Friday 15th November Yet another hill town 45 miles
We woke to a clear sky, but a very windy day. We left our lovely isolated spot at 9.30, and were amazed to find a massive area of solar panels just around the bend!
Anyone for a solar panel?
We wound on through the hills, with different coloured rocks, and after a scattering of isolated houses came to the whiter than white town of Lucainena, with cacti and trees growing.
The colourful rocks near Lucainena
We reached the bigger, straighter road towards Mojacar, where the land was flatter, with a few netted ‘greenhouses’, and olive plantations.
We passed Sorbas, set high up above the rocks, then contorted to find the small road which went down to the coast at Mojacar.
We stopped along here for coffee, near a bridge over a dry river which took Adrian’s fancy.
Not much further on, at the expanding town of Torre, we found with very little trouble that we had an internet connection. We had got our website ready to set up and send, but it was reliant on getting a connection, which has been so difficult this trip.
We sent the email, and sorted everything, including catching up with outstanding emails and having lunch.
We then drove on to the old town of Mojacar, an ultra steep hilltown dripping with sparkling white Moorish houses. We were able to park just below the town and walk up into it. There were some little signs signifying the way to the centre. We ascended steeply past the silent houses beautified by bougainvillea everywhere in varying colours. The brown stone church looked very plain after the prettiness surrounding it. There was a tourist information, which said that it was closed. I found the door ajar, so went inside. The young girl gave us a plan of the town, and then promptly bolted the heavy door!
The view from Mojacar
At least we had some idea where we were going now, even if plans can never give the impression of difference in height, and this town was certainly steep! We made our way to the viewpoint from the ancient castle, but gave up on walking to the ‘fuente’ - town fountain - as Adrian thought that we had done enough ups and downs! He decided instead to drive around to the other side of the ‘mount’, and approach it from there. This was nearly our downfall, as the narrow streets and one-way system almost got us! We did however manage to park near to the fountain, which we didn’t find that impressive after all that, but did apparently originate with the Moors. We filled a couple of bottles with the water before heading off up the coast a bit.
The ancient fountain at Mojacar
We were making for a spot we’d stayed at in 1996 and voted our top spot. However, when we saw several motorhomes parked on a wide flat bit of greyish sand at PlayaQuitapellejos near Vera, we decided to join them. It was now 4.30, and still very windy, and this place looked a good, safe bet. We had a quick ‘blow’ along the beach, where a pleasant sand spit jutted out to sea.
Saturday 16th November An almost rest day 24 miles
The night was cold, but the morning sunny. We moved across to have breakfast facing the sea. We left at 9.15, having had a short walk over the beach to the waves.
It was nice to see several fields of neat vegetables as we drove back a few miles to find the launderette that we had passed yesterday. On the way, we diverted, following a motorhome symbol, but soon gave up on that.
The launderette didn’t open until 10 o’clock, so we decided not to wait. We carried on driving, noticing the amount of growing ‘urbanisations’. Signs in English suggested that lots of Brits might have places here. A pleasant sight was a whole hedge of blue plumbago.
We drove on through a delightful wild, natural area of coast. There were remains of old workings, but nothing else.
Unspoilt coast near el Pozo del Esparto
We pulled off at El Pozo del Esparto, hoping that we might see the place where we had overnighted in 1996, and had loved so much. It was a vain hope! We pulled in by the sea at a spot which must have been very near to it. We had coffee while perusing our old diary and photos, but couldn’t make things quite fit.
We telephoned Tom, who told us that it was raining hard in Sitges, and suggested that we stay south for the next few days. We found out that the wrong email address had gone out on our website email, so we wouldn’t be receiving any replies on our new phone.
We drove on to the next place, San Juan de los Terreros, where there was a lot of new development. The road through the town was closed, so we had to make a long diversion over rough ground. Eventually we got back on track, and found a supermarket so that Adrian could get some bread for lunch.
We managed after that to get an internet connection, and found that we had got several emails waiting for us. We then drove back along the long diversion (no signs!) to a bit of beach where several motorhomes were parked.
