisure battery slowly when not on hook-up. Our problem was that the vehicle battery was the one getting flat rather than the leisure one, which led to us having to call out the AA one morning to jump start us. It appears that for some reason the ‘camping’ electrics were flattening the vehicle as the switch was somehow the wrong way round. We hadn’t noticed in Spain previously as the mucho plenty sunshine kept both fully charged. This is a big problem for us that love to ‘wild’ camp without hook-up in the UK. So yet again we had to book a repair session down in that there Paignton for another fix. Bugga.

Meantime we had to wait for Christmas and the New Year to get out of the way. 

20th December found us parked up on a site at Uphill – Weston super Mare for a couple of nights. ‘A very popular site’ we hear ’Is that why it’s £30 a night mid-december?’ Says us thinking ‘then why the hell is the place almost empty!!?’- But hey, we had chosen to try the place and could go elsewhere if we weren’t happy. And to be honest it wasn’t too special at all. It did give us chance to get our electrics booted back up and get ourselves sorted out. 

The Christmas period itself was planned with a couple of pre-booked chalets in Cheddar, Somerset. This was for a group of seven of us family members including all the Old Folk…. So prior to this we booked Ruby back into her cosy storage site, swapping her for our Mini, which was doing remarkably well to say that she has sat in a cold, dark, damp field for months, started up straight away bless her. 

This left us with the opportunity of staying for one night (22nd) in the posh Hilton Hotel and Spa in Congresbury. Right nice it was, particularly after our(very early) arrival. ‘Is our room ready yet?’ Says I. But as she is looking at her screen, she has a look of ‘fat chance’ on her face. So a quick attack by me of ‘hopefully, as it is Michelle’s birthday today’ – To which the receptionist lifted her head, gave a huge smile and ‘brilliant, congratulations- let me see what I can do’.. wahey. Yup, the nice lady managed to upgrade us to a Deluxe room with a view. Wow. Thanks. And, of course, it was ready straight away. (And yes it was actually Michelle’s birthday!). So we quickly dumped our stuff and headed off to lunch then to the swimming pool and sauna (and yes- mums we did allow an hour between food and swimming). 

Sweet Lady. Looks quite glam eh….

In celebration of Michelle’s birthday we dressed up (in the best clothing that we carry with us in Ruby) and had dinner in the Marco Pierre White restaurant in the hotel. ’Twas a very nice change and we splashed out on a great steak dinner and a glass or two of red. We are proud to say we were the last to leave the restaurant bar at the end of the evening. Happy Birthday Michelle.. 

Dec 23rd-27th was spent in the chalets in Cheddar with the family for a cosy, fun, busy Christmas with the added joy of a hot tub in both chalets to enjoy whilst it rained outside. One chalet was for us with my parents whilst next door was Michelle’s parents and sister. All of us running backwards and forwards between the two. Well to be fair, there was more of a shuffle than a run..! But we had an enjoyable four days without too much stress. We were even joined by kids/grandkids one afternoon. Lovely. 

We had a bit of a problem on the 27th-28th as we could not collect Ruby from storage as they were closed up for Christmas so we visited yet another hotel for a couple of nights. Really get fed up with hotels after a while but we remembered a Premier Inn near to Cribbs Causeway shopping mall burning down last year…. Great…. This means that this was now a brand new one which would guarantee decent quality. ! The added bonus of being next to the shopping mall meant we could start to do our very overdue Christmas shopping AND at ‘sale’ prices. Win win. 

New Year was spent back in the old haunt of Burnham On Sea seafront after collecting Ruby from storage. This was not a very exciting party time however, in reality, Covid had put the kybosh on everyones partying due to very tight restrictions. We did manage to pop a cork out of a bottle of fizz on the seafront in the freezing cold breeze.! HAPPY NEW YEAR.. Do we hope that 2022 is an improvement on 2021 then…. Yes indeed. Despite the fact we travelled well, did lots of things and managed to spend time with loved ones….. we really need things to pick-up. 

We were lucky enough to spend some family time with daughter and granddaughter visits whilst parked up here too. 

Best present ever..!

