I’ve normally got a good sense of direction, but right now, I feel completely lost. When windy roads twist and turn so often you feel like you are going in circles, when you climb, then… More
We plan a trip to the beach.
If we were still in Yorkshire, the plan would most likely have been rained off. But here in Santander, the sky is blue and the temperatures are mid-20s (centigrade). We follow the coastal path, passing joggers, dog walkers and those who, like us, are enjoying a stroll in the sun. From the cliff edge we have a view over to another promontory with a castle like structure visible.
The main beach is strangely quiet, with no-one is swimming in the sea. However, the sparkling waves are inviting, and like others, we kick off our boots and stroll at the wave edges. The beach is separated by rock formations and we walk as far as the first wall of rocks before leaving the sand for the main promenade.
From there, the ‘castle’ looks like it is within walking distance, but Verd doesn’t agree. I have a way of getting my own way, as I firmly believe I’ve done lots more hill-walking and distance judging by foot than he has, and internally determine that the morrow is for getting to the castle.
The morrow is a Sunday and I’ve managed to persuade Verd to take the walk all the way to what turns out to be a royal palace – El Palacio de Magdalena. The beach is decidedly busier. The waves being higher have attracted several kite surfers as well as swimmers.
The walk to the palace was worth it. The grounds boast an outdoor marine museum, good views and park walks.
Although well-visited, it doesn’t feel touristy, as most of the patrons are Spanish. It’s something I’ve liked about Santander. For a major ferry port, I expected it to be more of a tourist trap. However, the menus haven’t been adjusted to the tastes of British teens, nor have the prices, and I feel I’m gaining an authentic experience. However, we do take the city tour bus (which is majorly over-priced), and learn something of the cultural history of the town. Santander has been a favoured holiday destination of Spain’s royal family in the past and the more elegant and substantial of homes reflect this. It is for this reason, that el Palacio de la Magdalena came to be built.
However, our purpose in Spain is not tourism. After 5 nights in Santander, we head to Asturias, destination Camping Villaviciosa. We have an appointment with a relocation agent to attend.
The sound of the early morning chorus is not only something I’ve become very acquainted with in a tent, but a mix of songs that I’ve come to love. From time to time, I’ve learned to isolate a particular song from the others and identify the species of the singer. Here at the Cabo Mayor, a headland to the east of Santander, the morning chorus is intensified. There are some familiar sounds and sights of regular garden birds, but there are others I can’t identify with certainty. But I love watching them flit from one of the tamarind trees to the next, quickly camouflaged in the foliage.
The morning chorus is shortly followed by the sounds of awakening campers. Here, the main nationality is French. I love the lilt and sound of French and find my mind quickly attuning to the language. I have a couple of conversations, albeit brief, with as many of the temporary residents as I can.
It’s not a very helpful activity. I need to be immersing in Spanish. In the evening we go to a restaurant by the campsite. It’s our first experience of local cuisine and the restaurant is typically Spanish its menu. On the evening we arrive, they offer an all you can eat meal. We’re not quite up to that, but have the option of choices from their ‘para picar’ selection – dishes for sharing with your buddies.
The waitresses have a few words of English between them and we have a few words of Spanish between us. However, I get ambitious and try out a couple of sentences rather than words. When a waitress replies with the very French, “d’accord”, I’m somewhat confused. I look at Verd and we burst out laughing – most of what I’d said was in French rather than Spanish! We’ve a ways to go before we master the lingo.
Undeterred, our plans for the next day are to take a walk into the city centre. About half an hour into our walk we’ve no idea which direction to go in. While Verd sits on a bench with his phone and google maps, I approach a passing stranger and have a go at asking directions. He’s very accommodating: he speaks slowly and repeats his instructions. We make it to the centre and the first commercial enterprise that captures my attention is a market. Many of the stalls are selling similar things – cheeses, olives, various meats, fruit, vegetables, pulses and wines. It’s clear that we’ve got a choice of a wide range of locally-produced foods. I have a little trouble deciding who to approach, but on catching the eye of one stall holder, I begin to make my requests, trying to remember my ‘buying produce lesson’ as much as possible. It goes ok, and I’m getting the products I want in quantities I am asking for, but there’s a change of staff mid-way during the interaction. He’s a twinkly-eyed older man who seems amused by my attempts to speak Spanish, and occasionally corrects my pronunciation. It’s a fun exchange.
