“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Day 23 – 27th May 2009 – Wednesday, Spain!

We made it. What an awesome day. Got up to clouds with blue peaking through and so decided to go for it. Showered and managed to clean my teeth mistakenly with shaving cream – eugh… not an advisable activity at all (that’ll teach me to collect the tiny tubes from hotel rooms!) then got some breakfast before starting to pack everything up, we were ready to leave by 12:45pm (getting better). The drive to the Spanish border was stunning; snow capped mountains, waterfalls and clear rivers opening onto vivid turquoise mountain lagoons. We climbed above the red kites until we reached the border and drove straight through. As we started the descent into sunny Spain, not more than 500m from the border, a deer leapt over the barrier on the left hand side of me and leapt again towards the van, “WHOOOOOAAAAAAAA” was all I could manage as Ant broke and the poor little thing missed the front of the van by only a matter of inches. A bit shaken but excited at the same time, we pulled over and watched the deer bounding across the mountain to join his mate who had crossed behind us. Was like a view from Heidi. Then we noticed some enormous vultures circling and landing not far from us, so in true secret-twitcher style, the bins came out, followed by the book and after some debate, the Griffon Vulture was ticked.
After a quick drive around the out-of-season ski resort of Candanchu, we continued down towards the river and stopped for some lunch and a map-check on the Rio Aragon. We decided to refuel in Jaca and then find a campsite. Fuel is much cheaper here, less than a euro a litre which is promising, but the campsite we have found is much more expensive – although we justified the cost as our first night in Spain (and we needed wifi, and somewhere to watch the champions league final of course – Barcelona Vs Man Utd.).
Tomorrow we are setting off for Pamplona; the city where the annual running of the bulls takes place. Don’t know yet whether we will reach it in a day, but we will probably wild camp somewhere.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Day 22 – 26th May 2009 – Tuesday, Accous still.

Raining. Mist covered the mountains again and two slightly miffed individuals got up, showered, ate and sat shivering in the awning for a bit, then went back to bed with a bottle of whiskey to watch a DVD of ‘Fever Pitch’ given free with the News of the World that we found in the entertainment box. Two hours of testosterone-fuelled football mania made slightly more bearable by having Colin Firth as the lead. Still it killed time whilst the rain at least paused for a bit, probably to gather up strength for another night of downpours. Can we at least have a lightening show to accompany tonight’s efforts please?
We have resorted to leaving the stove on all afternoon too in the hope it might help dry out the washing and allow us some breathing space in the van. At least the socks don’t feel sodden anymore, just damp.

Day 21 – 25th May 2009 – Monday, Accous.

Still no internet access and still more rain and thunder storms, we have moved further south, maybe 20kms from the Spanish border to a place called Accous in the low mountains. Bought yet more food and wine and set up under some trees, did some washing, (in an ancient machine that had more operating procedures than 747, and no spin cycle….grrrr.), which is now hanging, sodden, on every piece of wire or hook we have available to us, so much so that Ant is worried we will wake tomorrow with water on our lungs from the humidity of wet clothes hanging in the pop top! We are currently watching the huge hovering red kites (or are they Black Kites, can’t really tell from this distance) and the mist rolling over the mountain tops above us – a bit intimidating actually. The guy here said they had beautiful sunshine yesterday and expect a mixed day tomorrow, so we are going to stay two nights in the hope it will clear before we ask Bee to attempt the mountain crossing on Wednesday.

Day 20 – 24th May 2009 – Sunday. Camping Paysan still.

Awesome thunder show last night – forks of pink lightening straight across the sky in front and above us followed by loads of loud rumbling all around us. We had to get up again at 2am to close the pop top, because the wind was shaking the van so much.
We got up today to slightly brighter weather, although still no sun and can no longer see the mountains through the mist. Staying on another night here as we have grown to like the view and the serenity. Saw a black redstart here yesterday and had another go with my macro lens practising on a poor snail that really didn’t want to be photographed in the bright light of day.
Ant had a quick check in the engine bay (looking for a distributor number to find out the timing settings I think) but also noticed that the accelerator cable was rubbing on some piping and wearing it away, so he improvised a shield with our empty bean can and some cable ties, will check it again after a bit of driving tomorrow. We are hoping to find somewhere with a tumble dryer and internet access tomorrow so we can stop a few more nights in France before we cross over. Need to brush up on my Spanish!

