The last blog ended after 3 nights at the Morn Hill Caravan and Motorhome site on the outskirts of Winchester.
THURSDAY 16th of September.
It was a bit of a pea-souper this morning but as we were in no hurry to leave the site we waited until it cleared before departing just after 11am
Today is the day we have been looking forward to for months, and finally it’s here.
We have used the last two weeks to fine tune Bessie and the storage so we know where everything is, something we couldn’t say when we left home. This included the mainly tinned foodstuffs and check that we have enough baked beans, Heinz tomato soup and mango chutney to hopefully last until we are back on British soil in late November! There are other foodstuffs on board and they will be used in the normal course of events but the three items I specifically mentioned are harder to find in Mercadona.
Yesterday and this morning I downloaded enough Netflix films and documentaries for the 34 hour crossing (no idea why it’s so long) and The Navigator has enough books as well. Since leaving home two weeks ago she has read five books and I haven’t read one, although I have brought two to read at some point.
After breakfast we tidied up Bessie and serviced it before leaving the campsite. The site was okay but nothing special. There are no hard standing pitches and the facilities are a bit tired, but the staff were helpful and the proximity to the lovely city of Winchester makes it a site we would return to if in this area again.
With about six or seven hours to kill before checking in at the Brittany Ferries terminal, we headed to Pier Road in Southsea to park up for the afternoon. It’s a pay and display and worth it to be as near to the beach and see all the activity out on the water.
We had lunch in the van before venturing out for a walk along the front. The hovercraft to the Isle of Wight came in and out a few times as did the ferries and there was a procession of yachts and small craft coming into and going out from Portsmouth.
We went back to the van later in the afternoon and I topped and tailed the Week 2 blog and set the e mail notification to go out on Friday morning at 8am.
Before heading to the ferry terminal we walked back down to the seafront and The Navigator had Fish & Chips again, and for a change, so did I. We sat on a bench at the beach looking out to sea and in the far distance could see The Red Arrows put on a display over what could have been Bournemouth. Well, to tell the truth, we couldn’t exactly see The Red Arrows but could see clearly the coloured smoke as they created shapes in the sky including a big heart.
Brittany Ferries - The Galicia
It didn’t take long to drive to the ferry port and join the queue for check in and as luck would have it we joined the slowest queue. It turned out a motorhome three in front of us was refused entry and turned around and back to the car park and this happened to two other motorhomes in the time we were queuing.
The requirements to board the ship are simple, proof of double vaccination and a QR barcode from the Spanish Government website, either printed or on a smartphone. This is required for each passenger and one of the vans was turned away as the woman passenger had just obtained a QR code for herself but not her husband who did not look best pleased!
The Galicia is a huge ship and fairly new with everything about it is spacious and the cabins were very comfortable. Ours was a four berth cabin so The Navigator was delighted that she was not on a top bunk this time.
We left at 10.15pm and went up on deck to see Portsmouth at night from the sea then retreated to the cabin and straight to sleep.
Friday 17th of September
As we are at sea all day today our ticket includes breakfast and dinner. Breakfast consisted of the standard continental selection with proper croissants as you would expect on a French vessel. We strolled about the vessel in the morning and we passed within a mile of the Brittany coast and saw all the towns and villages clearly.
After lunch in our cabin we watched the award winning film Nomadland, a gritty tale of a woman living in a converted van in America and it was excellent. I then had a nap and The Navigator read before heading to the Tapas bar for a drink and a small plate of meaty tapas.
Being a little bit of France the Galicia is following French Government Covid rules which means masks must be worn indoors at all times although many took their masks off while sitting in lounges but as soon as you stand up the mask must go on again.
You are refused entry to the restaurants if you don’t have a mask on even though as soon as you pass the check in desk and sit down you can take it off!
Dinner was at 6.30pm and was excellent although the poor wee Navigator had to make a bee line for our cabin just as the main course was served. As the day had progressed the waves had increased in size slightly. The Galicia is less than two years old and stabilised and to me the movement was hardly noticeable. However, the motion of the ship proved too much and she became green around the gills, without actually becoming sea sick. I went to get some fresh air before turning in and found the rain was lashing down so retreated back to the cabin to tend to the patient!
We both had a good nights sleep and must compliment the comfort of the beds. The Navigator was feeling much better in the morning and ready for the day ahead.
These next few paragraphs might help those coming out in the next few months via Santander and probably entry at Bilbao will be the same.
