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Autumn 2011 Portugal

Fri 2nd Sept

Left the house at 10 am, to catch the 1440 Sea France ferry from Dover. Got there with an hour to spare and had lunch in the queue. Motor caravans were loaded last, after all the lorries, and we were right at the back of the vessel, behind a German van behind the central island. Smooth crossing. As we sat in the van waiting to disembark, the lorry queue on one side moved forward. We would have jumped in behind them, to save waiting until everything else had gone, but was blocked in by the German. I suggested they drop in behind the lorries, but was told “we are waiting for instructions”. I said “just do it!” The German lady passenger repeated “just do it”, grinned, and away they went. So after thinking we'd be there hours we were off quite quickly.

Ashore, we turned right for the first time for years, and headed for Normandy, eventually dropping at  an aire de camping car at Le Croloy, on the Baie de Somme. It's by a sandy beach, so was quite full. Costs €5 pn. We walked along the sand in to the town, which does appear to be one long promenade. The tide is out, so the water is miles away! 

Miles So Far (MSF) 250

Sat 3rd Sept

Left by 0900, following Sally's route towards Fontevraud L'Abbeye: A28 (a very pleasant road, good dual carriageway, little traffic, nice views) through Rouen, South on D836, Evereux, Dreux, Vernuil-s-A, D941, At La Madeleine Bouvet, beside a nice lake, there is a camping car dump. A lovely spot, but is unclear whether overnighting is permitted, so we moved on after a couple of hours. As we reached Nogent le Rotrou it started to rain, and the skies were black, so we made for one of the aires there (actually a car park in the square). As we pulled in the heavens opened, with a thunderstorm overhead.

MSF 417

Sun 4th Sept

More rain overnight, but drying up by the morning, and even brightening up. Several heavy showers during the drive to Fontevraude (Now rebranded as Fontevraude l'Abbe after the old prison was refurbished as the abbey it originally was.) The aire at Fontevraude has been moved to a small car park beside a brand new residential area, with tiny places for vans. There is water there, and grey water emptying, but no loo disposal. Over lunch, more heavy rain, but then the sun and bright blue skies as we visited the abbey. It certainly is magnificent, and was where Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry II, and Richard the Lionheart were buried. Their tombs are there but the bodies were disinterred during the vandalism of the French Revolution.

Late afternoon we headed south again, past Poitiers to a rather nice aire at Chateau Larcher. It even has electric hook up (but not enough, as we discovered, to boil a kettle without tripping. Fine for fridge and battery charging though). Costs €3 if you use the facilities, to be put in the Mairie letter box. Excellent value! The village is tiny, and has the remains of a castle.

2 other vans turned up - a French couple in a Slovenian van, a Dutch couple in a German van, and we Brits in a French van.

MSF 584

Mon 5th Sept

A long drive to Spain today, so left by 0900. Most of the trip was on the N10, a long straight dual carriageway. It all went well until we got to Bayonne & Biarritz, where  the traffic was horrendous, stop-start nose to tail for an hour and a half! Eventually we made it into Spain, where the queues continued. We were heading for an aire south of San Sebastian, at Astigastiarraga. Sally tried taking us on some very convoluted routes. We travelled one very narrow and steep track for ½ mile, but gave up when it went into a farm, reversing a couple of hundred yards before we could turn. Eventually we found it, after following a VERY slow moving tractor that was determined not to pull in to let people past. GPS N43 16.076' W001 54.071'

MSF 861

Tues 6th Sept

Awoke at 7, and it's still pitch black outside. Good bunkering facilities here. We are heading for Santallana del Mare, and Sally found us a route avoiding toll roads. We thought it would be a difficult road through the mountains, but in fact it wasn't too bad at all.

First stop was the Cuevas del Castillo, about 10 miles from Santallana. This limestone cave has 20,000 year old cave paintings, including several outlines of a hand. The tour was all in Spanish, but a few of the other tourists translated for us. Worth a visit. Whilst we were waiting for the ticket office to open (closed for Spanish lunchtime: 2-4) an American tour arrived, with an American guide. It seems that Americans aren't always aware that Europeans also understand English, as he spent 10 minutes belittling European guides, and the way they conduct tours.

We attempted to find a Romanesque church nearby, but after Sally tried to take us down impossible roads and round impossibly sharp corners we gave up and continued to Santallana. Lonely Planet describes this as a gem of a medieval town – and indeed it is. Cobbled streets, lovely old buildings, touristy without any of the usual tourist tat. We spent the night in the car park – also cobbled, just outside the town wall. Parking is only €2.

Wifi hotspots are available free, login details from tourist information offices. Very useful

MSF 1032

Wed 7th Sept

Another trip into town, for most of the morning, for Rosemary to paint some of the lovely historic buildings, and to catch up on the BBC & Guardian news, and email. Who knows when we'll get it again? Bought some bread, but so far Spanish bread has proved nothing special. However it is good to buy decent coffee at a reasonable price. Cafe solo, a cappuccino and a pastry only set us back €4, and it was good coffee.

Thence a dash along the excellent motorway (good surface, empty, scenic, and free!) to Cordillera, an attractive fishing port 120 miles to the west. Our first attempt took us down a steep and narrow hill, to be met by a “no motorhomes” sign. On the way out we found the way we should have gone in, to the west of the town, which takes you down to the large quay, where there is overnight parking and an easy walk into town. It really is a lovely little fishing village, with quite a few active boats, and a town largely set up for Spanish tourists, but nicely. The restaurants looked good – but we baulked at €30 each for a shellfish meal, without wine. (Later observation of the dish indicated VAST amounts of protein – more than we eat in a week!)

MSF 1157

Thurs 8th Sept

During the night we  were woken by a group of youths talking and shouting, with the obvious intention of annoying us (“us” being several motorhomes). They eventually moved off, noisily, but then we were kept awake by loudly squeaking bed springs in the Dutch van adjacent to us. They still weren't up when we left in the morning – and I'm not surprised!

Yesterday we noticed a tunnel near the town, a stream with narrow walkways either side. The tunnel was lit (just) and people were coming and going. So this morning I went to investigate, following the tunnel until the lights ended. The tunnel continued, but without lights. Here there were stairs, and I popped out in a residential area of the town, surprisingly high up. It is obviously used as a shortcut to the fishing port – I exchanged holas with one fisherman going the other way.

This has been a good place to overnight, or longer, And vans rolled up quite late (like midnight)

First stop was Plaie de Silenzio, which Lonely Planet raved about. The views were good, but pretty disappointing as a beach – and the road to it and the parking were difficult, to say the least! Then on to Busto Faro (lighthouse), which  we also found disappointing.