So 2022 started off very flat. The first few days were pretty grim, both with the flat, cloudy, cold weather but me and Mich were also attempting ‘Dry January’- Not even a drink to keep us warm. We were intent on getting back over to Spain at the earliest opportunity to get some blue sky and extra 10º of warmth. However by this time the French govt had decided to stop us Brits entering France or even driving through. This meant that our plan on taking the ferry to Santander/Bilbao was set back on as this was now the (only) vehicle route to Spain and it was therefore quickly booked up. We would have a six week wait..!  

In addition, thanks to Brexit we can only spend 90 days out of each 180 days in Europe (with some Schengen exceptions). We therefore had to make some decisions as to when we would prefer to take our remaining 60 days. We figured that by spending January at home we could just hunker down and enjoy the anticipation of the next trip in February and March. Not sure if this was the right decision as January was sooooooooo long…! And soooo overcast. But hey. Sit tight and keep smiling. 

We were pretty irritable and gloomy (unusually for us) and this is one period when a tiny motorhome is a little too cosy for two grumpy monsters! Thankfully we also took the decision to learn to speaka De Español to distract us from our woes. Here we are several weeks later and still learning every day. Gracias….!

January 3rd was spent on the driveway of Mich’s aunt and uncle near to the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Just the one night but enough to spend more quality time and see their lovely new house and the local village. The use of their electric was useful, not to mention the generous food and coffee….. We had a real test of the ‘dry January’ whilst here under extreme pressure but we pushed on through…!

Malvern

We spent the following few days visiting sites in the region of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire including the Forest of Dean to explore areas not previously seen other than just driving through. A couple of nights in the Bracelands site near Coleford in the Forest of Dean were pretty impressive with many woodland walks around us and the chance to search for the elusive wild boar. The locals will tell you that they are everywhere, ‘get into your rubbish bins’, ‘dig up your garden’ and ‘attack your dogs’… however when out camping and quietly walking round the ‘forest’ at dusk, there was still nothing to see apart for the masses of dug-up woodland. We did get to really enjoy the magic of the fallow deer. They arrived on the campsite after dark, many of them, walking, running and leaping round in the shadows just far enough away to see them only faintly before they get spooked and come chasing past at speed. One time at around 2am we could hear a snuffling sound just outside Ruby and looking out the window could see deer immediately outside our window. We spent probably half an hour just watching them ghosting close by us and the other motorhomes whilst most people slept. They are such mystical creatures. 

Then back up into Worcestershire again and into the Blackmore campsite near the other side of the Malvern Hills for four nights. We were having to miss out on our desire to wild camp at this stage largely due to the electric problems with Ruby. The lack of sunshine on the solar panels combined with the ‘confused’ Control Panel in Ruby meant we were struggling to maintain enough battery to spend more than one night without hook-up. Thankfully our LPG gas could keep us warm regardless (and mighty cheap too). Blackmore site was pretty good, clean with hot showers and very friendly staff which always makes such a difference. We are still not able to grasp that sites are still charging over £20 per night in the depths of winter and very low demand. Especially being a tight Northern Bas***d. !

We took the opportunity to visit the town of Worcester which was an easy bus ride from the site. Well in theory anyway… The freshly updated ‘online’ timetable told us that the only morning bus into Worcester was 10.48am. On walking the half mile to the bus stop, the timetable posted there showed a freshly updated print out showing 11.48am. Bugga. OK so we abandon that and return again later – ‘What happened to the timetable?’ we ask the driver when the bus arrives. ‘No idea’ says he ‘It’s been the same time for the last few years’ !….    Worcester was not too exciting but then again, a damp, very cold, overcast day will always make it difficult to appreciate the qualities of any town. So we treated ourselves to a slap up steak lunch, which had the added bonus of providing a warm restaurant to settle in for a couple of hours. The bus ride home provided us with some more entertainment. Bearing in mind it was pitch dark on our return in an area we did not know, we kept and eye on our location on our mobile phone map and hit the ‘stop’ button as we approached our bus stop. At which point the driver kept going, past the stop and heading purposefully into the local village a further mile away…… noooooo… We had to run forward to get him to stop before things got completely out of control. He thankfully stopped for us and let us out mid way leaving us to trek all the way back in the pitch dark along the muddy footpath. The driver accepted his mistake with the added comment of ‘That stop is a new one on me’ ..!- Cheers.