We want some cheese, but the displays are a little overwhelming. There isn’t anything for sale we recognise. You know – like, Wensleydale or Cheddar. We linger near a counter and a canny mother asks, ‘ingles?” and she directs us to her English-speaking daughter. We have another fun interchange. I’m still trying to speak Spanish and she’s trying to improve her English. She introduces us to three local cheeses and allows us to taste them. We add two cheeses to our increasingly heavy load. It’s as well we’d walked, otherwise we’d never have stopped spending. Carrying a heavy load back up the hill would not be fun.
Our next task is a little more challenging. Before leaving England, we changed mobile phone plans, but they’d not been set up in time for the journey. We don’t have the gadget needed for changing sims, so decide to find a shop that might be able to help.
Around the corner from the market is a small mobile phone shop. We go in and I try again. With a mix of two-word-sentence Spanish and expressive gestures I managed to get across our issue. I didn’t know what to call the sim gadget, I don’t even know the name in English, so for want of a better term, I asked for a sim key.
The assistant is extremely helpful. He opens our phones, gives us an internet password and we’re able to make sure we’re set up with the new plan adequately before leaving the shop. I buy the “sim key” in case we’d need it in future and he warns us not to lose our old sims. I’m pleased I understand the warning, loss of sim = loss of contacts.
Only our second day here, and we’re already improving the communication skills. Verd is picking up vocabulary at a highly impressive rate.
We take a leisurely stroll as the sun sets. The campsite is next to a lighthouse – the Faro Cabo Mayor. We look over the cliffs to the beach coves below and decide to do what all tourists do when they go to Spain – go to the beach the next day!
I’m on the “wrong” side of the road, trying to use my left mirror like I used to use my right, but it’s in the wrong position for seeing traffic in all the lanes on the autovia, making passing slow lorries and motorhomes a difficult, if not dangerous task. I’m riding on an autovia with it’s shiny, clean surface. I’m tootling along about 10 miles per hour under the speed limit, but can understand why faster bikers like these roads. But, I’m feeling bombarded by stimuli, there are more signs to read than I’m used to. I say 10 miles an hour, but I have to keep watching my SatNav convert the speed limits from km to miles. I’d prefer to keep my eye on the road than having to keep checking my speed. I do pass the slow lane traffic, exaggerating my life-saver checks.
After about 20 km, we’ve figured out that some of the speed limit signs are only advisory, e.g. if it’s raining, windy or there’s a bend or tunnel coming up. We’re still stumped by the flashing amber lights, but we’ve figured out how the exit lanes work. After 50 km, we’ve learned that flashing amber lights are warning you to slow down because of some kind of change in the road conditions. I’ve also learned that Spanish drivers will drive in closer proximity, even if they aren’t in a hurry. And when they overtake, be prepared to roll off the throttle, they cut it fine. Later, I’m guilty of the same thing, cutting it a bit fine when I pull in after overtaking a lorry.
I’m feeling uncomfortable, if you’ve ever tried to write with your non-dominant hand, that’s what it feels like.
We’re on a single lane road, and there’s roadworks. A man with a stop sign turns it to ‘Go’ and then waves us onto the left side of the road to pass the roadworks. We follow the instructions, but both Verd and myself forget to pull in again to the right. I suddenly remember and we quickly switch. We’re soon laughing though; the car following us had copied us. Perhaps, they’d just got off the ferry too?
Luckily, we were back on the “right” right side of the road in time for oncoming traffic to not have to deal with any angry Spanish drivers.
We go off the beaten track to our intended campsite for the night, but when we get there, we discover it isn’t tent friendly. We carry on to Santander for one that promised to be open – Camping Cabo Mayor.
I’m not happy about the potential for meeting city traffic so early in the journey, but it isn’t so bad, with one exception: roundabouts.
The first shouldn’t be too difficult – we have to take the 1st exit. I approach, in the right lane and see there is nothing stopping me go in that direction. I confidently pull out, only to realise that all the oncoming traffic is from the left, not the right. Somehow I manage to slip in, probably with my eyes closed and leave the roundabout with my heart in my mouth. Lesson learned: LOOK LEFT!