Next, we planned to drive up a scenic ride, along the Val de Navia, to Lugo. However, although this was a good road, it was very twisty. Also Lugo turned out to be 70 miles away, so we returned to the coast. There is a good bunkering aire (fresh water, waste disposal) beside the hospital at Burela. Very useful, but not somewhere you'd want to spend the night. We had our eye on an advertised aire at Port de Bares, 25 miles further on. I had now spent much of the day driving on difficult roads, and was hot & sticky, so was not best pleased when we got to Bares to discover a big new sign banning overnighting by motorhomes. This seems to apply to all ports in Galicia. So back on the road again, and we are currently holed up beside the beach at Orteguira.

MSF 1323

Fri 9th Sept

A quiet night. A good place to overnight.(N43 42' 00” W 7 51' 41”) After a walk on the beach/nature reserve, we set off for the Cabo Ortegal, where there is quite a scenic lighthouse. Then a narrow but scenic drive down the coast road – some steep hills here. We were less successful at reaching the lighthouse at Cabo Candieira – thick fog took visibility down to only a few yards, in a narrow road with undefined edges. We drove on for at least a mile before we could turn round.

Now to head to Corunna. We visited 10 years ago and loved it to bits. Now there are a couple of aires. The official one has all the bunkering facilities, but had an air of dilapidation, despite being purpose built. It was also some distance from the town. And to cap it all, the adjacent car park had 2 wrecked and overturned cars in it. So time to move on to the unofficial aire at Tore del Hercules, right on the western end of the isthmus. Spectacular, but also spectacularly busy. It took 3 circuits of the car park before we found a place to park. (free parking)

A walk into the old city, to see again the burial place of Sir John Moore, killed in action in 1809 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Moore_(British_Army_officer)), and about which there is a famous poem. It is a nice quiet garden in a prime location. Back at the car park, cars and vans continued to jostle for space until about 9 pm, and by the morning there were only motorhomes in the car park.

During the day we did a shop up at a supermarket. Attempting to pay by credit card, I was asked for my passport, which was back in the van. She seemed quite happy to accept my North Dorset bus pass, however!

MSF 423

Sat 10th Sept

Awoke to a fine morning, which soon turned to rain. It eased off by mid morning, and we walked around the long promenade that forms the perimeter of the isthmus on which Corunna is situated, into the old shopping streets. As we passed the port a large cruise ship was docking, and soon the town was full of passengers – they were easy to spot, small groups of English speakers wearing “cruise rig” and looking bemused and lost. (Actually, that could be us too, except for the cruise rig!)

Lots of restaurants, but none had the menus in English, and the Spanish menus meant absolutely nothing to us as we had left our dictionary in the van. Luckily we found a waitress whose English was excellent, who told us exactly what the menu choices were.

Sun 11th Sept

Rain! Left fairly earlyish, via the bunkering at the other aire  Then, head down the coast.  Sally took us down some fairly narrow roads to avoid the toll motorway. Lunch on the quayside at Laxe, before heading for the beach Praia de Trabo, where we think we wild camped 10 years ago – but it has to be said we don't recognise it! A lovely spot. But some very narrow roads to get to it. Long sandy beach, huge Atlantic surf, and almost deserted (but it is raining!) N43 11'36” W9 02' 16”. We can still get BBC Radio 4 on Long Wave (just)

MSF 1485

Mon 12th Sept

A damp morning, but it brightened up later. We followed the Spindrift walk into Laxa (is a native of Laxa known as a Laxative?), and back the same way. A splendid walk along a lovely coast, a 9 mile round trip.

Back at the van, we got talking to another pair of Brits, who, it turns out, come from Weymouth, only 40 miles from Shaftesbury. A small world. (www.janwalkerartist.co.uk )

Tues 13th Sept

Rain! We didn't come to Spain for rain! But at least we were in the dry – the 3 young German surfers travelling in a small car and sleeping outside in their bags were not so lucky!

The location has all the usual bunkering facilities, so after that we moved on to Camelle, a few miles away. We came here 10 years ago, and visited the weird “Aleman Museum”, a collection of stone sculptures put together by a German who lived on site in only a loin cloth, charging tourists a euro to come in. He died in 2002 after a tanker disaster spilled crude oil over his sculptures. We returned to pay our respects, and see what was left of his life's work (he started in 1962, when I was only 15). It is still there, but gradually decaying. The small hut he lived in has had the floor and roof collapsed, and sculptures are beginning to come apart.

Camelle itself was pretty depressing – there are scarcely any shops,  the grocer had only a few items in, and almost all the bars were closed. Camarinas, our next port of call, was completely different. A good sized working port, large fishing boats, hotels, bars and a few supermarkets. We are spending the night on the quayside.

MSF 515

Wed 14th Sept

Turned into a very hot day! That came as a surprise after the recent gloom. A quiet night, and another van turned up about midnight and parked beside us. Drove to Cape Finisterre, via Muxia. Three good supermarkets all in a row at Cee- fresh milk at last – tea made with UHT tastes horrible! (Ultra Horrible Taste)

Finisterre is where the pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela normally end the walk, by burning their sweaty underwear beside the lighthouse. Lots of visitors here, and we considered spending the night here, but moved back to the beach at Fistera.

MSF 555

Thurs 15th Sept

A short hop down the coast, to our first campsite this trip (well, we need a washing machine!)to an ACSI site near Muros, Camping A Bouga (€11 pn). Whilst we were doing the washing, and over a late lunch, the sun was red hot. Then when went to the sandy beach attached to the site, thick fog came over and it got quite chilly – rather a waste of the little informal nudist beach!

MSF 1585

Fri 16th Sept

On the road again. This was just about the end of the Cote de Morte, which despite its name has been pleasant and unspoilt. From here until Portugal we found the coast extensively developed, and mostly unpleasant. The motorway is a peage, so we avoided that. An aire at Boiro that our directory of aires said was good was actually not very pleasant, and cost €6, so we carried on to within a mile or two of the Portuguese border, to a very small aire at Tui, with a good view of the old town.

In the evening we walked in to town. It's a gem of a town, with a lovely cathedral, and other nice old buildings. It was a balmy evening, and there were lots of families promenading, children playing – just lovely! And today we saw our 2nd Spanish lady carrying a large basket on her head. No hint of trepidation, just confidently strolling along.

MSF 1711

Sat 17th Sept

We enjoyed the town last night so much, we returned this morning, but almost nothing was open except the cathedral.

After using the bunkering facilities, we moved on into Portugal, but only half a mile or so, to the citadel at Velenca de Minho. This fortress withstood sieges even in the 18th century, and is quite a gem, a city within the ramparts, mostly selling cheap linen, but well worth a visit. The cobbled streets came as a shock to Tilly's suspension, but luckily these gave way to tarmac outside of the city.