Day 19 – 23rd May 2009 – Saturday. Camping Paysan near Gan, France

Another traveller arrived last night, John from Durham, a psychiatric nurse with a passion for motorbike rallying. He is on his way to the Sierra de Javalambre, north of Valencia in Spain to take part in a 5-day rally starting on Sunday. He pitched his tent in record time and joined us for a couple of drinks and some evening chat about English current affairs and old cars. He retired about 10pm in order to get an early start for the last leg of his journey tomorrow.
We got our first glance at the mountains this morning when the mist finally cleared to reveal a run of snow-capped peaks beyond the woods we had been looking at all evening – an awesome sight, if not a little daunting. Has Bee really got enough gears to get over those?
Only two problems with this place; 1) cold showers, and 2) the constant stream of flies buzzing about us; they are everywhere, it’s a struggle to keep all the food covered – and there aren’t that many cupboards French baguettes will fit into in this van! Maybe it’s the horse casserole we have bubbling away on the stove – smells gorgeous, just hope it tastes ok.
Ps: Ant will now be known as ‘Teabag’ since the tiniest of bugs landed on his arm today causing him to throw his entire mug of tea into his lap – I nearly wet myself ….. in sympathy of course.

Day 18 – 22nd May 2009 – Friday, Near Gan.

The wine is open, the awning is up and although the sun hasn’t really shone in 2 days, the view is great. We arrived about an hour ago at this farm somewhere between Gan and Oloran at the foot of the Pyrenees. We have showers and electricity, but no washing machines or Wifi. No matter, (although I suspect Ant ran out of pants days ago!).
We set off earlier, around lunchtime and drove to Pau, supposedly the gateway to the Pyrenees and ‘the English City’, found the tourist office, obtained a map and whereabouts of camping and supermarket, then bought enough food and drink for 3 days, (which included the purchase of our second bottle of Whiskey.. Alan you have a lot to answer for!). Even bought some horse meat which we are going to try tomorrow night. We found the campsite, or should I say we found a muddy car park bordered by a main road, a tennis court and the ‘Foret de Bastard’ which the manager wanted to charge us €18,50 a night for!!!! So even though the roast chicken we had bought for lunch was rapidly going cold, and it was approaching tea time, we decided we couldn’t stay there, so we left pretty much immediately to look for somewhere nicer and out of town… and thankfully we found it. This place is perfect. When we arrived the old farmer came out and showed us where everything was and where the sun would be (if it were sunny of course). We were the only ones here until a caravan arrived and thankfully pulled in behind allowing us to keep our view out across the fields to the woods beyond.

Day 17 – 21st May 2009 – Thursday, Orthez

Although it was another ‘dead battery day’, we managed to walk into town, see the medieval Pont Vieux, take some snaps of a stag beetle feasting on some berries and walk back again. Weather is pants.

Day 16 – 20th May 2009 – Wednesday, Orthez

Drove to Orthez and found ‘camping de la source’ on a small river, we set up in baking sunshine, very sticky and close. We had been warned by the manager on arrival about a coming storm in the evening and advised to secure the awning down tight. As the afternoon progressed we sat watching a red squirrel and listening to the woodpeckers and jays. The sun eventually gave way to thick grey clouds and blasts of wind, filling the air with masses of white seed-blossom from the trees, like snowfall – I started to get excited. The sky darkened and the thunder started and we settled in expecting some real action. Disappointingly, it wasn’t a lengthy storm, and although the lightening and the noise were impressive, the wind and the rain was pretty pathetic really.

Day 15 – 19th May 2009 – Tuesday. Casteljaloux – Pissos!

Made a better start today, got into town for 10:30am – found the internet café, followed by the market, back to pack up and were back on the road by 1:30pm Must be a record. We drove through some natural parkland with masses of storm damaged conifers and endless piles of logs stacked scarily high by the sides of the road.
Pissos turned out not to have a campsite, so we continued West towards the sea and joined the main road South. Weather not really improving, but we needed fuel (and sunshine) so we stopped for very expensive fuel in Cap-Le-Pin and continued on southwards, eventually we decided to stay overnight in an Aire off the main road. We chose Laharie as it had toilets and a separate area for cars away from the truckers, with butterfly meadows and more log piles. Only problem was that it smelt like someone had emptied their chemical toilet all over the grass – the stench was thick and clinging, but thankfully the wind changed after a while and we were able to get some dinner on and enjoy the late sunshine.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Day 14 – 18th May 2009 – Monday – Casteljaloux, France.