We had decided to have a ‘lazy day’ so pulled into a place near the sea. For the first time this trip, we got out the table and chairs to have our lunch.
Lunch outside by the sea
As has so often happened (always, it seems) when we make a decision like this, things didn’t go to plan! The wind changed direction, and it became quite cool! Not the sit in the sun that we’d anticipated! We did have a walk along the rather rough, gritty beach in both directions, before sitting outside with our cup of tea, but that was it!
A nice spot
We had a chat on the phone to Nicky and the girls - at least it’s warmer here than England!
We looked out at the moonlit sea as we started reading through our past Christmas letters.
Sunday 17th November Back into the hills 75 miles
It was a reasonable morning but not as warm as when we were in this area at this time of year in 1996.
We enjoyed a fried breakfast looking out to an ‘Ailsa Craig’ rock before leaving at 10 o’clock. We drove back across the long, bumpy diversion into San Juan de los Terreros. We saw that there was an outdoor market, so parked close by, and were able to get the internet connection we had received yesterday.
Legs eleven (or twelve!)
Having sent one or two emails, we walked around the market, which mostly had just rubbishy clothes, but there were a couple of plant and vegetable stalls. There was no bread stall, so we stopped by the Spar supermarket again for Adrian to get some bread.
We were pleasantly surprised to drive through a bit of wild, completely undeveloped coast towards Aguilas. Just south of the town were some lovely unspoilt coves. We stopped at one and walked over the grey but finer sand to the sea. There was nobody else about except a man and his young son fishing. Behind us, the hills had strange sandy looking vertical ‘cliffs’, seeming as if the soil had slipped. We had lunch sitting outside on our seats, but it was quite cool! The summer warmth has gone!
Lovely wild beach lunch stop near Aguilas with its strange ‘slipped’ cliffs
At Aguilas we drove inland, past a nice tower, towards Lorca. We were pleased to see some fields of neat rows of vegetables, particularly cabbages, as well as the ‘plastic and netting’. We then drove through the sparse hills to the populated plain.
Lorca had an atmospheric castle on top of a hill. It just seemed a large town of square blocks. We never saw signs to the historic centre, and it was too big a city to find out where it was. Lorca was hit by an earthquake in 2011. Several people were killed, and lots injured. The old part was worst hit. We saw nothing to show of the disaster now, we just saw the modern signs like ’Burger King’ and ‘Rosie’s English Institute!
As we continued towards Murcia, the land seemed drier. We passed groves of orange trees. At Alhamba, which again had a castle on a hill, we turned off to drive further up into the hills. We wound on and on, past forests on one side, and orchards of fruit and nut trees on the other. Sometimes there were views again looking like the Dakota Badlands.
We were heading for Mula, where there was an Aire where we could stay, and also use the facilities. Mula also had a superb castle on top of a hill!
We located the Aire before driving back to see a bit of the town. We had heard loud talking and music on a loudspeaker, and realised that it was from the football stadium! Hence when we drove back to the town, much of the parking was taken by spectator’s cars! We were able to find a spot in the end, and then had a wander into the narrow streets. This was a real, workaday Spanish town, with no tourism at all. Following our noses, we got to the main square, which had a fine church San Miguel (St Michael’s), with another splendid tower beside it. You could just see the castle from here too.
Mula, with tower, castle and church
We got back to the Aire as the sun went down - and then the castle was gloriously floodlit.
Monday 18th November More hills, castles and oranges 124 miles
We woke late to a fine but cold morning. Consequently, after doing the ‘chores’, it was mid-morning before we left.
We drove through very dry country on a cross country route. The stony soil was planted with orange trees, and then almonds (we think) in neat rows. Sheer, barren peaks protruded from the countryside.
We saw olives being collected by vibrating a tree mechanically, with a tractor and collecting net. The soil was sandy coloured, as were the few buildings, giving a sepia impression to the landscape.
The ‘sepia’ landscape
At Cieza, a large, non-descript town on the Segura river, we were able to get an internet connection, especially important as the wrong address had gone out on our last email, so we weren’t receiving replies on the phone.