We followed the Minho inland, and then set off to find Camping Lamas de Mouro at (wait for it) Lamas de Mouro, in the Peneda National Park. This turned out to be shady site set amongst trees, obviously aimed at tents as much as motorhomes and caravans. We were surprised to find the site is at 900 metres, almost 3000 ft, so the air felt fresh. After an afternoon walk, and as we were cooking dinner, a Portuguese coach arrived, disgorging about 60 people, of ages ranging from a few months to 80 or so. They scurried about in their family groups, and within an hour there was a tent city, and food was being eaten. There appeared to be no central organisation, like ants, they just got on with it – very impressive.

The bar has free wifi

MSF 1756

Sun 18th Sept

Woken at 7 am by noise of campers striking tents. Then, tents struck, about 2/3 of them disappeared at 8 am. At 9.30 the rest got on their coach and disappeared into the sunrise. It transpires the Sanctuary of Ste Penada is 8 Km away, a noted place of pilgrimage in September. We assume that the earlier group set off to walk to a 10 am mass, and the rest went by bus. At lunchtime, the nearby picnic area was awash with picnickers, and there were at  least 2 rival piano-accordionists playing local music to which a number of girls were dancing.

It is bitterly cold today, even in the sun, with a keen wind. After lunch we set off to follow a marked trail – we ad been given a tiny map in the tourist information office yesterday. The first half was fine, and I left Rosemary painting the scenery. In the second half of the walk I found only one waymark, lots of fierce dogs, and lost the path several times. Each time I had to return to the fierce dogs, and was not in the mood to retreat from them. Once again, pretending to pick up a stone sent them running. 2 hours later Rosemary also lost the path at the same place, but luckily the dogs were then absent.

Mon 19th Sept

By Golly, that was a cold night!

The site cost €31 for 2 nights. The bread we ordered last night failed to materialise before we left at 9.30. We travelled only8 Km or so to the Sanctuary of Ste Penada, the site of yesterday's pilgrimage. It's an impressive church, with a very impressive set of steps leading up to it. It's not that old, 17th & 18th century. Apparently the image of “The Virgin” was seen in a cave nearby. Being quite early, the place was almost deserted, except for 3 Portuguese motorhomes that had obviously spent the night there.

Following some spectacular (but not difficult) mountain roads, we came to Ponte da Barca which, as its name suggests, is beside a river (Rio Lima). This is quite a large town, and very pleasant. An old bridge (Ponte), stacks of easy parking, very pleasant parks, gardens and riverside walks. (None of the shops had fresh milk to make a decent cup of tea. Perhaps the nearby Intermarche will have some tomorrow)

The plan is to eat in town, and spend the night in one of the spacious riverside car parks.

In fact we had a very nice meal for €25 – an excellent and large steak for me, and 3 whiting fillets for Rosemary, and a carafe of a very nice Minho red – and they had a good wifi connection, too. Other vans stayed on the car park nearer the town, but moved to a large and empty car park overlooking the river, for a very peaceful night. We like Ponte da Barca very much, a very pleasant town.

MSF 1793

Tues 20th Sept

Picked up email and BBC news by sitting outside last night's restaurant. The large green parrot in a cage in an upstairs balcony whistling at me, and making loud comments in Portuguese, was slightly off-putting. Then on to a reasonable sized Intermarche on the edge of town. We narrowly avoided being led into their underground car park, and did a big shop, mainly of fruit & veg, but also fresh milk, which is difficult to find. It was very short dated, but I bought 2 litres anyway.

Then on a few miles to Ponte da Lima. This is an historic town, with a long bridge that is partly Roman, but is very touristy and nowhere near as nice as Ponte da Barca. As we drove in we passed long lines of tractors with trailers bearing huge casks of grapes, obviously delivering to a co-op. Later we set off on foot to investigate, and found the queues of tractors were MUCH longer than we thought, and moving very slowly. We reckoned a farmer would be lucky to deliver his harvest in less than 3 hours, and no doubt he would have to go back and collect another load. Being nosy, we investigated where the grapes were being taken. And it was an incredibly slow, tedious and inefficient process. Trailers would be weighed, then each cask of grapes was sampled by one guy with a large auger type thing, presumably to check quality and sugar content. Then the tractor driver would take the load to the next stage, where each cask is lifted off the trailer and tipped into a hopper. An auger type mechanism draws the grapes further into the machinery. Two machines were in operation, and in the 10 minutes we were watching, both of them broke down. Meanwhile, the long queue of tractors and trailers waited in the sun. I think I'll stick to drinking wine, not creating it! So after lunch by the river at Ponte da Lima (where, incidentally, it looks as if several vans will be spending the night) it was on the road again to Bom Jesus, a shrine with a spectacular staircase near Braga. Camperstop claims there is an aire here, in a car park, and there are quite a few French vans obviously travelling in convoy. (Safety in numbers, don't you know!) We plan to spend the night here too.

Bom Jesus is one of Portugal's prime tourist sites, and we were rather disappointed by the state of disrepair of much of it. The aire is right at the bottom of the steps, and there are 561 steps up to the shrine (I counted). The car park at the bottom is quite small, and quite empty, so I'm sure there is a large car park near the top.

MSF 1828

Wed 21st Nov

A quiet night, apart from owls and the occasional acorn dropping on the roof. Altogether there were 7 French vans and us there overnight.

A short drive, 5 miles or so, to the large Celtic settlement at Citania de Briteiros (300BC-100AD). A large number of stone hut circles, paved roads, water conduit, and a resident friendly dog. Only €3 each admission.

Then on to Guimares, quite a large city with a medieval heart. Parking wasn't easy, and later on we discovered there is a large, flat and mostly empty car park by the castle – ideal for motorhomes. It is quite a touristy town, and there are stacks of restaurants. We had an excellent lunch in one of the squares for  €18.

Now the fun begins. We planned to spend a few nights at a campsite near Porto, only 45 miles away. We set Sally the co-ordinates, asked to avoid toll charges, and followed her route. Unfortunately her maps are now 5 years old. Motorways that were toll free now not only have tolls, but you can only pay by obtaining in advance an electronic card, and loading it with Euros. You have to load a minimum of €50, and if you don't use them all you don't get a refund. A good wheeze there, then! Anyway, we didn't have such a card, which meant we had to avoid the motorways that Sally kept directing us onto. On several occasions we got completely lost, because our Michelin map had insufficient detail. At last we got to Porto, but then had to find the only non motorway bridge over the river Douro. This was finally accomplished by stopping at a taxi rank and asking a taxi driver. So, several hours after leaving  Guimares we arrived at the Orbiter campsite south of Oporto, at Madelena. Good free wifi here, €15 with an ACSI card (expensive otherwise)

MSF 1190

Thurs 22nd Sept

There's a bus into Porto every half hour from just outside the site, which takes about 45 minutes and goes through some of the narrowest streets with high walls on either side that you can imagine! And most of the streets are cobbled.

