Days 126 & 127 of 120 – The Bay of Biscay & Home

Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th November 2018

The forecast for our journey through the Bay of Biscay, up the Coast of France and into the English Channel is looking well, bumpy. High winds and big waves forecast. I have absolutely no idea if I will get sick or not.

Every crossing we have ever made has been pretty benign so I have no idea if I have the iron constitution of a true barnacle back or the pathetic, liver lilied constitution of a palsied land lubber. Ah well, we can’t afford dinner on board anyway and we certainly can’t afford to just rent it for a few hours. Wish us luck.

Before all that though check Gandalf in for the ferry and a wander round Santander.

Gandalf, all checked in and ready to sail

If you ever find yourself catching the ferry from Santander I do recommend you arrive early, park your vehicle and take a walk along the sea front to the Palacio de la Magdalena (Ai Yai!).

Magnanimous in defeat the Spanish even have a memorial to the Battle of Trafalgar (21st October 1805) on the Main Street…

Honour to the many who fought & suffered. Honour and glory to those who died

There is a mini wildlife reserve on the peninsula with seals, sea lions and penguins.

Sea lion. Beautiful but captive

Whilst they are, I’m sure, well looked after and that being able to see them close up helps us recognise how important it is to protect them in the wild, my thoughts on captive animals are conflicted.

I rationalise my feeling by convincing myself that those in captivity have some kind of issues that mean they cannot be released in to the wild. You know, like a damaged tail so they can’t hunt effectively. However, I can’t help but think that their swimming round and round is the aquatic version of pacing up and down a prison cell.

Speaking of confinement, it’s time to board the boat.

This could take a while

And time to find out if we (I) get sea sick. The signs are not good…

The first sign of the “weather” to come is when we visit the small food shop on board and the lady serving proudly shows us how she has removed much of the stock because she had been told to expect most of it to fall down in the night.

After a bite to eat, which I hope not to live to regret, we ask another member of staff on the information desk about the impending weather. She gives a rueful smile and tells us about the expected 9 metre (30 feet!) waves due to start, “Any time now.” Apparently it should all be over by about 9am. Excellent, just 12 hours to go then.

When we tell her we have a cabin right at the front of the ship she stifles a smirk and wishes us the very best of luck.

Now Mrs (aye aye Captain) P chose our cabin for this 24 hour crossing. I’m pretty sure that in a former life Mrs P was a Buccaneer, Pirate, Powder Monkey or some such nautically inclined person.

Cabins selected are always at the front. Preferably the middle and, if no ships wheel is provided that’s ok, because she always brings her own. Such cabins are renowned for encountering the most motion in heavy weather.

By the time we get to our cabin the boat is rocking and rolling (and not in an Elvis Presley kind of way) and Mr P is starting to feel just a little queasy.

Mrs P on the other hand is in her element. She has lashed herself to her children’s inflatable ships wheel and is shouting instructions at me. If I remember correctly her words, and please remember that her words are always spoken with impeccable, Oxford educated locution;

“Shiver me timbers landlubber. Get yerself to the poop deck and batten down the hatches or you’ll be dancing the hempen jig by morning.”

A bottle of rum appears from nowhere and she starts singing;

“Oh many’s the good ship great and small Haul, haul the halyards, boys What foundered in a gale or squall…”

Not helping.

Now, whilst certain aspects of the above may possibly be slightly exaggerated the rest I can promise you is true.

Mr P has found that if he lies down he is ok. Mr P is wearing an altimeter. Mr P’s altimeter was showing 20 metres in our cabin, before we left port. Mr P is watching his altimeter (which admittedly only displays height in multiples of 5 metres) fluctuate from 15 metres, to 30 metres. Then 25 metres to 5 metres, and so on and on and on etc.

Mrs Salty sea dog P chooses this moment in time to decant water from our huge, full 6.25 litre bottle into her drinks bottle. She didn’t spill a drop. I felt positively hornswaggled.

Strangely, lying down, eyes closed I felt fine and found the somewhat extreme motion of the boat quite relaxing. I slept very well despite being occasionally woken by the crash of a wave on the bows and the sound of sea spray battering on the window.

