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The Rudds on the Road in Spain 2012 PDF Printable Version E-mail

The Daily Diary of a Motorhome Journey to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain
September to November 2012

Brian and Patricia Rudd
January 2013

This is an account of a 50-day journey from Lancashire through France and into Northern Spain to visit Santiago de Compostela, the well known Christian pilgrim destination. Most overnight stays were Aires or free camping. All site locations are given in Garmin SatNav format.

See also Brian's Account of a Journey to and from Turkey between March and June 2012.

And: The Rudds on the Road in France 2011




Patricia (right) with her sister Pauline


The Rudd's Rapido 7066dF

DAY 1 Friday 21st September 2012

Awake before the alarm clock, five o'clock in fact. Pauline and Bob called in to see us off. Our Nicky also popped in. Dismal and grey setting off. Called at Tesco for diesel and last minute bits and pieces. An Autoquest motorhome came and parked alongside of us. They were living in their van full-time, in the UK mainly. They are from Wigan and were local for their daughter, who was expecting soon.

Travelled M6, M1, M25, M20 to Dover. Stopped at Watford Gap Services for dinner. What a dismal, grey, drizzly day to be travelling. Traffic chaotic, Britain is getting worse. I wonder what date we will achieve total gridlock. Spotted a multi-tasking lady, driving, wobbling, texting. Idiot!

Picked up Charlie and went for some eats at 'Brewers Fayre', at the island just up the hill from the dock in Dover. Food was OK, basic pub grub. Dropped Charlie off and headed for the esplanade for the night. Four vans parked when we arrived. Had a quick brew, a read of the paper then off to bed. We had been awake since around 5 am.

DAY 2 Saturday 22nd September 2012 Esplanade at Dover

Awake at 6.30 am. What a change in the weather. Sun blazing and a beautiful clear blue sky. My right foot was stiff and painful on getting up, probably as a result of eight hours on the pedal yesterday. Rubbed the cream in.

Had breakfast and got a couple of photographs. A guy turned up with a Spitfire on a trailer. Apparently there is some pageant or parade on today. He was saying that all vehicles will be cleared from the esplanade. Time for us to move. Checked in at the docks, no delay, all smooth. Still sunny. Chatted to a young couple on a motorbike, who were parked near us on the ferry. They are off to Holland and then the Champagne region of France.

Bought the obligatory breathalyser on the ferry. French law it seems has deemed, in its wisdom, that we need to carry these. The ferry seemed to be rather quiet, lots of seating available. Out at Dunkirk no problem. We headed straight for the services at Gravelines. That job sorted, we headed for Grand Fort Philippe. A van was just leaving as we pulled in, so straight into a marked out bay. We had decided to have a quiet day of contemplation, reading and walking.

Had a snack of crackers, cheese, coffee and cake. We went for a walk along the sea wall that lines the river bank. A stiff breeze was blowing on the open section which protrudes into the sea. Nearly three miles logged. Back for a brew and read.

I had decided to try out a T-mobile SIM card that can be used to access internet etc while in Europe. I just loaded one pound to test what can be done with it. I will report back later in the diary. I sent a text for our Nicky to forward to the family with the new SIM number. My team (Wigan Athletic) lost 2-1 to Fulham at home, they didn't play well apparently.

Chicken, couscous and salad for tea, followed with strawberries and cream. We were also watching a lot of the locals visiting a small takeaway kiosk, just across the car park. It seemed popular, so we may try it out. Played dominoes for a while, Patricia won as usual. Off to bed around 10.30 pm, reading 'One Man and his Bike' by Mike Carter - a cycle trip around the coast of Britain.

DAY 3 Sunday 23rd September 2012 Grand Fort Philippe

N 51 00.081 E 02 06.512 Elevation 9 ft

Awake 8.30 am after a quiet and peaceful night for both of us. Patricia is usually awake early at home, eg 5 am or 6 am. Just having a brew and updating the diary.

Well we had a lovely breakfast of bacon and egg rolls. Excellent. We had planned to get the bikes out and ride over to Petit Fort Philippe, but the rain changed the plan. It's a dramatic change from yesterday, which was beautiful and sunny. I moved the van to the corner pitch looking onto the river. We were parked in the place near the road. It's a little quieter and a better view on the river

So we are chilling, reading, emailing, tweeting and generally enjoying being quiet and relaxed. Patricia has just done us soup, bread, cake and a brew. Enough to brighten any grey day.

When can you sit and watch Seagulls ripping bags of rubbish open and pecking around for any bits of food. I just have done. David Attenborough, eat your heart out.

To be truthful there are not many people around today. Looks like the village is hunkered down also. Just been following the Cycling World Championships on Twitter. Marc Cavendish not looking like retaining his jersey. The Cauberg climb is a hill too far I think. We'll see later. Yes, Philippe Gilbert is the new world champion.

Spent the last few hours with Backgammon. It's been a while since we last attempted to get into playing. We got some basic moves off etc. Guess what, Patricia won as usual. Maybe there is some divine signal here that I should give up playing games, especially against Patricia.

Still windy and lashing down. Pork and rice for tea, perk up the day with some food.

We spent the rest of the evening playing Backgammon. Slowly learning about it. Off to bed 10.45 pm. It was then the heavens really decided to open. Thunder and lashing rain for around an hour. Eventually the worst of it blew over and it became quiet.

DAY 4 Monday 24th September 2012 Grand Fort Philippe

N 51 00.081 E 02 06.512 Elevation 9 ft.

Alarm on for 7 am. I had slept well, but Patricia had not. The rain seems to have blown over, but it still looks rather ominous in the skies above us. Just enjoying my first brew of the day.

Well it was ominous. The rain came with the wind, absolutely blasting.

Toilet sorted at Gravelines. Then onto D300 past St Omer. D928 all the way to Azincourt (Agincourt), where we stopped for dinner in the battering rain. We did find the small display and battlefield plan but I got blown off my feet nearly, just looking at it.

We decided to head onwards. Not a good day for walking around really. D928 to Abbeville and then over to St Valery sur Somme on D40. Quick look. We had been through before. On to Cayeux sur Mer, which looked a decent Aire on the dunes. But still windy and raining.

Tried Ault and remembered we had seen it before. Not for us. Onto Mers les Bains. The Aire has been moved about a mile down the road and is now gated, with a 5 Euro fee. Not a bad Aire, OK for a night passing through.

The new pay gate did not seem to be in use when we arrived. An Irish-Scottish guy (his description) came out of his van to explain about it. The gate was all shiny and new, but not working. Guess what, an actual human being came around 7 pm to collect the fee. A nice young lady with a smile and a little English. (Not a lot but enough.) A lot better than a machine.

The Irish-Scottish guy was travelling around France, but he didn't seem to like French people much. He commented on the gate system: "It's like everything the French do, never works proper."

I must comment that again the French motorhomers do not seem to want to communicate with us. I've had no eye contact from any we have parked near. We have noticed this on previous trips. It does seem to be a deliberate ploy not to look, to avoid any interaction. Ah well, they will never know what scintillating conversation they could have enjoyed. Even if in broken French and Lancashire dialect English.

It's stopped raining at last. Tricia doing chips and curry. Quite a lot of motorhomes along this coast, obviously an easy place to get to and popular. But some of the Aires are dumps, eg Ault.

Pauline emailed. She is flying out to Biarritz where we will pick her up, so she can enjoy our company for a few weeks again. Or vice versa.

Had tea and then pulled out the Backgammon board. We are determined to master the complexities of it on this trip. I will report on progress as we go. I have the game on my Phablet (a cross between a telephone and a tablet), which I am using to write this diary. So I will use that also, because it shows you the eligible moves. It's coming along slowly. Off to bed around 11 pm.

Day 5 Tuesday 25th September 2012 Mers les Bains

N 50 03.690 E 01 24. 108 Elevation 140 ft

Alarm on for 7 pm. A decent night's sleep for me, Patricia broken sleep again. First brew of the day and diary catch up. It does seem like a nice day coming dawn. I wonder what today holds in store.

Had breakfast then pulled the van over to the service point. Put in 2 Euros for 10 minutes of water and 55 minutes of electric. Trimmed beard and a good wash up. We found our first whingeing campervan owner. A Belgian guy in a green whiz-bang. I was in the bathroom starkers when he came. He wasn't on the Aire overnight, he had just pulled in. He couldn't get his van to the Borne for water, he said. I had deliberately parked the van away from the Borne when I had connected the electric to enable access for other vans. He wanted to get his van close enough to fill up with a 4-foot long pipe. I ask you. He obviously came well prepared for all situations, didn't he? I couldn't move any further away because of my little Irish-Scottish friend being parked behind where I had reversed to after connecting the electric. I could have got a bus into the Borne really, he was obviously in moaning mode. Some people do seem to operate that way. They go through life always looking for problems. I did advise him that a longer pipe might be useful for the future.

Called in at Auchan which is just down the road and filled up with diesel. I put the wrong code in on the Halifax Clarity card that we use while travelling. Soon sorted though with the right one. No conversion charges on this card, very useful.

Out on the D925 we stopped at the campervan's friend, Lidl, where we parked for some dinner. This time no friend, they had no bread at all. Off then around Dieppe onto the N27, then around Rouen, which was surprisingly easier to traverse than it appeared to be on the map.

On to Elbeuf and Louviers, where we thought we would have a brew. The road signs conspired to annul that thought. Narrow streets are not the place to drive a motorhome 24 feet long. Out onto the A154, we'll have a brew later. N154 past Evreux to Nonacourt, where we turned right onto the N12, then D30 for Brezolles where we had planned to stop for the night.

Got on the Aire with a little wriggling of the van to get in. A big Brit van opposite us had an enormous Pyrenean Mountain Dog with them. I asked could I photograph him. I'm not a fan of dogs in campervans, but I must say he was a beautiful dog. Apparently he had just won a silver medal at a recent dog show the owners had been to. I sent a text to our Carl, to tell him of the Pyrenean Mountain Dog we had just encountered. He has five dogs. The answer came back "Big Dogs".

Sweet chile chicken and spring rolls for tea. I played with T-Mobile again for internet data. It keeps telling me I don't have to purchase data where I am in Europe. I wish it would let me email then. Eventually sorted. I am monitoring if it is useful for communication etc. Judgement deferred at this moment.

Wash up, then Backgammon. We used my telephone game to again try and clarify how the game is played. There seems to be some confusion in the information we are using to learn the game. Enjoyable though. We think we are getting closer. Bed for 11 pm.

Day 6 Wednesday 26th September 2012 Brezolles

N 48 41.467 E 01 04.189 Elevation 407 feet

7 am. The bells, the bells. Ringing off to start the day. No need for the alarm. They did sound nice though. Had breakfast, sorted the toilet and headed off to Chartres. Said goodbye to the Pyrenean Mountain Dog owners. I never got their names, but they were nice enough to pop over and say they were leaving.

Just before leaving I chatted with a couple from Holland, Jan and Inga. Jan spoke very good English. He was into cycling, having cycled from Holland to see his daughter, living in London. They had just retired and were on their way to Portugal to spend the winter.

We headed down the D939 to Chartres, where, after a considerable search, we eventually found somewhere to park. 3 Euros for around two and a half hours. Just off the road and alongside a small river behind the Cathedral. We also popped into the Intermarche on the way in for a baguette and cakes for 1.40 Euros, not a bad price.

So off to the Cathedral, which has always been a calling place on the way to Santiago De Compostela for a lot of pilgrims. First we had to climb 150 steps up to it. What a wonderful building. Well worth the effort to come and see it. Quite large too. Restoration of the interior was underway. I immediately again thought of my question on over-restoration. Some parts inside looked like they had just been built, but the place has been there around 800 years. Why not let it look like it has been around for so long?

It started raining as we were on our way back to the van. Followed the N10 down to Vendome and found the Aire for the night. Both feeling a little low key and 'under the weather'. Wondering if we had eaten something bad. Tricia's stomach off, mine too, also a muzzy head. It battered with rain on our arrival. Vendome is supposedly a nice place, we will see tomorrow.

We both just had soup and baguette for tea. No appetite for anything more. Why is soup always enjoyable when you are feeling a little off key? No Backgammon tonight, not in the mood. We will soon be off to bed. Hopefully the tummy upset will be sorted by morning.

Day 7 Thursday 27th Sept 2012 Vendome

N 47 47.493 E 01 04.539 Elevation 55 feet

Awake 8 am, I didn't put the alarm on. Both feel a little better this morning. We will hopefully improve as the day goes on. It's not raining, so that's a plus. The sky is blue and grey, so it all could go 'pear shaped'. There is a lot of parking space around this Aire, so if arriving late, you could always park on the big car park, as some vans have done.

I have read that Vendome is a nice place, so we have planned at least a day here. We will check it out later. Had breakfast then went for a walk into town. There is a lovely big church on the way to town. We popped in but decided to call on our way back.

The town was quiet. Lots of walkway cafes, all looking rather deserted and forlorn. We spotted a shop that had some lovely clothes in for our granddaughter Lily. But they were closed all week due to some problem. Called into a Boulangerie for a baguette.

There is a Chateau on the hill above town. We may walk up tomorrow. We didn't call at the church on the way back as a toilet was needed and there was none around, so a quick walk back to the van. Patricia prepared dinner, while I got the electric bikes out of the garage at the rear of the van. A guy came walking past and stopped to admire them. They were on stands ready for the off. We had a chat for a while. His name was Maurice from near Bristol. He then sent his wife around to have a look. So we met Janet. I let them both try the bikes out, taking a spin down the road. So we ended up chatting for ages. They were supposedly leaving, but we delayed them. They eventually got on their way. A nice couple. The sun was shining a foot thick. So off we went.

We had a spin around the fields behind the van, so Patricia could familiarise with the bike. Around the park opposite and then down to the church in town. I carried the bikes inside, it was really quiet and peaceful, no one there. A few people arrived later. But a lovely interlude. For some reason my cycle computer decided to give up the ghost. I changed batteries but no go. Changed the sensor position on the forks, no go. So it will have to go. A new one is needed.

What a lovely afternoon, that is all we ask. Dry weather (better if a little sun around), a walk or a cycle ride in a quiet town or the country. Great if there is some history attached to the place. Not a lot to ask, is it?

I cycled around the campsite which is near the Aire. A few Brit vans with satellite dishes up. Probably hunting Coronation Street. I asked for prices. Pitch with 2 adults 11.90 Euros, hook- up was 3.20 Euros. ACSI card was accepted so 10 % discount, ie 15.10 Euros less 10 %. We will stay on the Aire. (Camping 'Au Coeur de Vendome' - ACSI off-season rate 14, and 7th night free.)