We loved Porto, the whole ambience is lovely. Grand buildings, statues, the station is a tiled jewel. We walked over the high level bridge, and back. This gave me serious vertigo and I couldn't go near the edge. On the far side of the Douro are all the Port lodges, most still with British names (Port, like Champagne, being largely a British invention, it seems). An excellent meal in a restaurant overlooking the Douro.

Fri 23rd Sept

Into Porto again, another uncomfortable bus ride. This time we got off on the other side of the river at Vila Nova de Gaia This area is where all the Port wine lodges are, almost all set up for guided tours and tastings, some free and some costing €4. Most were set up by the English in the 17th century, and there has been a huge English influence in the city. We chose to visit the Taylors lodge, partly because it was free. A fascinating tour, which explained a lot of the mysteries to me, followed by a sampling of a dry white Port (“Chip Dry”) (but still sweet compared to a white table wine)  and a “Late Bottled Vintage”. Real vintage, apparently, is bottled after on 2 years and matures in the bottle. LBV matures in the cask, where it matures quicker, and is massively cheaper than real vintage. (€12 cf €40 plus). Taylors is also selling 150 year old vintage Port – a snip at only €2350! I also learnt that real vintage Port should be drunk within 48 hours, or you lose the vintage benefits.

We took the lift from the river level up to the top of the city – it is quite steep and a long way! Then wandered the streets again. A Must See is Livrario Lello, a bookshop established over 100 years ago, and beautifully decorated, with a most unusual staircase. A great selection of art books, too. Unfortunately photography is prohibited, and you get sudden influxes of coach parties. Why is that coach parties always seem so bad mannered, no matter what the nationality? Pushing and shoving, ignoring customers and staff, and talking loudly and ignorantly!

And back at the site, use of the washing machine and tumble drier. Expensive here, but needs must.

Sat 24th Sept

Itchy feet – time to move on. Another battle with Sally, who kept trying to put us on motorways. I'm sure some of the motorways are free, but there's no way of knowing in advance, and it is illegal to drive on without the new fangled electronic card that you have to buy elsewhere. No wonder the towns and cities are clogged with traffic! Our plan is to follow the Douro up into the wine growing area. Eventually we made it Pala, just below Ribadouro, and stopped on an esplanade by the Douro. Rosemary saw a kingfisher in the reeds beside us, but needless to say it had gone by the time I had turned to see it.  N 41 6' 6” W8 5' 29”

MSF 1951

Sun 25th Sept

A quiet night, except for an owl screeching right outside. Topped up with water from a constantly running tap, and carried on up the Douro. The road (N222) that we thought from the map would run right beside the water actually runs a good 700 foot above the river, and the views are spectacular.

By early afternoon we had reached Lamego, where there is supposed to be an aire. After a couple of circuits of the town, when Sally tried to take us through gardens, pedestrian precincts and footpaths, we found the aire (just a car park, N41 5' 41 W7 48' 40”) ¾ mile from where Sally thought it was!

Lamego is much bigger than we expected, with a cathedral, (small), castle, and yet another fancy staircase for pilgrims to ascend on their knees.

MSF 1987

Mon 26th Sept

Well we had to walk the staircase, and at least it's fairly cool first thing. To our surprise there are 606 steps, more than Bom Jesus, which is twice as high, but BJ has a lot of slope, too.

Next stop, Amarante. It isn't far, but the roads are so difficult it took us 3 hours. It must be a descent of 1000 ft to the Douro, then a similar ascent the other side, with bends at least every 100 yards. We did find LPG at Marco Canaveses – useful as we had just emptied one cylinder, and LPG can be hard to find. We had used 22 litres in 3 weeks, so now we should have enough to get home. In any case, it is readily available in France.

When we got to Amarante, Sally took us over an historical bridge, and at the end traffic was directed right through a narrow gap. There is no way we would have got Tilly round the corner, and as we pondered what to do, a guy waved us through the pedestrian precinct, being stared at as we went. A long circuit of the town, and we got back to the other side of the narrow opening. We parked in a car park nearby overlooking the river Tamega. (The advantage of arriving in a town at lunch time, most people have gone home for lunch and there are spaces in the car parks.)

Failed dismally in finding a wifi connection, but the car park (around a market building, and closed for markets on Weds & Sats) does have a loo, so the cassette could be emptied.

MSF 2042

Tues 27th Sept

The car park didn't start to get used until after 8.30, by which time I had topped up the fresh water from the taps in the market. Drove via Pasa de Regua to Pinhao, a small town on the Douro, and parked on the quayside. The waterfront is quite touristy, but the town seems quite poor away from this area. We took  2 ½ hour boat trip up to Tua, in a replica port wine barge (barquo rabelo). This part of the Douro, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is only visible from boat or railway, as there are no roads. Cost €20 each.

When we got back two large floating hotels had berthed alongside us, blocking both our view and the cooling breeze. There were about a million wifi signals to connect to from the ship, but they all required purchased logon details. Luckily, a bar nearby had free wifi, although I couldn't quite get it in the van.

MSF 2081

Wed 28th Sept

Rather a noisy night, and we woke to rain! We didn't come to Portugal for rain! We had planned to catch the train to Pocinho, to see the upper Douro, but instead decided to go an see the vineyard that had been exhibiting at the Grahams Port Lodge, Quinta do Panascal, belonging to the Port shipper Fonseca. This was only a few miles away.

Problem! The light rain, the first rain for months, had made the granite cobbles very slippery. The way out from the quayside where we spent the night was up a narrow cobbled street, with 2 blind & sharp right angle bends, immediately under a narrow rail bridge then up a steep cobbled street to join the main road through the town. We got as far as the hill, but could not get any traction at all, and slid back down. Luckily a) we managed to avoid sliding into the wall, giving us some room to manoeuvre, and b) no traffic came in either direction. We were able to reverse all the way back to the quay without further incident.

Back at the quay, we looked for another way out. One more road was even more risky, heading into a maze of side streets. Another petered out into a footpath. There was a route along the quay and out the other end, but this was chained in 2 places to form a pedestrian precinct. Upon investigation, although the chains were locked, they could be easily unhooked. And this is what we did. This is the second time in 3 days we've had to drive through a pedestrian precinct to get out of trouble.