Didn’t manage to get up in time to go into town in the morning, but went this afternoon and found an internet café with Wifi, so ordered a bottle of wine (as one does) and settled down with the lappie to get my fix of online life and blog away, but unfortunately we couldn’t get the internet connection working! So we downed the bottle and moved onto the second suggested café… which was closed, bugger. We couldn’t even find the third! So we gave up and came back for food and a cuppa. Will try again tomorrow.
Casteljaloux is at least bathed in sunshine today and so we have spent much of the afternoon either watching the river rushing past our pitch and sleeping (me) or playing guitar and sorting his tools again. (Ant).

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Day 13 – 17th May 2009 – Sunday, Pons – Casteljaloux.

Thunder, lightening and more torrential rain during the night meant we woke to a complete marshland inside the awning!! Not good.
We showered and packed away all the soggy gear and simply set off for the South. There must be some sun somewhere … surely. (Or maybe Tim has taken a last minute holiday to France… bet that’s it … typical!).After four hours on the road, the sun finally broke through and we stopped at a lovely Aire on the River Dronne just outside La Roche-Chalais for some lunch and a go on the pen fishing rod which turned out to have a clutch problem!, so we moved on again. By 5pm we had found this campsite in a small town called Casteljaloux, on the river. I’m still feeling very drained and have developed a very irritating muscle tick beneath my left eye, so Ant cooked a much needed chicken curry and I got another early night.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Day 12 – 16th May 2009 – Saturday – ‘Pons’

A better start although only luke warm showers – weather not great again, nor my energy levels, and managed to hard boil the dippy eggs – D’oh! The rain didn’t let up all day – where’s beanman when you need him em!? So we put the waterproofs on and ventured off up the lane to find the supermarket for some supplies. We bought as much beer, whiskey and wine (and food of course) as we could carry and settled in for the night to weather the storm. Which got progressively worse as the night wore on.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Day 11 – 15th May 2009 – Friday – Somewhere on the marshes to Pons (via Cognac!)

This is what I am going to call a ‘dead-battery-day’; I woke totally shattered, we drove inland across miles and miles of farmland and fields of vines. Got to Pons (by mistake) and found the Camping Municipal, went to sleep, got up again, had some food, went to sleep again.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Day 10 – 14th May 2009 – Thursday – Le Merval somewhere on the marshes

Today was a slowish start and my second attempt at using the hole-in-the-ground was even less successful than the first, so I will spare you the details!
We headed along the coast and drove through some magnificent open marshland – saw herons and egrets, a skylark and plenty of unidentified birds of prey as well as plenty of Kestrels. The rest of the morning went pretty quickly downhill as finding a campsite that wasn’t extortionate or in the middle of town was proving tricky.
A couple more hours driving passed, along with a stop at Jard-Sur-Mer for Ant’s much needed fry up, and the sight of a wild Peregrine Falcon spurred us on. Eventually we found Le Merval – totally remote, on a tiny canal and with virtually no-one about. Cheap, quiet and with hot, clean showers…. Perfect.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Day 9 – 13th May 2009 – Wednesday, La Ferme de Lann Hoedic

Well the alarm went off at 5:15am, then went off again at 5:30am before I managed to drag myself out of bed and into some jeans and fleeces. Armed with my camera, my bins and my tripod I set off in the pitch black through the woods again to the beach leaving Ant the entire bed for once - perhaps I should have checked both the weather forecast AND the sunrise time BEFORE I got up!!!! A very long and dark wait later and as the sky lightened, the sun wasn’t even visible behind another grey mist, and the only thing I saw was a cloud of a million mosquitoes all vying for my blood – not happy. I did however hear a very loud owl on my way through the woods which was pretty cool, in a moonlit-eerie-ghost-walk kinda way. Got back to bed for just after seven and decided to get up at a much more sensible 10am. The blurry black woodpecker photo from yesterday will just have to do.
We were back on the road by 1:30pm and drove across the enormous St Nazaire bridge after which the houses all had little red terracotta tiles on the roofs instead of the old stone and slate. We continued to ‘Pornic’ (yes our route is being dictated by our combined ten year old sense of humour!!), but turned out the place was a small fishing town with too many people and too much traffic, so we changed the last of our English cash and moved on to a smaller place called La Bernerie-En-Retz. We found a free ‘Aire’ with toilets (more holes in the ground) and parked up along with a number of other mobile homes. We went out for a meal and a couple of bottles of the local red before retiring for more Irish coffee (thanks Alan!!).

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Day 8 – 12th May 2009 – Tuesday, near Sarzeau, France.