11th January and we were slowly headed south again – with an appointment in Paignton on 24th for Ruby repairs. After a short family visit, collecting our bikes from Portishead, collecting a new bike cover and other domestic chores we ended up in Dartmoor for one night wild camping and even managed a couple of nights in Tintagel in North Cornwall – still wild camping.

We have by now improved our skillset on managing the battery problems, part of which involves running the engine for ten mins in the evening. Something I am loathe to do but it gets us through for the next day. This ‘wild’ site in Tintagel was actually a paid car park without any facilities. There was a car parking charge which in reality was quite a lot of money for just parking in a tarmac car park. You paid £4 for the day and £5 overnight (that’s £9 in total for those of you from a Comprehensive School education )! But this car park was in the centre of Tintagel, really close to all the local pubs (damn this Dry January!) and cafes and easy walk to the impressive castle and coastal walks. So it suited us and the signage was actually welcoming for motorhomes for once. Mind you one of the guys at the King Arthur Inn (within the carpark area) was less welcoming. As always we are constantly on the search for drinking water to keep our tanks topped up. As I wandered round in search of a tap one of the staff outside the pub said ‘yes mate, you can get water from this tap here if you are camping in the car park’- that’s nice. He even walked me over to the tap alongside the pub and confirmed its availability. Five minutes later and on filling my second water carrier, some bloke steps out of the pub;-  

hoy, what are you doing!’ aggressively as you like ‘you can’t take that water- you can’t just walk in here and take this water’- A short stumpy kinda fat bloke who wasn’t really the right stature to be so gobby! 

‘Well I have just been told quite specifically by one of your colleagues that I can use this water’ 

‘Who was that’

He didn’t provide his name’ says I cheerfully. ‘Are you the manager’?

At which point Stumpy marches off into the pub and I continue filling. A short while later the jovial manager leans out and politely advises me that I really shouldn’t be using this water and I shouldn’t have been invited to. 

‘OK fine, perhaps you need to speak to Stumpy and calm him down though. He is likely to blow a gasket with his blustering’ Says I.

‘Yes, he is a little fiery isn’t he. Sorry’- ‘ and, if it helps, there is another tap round the corner provided for the overnight campers…!’

Ha… thanks. 

So we spent the days visiting the castle and the local area. We took a coastal walk into Boscastle and caught the bus back. We really enjoyed these days in Tintagel and will certainly return. Though avoiding the summer probably.

Somewhere near Bude

Bude was our next location- still in North Cornwall- for four nights. This was originally booked as two nights but the site was good, staff friendly, showers hot and location good. We managed to use our bikes for the first time in ages to cycle into Bude itself. ‘God, don’t remember being this unfit’… as we trudged up a particularly steep hill… 

The Strawberry Fields Farm shop car park near Launceston followed by the car park on the riverside at Totnes made up more of our whistle-stop overnight excitement on our Devon tour.

The next few days revolved around the repairs to Ruby in Paignton. We stayed the night of the 23rd Jan in the Beverly Park campsite in Paignton so we were ready for dropping Ruby off first thing on the Monday morning. We had her booked in for 2-3 days so we had prepared to stay in the old favourite of the Premier Inn in Torquay. – Still not drinking alcohol remember… Who knew that orange or lime and soda with be so tasty…. !

Great spot- view of Torbay

On the Wednesday we had a call saying Ruby was ready so with great excitement we arrived and was met by the workshop manager who painstakingly went through the list of bits that he had repaired. BUT made no mention of the BIG problems at the top of the list ….THAT WE HAD BOOKED HER IN FOR…!  Grrrrrrr…

Now don’t get me wrong. All the staff at Alan KERR in Paignton are great people, very helpful and cheerful but don’t seem too good on communication despite the fact we had several times asked them to call us on the phone to discuss any issues…. It was only when we stood and specifically showed them the main fault that their faces dropped. ‘Please try again’ and ‘please try harder’ we say. AND we will have to keep Ruby over night to sleep in as we cannot keep paying for hotels. Now…. Come Friday afternoon we were still there hanging round the Alan KERR office drinking coffee- having arrived first thing Monday morning we were the last ones standing on Friday afternoon. A new Control Panel was eventually decided was necessary and it arrived by UPS with them Friday pm. Brett (bless him) fitted it at about 5pm and announced  ‘ The original fault is fixed’ hooray ….but ‘there are now several other new faults!’ 

