2020 – Homeward bound from Spain
We had been on Camping le Jardin at El Campello since the 5th of January and had been thoroughly enjoying the experience and the company of our fellow Brits as well as the other nationalities and were not due to leave the site until the 1st of April.
Our two daughters, son in law and granddaughter were due to fly out on Saturday the 14th of March to spend a week on site with us and they had their cases packed, but on the Friday, Spain went into lockdown and on the Saturday morning their flights with Jet2.com were cancelled. We had cycled round to Mercadona on the Friday to get some shopping in anticipation of their arrival and that was when we saw some panic buying for the first time, but by the beginning of the next week most things were back in stock.
Our return to the UK was meant to be on a Brittany Ferries ship sailing from Santander on the 5th of April. The coronavirus situation escalated quite quickly and we decided to bring the sailing forward, but after a day and a half on the phone trying to get through to Brittany Ferries, the earliest crossing we could get on was on the 29th of March.
So far so good.
The campsite started to empty as people of all nationalities began to head for home and when we saw on their website that Brittany Ferries had cancelled our sailing on the 29th of March we had no alternative but to head for Calais and the Eurotunnel, which I booked for the 25th, giving us a week to get there.
The Spanish Government wanted foreigners to return to their own countries and the French were allowing entry from Spain, as long as we could prove we were returning home. So, on Wednesday the 18th we packed the van, ready for the long journey home. I moved the van onto another pitch as ours takes a lot of manoeuvring to get in/out and as we wanted an early start it was better to do it this afternoon. We set off the following morning and this is a description of our journey through, Spain, France and the UK…
Homeward bound – Day 1 – 19/03/2020
We left the campsite at 8am and headed for the Repsol garage to top up the diesel and gas tanks and set off to see how far we could get and made it as far as Pamplona. This was 404 miles and a 7 and a quarter hour drive.
Thankfully the motorway from El Campello to Valencia is now free and saved a fair bit of time over the coast road. The roads were very quite helped by it being a public holiday today.
We passed quite a few Brits going north and one idiot towing a caravan going south!
There are 5 Brits and 1 German on the Aire so far and just as we arrived a police car went past but did not stop thankfully.
It is about 60 miles to the French border and then another day of driving but we know the route well so we will see where we end up tomorrow…
Homeward bound – Day 2 – 20/03/2020
Pamplona is 1,400ft above sea level and compared with El Campello was quite chilly this morning, but I’m still sporting sandals, shorts and t shirt! We left the Aire just after 8am and within 5 minutes got pulled over by 2 Guarda Civil motorcycle cops which hopefully our dashcam captured.
After that bit of excitement to start the day, Google Maps took us on the descent towards Irun before cutting the corner towards Bayonne.
By the time we reached the border on the back roads it was eerily quiet and we were stopped again by the Guarda Civil, but as before, we explained we were heading home through France and were on our way in seconds.
The strange thing is the Guard who stopped us and talked to The Navigator through the open window, pulled down his mask to do so!!
We hit the main road we are familiar with at Bayonne and headed north skirting Bordeaux before stopping for lunch. The satnav had been set for Angouleme but we were making good time so I reset it for Saumur where we went to the riverside Aire we have been on a few times before, overlooking the Loire. On the way we encountered a roundabout that had the Gendarmes on all 4 junctions but we were waved through without stopping.
20 miles south of Saumur there was a roadblock in both directions and we were asked for the “Attestation de Placement Derogatoire” which is your authorisation to be on French roads in this emergency.
It was another long day’s drive of 8 and a half hours and 390 miles covered, but the roads were great, scenery beautiful and the sun was shining…
The only negative was I got flashed by a speed camera!
Tomorrow’s planned drive is just over 4 hours to one of my all time favourite Aires, and if open, will stay for 2 nights to have a rest.
Our Chunnel ticket is for Wednesday evening but I may try and bring it forward as we will be just over 3 hours from Calais on Monday…
This time we could only look across the river at the deserted town…
Homeward bound – Day 3 – 21/03/2020
A relatively long lie in saw us depart the Saumur Aire at 9am to head north. Within a mile we stopped at a Lidl and it was completely stocked with everything, meat, fruit & veg, bread and 2 pallets of toilet rolls!
There was no sense of panic or bulk buying unlike the news from the UK.
Back on the deserted roads we made good time but were running low on fuel and unfortunately Le Mans was bypassed without a petrol station in sight. I pulled into a little village and was directed through the narrow cobbled main street to some strange looks from the few locals and Gendarmes but found the tiny supermarket.
The main street was very quiet but the few people about were all carrying their baguettes from the Boulangerie. Further down this street was a little Carrefour supermarket which thankfully sold fuel, but Bessie was too big to get at the pump properly but I managed to get it near enough to top up.
The rest of the journey was uneventful but we passed through some beautiful little towns and villages with only the bakers and butchers open.
