2020 Loch Fyne to the Mediterranean
First of all The Navigator and I would like to wish all the followers of this blog a happy, healthy and prosperous 2020.
Since the last blog in November, The 2019 Tour of Yorkshire, we have been busy preparing Bessie for our next trip back to El Campello on the Mediterranean coast near Alicante.
Before setting off on New Year’s Eve we spent nine days in Belfast celebrating Christmas with our family. At eighteen months Eilidh is still too young to appreciate the occasion but was on great form anyway.
The only negative about the whole occasion was that we were all, to a greater or lesser degree, under the weather with the cold, and my cold developed into acute Man Flu, which as you know is the most virulent form of the condition and I was in bed early most nights from Christmas Day onwards, but I lived to tell the tale which is the main thing!
We were on the 8pm flight from Belfast on Sunday the 29th which meant it was almost midnight before we were home. It started off raining on Monday morning so it was the afternoon before we brought Bessie to the house for the last minute checks and additions and we were ready to go the following morning.
While having our lunch today we put the one o’clock news on and it was the first time I had seen anything on a TV set for ten days and it was only a couple of football games streamed to a tablet that consisted of my festive entertainment. It was just a pleasant change to sit and talk or have a quiz night (well done Simon) and then I had early nights in a darkened room once the Man Flu struck!
We booked our pitch at El Campello before we left last year and have been counting the days until we were back there ever since, but the long drive ahead has lost a bit of its appeal as I’m feeling so miserable! Fortunately we had planned to do the journey in manageable stages rather than drive for hours on end so everything should work out on the night!
Week 1 – Day 1 – Tuesday 31st December 2019
Ardrishaig to Carlisle via Sauchie – 219 miles – 24.2 mpg – 44 mph
Today was New Year’s Eve, and, as ever, when starting a long trip, we headed over to see The Navigator’s mother in her Care Home then on to Carlisle and our usual spot in the Kingsway Industrial Estate. We arrived about 6pm to find that the rather good Chinese takeaway in the estate was closed. The Chinese taking two New Year Day holidays (ours and theirs) reminded me of my Boy Rep days when I used to take the English and Scottish Bank Holidays!
We were both so knackered because of the flu and the last few hectic days that we had an early night but were awake at midnight to see in the New Year with BBC Alba, the nearest thing to a traditional New Year program, allbeit no one understands a word of it!
Week 1 – Day 2 – Wednesday 1st January 2020
Carlisle to Haughton – 174 miles – 23.4 mpg – 52 mph
Last night was a bit of a landmark as it was the 200th night I have spent in Bessie since we bought her, so it is being fairly well used. By the time we return home in mid-April that figure will probably be over 300 nights in exactly two years.
To show you how quiet the roads were on New Year’s Day, have a look at the next picture. Can you believe this is the truck/bus/caravan/motorhome car park at Southwaite Services just south of Carlisle?
Okay I cheated. There was a lorry there but I waited till it left for the dramatic impact of an empty Motorway Services car park!
A quiet night in Carlisle was followed by a quiet, trouble free drive to our next stop at the Red Lion Caravan Park at Haughton near Stafford. We were here in August and enjoyed it so much that we decided to return to break the journey, although it was a different feeling to the place this time.
When we arrived at the site there were 4 caravans and another 2 motorhomes and as it turned out 3 of the caravans were together and they would spend the night (till 11.45pm) talking loudly away inside an awning, and as you may know caravan awnings are not exactly soundproof! I gave them the benefit of the doubt, after all it was New Year’s Day but more than that I was not going out in the freezing cold conditions, not in my tender health!
Week 1 – Day 3 – Thursday 2nd January 2020
Haughton – 0 miles – 0 mpg – 0 mph
We had a lazy day and watched as everyone left, leaving us the only outfit there for most of the day, until a couple turned up in a micro caravan they had obviously just bought as they had no idea whatsoever how to set it up and in the end they phoned someone to come out and show them how things worked. By the way they parked right next to us with the whole camping area to choose from!
The goats and most of the animals were inside the sheds so it was not as entertaining this time.
