Saturday, 30 October 2010

Freinds in Spain

On Monday we wanted to get some miles under our tyres; we were hoping to get to past Malaga on Tuesday to spend a few days with Bee & Billy, but before that a bit of exercise felt like a good idea. We followed the coast getting into Agua Amarga around 10am; a quiet little village in a Parque Natural where we parked on the beach near some other vans.
We’d noticed a footpath on the map which went from there to El Plomo; the next cove about 5kms away. It was a steep hike up, then an equally steep controlled fall down to a deserted, beautifully clear, sandy bay.
The sea was perfect for swimming, there was a six foot deep drop from the rocks that could have been made for diving and we had the place to ourselves for about an hour. In fact the first people we saw were another couple that we passed as we were on the path back. By the time we’d got back, had a walk round the village and had lunch it was about 3pm; as we were in such a lovely spot it seemed silly to move on. Total mileage for the day; 30km. Hey hoh, that sort of sums it up.

On Tuesday we proceeded in a westerly direction along the A7, AKA the Mediterranean Freeway at a steady 55mph. We bypassed Almeria and then drove for about an hour with nothing but poly-tunnels as far as the eye could see in every direction. And the eye could see a fair way; the motorway runs along the base of the foothills of the Sierra de Gaddor and you have a view out over a delta towards the sea. Apart from the occasional building poking out there is nothing to see but off-white plastic sheeting. As we drove along we got the odd glimpse inside some of these huge structures; row upon row of tomatoes, peppers and fruit trees along with loads of other things we didn’t recognise. There is so much of it you can’t get your head round it; the covered area must run into hundreds of square miles, and most of it looks like it’s small private enterprise stuff. On the other side of the road as the mountains get steeper it starts to thin out a bit but there are still quite big swathes clinging on quite high up. Again, it’s employing local people and attracting foreign money into Spain, which has to be a good thing.

We stopped at Motril to catch up on emails, then on to Malaga, and out to Alhaurin el Grande, where Bee & Billy live. They’re friends of ours from the UK and have been out here for 7 years with 8 dogs. Since we’ve been here we’ve had paella, been to a carvery, had a trip into Malaga and been out for a quiz night. Finaly, on Friday we all had a day out up at the impressively named Embalse del Guadalteba-Guadalhorce; a beautiful reservoir and dam in the mountains. The water is aqua-marine and although we took swimming togs was just a tad too cold.
We stopped at a restaurant for lunch then carried on along the river through the Garganta del Chorro; a vertically sided gorge with the railway bridge made famous in “Von Ryan’s Express” going over it.
The road through the mountains is spectacular; towering sandstone cliffs with enormous gouges carved out of them, ancient testimony to previous river levels.

On Saturday we’re back on the road again, with another new tyre (yes, we should have got two in France), and our destination is Gibraltar. There is talk of getting a ferry to Morocco; we’ll have to wait and see!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hot & Cold running Water