So when we got to the quinta, we baulked at the steep cobbled drive, parked at the bottom, and walked up. The tour consisted of a personal player,  with a very lucid and interesting commentary about Port, wine, grapes, the Douro, and I now know what the differences are between the various Ports. (At least, I did this afternoon, by tomorrow it will have evaporated.)

More Port sampling, and we splashed out on a variety of bottles of Port.

Back at Pinhao for the late afternoon and night. We learnt the lesson from this morning, and headed for the other end of the quay.  Whilst avoiding a road sweeper we managed to clip the high level rear light fitting, the one that sticks out and is guaranteed to get swiped off somewhere. We didn't stop for it, because it was a difficult place, and carried on. The road sweeper however walked a couple of hundred yards to deliver us the remains. People round here are very kind!

MSF 2102

Thurs 29th Sept

Having moved to the other end of the quay, we had expected a quieter night. We hadn’t reckoned on the local bar (the one we get free wifi from) playing Rolling Stones CDs loudly at 3 a.m.

Woke to a lovely morning, and took the train to Pocinho. The little train follows the Douro, and you get views you can't get by any other means. At least, you would if the windows had been cleaned in the last few weeks! But it did cost only €8 each return, and Pinhao station is quite a little gem on its own. When we were waiting a coach load of Germans arrived to take photos of its tiles.

Pocinho is Portuguese for “Pokey Little Hole”, or if it isn't, it should be! To call it a one horse town would insult the horse. There is even a derelict tank engine with weeds growing through it. But we went for the trip, not the destination.

Back in time for lunch, outside on the nice picnic tables provided. I managed to trip, and broke one of our Portmeirion dinner plates. Ah well.

On the road again, heading for Coimbra. This is a bigger jump than we have been used to recently. We took the N222, which goes up, and up, and up, until it seems you're on top of the world. The views are spectacular. Then south on the N102 and N17. Much of this road is brand new, very fast and easy. We were making good time until about 15 miles from Coimbra, when we joined the end of a long and very slow moving queue, that was diverted off the fast new road onto, presumably, the old road, which wound through village after village, at snail's pace. So we reset Sally, and headed for an aire by the convent at Lorvao. This has a signed motorhome dump for bunkering - always good.

MSF 2240

Fri 30th Sept

A quiet night, except for the cockerel! I am loath to complain too much about cockerels – they remind me of the city dweller who moved to the rural village of Henstridge a few years ago. A neighbour had cockerels, and he obtained a noise abatement order against the owner, meaning they would have to be destroyed. The news set the whole village against him, and youths & old ladies would stand outside of his window going “cock-a doodle-do”, After a week or two of that he cancelled the order, and complained about being victimised – so I'm not complaining about cockerels doing what cockerels do!

Back down the hill, and finished the remaining 15 miles into Coimbra. Whatever the traffic problem was last night, it seems to have been fixed. A note for motor-homers, we noticed a petrol station selling LPG on the Coimbra ring road. Nearby we stopped at a Pingo supermarket and did a large shop up. OK, quite a lot of that was Port. Then on to the aire at Coimbra. This is over the river from the old city, but connected by a pedestrian bridge. Max stay 24 hours, and there is bunkering.

Coimbra is certainly the nicest city or town we've visited in Portugal. It doesn't have the interest of Porto, but it has some grand university buildings, and is just very pleasant.

The university buildings are open to the public, at a charge of €5, but this is poor value for money. You get to see an old and very ornate library, but most of it is roped off. The price includes the chapel, but that wasn't exceptional, given how great many of the churches and cathedrals are. The cafe next to the cathedral, Cafe Santa Cruz, has free wifi, and worth seeing architecturally (and makes superb cappuccino). Microsoft Security Essentials has decided that It doesn't like Google Chrome, and won't let me run it. I don't know if this is a genuine threat, or a false alarm. Luckily Internet Explorer and Firefox are working fine.

I also managed to buy some large tap connectors, to fit the large taps we keep running into when we need to fill the water tank.

MSF 2258

Sat 1st Oct

Before we left for Batalha, I had a long chat with a Portuguese guy (Henrique) who had been instrumental in the recent setting up of a Portuguese Camping car association. He says that new aires are opening every week, and to look at www.campingcarportugal.com to see info about them. Useful stuff.

Took the IC2 (non motorway) to Batalha (effectively, “Battle Abbey”, just like ours near Hastings). We passed 2 LPG outlets on the way, both Repsol. The first is fairly close to Coimbra.

The aire at Batalha has full bunkering facilities, although you pay for water. The abbey costs €6 to go in, half price if over 65. Well worth a visit, spectacular Manueline architecture, and the tombs of Joao & his English wife Phillipa of Lancaster – the origin of our long standing alliance with Portugal. Also their son Henry the Navigator, who set the scene for Portugal's prosperity. Joao's army was outnumbered 6 to 1 by the Castilian army, and inflicted a crushing defeat. As Henrique said this morning, “it was our Agincourt”. Joao made a personal pact with the BVM that if he won he would build an abbey – so I guess this makes the BVM a mercenary! What if he'd been outbid by the Castilian king? The display board aid he had 6000 men, and a couple of hundred English soldiers.

Later: We've just looked the battle up on Google. It seems Joao had not just “a couple of hundred English soldiers”, but a hundred English longbow men, fresh from their success at Crecy. The Castilians were supported by the French, so you would have thought they would have understood about longbows! The same tactics that devastated the French at Crecy, devastated the Castilian infantry & French cavalry here. Agincourt was still in the future, when the French failed again to understand the power of the longbow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Aljubarrota

Whilst Rosemary was in the abbey sketching, a full wedding took place, with choir, orchestra – the works. But tourists continued to wander round. And the acoustics are brilliant for music, but there is so much echo the priest's words were unintelligible. (i.e. not just being in Portuguese!)

MSF 2305

Sun 2nd Oct

On Sundays the abbey is free entry, but because it's free entry, they don't open the toilets! This seems rather bizarre, the sort of pettiness the Brits would go in for. The lady who explained it seemed rather embarrassed about it. We had gone in again to see if the different lighting gave better pictures, but actually the afternoon sun was best. Rosemary did another sketch of a Manueline pillar. Then we drove to San Pedro de Moel for lunch, and the night. San P is a seaside town, lots of car parks overlooking a seriously long sandy beach, with  Atlantic rollers creating a strong undertow.

MSF 2315

Mon 3rd Oct

A gentle drive down the coast, spending several hours on the sandy beach at Praia del Selgado, before heading on to Sao Martinho do Porto, a small resort set in a small circular cove. The aire (just a car park) is at the southern end of town, a ¾ mile walk back in. A lovely sandy beach is adjacent, and sand dunes. There is free wifi at a cafe on the seafront – no need for a password.