Week 1 – Day 4 – Friday 3rd January 2020
Haughton to Portsmouth – 189.6 miles – 26.2 mpg – 38 mph
We were up fairly sharpish as we wanted to top up with a few groceries at Aldi in Stafford before rejoining the motorway, heading for Portsmouth. What should have been a quick 15 minute shop turned into a bit of a palaver and resulted in a terse e mail to Aldi customer services!
The £27 worth of shopping was scanned through and I offered the cashier a Scottish £20 and £10 note which she rubbed with that security pen thingy and checked they were genuine (which they were). She then refused to take them as they had had a few Scottish forgeries since the store opened apparently.
“But you’ve just confirmed they are genuine.” I politely said. I won’t trouble you with the rest of the conversation including the appearance of a purple haired supervisor who took one look at the notes, said “No” and walked off without a word of explanation. By this time there was a sizeable queue behind me and the other two checkouts had ground to a halt as they all listened in on this conversation.
The upshot was I paid by card and left in a marked manner vowing to never darken Aldi’s doors again, but of course, I will…
Imagine if that had happened to one of the SNP’s ‘Freedumb’ cyber warriors! Wee Nippy would have added it to her growing list of anti-English grievances and used the incident to demand yet another referendum!
The rest of the journey to Portsmouth was uneventful and I topped up with fuel at an Asda before heading to the Brittany Ferries terminal. We Brits love a queue which is why I am third in line rather than using lane 4 which is free….
We boarded at 4.40pm with loads of other vans, caravans and cars behind us but the Cap Finistere was under way at the advertised 5pm!
It was just getting dark and Portsmouth looked good lit up, including Her Majesty’s Royal Navy ships docked for the New Year, although having spent many billions on the 2 new aircraft carriers you would have thought Boris would have at least had one of them out at sea!
24 hours crossing the Bay of Biscay in the middle of winter may appeal to some salty sailors but its not high on my to do list, but needs must. We took food from the van up to the cabin and after we had our meal we went to our respective beds, with The Navigator, slightly against her will it must be said, taking the top bunk.
It was pretty rough during the night but not as bad as some ferry crossings we’ve had in the past. After breakfast we had a walk about as the conditions had calmed a lot and we were making good progress on fairly calm seas.
The Pont Aven and the Cap Finistere are massive ships and have all the facilities to keep you entertained during the crossing but after lunch we went back to the cabin for an afternoon siesta after the disturbed sleep of last night.
The arrival at Santander just after 5pm Spanish time was fairly uneventful and we were in the first row of vans to get off and apart from a cursory look at our passports there were no holdups. We headed straight to a Mercadona supermarket to stock up the fridge for the next few days. On board ship you have to turn the gas off, and with no mains electricity, we did not have much in the fridge on the crossing.
It was dark by the time the satnav guided us to it and it was mobbed. It was now after 7pm on a Saturday night and as most Spanish supermarkets are closed on a Sunday people were stocking up for the weekend. This was no ordinary weekend either as it was the start of the Spanish ‘Christmas’ which they celebrate on the 6th of January.
Three Kings Day, or Dia de los Reyes in Spanish, falls on January 6 every year and is the day that most children in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries receive their Christmas presents.
After Mercadona we headed for the little village of Lierganes, about 15 minutes away where there is a little free motorhome parking spot which is perfect to stop at after coming off the ferry. The village was packed with families out celebrating at the local hotels and bars.
Week 1 – Day 5 – Saturday 4th January 2020
At sea to Santander / Lierganes – 20.4 miles – 23.1 mpg – 38 mph
The last time we stayed at Lierganes was in 2015 on the start of a 9 countries in 9 week tour in our previous van, and it was a relaxing start to what would be a fairly hectic trip.
It was a hot June day when we were last here and there was only one other van apart from us.
This time there were quite a few vans parked up for the night by the time we arrived. Tomorrow was going to be the longest drive of the trip on a road I had never driven before so we had an early night.