We’d been driving every day for a week, so on Saturday the van stayed put. We cycled into Puerto de Mazerron, had a wander round and posted some cards. There was a bike shop with some electric bikes; Dave had a go on one and was suitably impressed. They were different from others we’d seen in that the motor was mounted on the front down tube driving the pedals and there wasn’t a twist grip to activate it; you simply started pedalling and the motor gave you a helping push. It was a strange sensation, but one you could get used to. We’ve made a decision regarding bikes and boats. Despite there being some very cheap electric bikes out here, were going to keep the hacks that we’ve got till we’ve been on the boat for a while then assess how useful something like that would be. If it ain’t broke etc. We rode back to the van and spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach.
Sunday was a day of contrasts. We were up at dawn for a morning dip in the sea and a shower on the beach; a Spanish couple out walking their dog must have thought we were mad, but it was incredibly invigorating. We watched the sunrise while Dave turned a very fetching shade of blue, then we had lashings of tea to warm us up again. We packed up and set off inland; we’d picked up a leaflet from the tourist office with directions to some hot springs not far away so we went to see if we could get there in the van. The unmade track to the spring followed a “Rambla” - a dried up river-bed – and it looked a bit much for our low ground clearance so we parked up and started walking.
After about a kilometre we came to a large concrete circle with a pipe coming out of the ground. At the other side hot water was pouring out into a string of shallow pools. And it was hot; 55 degrees! Too hot to stand under and the first pool was like a very hot bath. There was no-one about so we got our kit off and floated about in steaming, slightly cloudy mineral water under the blazing sun for about half an hour.
Suddenly we heard a car pull up and we both leapt out and wrapped ourselves in towels just before a Spanish chap in swimming trunks came through the bushes. We got dressed and walked back to the van feeling rather light headed but with very smooth skin. We carried on to Lorca, then came back to the sea at Aguilas where we drove down to the seafront and parked in the harbour car-park. There was another UK van there and the lady in it very kindly gave us (via a memory stick) a load of useful info about wild camping in Spain and Portugal; where you can park, where to get water etc. People are so nice.

We walked into the town and had an ice-cream followed by a siesta in the back of the van, then set of down the coast again. We’re sure that where we spent the night has a name but it’s not on the map. It was somewhere between Sopalmo and Carboneras, there was a little beach bar where we had a beer before tea and there was a big building project going on in the hills behind us. There has been a lot of building going on in southern Spain. “Urbanisations” dominate a lot of the view; thousands of identical villas separated by flowering hedges and palm trees sprawl out around bright green golf courses. Each brightly painted block ends abruptly against a perimeter wall, beyond which the arid land is being feverishly churned up in preparation for the next sector. No doubt the local economy is benefiting hugely from all the foreign wealth, and there really is no argument against that, no matter how much you think it is all a blot on the landscape.

Viva Espana

On Saturday we knew we’d be crossing the border into Spain. We don’t speak more than four words of Spanish and “I’d like to buy a 185 R 14 tyre for a camper-van please.” aren’t any of them. Ann-Marie had a brainwave and from free wifi in McDonald’s car-park googled ‘tyre dealers’ in the town we were in. Less than an hour later we were on our way down the Cote Vermeille with a brand new spare. We followed the wiggly road round the coast, crossing the border at the Col de Belistres. We stopped for a few minutes at the top. The spot height on the map says it’s 165m above sea level; it felt an awful lot higher than that, especially with a gale force wind trying to chuck us off!
We spent our first night in Spain in the little seaside town of L’Estartit. On our evening stroll along the seafront we passed the tourist office which had a poster in the window advertising a vintage bike rally the following day, so after night of being lulled to sleep by the wind we watched about 50 old bikes pull away on a tour of the local villages.
After that we set off, following the coast again and headed for Barcelona. When we got there we threw caution to the wind and went straight through the middle; Dave doing his best impression of a Spanish trucker. We popped out the other side, did a quick email check and post for the price of a McFlurry, then climbed up the edge of the Parc Natural La Morella before dropping down into Stiges. Here we found a wide promenade to park beside and a fabulous sandy beach to walk along in the morning.
On Monday we fancied a change; from Reus we headed inland towards the mountains. Every pass we climbed revealed a bigger and more impressive vista in front of us. This country is just so big! God knows how we’ll get our heads round Australia. At the top of Coll del Moro (475m) we stopped for lunch. We were going to eat in the van but there was a restaurant that looked friendly so in we went. We sat down at a table, there wasn’t a written menu but the owner came and told us what was for lunch. We did a lot of nodding but apart from “salad” and “steak” had no real idea what we’d agreed to; an hour and a half and 5 courses later we staggered back to the van. And it only cost 20 €! Fabulous, but we had to walk about for ages before we could think about carrying on. From there we went in a big loop back towards the coast. When we got to Morella we found a Campervan service area; fairly rare in Spain, but getting less so. (There is a book which lists them, Click Here, but we didn’t realize its importance till we got here and we haven’t been able to find it in a shop yet. We have since found this site; its in Spanish but google translates the directions well enough.) There were only two other vans there and it had a lovely view of Morella’s fortified town and castle so we parked up for the night.
We had a walk up to the town gates that evening, but it was getting late so we left exploring it till the morning. As we were at 1250m an extra blanket seemed like a good idea and we woke up to find the rising sun lighting up the castle and the thermometer saying 6 degrees. We emptied and filled all our various tanks, drove up to the car park just outside the gates and walked into the town in the sunshine. The castle hardly needs signs; you just go up...and up! On the way up we stepped into the Basilica for a breather, and were gobsmacked! Neither of us had ever been inside such an opulent building. The end containing the alter was a 40’ high mass of columns, spirals, balconies and flying buttresses; every inch smothered in gold leaf with cherubs, angels, eagles and goodness knows what else sticking out from or curled round every possible part.
The climb up to the castle was really worth it. It cost 3€ to get in; we got an information sheet in English, there are multi-lingual signs everywhere and we spent nearly two hours going up and down and learning a lot about Spanish civil history.
When we came back down we wandered through the town; lots of steep, narrow streets with overhanging buildings and scores of little shops selling locally produced goods. We were lured into a pottery and found a gorgeous jug for the boat, and got the Spanish version of Cornish pasties and sausage rolls at a bakery.