The Campsite versus Aire discussion is one I have had with a few people we have met on the road. I actually feel there is a difference in the approach to motorhoming that comes out in this situation. The economic argument is a 'no brainer' as the saying goes. We tend to use campsites when the required situation presents itself, to chill for a few days or utilise the washing facilities. Some seem to just want to park up and get out the sunbed and read. Whatever turns you on!

Patricia did lamb chops, potatoes and peas for tea. Wash up and then out came the Backgammon as the day faded away. I got an excellent photograph of the evening sky over the town as the sun set, silhouetting the trees and church spire.

Day 8 Friday 28th September 2012 Vendome

N 47 47.493 E 01 04.539 Elevation 55 ft

Alarm on for 7 am, not needed. We had some clowns talking loud and slamming doors around 6 am. Now this gets me going on a rant. Why do we have inconsiderate people? They go through life with no thought or consideration for other people's situations. Living in their own blinkered little world. Talk loud, slam doors over and over. Does the thought not cross their mind that other people may still be asleep? Probably not! I just think they are selfish, self-centred, lacking in empathy or feelings for their fellow man. Is that enough? Well it probably is for now. A nice start to the day.

Had breakfast and packed a small rucksack. Walking to the Chateau. Sun has come again and it's glorious. Before we set off we got chatting with John and Suzie from Felixstowe. Travelling in their Autosleeper Talisman. Reasonably new to motorhoming, but loving it when the opportunity arrives. They have family at home who they obviously want to spend time with also. Just like us. A very nice couple. John was one of those guys that I felt I had met before. Easy to talk to. So was Suzie.

We bumped into them again when they were returning from town. We were on our way out. John gave me his copy of MMM magazine, which I realised later, I had already read at home. We don't buy it much anymore, too much advertising and not enough content. It's lost the plot basically, not a lot of use for anyone who is really into motorhomes. Too much trivial stuff.

Walked up to the Chateau and had a snack looking down on the town. I got a few photographs also. Lots of horse chestnut trees around. The ground was littered with conkers. A conker player's dream. Walked into town where we bought a new small pan and a new cycle computer. Sun blazing and quite hot at this time. Had a snack and a brew back at the van. I then fitted the new cycle computer. John and Suzie had gone off to Chateaudun when we got back. Another UK van just pulled in at our side. Time now 5.40 pm and sun blazing. The area around the Aire seems to be quite busy today, not sure why. I decided to sort the toilet out and got the lid up off the nearby drain, which had obviously been constructed for toilet disposal, with the internal concrete funnel. For some reason there was no indication that it was for toilet disposal. Patricia was cooking tea, pasta and pesto with peppers and brochette.

Maurice and Janet had used the nearby campsite for toilet emptying and been charged 4 Euros for it. As I was discussing with John yesterday, there must be some friction or agenda against the Aire from the local campsite which, on a busy night for the Aire, could lose from 100 Euros upwards. There are only five spaces, but lots of parking nearby, which vans do utilise. So 10 vans would make them a little more money. I'm not sure what the local Mayor thinks on these issues. I'm not complaining, the provision of Aires in France is fantastic. It makes England look like a Luddite backward blinkered society. I wouldn't argue with that.

The Brit van that had pulled in was a guy called Jim, in a little red whiz-bang. He is on his way to the Mediterranean to meet with friends. Travelling between his medical appointments, after open-heart surgery. His friends have emailed to say they may be moving to the Atlantic coast. I didn't chat long, tea was ready.

Played Backgammon after tea. There are still small things we need to learn, but we are definitely getting there. I won three games tonight, Patricia says we are moving back to playing cards.

Day 9 Saturday 29th September 2012 Vendome

N 47 47.493 E 01 04.539 Elevation 55 ft

Awake 8.15am, no alarm, I must have forgotten to put it on. A quiet and peaceful night. A little cooler this morning, 50 deg F, so I popped the heating on for a few minutes. Jim left while we were having breakfast.

Having a walk across the road, I noticed a lead hanging under the right front of our van. Checked it out but could not ascertain where it had been plugged in. It had been hanging a while because it had wear marks from touching the road. All lights etc seemed OK, so I taped it up until we can find a Fiat garage.

We set Satellite Simon to take us to the Intermarche supermarket. We always have fun when we do this. This time no exception. Eventually finding it, did a small shop (10 items). Then into the hands of Simon again for Montoire sur le Loir. We had one road too narrow, but got there eventually. Cloudy and sunny this afternoon.

The Aire at Montoire is at a quite historical place. Where Petain met Hitler in 1940 to hand over the keys of France. There is a small museum, at the moment we haven't been in. La Gare Historique is the place. Services and one free electric point. Very civilised.

We had dinner on a picnic table in the sun. Hot when it was out, but intermittent with cloud. A Brit Rapido van rolled in, pulled up near us and then moved off. It seemed like hard work for them to acknowledge us.

Walked into town and onto the Eglise St Gilles (now a deconsecrated church with medieval frescos) which was closed when we arrived. The key was at the tourist office or the cafe across the street. We will try tomorrow.

While browsing in a small bric a brac shop we were approached by an ex-pat. He now lives at Vendome. He moved over in the nineties to escape from a high pressure job. He's not going back, he says. He had a French lady with him, introduced as Catrine. I didn't get his name. Very quiet spoken. Called at the Boulangerie for a loaf, got it sliced ready for bacon and eggs in the morning.

Back to the van for tea. Fried chicken in garlic with salad and couscous. Lovely! We were just washing up when a van turned up. The start of a little pantomime.

A French van, it had a trailer with a motorbike on the rear. Now we are parked near the Borne and have the only electric hook up. They started to reverse into the gap between us and the Borne. There is a field of space on our other side, I could probably park four buses there. Then a knock on the door. I knew what was coming, they wanted to plug in also. No problem I thought as long as they have a power lead. They were showing me they wanted to park near the Borne so they can hook up. I thought they might only have a short power lead. Anyway out comes his box of tricks, all sorts of leads and extensions and multi-sockets. Each one was held up for inspection and a 'Non' pronounced, with his lady interjecting also. After 10 minutes of this, with me looking at his leads as well, I eventually got both of us connected to the one power outlet. I could have got my connectors out, but I was enjoying the performance. He was very animated and vocal. Quite entertaining.

His mains lead must have been about 40 feet long. Why all the juggling about and squeezing in at our side? Strange mentality of some van owners wanting to sardine into a small gap. Good entertainment though.

A lovely full moon tonight, moving across the evening sky in the van's front windscreen window. I got a lovely photograph with my telephone camera. It does take some cracking photos. It's a Samsung Galaxy Note. I am writing this diary on it also. With a spreadsheet keeping note of spending.

Had a read later on French history and Petain's meeting with Hitler.

Day 10 Sunday 30th September 2012 Montoire sur le Loir

N 47 45.474 E 00 52.225 Elevation 290 ft

Awake 7.45 am, I knocked the alarm off at 7 am because I had the worst night's sleep on the trip so far. Tricia was awake at 7.45 am so we got up. Not sure why I had a bad night of broken sleep, I was awakened twice by noise outside and twice by dreams. Dreams are unusual things. They take you to some weird and sometimes wonderful places. Mostly I can't remember mine.

It looks to be a lovely September morning. The sun is rising in the van's windscreen window, yellow and golden across the horizon. I tried out the new convector heater we bought before coming away, just to take off the early morning chill. It's the first hook-up we have had so far on the trip.

I have been emailing little updates every evening to family. Just to let them know where we are etc. We haven't had many replies back! I am using T-Mobile's Euro Booster. Buying 10 Mb for 2.50 per time, it is useful as you can choose how much you want to buy. It supposedly lasts 30 days before needing another. But really it gets used quickly. Problem is all the connections that you create with companies and friends through email, Facebook, Twitter etc. You get loads of unwanted messages, that all take up your data. I will try and stop most when I have WiFi. Doing it now means again using up my data allowance. You can't win!

Bacon and eggs for breakfast this morning, lovely. We got the slow-cooker out to try. Steak and onions with potatoes. Result later. After breakfast we walked into the village and picked up the keys for the Eglise St Gilles. This is a 12-13th century church with painted frescos. You pick up the key from the tourist information centre or the cafe across the street. 5 Euros each. We had the place to ourselves. It was like another world, lovely and peaceful. The rear of the church backs onto Le Loir. With the flooding down the centuries, the river has slowly raised the land around the church by 1.5 metres. I got lots of photos.

Back to the van for crackers, cheese and coffee. Then we had showers and are now all clean and shiny. The sun has been blazing down from an absolutely clear blue sky all day. Not a cloud in site at all. Our neighbours from last night have now gone. We have two more vans with us now, both French.

I have just enjoyed watching one of them trying to set up his satellite dish. He has unhooked and moved his van six times. I thought maybe because of the trees behind us. But no! The satellite is in the sky east of south. The trees are on our west side. He made hard work of it. It's fun watching though.

The station here seems to be a centre for a small train to pick up parties of people. Several parties have come and gone. It now looks like our satellite neighbours are suitably ensconced watching television, immobile heads staring in the same direction.

Well the slow-cooker did its job. Steak and onions, potatoes and veg for tea. It went down well. Washed up and then got out the Backgammon. I think we are nearly there now with rules etc. We just need a couple of points clarifying. The information we have for the game is not very good.

Writing instructions for doing anything needs quite a lot of thought. Because the writer of the instructions is familiar with the subject, then viewing the information from a learner's point of view is difficult. I have a little game when reading any instruction manual. There is always some dubious written information. Probably clear as daylight to the writer, but total gobbledegook to a layman reading it for the first time.

Off to bed around 11 pm.

Day 11 Monday 1st October 2012 Montoire sur le Loire

N 47 45.474 E 00 52.225 Elevation 290 feet

Alarm on for 7 am. A little cooler this morning, 48 deg F. Surprising really because it was so warm and sunny all day yesterday, but it did have a really clear sky last night, hence cooler.

I slept OK but I had an unusual dream about the song 'Different Drum' sung by Linda Ronstadt. In the dream I met its writer, Michael Nesmith, who for some unknown reason I was with at the time. Then I make the gaffe of saying "I love this song, Mickey Dolenz wrote it." I then got a look saying you stupid man, don't you know I wrote it. I don't usually remember dreams! That dream probably gives away my music background. I seem to be a mine of useless musical trivia gathered over many years of being interested in music. Not so much over the last 20 years, where I have become reasonably sane again.

We are moving on today. Packed up and sorted water, toilet etc. Got onto the D108 for the N10 to Chateau Renault. D910 to Tours and around to Chatellerault. I hadn't realized until I saw a sign that we were near Sache, where Honore De Balzac, the very famous French writer, lived and wrote some of his books. We had visited it around 1998, so I turned off the D920 at the D21 and had a ride up to have dinner there. Unfortunately, as is usually the case in France, it was closed for dinner. We would have had a 75-minute wait for opening, so we had dinner and got on our way. Pity really because I would have loved to have had a walk around the place.

I have lovely memories of the last time we visited Sache, with Pauline and Bob, on a blazing hot day. I had read a book many years before called 'The Wine of Life', about Balzac, which I had enjoyed at the time and it brought an enormous character to life. So Sache was appealing to visit, it was a lovely place.

Back to the D910 for Chatellerault, then round Poitiers, heading for the Chateau Larcher Aire for the night. A Brit van pulled on the Aire just as we pulled in. On their way home, they said. Got hooked up and tripped the electric with the kettle, so we will just run the fridge and lights. Tricia did pork, potatoes and salad, followed with fruit cocktail and cream.

Nicky called, all OK at home. He was paying a credit card for us. Nice to hear his voice.

Got washed up and decided to try a DVD for a change. Good idea but not very successful. We have collected free DVD's for years, the ones that come with The Times and Guardian etc. So I chose one 'The Sheltering Sky' with Deborah Winger and John Malkovich, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Not a bad line up, I thought. The filming, mood and scenic shots were good but it just meandered on. We stuck with it, thinking there would be some conclusion of the film. No go, it got near the end and then froze, not to go any further. So that can be used for a cup mat by someone. I always ask the question 'How do they get the money to make films with no story line?' For example, this was about a couple travelling through Algeria, which in the film is still run by France. Patricia got some of my winter pullover knitted anyway. We gave up and went to bed.

Day 12 Tuesday 2nd October 2012 Chateau Larcher

N 46 24.869 W 00 18.938 Elevation 355 ft

A really quiet and peaceful night. It seems to be a quiet Aire, no passing traffic of any significance. I was awake before the 7 am alarm, listening to what seemed like a truck in the distance straining to climb a hill. Patricia was still asleep, so I knocked the alarm off and snuggled back down for a while.

Got an email from Pauline about wool for Patricia. I have been doing email updates each night for family, but not getting much response back, so I will only do an occasional one from now.

We had planned to stay and get on the bikes, but when we plan this, it rains. No exception here. So we packed up and went to Super-U at Vivonne about 2 miles away.

Just as we were leaving I noticed that a German van at the water tap was doing its best to flood the Aire. He had a pipe running into his van's fresh water tank, but he didn't realise all the water was flowing out from under the van. He could have been there all day trying to fill it, totally oblivious to it, until I pointed it out to him. I prefer the slower method of filling with a designated size of container. I then always know exactly how much I have put into the tank. As I say, 'What is the hurry?'

Did our shopping, topped up with diesel, then onto D910 past Ruffec, N10, E603 around Angouleme, N10, E606 past Barbezieux St Hilaire, A10, N230 around Bordeaux onto A63, then A660 heading for Arcachon. We turned off on the D216 through Mios for Sanguinet, where we stopped for the night.

Tried first Aire with no services, had a cuppa but decided to move on to the other where the services are. A young English couple from Bournemouth, Tim and Caroline in a whiz-bang, taking a year out to travel Europe, are at the side of the van. They have just gone down to the beach on the lake to barbecue.

Chicken, hoisin and garlic with noodles, followed by ice cream and peaches for tea. Just going dark at 8 pm. A few vans called in but no room. They roll up too late. One came in last night at 10.30 pm.

Well, the Backgammon came out again for the night. I ended up winning all four games. I find it an unusual game, there is some strategy in it but there is a hell of a lot of chance and probability. Patricia reckons I'm winning because men are better at strategy games. Can't say I agree. Anyway I'm making the best of it while I'm winning. I don't usually win. Off to bed around 11 pm, a lovely quiet night.