By 9 am the storm is over and we settle in for the rest of the uneventful journey.

Avast and shiver me timbers if it ain’t Cap’n (Mrs) P on the poop deck

We arrive in Portsmouth at 20.15hrs on Sunday 18th November after 127 days away from home.

Less than 2 hours later we are home. It’s a weird feeling. It’s even odd to be in a house after 4 months living in Gandalf. It is though very nice to know that someone, somewhere is glad we are home…

Courtesy of the in-laws. Thank you in-laws

Do keep reading after today dear reader. The blog will continue for at least another couple of weeks.

But, first we must unpack and I will need to gather my thoughts on being home. I will let you know how we get on back in ‘normal’ life.

Day 125 – The Beauty and friendliness of Spain & Card Full!

Friday 16th November 2018

It feels a bit odd. This holding pattern. As we move closer and closer to our final point of departure. An end to our Adventure.

It isn’t an end though.

Four and a bit months of utter freedom doesn’t just stop. We may have no jobs to go back to, we may have bills and a mortgage to pay and our savings won’t last forever but, the adventure will continue. It always does.

Not one of my latest but apt I think

Besides, we still have a day and a bit before we get on the boat.

For our final full day in Spain we find ourselves on a small campsite 35 minutes east of Santander, on the coast, near to a place called Ajo.

It’s a funny place. Not really a town, just a campsite filled with semi-permanent, static caravans with a smattering of full time residents in evidence. The few houses butting up to the site are all holiday homes. Mostly shuttered up for the winter. The rest is rolling farmland. If it weren’t for the barking dogs (a peculiarity of Spain that we shall miss in a perverse sort of way) we could be on the coast of sunny Cornwall or Southern Ireland.

Gandalf (and bucket) hanging out in a field in Northern Spain

After lunch we hie ourselves off for our daily constitutional and head for the coast where we have heard about some caves (La Ojerada). Mrs P is overjoyed, as we see lots of farm animals on this walk. Young cows (calfs or calves? hang on, I’ll look it up… ‘Calves.’ Looks wrong but who am I to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary?), a dozen or more piglets suckling from their enormous mother, a smattering mules, chickens and multitudinous cats, kittens, dogs and puppies. Occasionally we even spot a person, but only in the distance.

We walk down the centre of the road. No need to look over our shoulder. It is very unlikely we will see or even hear a car. We will miss the peace. The natural silence, (apart from the dogs. I mentioned the dogs right?).

It’s a beautiful coastline. Azure waves crash against the limestone rock with its karst topography (it took ages to find that out!) gradually undercutting the land and creating magnificent caves.

We’ve seen some strange things on our journey so are not even remotely surprised, on our arrival at the coast, to find a couple, she in a flowing cocktail dress, he in some kind of robe, performing interpretive dance moves to camera at the edge of the cliffs.

…Under the stars on a big hard rock. I said, In these shoes? I don’t think so…

The caves are an opportunity for our own version of interpretive dance (read: gurning) for the benefit of the camera, with the resultant photos of dubious artistic value.

La Ojerada caves
Mrs P poses in La Ojerada cave

Mrs P. The close up

At high tide, the water forced under the rock by the cave causes a characteristic sound called a ‘snort‘. We had no idea it would happen so, when there was a sudden, very loud and somewhat alarming rushing noise we christened it a WTF!?

The cliffs near the caves

Our walk ends on a beautiful beach with the sun low in the sky.

Take only photos, leave only footprints
Ah, sweet… Hang on… how come she’s taller than me!?

Back at the campsite we shower, cook and toast Spain, which we have declared to be the friendliest of the countries we have travelled through. The people are universally lovely. No grumpy waiters, no sullen campsite staff, a smiling ‘holla’ from everyone we meet, young and old and a willingness to help, to inform and to make one feel welcome. Thank you Spain.

ASIDE: A couple of spooky non-events today have underlined that these are the final hours of our trip;

Spooky incident No. 1. Towards the end of today’s walk I was taking one of my last photos when I got the following error message…

“CARD FULL”

6 GB of memory on camera 1 of 3 all used up.

Don’t worry though, I deleted a couple of the terrible videos I shot and freed up a bit of space. (For those of a nervous disposition, I have also, long ago, uploaded 90% of the images to both my laptop and the cloud.)