We drove on and stopped for lunch beside a derelict and partly demolished house amidst productive fields of cabbages and lettuces. Workers were busy on tractors and inlorries, cutting and packing the produce.
We were surprised to discover that this whole inland hilly area was being farmed in one way or another (consequently there was never anywhere to stop).
We drove past Jumilla, with the obligatory castle on a hill, but the castle at Xativa (Jativa) beat all with its massive size.
Vast Xativa castle
We were heading for an Aire to stop at, knowing that access to it might be difficult, as it was set in the midst of a large orange growing area.
We drove through the town of Villa Nova de Castello, busy with children walking home from school at just gone 5 o’clock.
Then we followed a maze of small roads through the orange groves to the unlikely spot at Hort de Soriano. This was the weirdest set up of any Aire and we wondered why it was here. We came to closed gates, which another camper opened, and were directed to a terraced spot by a lady from the house we were beside. She was quite specific where we went - the first spot she showed was difficult to get into, so she suggested another, just as rain began to fall briefly.
Adrian chatted to a Danish lady staying here, and discovered that it was they who had shut the gate. They had been broken into a couple of days ago (by the windows being forced), so were feeling understandably anxious. We could only sympathise.
Tuesday 19th November Back to the coast at Valencia 69 miles
We left at 9 o’clock on a fine morning. We realised that this place is a ‘recreation area’ for walks into the hills behind.
Our organised spot at Hort de Soriano
We drove through extensive orange groves to the large town of Carcaixent, and on to Alzira. We tried unsuccessfully to get an internet connection at both, and then several more times. When we finally did succeed, much later in the day, there were no new messages!
We continued through more orange groves on narrow roads with high, unforgiving walls. At Sueca we were able to park right outside a Mercadona supermarket and do a good shop.
We now came to La Albufera de Valencia - the large lagoon just south of Valencia. There were ricefields around the edge, and we saw lots of egrets. We stopped to have coffee by a ‘mirador’ tower, which we climbed afterwards. There were masses of birds on the water, but too far away for us to see properly, even with our binoculars. We could make out flamingos and cormorants.
Mirador at La Albufera de Valencia
This area contrasted with the sandspit adjacent to it, which had tower blocks reminiscent of Miami! There were traditional Spanish houses too. Between them and the sea was an area of small fir trees and low shrubs. There was a lovely beach and the waves were high.
We ate our lunch overlooking the lagoon. The four small ’tourist’ boats had no takers today for their boat trips. The wind was blowing across the lagoon, but it became very warm in the van as we drove on through Valencia - one sign said 26°C, but it didn’t seem that warm!
Valencia looked very nice as we drove through, but too large for us to contemplate! We had driven through part of the city in 1996 after our trip around Spain and Portugal. From here we had travelled across to Bilbao to take the boat home. Hence we were keen to drive from Valencia to Sitges by the sea, to complete our ‘tour of the coastline’. (We drove from Sitges northwards in 2006).
We were able to park right by the almost empty beach. Four young people were playing volleyball, in their swimsuits. We walked across the fine sand and I had a paddle. The tide had been very high.
We drove on to Antoria, where there was a lot of undergrowth before the beach. We were hoping to find the bit of beach where we had stayed on our last night by the sea in 1996. It was memorable, because a Spanish lady had offered Adrian a ‘senorita’! The roads have changed so much in Spain, that it was impossible to see places as they were beforehand.
As we drove on past Massafasar Beach, the sea was crashing over the sea wall and onto the main road.
At Franals Beach, again completely undeveloped, I actually sat on the sand for two minutes!
What’s this relaxation?
We were still driving past orange fields, and in some the pickers were out, loading their blue plastic boxes.
We had intended driving to Segunto, where the huge hilltop castle apparently afforded wonderful views. However, we found ourselves heading for El Puerto de Seguntoinstead. This was a massive industrial port area.
Soon afterwards we found our way down to Almadar, where there was a wide area of natural vegetation between the line of traditional houses and the pebbly beach. It was completely unspoilt.
