Friday 26 June 2015

The Journey Back: Algarve to East Midlands

Portugal, Spain and France, 15th – 20th January 2015

The Rock Incident

As we had to get back to the UK, on the 15th we finally started our long journey home.  We left the Aire on schedule after doing our water tanks, but things rapidly went downhill on our way out of Alvor.  We were driving down a fairly narrow road that had two lanes, but there was a box van coming the other way with very wide wing mirrors, so we moved to the side of the road to get out of its way.  In a fantastic stroke of bad luck, the one spot that we pulled to the side at also happened to
be the one spot where there was a large rock by the side of the road, which caught the van on the skirt below the habitation door.

After hearing the noise we pulled over in the next side road so that we could investigate the damage.  The side skirting under the door frame protrudes slightly more than the rest of the side skirt, which was just enough for the rock to catch and because it is plastic it had cracked and broken the front edge of it.  Luckily it was minor and the van was just a little cosmetically damaged, so we carried on our way.  However on our way to Portimão, there was a car behind that started flashing us.  We pulled over and they pulled in behind us, so Matt got out to see what they wanted.  It turns out that they were driving behind us when we hit the rock, and 2 smaller bits of rock had been dislodged into the road and punctured one of their tyres when they failed to avoid it.  In the time that we had been stopped, they had driven to a nearby garage and had two new tyres fitted at €100 (they had photos and a receipt to prove it). While we were on the road into Portimão they just so happened to be driving in the opposite direction having just left the garage, spotted us and then followed.  If it came down to insurance we possibly could have argued that it was their own fault for driving so closely behind that they didn’t have time to stop, but we didn’t want to have hassle down the line so we just paid for their tyres to have an end to it.

The Journey Home

As we were leaving Portugal, we experienced the first rainfall we had seen in the near three weeks we had been in the country – not bad for winter!  However we also experienced a problem with one of the vehicle rear lights, which was not resolved by changing the bulb.  We had been having problems with the a tail light intermittently not working through most of the trip and didn’t know what the cause was, so we had no choice but to keep going on route home with one of the lights out and hoping no-one stopped us (which they didn’t).   After getting home we discovered this was an electrical fault with one of the connections that would have been present when the wiring was connected up when the van was built, that has slowly made itself known over time (fixed when we were back in the UK for about £40).

Snow in the background...
Upon reaching Spain, the roads significantly improved, but the hospitality towards campers quickly declined.  The number of Aires was few and far between, and were either full, near busy main roads, or both.  Many had maximum 24 hour stay times.  However, as the fact that the Aires exist is still a massive improvement over what the UK has to offer, I guess we can’t really complain too much, especially since the Aires we were choosing to visit were free.  We stopped for the night at the Aire in Zafra which was part of a car park in the town. The next day we got a lot of distance covered travelling across Spain doing 444 miles and in places we travelled through rain and sleet, and saw gritter lorries on the road. On our second night we stayed in the Aire at the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, where Matt got talking to a British man in an older Laika, who was on his way back to the UK after touring with his partner and two young children for several months.  He said that the city itself was a nice place to visit, but as we had a lot of miles to cover to get home we didn’t have time to visit.

The roads around here were clear but we travelled past a lot of snowy mountains and there was some snow in some of the fields, which was one of the first times we had seen anything resembling wintery weather so far on our travels. We filled up on diesel just before crossing the border into France.

Montguyon Aire
On this day we had atrocious luck with avoiding toll roads – sometimes down to the Sat-Nav, and sometimes down to human error.  We somehow managed to accidentally go through four toll gates in one day.  The first three were only a couple of euros, but then we ended up on a new toll section of the N10 to Bordeaux, where the gate we entered charged us a whopping €15.62.  The traffic around Bordeaux was a little hectic with vehicles wandering all over, and with the rain coming down we didn’t get as far as we’d planned.  We eventually stopped at the small town of Montguyon, halfway between Bordeaux and Angouleme, for the evening.

Not quite to my tastes...
On the way past Angouleme, Petrolhead Matt saw a sculpture that he liked as it had a lot of classic cars running down a hand for some reason, so we stopped so he could take some pictures and had lunch.  Other than that not much really happened on this day other than slowly making our way north, stopping at Nogent-Le-Roi for the night between Chartres & Dreux. We found out from Matt’s parents that it had been snowing and there was an inch on the ground in Yorkshire; not the kind of news you want to hear when you’re going to enter the country in a big vehicle, but at least we were forewarned.

In Northern France we struggled to find water, as the Aire we were staying at had had the top of the tap removed, and other sites we visited to try and find water had had similar measures taken, presumably to stop the pipes freezing in the cold weather.  Because of this, we had to ration out our water supply on our last day (which meant no showers for me :( ), through the means of utilising a lot of baby wipes.

Near Rouen, we had a setback as we ended up stuck on a road that had standstill traffic.  There was an abundance of lorries around us, and we ended up stuck in one place for at least an hour or so without much movement.  We had been still for so long that we nearly ended up cooking dinner on the road, but as we got the kettle boiled the road started moving slowly again.  It turned out there was some kind of lorry protest going on, and there were lorries parked up blocking up the road.  There was a roundabout where someone had set up a stall serving water and food to protestors.  There were protestors blocking off the main exit to the roundabout, allowing cars and similar through but preventing any lorries from getting access.  When we went past, we found that there was a similar tailback in the opposite direction from the roundabout.

We tried several Aires en route to Calais to try and get some more water, but all of them had been
switched off.  After trying around four (including a service point which took our money but didn’t dispense anything), we gave up and parked up at Stella Plage for the night, around 45 minutes or so from our morning ferry.

Freezing over at Stella Plage Aire
We woke up in the morning to find the windscreen frozen and puddles covered in ice. When we were entering Calais, we noticed another significant tailback of lorries as we passed the entrance to the Eurotunnel, and another one again as we were approaching the port, and for a moment we were worried that we were going to miss our ferry as a result.  However we managed to get through it okay, and made it to the port.  There was a significant amount of immigrants on the roadside, some of which were in the process of being chased away by security.  Matt turned on the reverse camera and we kept a close eye on our surroundings, in case someone tried to hitch a ride on the van.  When we got to the check-in we had a customs man come inside the van and check the garage.  I asked him about the lorries and he said that there had been a fire on the Eurotunnel a few days ago that had caused a lot of setbacks.

When we were back in Dover, we noticed a significant amount of frost and a little snow in some of the fields, and we had a few flakes on our windscreen.  However the roads remained fine and when we got a little further inland, there were no problems.  We got back to my parents in Nottinghamshire around dinner time.  Not long after we arrived home, the snow started coming down and left a healthy coating, so it would seem we timed our return journey well!

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