Day 13 Wednesday 3rd October 2012 Sanguinet

N 44 29.037 W 01 05.495

Awake with alarm at 7 am. A really peaceful night, but Patricia hasn't slept well for some reason. The temperature is up this morning, 62 deg F.

I awoke with sniffles and cold symptoms, not sure why. I have just had a cold and I thought it had gone. Got bikes out and went for a ride, looking for the shop we had seen people coming from with shopping. I found it, an Intermarche just up the road. But like a fool, I hadn't brought my cycle lock. So off back to the van.

When I got back Patricia decided to have a ride out with me. A nice little toddle up the road and back. It's really quiet here out of season, but you can bet it's busy in season. It seems to be a couple of miles to the Intermarche and back by the cycle computer.

We forgot to ask Tim and Caroline if they wanted a baguette, so we got them one anyway.

Had dinner and a read for a while. Then went on bikes to scout around the local area. Yachting club, campsite with all the empty chalets and tents like chalets. All deserted at the end of the season. We did about 6 miles out and back, not far, but I seemed to have developed a cold or something overnight, so felt bunged up, snuffly and aching and decided to get back.

Chatted with Tim and Caroline when we got back. Caroline was making wrist bracelets, so we bought some from them. We also had a French lady, Martina, who was conversing in French and we were trying to understand her. We did OK talking about knitting, crocheting etc. Lovely sociable lady.

Tim said he had seen rats in the stream behind us, but I've not seen anything. I got a photo of Tim and Caroline for the collection. They have rented their house out and are taking a year out to travel. They have support from family for their two children, who decided to stay at home. Tim has been working on boats and is a sheet metal worker, Caroline has been running her own cafe for the last five years. They are like a lot of young people, deciding that there is more to life than just working. So they are on their adventure. Good luck to them.

I pointed out the Aire at Col d'Ibardin on the French border as a good place for wine and beer purchasing.

Tricia did pasta and crisp brochette for tea, followed by rum and raisin ice cream. We decided to have a read tonight instead of playing Backgammon. Then we got off to bed really early around 9.45pm. Patricia hadn't slept well last night, so a little catch-up was in order. I had a read for a while: 'Sex, lies and handlebar tape', a book about Jacques Anquetil the French cyclist, who had a rather unconventional family life but was a top cyclist in his time. I have nearly finished 'One Man and his Bike'. I have two books going now.

Day 14 Thursday4th October 2012 Sanguinet

N 44 29.037 W 01 05.495

Awake 8.20 am, no alarm this morning. It was light when we got up, temperature 64 deg F.

A lovely quiet and peaceful night. It looks overcast at the moment. Had breakfast and then said our goodbyes to Tim and Caroline, who are leaving to go further down the coast. I had seen Caroline leaving their van last night and wondered where she was going on her own. She was nipping into the nearby campsite, which is almost empty, for a shower. Can't see any harm really. Good luck to her. Sadly I forgot to ask them for an email address so that we could follow their travels.

I cycled up to the Intermarche for a baguette and to see if I could buy some cleaning tools for the van exterior, as we had left ours in the UK. No baguette, the Boulangerie was closed, and no cleaning tools either. So I bought a small loaf. Martina, the French lady we had chatted with yesterday, was in the Intermarche with her husband or partner, whatever they are called these days. Just had a few brief words with her.

I had a read for a while then had dinner. We then set off to have a scout around the lake on the bikes. We did 10.5 miles. The weather was lovely and warm, on a cycle track most of the way. We crossed two main roads and on the way back across one, we saw 4 Gendarmes climb out of their van to set up a radar speed camera. They're even hunting in a quiet place like this.

Got back and had a welcome brew. I put the bikes and other tackle away ready for morning and moving on. Tricia did pork, salad and rice for tea, followed by fruit cocktail and ice cream. We had a good appetite and were ready for it.

Sent Charlie a text to see if all was OK, she says 'all well'. Played Backgammon again, Patricia started winning. We ended up three games each. Got off to bed around 11 pm. I finished 'One Man and his Bike'. A quite enjoyable book, but I thought the ending could have been written better. It says on the book 'a life changing experience' but it doesn't tell you what changed in his life. Apparently, from the book cover, the writer is a journalist living in London. That is what he was when he set off on the journey, so that obviously hasn't changed. The mystery remains. I read a little of my other book and then off to sleep.

Day 15 Friday October 5 2012 Sanguinet

N 44 29.037 W 01 05.495

Alarm on for 7 am. Quite a lot cooler this morning 54 deg F. The sky was really clear last night, so I expected it. Just having the first brew of the day. Had breakfast and sorted out for moving on.

Went to the Intermarche for a baguette at 0.55 Euros. Got on the D652 to Biscarrosse, where we called in at the Super U for some external cleaning materials for the van. Then on to Parentis-en-Born, Gaste, Ste Eulalie-en-Born, St Paul-en-Born, Mimizan, D652 to Bias, then St Julien-en-Born. Here we turned to pop in at Contis Les Bains where Tim and Caroline had told us they were stopping.

We thought we would call in, say hello, get an email address and have some dinner while stopped. The Aire was to pay, at 7 Euros, and showers were cold they said. Tim was having a problem with his I-Pad freezing. I sent a text to our Marc (he has an I-Pad) for advice, but no reply.

Tim and Caroline were just setting off for the supermarket, so we had some dinner. I left my mobile number in case Tim wanted to see if Marc had some info for him. No contact from either at the moment (5.50 pm).

The temperature on a Chemist's sign indicated 30 deg C, a bit warm for October.

Headed on to St Julien-en-Borne, Lit-et-Mixe, Vielle, St Girons, Leon, then Moliets Plage where we are planning to spend the night. Aire 5 Euros from 1st Oct with electric hook up. When we arrived the barrier wasn't functioning. A young Belgian called Tony came over to help and called the telephone number on the barrier. Two minutes later a guy came to fix it and we were in.

Got hooked up and a brew on. Just then a French van came on and proceeded to try practically every pitch on the Aire. He was still driving around and stopping three-quarters of an hour later. I thought he was looking for clear sky over him, ie no pine cones, as maybe he has a solar panel on the roof. Just been out and chatted with a French guy parked near us and it seems the pitch-hopping guy has the old satellite TV problem and can't get a signal on his dish. He spent more than an hour scouting out a position. I think we all sighed with relief when he finally settled down.

Quite a few young surfers around in their coloured vans. Tony was one of them. They look like a hippy camp, with children playing around and washing hung out. No problem to us, as long as they are quiet later, with no all night parties.

Had showers in van after a novel tea: Spam, salad and potatoes followed by pears and cream. It was a warm night, too warm for cooking. Seems lots of vans coming on late. Had a read for a while, then off to bed.

Day 16 Saturday 6th October2012 Moliets Plage

N 43 51.040 W 01 22.952

Peaceful night, no noise from our young surfers. All quiet, just late vans coming in.

Had toast for breakfast with cheese spread, for a change. Just got a text from Tim and Caroline that they are heading this way. We will be gone when they arrive. We let them know by text the site info and fee, especially for Tim and his surfing. Left Moliet Plage on D652 to Messanges. Called at a Super U, where we were bumped on the rear of the van, though we didn't find out until later. Plastic cover at the rear of the van was broken.

Onto Vieux Boucau les Bains and down through Cap Breton, which looked nice and busy.

Labenne, Tarnos, Bouceau, Bayonne and Anglet. We called at two McDonalds on the way to pick up WiFi for trying Skype, but both were rather tight to get into and park up.

Called at Anglet Aire, 6 Euros, no electric at all, though it says in the Aires book that it has. Parked up and had dinner. Then went to look at the Biarritz Aire. 10 Euros with hook up. Pretty busy but got in. We washed the van after a brew. A Brit couple, Liz and Phil, at our side in an Autotrail.

Patricia cooked pork chops, couscous, saute potatoes and salad. We had an appetite after cleaning the van. While Patricia was cooking, I popped out to help a French van level up on a slope opposite to us. There was no room elsewhere. Eventually got him OK, not perfectly level but all right. While having tea we saw him out again moving the van, starting the satellite shuffle. 9.15 pm now and he's still shuffling.

It never ceases to amaze me the time and trouble they go to, just to watch TV. He is now parked in the turning circle still hunting the skies. TV rules OK!

Time for a read I think, a lot more simple kind of entertainment. Off to bed and listened to the Biarritz night come down while having a read.

Day 17 Sunday 7th October 2012 Biarritz

N 43 27.990 W 01 34.302

Barking dogs, why do people want to put up with them in a campervan. We have two next door that were quiet yesterday, but decided to start off in the night. The owner probably oblivious to them barking. We finally got up around 8 am. It had rained a little last night, but the temperature is still up at 72 deg F.

The Biarritz Aire is by the side of a road with passing traffic all the time. It is full to bursting at the moment. We can't see why, unless they are waiting, as we are, for someone flying in at the Airport about three miles down the road. We looked at the Anglet Aire but decided here was nearer to the Airport, but I'm not sure what the attraction is for everyone else. It really is a parking lot, not much space between vans at all. It must be a last resort decision to stay here while passing through. But I'm not totally sure of that.

We got in yesterday afternoon and there were lots of vans already in place. So this Aire most likely won't get used again unless totally necessary. We spent the morning cleaning again. Patricia inside, me outside on the wheels. Phil from the next van popped by to say he would like to have a chat with us and 'pick our brains'. No problem, we will chat later. A guy from New Zealand came chatting, he was on a van swap with another couple. Patricia was trying out the new vacuum cleaner we had been given as a present from Sarah Jane and Mike.

Phil had been for a walk and we got together after dinner with himself and Liz, his wife. They were interested in our account of the journey to Greece and Turkey and our free camping. They are reasonably new to motorhoming and had quite a few questions. Phil had an I-Pad with him which he used on 3G with a French SIM card, giving him access. It seemed a good deal, I will have to check it for future reference. We had an hour with them and then got off to assess the Airport for picking Pauline up.

Called at Le Clerc supermarket but we had forgotten they were closed, so we parked up and walked across to the Boulangerie across the road for two baguettes. We also popped into a shop nearby to have a look for some chairs, but nothing doing. Used the 'hole in the wall' nearby and got 80 Euros.

We had a ride around the Airport and parked up near a small hotel that had WiFi, so I got some free airtime while waiting. There was a van parked near us with the chairs out, they looked settled in. Can't say it was the best place to spend the day.

Pauline was on time, Patricia went in for her and I rolled around to pick them up when they came out. Straight back to the Aire and we got a place just across from where we were before. Phil came out to greet us and back me in, a nice welcoming gesture. A lady from an Elddis van, that had just rolled in, called in to ask about paying for the Aire.

Spent the evening chatting, eating and catching up. Phil called across later. It was his 65th birthday today, he said Liz was washing up. Phil used to work at sea on the ferries. He now lives in Dover. And so the night went, until we got down for bed. Another warm night, we're not complaining though.

Day 18 Monday 8th October 2012 Biarritz

N 43 27.990 W 01 34.302

Alarm on for 7 am. All up, brew, diary and chat. Now for breakfast. Phil and Liz popped in before leaving, they were off to San Sebastian. I got a mobile number and email address from them.

The collection of the Aire fee seems to have been shambolic. We paid for the first 24 hrs, Phil didn't pay at all, though he had two days there. Other French vans came after the fee collectors left and went before they returned. Anyway, by the time we left, no-one had come to collect the 10 Euro fee.

Went down to Le Clerc to do a shop. Then set Satellite Simon to take us to the D932, which (with a few no, no's from me at his suggested turns down narrow streets) he found. A straight run through to St Jean-Pied-de-Port, where we again parked at the Lidl store, as we had done last year. Had dinner then had a drive to look at the Aire that we remembered seeing on our last visit, then returned and parked at Lidl. Walked into town and spent a while wandering around. There was a small market taking place, we didn't buy anything. The weather was quite hot, quite alien for us Brits, especially it being October.

Pauline had bought a crocheting needle but somehow lost it on our walk-about. There were a few coach loads of tourists tramping around with the ubiquitous guide prancing around and whistling to assemble them. Not our scene, sorry.

Walked back and popped into Lidl. Tricia cooked chicken, hoisin and spring onion, with noodles and peppers. Peaches and ice cream to follow. All washed up now, so we will commence to teach Pauline the game of Backgammon. Lovely and quiet with only the sound of the river, which is quite soporific. Off to bed around 11 pm.

Day 19 Tuesday 9th October 2012 St Jean-Pied-de-Port

N 43 09.917 W 01 14.554 (Lidl Car Park)

Alarm on for 7 am. Slept reasonably well except for waking a few times with the Lidl cooling systems kicking in. The lights on the car park went off last night and came on this morning. Quite a lot of mist on the fields and on the mountains. Charolais cattle wandering around, one came down and paddled in the river across from us. Pauline popped out to get a photograph and got the bottom of her pyjamas wet.

Pauline called into Lidl for a baguette after breakfast. We then tried to park near the Tourist Information Centre, but were waved away by the police. So we went down to the Aire to use the services. The cost for staying there is 5.5 Euros. Not as nice as Lidl car park though. I observed some bad French hygiene examples again while waiting to dump the toilet. I chatted with an Irish guy for a few minutes, who was telling me he walked the Camino route last year. My SatNav says it's 500 miles from St Jean to Santiago.

We parked back on Lidl and then Patricia and I walked back to the Tourist Information Centre. I needed the address of Biarritz Central Post Office to use Post Restante. I had forgotten that the van was only taxed until the end of October. All the planning and I missed that, fool. I found out when Nicky called me that the renewal was in the post. He will renew and send it out to me.

That sorted, we were off to Spain, heading along the D933/N135, now re-christened the 'Wiggly Winding Road'. We stopped for dinner about 2.5 miles before Roncsevalles. We then reached the top of the climb of the Puerto de Ibaneta at over 3,000 ft. Stopped again for photos, where we chatted to a French guy we had seen waltzing up the mountain on his bike. It turns out he was 65, a year younger than me. I wish I was so fit, but I'm sure he has always cycled a lot.

It's funny how life steers you along a particular path. This guy, I would think, has spent a lot of time cycling, hence he still cycles up mountains. I on the other hand have spent as much time on playing the guitar. Not much use for climbing mountains. I should have spent more time cycling with hindsight. Life's easy with hindsight though. The things we would do differently if given the chance. Maybe he can't play guitar, but then again, maybe he can!

Called at Roncesvalles after dinner. We had a stroll around what is a nice little place, with a lovely little church. It gets a lot of pilgrims staying there in the hotels and Shelter.