Adrian at Almadar Beach
We had been heading for an Aire someway up the coast, and realised that time was getting on. Hence when we came to a large beachside carpark at Platja de Almenara at 4.30, and saw another motorhome there, thought that it would be a good place to stop. (Place names around Valencia, are all written in Catalan, sometimes with Spanish as well). Adrian spoke to the couple (Dutch), who said that they’d been here a week! (doing what, we wondered).
We parked near to the beach, and set off to walk across to the sea. There was quite a grand ‘promenade’, with gazebo and palms and exotic plants. There was also a wooden walkway, but there didn’t seem much access to the actual beach! We found a way through, and walked across the pebbles, where there was evidence of former buildings, to the sandy/pebbly beach. The tide was very high.
We came back to watch the lovely sky as the sun went down.
Sunset at Almenara
Wednesday 20th November To the Ebro Delta 115 miles
(This is a shortened version of today’s diary, as the original, detailed one got ‘lost’ as Adrian transferred it on the computer.)
We watched the sun rise over the sea while having our breakfast, leaving at 8.30. We had some pleasant surprises as we drove northwards towards the Ebro delta. There is still a lot of wild, undeveloped coastline amongst all the ‘urbanisation.’
Playa de Chilches had a strip of older development, but Monafar had newer development of ‘blocks’.
Playa de Chilches
We drove past the large port area of Castello(n), with a lot of parking and picnic areas to top spot Platje del Pinar . This was really pleasant, with a long park with trees beside the wide sandy beach.
Benacasim was in a nice situation, with a lots of holiday blocks, but we needed it to use the facilities of the ‘Aire’. We spoke to two English couples here who had come away for six months. We swapped information on good places to stop. They said that it had been really windy here last night.
Oropesa had the remnants of an old town, and a nice sandy beach where we watched the green sea rolling in, but the ‘urbanisations’ were abysmal. Signs were written in Russian, which mystified us. Workers were planting out brightly coloured flowers, and there were weird, modern ‘sculptures’ on the roundabouts.
We had to drive on a diversion from Torreblanca to Torrenosta, as the road was closed. We drove past the apartment blocks to a narrow, winding road through wasteland to a lovely spot by a pebbly beach, where we sat on our seats to have lunch, with the waves crashing in front of us. Behind us was a little white chapel, and a few ‘seen better days’ buildings.
Nice lunch stop
Lorries had been passing us, and we found out as we drove on that they were rebuilding the stone sea wall. In many places, the sea had washed right over the road. Adrian was just remarking on this, when we came to a wide, flooded ‘dry river’, which we had to negotiate! It seemed to be near Platje del Serradal.
Is it a road or a river?
After that we came to rocky/sandy coves. At Capicorp, we could see the sea down through a hole in the rocks.
We had to drive an inland stretch around Sierra de Hirta, and then came to Peniscola. This was vast, with a castle atop a hill beside the sea amongst the white painted old town.
We walked across the wide sandy beach, which stretches along all the way to the next ‘resort’, Benicarlo, with apartment blocks all the way. There was a magnificent sand sculpture on the beach.
Peniscola with a superb sand sculpture
We continued past Vinares, with a harbour and busy marina to more little rocky coves.
At Sant Carles, again with a large marina, we turned off to the Ebro Delta. There was water, with gulls and egrets, everywhere as all the rice fields were deliberately re-flooded. We realised that this was not a good place to try to overnight! At that point, John Denver’s song ‘Higher ground’ came on our player!
We were feeling a bit anxious, when at 5 o’clock we reached the town of St Jaume d’ Enveja and spied a parking area, which we knew we would have to stop at. It served us well! The sad thing was that as Adrian was transferring the long day’s diary, it got ‘lost’, and despite all his efforts, was irretrievable. Hence it was rather a despondent evening, added to by a roasting chestnut exploding in the oven!
Thursday 21st November On to Salou 71 miles
We were up at 7.00, and left at 7.30, just as it was getting light. We drove through the town, which seemed so normal for being in the middle of the watery delta. We were surprised how many cars were about. We passed a bakers, so were able to buy our ‘daily bread’.