Saturday 18th of September
We arrived at 7am Spanish time and when we were sitting in the cab waiting to move, crew members moved up the line of vehicles taking the temperature of everyone with a little device aimed at your forehead. I’m not sure what would happen to anyone with a high temperature though!
Once we were off the ship we passed through an immigration check and our passports were stamped marking the start of our 90 day allowance in the Schengen area.
Next checkpoint was customs but nearly everyone was waved through without stopping so no checking fridges for meat or dairy products which led me to think these checks were either media scare stories or we were lucky not to be searched. We’ll never know!
Finally, if you have a pet you are diverted into a large parking area where I assume the pet’s documentation is checked.
Our vaccination records and QR codes were not checked on landing, but they were at Portsmouth and entry onto the boat is refused if the forms are not in order so probably no need for them to be checked again.
And that was it, we were in Spain. It was grey and overcast in Santander and the temperature was (only) 60 degrees. We headed for Burgos, a fairly large city in the mountains and it is a memorable drive climbing through the mountains over viaducts, through tunnels and the low lying clouds until you eventually reach Burgos at 2,838 feet. The sun was beginning to break through the clouds but the temperature had dipped to 53 degrees.
We topped up with fuel just south of Burgos and pulled over for a sandwich at another services a little later. The drive is spectacular with high plains full of wilting dwarf sunflower plants no more than two feet high, for as far as the eye could see. This is a typical service area with loads of room to park up.
The traffic was very light for a Saturday and it was only about forty miles to Madrid that it built up slightly. The skyscrapers of Madrid can be seen in the distance from about fifty miles away but the route we were on gave it a wide berth to the east of the airport.
We were heading for the tiny hillside village of Castillo de Garcimunoz, about 90 minutes south of Madrid, where there is a free Aire with fresh water and grey and black water dumping. There’s no electricity, but it is free after all! Before we got there we stopped at the little town of Villarejo de Salvanés where we saw a huge sign for a Mercadona so pulled over to stock up on a few necessities as most of the supermarkets will be closed tomorrow, Sunday.
If we had carried on past Mercadona into the town centre we would have come across a 13th century castle which looks impressive from a distance, but it will have to wait until another trip to see it properly.
Castillo de Garcimunoz
It was about 4pm when we arrived at Castillo de Garcimunoz to find one Spanish van parked on the Aire but they soon left ,so for a time, we were the only van there and we sat out under the shade of a fig tree as the temperature was now 80 degrees. The Navigator hesitantly tried a few of the figs with no adverse effects! I would rather stick pins in my eyes than eat a fig so had a juicy Mercadona orange instead, just one out of the 5kg bag we bought.
After dinner we walked round the village which seems deserted as the houses are shuttered against the heat. Later on the Aire filled up with camper vans and the sliding side doors on them made a racket for the next hour or so until everyone settled down for the night.
Sunday 19th September
According to the satnav it is two and a half hours to El Campello and we set off just after 9am after a good breakfast.
The roads are excellent and motorway / dual carriageway all the way from Santander to the outskirts of El Campello, a distance of 880kms (546 miles). We followed a bus for over a hundred miles and only parted when we stopped briefly for some fuel. This was a Shell filling station with a huge restaurant beside it, and given it was on a motorway, the price of €1.33 (£1.14) was not bad and that included a bloke filling the fuel for you!
The drive was uneventful and our entertainment consisted of watching the outside temperature gauge climbing from 60 degrees up on the plain to 80 degrees at the coast. The Navigator was also counting the huge roadside bulls on the journey and can report that there were six in total from Santander to Alicante!
The Osborne Bull is the black silhouette of a bull that stands on hilltops and along the roadside in many – but not all – parts of Spain. It began as nothing more than an advertisement in 1956 when the Osborne Group set out to promote ‘Veteran’ brandy.
Here are four of them captured from the dashcam…
Camping El Jardin, Muchavista, El Campello
On arrival in El Campello I drove along the road beside the beach and have never seen it so packed in all the years we’ve been coming here, a combination of baking heat and it being Sunday afternoon. Another factor for us not seeing the beach so packed is that we’ve never been here as early as September before as December was the earliest before today.
We turned into the site and Veronica greeted us with a warm wave as I pulled up to the barrier. The pitch we are normally on is incredibly tight to manoeuvre Bessie into so we asked what other pitches were available and had a walk around the site but the only other suitable one was overgrown with low hanging trees so we’re back on our usual pitch facing the swimming pool.