We parked just behind the church away from the road. A big sign stating no overnight camping, ah well. No mobile signal also, which we always check just for emergency, so we wouldn't have stayed anyway. We chatted with the young lady in the Tourist Information Office. She had been to Liverpool three years ago. She said it was beautiful with two cathedrals. She advised us to see Old Pamplona, so we may try tomorrow if we can park anywhere.

We then headed to Pamplona. It was getting late afternoon nearing Pamplona, so I decided we would hunt down a stopover place for the night. We pulled eventually into Egues, a small village just outside Pamplona, where we parked behind a restaurant. Two young guys arrived in a car and I asked would we be OK there. They took me in to see the owner, who said we were fine. So we tucked into a corner for the night.

Patricia did pork, potatoes, peas and carrots for tea, followed by ice cream. Knitting and reading after tea. Off to bed early.

Day 20 Wednesday 10th October 2012 Egues (near Pamplona)

N 42 49.619 W 001 33.013 (Restaurant car park)

I was awake before the alarm, dreaming a weird dream. Having a brew and diary catch-up for a while. We dropped upon a nice quiet place for the night, but somehow we are still not having an unbroken night's sleep. Not sure why, maybe it's because it is so warm. Had breakfast and then we set off into Pamplona, trying to find parking near the old part of the city. We spotted several vans on a car park and tried that, but it was around 1.5 miles to walk when I checked the distance on the SatNav, a problem for Pauline. I noticed they were all Spanish vans, probably locals who park their vans because of living in flats, as in Italy.

Anyway, after driving around we luckily turned into a little place, mainly to assess where we were. It was just by the park built around the Citadel walls, a lovely place in the centre of the city. All we had to do was a short walk and we were into the old town, excellent. Passing a busker who only seemed to have one tune, 'When the Saints Go Marching In'. We could hear him from afar but he was still playing it when we passed him. He was playing a Piano Accordion.

We came across three ladies who were singing as they walked along. Quite in harmony also. Well two were singing I should say. I gave them a round of applause and had a little sing with them also 'Holay, Holay, Holay, Holay'. It seems they were members of a chorus, they came from Seville and were obviously enjoying themselves. We got a photograph of myself with them.

The vibe of the place was quite relaxed and it was a place I enjoyed strolling around. We didn't have any agenda except getting Patricia's glasses repaired, which we did for 12 Euros. The shop was immediately at the side of the Plaza De Toros. This apparently, is the third largest Bullring in the world after Mexico City and Madrid. That's what it said on the sign at the gates. We called in a coffee shop, got three coffees and three pastries to take away at a cost of 5.1 Euros, which wasn't a bad price at all I thought. It was good coffee also. The Camino de Santiago is marked all the way through the city with steel plates in the pavement, which have a shell emblem on them.

We found that the churches were closed, which surprised us, especially two that were directly on the Camino route. We bought some bread and cakes at a Carrefour on the way back. Had a late dinner and then set off for the Aire that I had picked from the book, which sounded OK.

A12 to Logrono which we skirted around, then the N232 for Miranda De Ebro. The Aire sounded decent in the book, the only reason I had chosen it, but it was a disappointment on arrival. I do wish the contributors to the Aires books would take realistic photographs and enter sensible comments. This one was misleading to say the least. Give it a miss. There is a three star hotel opposite, but we can't see a room lit up at all. The sign is lit up 'Hotel Tudanca' - eight floors of red and cream, uninviting tower block.

We had steak and onions, sauted potatoes and vegetables for tea. I played Patricia at Backgammon, score 2-2. Pauline was watching, knitting and supporting Patricia.

Day 21 Thursday11th October 2012 Miranda de Ebro

N 42 41.325 W 02 57.300

Awake with the alarm at 7 am. The Aire quietened down a little in the night, but is still what I would call noisy. Had breakfast, sorted toilet and then off. Headed for Santo Domingo de la Calzada. N124, LR 111. Called at a Lidl for bread, but no go.

Now there is a story about cockerels attached to Santo Domingo de la Calzada. Hearing them crow also supposedly brings luck. We heard them crow, in fact I filmed one crowing.

The Cathedral I must say is well worth a visit. We paid 3.50 Euros each at the Tourist Info shop for entry to the Cathedral and Museum. There are some incredibly ornate carvings all around the Cathedral and in the Museum. The live cocks are in the Cathedral, which is quite unusual. 'The Miracle of the Rooster' took place here, hence all the lavish bequests of ornate items. It really is worth a visit. There is also a lovely square behind the Cathedral which was totally deserted.

We had parked alongside the old town wall, which would have been a considerable fortification in its day. It now looks like the town has realised this and a clearance has been made around the remainder of the wall. There are still some old doors that have been cut through it for the buildings that were constructed against it.

Had dinner, then onto San Juan de Ortega along the N120, to visit the small church there. Unfortunately, as with all the churches so far, it was closed. Not sure why this is, but it has been the case so far in Spain. So we got some photographs, had a cup of coffee and left.

We skipped around Burgos onto the A231 and then CL 613, to Villada, where I had chosen an Aire for the night. It was about a 90 mile drive, but the roads were excellent. We arrived around 6.30 pm. The Aire was empty, just local children playing, who all wanted to say " "Hello" and "What time is it please?", practising their English. This Aire looks quite neat, tidy and well maintained. A total contrast to the last one we stayed on.

Had pasta and salad for tea and got washed up. The local lads, who must train on the ground behind the Aire, kicked a ball over and it landed on the van roof. Luckily, not on any of the plastic roof lights. A near escape, it landed with a fair bang.

Around 9 pm a Spanish van came in and we had the usual sardine routine of squeezing in at our side, when there were several more easily accessible spots. I can never understand it.

They had a baby on board, which made itself heard. The site was really quiet later and we got off to bed early. We had not had an unbroken night's sleep for a few days, so we were all ready for bed.

Day 22 Friday 12th October 2012 Villada

N 42 15.306 W 04 57.885

Alarm 8 am. Beautiful clear sky and lovely sunrise around 8 am. The place really quiet, not even farmers are out early. We saw a lot of tractors here last night.

There is a church just up the road from the Aire, so we walked up to have a look at it. It was closed. We asked a lady who lived across the road and was sweeping the leaves around the front of her house. She pointed out a house to call at for the key. Pauline knocked and the lady came out in her night dress. She would only open at 11 am. So no go again. We then met a couple, Miguel and Gloria from Madrid. Miguel spoke very good English and we had a chat. He spoke to the leaf-sweeping lady who was complaining that the key holder should have let us in. Also the priest should open up too. Obviously he was having a lie in! So we didn't see the church.

Miguel was a Real Madrid supporter, also a fan of their manager Jose Marino. He also knew about Wigan Athletic and our manager Roberto Martinez, who is from Spain.

We decided to head into Leon to see the Cathedral and call at a supermarket. On the way in to Villada last night, we had seen a castle at Grajal de Campos, so we called in to have a look at it. Guess what? It was closed. It seems to be a common theme on this trip. There is a small entry around the rear, but no signage at all. Anyway, on we go.

Along the CL 613 and onto the A231, then N601 into Leon. Again the usual problems of parking in a city. Also the Spanish closing down all afternoon causes a few problems for visitors. According to our guide book, the Cathedral was closed, so we thought we would shop and have some dinner. So onto Lidl, closed. Carrefour, closed. This Carrefour was enormous, so not a Siesta closing, I thought. So I asked a guy nearby, who explained it was Fiesta, all shops were closed. We're having a whale of a time with places being closed. Let's have some dinner and then one last try for the Cathedral.

We got parked up and walked in. The Cathedral was still closed, but open at 4 pm. We had a walk around and down the street, where we found a building that Gaudi designed, Casa de Botines, with his statue outside. Good for photographs. Also the Palacio de los Guzmanes.

Finally we got tickets for the Cathedral and cloisters, 4 Euros each on pensioner's rate. You also get a handset that has a spoken commentary in your chosen language. I tend not to bother with too much information on this type of visit. I'm not going to become an expert. I prefer to look and enjoy the atmosphere, which here was not very good, too busy and crowded.

I have a view on these things that I like to get my own memory of a situation, not a pre-recorded commentary that there is no way I will remember or retain when I have left the place. Everyone wandered around looking like they were making telephone calls. I'm not sure they take much in to recall later as a memory. That's my view anyway.

Lovely glasswork all around. I found a lovely carving of St George and the Dragon on the side of a choir stall. We also had a walk around the cloisters at the rear.

Leaving Leon, we then went onto Hospital de Orbigo along the N120 outside of Leon. I thought we would have a look at the notable bridge there and also look for a free-camp for the night, as it was around 5.45 pm by now.

We actually came across a municipal campsite that I called in, to ask the price - 20.40 Euros for the night. So we went for it. We picked up bread and cakes also at a nearby shop. The site is rather overcrowded to say the least, with what seem to be permanent tents and caravans. But there was quite a lot of space where we were fitted in. I saw one couple unloading a cupboard and fridge, which looked like permanency to me.

Had chicken Kievs, chips and salad for tea. Patricia and Pauline went to try out the showers, which were good they said. I had a session on Guitar for a while. I'll shower in the morning. Off to bed around 11.15 pm.

Day 23 Saturday 13th October 2012 Hospital de Orbigo Camping Don Suero

N 42 28.070 W 05 52.856

Quiet night. Rather cool, 52 deg F on waking. Still dark when the alarm went off at 7 am, it came light around 8 am. I had breakfast and then went for a shower. Facilities are quite good, it's just that the permanent residents make some parts of it look like a refugee camp. They have tarpaulins over the tent or caravan, makeshift shelters here and there. Quite a mish-mash of temporary accommodation.

We had a walk to view the Roman Bridge, which is around 200 metres long. Well worth seeing. While on the bridge we chatted with four walkers who were just crossing into the village, two from Australia, two from Canada. We then got chatting with a walker from Germany, who had a bad knee. Pauline had a chat with him in German. He was interested in finding a taxi, as he had 15 kilometres to go to his next stopping point.

We called into the little church on the opposite bank of the river. Two ladies were doing flowers for the altar and they opened up for us. There were three Storks' nests on the bell tower. Popped into the local corner shop and bought bread and cakes. Had dinner when we got back, packed up, did the water and toilet and left. We set Satellite Simon for a supermarket, but he didn't find one. Filled with diesel, then away. N120 then through Astorga to A6. Now trying a supermarket in Astorga. Patricia and Pauline have gone in, I stayed with the van in case we need to move it for access.

On past Ponferrada on the A6 to O Cebreiro, a small village we had read about. The scenery coming this way does get more easy on the eye, lots more green over the mountains. We are now at 3,650 feet, which can be chilly when there is no sun. So it will be interesting to see what the temperature is in the morning. We are now parked on a large parking space at the entry to the village. A few large trucks parked also, but away from us. The parking place looks like it has been recently built.

Had pizza for tea, we had bought them in Astorga. Spent the night playing Backgammon, only three games. I won 2-1.

Day 24 Sunday 14th October 2012 O Cebreiro

N 42 43.503 W 07 01.154 Elevation 3,584 feet (Truck/car park)

A peaceful, quiet night, the only noise being the refrigeration unit on the truck parked across the parking area. It's Patricia's birthday today. She has just opened a card from Lily with a recording of Lily's voice with our Marc, saying "I love you, happy birthday". We were both in tears. So lovely to hear her voice so unexpectedly. Just hearing her voice unexpectedly got to us all. It was quite an emotional moment.

Well, it rained during the night and was raining when the alarm went off at 7.45 am. The temperature in the van is warmer than yesterday at 56 deg F. The guide book mentions that O Cebreiro can be a cold and uninviting place in winter when it snows or rains. Let's hope the sun comes out later.

Marc called later around 10 am. We had a chat with them all, Lily and Helena too.

Pauline made a birthday cake with biscuits, a match and silver paper.

At the moment the area is living up to expectations, it's not stopped raining all morning. Clouds keep rolling in, so not much visibility at all. We are just deciding whether to move on to Lugo.

Lugo it was, the rain still falling and quite cold outside of the van. Called into a small market in the village for bread. I got volunteered for the job, seeing that it was cold and raining. I bought the dearest bread I have ever bought, 2.80 Euros for a loaf. It was pretty solid, the type of loaf you could build houses with.

Motorway straight to Lugo. The weather cleared as we dropped 2,000 feet off the mountain top. After a short run of 36 miles we reached Lugo. The Aire we were heading for was filled with a large fair. The road was patrolled by police. I had a chat with them and they said we were OK to go into the Aire. One of the policemen even helped me reverse into the parking space. Very nice of him. The fair was closed when we arrived, but it now seems to be kicking off, just gone 4.20 pm.

Had some soup and the big bread for dinner. I went for a walk in with Patricia to look for the Cathedral. Pauline fancied a siesta. We walked up through the stepped park area, which is full of all the fair rides. At the top level there were stalls and restaurants which seemed to be serving wine and some sea food that had been cooked up in big copper pots. We guessed at Paella, but we couldn't see any. It was obviously served on large wooden plates, because these were stacked up in hundreds. I think they were closing down when we arrived, they were hosing the cauldrons out.

We found the Cathedral at the top of the hill, just inside the old city walls. We also looked for other parking nearer than the Aire, although it is only a short walk. The fair will be moving tomorrow so we thought maybe we could get out of the way of the big trucks.

Had tea: steak, potatoes and peas, followed by ice cream. The fair is now in full swing. Oh what joy! The repetitive records they play are mind numbing. Give a Chimpanzee one of the modern digital recording machines with all the drum beats, bass parts and samples and they would probably produce something of the same genre in five minutes of finger prodding. Repetitive rubbish, created by totally non-musicians in my view. Still, most young people go for it, what a shame for them.

Well as the evening wore on, the fair wound down. We had thought they would pack up tomorrow, but no, the trucks came in and they started to strip it all down. We were interested at first, but as the evening wore on it became obvious they would be doing it all night. The guys were quiet, not a lot of noise, but Patricia was concerned about us being in close proximity to the giant wheel, which they were taking down, so I decided we had to move.

I set the SatNav for a Carrefour down on the river. It was after midnight by then. We usually never move in the dark. We ran around the spaghetti system of roads leading everywhere and found the Carrefour, which had a height bar on and a bar across the nearby entrance. So that was out. We rolled around the corner and I spotted what I thought was a possible parking place. I got the torch and went out to have a look. There was a lovely big car park with a vehicle on it. That'll do fine. It was now after 1 am.

Day 25 Monday 15th October 2012 Lugo

N 43 00.158 W 07 34.309 (Football ground car park)

Well, we'd moved places and the car park was really quiet. Patricia and Pauline slept well, but I couldn't get to sleep at all. A sleepless night. 52 deg F temperature this morning. A night experiencing the vagaries of motorhoming, sometimes there are odd experiences. Put it all down to experience.