We had no choice now but to leave it at that for now and move on. We had to leave for Spain early on Tuesday morning from Portsmouth so could not spend another day with them. 

So now we had other issues to work around for two months in Spain. Who said motorhoming was easy!

 Next we managed to spend a wonderful time in Portsmouth, getting a taste for the place and deciding that a further visit will be worthy. We visited the top of the iconic Spinnaker Tower and found our new favourite restaurant Phö (Vietnamese).

The other exciting part was seeing the brand new aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in the dockyard. With a great view of it from the height of the Spinnaker, we also realised that we would be sailing right alongside it from the Brittany Ferries terminal the next morning Wahey. Some of you may not know, but Michelle has spent many months stationed on the Illustrious and the Ark Royal aircraft carriers in years gone by so this was indeed a treat. We had in fact noticed the sister new aircraft carrier Prince of Wales heading out to sea from Portsmouth from our campsite in Paignton several days earlier which was exciting enough. 

1st Feb -So here I am now writing this blog whilst on the Brittany Ferry from Portsmouth and headed for the sunshine.

And guess what…. Whilst looking out the side window of the Ferry (Galacia) we see again an aircraft carrier in the distance out at sea. Thankfully we had the binoculars and got a good look at the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier again AND it had three CHINOOK helicopters on the deck. Michelle was in second heaven. What a treat. …… Too much? Well we enjoyed it…

Spot the Chinnies

Sooo for those of you still awake….. and interested… The total return ferry price including the very nice, very comfortable, clean en-suite cabin + two meals was a pretty huge £1187..wow. And this was with a Friends and Family discount of 10%. 

Ready to board in Portsmouth

However, compare this to 5 tanks of fuel @ £80 a time, toll roads totalling £100+ and the Channel Tunnel at £318. Cheaper by road but then add-in four days of travel (via Folkestone-not very direct) and wear and tear/mileage on Ruby it is a worthy comparison. Discuss…

Did you know….HMS Queen Elizabeth is the largest and most powerful vessel ever constructed for the Royal Navy. This awe-inspiring warship is capable of carrying up to 40 aircraft. The sister ship of HMS Prince of Wales likewise.

As well as state-of-the-art weaponry and communications systems, the ships boast five gyms, a chapel and a medical centre.

The flight deck comes in at an enormous four acres, and will be used to launch the fearsome new F35 Joint Strike Fighter fast jet. Four fighter jets can be moved from the hangar to the flight deck in just one minute. HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was accepted into the fleet in 2017, and the HMS Prince of Wales, active service since 2020.

Spain

19th Dec 2021

So.. here we are in Europe and just entering Spain at the time of the last blog. 

This has worked out (as always) to be a journey of discovery and to get a feel for the areas we visit. Often times it is not possible to spend much time in one area as travel is necessary, however we are still learning, seeing and soaking up as much of the areas that we pass through as possible. We never really planned on continuing south day after day but the sun just teases you and drags you along. Every 200 miles adds about +1º of temperature and increasing amounts of bright blue sky. Of course we did the research in advance. Well in advance. I remember whilst sitting in a  cold dark wet campsite in Gloucestershire at this time last year, looking at the temperatures in Spain (and many other places). Trouble is that research does not really tell the whole story. You have to be there, feel it, and find out the reality of the weather on the ground. We are still learning and this is the reason for the one month trip. Though it is a bloody long way..!

Anyhow, 25th Nov we drifted into Spain, slipping east of the Pyrenees and with a new target location of Barcelona. Michelle identified what turned out to be a great site at Carbrera de Mar, which is about 30mins north of Barcelona and just 200 metres from the beach. More importantly it was also alongside the main train line into Barcelona, so we planned on staying for four days. This site cost €15 per night and was very popular so it was a constant change of motorhome neighbours. Space was a little close but otherwise a great site. The electric was included plus good quality toilets and (hot) showers plus all the necessary water servicing etc. On our first evening we wandered down to the railway station (well just a platform really) just to check the train route and tickets etc. Good job we did really. Bit tricky for us folk that spoke no local lingo. We have been surprised by the lack of English being spoken round here. What’s matter with these people.? No school education..! (Ha! Yes, of course I am joking). 