The Dutch couple with the squeaky bedsprings (see 8th Sept) arrived, but parked far enough away to avoid disturbing our beauty sleep.

MSF 2357

Tues 4th Oct

A short drive to Alcobaca, where there is a huge church and monastery in which are buried Pedro & Ines, real life Romeo & Juliet or Tristram & Isolde. Pedro was the crown prince in the 14th century, and fell in love with a Castilian noblewoman. They eventually married and had 4 children before she was murdered on the orders of Pedro’s father, who feared being drawn into the Castilian civil war. When Pedro became king he had her disinterred, instated as queen, and had his courtiers kiss her hand in allegiance. The murderers had their hearts torn out and, the story goes, Pedro ate them. They are buried in magnificent tombs, which show their story in some detail. They would have been even more magnificent if they hadn't been broken into by Napoleon's troops!

Alcobaca is a large and uninspiring town, so after visiting Pedro & Inis we headed south to Obidos, where there is a privately run aire, €6 pn, or €2 just to use the bunkering.

Obidos is charming but very touristy, with complete medieval walls and castle. The houses within are white, trimmed either with yellow or blue. There appear to be only tourist shops and bars, and I couldn't find a useable wifi signal.

Outside the wall there is an enormously long aqueduct, quite the longest I've seen, built in the 16th century.

We walked back in to the town in the evening, and it was almost deserted. One or two restaurants open, with no customers, but that was it. Quite disappointing.

MSF 2395

Wed 5th Oct

I walked in for bread at 0915, and already there were 4 coach parties. Half an hour later there were many more. Rosemary liked Obidos, but I found it lifeless, just a tourist trap.

It seems we are in need of a washing machine, so we drove a mere 16 miles to Camping Peniche Praia, on the end of the point at Peniche. We looked at one campsite on the way in, but it looked like the campsite from hell – big, dusty, full, units crammed together, no scenery, no town nearby. Praia Peniche on the other hand is rather like Fort Knox! Swipe cards to get in and out – that don't work, electricity boxes double locked, washing machine €6, and wifi at €1 per hour! The name “Peniche Praia” would imply a beach pretty close by. In fact the nearest beach is 1.5 Km. One night here will do just fine!

Later, the cafe/bar on site has free wifi, and the drink prices are reasonable.

MSF 2411

Thurs 6th Oct

Not a good night last night, kept awake by the sound of wind and waves. Peniche is as far as we go this trip, from now we start heading home. Drove back to Obidos for lunch, and for Rosemary to do some more drawing. The tiny grocery there sells fresh milk, something we've struggled to find in supermarkets. (Tea made with UHT milk is 'orrible!) Then back to Sao Martinho do Porto. The idea was to spend the night here, and swim in the cove, but the wind was blowing straight in from the Atlantic. We envisaged another windy night like last night, and moved on again, back to Batalha. We liked Batalha, and there is a good bar with free wifi. This time we parked in the car park close to the church.

MSF 2474

 Fri 7th Oct

Another chance for Rosemary to do more drawing/painting, and for me to use the wifi at the cafe. I had a nice local confection made of milk and egg with my cappuccino and BBC News. I never did find out what it was called, but imagine a crumpet soaked in eggy milk and cooked...? No? Oh well.

2 French vans were occupying the bunkering facilities when I went to use them  - and you've never seen such a performance! It took 4 of them, working together (or often against each other) half an hour to accomplish what it took me 5 minutes to do. And you've never seen so many bottles of bottled water one had to move before he could find his hose.

Left Batalha about 3 pm, for Tomar, where there is yet another religious monument, the Convento de Christo, actually once a monastery/castle, of the Knights Templar. There is precious little parking here, and cars and coaches were coming and going, with little room to turn round or even pass. We waited an hour for things to clear a bit, before we were able to turn and escape.

There is supposed to be an aire in Tomar, but after several circuits of the town we gave up and went to the municipal campsite, which is actually quite nice. But the main problem with campsites is the absolute palaver of checking in. Why do they need to know my date of birth and my inside leg measurement? OK, I lied about the last, but they all seem to demand minutiae that is just data for the sake of data. No wonder we use unofficial camp places!

MSF 2514 

 Sat 8th Oct

The original plan had been to stay here only one day, but the town and the site seemed so pleasant we extended it to 2 days. Tomar is an example of everything the Portuguese do best – parks, gardens, statues and fountains. And unlike Obidos, it's a living town. A stroll around the town in the morning then, after an early lunch, a walk up to the Convento de Christos, which started life as a Knights Templar castle, became a monastery (despite the convent name) with classic Manueline architecture. It was quite a climb, but well worth it. I've never seen so many cloisters! Architecturally, it’s an orgy of Manueline columns and windows. And the advantage of arriving during the Portuguese lunch break is that it is largely deserted.

And back at the site, a large convoy of Belgians had arrived, and clustered together for safety! It is unwise to generalise – but why do Belgians always travel in convoy? (and, to a lesser extent, the French?)

 Sun 9th Oct

Another lovely morning – I could get used to the idea that you can safely expect every day to be nice weather! Time to start moving towards Spain, and home, and we  drove inland to Castelo de Vide, hard on the Spanish border, and set on a hill. We parked in a small car park just outside the city walls. We had expected it to be a tiny town, but was surprised to find it was quite extensive, and very likeable. There is another city wall inside, within which is the original medieval town. Not at all touristy, and completely unspoilt (what Obidos could have been but isn't). Lunch cost €20, including half a litre of wine, and we went back to the van to sleep it off. Absolutely the nicest town we've been to in Portugal. 

MSF 2589

 Mon 10th Oct

A quiet night, and not as cold as we had expected. Another walk into the medieval town, and to the old (and tiny) Jewish quarter. We were rather too early, and the lighting wasn't good for photos.

Nearby – 7 miles or so, is Marvao, another old fortified hilltop town, and we went there for a few hours. Marvao has an aire with spectacular views, and full bunkering facilities. The town itself is also spectacular, little white houses in a picture postcard setting, with a large castle, and seriously spectacular views in 360 degrees. We had expected it to be very touristy, like Obidos, but because it is off the tourist trail, it is remarkably untouristy and unspoilt. But we both agreed, Castelo de Vide was much more interesting, a living town, if much less “chocolate boxy”.