We wanted a slightly warmer night so set off for the coast once more, turning south at Vinaros, passing Castellon and parking at Platja de Xilxes in what is becoming our usual style, i.e. overlooking the sea, followed by a cycle along the prom, game of rummy and bed.
On Wednesday the idea was to cut off a corner and avoid Benidorm, so we went south, around Valencia then into the mountains again. We passed Yecla and Jumilla before we got lost in Cleza; Ann-Marie’s uncanny map-reading/guessing skills got us out on the road we wanted towards Mula. Then there was a twisty climb up and snake down to Alhama before the final leg through the growing plains towards Mazarron, just west of Cartagena. We found a fabulous spot at the end of a little back street almost on the beach after our longest day’s driving yet.
238 miles; mostly round hairpins and quite a bit on roads that aren’t on the map. Spain has been extensively rebuilding and re-surfacing its roads over the past few years. This means two things; first, it now has the best highway network in Europe and second, all the maps are out of date. Even our 2010 Michelin Tourist Atlas. So after all that we went for a refreshing swim in the Med before tea.

On Thursday we didn’t feel like going far and thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go off for the day then come back to Mazarron for another night in the same spot. We happily bimbled off into Cartagena, without realizing quite how big it was. After taking a wrong turn and weaving the van through a very scary and very seedy bit of what is otherwise a grand and majestic university city, we parked and had a quick look round on foot. As you may have already noticed we’re not big city people; beautiful though Caragena is, it wasn’t long before we were out on the road again. We had a quick stop at a shopping mall to check emails then went off to have a look at La Manga del Mar Menor. On the map it’s a 20km spit of land poking out into the Med with a road on it; in reality it’s 20km of hotels and apartments with sea on either side.
You begin to get a glimpse of just how big Spanish tourism is as you drive along. At the end it becomes less developed with several vacant lots and abandoned projects; no doubt victims of the recession, and there were a few campers parked up for the night on what must be very expensive real-estate. We’d not intended to stop but the view changed our minds, we had a stroll to the end and another night being lulled to sleep by waves breaking on the beach.

On Friday, even though we were up to watch the sunrise, the day vanished before our eyes. We had a couple of coffees worth of on-line time in the mall at Cartagena, trying to find out why Tesco’s Finance has taken six days to clear a payment instead of three. Grrr! Then we did a bit of shopping, then we found the Area de Servicio and filled and emptied everything, then went back to the beach at Mazarron. Not much, and only 60km, but it was still half past four when we got in the sea!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Canal du Midi & Kate Mosse.