Had breakfast and then moved back to the Aire. The toilet needed sorting. When we arrived back the giant wheel was still there. All the carriages and lights had been stripped off, but everything else was still in place. We now have some more work vans arriving, so I wonder what they are up to. It's certainly a busy Aire. Probably not to be recommended, only for servicing, not for sleeping. Shame really because there are good views across the river from where the motorhomes should park.

Patricia and Pauline went for a walk up to the Cathedral to have a look around. I decided to try and get a brief sleep. Sleep not really happening, so I watched the crews stripping the fair down. A large swing is being taken down at the moment. It is interesting to see the logistics of it all. The giant wheel is sitting and waiting for its next instalment of deconstruction. Nothing happening with it at the moment. I'm intrigued as to how they go about taking it down. There must be a large crane involved somewhere. I can't really see how it could be taken down as a self-contained unit. I think we will have moved on by the time they get around to taking it down.

Well Patricia and Pauline got back from the Cathedral and walking around the old town. Patricia had enquired the price of an Indian Sitar we saw in a shop yesterday. 740 Euros, therefore it will have to stay in the shop. They also confirmed that the stalls up the hill were in fact cooking Octopus, not Paella, as we had thought yesterday.

Had dinner and then set off for Guitiriz to what I hoped was a quiet little Aire for tonight. Then we can all have a good night's sleep. It was only 23 miles up the A6 motorway. One van on the Aire when we arrived. Free electric, which never ceases to amaze me. I welcome and applaud it, such a civilised gesture to travellers who pass through. Can't ever imagine it in England. Patricia did gourmet style chips, egg and beans for tea. Simple, but it hit the nail. We are all tired and ready for sleep.

Another small van pulled on to stay the night, then one called in and left around 7.20 pm, strange it didn't stay, I thought. Everyone ready for bed after tea, so no hesitation we all got tucked in for a read and sleep.

Day 26 Tuesday 16th October 2012 Guitiriz

N 43 10.631 W 07 52.771

Well the rain has certainly made its presence known in Galicia. It rained all through the night according to Patricia. I was well away, after having no sleep last night. I just heard it this morning when I awoke and then drifted off to dreaming again.

9.35 am when we got out of bed. No problem while it's been raining. It's now stopped, so hopefully it will brighten up. Had breakfast and the rain still seems to be predominant. I had a chat with a guy from a small Spanish registered van near us. He is actually from Guatemala. He has lived in his van for five years up to now. Selling on markets up and down. He saw us in Lugo, where he was working. Times are tough for him at the moment in Spain, not many people are buying. He left Guatemala to go to Norway for a lady. That lasted three months, he said. He has been travelling ever since. Canaries, Spain, Norway, Thailand, Australia. Interesting guy. Also chatted about the logistics of van living: water, toilet, electric, gas etc. He uses this site quite a lot because of the free electric, especially for winter.

Patricia and Pauline are having a change-the-beds day. I went out on the bike to have a look around town. There is not a lot to see really, just the road passing through with road grime covered houses and shops. Quite a depressing-looking place in the grey light that has been predominant in Galicia. No sun so far in Galicia.

Patricia put the slow cooker on, with chicken in red wine sauce. The day has been spent knitting, reading and chatting. I had a music session with my MP3 collection stored on my telephone. I tried to bluetooth some tracks to Pauline's telephone but for some reason it didn't want to receive them. It was fine a few days ago when we passed some images over.

Our van neighbours seemed to be repairing one of their windows. They left later.

We had tea and then I set up the TV and we settled down to watch a DVD. Oliver Stone's epic film about Alexander the Great. For anyone who is not familiar with the story and characters, it is quite an epic and complex story to tell. It is mainly focused on his time in Babylon and India, with flashbacks to his development in Macedonia. It was after midnight when it finished. It has its critics but I don't mind it.

Day 27 Wednesday 17th October 2012 Guitiriz

N 43 10.631 W 07 52.771

Well I think it has rained all night non-stop. The information about Galicia being wet and green is turning out to be correct, at least for us anyway. Awake before the alarm at 7.20 am. We lay listening to the rain for a few minutes. It is not a bad sound, quite soothing in fact, when it is not a heavy downpour. But we would like it to cease for a while.

Had breakfast listening to the rain. Sorted toilet and water, in the rain. Unhooked and wound power lead up, in the rain. Dumped the rubbish in the bin, in the rain. Left Guitiriz, in the rain.

Got on the N634 heading for Santiago. We ended up behind a special road transport with police escort for a few miles. It looked like a large section of a bridge. Sweeping down rain all the time.

We got into Santiago and found the As Cancelas campsite, which is in the tourist book and seems to have good facilities. But on examining it on a grey day in October, sweeping down with rain, it didn't look very inviting at 30.50 Euros a night. So we headed for the local Aire, which again didn't get a good review, but there is loads of parking and a cafe nearby with WiFi.

Had some dinner and decided to bus into town. Buses 10 minutes after the hour into town. Great. All set for the bus, but the driver of a bus parked near us pointed across the road and indicated it was five minutes until the bus. He didn't let us know it was his bus, so as we sheltered from the rain, he pulled out and drove off. I love idiots who don't have the initiative to let someone know it is their bus you should be on. No excuse really. It would just be a courtesy to anyone. So he left without a passenger on the bus.

So back to the van. With hindsight he probably did us a favour, because the heavens really opened. It hammered down for ages. I decided to do a scan for WiFi and found that the local social centre had WiFi, as well as the cafe across the road. So I decided to pop out and try it. I couldn't get into the hall, but the cafe was excellent. I got mail, news and weather forecast, which says sunny tomorrow and the rest of the week. I'll believe it when I see it.

We kept hearing a loud bang like a gunshot or explosion and couldn't ascertain what it was. It really was loud. Had bacon and pasta for tea. I then found that the hall WiFi was reaching the van from around 35 yards away. So we tried Skype. It worked and we had a chat with Bob, also Marc and Helena. Lily unfortunately had just gone to bed. We had a good chat and caught up on things.

The rain had actually stopped around sunset and we caught a glimpse of blue sky and a golden horizon. But not for long, it came back again. Intermittent showers hammering down. Same when we went to bed.

The night flew by using Skype, so we got off to bed for an early start tomorrow, if we can get on a bus.

Day 28 Thursday 18th October 2012 Milladoiro (Santiago de Compostela)

N 42 50.727 W 08 34.861

Awake with the alarm 6.30 am. Well the rain hammered while we tried to get to sleep, but it seemed to cease later. It was like someone turning a hosepipe on and off in its intermittency. The bin men came around in the middle of the night.

Had breakfast, got sorted and then out to get the 10.10 am bus into Santiago. No problems this time. Dropped us off in Rue de Rosa. From there it was a straight walk down the streets to the old part of Santiago.

We popped into the Tourist Info place who were very helpful and also gave us a map of the city. We found the Cathedral quite easily. Walking out into the Praza do Obradoiro and seeing the space and surrounding buildings, I found it quite impressive. A few people around, but not as busy as I thought it would be.

We didn't have a good start at the Cathedral, the doors were shut. We had arrived when a service was taking place. Unusually, the side entries were open and you were allowed in while the service was taking place. I had a slow wander around after recording some of the service singing. I ended up near the front entrance where there was an exhibition taking place in a side room. The young guy there spoke fluent English and he advised me that the famous Botafumeiro would be used at the end of the service. Apparently it is only on special occasions or when someone pays for a special session. I filmed it but ran out of memory half way through. Can't complain, we never expected to see it. He also advised that the traditional hand on the pillar as you enter at the front is being stopped because of deterioration. Apparently quite a lot of people knock it with sticks, which doesn't help. Fortunately for me, the fencing around it wasn't large and I could quite easily reach over and place my hand on the traditional place where millions of hands have been placed. You can see there is wear and polishing of the stone.

I visited the Crypt with Patricia while the service was taking place. We were fortunate to be alone down there, quite an iconic place and quite surprising when so many people are around. We also visited behind the altar, where the 13th century silver mantle of the statue of St James can be touched and seen. Pauline found a passport in the Cathedral and found who it belonged to.

Whatever the story around Santiago de Compostela, whichever way you view it, it is certainly a focus for a lot of visitors. Many people with rucksacks, walking from different places. Maybe not many walk the full length, nearly 500 miles from St Jean Pied De Port, which is an epic walk. We have spoken to several people suffering injuries and foot problems.

After visiting the Cathedral, we had a stroll around the streets, where some impressive granite buildings are to be seen. Convento de San Martino Pinario, Pazo de Xelmirez, Praza das Praterias, Dos Cavalos fountain. In the Praza de Quintana just behind the Cathedral, overlooked by the clock tower, we came across a jazz guitarist busking. He was playing in Joe Pass style. I was looking at his CD when he finished his piece. I just said "Joe Pass" to him and he said "the master". The busker came from Uruguay. Working the bars and busking. He used a disguise while busking, a black stocking pulled over his face, with big red lips stuck on it and a cigarette drooping down. He said it was in tribute to the roots of jazz. He certainly looked different and memorable.

There are lots of small bars and watering holes for anyone who needs them. Lobsters and crabs in tanks at restaurants. The Museo das Peregrinacions de Santiago was free, we spent a little time wandering around it. On the way back we called into a small market with all knitting and sewing stuff, where I got some braid for bracelets. Bought some bread. It rained on the way back. Again, we had people begging on the streets. A lady near the bus stop was begging. I wondered what her situation really was. How had she decided to resort to kneeling on the street, which seems to be the way around here for beggars. The bus was on time. We had a throw-it-out tea of all bits and pieces for snacking when we got back. Skyped Nicky and Mike, Steven and Rebecca.

Shops seem to be high-end selling, although Spain is struggling. Who is buying ?

Day 29 Friday 19th October 2012 Milladoiro (Santiago de Compostela)

N 42 50.727 W 08 34.861

Coldest morning so far, 46 deg F on rising at 7 am. The sky was really clear at dawn, that's why it was so cold. Had breakfast and decided to pop in Lidl on way out of Santiago. Pauline got into a little pickle dropping her denture down the toilet. Time for some fun, but it will have to wait until later.

We had a couple from Devon parked alongside us overnight. Had a brief chat last night when we arrived back. Said goodbye to them this morning. Also got a location at Gijon from them for staying at.

Did Lidl - a bit of a squeeze parking, with the usual car drivers who are averse to reversing when faced with a larger vehicle. I'm always amazed that when car drivers can see a larger vehicle manoeuvring, they still drive up close to you, instead of giving you lots of space.

Road 56, then AC 543 towards the coast. We came upon a parking area that was suitable for dinner and retrieving the denture. I scouted out a remote spot and did the necessary and retrieved the denture. Pauline says she really truly loves me now.

A pleasant drive along the coast road brought us to Muros. We decided to park up and have a walk around. It is a pleasant little place where we also bought some toilet chemical. We decided to park on the port and stay the night. I had a walk around the harbour to find some fish. We had fun eventually buying some. A little lady on a stall finally sold us some and gutted and cleaned it for us. I popped into the market near us to get some charcoal and firelighters. I set the small barbecue up on the sea wall and pan-fried the fish. Served with fries and peas, we enjoyed it, washed the pan outside and cleaned up the barbecue, all packed away. An enjoyable interlude. We have another van now parked with us, we seem to attract them.

Now just chilling, knitting and watching the night. Examined some kit for making bracelets, also unwrapped a bracelet that Rebecca had bought me, as it was coming unravelled. I intend rewrapping it.

Day 30 Saturday 20th October 2012 Muros

N 42 46.524 W 09 03.282

Alarm 7 am. I knocked it off, Patricia and Pauline were still fast asleep. Around 7.30 am both started stirring. Warmer this morning 54 deg F. Quiet night, a little noise after going to bed but it died down later.

Had breakfast, updated diary and cost sheets. After breakfast we headed along the coast road to the lighthouse at Cape Finisterre (Cabo Fisterra). The road AC 550 hugs the coast most of the way. It is a nice drive, good road all the way. Stopped at a small shop in Carnota for bread. It seems a new road now runs up to A Coruna, we passed the island where the junction is.

Arriving at the Cape there is a sign stopping motorhomes from driving straight in, but there is some space near the sign for parking up. There was a UK van there when we arrived. It turned out to be Jake and Chris from Bournemouth.

We had some dinner and then walked right down to the end of the Cape. This is where, for some reason, the modern Camino seems to end. Lots of walkers come to the Cape and have now started burning clothes and boots. It seems to me to be an act of vandalism in such a beautiful place. Walking sticks and caps and other bits and pieces are also left. On their own probably inoffensive, but when people are doing this day after day, it creates quite a mess. Quite a lot of small stone cairns have also been made. It is still quite an iconic place to visit. There are several plaques mounted around the rocks near the lighthouse, no doubt for various luminaries.

The weather has been beautiful all day, the sun really strong. Quite amazing for October. When we arrived Jake had asked if we were staying the night. I did initially say no because it is a little remote, but we decided if they were there also, it wouldn't be so remote. So we decided to stay overnight. Jake did go to examine the harbour for parking, but came back later.

Quite a few cars turned up around sunset. I got some photographs, but the cloud out at sea limited the overall effect and it wasn't as spectacular as I had hoped. We had to wait for it to go dark for the spectacular element. The quarter moon was out shining on the sea and the stars were shining in all their glory. We went out later and had a good gaze at the wonder that is the Universe.

Living in a town we tend not to see the stars clearly. It is only when you are in places like this at night that the wonder of the stars makes itself known. A magnificent display.

A lovely day spent in a lovely place. All ready for bed later, so we had an early night.

Patricia was suffering from an upset stomach, so didn't feel up to stargazing unfortunately. All dark and quiet outside, just the moon on the sea.

Day 31 Sunday 21st October 2012 Cape Finisterre

N 42 53.177 W 09 16.335

A lovely quiet night. Pauline said she heard two cars around 2.30 am, but I didn't hear a thing. The only sound is the sea far below us, which you can hear rolling in the background.

Had breakfast and then a brief word with Jake and Chris who were leaving to go to Carnota, where we had bought bread yesterday. They mentioned about the beach, which is around 7 km long.

We set off on the road to A Coruna. There is a good road leading from down near Cabo Fisterra to A Coruna. We followed it until the pay section at Carballo. We stopped at a small church near Vimianzo to have some dinner. While there a man rolled up to unlock the church for us. It was built around 1604 and had a small cemetery alongside it.

