Sunday 27 December 2015

Making Our Way Back to the UK

Spain and France, 1st – 5th December 2015

This post is a couple of weeks behind after I didn’t get it finished while on the ferry back to England due to our crossing being in terrible sea conditions during Storm Desmond; more on that in the next post. Back in the UK we didn’t stop getting on with working through our list of jobs and had my PhD graduation to attend, so we’re catching up to resume normal service again now we’re back on the road.

Back to where we left off...With being in northern Spain we’d been thinking we would get a ferry from Bilbao or Santander to Portsmouth for the convenience, less driving and less mileage covered, but in the end decided we couldn’t face paying the extra cost. I set up a spreadsheet to calculate the fuel and ferry costs for the alternative routes, which showed that even with the extra fuel to travel 700-odd more miles up through France it was projecting the cost to be basically £200 less to go via Dover or Dunkirk. Putting it another way it would’ve cost over twice as much, and it would have used up one week’s worth of our budget each way, which realistically should cover two weeks living costs down in Portugal in winter. So by doing the Dover route both ways will effectively mean we can afford an extra two weeks to a month’s travel! Additionally we’d only be losing about a day in extra travelling, aiming to get across France in two days. This therefore is the option we went with, so the majority of this five day period was spent travelling north.

Leaving three days to get across France in case of delays meant we had two to travel back across northern Spain, so we decided to do about half the distance each day and see a bit of some places along the way in the process. In Guitiriz we had a very cold start to the day at only 2.5°C outside, the lowest we’ve seen for a long time, so we didn’t want to get out of bed. The fountain in the park area next to the Aire was frozen and had workmen come out to get it operational again. It was gone midday by the time we got on the road in dull and foggy conditions which soon cleared into sunny skies as we lost altitude. We made good progress cruising at 85 km/h along the free Autovia dual carriageways. The only hold up was following a “Convoy Exceptionale” for a while on a single carriageway road that was slowly transporting a section of large concrete channel. We made use of the some of the travelling time, and also on the following days, to listen to a couple of financial education and personal development audiobooks that Julie and Jay had set us up with, which we found interesting and got us thinking and giving us ideas for our future plans post travel.

We stopped for the night at an Aire at Carrion de los Condes (GPS: 42.33808 -4.60770, Free inc. serv. pt.) which is a town on the Santiago pilgrimage route. In the morning we had a walk across the old bridge into the town for a look around. The first part we passed through was dead with nobody about, but then when we approached the centre there was plenty of people around the cobbled streets and squares where there are some shops and bars. We saw a set of 24 hour vending machines with a small undercover seating area for pilgrims, which sold food including burgers and mini pizzas!

Getting away at about 12pm we continued on to Burgos where we had a short stop to fill up on LPG while in Spain where it is reasonable (€0.598/l), before picking up the route north that we’ve done several times before. For the night we headed to an Aire near to San Sebastian at Errenteria (GPS: 43.26759 -1.90091, Free inc serv. pt.) which is a quiet rural picnic spot. Approached along narrowish roads that we had to overhang the centreline to fit along, we found the two designated motorhome bays after a few minutes looking around the two parking areas in the dark.

In preparation for entering France where we had trouble finding service points with the water on last winter on the way through, and so that we wouldn’t have to pay for it, we used the free service point to empty/fill all our tanks. A short way along the road we spotted an Alcampo (Spanish Auchan) supermarket fuel station with diesel at €0.91/l (64p), the cheapest we’ve had, so filled up on fuel too. There was some traffic at the border in Irun where French police were manning it with a checkpoint presumably following the recent Paris terrorist attacks. Most vehicles were getting waved through though with just the occasional one stopped and the driver spoken to.

Over the border progress was slower with all the 50 km/h limits through towns and villages, and loads of roundabouts along the main roads. It highlighted how good the Spanish road network is as we averaged 77 km/h travelling across northern Spain, while up through France the average was just 63 km/h despite cruising 5 km/h faster. We had a good run up the A63 (turning off to avoid the Péage section) and N10 though, getting 7.5 hours driving in at good economy with over 30 mpg on the OBC. We pretty much spent two full days travelling up through France with fuel consumption suffering a bit on the second day with the wind having picked up.

Looking for somewhere to spend the first night we found an Aire in Vivonne in our French Aires book, which when navigating to it the sat nav initially took us to a height barrier. After turning around to try approaching from the other side while passing through the village centre we spotted a motorhome parked up so joined it in a two bay Aire in the central car park (GPS: 46.42610 0.26300, Free, Pay serv. pt.).

We didn’t get quite as far as planned on the second travel day so stopped at another free Aire en route for the night, this time in the village of St. Saire near Neufchâtel-en-Bray. Neufchâtel looked a nice place lit up with Christmas lights in the evening, but we didn’t stop as it was getting on. Arriving in the dark at the Aire (GPS: 49.69713 1.49485, Free, Pay serv. pt.) at first we weren’t sure where to park, before noticing a sign saying camping-cars could park on the grass next to where the service point is located at the edge of a restaurant’s car park. With the ground being wet I was conscious of possibly getting stuck so kept moving on the grass looking for a strategic parking position. I spotted a hard standing area at the back but drove onto it to see a sign saying it was a Petanque court!

On our last day we detoured via le Touquet-Paris-Plage to visit a motorhome dealer to look at a Rapido van conversion with a mostly similar layout to one we’ve been starting to plan out recently for our future van. Luckily they had one in the showroom that we had a good look around to visualise how it would work out. Later in the day, after filling up our diesel tank in Gravelines to last us as long as possible before having to buy expensive British fuel we headed to a beach parking spot at Oye-Plage (GPS: 50.99675 2.04238), which was only about 25 mins away from Dunkirk for our ferry in the morning.

It was very cold out and the wind was picking up. Before the light went completely I went for a walk to look at the beach which turned out to be quite a long way due to having to follow boardwalks over the protected sand dunes to a beach access point. In a channel running through the dunes there were loads of bunches of bananas along the water line and more on the beach itself, presumably a ship has lost some of its cargo nearby recently. There’s a huge sandy beach here that looks to go on for miles, it would be a nice spot to come in better weather. I should’ve gone out with a hat on because my head got cold from the wind chill by the time I got back to the camper, so much so I wore two woolly hats for the rest of the evening to try to get it warmed up again! By bedtime the wind was strong, whipping the bike cover about and rocking the van. Jo couldn’t sleep so had a look on DFDS’s website to see what might happen with our crossing, and found that all crossings were delayed at that time so we might’ve been in for being setback.

That’s enough for now so I’ll cover the crossing in the next post.

- Matt

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