The best thing about Beziers for us was the 9 Ecluses on the Canal du Midi. In fact there is a staircase of 6 locks, but if you count all the gates and the little gate at the end you get 9. They’re all electrically operated and controlled by a lock-keeper and only open for passage at certain times. As luck would have it we got there just as seven boats were going down the last couple of drops. The chambers are a sort of long oval shape; river cruisers fit in 3 or 4 at a time like big jig-saw pieces.
There is another motorised water-pushing boat-lift here as well; it’s a different design to the one at Montech, having only one set of wheels on either side with the diesel engines mounted in the gantry, and looks a lot less used, but apparently it’s in full working order.
We walked along the canal to the very grand aqueduct over the River Orb then up through some back streets into the city. There’s a large tree lined plaza in the centre of Beziers, leading to a park that slopes down to the railway station; otherwise it was too busy and crowded for us. We drove out towards Narbonne then turned towards the sea, getting our first sight of the Med at St-Pierre-sur-Mer. At Narbonne Plage, after driving past countless “Interdit Stationment au Camping-cars” signs on the seafront, we turned back inland and found a lovely quiet spot at the top of the cliffs overlooking the sea. The view was fab; we didn’t want to park down there anyway.
Narbonne is about half the size of Beziers and much more our kind of city. On Thursday morning we parked in a convenient Brichomarche car park and walked along Le Canal Robine which cuts right through the middle.
On the edges of the riverbank there was a “Tat-on-a-Blanket” type market with everything from live piglets to plastic flowers for graves, but one street away we found the fabulous indoor food market. We wandered round for ages looking and smelling. The place was packed with fish, meat, bread, cakes, sweets, cheeses, olives and much more everywhere we looked, and all beautifully displayed. We bought a big apple and pine nut cake called, appropriately, a ‘Narbonnaise’. Back outside we found a smaller market also selling food and after being given cheese and sausage to try, bought 4 very tasty dried sausages in various flavours, which will no doubt join the Roquefort cheese in its attempt to leave us with a permanent reminder of its existence in every crevice in the van.
Thursday afternoon saw us in Carcassonne, or more precisely, La Cité. Much has been written about this 19th century restoration of a medieval fortified city, done by a bloke called Viollet-le-Duc in the Gothic-Disney style.
While it could be described as the biggest folly ever built, it is certainly impressive, dominating the skyline from miles away with 50-odd pointy towers and over 3 miles of spiky, impossibly high walls.
From Carcassonne we went south, through Limoux to Alet-les-Bains where we found an open campsite just before dusk. Val d'Aleth Camping gets ten out of ten in our book. We’d had 6 nights off grid so we were more than happy to get plugged in and make full use of a washing machine and a very clean shower block.
On Friday morning we left as late as possible so our washing had every chance of drying then carried on with the Kate Mosse tour. We went south to Couiza, and then to Rennes-les-Bains. (Dave reckons Les Bains ought to be a northern stand-up comic.) We followed the road to Bugarach, where we parked and went for a stroll around the village. Somehow this turned into a two and a half hour trek through the mountains following signs for a roman bridge. We found the bridge; it was very high up, narrow and had no sides.
We though it looked a bit delicate, but we figured that as it had been there since roman times it would be ok for another few minutes. After we went over it we found a plaque which said it had been rebuilt in 2004.
We also found some mules, some mud, some rock climbing and some spectacular views. We got back to the van and retraced our steps to Rennes-les-Bains; there was a height restriction that made going on impossible in the van, luckily Ann-Marie spotted it marked on our map. We circled round, climbed up to Auriac and then under the gaze of two magnificent chateaux; Peyrepertuse and Queribus, before dropping down onto the road for Perpignan. We went straight through the middle and out to Canet-Plage where we turned south along the coast road, getting into St-Cyprien-Plage just in time for tea. Happily there we no parking restrictions, so we had a night right on the edge of the beach. We had a stroll along the sea front before bed and in the morning Dave went out for provisions and found we were 20 yards from a patisserie. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Awed in Aude