Spooky incident No. 2. Mrs P’s biro that she has been using to write her diary all trip, ran out of ink.

Not exactly miracles but; Picture a man who has just entered, The Twilight Zone...

Day 121 – The pessimist complains about the wind…

Monday 12th November 2018

…the optimist expects it to change; the realist closes the roof and sleeps downstairs.

William Arthur Ward – (as amended by Mr P)

I already mentioned how we found a lovely free place to park Gandalf on a ridge near Arboli, Catalunya, Spain.

It had been a very peaceful spot on our first evening. Stunning views, close to the climbing, flat (very important). We both had a great nights sleep and woke to a beautiful sunrise. All in all, a great place for a wild camp.

No surprises then that, we had decided to spend another night in the same spot.

This may not have been our best move. The evening started well;

• Beautiful sunset – check

• Dinner cooked and eaten – looking good so far

Time to settle down for the night.

Climb into pop top roof and think;

Sleep, my sweet reward.

Nope. More like…

O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee, That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down and steep my sense in forgetfulness?

William Shakespeare

Ah, would that mine own words should compare to that of the great Bard. No. More like;

How in heaven’s name am I going to sleep through this racket?”

Pop top roofs. Great unless it’s really windy

What sounds like a howling gale has started up. Winds are gusting at a mere 43 kph. ‘Not too bad.‘ I hear you say. ‘A mere 26.179 mph‘. But, we all know what happens when wind hits a ridge or mountain and what happens to the wind speed at the top of said ridge or mountain… What do you mean “No”? Must I explain everything? Hey ho. It’s Mr P explains time again:

When wind hits a slope the speed increases the higher up the slope you go. Meaning that the wind reaches its highest velocity at the summit of the ridge/mountain/hill or, where Gandalf is parked.

The following diagram may help…

A diagram purloined from the interweb that manages to look like a 1970’s Open University handout

Not entirely sure how accurate the figures are but, you get the idea.

Additionally there is the eyes shut effect that automatically magnifies all sound to cataclysmic proportion.

The gusting bit is the thing that is keeping me awake. The pop top or, bloomin’ great sail, is causing the van to be buffeted around in a far from relaxing way. Yes, I tried counting sheep, but they kept blowing away.

There is a difference dear reader, between a tent in a gale and a campervan pop top roof in mere high winds. Strange as it may seem, I would prefer the tent in a gale. At least in a tent you sleep on the immovable ground.

By 11pm I had had enough, and so it would appear had Mrs P. On attempting to gently wake her to break the news that I was going to close the roof and we would have to move downstairs (“downstairs!?) I discovered that she was already awake, had been awake for some time and was thoroughly fed up of being constantly battered in the back by the side of the pop top.

So, down we go. Pop top closed. Noise reduced, buffeting diminished. But, I still can’t sleep (unlike Mrs P who is instantly out like a light). Finally at about 03.30 the winds die down and I finally, get some shut eye.

We wake in the morning to beautiful sunshine and new neighbours. A white campervan with British number plates arrived shortly after dark the previous night. The occupants are a lovely couple (Phil & Allie) of a similar age to Mrs P and I (well, at least Phil was a similar age to me) out here, in Catalunya, climbing for a few months.

We chat, and following a guided tour of their cleverly converted, if somewhat larger van, we [read: ‘Mr P’] suffer from the following:

1. Storage space envy

2. Oven envy

3. Fridge envy

4. Extractor fan envy

5. Shower envy

6. Even inflatable kayak envy.

Later that day our new acquaintances bump into us at the crag where Mrs P is honing her lead climbing skills and Phil (under the expert direction of his able assistant Allie) kindly takes some rare and rather splendid photos of Mrs P and myself in climbing mode.

Mrs P – Leading lady
Mr P, looking up to Mrs P (as always)

Thanks both.

Tune in again tomorrow when it’s back to the pretty pictures as Mrs P and I take a walk around the historic and even legendary, hill top town of Siurana.