We drove on to the Ebro River, and stopped beside the bridge across it for breakfast. When we had come here in 1987, we had had to take a ferry across the river. We enjoyed fresh croissants as the sun rose, and didn’t leave until gone 9.00. A bonus was that we had an internet connection.
Breakfast stop by the Ebro bridge at sunrise
We drove down beside the Ebro River, looking out at all the areas of water. I had just said that we hadn’t seen many birds, when we spied something we weren’t familiar with. It was a hoopoe! This delighted us.
We still enjoyed the large number of gulls, elegant egrets and graceful grey herons. At one point, the road was flooded and sand had washed right over it.
Ebro Delta ricefields
We now came to Camarles, a Spanish town of low level housing with an ancient tower. We stopped soon afterwards by a stretch of water where we had coffee, and I caught up with yesterday’s aborted diary.
We came back to the sea at Ampolla, which was smartly pleasant, with low level housing, an EEC front and a marina. The road now went inland for a way, we weren’t sure why, as it wasn’t very hilly. We came back to the sea at l’Ametlla which was quite large and pleasant, with palm trees and a harbour.
We turned off next to Calafet where there were villas above the rocky shore. We found a little stony beach to pull onto for lunch. A chap came down on an ATV to collect a bucket of sand from the water’s edge. We had a walk along the beach, with its simple white mock Moorish development above.
A nice lunch spot
Next we came to L‘Hospitalet de l’Infant, and an area which we were more familiar with from our many camping holidays in the 70’s and 80’s with the children. The place appeared pleasant in the quiet siesta sunshine.
Soon afterwards we were able to see the entrance to ‘Els Prats’ campsite, where we had stayed in 1987, but didn’t recognise anything! We didn’t find ‘Marius’ campsite, or Oasis Mar, where we had also camped.
We were soon at Cambrils, which had a huge sandy beach, but nowhere to stop. It was very large, with a harbour and marina. We knew from a past visit that it bore no resemblance to the little early 70’s fishing village which we have some cine film of, with women sitting on little Spanish chairs mending the fishing nets.
There was development all the way along the front to Salou. As we drove along, we remembered that the English chap yesterday had said that you could stay here, and sure enough, we saw a line of motorhomes parked near the beach. Once we had found the way in, we joined them. It was sunny, but very cool and windy, as we discovered when we walked out on the wide sandy beach.
Friday 22nd November To Tom, Mar and Rita at Sitges 64 miles
The night and morning were really windy. The sky was clear blue as we left at 9.45. We made our way to Cap Salou and looked down at what we thought was the place we camped at in the early 70s. We walked around in the cool morning air, and when we then passed a sign saying ‘Platje Llarga’, we knew that it was. We had known it as PlayaLarga, now it has reverted to its Catalan spelling. We drove around to view it in the strong, cool wind from the other side of the bay. It isn’t a campsite now, but some sort of recreation area. There is far more development around it from when we knew it.
Platje Llarga, Salou and Playa Larga, with 2 year old Emma, 1972
From here to Tarragona there was a huge sandy beach. We drove through the industrial part of the massive town to find a garage where we could get propane, which we vitally needed.
We then found ourselves on the motorway going inland. We were trying to get to the Roman aqueduct outside the town, which we had first seen in 1970. It was difficult with all the fast roads - luckily Adrian had read about the access on the internet last night, and knew that there was a vital signpost off the motorway, easy to miss. We arrived at 11.15. The bridge is set in a very pleasant large park area with numerous walks amongst pine trees. There were fast roads and apartment blocks nearby, but the park is a quiet sanctuary. We walked to view the bridge from all around, before driving back through part of Tarragona, seeing some of the Roman walls and other buildings.
The Roman aqueduct at Tarragona Adrian with Emma (11 months) 1970
We drove on towards Sitges, hoping to see a supermarket as we needed bread, milk and drinking water. We tried to get to a Mercadona store, but the access was so difficult that we had to give up. Then we had trouble getting back onto the main road.