Carbrera de Mar

Next day we managed to find our way into Barca on the train which runs all the way along the coast into the city centre. We had an enjoyable day visiting Las Ramblas, Gaudi’s buildings, fish/meat markets and a very nice restaurant alongside the marina. Bloody lovely. It was sunny and warmer than expected so a good day was had. We managed to get back to the campsite in one piece despite some anxious railway moments. Bit busy in places. Oh, and on the Covid front, both France and Spain are much stricter than the UK with masks and movement. We got checked before entering some premises for our vaccination record and everywhere requires masks. Many people wear masks in the street whilst walking round so we presume that the population are pretty nervous. 

We loved Barcelona so much that we ventured back in again two days later. We had seen the outside of the Sagrada Familia (church), on the Friday trip and were absolutely gobsmacked. I am certainly never keen on looking at churches but this was something else and another of Antoni Gaudi’s designs. Google It. It is still being built after 140 years and it is awesome. And guess what…inside was even awesomer (that’s not an official word). We had to pay a gentle sum of €14 each (discounted for us old folk…!) and found a playground of colour, design, shapes and masses of unbelievable design features. Best church ever. It’ll be alright when its finished..! Wouldn’t mind but they already have a cathedral in the city. 

Otherwise Barcelona was bloody cold this day. Still sunny and blue sky. An icy wind blowing off the mountains straight through the city. Brrrrr. So our trip was a little shorter than we would have liked. We did however discover that they have an Arc de Triomf….- very similar to the one in Paris. – who knew… There are many sights worth visiting in Barcelona including modern busy shopping centres (yuk), old town (Gothic Quarter) with lovely historic buildings with bars, cafés and curio shops. 

After four nights at the Carbrera de Mar we were starting to understand that we needed to keep going south to increase the level of warmth. As you know Spain has loads of mountains across the whole country and the weather and temperature can change quite regularly and by several degrees. Always seems to have plentiful blue sky (which is probably the best part of being away from the UK) but it appears to suffer with wind. (I know what that feels like..!). So we decided to head south again and after another few hours located a free ‘wild’ site on 29th at Deltebre at Sant Jaume where we stayed for two nights as it was so peaceful and safe. We were originally looking for a launderette in Sant Jaume which turned out to be closed down. But thankfully we then stumbled onto this wonderful site. Again it had drinking water and disposal points for toilet cassettes. Brilliant. Totally free, very large and uncontrolled. Next day we headed out for a touristy trip with a plan on parking up near a local marina for coffee and lunch. But we never made it there. We came across an absolute gem of a place which stopped us in our tracks. It was basically a very long beach along a peninsula leading to some extensive salt fields. Lorries drove up and down this sand bank all day collecting salt that had been ‘farmed’ at the tip of the peninsula. There are large public car parks on the sand which are free at this time of year. Once there you have the Mediterranean Sea on one side and flat calm Bay of Alfacs on the other. Now picture this…. Ruby parked on the sand facing the bay. Bright blue sky, very warm. A wooden boardwalk in front of us with views across the calm bay and mountains all across the background in both directions. It was a delight. So, we just simply made some lunch in Ruby, sat on the boardwalk to eat, accompanied by a small glass of red and soaked up the beauty in front of us. And stayed there for the day. And to add to the delight there were large flocks of pink flamingos flying past from the nearby nature reserve. Absolutely loved it. We had a long walk down the sand ‘road’ along the peninsula before eventually dragging ourselves away after several hours and back to the reality of food shopping. !

San Jaume Wildfowl reserve

And that was November dealt with.

1st Dec -This day was a cause for celebration as the anniversary of our Road Trip.  One whole year, 12 months, of our three year road trip. Amazing. I know we spent the first four months locked down in Gloucestershire however here we are now, deep into sunny Spain and still loving every day.. (well, mostly…).

We now travelled another chunk south and another couple of degrees warmer. Still sunny with blue sky. We had decided that we were now in need of a holiday (!)… so booked the Camping Eden site at Peniscola. (Mainly because it had Penis in the title!). Initially we booked a full seven days but added another five later on as it suited our purposes very well. We decided that we could not keep on heading south at the rate of 200 miles every few days. It was already a long way back home and we could end up missing out by spending all our time on the road. At a cost of around €25 (£22) per night this was a good spot and largely full most of the time. Each pitch was tucked amongst some cropped trees- originally looked very tight and close together. However once parked up it turns out this was quite a good size pitch which included our own sink as well as the electric hook-up. The vast majority of the other campers were German with French, Dutch and Spanish making up the rest. Mornings were so difficult trying to work out whether it is ‘Guten Tag’, ‘Bonjour’ or  ’Buenos Dias’ was required when greeting the neighbours. We decided that a brisk ‘Good‘Morning’ was the best approach – as they all should know how to speak English…! At no time during our 12 days did we see any British registered vehicles on any of the hundred or so pitches. Very surprising. Even round the town of Peniscola and surrounding areas there was no evidence of Brits anywhere. 

