Showing posts from 2010

Parties and Packing

We have had a fabulous Christmas. On the day we were at Frankie and Harry’s lovely new home in Hoddesden with Janice & Paul, Frankie’s other parents. On Christmas morning, one of the presents under the tree for Frankie was an engagement ring! There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. We walked/slid/skated to The Rye House on the Lea & Stort Navigation for a celebratory drink with Harry’s family, (and a quick narrowboat fix for us, it’ll be a long time before we see another one!) then Dave and Paul did a cheffing double act in the kitchen and we all sat down to a perfect Beef Wellington with all the trimmings.

On Boxing Day we drove up to Stamford where Bourne Borderers were performing. If we thought we would only be spectating we were very much mistaken. Mikey turned up with all our kit and despite not having practiced for months we threw ourselves in with gusto. Ann-Marie slipped effortlessly into her role and remembered what to do, Dave demonstrated how senility and time don'…

Welcome Home

Our first taste of England after 3 months was a bit of a let-down to be honest. After a rather dreary drive from Dover in the drizzle we arrived at Karen’s with hardly a glimpse of the snow that everyone’s been making such a fuss about. We’ve seen newsreels with reporters standing knee deep beside abandoned cars, but to us it looked like any wet winter Thursday. Once we got to Mytchett it all got a lot better; Ann-Marie’s Mum and Dad came over for the evening and we had proper fish & chips. It’s good to be back.

We started our tour of friends and relations on Friday. First stop Portsmouth for two nights with Fran & Sean. Rather than carting a load of stuff into people’s houses, we’re parking the van outside their houses and sleeping in it. The snugness of our little home was proved on Friday night; we woke up to find that it wasn’t a conspiracy after all; a good four inches had come down overnight and we were as warm as toast.
After a snowball fight and with Harry and Phoebe we…

Driving our home for Christmas.

It’s Ann-Marie’s Birthday, we’re sitting at the front of the ferry and we can’t see out of the window for the spray that’s being thrown all over it.
Ken did us proud and blasted his way up through France, the only hiccup being one of his windscreen wipers getting a case of brewer’s droop on the last leg towards Calais. On the driver’s side. In the rain. In the dark. On a dual carriageway.

We’ve not heard a weather forecast for 3 or 4 days, but we’re quite prepared for it to be horrible. We’re staying at Karen’s near Basingstoke tonight so as long as the southern motorways are clear enough we should be OK.

We’ll put some statistics together when we get a chance. You know, lists of things.

Heading for the Channel

We've said goodbye to what has been our most permanent residence since we sold our house. Over the last six months we’ve spent 3 ½ weeks in this spot in southern France.
On Saturday morning our mates got back from the UK with tales of house-high snow piles and pack ice on the roads. It sounds hideous; we can't wait to get back. On Monday afternoon we put all our clutter back in Ken (The van has finally got a name; Kenwood - as in Chef. We think he looks like one.) and after hugs, tears and promises of boating holidays next year, we set off, all-be-it slowly towards Calais.

This trip has been amazing in ways that we could never have dreamed of, but we miss England.

Since we left work and set off on this adventure every new day has given us chance to wonder at the diversity of what we’ve found around us. We’ve tried to make the most of every opportunity and we don’t regret a single minute of any of it. It has been a journey of extremes; from the joy of seeing dozens of beautiful …

Deep and Crisp and Even.

At the beginning of December, Britain was hit by winter weather conditions so severe that the whole country ground to a halt. Temperatures as low as -21deg were recorded, along with several feet of snow cutting off whole communities and stranding millions of people. Thousands of abandoned cars, closed airports and cancelled trains and buses wreaked havoc among the travelling public.

We were dog-sitting at our friends house while they went to visit their children; they didn’t get back for six days.

It was Hell.

Last Sunday we all went in Jacqui & Al’s green and white 2CV Dolly over the department border to Gers and the village of St Clair. There was a Christmas market and the Citroen 2CV Club from that area were holding their Christmas meeting as well. The turnout was very impressive, dozens of cars and a big hall with lots of new and second-hand spare parts.
The market was good as well, there were lots of festive stalls and we managed to find a couple of Christmas presents.