An uneventful run until we came near to A Coruna. I set the SatNav to find the Aire and it led us through a really industrial area. Chimneys, oil tanks, gas tanks, enormous long corrugated steel workshops. The chemical smell that was in the air was really strong. The thing was, there were flats built in amongst that lot. It looked a pretty horrific mix.

Luckily we carried up over the hill and it went out of site. We found the Aire quite easily. A sloping cobbled surface, which is not the best for levelling the van up, but we got on near the bottom of the slope, still with a slope inside the van. Sorted toilet and water.

Sweet chile chicken, noodles and spring rolls for tea.

Day 32 Monday 22nd October 2012 A Coruna

N 43 22.309 W 08 26.697

A warm morning 66 deg F on rising. Grey clouds which obviously kept the air warmer.

Had breakfast and drove van into A Coruna. The road follows the sea practically all the way around the coast. We headed for the lighthouse area and came across lots of free parking designated for the visitors to the lighthouse and the park area around it.

This parking area has charging points for electric cars, also a bike hire system similar to London. There is also a good information building with a display about the lighthouse. A long sloping ramp runs up to the lighthouse, with views all around the bay getting better as you get higher. It really is worth a walk up this ramp to the flat walk-around viewing area at the base of the tower.

There is an entrance fee of 3 Euros to do the penance of climbing 234 steps to the top. We gave it a miss. There is a good free display of the archaeology of the base of the lighthouse, a well lit and signed walk-around. The views from around the base of the tower are superb. I don't think climbing 234 steps would improve them much.

The sun had by this time appeared and the temperature was climbing into the seventies. We strolled back to have some dinner in the van. Several more vans were now parked with us. After dinner I had a walk to find some Whiskey for medicinal purposes. Patricia's stomach has not been settled for a few days, so we decided to try a tot of Whiskey, as Windeze etc was not doing the job. I found a bottle of Dewars in a small shop in the streets across from the car park, 13.90 Euros.

Pauline needs to download and print her flight home details, so I went to find McDonalds for some WiFi. No go really, it was in town in non-motorhome-friendly streets. So we headed back to the coast and the Aire.

This part of the day I will shorten into a precis. As I was turning left around an island, a small car in a hurry ignored a large white vehicle signalling with large flashing indicators its intention to move on the road - bump. No serious damage at all, slight scuff on motorhome, no mark on car, but little awkward lady sees money opportunity and calls police. 90 minutes in police van filling papers in. Two police vehicles, four policemen. What a waste of time and money. The senior policeman wanted to let it go and move on, but she wasn't letting an opportunity go. So 90 minutes in the back of a Spanish police van, sorting out details.

There was already an unrepaired dent in the front of her car. The two policemen who stayed with us, to be fair, were excellent, no complaints about them at all. I think they were a little exasperated at having to complete their report on so trivial an encounter. Ah well, another learning situation. I've never had any accident in my driving life.

Back to the Aire. I got a small scourer, some kitchen cleaner and removed the scuff mark, no problem at all. Had omelette and beans for tea. I think the incident had tired everyone out, we had a quiet night and off to bed early.

Day 33 Tuesday 23rd October 2012 A Coruna

N 43 22.309 W 08 26.697

Alarm 7 am, 68 deg F on rising. A quiet night. Had breakfast and sorted services out. All still a little angry over the waste of time and effort of yesterday's incident.

We decided to go to San Andreas de Teixido, a small place on the coast that sounded nice. We got out of the spaghetti roads around A Coruna and onto the coast past Ferrol. It was good to get out of the busy built-up area of A Coruna. The journey along the road after Ferrol ran through a lovely area.

We stopped for dinner on a space at the side of the road near Valdovino. The view down the valley to the sea and beach was beautiful. A really memorable dinner spot. There were houses across the road and a small bar that had the view permanently. They probably don't notice it any more, familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes.

Cedeira looked a good overnight stopping place, quite a lot of parking with good sea views, one van already parked there.

San Andres de Teixido is a little remote, quite a long ride over the wooded hills before dropping into a deep valley, where the village is still perched about 300 feet above the sea. There is a designated steep parking area laid out for coaches. Access to the village is only for residents. It is a very small place that you can walk around in 30 minutes really, but it is in quite a unique setting. The small church has some dubious history attached to it, as is usual in these places. But it had a quiet detached air to it. There are some small gift shops selling the usual touristy things. The place is probably thronged with people in season, but we had it all to ourselves except for four other visitors who arrived later. Patricia and Pauline bought some small multicoloured figures made from bread that were apparently made in the village.

Heading onwards over the hills towards Pedra, the road does become practically single track. On the top we were 2,000 ft up and riding through a Wind Farm in the clouds, which seemed rather spooky and weird, with the clouds blowing up and across the windmills. I was driving in low visibility until we started dropping off the hills.

We headed to Pedra and Carino, hoping to find an overnight stop, but gave them a miss and headed onwards. Not many decent opportunities for an overnight stop were appearing. Passing through Ortigueira we examined a beach location but for our criteria it was a little too remote.

We eventually found a lovely little harbour, not on the map and no name on the SatNav. Porto de Espesante (near Otigueira) proved to be excellent, with lots of parking and local fishing and walking. We had chips and curry for tea, simple but tasty.

Pauline has been struggling all day with her back, a long-term injury that flairs up and becomes more painful occasionally, so we decided to get off to bed early.

Day 34 Wedenesday 24th October 2012 Porto de Espesante (near Otigueira)

N 43 43.336 W 07 48.736

Quiet and peaceful night except for a mysterious bump on the van around 2 am that woke us all up. Nothing to be seen at all. We think it was a Seagull but it was a big one rocking the van. The mystery remains. Do Seagulls fly at night?

Had breakfast, sorted out and got off. The LU 682 and N642 roads follow the coast and we followed that. Had a look at Foz to have some dinner possibly but the place was a bit of a dump. After Foz we dropped off the LU 682 onto the smaller N634, then an un-numbered white road and discovered a lovely exceptional piece of coast. There were some lovely holiday properties along this road. We found a car park which would have made a great night stop, but we just had dinner.

The rain had started by now but I got some pictures along the beach in the misty rain. So peaceful, just the waves rolling in. It was a beautiful serene place out of season, maybe a little more busy in season.

Leaving there we followed the road until we came to a too narrow section, so back onto the N634. We popped onto the motorway to cross the estuary at Ribadeo then dropped back onto the N634. Near Navia Pauline spotted a Bronze Age settlement in the book, Castro de Coana, so we had a ride to it. She just didn't read that it was closed at this time of year. You could see it clearly down the hillside location. It looked impressive, but at the entrance it stated in English there was no access outside opening hours. A nice little ride though.

We decided to look at Luarca as a possible overnight stop, after reading the book description. Even allowing that everywhere looks its worst in the rain, this place was the pits. Give it a miss. It really is a dump. I was glad to get out of there.

I set the SatNav to take us out to a nearby place called Busto. Anywhere to get out of Luarca. Arriving there the signs for the lighthouse at Cabo Busto seemed to take us on a tour of the village. Eventually found it about a half a mile outside the village.

We went back into the village and parked near the church to stay. Tricia did pork chops, potatoes, peas and carrots, followed by ice cream. Lovely. The locals were gathering at the church for a service or meeting, it didn't last long. The darkness fell quickly after a golden sunset. The village seemed lovely and quiet until we settled down.

Day 35 Thursday 25th October 2012 Busto (near Luarca)

N 43 33.436 W 06 27.824

Well we got off to sleep, but then the night's entertainment began. The horse that was tethered in the little field at our side made its escape and trotted up and down the street for a while. Patricia suggested I should get up and move the van. Not sure where I could have gone in the middle of the night in a village with really narrow streets that were difficult to negotiate during the day. The horse got the local dog barking. The horse then went on a tour of the village arousing all the other dogs. This went on for some time, the local cockerels also joining in. The joys of country overnight stops.

Busto is a small place and initially seems to be quiet, but it was deceiving. The cocks never stopped crowing, which is weird for a start. So for the future if we come this way, we may give Busto a miss.

Had breakfast and then spent 30 minutes getting out of the village. There are no direction signs and the SatNav is useless because some of the streets are too narrow altogether. So it was 'suck it and see' driving, getting out and walking the lane to see if the van would pass down it. Eventually we cracked it. There are some signs on entering the village to drive to the lighthouse, that's how we found our way in, but we couldn't see them for following the reverse route. Onward we go.

Onto the A8 heading for Aviles, where we planned to visit the Lidl store and McDonalds or, as the SatNav pronounces it, 'Marc Donalds'. Lidl was rather busy so we had to park on the road. Pauline stayed in the van, her back and leg a bit better but still not too good. All sorted, then onto McDonalds for some WiFi. We needed to access Ryan Air website for Pauline's boarding card to fly back home.

The McDonalds turned out to be located in the centre of an enormous shopping complex, which fortunately also had an enormous car park. So we parked up and had some dinner. I went for a 'long walk' to find the McD, finally locating it in the enormous centre. There was also a Burger King there. Both with WiFi, but both really weak signals.

After dinner I went back in with Pauline and the laptop. Just having had our dinner, we ordered a Coffee and Muffin for 1 Euro. This turned out to be a mini-coffee and a mini-muffin. Little exhibition pieces, maybe a sign of the economic state of Spain. The WiFi was really weak but I managed to get the boarding card downloaded and saved. We just need to find a printer somewhere now.

Jake and Chris, who we had met at Finisterre, had given us a SatNav coordinate for what they said was a good Aire at Gijon, so that was next on the agenda. We found it easily but it was only a parking facility. A good site, but no services at all. So the next job was water. We found a garage about three miles away, filled up and then went back.

There were a few more vans parked up when we returned. There is a toilet but it's one of those automatic ones, self-cleaning etc. I put some money in to try it but it wasn't playing, so I gave up. With services the parking area would be a cracker. There is a large park immediately beside it.

We had pasta for tea. Knitting and reading for a while and then an early night for catch-up sleep. We keep trying, hoping to get an unbroken night, hopefully tonight.

Day 36 Friday 26th October 2012 Gijon

N 43 32.819 W 05 38.214

Alarm 7 am. Well not a bad night, pretty quiet apart from some loudmouthed woman walking across the car park. Not sure what time it was, but why so loud so late at night, or any time of day for that matter? Maybe they are declining into deafness, not funny but a reason. Maybe some people are so small and feel so insignificant they have to shout when they talk.

Tricia still asleep 8.10 am, she was really tired after Busto last night, which was not really conducive to sleep. It's just started raining as I'm writing up the diary.

The van along side of us has a model black dinosaur stuck on the front of the Luton. It is about 12 inches in height. Similar to how truckers used to have a Michelin man on the front of their truck.

I lifted all the steel grids to find the sewer to empty the toilet, but no luck. They were water and electric, not one for a sewer. We left to head for Covadonga. There is an Aire at Cangas de Onis, which we would pass through, so we could sort the toilet there.

Got onto the A8 and dropped off onto the AS 260 which climbed over the Mirador del Fito. At the top at nearly 2,000 ft we stopped for dinner on a designated parking space. The view across the Picos de Europa was beautiful, with clouds capping the distant mountains giving the ominous threat of rain. Not unusual in these parts it seems. Descending from there, we went into Cangas de Onis and found the large parking space with the Aire facilities in the corner. The drive to Cangas de Onis had revealed a lovely area, with what seemed different characteristics.

A few miles down the road from Cangas we found Covadonga, which was well worth the ride. It is here that Pelayo, a Spanish hero, is reputedly buried. A shrine and church are there in a beautiful setting. It is a tourist trap in season, but we found it reasonably quiet.

Immediately on arriving I was watching a coach full of people with one guy playing a drum and also a whistle. Just then a guy walked up to me and explained in English where they were from and it was traditional in that area. This guy turned out to be a Paediatric Surgeon, just retired. His name was Gonzales and his wife, who joined us a few minutes later, was Agurdcadne. Both Basques. He had a cutting of a Hydrangea in his hand, it turned out he was a collector and had hundreds of different types. We had a lovely chat and I asked him about Basque culture and heritage. A lovely guy, a proud Basque who seemed dedicated to his Paediatrician career, having only just retired at 70 after training his successor for the last ten years. His wife spoke only Basque, no Spanish. We got photographs.

The church was lovely and quiet, we had it to ourselves. Patricia was rather reluctant to visit the grotto because the entrance was a cave. I went in first and surveyed and decided she would be OK as it was open half way down. So we all visited the grotto, which is set into the cliff across from the church. All in a lovely setting with a waterfall underneath it.

While we were in the grotto it started to rain so I walked back to the van and brought it down to pick up Patricia and Pauline. We are slowly understanding why everyone carries umbrellas.

Back in Cangas de Onis we looked for somewhere to print off Pauline's boarding details for her flight home. I eventually found a small shop and the guy downloaded the document from my USB stick and printed it off. One Euro, job done. She can now fly home.

Back to the Aire to settle in for the night in the rain. Spam, chips and beans for tea, gourmet stuff. Followed by ice cream. Got 'The Times' on Kindle 3G and had a read. The girls knitting. The rain battering down. Bed around 10.30pm.

Day 37 Saturday 27th October 2012 Cangas de Onis

N 43 21.146 W 05 07.537

Rain all night, it battered down at times, which wasn't helpful for unbroken sleep. This morning we have dogs howling and barking. The hunters are out in force with their dogs. It must be a regular weekend thing, we had them at Finisterre last weekend. They have small trailers towed behind the vehicle, with the dogs locked inside barking and howling.

Looking around the Aire not many vans seem to be making a move. Maybe the hammering rain has something to do with that. We finally got on our way after a slow lazy start. N625 back to the N634 to take us down to the coast again. On to the A8 for a while. Rain, rain, rain all the way. We dropped off onto the N621 for San Vicente de la Barquera. We stopped to have dinner on a pull-in place overlooking the town. A good view, but still raining. We decided against getting wringing wet, so passed through and over the bridge, past the small castle and across the bridge or causeway at the other side. I think a stop would have been nice, but not in incessant battering rain.

CA131 to Comillas, where it had stopped raining but a wind was still blowing and battering the waves onto the shore. A short look around and a couple of photographs then onwards. The whole area along the coast is geared to holidays. It's just that the season is over, with most apartments, bars etc shuttered up for the winter.

Following the CA131 road we came to Santillana del Mar. This is where the Spain of your dreams can be found, if you like stepping back in time. It is obviously a tourist hotspot, but I was amazed at how the town has survived the influx of tourists and remained so unspoilt.

Why is this small town still looking like you have stepped back in time to the 16th or 17th century, when in every other place we visit, high rise flat living seems to have taken over with ugly blocks thrown up everywhere?