Instead of the usual 15 to 20 Brits on this site there are only another 2 Brits in motorhomes and we had a long chat with one of the couples as we had a walk around the site later on. The other noticeable thing was the number of empty pitches and out of 125 pitches in total there are 42 empty today. It is still early for most people who come here from northern Europe for winter sunshine and it will be October before they arrive. That said we have seen some German, Belgium and Dutch people we have seen from previous visits and are on “good morning” terms with.
We didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon, just relaxed and had a barbecue of our traditional Sunday meal here, boned chicken thighs, salad and a few glasses of wine. We sat out until about 8 o’clock watching the Spaniards depart for home until next weekend. Many have caravans permanently on this site and appear on a Friday afternoon until late on Sunday evening.
Monday 20th September
Monday morning and what a difference from yesterday. Yesterday was lively and noisy with people in the pool in front of us, family groups in the shade of their caravans sharing a meal and it was just a great atmosphere. This morning it is the opposite and very quiet but the early morning wake up call for us still happens when the cleaner trundles her cleaning cart past us at 7am, but that is the only sound to be heard. We lay in for another hour or so before getting up as there is a lot to do today.
This is the start of 60 days on this site so we can rearrange the contents of the van knowing that things don’t have to be packed away and secured every night for travelling. Here are some of the things we did today…
First, the garage…
The bikes come out and stored behind the van and the batteries charged.
The groundsheet was put in place in front of the door.
The electricity cable was connected but will only be used occasionally.
The water tank was filled.
The toilet cassette emptied.
The washing line was tied in place between the trees.
The table and chairs came out of the garage.
The awning was extended.
I’ve described how difficult it is getting Bessie on this pitch and usually at some point on our stay we have to take the van off site to fill up the gas tanks but this year that wont be necessary as I bought a connecting kit from Gaslow in Loughborough to connect to an external Spanish gas cylinder which I’ve hired from the site. It was easy to connect and will be a game changer for us. The sisters who own the site were on duty and we exchanged pleasantries in their very limited English and my non existent Spanish.
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Then the big job of the morning, cleaning the cab, as on the 1,250 mile journey to get here the cab, and especially the windscreen, was covered in the remains of bugs and flies. Yesterday when we met one of the other British couples on the site the woman said that her way of removing them was to use wet wipes as it took the bugs off and cleaned any dirt at the same time. I was sceptical but have to report it worked a treat!
As the hose was already connected to the tap, a quick hose down had the cab sparkling. The other three sides of Bessie will get done ‘manyana’. Nearly everyone who comes into the campsite passes Bessie and I wanted her to look as shiny as some of the foreign vans on the site.
As I was getting on with these outside jobs The Navigator was busy inside rearranging the cupboards and wardrobes as we won’t be needing thicker clothes until the journey home in late November, early December. Also, foodstuffs and ingredients that are used on a regular basis can come out onto a shelf. Clothes we had worn in the last two weeks were washed and dried in the little laundry room next to reception.
By this time it was lunchtime which we enjoyed outside under the awning as the midday sun was as hot as ever.
Rather than go for a shower I said to The Navigator I was going into the pool to cool off and after a bit of a panic as the costumes couldn’t be found we headed into the pool in front of Bessie. The Navigator was slightly reluctant as she had a shower first thing this morning and washed her hair!
I swim like a brick and The Navigator does swim but hasn’t in a long time but we both enjoyed being in the cooling water.
The one job left to do today was cycle to Mercadona and replenish our depleted supplies, especially for the fridge. An evening barbecue topped off the day as the sun dipped creating a glowing sunset.
Tuesday 21st September
The forecasted rain arrived during the night with loud thunder and lightening and we (The Navigator) sprung into action to close all the roof lights as the rain belted down.
By the time we summoned the energy to get out of bed the rain had long stopped and although greyish it was going to be another hot day and so it turned out. I’ve hooked up to the electricity but as it can be expensive it will be used sparingly and disconnected when we don’t need it. Today was a day for using it and I plugged my laptop in and updated pages on ManVanNoPlan and FyneEditions for a couple of hours until lunchtime.
After lunch we walked down to the beach and spent a couple of hours soaking up the sunshine and frolicking in the sea. There was quite a strong onshore breeze and this helped create some forceful waves which was good for the kite-boarders but not so good if you wanted to go in further than ankle deep.
In all the years of coming here I can’t remember ever doing more than having a paddle as the winter sea temperature is not encouraging for more than that. This afternoon it was baking hot and a dip was required. Easier said than done however. The aforementioned strong waves and soft undulating sand underfoot made standing up in it a real challenge.