In …

Time Out,

We've been watching Sky news and thanking our lucky stars we aren't living in our van in England. You guys have had it rough! We hope our reader is coping and managing to get where you need to be. We’re thinking of you. It was Dave's birthday yesterday, he got a new pen-knife. The UK got 3' of snow. We got back at Jacqui & Al's place in France without anything going bang or grinding to a halt; in the past two days Dave and Al have had the van’s gearbox out and back in, they’ve taken the clutch to bits, greased the mechanism and re-assembled it, they’ve taken a drive-shaft to bits and fitted a new gaiter, they’ve tightened the alternator belt and put a fresh dose of antifreeze in the radiator . The water tanks are all drained so they don’t freeze, Ann-Marie’s written all our Christmas cards and sorted our clothes into piles for taking and leaving and we’re getting ready to head back to Calais. We’ve got everything crossed that the weather in England will improve…

We're getting fitter, and the van could do with one too.

On Tuesday morning, full of fresh croissants and tea, and after turning the air blower bit of the heating system into an impromptu hair-dryer, (we’ll remember that one for the boat!) we set out on foot for Saubusse; 5kms away on the River Adour with a bridge over it. We’ve adopted a sort of routine until the van’s working properly again; instead of driving around looking at things, we’re doing the least mileage possible and walking or cycling to something nearby that looks interesting. Good for us, good for the van and good for the planet. It would be very much in our own interests if we can continue to follow the same path when everything is fixed. It will certainly be our way of life on the boat whenever possible. Easy to say on a beautiful Autumn morning, kicking through leaves with rosy cheeks and the sun shining; whether we can drag ourselves away from the log burner and a trashy novel when it’s grey, wet and windy outside is something we’ll have to find out!

Saubusse looked very…

It's Sunday. This must be France

We were still heading north-east towards France on Sunday. From Logrono we went to Pamplona, stopping at a campervan Aire de Service, (on the A12 at Junction 18, just in case anyone is ever going that way). Although we'd heard very good things about  Pamploma and had planned to stop for a look, when we got there it was foggy and cold so we hit the ring-road only stopping to get a new gas bottle on the way out. We’ve been on Spanish gas ever since we stayed with Bee & Bill and they had an empty going spare. We changed it for a full one when the little French one we'd hired ran out in Gibralter. We’ve had the heating on in the mountains for a few days so we’ve been getting through gas and, although it wasn’t completely empty, at 12.50€ for a 12.5kg butane bottle we wanted to get a new one before we left Spain. Hopefully it should last us back to the UK and more, we’ll de-hire the French one is Calais.

From Pamplona we turned directly north on the N121 through the mountains a…

Leaving Portugal, not with a whisper!

We woke up to a clear sunny morning in Praia de Mira on Thursday and took the A17 north towards Porto. It was very different to the A17 that goes past our old house and quite a bit longer. After stopping for lunch in Porto we went north-east to Braga, then parallel with the Spanish border up the fantastic N103 towards Chaves. What a brilliant road; 125kms of mountains, lakes and forests.
We stopped for the night in a lay-by on one of the loops. There was a mountain spring where we filled up the water tanks and we woke up on Friday morning to find frost on the ground. The road twists and climbs as it follows the Ria Cávado valley past three hydro dams, finally crossing the river just below the fourth and biggest; Baragem do Alto Rabagao. There was a road across the top of the dam so we drove out and had a look.
Just before Chaves it climbs up and over a pass then drops down with fabulous views over the valley floor. It was the last big road we drove in Portugal although we were sad to le…

I don't think you wanted to do that!