Drove to the peninsula at Quiberon and stopped for a look about and try to change our English cash – trouble is EVERYTHING shuts in France for 2 hours at lunchtime and we are normally only up and about during lunchtimes! Typical. Drove on to ‘Noyalo’ which turned out to be a couple of houses and a church so we continued towards Sarzeau… and what a fantastic find this campsite is – we are only an 800m walk through the woods to the beach which is pretty much deserted, except Ant managed to spot a very large (around 46cm as it turned out) black woodpecker on the edge of the beach in a conifer tree. Neither of us have seen one before and the guide book we have (albeit from 2002) doesn’t even show it to be present in this part of France. Will turn Ant into a birder yet! Lol. Dryocopus martius Dad!
So after our tea time stoll down there, I vowed to get up before sunrise to venture down there again with the long lens and see if I could get a good shot – very exciting.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Day 7 – 11th May 2009 – Monday

Monday morning blues due to lack of sleep, (more pins and needles) crappy weather (typical Monday mist), and a desperate need for a proper (non-standing) loo. We put some miles behind us before stopping for brunch and an oil change. Our moods lifted slightly as the sun started to burn off the damp grey and light up the wild Lupins growing along the verges.We ploughed on towards Pont-Aven, the home of Paul Gauguin my favourite Impressionist painter who lived around 100 years ago and started an art school in the very town. I was very excited about going to the village and visiting the museum. However, if, like me, you are a fan… DON’T BOTHER… there are only 6 sketches of his and the rest of the place is dedicated to visiting exhibitions; this quarter it’s Emma Herland. She was impressive, but not so when you are expecting to see originals from the master Gauguin himself. Oh well, only €9 wasted, am sure we will waste more than that in the future!Carried on driving in torrential rain towards Aubray where we have settled at a woodland campsite called ‘Kergo’ to sit out the storm. Only trouble is we are camped underneath some pine trees and every so often a very large cone comes down with a thud – reminds me of Tom Hanks in Castaway with his mysterious coconuts.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Day 6 – 10th May 2009 – Sunday

Everything shut today so no fresh bread or supplies. Surviving on whats in the fridge (most of which got drunk last night!)
We drove 150 miles today and the adjusted tappets have worked a treat, Bee seems like she’s on steroids up the hills! Weather not great, but at least we got to see some deep dark woodland and rolling hills. Stopped in a layby near a place called Mur-De-Bretagne for the night – toilets, bins and a very quaint little disused church. Didn’t sleep too well and keep waking with pins and needles in both hands… think it’s the lack of space meaning I sleep on my arms, not good.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Day 5 – 9th May 2009 – Saturday, Ant’s birthday!

Woken by next doors bedroom antics…!!! Or was she just performing an elaborate morning stretch??
Discovered another blown fuse in the electrical system which meant the leisure battery wasn’t getting any feed from the alternator – resulting in no lights at night. Need to visit the ‘Super U’ supermarket next door today for more alcohol, more food and spares.
Evron is home to about a million rooks which don’t stop loudly brawling with each other all day long and up until the sun dies about 10pm, but apart from that it’s a lovely campsite, close to everything and a very friendly village. Moving West tomorrow towards the Mts. Noires in the Finistre department for a spot of wild camping.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Day 4 – 8th May 2009 (Friday… I think!) Evron, France

Last night was the best nights sleep ever, a couple of cars came and went, mainly joggers using the disused railway line – a couple of guys last night took just over 5 mins for their run – and one guy this morning took a perfectly timed 30 mins, typical as Ant desperately needed a pee at the time!
We pretty much got up, cleaned teeth, had a brew (of course) and left. Drove about 2 hours in a southerly direction and noticed that Bee’s tappets (whatever they are) sounded like they needed checking. So we agreed to find a campsite and stay for a couple of days whilst Ant adjusted them.
Figure 4 remembrance ceremony through EvronWe went through the Normandie Maine forest – beautiful, thick, dark, and mysterious. Then went on through to Pre-en-Pail which we had ear-marked on the map as a good place to stop, but unfortunately the campsite there was closed still. Onwards to Bais … same story… closed!! By now the stomach was calling, and the sun was lost amongst some pretty black clouds. So we continued south to Evron and although our arrival at the campsite here was delayed by a road closed for a remembrance ceremony with marching band, we have now settled in under the friendly guidance of a very hungover ‘Manu’ who has been up half the night drinking rum with his buddy from the mountains whom he hadn’t seen for 6 months. Know that feeling – at least we don’t have to work after our hangovers anymore!Ant is now sorting out the tappet things and the dinner is waiting patiently to be eaten. Today’s lesson : Never rush a man when he has his tools out!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Day 3 – 7th May 2009 – Jumieges to Lisieux / Livarot