So, despite the daily wall-to-wall blue sky this area was often quite windy which does restrict some beach related ambitions. The wind tended to be warm and retained temperatures of 16-20 degrees and feeling even warmer. Most days were jeans and T-shirt but taking a warmer top for later in the evening. It was so relaxing being able to wander around, with no driving and just chilling out. 

Memorable amongst those days was 3rd Dec. A friend had recommended a bar called Cheers in the neighbouring town of Alcossebre which did good old English meals. Not normally keen on being ‘Brits Abroad’ but we were interested in this idea. There was a great coast walk of 22km or so from our site to Cheers so we considered we could safely manage that trek as long as we could catch a bus home. Our research online did not provide options and the receptionist on our campsite said ’Not possible-there are no buses’- But still, there must be a bus…surely. If not we can grab a taxi….So the walk along the coast path was tremendous. Nice gravel and concrete paths along the coast and sandy beaches with barely a soul in sight. It was a hot day – shorts on, shirt off (well me anyway). After an energetic four and a half hour walk we finally arrived at Cheers, ready for a beer and then some food. Well….no… it was bloody closed. ! aaargh. We had checked the opening hours online so it should have been open, however the website failed to mention that it was closed for the winter. Bugga.!

OK then, we just grab a beer at a neighbouring Spanish bar and then look for a bus. We asked the bar owner who spoke just enough English to say ‘Not possible’. Oops, this is getting tricky now. ’So what about a taxi to Peniscola then?. Where will we get a taxi?’- The exact same English response of ‘Not possible’ was helpfully repeated. No bus. No taxi. Getting dark in an hour, painful feet and under-dressed, under fed and stuck in a tiny village with no transport. Damn….! Anyway to cut a decent bit of panic down to just one paragraph.. We did manage to find a bus that went to a different village, we found the railway station and after detailed trains discussion with a terrific local dude (‘no speaka da English’) we took the decision to grab a taxi from there. Firstly, we went to the town supermarket and stocked up on cakes, biscuits and water and the friendly cashier phoned a local taxi for us which arrived five minutes later…. Top job. Taken straight back to the campsite entrance within half an hour- at just a paltry €35 (£30)! . Lesson learned. If everyone tells you there is no bus…… there is NO BUS..! We don’t like to do things the easy way do we..!

Lost- The only bus to who knows where. !

Oh… and look at this little beauty. This praying mantis – about 6 inches long was spotted by Mich whilst out on our long walk. He was on the gravel path and didn’t move as we took photos. Apart from his eyes which followed our movements slowly. Wow. What an incredible beast.

Praying Mantis

The following days just trickled along nicely. We found Sheila’s cafe, Horchata Granizados and our favourite evening haunt the Mandarina Club where a bottle of Rioja was just €18 (£15) and some great burgers.

We were pretty experimental with the other local food too. Fish, fish and more fish. Everyone, everywhere eats mussels, crab, crayfish, langoustine and every other kind of crustacean. Think we over did it one evening with the full platter which was tricky to work through but worth a go.

Not sure..!

We even prepared and enjoyed a bbq back at Ruby one evening with langoustine, chorizo, plantains and quail eggs alongside a beautiful salad. We really loved the Mediterranean diet and realise that the lack of chips/burgers/coke is what keeps them slim. Also…everyone drinks beer. Any time of day. Male and female. Half a litre with lunch, dinner, mussels and probably breakfast. – they certainly don’t get involved in much fancy pants cappuccino stuff. ! 