After lunch, a drive east into Spain not forgetting to reset our watches to Central European Time. (My phone didn't get changed to Portuguese time, so when I set an alarm for 0700 this morning, it actually went off at 0600 local time!). Road surfaces are massively better than Portugal's, and we picked up the A58 and then A5, past Caceres & Trujillo to Lagatera, where there is a small aire, just 3 spaces. A Spanish Rapido was there when we arrived, and another Spanish Rapido arrived shortly afterwards. It's not often you seen an aire full of Rapidos!

MSF 2757

Tues 11th Oct

Not such a quiet night. The aire is in the vee of a confluence of 2 roads, which had tractors and stuff working late and early. Even worse, a gang of teenagers sat on the seats just behind us from midnight, drinking, chatting, laughing. Nothing malicious, just noisy.

Did the bunkering, then on the road before 9. We took a detour to see Toledo, described as “a gem”, but which left me cold. Parking was fairly easy, on waste ground below the city with about a million other vehicles. (OK, I exaggerate, but only slightly!). A walk, then there is a series of escalators up into the old city. The escalators were jammed with coach parties of every nationality you could think of. Toledo is a mass of very narrow cobbled streets, almost all shared by cars – and it seemed that most of the cars were large BMWs and Mercedes, quite unsuitable for streets not wide enough even for a car and 1 pedestrian, never mind the hordes that were there. There seem to be more churches than you can shake a stick at, and shops selling Toledo blades – even I had heard of Toledo blades! - but which would be totally illegal in the UK. And cafes – but not one with a useable wifi connection.

There are lots of new roads around that our 5 year old sat nav Sally knows nothing about. It's probably time to invest in a new Tom-Tom map of Western Europe. We took the new (free) motorway to Cuenca, another old hilltop town, through some of the most arid and boring countryside in Europe, all the same monotonous shade of sand. We did see a pair of eagles, though. Things improved towards Cuenca, and got better still after Cuenca as we headed into the mountains, the Serrania de Cuenca, to the north of Cuenca. We have stopped for the night beside a small nature & picnic spot, where we have already seen deer, & a grey wagtail. (N40 12' 01” W 1 56' 17”). We had hope to get to a specialist beer maker who accepts motorhomes under the “Spain Passion” scheme, but time ran out.

MSF 2967

Wed 12th Oct

A quiet night – and a very cold morning – we've put the heater on for the first time. Then when we left, we had the heater going full blast to warm our feet up. There was just a short period of no heat, before we put the air con because it was too hot. Not surprising really, the GPS put our elevation at around 3000 feet.

The scenery (Reserva Nacional den Montes Universales) here is spectacular – crags, deep gorges, golden yellow aspen leaves, streams, waterfalls. Just lovely. But it does make for very slow driving, there is a bend every 50 yards, so you're doing well to average 30 mph.

Just before we left the gorges and mountains, we stopped at an old Moorish town, Albarracin, built up the hillside and with most of the Moorish fortifications intact. The buildings are all a warm red colour, from the local stone. The town is touristy – there is a huge car park - but completely unspoilt.

At Teruel we picked up the N420, then N211. These were very pretty good roads – I preferred them to motorways because they are fairly fast, but do have bends, hills, and scenery. Slightly slower, but MUCH less boring.

At Calanda we turned off onto the A226 to find somewhere to overnight. We are currently beside a  reservoir, off the road. Being October, the reservoir is very low, probably 60 feet below its normal level. (N 40 54' 17” W 0 13' 00” - almost on the Greenwich meridian – yet Spain is on Central European time, an hour ahead of GMT)

Later: we failed to shut the door when it got dark, and were rewarded with about a million little flying things dancing on the ceiling. They didn't seem to bite, but they did take half an hour to eliminate.

MSF 3126

Thurs 13th Oct

A good quiet night, and we were under way by 8.30, heading almost due north towards the Pyrenees, via Alcaniz, Fraga, Leida, Benbarre, then, as we ascended the foothills of the Pyrenees, took a small road up the Vall de Bois to Caldes de Bois, to spend the night. The last few miles, as we reached the Pyrenees, were absolutely “wow” scenery. Most of the roads were good, and interesting. (Nothing can be as boring as the drive across Extremadura!). The autumn colours here must be at their spectacular best. (I really must find another word for “spectacular”!)

Later: I have just noticed that there is a large bull in the wood just over the road from where we have stopped for the night. The only thing between him and us is a single strand of electric fence about 18” off the ground.

MSF 3308

Fri 14th Oct

An even quieter night – and we overslept. Typical! We had hoped to move off earlyish, but never mind. Took the road north through the tunnel to Vielha. Vielha is still in Spain, even though it's on the north side of the Pyrenees. We had hoped to find a Spanish supermarket to stock up on Rioja, but didn't find one. Never mind, we have a good stock of Portuguese Douro & Port, and I'm not sure where we'd put the Rioja.

The plan was to battle through Toulouse to an aire at Cahors. Cahors is an idyllic town beside the river, and the aire is equally idyllic. However there are only 3 spaces, no room for overflow, and every man and his dog wanted to go there – so with hindsight it was a bit unrealistic to expect to arrive at 5 pm and find a space – which we did, and didn't!.

The next plan was to drive to St Cirque Lapopie, 18 miles away, but as we drove through Arcambal we passed a lovely aire, with bunkering, and decided to stay there. (N 44 27' 23” E 1 30' 58”)

Later, we have just watched a couple walking their 2 large dogs, attempting to get the reluctant dogs to go underneath a 2 bar fence. They tried pulling but the dogs were too big, and adamant. The lady (age 25ish) laid on the ground trying to show the dogs how to get underneath. In the end one went underneath, and the other just stepped over the lower bar. Well, it was amusing to watch, anyway!

MSF 3523

Sat 15th Oct

A cold & frosty morning. This really is a lovely part of the world! A very scenic drive to St Cirq Lapopie, a “village de France”, set atop a cliff over the River Lot, and on the side of a steep hill. A real gem. Well preserved, and touristy, but the tourism is very tastefully done – lots of restaurants, but not “in your face”. There are several car parks charging €3 at a similar level to the village, or  free one which is a shortish and pleasant walk up a path. We were there at 10 am on a Saturday, and it was quiet. By the time we left at 12 it was filling up. I would guess that in August it would be heaving, which would rather spoil its olde worlde ambience, which it has in shed loads. And I found a cafe with free wifi.

Then via Figeac, where we were accosted by an ex-pat who wanted to bend our ears, and Aurillac, to an aire at Super-Lioran, in the car park of a ski lift. We were soon joined by 4 other vans, all French, who parked as far away from us as they could! Hmmm!

We needed the heating on this evening.

MSF 3622

Sun 16th Oct

Last night was extra cold, and there was ice on the bonnet this morning. Thank goodness for an effective heater!