I approach the next roundabout. I’m prepared, I’m not getting caught out this time, I look left, but lo and behold, I’m in the 1st exit lane rather than the 3rd exit. Habits are hard to break.
Junctions present similar difficulties, remembering that the nearest danger comes from the left, not the right, and as we turn, we’re coaching each other to make sure we stay on the right-hand side of the road.
Miraculously, we get to the campsite and it’s very tent friendly, with even a promise of a discount if we stay three nights. We relax almost immediately, inhaling the sunny evening aromas of jasmine and the tamarind trees. The air is still, warm and peaceful. It’s simply beautiful.
- Regenerative Agriculture Course at Harmony Farm, Wales
- The Red Lion Inn, Gloucestershire
- The Mason’s Arms, Yeovil, Somerset
- Riverside Camping, Hamble, Hampshire
The above presents a list of pitstops during the last two weeks of our journey in the UK, after saying farewell to family, before embarking the Baie de Seine ship from Portsmouth. All are significant experiences and I hope to give them the precedence they deserve. Meanwhile, I’ll share some photographic highlights.
We wake at 5 am. It’s dark and we go about our tasks donned with head torches, trying to be as quiet as possible so as not to disturb fellow campers. The morning serves up a heavy dew, and our challenge is to pack our belongings without getting too many of them wet. We succeed, with the exception of the tent itself, which gathers up campsite mud in addition to puddles of water. We try a new technique for keeping the inner dry and pray for the blessings of sunshine on the shores of our destination.
It’s still dark when we rev up the engines, some of the campsite residents appear to be at least semi-permanent and give us a friendly greeting as they get into their cars for their daily jobs. My helmet visor immediately mists up, as do the mirrors. Visibility isn’t good this morning, and it’s cold. I remember an important feature of the bike for winter travel – heated grips. I tweak the switch, determined to offset the chill of today’s autumnal morning.
The Brittany Ferry port and embarking points are easy to find and we’re arrive with plenty of check-in time. The queue for the Bilbao ferry is negligible and we’re waved on through to the officials who want to check we’re not bringing anything illegal or dangerous on to the ferry.
Now, here is where things are a little unfair.
I’ve checked the list of things that motorhomes & cars are able to carry on to the ferry and one is knives, as long as they are locked in the boot. Knives includes chef’s knives – we want to cook our own meals to cut costs right?
Motorcycle riders however have to declare any dangerous weapons including chef’s knives. I’m carrying one in a locked ‘boot’, aka my top box, along with a paring knife. The official asks me to open one of the side panniers. I unlock and open it, it only contains our documents and a couple of Spanish for beginners books – that sort of thing. He’s happy, but while this inspection is going on, he asks me if I’m carrying anything dangerous like knives. I pretend I didn’t hear him, after all, I have my helmet on and it’s hard to hear. As he wants to look inside the other side pannier, I respond to this part of his instruction. The pannier contains a bag of food – but contains no animal products – the main limitation.
I’m waiting for him to ask to open the locked ‘boot’, and try not to show that I’m holding my breath in case he does. Instead, he’s happy and waves me on.
Once the bike is moving again, I exhale and smile to myself. I’d saved hard for that Santoku knife and I was reluctant to lose it – it makes short work of awkward vegetables, like a butternut squash. What would I do for our first camp meal in Spain if he’d confiscated it?!
Parking the bike and waiting for it to be securely strapped is a straightforward and surprisingly relaxed affair, and the first of the adventures is to find our cabin. When we figure out there is a left and a right hand side to the boat, we eventually solve the mystery of the strange arrow directions in the corridors to make it to our overnight accommodation. We have a two berth with an ensuite and it’s all very tidy and comfortable.
Once settled we seek out a cuppa and as it’s Brittany Ferries, begin to switch on the French walnut-sized part of our brains as old school phrases are dredged up from the bowels of memory to offer some form of cultural communication. I’m not sure that we succeed terribly well, but I like to try.
It wasn’t such a good idea, as when I go to our first restaurant in Spain, and of course I want to try, my Spanish comes out as a sentence in French. And when the waitress is replying “d’accord”, I’m more confused than everyone else who is trying to communicate with us.
We take a stroll outside on the decks and much to our surprise the dawn brings brilliant sunshine and the most gentle of breezes which accompanies us throughout the crossing. We take it as a good omen for our plans and delight in the views of Portsmouth as we leave.