We arrived at La Mailleraye sur Seine just after 3pm to find one other motorhome, a fellow Brit and this will be us for at least two nights.
Our crossing by Eurotunnel is on Wednesday evening and I have tried to bring it forward but they are booked solid all next week. Today’s drive was 185 miles in just over 4 hours.
Homeward bound – Day 4, 5 & 6 – 22 & 23 & 24/03/2020
We spent a very relaxing weekend at La Mailleraye sur Seine and hardly saw another human being in all that time. This Aire is usually very busy as it has a Vets in the village where returning Brits get their pets checked out, but it is closed, hence the site being so quiet.
We left this morning and are now on the PassE’Etapes Aire at Le Crotoy in the company of about 6 other Brits. We stopped at a Lidl on the way here and as we got out of the van one of the security guards walked towards us and said only one of us was allowed in, so, as I had the credit card it was me that went on for some last minute treats for our upcoming isolation. The shop was fully stocked with everything, especially the wine section as you can see in the picture.
It was a lovely warm sunny day and a good drive on a very familiar route. Le Crotoy is a great little seaside town with a little fish market and lots of places to have mussels and a beer, but we had to miss its delights this time.
Homeward bound – Day 7 – 25/03/2020
I had an e mail last night from Eurotunnel to say I could turn up anytime today and they would try and fit us in before our planned 8.20pm crossing. So, on a bright, sunny and freezing cold morning we had breakfast, serviced the van and headed for Calais and arrived about 9.30 and were allocated a place on the 11.20 crossing.
There were no queues and the whole place was surprisingly deserted as you can see in this screen grab from the dash-cam.
The 10.20 train started to load and there must have been room as they took some vans from our line but when I approached the barrier it came down! a bit of a queue built up behind us but not anything like we were expecting, given that British vans all over the continent were heading home.
I came off the motorway at Ashford and topped up with diesel at Tesco and headed for the M25. I always go round clockwise, past Heathrow then up the M40 but the satnav tried to take me the other way to the Dartford Crossing but I corrected it and continued on my planned route. Little did I know…
We stopped at Clacket Lane services for lunch and I seriously thought I could make it to Carlisle, but then it all went pear shaped, big time.
The motorway ground to a halt and we could not even get out of the services. It turned out that there had been a bad accident a few miles further on resulting in a lorry landing on its side and creating a huge fireball which closed both carriageways.
Our day had been going well until then but 4 hours later I made it to Junction 6 and 4 lanes of now heavy traffic got diverted off into 1 lane. The satnav rerouted us and we went along some small country roads and then disaster almost happened when we came to a small village that had 2 big metal bollards at the entrance to slow the traffic. It certainly did that as the lorry in front of me crawled through scraping one of the bollards. The sign said they were 6’6″ apart and when I asked my human Navigator to check how wide Bessie was she said 7’6″!!!
Don’t ask me how but I got through without scraping the van and made it eventually to Junction 8 and continued on to Oxford services where we stopped for dinner.
We arrived at one of my stopovers in the East Midlands at 8pm knackered, but we, and Bessie, are in one piece.
The satnav says it is just short of 7 hours to Ardrishaig, which, after today, will be a doddle, if the roads are clear.
Homeward bound – Day 8 – 26/03/2020
We woke at 5.30 but instead of turning over and waiting for the sun to hit our plot in sunny Spain, today I had to get up and drive the final leg of our journey. It was bright, sunny, but frosty as we set off from Castle Donington along the A50, stopping at a Tesco on the outskirts of Stoke for a splash and dash. Even at 7am there were dozens of cars in their car park.
As we drove north up the M6 the traffic got lighter and lighter but what was interesting was the mix of traffic on the road and the sign writing on the vans and lorries indicated that the Brits have a very liberal interpretation of what constitutes an ‘essential service’ but we did not see a police car for about 300 miles.
The Navigator wanted some fresh fruit and veg and some frozen things to add to all the Spanish Mercadona and French Lidl stuff we had stocked up with, but the line of about 50 people queuing to get in the Asda at Govan put us off, so after our final fuel top up, we finished off our shopping at Farmfoods.
After lunch in their car park we set off for Argyll and arrived home at 2.30pm but I think we caught our neighbours on the hop as there were no flags, bunting or balloons to greet us in the street!
We are home at last, although it seems like ages since we left El Campello and not just last Thursday. I think we are the last of the Brits to make it back from Camping El Jardin, and the ‘Mobile Mercadona’ has been emptied. We will give it a clean before putting Bessie back into storage for the foreseeable future.
A week ago I was in shorts and t shirt, and tonight the log fire was on!!
Hopefully everyone we met out in Spain keeps well, and we look forward to meeting up again next January…
UPDATE – We have now completed our 2 weeks of quarantine and are both well. Bessie is back in storage and we have no idea when we can get back on the road again, although it is booked in for its annual habitation check in late May near Nottingham again…