Apart from the obvious tourist shops, which to be truthful are very tastefully presented, it has been well preserved. I can't praise it enough. There was a small market in the square when we arrived. A stroll around the cobbled streets snapping photographs everywhere, browsing in the lovely little shops we had a lovely little experience. Patricia bought a small wooden Pinocchio for Lily, Pauline bought a fan for Rebecca.

We also popped into a small toy and folk museum, where I was intrigued by a drum type thing. I couldn't figure out what it was. On our way out we stopped at a cake stall, which on our way in I noticed didn't seem to be doing much business. We were soon to find out why. The cake was in large trays, about 2 ft x 2 ft in size, so made what I call industrially. We chose a sponge cake layered with apples and told him what size to cut but were all flabbergasted when he told us the price, 9 Euros. Sorry pal, you can put it back. That explained the lack of business. Absolutely amazed that he could expect anyone to pay that for a piece of sponge cake.

It had become quite cold by now, so we were glad to get back to the van to warm up. Probably the coldest we have been on this trip. We headed onto Suances where we parked on the front near the beach. Quite lively but quiet later. Fried garlic chicken on rolls for tea. Reading and knitting until around 11 pm, then bed.

Day 38 Sunday 28th October 2012 Suances (near Santander)

N 43 25.906 W 04 02.190

A quiet night eventually when the night life had retired. Awake with the bin men across the road. The rain announcing its presence also, like someone with a hosepipe on the van, it stops instantly. Really quiet on the beach front. Looks like rain and wind is the order of the day with the weather. We decided that the order of the day is to get around Santander and Bilbao, cities not being high on our favourites list.

Had breakfast and then set off to visit the Aire at Cabarceno, which is near a Nature Park. We found it quite easily and the last part of the drive was through some nice country. The place was quite busy with some water sport event taking place on the small lake in the rain. It did look quite a nice Aire, even in sweeping rain. The trees were all in Autumn colours, quite beautiful. There was actually a UK Burstner van parked with silver screen up and on chocks, looking settled in.

We had some dinner, sorted the toilet and then on our way. Following the N634 along the coast, which tracks the motorway but is more interesting to drive as we approached Bilbao.

We stopped around 4 pm for a coffee outside a small restaurant overlooking the sea, just before Bilbao. Loud music was blasting from a bar down the hill. The view enabled us to see the rain squalls approaching across the sea, like a mist blowing across the ships and obliterating them from view.

Expecting the route to go 'pear-shaped' here, we actually did well, with only one stop to check the route. Emerging on the other side of Bilbao we headed down the BI 637 towards the coast.

Today the clocks had changed by an hour, so the sun was setting earlier and the dark was descending, to add to the gloom which had been prevalent all day with the rain.

We had chosen to head for Lekeitio on the coast, thinking it would be a nice picturesque drive. Well, unfortunately we lost the light and the last 20 miles we had to drive in the dark, lit only by a big beautiful full moon, which was lighting the road and the sea, except for down in the valleys under the trees.

Using the SatNav we found Lekeitio. Heading for the Aire we came to an island and turned off, only to come to a no entry sign and a height barrier. So a wiggle turn was required. A guy was walking his dog and helped a little. Just then a police car turned up, the policeman came alongside, tapped on the window and said "follow me". A police escort for the last kilometre, straight into the Aire. I went to thank him and got a big smile and "no problem".

A few other vans were already on the Aire. Patricia cooked pork, potatoes and vegetables for tea.

It's quite unusual for us to arrive in the dark, we always try to finish the day in daylight. But all went well, so no problem. A really quiet Aire, just an Owl hooting.

Day 39 Monday 29th October 2012 Lekeitio

N 43 21.493 W 02 30.446

A lovely quiet night, just what was needed after so many broken nights' sleep. Rather cool on rising, 55 deg F. All quiet on the Aire, which looks recently built.

Had breakfast and seized the opportunity for a walk into town. The sun has finally appeared and we have lovely blue skies. Walking into town, which starts around 200 metres on the left on exiting the Aire, the initial impression is not good. Spanish flats prevail, with washing hanging out of windows etc.

Walking further in we found the church, which was quite large and ornate as usual inside. From here the harbour area opens up, which is the old area of town and aesthetically a lot more pleasing. I helped a French motorhome steer past the church with cars going the other way, it was quite narrow. Typical impatient car drivers don't give any time or space for a large vehicle. I very often despair about the motivations and empathy of most of the human race.

The beaches looked really clean and it was lovely to stroll around in the sunshine along the harbour. It was quiet today, but it looks like it caters for a lot of visitors in season. We picked up some expensive baguettes at 1.10 Euros each and headed back for dinner.

Dinner over and toilet serviced, we set off to get around San Sebastian. The coast road from Lekeitio to the N634 is a nice ride in the daytime. N634 leads to San Sebastian where, again with Patricia's navigating, we got through without much hassle. Onto the N121A which heads for Pamplona, but we dropped off for Bera and approached Col d'Ibardin from the Spanish side.

Arriving at the Aire we found French vans parked hogging three spaces instead of one. They very often park in illogical places that don't allow other vans to get in. Luckily one van left and I got in where he had been, leaving room for 2 or 3 other vans to get in. That's what I mean, space for 3 or 4 vans taken by one van. Very considerate to their fellow countrymen. Or born without a brain, may be a better description

Chips, sausage and beans for tea. Hitting the gourmet heights again, but simple and quick. We spent the rest of the night doing some communal word games and crossword puzzles.

Day 40 Tuesday 30th October 2012 Col d'Ibardin

N 43 18.596 W 01 41.153

Lovely quiet night. Alarm went off 7 am, temperature 48 deg F. Nothing on the agenda today except a walk around the shops up the hill from the Aire.

The weather has at last cleared up a little, beautiful blue skies and sunny today. Had breakfast and a stroll around a few shops, strolled back for dinner.

Back up later and a walk around the other shops. Spirits, wine etc seem to be the main item people shop for. We will probably get a few bottles tomorrow to take home for family. I bought a leather shoulder bag for holding phone, glasses and bits for 8.50 Euros. Also two small purses for Megan and Rebecca. Plan is for tomorrow to get up early and take the van up before the cars arrive, have some breakfast and then get some beer for Nicky and a few bottles for Marc and Carl.

Patricia and Pauline washed their hair when we got back. Had an early night.

Day 41 Wednesday 31st October 2012 Col d'Ibardin

N 43 18.596 W 01 41.153

Up before alarm went off. Cool but not too bad, put the heating on for a few minutes. We are at 1,000 ft here so I expected it being a little cooler. We had a brew and then I moved the van up the hill to the shopping area. No cars at all with us being up there early.

Had breakfast and had a lovely view over to the coast and St Jean de Luz, also La Rhune, which was capped with clouds. The sun rising over the mountains and illuminating all the low-lying cloud in the valleys was a sight worth seeing.

We had parked near the shop where we had chosen to buy the bulk of spirits and beer we were taking home for presents. The selection of spirits and drinks available is quite incredible. Anyway all items required were bought, diesel topped up at 1.3232 Euros a litre, toilet sorted at the service point on the petrol station and we were off down the mountain. I spotted the service point when we were strolling around yesterday. I don't think many van owners realise it is there, I have never seen anyone using it. It does look new so maybe they don't know it's there.

We parked up on a small car park near the Biarritz road, had some dinner and then spent some time stashing everything away for the journey home. That completed, we set off to find the main Post Office at Rue Borde d'Andre, as my new tax disc has been sent to Post Restante at that address. Amazingly I had taxed the van and our slight delay in coming out caused us to over-run on the renew date of 31st October. Nicky had taxed the van and sent it last Friday by registered post. But it hadn't arrived.

Luckily while we were in La Poste there was an English guy behind us who spoke fluent French, so we had a good interpreter. They called the other Biarritz office but nothing. It is addressed to this one. His name was Ian, he has lived in France for 25 years, so obviously had become quite fluent. Ian was very helpful and we were very thankful for his help. But Patricia had to move away from him, he had really bad breath, quite overwhelming in fact. Not very pleasant for anyone speaking to him. He seemed very intelligent, you wonder why he did not have some idea that maybe he had a problem.

We went and parked up near the small harbour area. Lots of people and very busy, it was very popular. Had a brew and then went for a walk along the front. We found a McD there, so I tried for WiFi but no go. Nice to just stroll and watch people enjoying the evening. A large skateboard area was very popular with the young ones and one or two not so young also.

The atmosphere was a little low key for us. Pauline is flying home tonight so the next job was dropping her at the Airport. No problem, we had the area sussed up from picking her up there. Patricia went in with her. I parked up where I had parked last time. Got WiFi from a restaurant there and topped up Twitter and news etc on my Galaxy.

That done we tried for Biarritz Aire. This was full, so off to Anglet. Straight in, no problem. Had fried chicken on rolls for tea. Got text from Pauline that she was in good company at the airport, so all was well.

Had a quiet read, Patricia knitting then off to bed. The first night on our own for a while.

Day 42 Thursday 1st November Anglet Aire

N 43 30.428 W 01 32.077

Up around 7.20 am, temp 54 deg F. Well the gas has finally run out in the night. I joked last night that it would, now that Pauline has gone home. Sure enough when I got up it had run out. First job was to change over to the other cylinder, then kettle on.

I'm quite amazed that 13kg lasted us 40 days, cooking, fridge and occasional heating. Not bad at all. Well we had a brew and watched all the French vans leaving. Why so early? So they won't have to pay, having arrived in the dark last night. What's the saying? 'When in Rome etc.' So we moved up to the harbour, just up the road, then had breakfast. The weather changed while we were there, the rain and wind kicked up and stayed with us all day. Not a very good day for the local French, who are on a national holiday. It hammered down in the afternoon.

We decided we would try to get on the Biarritz Aire now the French were rambling around in the day. Sure enough, lots of spaces, so we were in. Exactly the same spot we had been on our outward trip. Just after we arrived lots of vans came in, all bunking up against the weather. Someone had left a stool to reserve a space just across from us. I was hoping someone would come and whizz it away and park there. The French are the worst culprits I have found for flouting the Aires system. Tables and chairs out, barbecues, awnings. I know it's their country, but they have an incredible asset and they abuse it. Maybe we Brits are too Rule-Book inclined. Anyway today I'd followed the French at Anglet, leaving without paying 10 Euros for parking with no electric.

The afternoon was spent on a wash up and cleaning session, while the rain hammered down. Patricia did pasta for tea, followed by Madeleines, jam and cream. She also finished knitting my big woolly jumper, it just needs buttons now. I had a read and then played around with knots and wrapping for bracelet making. I used the magnifying glass that I had bought at Col d'Ibardin for 4 Euros.

My eyes were a little sore all night, I think from the shampoo I had used earlier. Off to bed at 10.30 pm. Patricia was reading for ages.

Day 43 Friday 2nd November 2012 Biarritz Aire

N 43 27.990 W 01 34.302

Awake before alarm, some van was driving around at 7 am. Patricia up first and found no electric on. So I'm up and out to check. Some idiot had unplugged us and just left the lead on the ground. We had another van plugged into our multi-extension also, so their electric was off too. Plugging back in, the power was still off, as it turned out the MCB was tripped. A French guy removed the back panel. But why unplug and throw two leads onto the ground? Some idiot plonker!

Electric on, time for a brew. Oh the fun of travelling. We meet some great people, but we also observe and come across quite a few selfish, idiotic and stupid people. That's the human race I suppose!

Had breakfast and then off for some topping up of necessities. I set the SatNav for the Intermarche supermarket. When we arrived there was also a Lidl store across the road, so we popped in there. Did shopping then had some dinner while we were parked up.

Then we were off to the Post Office again, hoping my tax disc had arrived. No, it's not in again. Seven days in the post so far. It's sad in these times of instant global communication, produce from South America or Israel on supermarket shelves in two days, that the post can't get an envelope to Biarritz in seven days. Or maybe it has come and the French post people in the office seem to have an attitude of indifference. Or am I being unkind? I don't think so. Maybe it is the French way not to show much interest or enthusiasm. Maybe the job has got them down. It happens in the UK also. I'm disillusioned with the Poste Restante system on the first time of using it. It does seem a little shambolic. Scratching of heads, shrugs of shoulders, cursory looking around the office.

So, where to now? We had a ride over to the port area to park up and have a walk. It was rather chaotic, as all of Biarritz had the same idea. Had a brew and decided to leave because people were desperate to park and were doing stupid things. We were better getting away from it all.

We found a small parking spot near the golf course. A small tunnel led under the course to the boardwalk along the beach. Along the path beside the beach it was like a rugby scrum, so we admitted defeat and headed back to the Aire at Biarritz. We thought arriving early we would get in easily, not so. Packed out. We just got to squeeze in at the top corner with no hook-up. A young French lady travelling with her little daughter also squeezed alongside us a little later.

I'm still puzzled why this Aire is so busy! It's not very attractive. We only use it for convenience. Or am I missing something! We had a walk under the little tunnel to the beach area and watched the sun setting over the crashing waves. Not quite as busy with people as the port area had been.

Patricia did pork, chips and vegetables, followed by ice cream and Kahlua (coffee liqueur). Patricia knitting and myself reading later.

Day 44 Saturday 3rd November 2012 Biarritz

N 43 27.990 W 01 34.302

Quiet night, up with the alarm at 7 am. There is traffic noise, especially on this side of the Aire where we are parked, only a matter of feet away from the road. But it was quieter in the night.

Agenda today, Post Office again. Had breakfast and then extracted the van from the corner we were in. The French lady from the van alongside us was up and having a coffee outside. She watched the back while I shimmied the van out, getting some green marks on the front of the van where I had to swing into the bushes.

We headed over to the Post Office to park up and call later. There are a lot of parking places just across from the cemetery gates, designated for the people who live in the flats there. Lots of space, in fact more than needed because many of the places were empty. We had parked there each time we had called at La Poste just up the road.

This morning we had the local nosey neighbour complaining that we can't park there. So I moved 20 yards onto the road outside the cemetery gates. I had told her we were just going up the road to the Post Office, but Grumpy Gertie wasn't wearing her good international relations hat.

We walked up to the Post Office with apprehension of no tax disc again. I had already made plans to ride out to Sare, a small Basque village with an Aire, about 15 miles out of Biarritz.

What a difference in attitude with the lady behind the counter. The counter window was closed, but she jumped up with a big smile on her face. Then I knew it had come. She said "It has arrived, but it is not a package" in clear English. She had only spoken French previously, hence our interpreter Ian the other day. Ah well, she seemed a lot happier this morning. We got our envelope with the tax disc. So we left with a spring in our steps.