When we saw a signpost to ‘Tamarit’, it struck a chord with both of us, as being the place we had camped at for one night in 1973, with Simon (4½ months), Paul (22 months) and Emma (nearly 4). We had then thought it unsuitable for us, and had moved on (another story!)
After a long trail down narrow roads, we came to a dead end, and walked on to find a really sandy beach, with castle ruins above it. It seemed lovely. We think that the sand must have been imported, as we remember it as stony. The campsite (closed for the season) looked really nice.
At Altafulla the road was closed, and we had to make a diversion. The way to the beach was through a low arch, so a no-go for us! The way back from the diversion was through a low arch under the railway, which we just made!
At Torredembara, we finally got to the beach before the road turned inland. We parked by the wide, flat sandy beach and cooked the spare baguette for lunch, as we still hadn’t found a shop. Afterwards we walked across to the sea. We could see marks on the beach where water had recently swirled down from heavy rain. Again on driving back, we came to a low bridge, and had trouble getting back to the road out.
The main road then went inland to Vendrell so we took a smaller road by the coast beside the wide sandy beach, lined with apartments old and new. Once more the constant railway line made it difficult for us to get back.
We came to Villanova, which appeared big and ugly, with a large marina. A few years ago we had walked along beside the sea from here to Sitges with Tom, and it was delightful, through a nature reserve, which we hope continues to be saved.
We drove on to Sitges, which didn’t look so attractive approaching it from this direction. There was an aire here, where we needed to dump and get water before staying nearby to see Tom & family. It is normally a fee paying aire, but we had been told that is free at the moment. We were very disconcerted to see a sign saying ’no dumping’, but luckily soon saw another place which was the real dumping/water station! With great relief, we did the ‘emptying and filling’!
We could have stayed here, but it was a long walk from Tom & Mar’s, so we made our way to a parking area close to Carrefour, which Tom had suggested. This seemed fine. We contacted Tom, and soon met up with him. He had just returned from work, and was taking Rita for a walk.
We went back to their place and later enjoyed a sushi meal with Tom and Mar. After that we went with Tom to a nearby cocktail bar on the front before coming back to the van at midnight.
Saturday 23rd/Sunday 24th November
We spent the weekend seeing as much as possible of Tom, Mar and Rita.
We had a lot of walks along the pleasant ‘promenade’ at Sitges, and through the little streets.
We ate and drank well, calling in at several bars, and meeting up again with Mar’s parents, walking back to our parking spot each evening.
Monday 25th November Violent winds as we return to France 182 miles
There was a clear blue sky as we got organised for our return journey up through France. Adrian went into Carrefour to buy some bread. On his return he spoke to another motorhomer who lives in Jersey. He and his wife had just travelled to northern Norway and down to Turkey and were now on their way to Morocco, and on to Gambia for Christmas!
We left at 9.40 and drove back to the ‘Aire’ to ‘fill and empty’. It was 10 o’clock when we left here to drive through Sitges and then on the very winding road high above the coast. We turned off at Garraf, the next place up the coast, as Tom had suggested. This little village has a Gaudi church, but we will have to see it properly another time. The car park we headed for was closed, but after a drive around we did manage to park and enjoy our last bit of beach. We had ‘elevenses’ on a bench overlooking the sea, and then had a last walk along the lovely sandy beach, and I had a paddle. We ignored the busy masts from the marina.
Last paddle, Garraf
Then it was past Castelldefels, where Tom teaches, and through the never ending sprawl of Barcelona. We did this on the motorway, often through numerous tunnels of varying lengths. We stopped for lunch near Sant Celoni, and turned off the motorway soon afterwards. There was a bit of autumn colour, which was nice, with the blue sky, but it was more brown than vibrant.
We alternated between motorway and main road, driving on the motorway past Girona, but turning off before Figueras. We could see part of the Pyrenees completely covered in snow, but there was nowhere to stop and photograph it.
At La Jonguera we stopped to buy some diesel (cheaper than in France), and realised that it had become very windy. We entered France at le Perthus. This was really busy, with hundreds of parked cars, presumably for tax free shopping. We then went through a forested rocky gorge. We intended going back onto the motorway, but there was some sort of hold up at the entrance, so we continued to le Boulou before joining it.