So after 12 days in Peniscola- (which we recommend, even in the winter,) we need to start heading home. We have to be in Calais by the 16th Dec and we had over 1,500kms to get there. We shared the driving from the start and chewed up loads of miles on the way. Once again we opted for the Autopista and Autoroutes to make the journey progress quicker. There is quite a cost but as mentioned previously there is a balance between time/cost and one has to consider the wear and tear of Ruby during the miles done along the free roads. The vast amount of the toll roads involve sitting there at 60mph on cruise control with very little traffic on dual carriageways or three-laners. You really get to eat up the miles in a relaxed and safe manner (apart from manic Barcelona). First night we failed to stay on a free site at Clermont le Herault, which proved to be in use by the caravans of a travelling circus. We had to then drive for the first time in the dark through some mountains which would have been glorious to see in the daylight..! We ended up parked in a truck stop along the A75 which was safe and easy to use. We then became aware that we would be passing along the famous Millau Viaduct on this road the next day which caused a great deal of excitement. We have visited this before but the prospect of driving over it the next morning had us keen to start early. It was -3º overnight here as we were high up in the mountains. We drove half an hour to the Millau Viaduct in gentle rolling mountains to then park up at the viewing point. Almost empty at this time of day (8.30am), we had as much room as we wanted and freedom to put Derek the Drone up for some photos. Well…wow…! The lighting was incredible and there was thick cloud below us and below the bridge making for a stunning view of the bridge and surrounding area. What an amazing piece of engineering and a thing of beauty. Despite the freezing conditions it was an awesome visit and it was my birthday too…..

Awesome Millau Viaduct
Millau Video

After moving on we drove for over a hundred miles up in the mountains reaching 1110 metres ( 3600ft) at the highest and with temperatures ranging from -3º to +8º dependent on the sun position and the flatness of the terrain.  The mountains are part of the Massif Central mountain range which surprisingly covers 15% of France. We didn’t expect to come across this glorious area as the route planning never mentions it. Perhaps we should have planned this a bit better and then maybe we would have had the snow chains that we were legally obliged to carry in this area. ! There were large areas of snow and ice either side of the road in some areas and we knew that it would be easy to get caught out. (We have now bought some ‘snow socks’ which is the next best thing and fulfil the legal requirements). What a joyful road.

Next night we stayed in yet another truck stop just north of Orleans- boy do we know how to party….! This was a bit ill conceived as we were kept awake for large parts of the night as the trucks drove alongside us headed out from the truck stop. Never mind, it was free and we were damn tired by now. 500+ km per day for two full days was pretty full-on. 

15th Dec. Now this was a bloody difficult driving day. We had researched driving round Paris as being the quickest route and we picked a time that was quietest… apparently. Well this was so funny (afterwards!). Now…. if you are not aware, Paris (as well as an increasing amount of other European towns/cities) has environment zones restricting the passage of traffic in certain areas and certain days etc. We had failed to apply for our Crit Air certificate which would allow us to drive along the Peripherique (ring road). Therefore we had to avoid that particular area or face a sizeable fine. Well that was not as easy as it sounds. Every time we put something into the satnav it redirected us onto this route, even after we had started up. We stopped several times on the approach to make sure we had this right but noticed that we had the additional problem of the A68 going through a tunnel…with a height restriction of just 2 metres. Ruby is 2.7m ..! So we asked the satnav to tiptoe between the  Peripherique and this section of A68. No problem. ‘Turn left’ she says…’keep left’.. ‘follow the road left’ she says again…. Followed suddenly by a big flashing warning signal saying ‘STOP NOW’!!- What the hell. You know those big chunks of metal plate that they hang over the road before a low bridge..? Well we were in that lane. The only reason we didn’t clatter into them was because the metal plates had been worn down a bit by many previous miscreants…. We Stopped…… in the middle of the lane…. And thankfully managed to then steer right and away from the dwarf tunnel. God. And it was so busy and so many lane changes and so many vehicles and so many roadworks and …….aaaargh….

The only saving grace was the Eiffel Tower..

We managed to see it briefly whilst driving around the Peripherique (Ha.. still managed to end up on it…!). God that was a tricky hour for both driver and navigator. Not a big fan of that route.!

So that was all the hard work done. We had only a couple of hundred km’s to go as we parked up at the tidy little village of Grenay. What a great relaxing finish to Europe. A free Aire in the village with free electric too.. incredibly generous of the locals – knowing that we would all visit the local shops and spend money. It really does work. We were now all done and home free….. OR WERE WE..?

Now you know that we sometimes get things wrong…and we occasionally fly close to the edge….! 