Made our way across country to Le Mont Dore. This is a gorgeous bit of countryside, a glorious drive in the autumn sunshine. We lunched at a small ski resort above Chatreix, spectacular view – but there's something depressing about all ski resorts we've ever been to. The nearby slopes are wrecked, presumably to make ski slopes, the chalets and facilities are invariably shabby. At La Bourboule the fuel level warning light came on, and we struggled to find an open fuel station. Eventually we found a small automated 24 hour service at Intermarche in La Bourbelle. We had planned to spend the night at the aire at La Bourboule, but it was in a dismal setting at the top of the teleferique, beside a derelict hotel.  Instead, we drove back to Super-Besse, a ski resort, where there is a large aire, costs €5.60 pn, pay by credit card. There is also a machine for buying jetons for the Flot Bleu bunkering facilities. We've seen these around but had no way of getting the jetons.

MSF 3742

Mon 17th Oct

I put the heating on low during the night, after a sudden realisation that the boiler could freeze, very expensively. Sally set us a non peage course for Calais, 500 miles exactly. Not 499.9. nor 500.1, but 500.0. That's remarkable!

We were under way by 8.30, taking care on icy roads. The good thing about spring and autumn is you get to see the world just as the sun comes up – long shadows, misty and dewy fields, the volcanic plugs seen as a series of receding greys – just lovely. Sally's route was lovely, a pleasure to drive. Uncluttered easy roads (mostly) great views, sunshine, thousands upon thousands of glorious trees, just beginning to turn. A route worth remembering (so far, of course!). One bit of excitement, when a car overtook us and the lorry in front, pulled in then put on his brakes, then drove slowly for a few miles, whenever the lorry attempted to overtake he would speed up. At a small roundabout both men got out and had an altercation. I thought we might see fisticuffs, but no such luck! At Riom we were held up for a while by a march of demonstrators, carrying red flags, escorted by police and with loudspeaker vans, walking slowly round a roundabout.

We stopped for a late lunch at an aire at Briare-le-Canal, N47 38' 04” E2 44' 25”, right beside the canal, alongside the canal moorings. Now 320 miles to Calais

Later: we've discovered that we are 100 yards from a long aqueduct that takes the canal over the Loire. Quite recently built, 1896. The town is pleasant but unexceptional. Couldn't find a bar with wifi, but I did suddenly find my phone had connected whilst walking down the main street, so picked up email and headlines.

Route from Clermont Ferand: N9, to Moulins, (good bypass) N7 to Nevers, A77 (non peage) & N7 when the A77 became peage.

MSF 3928

Tues 18th Oct

A short walk to have another look at the aqueduct – it's really quite impressive, then on the road  before 9.The plan was to drive 45 miles or so to  an aire at Souppes sur Loing. This was also beside the same canal, with interesting boats, but cost €5 inc electricity, and was also a long walk from a not very special town. (Some French towns are just too good to be true, and others are just plain depressing.), so we went for plan B – do a long hop to an aire at Rouen. Sally's route took us through the outskirts of Paris, and we expected hold-ups, but in fact we never went lower than 50 mph.

We must be getting close to home – the skies are dark and we went through some very heavy rain – not much good for the solar panel. Between Paris and Rouen the A15 become peage, and the non peage route took us through little towns and villages with narrow streets, and traffic lights by the dozen. Then Sally attempted to put us back on the motorway believing it to be free, when it was still (or had become) peage. Battling along the N15, beside the Seine, we stumbled on an aire at Pont de L'arche, 4 vans only. The town is described as historic, and is a real gem. Good boulangeries, charcuteries, greengrocers and bouchers. The aire is beside a Seine tributary. Bunkering (outside the municipal campsite) costs €2.50, pay by credit card. (N 49 18, 20” E1 09' 27”).

The slightly bizarre but very friendly bar Kafaleon (there were two motorbikes in the bar) has good beer and free wifi, and is only 100 yards from the aire.

Most of the way it was a very good route: N7, N37, A6/E15, A86, A12, A13/E5, to Mantes where it becomes peage, N13, N15.

MSF 4102

Rain overnight, and torrential rain today, or at least very heavy showers. We planned to go to the aire at Rouen, and spend a couple of hours in the city. Sally took us to the GPS location given in the directory, and we found it was just some random place in the middle of the city. And to make it worse, the fuel low light had just come on. With the warning lights flashing, we set a course for a fuel at a Carrefour supermarket, and Sally took us on a circular tour to find. Worth doing, as diesel here was 14 cents a litre cheaper than standard garages. We  spent a couple of hours, and an obscene amount of money, in the supermarket, before heading off to Boulogne, in the rain. Actually, after an hour or so the sun came out and it was a nice scenic drive.

At Boulogne, where we planned to spend the night, both aires were had in mind no longer existed. However, there was a new one signposted up on the cliffs outside the town. Lots of spaces, €5 pn, fresh water €3. (N50 44' 35” E1 35' 47”)As we settled in, a huge convoy of French Bethleff motorhomes arrived. Talk about Fred Karno's army. Lots of shouting and gesticulating, and despite there being lots of space in other parts of the aire, they all had to squash in around us and a Dutch Hymer. Looking in the doors of some, the Bethleff's build quality seems pretty shoddy.

There are some huge WW2 fortifications here, and emplacements for very large guns. From here, the white cliffs of Dover gleam, and seem almost just a stone's throw away. You can imagine the frustration of the German high command, being so close yet so far. Boulogne is also where Napoleon assembled his invasion fleet in 1804, and there is a memorial to his review of the troops there in that year. (Interesting that Napoleon wanted to go into exile in England, as an English gentleman on an estate.)

MSF 4239

Thurs 20th Oct

Well the notice says that the cost is €5, but there was no ticket machine, nor any instructions on how the charge should be paid. We assumed an official would appear during the evening, but none did. Perhaps they only bother in the summer?

Left by 8, for the short trip to Calais, just half an hour. Our ferry is supposed to sail at 0930, but it's now 0945 and we're still alongside. Later, Dover has been sharply visible for the entire crossing, this is unusual.

We were held up on the M3, a serious crash on the opposite carriageway, several fire engines, ambulance, police cars and the air ambulance helicopter. A car seemed to have embedded itself under a lorry. Home by 3 pm, to a mass of mail including more harassing letters from the TV Licensing Authority (aka BBC). Did you realise it is illegal not to own a television?

Overall miles 4446 (4444 would have been too satisfying!)

Fuel 1119 litres, 246 gallons, cost £1382,   £0.31 per mile

LPG used – 70 litres over 49 nights away

Nights on a campsite – 6. The remaining 43 nights were aires or wild camping.







































































































































































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