We've been to Beziers, Valras plage, Narbone, Carcassonne, Limoux, Alet-les-Bains, Rennes-les-Bains, Bugarach, through the mountains to Perpignan, then down to St-Cyprien Plage. Then the windy mountain costal road to Spain. We're now in Barcelona. When we get a bit of time we'll do a full write up and some photos.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Touring around Tarn

One day we’ll go back to Toulouse in daylight and have a good look round; from what we saw it’s worth a day’s wandering, but trying to drive through it at night was a bit of mistake. We took a wrong turn and ended up squeezing the van through some very narrow streets teeming with party people in what appeared to be one of the hottest night spots in France! Great fun, but not getting us where we wanted to be. We got spat out and had a couple more goes before giving up and following the big signs for the Peripherique. Heading away into the night towards Lavaur, we stopped at the tiny village of Teulat. On Saturday we drove into Lavaur; we were going to drive straight through but they’d put on a street market so it would’ve been rude not to stop. We’re glad we did; we bought elevenses and discovered a gigantic cathederal.
Not as dramatic as discovering the Source of the Nile or Penicillin, but we were happy. The acoustics inside were amazing and there was an enormous pipe organ high up at the back to take advantage of it. When we got back outside it was almost ten oclock and there was a little crowd of people waiting for the statue in the bell tower to hit the bell with his hammer.
Dave filmed the prestigious occasion, but it wasn’t all that exciting. Our next stop in a busy day was Castres; when we got there it had just shut for lunch so we walked down to the river and back and carried on to Lautrec. Lautrec is a gem; you could drive past it without realising what you’re missing. From the very ordinary looking car park steps lead up to a covered walkway that opens out into a maze of medieval alleyways that weave their way through timber framed houses.
Not only is the whole town crammed on top of a hill that is far too small for it; there is also a large convent perched up there as well, and at the very top a stone cross with a windmill just below it.
The only other way in is through an innocent looking arch that you hardly notice as you negotiate the roundabout. We spent a night in the car park, bought croissants and bread from the boulangerie at dawn on Sunday then set off towards Albi.

We’d heard good things about Albi but seeing really is believing. We had a good view of it as we drove in from the south west; it’s a big cosmopolitan city with a cathedral which towers over the surrounding buildings. Walking towards the centre from where we’d parked we passed grand fountains, formidable looking stone and slate mansions and modern plazas, before entering the old part of the city. Three bridges span the Tarn; overlooking them the massive St Cecile Cathedral and the Bishop’s Palace. Underneath the latter is the Toulouse Lautrec Museum. It was only when we saw it written on the wall that we realised the artist’s name is made up from two places we’d just been to.
A delicious smelling pizza parlour right outside the Cathedral enticed us in at lunchtime; it started raining while we ate and despite being the last two people left in the place when it closed it hadn’t stopped and we still looked like drowned rats when we finally got back to the van. Towelled off and in dry clothes we left Albi in the general direction of Millau via the Tarn Gorges.

On the road down the valley from Requista we found a good looking lay-by and as we pulled up we realised that we were parked under a big Sweet Chestnut tree.
The ground was strewn with spiny cases and we spent half an hour or so collecting a bag full. We had some for starters but we put most of them away to give to people at Christmas.