The wind then became frighteningly violent. Twice my side mirror was blown in. It was most scarily unpleasant. We wanted to get off the motorway, and had looked up several places where we could stay. At the point that we turned off, a lorry had overturned on the other carriageway, blocking it completely, and the queue behind it was enormous - lorries stretched along the hillside for miles. We felt very lucky, even if we did have to queue for quite a while at the toll booth.
We made our way to an Aire at Port la Nouvelle at 5.15, and to relative shelter and safety.
Tuesday 26th November A snowy French motorway day 284 miles
A very bad night for me. Apart from the wind, which continued to rock the van all night, I was really unwell with an upset stomach. My temperature was way up, and I had had very little sleep.
It was cold, but the sky was clear, and luckily the wind dropped. We went to the other Aire in the village to ‘dump’ and then made for the A9 motorway. We drove via Narbonne and Beziers then headed north on the A75 toll free motorway for most of the day. It was a pretty route.
At Pas de l’Escalet, after a short tunnel, we came to the first snow. We turned off the motorway to drive past Millau, partly because there is a toll on the (relatively) new splendid viaduct - 270m above the River Tarn - and partly because of my fear of heights. We stopped at a viewpoint to the bridge, amongst marvellous scenery. We walked around to take in the view - it was very cold!
The Millau bridge from the viewpoint
We drove down and had our lunch sitting beside the River Tarn at Millau. We had stayed in Millau in 1999, and on 26th November 2006!
After that, we went into a snowy world as we ascended to 1121 metres.
We were listening to our favourite ‘Paddington Abroad’ stories as we drove along, (we discovered that we had done the same in 2006!) We admired the Garabit viaduct, as we have done before, but were very glad to come down out of the snow after about 60 miles, especially as the sky looked a bit violent!
The Garabit viaduct in the snow
It became sunny again as we drove past Clermont Ferrand, going onto the A71 before turning off to an Aire at the pleasant village of Ebreuil. We actually stopped beside the River Sioule, just after the sun had gone down.
Wednesday 27th November Rural France in the autumn sunshine 155 miles
After yesterday’s day of motorways, today we enjoyed real France on smaller roads. The night had been really cold - we had left the heating on. It was -2°C this morning, with a heavy frost!
The beautiful but chilly river Sioule at Ebrueil
We ate breakfast of bacon pancakes, looking across the river. The sky was clear, and we watched the sun come up - quite beautiful.
We left at 9.15 and stopped in the typical little French town at the busy bakers. When we came out, we saw a huge icicle hanging from van! Just as we came to the end of the narrow street, a massive lorry transporting two tractors came the other way.
It was magical as we drove on through the rural French countryside. We stopped by a cemetery which had graves ‘for soldiers killed for France’ in it. The stone crosses looked evocative against the blue sky. As we continued, two deer gambled across a field.
Our route took us through a lot of forest. The autumn colours weren’t very bright, just the occasional beech added some colour. After last night’s sharp frost, we watched large leaves dropping from the trees.
We stopped at Villefrance d’Allier for coffee and the delicious French pastry bought this morning. At Ainay le Chateau, where we stopped for fuel, the road went through a low, narrow archway - luckily big enough for us.
We continued to Dun-sur-Auron where we pulled into the atmospheric tree-lined town square for lunch. Here, as at other places, all the Christmas decorations were up or being put up.
We drove on through the large town of Bourges with all its big historic buildings, including a cathedral. The streets were spacious and leafy.
We were coming into the area of half timbered houses - Nancay was particularly attractive.
We had been wondering where to stop tonight, and when we saw that there was an Aire at Beaugency, we headed towards it. We had happy memories of camping there with the children in the 80’s.
The Aire was situated beside the River Loire, directly opposite the campsite we had stayed at. We arrived at 4.15, and sat in the cab with a cup of tea, looking across the wide river in the last of the sun.