We both managed to go in to about shoulder high but The Navigator couldn’t swim as the conditions weren’t right, but what was right was the water temperature and I can’t remember being in the sea in such warm water, much warmer than the campsite swimming pool for sure.
In the second picture above you can see the curve of the bay all the way up the coast and you can see the high rise buildings of Benidorm on the extreme right, which is nearly an hour away by train.
The Navigator insisted I had to censor this picture of her lounging on the deserted beach so you’ll just have to use your imagination!
I’m sure (but not 100%) that the pool on the site closes at the end of September but the sea is only a ten minute walk away and hopefully it will still be as warm into October.
Back at the van we had a cuppa, a shower, then dinner and sat out in the warmth of the evening until about eight o’clock when it starts to get dark.
Wednesday 22nd September
Wednesday is market day in El Campello so we cycled along and took a rather long way to get there but I’m sure the exercise did us good! The market was busy and the noticeable thing was that everyone was wearing a mask, even the outdoor part. The Navigator treated herself to a new top from her favourite stall but that was the only thing we bought.
The underground fruit and veg part of the market was equally busy but the busiest pitch in both parts of the market was the van selling rotisserie chicken and the queue was about twenty deep. If you watch property programs on TV the mantra is always location, location, location and the same can be said for rotisserie chicken sellers as the van in the market offshoot across the street had only one customer!
From the market we hopped back on our bikes and headed down the hill and past Lidl and along the front to 100 Montaditos, one of our favourite lunchtime eateries. The value for money is incredible and our lunch was only €8 sitting looking out over the beach.
This restaurant is only a few yards from Bernie’s, no longer managed by Bernie I believe, and if you have a craving for an all day full English or a Sunday roast will all the trimmings for €9.95 then this is the place for you.
We cycled back via Lidl where the devastating news is they did not have any of their delicious raspberry jam. I blame Brexit. Well, everyone else does for the ills of the world so the lack of raspberry jam in a German supermarket in Spain surely has to be caused by Brexit. I jest, and Lidl did redeemed themselves with red wine at €1.25 a bottle!
Back to the van for a cuppa and in the evening I was relieved of barbecuing duties as The Navigator produced a tasty Spag Bol inside the van.
We are only a few days in to our sixty days here but already the evening routine of sitting outside with a glass or two of wine watching the sun go down is making the trip worthwhile.
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Thursday 23rd September
Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, it is going to be another scorcher today. The Navigator has decided that every day we must either go for a walk, a cycle, swim at the pool or at the beach. I’m not sure I’m fully signed up for this new fitness regime but to show willing we went for a walk this morning.
First stop was the new motorhome Aire, Area Nature Playa Muchavista which has opened since we were last here and has certainly caused some of the empty pitches at Camping El Jardin. We asked for a leaflet and the French owner said we could walk around the site and see the facilities. First impressions were that the pitches were very close together and you have to park to one side and there is still hardly room to fully extend an awning. It was about 90% full with mostly French and German motorhomes and one solitary Brit.
It’s a complaint of El Jardin that the trees are a nuisance but here there is no shade whatsoever so to stay any length of time would not be appealing. The drive in rate of €11 is much better than El Jardin’s €18 but El Jardin’s facilities are much better.
For anyone thinking of coming here the rates are,
1-30 days = €11
30-90 days = €10
90+ days = €9
Electricity is a flat rate of €4 where El Jardin is metered.
There are 3 toilets and 3 showers in the ladies and gents for the whole site and El Jardin wins hands down with their brand new facilities next to the reception area. Plus, El Jardin has the swimming pool and an onsite restaurant.
We walked on and saw that our former Friday night bar of choice was open again but obviously with new owners and it’s no longer a Pizza restaurant but a proper restaurant with a very extensive menu. I don’t think The Navigator will be having any mote quadruple Baileys here in future!
We went down onto the front and walked along to see the waves still crashing in and the beach quite busy again.
Lunch was taken outside again and I finished this blog off plugged into the outside 3 pin socket which is a handy if underused feature on Bessie. The site has taken in quite a few new arrivals and we now have a Dutch motorhome on one side of us and a German camper van on the other and The Navigator welcomed our new German neighbours in French. Don’t ask…
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COMING (NOT SO) SOON ON THE NEXT BLOG...
The next blog will be in a month’s time…
Join us again to see what we’ve been up to and if the new fitness regime is holding up…