We sleep well, lulled by the roll of the ship upon the gentle waves. The morning sky beams in glorious sunshine and the deck is a pleasant place to relax. Several of our travellers are reading books, and one in particular catches my attention. I nudge Verd, saying – I’m pretty sure that is Martin Crawford’s book ‘Forest Garden’. I can’t see the cover, but recognise the wonderful photographs and distinctive text. I have an element of doubt when I see a design feature I don’t immediately recognise.
We carry on with our own conversation, paying little more mind to book and its reader. But a while later I notice that the reader is joined by another, who now holds the in his hand, displaying the front cover. I remark immediately – it IS the ‘Forest Garden’ book by Martin Crawford. Verd presses me to go and have a chat, but as they are deep in conversation about the importance of soil, I don’t want to intrude.
Perhaps a lost opportunity, but I take is as today’s positive omen for our journey.
The journey passes quicker than expected and soon we have a call back to our vehicles. While we prepare our bikes for departure, I’m trying to control my nerves. We gain a few tips from other bikers about avoiding fines from overly enthusiastic Spanish police and by the time I’m doing my final luggage checks, I’m sure that by the end of the day I’m going to have lost all my license points and on my way back to England to start all over again. I converse with the biker behind me and in commenting on how nervous I was, he showed me his shaking hand, saying that he’d done this so many times before, but he shakes every time. Strangely, it makes me feel a little better.
First, we meet passport and customs control and I’m wondering what how they feel about the importation of dangerous chef’s knives. I hand over the passport and the official doesn’t even ask me to take off my helmet and quickly waves us on.
It’s a good habit to have.
Within about ten minutes we’re on a three lane autopista, I’m riding on the ‘wrong’ (right) side of the road and deciphering all the unfamiliar road signs heading for a town called Laredo. Our communication systems are working overtime as we check’s Verd’s lights are legally set, and I’m trying to shut him up while I decipher a sign with a number on it and a rain symbol over the top. 80% chance of rain perhaps? What is that giraffe sign? Why is that jellyfish sign asking a question? Why can’t I overtake here, when it’s a three lane motorway?
You’re getting the picture and the fact I’m writing this, does give you some indication that we managed to make it to our destination.
But ne’er a sign of a Laredo did we see.
When your house is small and only room for you, where do you put visitors?
In your garden, of course.
Two weeks in Derbyshire pitched on a gravel garden provides respite from the adrenaline-rushed journeys that precede us. Access to internet and amenities enable us to catch up with ourselves, do some extra research and put our affairs in order. It’s a good arrangement, taking it in turns to cook the main meal of the day and to clean up afterwards, we quickly establish a working routine that doesn’t upset our host, Verd’s mother.
In between, we experience the joy of a proper bed. Verd’s brother and partner live close by and we revel in their party-loving company, so joined them at the weekends. The comfort of a being more than 7 cm from the ground was a wondrous luxury that we took full advantage of, snoozing a little longer in the mornings. They treat us to a meal at a restaurant above a club they attend frequently. Very posh it was, great ambience and the food divine.
The next day, I’m asked if I can cook risotto, so do a favourite mushroom recipe with a herb salad. It seems to be a success and when people tuck into seconds, I’m happy it worked out. Oh dear, I’ve just remembered, I promised to pass the recipe on.
Derbyshire is close to where my daughter lives and works, and she’s become fond of hill-walking. We find a meeting point, twice during the stay, once enjoying a picnic in a nature reserve and the second at a pub for lunch. Oh dear, I’ve just remembered, I promised her a photo of a magazine article she’s having trouble accessing.
As an aside, I’ll tell you about the article. If you remember, way back at the start of our adventure, we joined fellow BMW riders at a club weekend get together? The club has a national magazine and the local sections write an article on the latest goings on. Last month’s Yorkshire section contribution was about the Kettlewell camping weekend. We have a laugh reading it, as they refer to a young couple who’ve sold up everything to travel the world. We’re not quite doing the world (yet?), but we were amused to be described as a young couple. Oh dear, I’ve just remembered, they asked us for our names and to update them with our progress.
Seems I still have a lot of catching up to do.