Looking across to where we camped at Beaugency
It was rapidly becoming cool, but we walked out, up to the fine, long bridge, passing the little restaurant which we’d eaten at with Paul & Tom on our anniversary in 1990 . We hadn’t remembered that Beaugency was full of ancient buildings and towers. Our only complaint again was the number of cars in the narrow, cobbled streets. Outside one shop was their selection of fresh Christmas trees for sale!
The colours of the sky were beautiful as we walked back under the bridge to the van.
The Loire at Beaugency
Thursday 28th November Our last full day 269 miles
Red sky in the morning!
There was a beautiful red sky, followed by a lovely sunrise, which heralded a day of increasing cloud. We left at 9 o’clock, stopping in the village of Huisseau sur Mauves opposite a chateau to buy our baguette.
We drove through flat farming country with lots of wind turbines, stopping for coffee just before Chartres. We circled Chartres, and could just make out the spires of the cathedral, which we’ve so loved on previous visits. Soon afterwards we also circled Dreux, then up the N154 to drive through vast Rouen. Road closures and the fact that none of the major roads link up easily made this nightmarish in the now very misty day. We had visited all three towns in 1996 in our old Morris, which we marvelled at now!
Soon afterwards we had lunch beside the A28 motorway. We saw more colourful trees today, but the greyness didn’t enhance them. It seemed to be a pretty route that we were driving, but the cloud turned to mizzle, and visibility was poor.
We continued towards Calais on the toll free A28 motorway and then the expensive A16 motorway, turning off to an Aire in the coastal village of Wissant, between Boulogne and Calais. By 4.30 we were settled in for our last night.
Friday 29th November Oh to be home 161 miles
It was brighter this morning - a nice place for our last overnighter, and so close to Calais. By 9.30 we were driving into the village of Wissant, which we had noted in 2008 as being pretty. When we saw the mill pond near the church we remembered it.
The mill pond at Wissant
We couldn’t drive down to the beach, so made our way towards Calais. We stopped at Auchan for fuel, and then both immersed ourselves in the large supermarket, which was really busy, as though it was almost Christmas. With a loaded up trolley, we made our way back to the van. It was 11.15, and we were keen to get to the port now, but then had a frustrating wait at the lock gates in Calais.
When we reached the port, Adrian went in to buy tickets, and we found out the bad news. We have never arrived without tickets before, and hadn’t foreseen a problem. Now we learnt that if you haven’t already got tickets, it costs at least twice as much! On the way out, we’d bought our tickets just the night before - no problem. Adrian tried different companies, but none were much better. We toyed with the idea of staying another day, but with the van all loaded up with shopping, and our minds set on being home, we realised that we just had to pay up. We got tickets for the DFDS sailing, which was slightly cheaper, leaving at 1.30. This gave us time to eat our lunch - we had bought filled baguettes, as we thought this easier than preparing things in our over full van.
The boat journey was uneventful, but our journey home from Dover wasn’t!
We docked at 2 o’clock English time. Adrian wasn’t happy to be directed out of the port the way he didn’t want to go, and then incurred the wrath of an oncoming lorry driver as he turned around. We progressed alright to the M25, where we heard that there were problems. We weren’t enjoying the huge amount of traffic on English motorways, but all went well for a while, When we came to the expected queues of traffic, we turned off at Junction 11 and went through Chobham. Everything was fine at first, but then we came to solid traffic at Lightwater as we neared the junction to Bracknell on the M3, and there we stayed for over an hour! All the thoughts of what we would do first when we got home dwindled, and we wondered if we would ever get there at all! We had always envisaged arriving home in the light. Now we just wanted to get home! When we finally reached the M3 we abandoned Bracknell and went up through Camberley and Arborfield to Reading. It was at this point that we heard on the traffic news that the A329(M) was closed along with junction 10 on the M4 and Bracknell! How long does it take to become travel news?- it must have been like it for ages!
We finally arrived at 7 o’clock - 8 o’clock to us - it had taken 5 hours from Dover. We unloaded the essentials, then sat down with a drink and some supper while we sorted through 2 months post and phone messages. It had been a lovely time away.
53 Nights away - all free camping Total Mileage - 4842 miles