On Tuesday morning we went to check out opening times for Santiago swimming pool after spending the night in the car park behind it. Although it opened at 8am, from what we could make out with our very limited language skills, there was an over sixties session until 10, so we headed off towards Lisbon. At Setũbal we made two rather expensive mistakes. First we turned right at a set of traffic lights when we should have gone straight on and found ourselves on a toll motorway going in the wrong direction. Big Mistake. Second, we went through the wrong toll gate so that when we found a junction to get off at, we didn’t have a ticket. Big Mistake, Huge! They had no option but to charge us the maximum rate of 55€. On top of that there was 40kms worth of diesel to get us back to where we went wrong. Needless to say we were not happy bunnies, and when we went over the toll bridge into Lisbon and went through the wrong gate again, setting off all the alarms, it just about put the tin lid on i…

Haul Away to Santiago.

There was a footpath that went a couple of kms along the cliff top from Boca do Rio to Salerna, the nearest village, so after breakfast on Sunday we set forth up the hill in search of elevenses. What we found was a lovely little fishing village with a couple of cafes and a gift shop.
There is quite a big English influence on most of the Algarve and along with grilled sardines, one of the cafes was offering Full English Breakfasts. Very tempting, but we managed to resist and just had coffee. We have promised ourselves that when we’re on the boat we’re going out at least once a month for a Sunday breakfast in a cafe. Fried bread, big pot of tea, grilled tomatoes, the lot!

When we got back we turned back onto the now familiar N125 for the final 12kms to Sagres, and the end of the world as ancient mariners knew it. When we got there were quite a few other vans already parked up; we’ve noticed more and more of them the further towards the end we’ve got, and at Sagres there were lots. Probab…

Can't tell Stork from Gutter.

We’d seen pictures of Silvés on post cards and thought it might be somewhere nice to visit, but it still managed to surprise us. It wasn’t by the sea and didn’t look anything special on the map, but it had lots of steep, limestone cobbled streets leading from a very fine castle down to a medieval stone bridge over the river Arade. (The same river the dams were on yesterday.)

Along the riverbank there was a beautiful modern plaza with fountains and statues, then pavement cafes and gift shops.
Further on was the municipal swimming pool, with a wide landscaped area around its tennis courts and car parks complete with outdoor gym equipment and trim trails. The town itself was just big enough to be interesting and explorable, with lots of little shops and old buildings. We found a lovely place selling cork products; from simple tablemats to ornaments and clothing. A waistcoat and tie made from cork looked fabulous and felt like calfskin. There were several pairs of storks nesting on the top…

Dam! We're on the wrong road!

Tuesday saw us in Faro. It was a bit big and touristy for us, we almost fitted into a parking space by the harbour and put a couple of Euros in the meter. That’s when we found out that we’d been an hour ahead since entering Portugal nearly a week ago. It’s on the same time zone as the UK; we were still on Spanish time. We had a quick walk round the town looking at the shops and Christmas lights (it’s still weird seeing them in blazing sunshine).
We got our first sighting of nesting storks on top of a church tower in Faro; they seemed to be having some sort of dispute over who owned which nest and there was a lot of flapping and clattering going on. They are really big birds and very graceful in flight, but they make a right racket!
We had a half hour Mcwifi and then returned to the N125. After following the coast for a while we took a little white road towards the sea which got thinner and rougher as the golf courses and villas ran out. it finally ended in a car park in the dunes at Anc…

Fish for dinner and Flamingoes afterwards.

It was dull and cloudy on Sunday morning; by the time we got Castro Marim it had started to rain. We did our water filling under an umbrella then drove to Villa Reâl with lights and wipers on. That doesn’t leave a lot of juice for battery charging and we haven’t covered a lot of miles for a while. It’s a good job we swapped most of the lights for LEDs and bought a big 110amp deep cycle leisure battery. We have an isolator switch that separates the interior electrics from the engine battery so we can always start the van, and if we’re careful we can go for about 4 days before we have to drive somewhere. We’ve discovered, by trial and error, that the fridge takes a lot of power on 12v, so we only run it on electricity when we’re plugged in to the mains. The rest of the time it’s on gas; that works well enough to keep the little freezer compartment frozen. We got the LEDs from a little firm called Searolf. Normal LEDs are quite harsh and only operate at or near 12 volts; they sell ones t…