From Derbyshire, we move eastwards to Crewe in Cheshire, to visit the first of my brother and his family for two nights. We arrive on a Sunday, which was perhaps a little mismanaged given that work, school and college means less time together. Nevertheless, we enjoy a couple of wholesome meals and bottles of wine together. One being a niece speciality, an authentic Italian lasagne. It is the best lasagne I’ve ever tasted. Bravo to K. My brother’s wife has a day off on the Monday, so shows us around the neighbourhood, including her place of work that does a very hearty breakfast! I swear the scrambled eggs on toast I ordered used a full box of eggs. While the adults are occupied, I have a chance to get to know my nieces, who become a great deal more chatty when the adults aren’t dominating the conversation. I’ve seen little of them over the years, so greatly enjoy their company.
From there, we trot to my youngest sibling and partner, who live in the most beautiful countryside village beside a lake in Shropshire. We wander around the lake with their two dogs and generally enjoy the peace and tranquility. Having supplied them with ‘real’ seeds earlier in the season, they bring us to their allotment to show off the yield. They did well out of the supply, even thought the borage threatened to take over one of their raised beds. We harvest a few vegetables, herbs, rhubarb and apples, thinking, ‘won’t a rhubarb and apple crumble be nice?’
On the third and final evening with them, they suggest a stay at a cottage rental about 20 miles away they particularly like. Still adorned with original fireplace stoves, the cottage is like a step back in time. A private garden and brook babbling beside the Tudor style building, I can see how it’s become a favourite. The boys light a fire, but cook more conventionally in the modern appliances. As do I, being assigned the task of realising the crumble. One of my best, if I do say so myself.
After nearly three weeks of family life, it feels strange to be on the road again. Destination is Harmony Farm, near Pontypool in Wales. We’ve signed up for a weekend Regenerative Agriculture course with a favourite tutor of ours.
Will let you know how we get on with that!
I immediately relax, and for some strange reason begin to give myself riding instructions.
We’re on familiar roads and some of them are part of the test centre routes we encountered when this journey began.
It’s a timely reminder of how far I’ve come as a biker, from being a very nervous granny on a 125cc and feeling like everyone believed I was seriously deluded that I would ever pass my test and ride around Scotland’s roads on a 800cc.
We’re back in town for logistical reasons.
Verd’s particular model of bike has been recalled due to a front suspension problem that has occurred in rough terrain conditions. Our first stop is close to the dealership to make the early morning appointment.
We stay on Baildon Moor about 1.5 miles from the dealership. It’s an unusual site, with a large number of permanent residents, including humans, peacocks, ducks with pompoms on their heads, bantams, turkeys and chickens. We’re able to choose our pitch and as it’s in a very windswept location, we opt for tree shelter. After a walk across the moor into the town, the wind makes my hair stand upright. We’ve made a good decision about location.
During the night we discover it isn’t so great. A large family gathering becomes noisy as large quantities of drink are consumed and we’re entertained by a 3 am family row. Our second night is similar, but things quieten down a little earlier, but we make a quick getaway and set up camp at our old favourite – the Cock O’ the North, you know the one, the one mile adventure we had leaving home? We’re a day early, but it works out well, as my brother and partner arrive from Shropshire a day early too. They’re already settled complete with caravan and awning, with a bag of ingredients, and I’m given instructions to make nachos for everyone like I did the last time they visited. We join the campsite owners, Sue and Robin for a drink in the bar. They are regular campers in north Spain and they give us lots of tips about the best sites and things not to miss. They also intend to go this autumn, so we swap details to arrange a meet-up.
The bike recall isn’t so successful, BMW seem to be unable to provide the new part, due to a backlog of demands, however, testing reveals that Verd’s bike is fine, though he’d worn a tyre down so much he’s only got 300 miles left before The Beast is road illegal. Coupled with 100% wear on the brakes, it’s a good job the bike was recalled! I expect mine to be as bad, so also have a health check. All good, but brakes have 70% wear. We replace all worn parts for peace of mind.
We say goodbye to the Cock O’ the North, and cross the Pennines to Derbyshire. The next few weeks are going to be spent with family members and we’re taking advantage of the opportunity to finalise our research, ensure our paperwork is in order, lighten the load, Skype and do those things you can’t do when on the road.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a map of the Scottish leg of the journey, omitting any day trips and ride-outs.
And if you’d like to take a closer look at the route and the stopping points, you can do a street view here: