The trip down to Dover was relatively easy although we may have inadvertently strayed into the low emission zone around London a few times & are expecting a bill when we get back! We only just managed to avoid “Operation Stack” near Ashford and took the pilgrimage route via Canterbury. We actually arrived on time for the ferry only to be told it had been cancelled but that we could either sail to Dunkirk straight away or wait another hour for the Calais crossing.
We decided to wait & this gave John the chance to put the headlamp thingies on and to show Sybil the white cliffs of Dover and some ferries. The crossing was really smooth & warm – we were sat outside for most of the journey – looking back to big black clouds gathering over Dover.
Arriving in Calais we followed the other camping-cars out of the port & headed south to L’Ete Indien (our campsite) at Wimereux. The campsite guide advised us to look out for a giant Indian standing guard at the entrance to the site but by the time we arrived it was pitch black & he was nowhere to be seen! The roads have been cleared of all the snow and we have only experienced a few flurries but it’s obvious from the drifts at the side of the road that the weather was pretty awful on Monday.
After our sleep-over stop at Wimereux we set off for a 2 night stay at Courtils. Travelling through Normandy has been an amazing experience with bright sunshine most of the way. It’s hard to imagine the horrors of the trenches but realising we were crossing The Somme was a sobering and thankful experience for both of us.
Going over the Pont de Normandie near Le Havre was a complete wow moment and we have learnt a new French word “peage” meaning toll. The roads are brilliant but there are a lot of tolls!
Courtils is a small traditional village (it’s not even on our map) with a church, village school, bar, shop, monument & a discount cashmere jumper shop! It’s still sunny but very cold. There’s a lot of snow here & Sybil is having a ball playing in it. The village overlooks Mont-St-Michel which looks very mysterious in the evening mist. We enjoyed a very relaxing time here chilling out, cleaning the van & planning the rest of the route.
Lucon was the next destination & it was pouring with rain most of the way. We had a few stops and discovered that the dreaded French loo (squat & hope) is still very much in action – yuk! We pitched up just out of Lucon itself at an “Aire de Camping Cars” right beside a lake – lovely! It was a tranquil spot & the sailing dinghy lanyards sounded like cowbells in the wind.
The landscape here is very wet with drainage ditches and canals running alongside every road & field. A lot of the houses were still shuttered-up and looked like holiday homes. Even the (new) supermarket had a motor home service point! The wine is very cheap but the chewing-gum was extraordinarily expensive. It was so peaceful & relaxing that we stayed another night and on Sunday we took Sybil on a 3 hour walk around the town of Lucon itself before heading back to the site and making the most of the swimming pool, sauna & Jacuzzi – this is more like it!
We set off fully refreshed and revitalised on Monday with 1609Km to Alvor. We made really good progress & our next stop was at an Aire in a pine forest at Vivier on the Atlantic coast, very near to a town called Biscarrosse. John went to Lidl at Biscarrosse & said it was just like the Halifax store!
It was really windy & we had all weathers in one day – hail, rain, wind & sunshine. Sybil really enjoyed dashing around the site chasing & catching pine cones, bless her. There was no electricity hook-up so it was our first experience of wild-camping – sort of J We rang home that evening & found out it was -3 in Brighouse & snowing – yikes – we’re definitely heading in the right direction.
Hondarribia just across the Spanish border was our next destination. We travelled miles & miles through seemingly endless pine forests before turning onto a motorway that was so new it was being laid as we drove down it! After driving through miles of nothingness, the area around Biarritz was a huge shock to the system. It seemed so built up & busy and it also gave us our first view of the snow-capped mountains. Hondarribia is a gorgeous walled town (the French-Spanish border runs through the river) and we spent the afternoon exploring with Sybil before heading off to find somewhere to stay for the night. Sadly, the first campsite didn’t take dogs & we couldn’t raise anyone at the next site which was pretty spectacular overlooking the harbour.
Not to be deterred, we decided to carry on to San Sebastian and try the site there. Unfortunately it looked more like a gypsy camp so we decided to keep going – San Sebastian itself didn’t look too appealing either. Undaunted, we asked our trusty sat-nav yet again to steer us to the next site en-route. This involved going up into the mountains on some very narrow, winding roads complete with sheer drops to certain death! To make matters worse, every road cyclist in the Pyrenees was out on his bike, either on their own or in groups of up to 10 at a time – they were very fast downhill but not so much uphill! With all the bends & turns, Sybil was sick in John’s slippers!!
We eventually arrived at the campsite only to discover that it was closed! Having no idea where we were, we decided to wild-camp near the entrance when a van pulled up & directed us to the next town where we could really camp. Sadly, we never found the campsite and the town itself had no spare flat land to park on! So with the light fading, Sybil sulking & Jane getting mildly hysterical we pulled in to a mountain layby & decided to spend the night. Did I also mention that the roads are totally unlit? We parked as far away from the road as we could, put our warning triangles out & wild-camped proper! It was really serene and peaceful with only birdsong & a mountain stream gurgling in the background. Sybil made the most of the opportunity to sample the local sheep-poo – dirty girl!
The next few days have passed in a bit of a blur – it feels like we’re travelling mile after mile but not actually getting anywhere! After our wild-camping experience, we eventually found our way out of the mountains, leaving behind the sure-footed sheep grazing on almost vertical slopes with their scraggy lambs. The landscape changed to pretty farming villages and green pastures amongst occasional patches of snow. Part of the way we’ve been travelling alongside the Camino de Santiago – an ancient pilgrimage route and now a series of well-maintained & popular walking track ways.
At the moment we’re at Tordesillas and staying at the best site yet – it’s very clean with no shortage of hot water, toilet seats & even free wi-fi in the bar – oh go on then I’ll have a beer! There are storks nesting on top of the church towers in the town & we’ve been watching them fly across the Duero River collecting more twigs – magic! We have 767Km to go to destination Alvor and one week to get there – here’s hoping the coming week is as enjoyable as the last.