It rained most of Sunday night and Monday morning. After breakfast we drove alongside the Tarn as much as we could; there was a road closed at Brousse-le-Chateau which meant a bit of a detour up some very wiggly stuff but it all adds to the fun. We had the video camera running for a lot of it; when we get a faster hook-up we'll put some of it on Youtube. We left the river at St-Rome-de-Tarn and climbed up to Montjaux where there is a fantastic view of the Millau bridge, then carried on with some more windy roads through St-Beauzely to join the southbound A75 just before the tolls. We stopped in the Millau Services and walked up to the viewpoint. The bridge takes your breath away; the facts and figures are astonishing, especially when you realise that apart from being the biggest, longest, highest whatever, it also climbs and curves. When the French show off they do it well! We drove over it in a cross wind but the plexi-glass barriers mean you hardly notice. It’s a long way down though! We came off the motorway at the next junction and stopped for the night in a lay-by overlooking the Cernon valley. On Tuesday morning we drove into Roquefort-s-Soulzon; famous for its cheese. There was a convenient campervan services so we pulled in to top up with water. We’d bought a lay-flat hosepipe in a supermarket and this was to be its first use. Dave connected it to the tap and turned it on; at first we thought it had a pin-hole leak, then we saw another one, then another, then we both fell about laughing. In our happy ignorance we’d managed to buy an irrigation hose!

When the water tank was finally full we parked up and went for a walk up through the town. There are seven Roquefort Cheese makers all within a strict 3km x 200m boundary; we went to Papillion where we were treated to a film and a free guided tour of the factory and cellars. It was fascinating; the mould that makes the green veins is cultured in part-baked bread left in the caves where the cheese matures, then ground up and added to the cheese with the rennet in tiny amounts.

We left Roqufort with our cheese quarter in the fridge and set off towards Beziers and the Mediterranean, stopping for the night in a big lay-by along with half a dozen artics. Dave felt quite at home!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Travelling in Tarn-et-Garonne

Wednesday was Bob’s first big day out; Jacqui & Ali up front and us and Donna & Richard, who are here for a week, on cushions on the floor in the back. Ann-Marie tried to get everyone singing “The Wheels on the Bus” but all we could get out of Ali was “Bob-Bob-Bob-Bob....”
It was a really good day; we went to Montech followed by Moissac. On the Canal Du Midi at Montech there is the Pente d'eau de Montech; a massive diesel powered inclined plane. Two train engines on rubber tyres push boats and the water they’re floating in up a concrete channel by-passing five locks.
While we were there a couple of boats came down the canal and we watched them go through the top lock.
Moissac is a pretty little town, the Canal goes right through the middle and La Garonne flows along the edge. It’s mostly notable for L'abbaye Saint-Pierre, a medieval abbey and cloisters that survived crusades, civil wars and the Revolution only to be unceremoniously slashed in half in 1860 to make way for a railway. We stood in the footbridge over the line looking in amazement at this magnificent ancient monument as a train hurtled through the middle of it. Then we got a French stick and had a picnic on the river bank.

On Thursday morning we went to Castelsarrasin, the nearest big town, where there was the weekly traditional French market including a big shed with livestock. We spent a couple of hours wandering around looking at all the cheeses, breads, flowers, fabrics and animals. Then, predictably, we went for a stroll along the Canal which runs along the edge of the town. The mix of vessels along this beautiful waterway is fascinating; big Dutch style barges moored alongside traditional British narrowboats, with river cruisers, yachts, even a 40’ ocean-going catamaran adding to the colour along the towpath.
In the afternoon back at Coutures, a big white van came down the lane and a very nice delivery driver handed over a lovely new shiny galvanized steel 1986 Fiat Ducato radiator. There was much rejoicing!
We have no connection with Hartlepool Radiators, only as satisfied customers. their website is dead easy to use, postage was about half what normal mail would have been and the right radiator got to us. Nuff said.
Earlier on Dave and Ali had fixed the cooling system on Bob, he had come out in sympathy with the Kon-Tiki and was overheating as well. His problem turned out to be a sticking thermostat combined with a burnt-out fan motor. They pulled a fan off Ali’s dead Subaru, fitted it to Bob’s fan housing and had just got Bob fixed when the courier arrived. We don’t just throw this together you know. So there were two happy vans outside and lots of happy people inside. The cooker mechanic phoned to say he’d be arriving in the morning, with luck normality would soon be restored. We decided to continue our travels on the morrow; taking Donna and Richard to the airport at Toulouse and then going off towards the Med.