Last nights dinner was awful from my point of view, but Ant absolutely loved it…. Tinned Pilchards in tomato, leek and onion sauce, with new potatoes, sweetcorn and carrots. Let’s hope tonights chicken curry is a little better. Although at the moment, the fridge is only working on 240V hook up, the leisure battery option is not working at all. Not sure why, we have changed the broken fuse that was in the 12v connector, but still no fridge light inside. On a positive note, it means that Ant’s first venture underneath the van wasn’t to fix it, but to find spare fuses in the under-van storage boxes.
We left Jumieges this afternoon after doing some clothes washing, checking emails one last time and refilling the water tank. All set for a night or two in the wild.
We got to the edge of the village which is on the river Seine and found a dinky open top ferry which transported us and 4 other cars across the river at no charge at all!! We were gobsmacked; not only could we officially class ourselves as ‘in-seine’ once half way across, but the privilege was free.
Normandy is a very quaint part of France, very clean and tidy with tiny villages dotted amongst vast open fields of bright yellow rape and swaying corn, still green with youth. Very beautiful, very quiet and thankfully an easy introduction to driving and getting by abroad. A woman even opened her shop up to serve us this afternoon when she heard us try the locked front door – very hospitable.
Today is much much warmer than any other, Ant has donned the shorts and doesn’t intend going back to the longs…. We’ll see! I am still clinging tightly to my jeans and cardys. The wind is unfortunately still capable of doing embarrassing things to my body. Best we keep heading south tomorrow.
We stopped for lunch at the edge of a farmer’s field up a single track lane in the middle of nowhere… or so we thought. I now know that quad bikes are road legal over here – they even have number plates and brake lights! Lovely fresh French baguette with cheese and pate. Mmmmm. Diet going out the window I feel.
We continued on through Lisieux (Taunton’s twin town) and we have finally stopped at a roadside car park area at the end of an old and disused railway line where we will spend the night. The view out across the valley is awesome, it’s almost half seven, sun still warm and bright and Ant is still pondering the fridge problem, so probably best I put the kettle on.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Day 2 – 6th May 2009 – Fecamp to Jumieges

We woke to a very windy and overcast day, but much brighter than yesterday. Showered, breakfast and I took a quick wander into town to see the Palais Benedictine – which wasn’t all that, but it saved me from witnessing Ant making his sausage, mushroom and cheese omelette. Too much to bear after my tasty oats and nuts muesli – eugh; measly as it turned out!
Then we decided to drive inland along the ‘Routes des fruits’ which is a scenic road along the river Seine. We found this campsite which is a bit posh for us and very pricey. But has internet access, electricity and clean showers- something I suspect we will have to see as a luxury when we get a few months in.The campsite here in Jumieges, is called ‘Camping de la Foret’ due to its location on the edge of a national park forest – the only problem being that each pitch is neatly segregated with a thick hedge which you can’t see a thing through! So time (and privacy) to try out the solar shower me thinks!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Day 1 – 5th May 2009 - Newhaven, to Dieppe, to Fecamp – northern Normandy.

Boarded the ferry at 9am after a tearful goodbye to Mum and Jon.
Ant slept most of the journey, whilst I invested in a new road map of Europe and we decided on heading along the coast towards Fecamp.
We set up at a lovely campsite, some clever hillside driving by Ant placed us on a small spot overlooking the sea. We walked into the harbour town/village to find somewhere to eat and watch the Champions League game (typical!!!) but ended up in a pasta place, drinking Italian vino and watched only the first 20 minutes of the game (Man U were up 2-0 – so Ant got down heartened with it - hehe!), before heading back to bed. Lets hope it doesn’t take too much longer to recover from the WOWO weekend, else we will see only eyelids through most of France!

Monday, 4 May 2009

We're Off!

Have had a fantastic weekend with you all and can’t believe it will be a year until most of us meet again. But thank you all so much for coming and giving us the best send off ever (and the best hangover for a while too!).
I have no idea how to explain ‘Beanman’ to the wider audience, but I can say he will be sorely missed over the coming year and I am already looking forward to next May bank holidays appearance.
It’s still raining here at the campsite in Sheffield Park, so we think we are going to have a little afternoon nap before our final meal on UK soil (if all goes to plan!). So it’s Au Revoir, adios, and goodbye. Take care and we will see you all soon. xx