Week 1 – Day 5 – Monday 6th January 2020
Lierganes to Castillo de Garcimunoz – 375 miles – 23.4 mpg – 58 mph
We rose early and were on the road just after 9am. The route we were taking was via Burgos then down to Madrid and stopping somewhere more than an hour past Madrid, so at least a 6 hour drive which would leave a fairly easy drive of under 3 hours on Monday.
Burgos is a fair old climb and is 2,818 feet above sea level and when we passed by it last year in March and there was 2 feet of snow beside the dual carriageway! We were soon on dual carriageway after leaving Lierganes and we would be on dual carriageway all the way to El Campello. It was a freezing cold morning but there was a blue clear sky so it looked like the weather was going to be good for driving, and it was, apart for long stretches of freezing fog later on.
The first objective was to get past Burgos and when that was achieved we stopped for some lunch before setting off for Madrid. There was one fairly bad accident after Burgos in the fog which blocked the outside lane but we managed to squeeze past the 2 cars involved.
The further we travelled the fog disappeared and it was bright and sunny so with the road really quiet the cruise control was engaged for huge distances without having to break, even bypassing Madrid. As we passed Madrid we went under the flightpath of the airport and saw 2 planes taking off side by side which looked spectacular.
Half an hour past Madrid we stopped for a cuppa and then pressed on for another hour before pulling off and heading into the tiny village of Castillo de Garcimunoz which is dominated by a magnificent castle, and as luck would have it, the motorhome stopover area was at the side of the castle and as we were a few hundred feet above the plain we were treated to a spectacular sunset.
We had a quick walk around the walls of the castle and were lucky enough to get in to see the ancient parish church which was built into one side of the castle walls. As it is only about a mile off the dual carriageway it is a good stopping off point going north or south or even to visit it in its own right as it is quite a structure. This region is La Mancha of Don Quixote fame and apparently there are many more castles like this around here.
Week 1 – Day 5 – Monday 6th January 2020
Castillo de Garcimunoz to El Campello – 179.3 miles – 25.9 mpg – 54 mph
Another crisp cold morning but with bright blue skies again. We set off on the last lap just after 10am and the cruise control took us effortlessly on to the Alicante bypass and then El Campello. After topping up the gas tank at the usual Repsol garage, where Raul looked delighted to be working on King’s Day, we were on Camping El Jardin just after 1pm and on our (now) usual pitch.
Just before we arrived on the site we passed last year’s Friday night drinks venue and it is now closed. Maybe they had heard that Alan would not be halving numerous bottles of white with me, or Helen would not be having her triple brandy / Bailey’s nightcaps this winter. Hombre, get yourself well and we look forward to meeting up with you both later in the year…
When we arrived there was a green sunscreen over the pitch but it was soon removed for us as we had not driven all this way to be in the shade! It was sunny and the chairs came out and we enjoyed the warm sunshine until it faded.
In the morning we had a long lie in, as you do here, and I pulled back the blinds on the roof light above our heads to see the blue sky. After a few minutes The Navigator said,
‘Was that tree there last year?’
From my angle I could not see a tree but The Navigator obviously could, but what intrigued me was the thought process that could question whether a 50 foot tree had materialised sometime between last March and this morning. I have 3 months of this folks…
Ardrishaig to Camping El Jardin, El Campello
1,165 miles – 24.2 mpg – 49 mph
So here we were, in the sun at last, what could possibly go wrong? Well, as soon as we opened the blinds, the maintenance guys started to work on the road directly in front of us and we had our first full day on site listening to jackhammers as they dug up the road! Hey Ho!
We are now settled in and have had one trip on the bikes to Mercadona to stock up on the goodies we have been looking forward to for so long.
We are here until the 1st of April and sail back on the 5th then head to Lowdhams near Nottingham to get the habitation check done to maintain Bessie’s warranty.
When we are here there are a few things to look forward to starting this Saturday when we are heading to the hills to celebrate the birthday of one of our chums, Carol of Carol and Garry fame.
The other treat we have in store in February will take place in Alicante and more of that another time. Finally, our family will be out in March to join us for a week, which we are looking forward to immensely.
In February we will be taking the train up to Benidorm to meet John and Margaret, our Ardrishaig neighbours who will be there for a few weeks winter sunshine.