Well… as everyone is aware.. Omicron was the new variant of Covid which was hitting the world as we lounged around in Spain. We knew that we had to complete lots more paperwork to return home including a Passenger Locator Form and Covid test results. Well, we (me) got a bit confused and thought that just doing a Lateral Flow Test of our own whilst in France would suffice. So we uploaded it online this last night in Grenay. Only to awake the next morning (six hours before our Eurotunnel booking) to find an email saying this had been rejected……. And we now had to find a local pharmacy to get an Antigen certificate before we could travel…! Nooooo. And no-one round these parts speaks English….

Yet again Glenn & Michelle were up against it…This is how it went…. 

1- Panic – Christ we have only got till 4pm to get the Antigen test done AND a result obtained and put on the Eurotunnel website.

2- Pack up Ruby quick time ready to go

3- Check online and find two local ‘infirmari’s’ via the (French language) official website that would do the Antigen check

4- Walk quickly around town and find both places closed.! 

5- Speak with a lady in a nearby ‘ pharmacie’ (notta speaka da English) who very helpfully researches online and finds three ‘pharmacies’ in nearby Lievin with post codes. – But no phone numbers!

6- Research online, get phone number and call one- Unilab. (They find an English speaking colleague Lucinda)- ‘Yes we can do the test, it will take 12 hours to get a result…!Noooo. ‘ Actually no, sorry, it will take one hour….’ Phew

7- Drive like the wind to Lievin and see Lucinda- ‘Not possible’. We must have a French address and French phone number to send the result to…‘.! This is getting rather challenging. 

8- Lucinda’s colleague points out the ‘Pharmacie Cornuel-Paladini’ 200 metres up the road that may do them. She helpfully calls them and takes us out into the street to point the way. 

9- Wander calmly (!) into the pharmacie and they get the job done (still no English spoken here..) and she indicates we are now local celebrities so they will give us the result in five minutes. Wahoooo. ‘€25 each si’l vows plaít’- Bugga. 

10- Twenty minutes later we have the ‘Certificat Covid Numerique Eu’ 

11- Go to nearby McD’s for very late breakfast and upload the certificate to the Eurotunnel website. 

We now have two hours to travel the one-hour trip to Calais. Phew… Slow down. Chew slowly. 

Not quite the end of the story. …Michelle had to upload two more times on the way to Calais whilst sitting behind me in Ruby at the table. Our uploads had been declined for some reason saying ‘Incorrect document’. But hey, sod it. We drove to the Eurotunnel terminal and presumably arrived at the same time as the latest upload was verified. The guy on reception, plugged our ticket details in and waved us through…. ‘We have a problem with our Covid result’ we say. ‘Its fine’, he says. ‘If it accepts your details then all is well. Enjoy your trip’. Perhaps you can imagine our relief as we wander over to the Duty Free shop grinning like kids. No worries……!

And as a reminder..Boris had further restricted travel back to the UK and Macron was in the process of kicking everyone out two days later so we stepped out through a rapidly closing door. 

So now back in the UK we have to self isolate AND pay £35 each for a PCR test…!!! 

Incidentally the toll roads (Autopistas) appear to be in some kind of transition period throughout Spain. We passed through many unmanned toll booths and many where the road had been re-directed around the booths for some reason. We were worried that perhaps we should have been paying online for many of them however research shows that the government have ended many contracts and allow free usage until 2024 at least. – So get yourselves over quickly as it saves loads of €€€€€€€€s all down the east coast. 

And for those of you that are faintly interested…..Despite the free roads in Spain, the fast route up through France cost us about €132 (£112) to travel 785km (488 miles) of toll road. Is it worth it to save several hours driving through towns and villages? There are certainly compromise options in between but we have more to learn.

Did you know…

Millau Viaduct runs across the Tarn valley in France. The only way to cross the gorge prior to the construction of the viaduct was by using the main road. This wound its way slowly down each side of the valley to a narrow bridge over the river in Millau town centre.

A competition to design and build the structure was won by an engineering and architectural group headed up by French engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Sir Norman Foster

The Millau Viaduct was built in just three years, opening in 2004. It is the world’s tallest bridge at 343 metres high and it carries the main A75 from Paris to Beziers.

And its bloody beautiful…

What do we do in our downtime…!?