Friday update. Last night was a farewell from Coutures. We played pontoon for M&Ms; Ali was out first ‘cos he ate all his money. Jacqui and Ann-Marie attacked a bottle of gin and took no prisoners and it all ended with fits of giggles when Jacqui declared that everyone had to speak French proper accents. This morning was a gentle affair; lots of coffee and asprin. The electrician came and couldn’t find anything wrong with the cooker. (It packed up again about an hour after he left; more waiting!)

We left in the afternoon with Donna & Richard on board and dropped them off at Toulouse Departures about an hour later. If we’d been stuck anywhere else, the last two weeks waiting would have felt like forever. In beautiful Coutures it’s just been a lovely two week holiday with our mates. They decided to put off their trip to UK till we come back this way in December. Tonight we’ll stop somewhere between Toulouse and Castres and decide on a route to Spain.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Still Waiting

Well it’s now Tuesday and our radiator still hasn’t turned up. What has happened is that we’ve got a tracking number so we can go and have a look on line and find out where it is. Last Thursday it went from Teeside, where it was scanned by Steve, to Birmingham where Carl zapped it. Then there was a four day gap before it turned up again. Currently it’s in France. Brilliant!

The latest estimate we can get for delivery is Friday, so we’ve decide to chill out about it, stop staring forlornly up the drive and go and do some sightseeing. We’re right next to the Canal de deux Mers, part of the Canal du Midi, so we’re going to go to Moissac and have a wander down it tomorrow.

Jacqui and Ali’s van has arrived with two new tyres and a brand new Control sticker! He’s called Bob. Here are some pictures of the happy couple.


Waiting.

 Jacqui & Al are waiting for an electrician to come and fix their cooker and a chap to phone about a van they want to buy. We’re waiting for our radiator to arrive. When we phoned up to ask about delivery charges to France, the man in the shop said “How long are you there for?” Dave said “Well, until the radiator turns up.” Doh! In the mean time we’ve cleaned the van from top to bottom inside and out, stuck beading round the edge of the lino and finished a few other odd jobs. We also got back to Trailfinders and finally agreed to a package. Whoo-oo! We’re going to New Zealand for 5 weeks on the 4th of January, then Australia for another 5. We’re driving from Adelaide to Cairnes in a motorhome, and then flying to Alice Springs and Darwin before coming home at the end of March. We thought it would be fun to have a month in Scotland after that, before we go boat hunting. Talking of which, while Dave had nothing else to do he found these (click here) (and here) Of course we're still not looking yet!
We have been a bit helpful on the farm; it’s the time of year when all the birds are at table weight so we’ve been plucking and preparing for the freezer. It’s a bit sad, especially in the mornings when it’s noticeably quieter, but at the same time it’s very satisfying to know that what you’re eating for dinner had a happy life and a quick death.
The van that these guys are waiting to hear about is a 1978 Renault Estaffette; so ugly it’s beautiful. They saw it in a car park with an AV in the window and now they’re waiting for the owner to get a Control Technique – a French MOT - on it. They’ve been looking for a little van for a couple of years; Al is a self employed gardener, lots of English people have holiday homes down here and he looks after their gardens and pools and keeps an eye on things for them. At the moment he goes around in a lovely old Citroen 2CV van with a trailer; he can get the big ride-on mower inside the Renault and it’s got just as much character as a 2CV. It’s boarded out inside as well and Al is going to make a removable camper conversion for it. We did a similar thing with our H Van; we could slide the seats and bed-base out if we wanted to shift anything big.
Today is Saturday and we’re all hopeful. The van man phoned last night; it’s ready to go. The radiator should be in the post this morning and the cooker electrician might well come this afternoon. We’ll see.
Ann-Marie and Jacqui are off to a French market this morning; there may be cheese.

Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Stourbridge Canal. BCN. Grand Union Canal. Kinver to Kixley Wharf

There are 25 locks from Hyde Corner to Merry Hill, but we had a fabulous day working up through them all. The Stourton and ...