The plan for Sare was simply to get out of Biarritz, which is too busy, but now we can get out and head north. We got onto the A63 Peage (toll motorway) unintentionally, as the SatNav directed us to an island were the run on was. So we gave it a try, costing 1.20 Euros to get on, then 2.30 Euros to get off at J8 to drop onto the D810, which is an excellent road leading to the D824 (N124) to Mont de Marsan.

We stopped at the Aire at Carcaresc Ste Croix for some dinner. A quite large parking and picnic spot just off the road, not many cars, one motorhome. While having dinner, we watched as a car pulled up just in front of us and the couple got out to have their dinner on the boot shelf. Red wine, Pastis and a smoke were first on the agenda, then some food. Obviously not bothered about drinking and driving.

Mont de Marsan looked a straight through road on the map, so we decided not to skirt around it on the D932E - wrong move, no road numbers on signs or main destinations meant it was a lottery which road you used. Eventually we emerged onto the D932, leading to the D933N. Then D933 to Casteljaloux. We had passed through here last year on our way across from Mimizan Plage to St Cyr Sur Lot. There is an Aire at Casteljaloux but we headed for Caumont sur Garonne a little further on up the D933 and then onto the D143.

The Aires book said it was a nice location. With it being weekend I expected it to be full, but was pleased to see only two vans on the Aire when we arrived. A lovely setting on the canal. A narrow bridge over the canal approaches the Aire, but no problem if taken carefully. Turn around when off the bridge and reverse into the Aire for the van to face the canal.

We had intended to go for a walk around the village, but the rain decided to put a stop to that. So I picked up 'The Times' on Kindle and Patricia carried on with adjustments to my Woolly-Pully. She has decided it isn't quite long enough, so has to unpick quite a lot before extending the length.

Pizza and potato wedges for tea. Played Backgammon afterwards, I won. Our Nicky sent football scores by text. Latics beat Spurs away 1-0. United beat Arsenal at home 2-1.

A really quiet Aire, another van pulled in just after we arrived. Four vans altogether. There are electric points but not practical to use at 1Euro for one hour, so didn't bother.

Day 45 Sunday 4th November 2012 Caumont sur Garonne

N 44 26.525 E 00 10.727

Lovely peaceful and quiet night, it didn't rain in the night. Glad about that because the Aire has large plane trees between the parking spaces, which would have let big drops bomb onto the van top. Looking out across the canal, it is a beautiful Autumn scene. Lots of trees have their final leaves hanging with all the lovely golds, reds and different shades of brown. There is a grove of young plane trees tall and straight, with all the thin branches creating a cross-hatched effect that would be lovely to try to emulate in acrylics. But I unfortunately don't have the time.

We had intended to go for a walk through the village after breakfast, but the rain dampened that idea again. Rain, rain, rain, it seems to be a common story on this trip. I went with the big umbrella to see if there was a Boulangerie. I walked the drab main street, just around the corner from the Aire. Not a very interesting street, so I turned around and headed back. Maybe it improves further along, but I'd seen enough for now.

No water or electric without paying at this Aire. We got back onto the D933. We found a Sunday morning Boulangerie with a parking area also, so popped in for a Baguette and a cake.

The scenery had started changing as we headed up to Bergerac. Entering the Dordogne region we rolled through some absolutely stunning countryside, all dressed in its Autumn colours. All the vines that covered acres and acres had their colours to add to the mix. We also love the old Dordogne stone houses with their unique style of roof. Smoke drifted up from the log fires on some houses, outside were the piles of logs stacked up ready for winter. The smoke clung low in the morning misty rain. Beautiful.

The rain was off and on, to add to the misty, magical Autumn morning. The D933 is also a good road to drive along, a real Sunday morning enjoyable drive. I'm waxing lyrically now, but that's how the morning passed away.

The D933 changes to the N21 after Bergerac. We stopped for some dinner parked near a Chemist's shop, closed for Sunday. A young boy kept riding past us on his bike, parading up and down. The rain intermittent again. The N21 heads up to Limoges, an area I will always associate with the Oradour sur Glane tragedy. The Nazi unit that wiped out the village was stationed at Limoges. It always comes to mind when I see the name Limoges.

Here we were making for the A20 motorway and we did well to get onto it with no wrong turns. Some parts of Limoges looked quite old and interesting as we passed by a Citadel type construction.

On the A20 the traffic was hectic - a dirty, rainy scene of car tail lights in the road mist kicked up by the traffic. What a contrast to this morning. Still it was useful to get some miles done.

I had spotted an Aire at Neuillay-les-Bois, just southwest of Chateauroux, so we were heading for that. A selection of music was playing as we cruised the miles away. Patricia still unpicking my Woolly-Pully to lengthen it, a somewhat long and tedious job if you don't want to cut the wool.

We dropped off the motorway at J15 onto the D14, then D47 to the Aire. Surprise, surprise, no-one on it, all quiet. I expected French vans to be on, as it mentions free electric points in the book.

We hooked up and settled down for a brew and a read of 'The Times' on Kindle. Patricia still unpicking. What a lovely quiet village. We should have known it wouldn't last. The local dogs came out to play, then a van rolled up and pulled in just behind us. 30 minutes later, two more vans came in. I thought it was too good to be true, free electric and no French vans. One van had the satellite dish up and telly on in no time. We knew because it was loud in our van. I went to ask him to turn it down. He was fitting his silver screen and said "no problem". It was OK after that.

Then came the knock on the door, as there are only two hook-up points. "Can we plug in yours?" "No problem if you have an adaptor." "Yes, we have one" they said. I went out and it turned out they didn't have proper connectors at all. I was talking to the guy and trying to sort out what he did have, so I could maybe utilise my adaptors. Just then the television guy came talking to him and he turned away from me. I was totally ignored, so I walked away. I don't think they sorted it out.

I found this little episode rather unusual, trying to help the guy, then being totally ignored as if I wasn't there. Language differences don't really come into it, the body language spoke volumes. I've mentioned little quirky things with the French motorhomers in previous diary entries, this is another. I can't really make my mind up what it is. Maybe someone with more experience of dealing with French people can explain.

Veal and sauted potatoes for tea followed by ice cream and Kahlua. Then it was Backgammon. I lost 3-1. Patricia back to winning ways. Bed around 10.30 pm. The dogs had been taken indoors, I think, all was quiet.

Day 46 Monday 5th November 2012 Neuillay-les-Bois (near Chateauroux)

N 46 46.146 E 01 28.425

Awake before the alarm, rain on the roof started the day. A quiet night. Temp 56 deg F on rising, we're expecting cooler mornings now we are heading north.

I decided to change our route a little last night. Patricia had mentioned a shop in Vendome where she had spotted some children's clothes that she thought would be good for Lily. The shop was closed when we previously stayed at Vendome so I thought we would call in to check it out again.

Had breakfast and sorted things ready for off. We then had a short walk on the park area near the Aire. A beautiful small lake, grassed area, trees and swings, also fishing. No wonder the Aire has a 24-hour limit sign on it. Can't see it making any difference, there is free electric and that will ensure some long stays by the French vans in good weather. It can be rather muddy when it rains, as it was for us.

The D27 heads in a straight line back to the D956 heading north. We stopped at the Super U in Levroux to pick up diesel, bread and cakes. On to Valencay, then stopped in Contres for dinner in the small square in the centre, in front of the church. The trees here don't seem to be trimmed as regularly as some we have seen at other places, where some only have knobbly branches. Heading on we passed Blois across the Loire quite easily, continuing on the D957. Arriving at Vendome we thought we knew the road in, so happily followed the route we knew. Not this time, road works had blocked the road, so we were diverted around.

We had a look at the Aire for parking - two French vans on, no Brit vans. We were just recalling this morning, the last British motorhome we spoke with was at Finisterre. I had sent Phil, who we met in Biarritz on the way down, a text, but no reply from him. Brit vans are thin on the ground, we'll maybe see more heading north.

Parking in Vendome just behind the small square, where they have the market, we walked to the shop Patricia liked. It was closed again and looked like it was closing down altogether. Ah well. None of the other shops were appealing, so we left.

Onto the N10 to check out the Aire at Cloyes sur le Loir. Two roads passed by it, on a junction which would probably make it rather noisy, so we headed onto St Denis les Ponts. A big parking area, again rather muddy with the rain they have been having.

Patricia did chicken soy sauce and garlic, noodles and spring rolls for tea, excellent. Followed by some raisin tart bought this morning.

There are lots of old electric hook-up points around the parking area. All now cut off, I tested them, all dead. I wonder, did this used to be a campsite? It is behind a community hall, which had some music bashing away until 10 pm, then it stopped. We also had three cars full of young lads parked near us, who occasionally screamed off in their cars across the area, skidding in the soft sandy muddy surface. I kept an eye on them, but they left around 11 pm and all was quiet. To be fair, they were quiet all night really, except for the skidding occasionally. Reading and unpicking tonight, we rested the Backgammon. Off to bed when all quiet.

Day 47 Tuesday 6th November 2012 St Denis les Ponts

N 48 03.979 E 01 17.379

Alarm set for seven but no need, the local bottle bank was emptied at 6 am. It certainly makes a good alarm clock, a big revving diesel engine for the hydraulics and then thousands of bottles crashing, just the ticket for a restful and peaceful awakening. Pity the locals, who must have it regularly. Decided to rise and get the kettle on. 46 deg F this morning. Put the heating on for a while.

We had a lovely clear blue sky on rising, although quite chilly out of the sun. Had breakfast and picked up water. The service point for this Aire is positioned around 50 metres down the road from the parking area, positioned on a small car park which could be difficult to use when the car park is full. Luckily it was empty early in the day.

Travelling out of St Denis les Ponts we passed through the edge of Chateaudun, where we spotted a small Boulangerie. This was just as we hit a 'take your choice island' with no signs at all for directions. We parked up and popped in for bread and cakes. As we were leaving, an English voice asked us if we were on holiday. This turned out to be a lady called Jackie. She had lived in France for 40 years. Brought over by her parents, she had married a Frenchman and had three sons. One son of 37 had just had a leg amputated. He lives in Switzerland. We spent 30 minutes chatting. Politics, Roads, France, England, Sport, a good old natter.

I gave her the sports supporter test, France or England? She chose France at Rugby Union. She is French now. I think she enjoyed chatting in English though. Lovely lady and we wished her well after a photograph.

N154, Chartres, Dreux, Evreux, all familiar from our outward journey. We had dinner before approaching Rouen, on a small Aire accompanied by big trucks. There was an old Brit van parked up, but no-one around, it seemed deserted, shutters up. Chatted with Pauline and Lily on the telephone.

Rouen is where it all went pear-shaped! I'm sure that the people who set up road signs are trained in a certain way, get them in, but don't get them out'. All signs great coming in, then the road numbers disappear, then it's take your choice time. We had a tour of Rouen before we got out. There was an enormous fair along the banks of the Seine. Some of the swinging rides looked horrific. Not sure what pleasure is had from paying to be thrown around and subjected to large G forces. Do they have a health check before going on?

Eventually Satellite Simon lead us out onto the A28 (E402) heading north. We were heading for an Aire at Mesnieres en Bray, near Neufchatel en Bray and just off the A28.

We found it OK, just a wrong turn in the village, corrected by a local guy who followed us to point out the turn a little further down the road. Thank you sir.

Patricia did Steak and Onions, Potatoe Wedges and Peas for tea, Raisin Tart from Chateaudun for afters.

It was a quiet Aire until we had lots of cars coming and going all night to a meeting hall that we are parked near. Obviously some local meeting, lots of locals, laughing, chatting. It went on until around 10.30 pm. All quiet after. I read 'The Times' on Kindle, Patricia patiently unpicking the pully.

Day 48 Wednesday 7th November 2012 Mesnieres en Bray

N 49 45.964 E 01 22.823

Really quiet night after the meeting had dispersed. Grey this morning, sun has gone away again. Not sure what the hall alongside the Borne area is. There are no names or signs outside of it. But there seems to be another meeting on this morning. The curtains along the windows at the front are now drawn back and we can see tables, chairs and presentation boards being set up. We had some breakfast and then moved up the hill.

This seems to be where the Aire photograph was taken from. The concrete grey water drain is here, with parking alongside on a compacted pebble surface, but the Borne is down the hill in front of the hall, which is a little confusing. The Borne is not functioning anyway, just the drain. I got some water from a tap up the hill. Looks like it's there for the community workers who are buzzing around on small tractors.

We were intrigued as to what the meeting at the hall was about. I joked to Patricia, they were pensioners being told that their pensions and benefits were being cut as part of the austerity measures to boost pensions for the EU officials. It might be true!

There is a Chateau in the village, which seemed to be having some construction work done, re-roofing etc. Not much else to hold us, so we left, back to the A28.

Heading towards Abbeville. D928 to Hesdin, where we spotted a Lidl. Pulling off the road we were halted by a height bar stopping us entering - quite unusual for Lidl. Ah well, we'll use the Aldi down the road. Got a baguette and had dinner. Back on the D928 we soon passed Azincourt (Agincourt), where we had stopped for dinner on the way out. It was sweeping down that day. Grey skies but occasional glimpses of blue today, no rain.

D928 to St Omer, then D300 up to Grand Fort Philippe. It's getting like coming home now when we arrive, we are familiar with the surroundings. One other van, a Brit. Got parked up and brew on.

Tricia did lamb and couscous for tea. We had a glass of Bordeaux Red, which I had bought at the Aldi for 1.50 Euros. It was quite pleasant. My first wine for months, just one glass. Had cheese and crackers after. The guy from the Brit van kept walking along the walkway in front of the van. We joked they might have had a row. Not impossible!

Actually got Radio Five Live on radio, so followed football later. Celtic beat Barcelona 2-1. United beat Braga 3-1, Chelsea beat Shaktar 3-2 with a last minute goal from an ex-Wigan player, Victor Moses.

Played Backgammon, I won.

Day 48 Thursday 7th November 2012 Grand Fort Philippe

N 51 00.086 E 02 06.524

No alarm this morning, awakened by local traffic, around 8-.5 am. A quiet and peaceful night. Patricia had vivid dreams.

Looks like it could be a nice day, blue skies are breaking through. No great rush today, nothing on the agenda except a little shopping. Had breakfast and listened to Radio Five Live on medium wave. No FM or Digital reception.

The news covered Bradley Wiggins getting knocked off his bike back home, near Wigan. It had a small interview with Shane Sutton, GB coach, who had spoken to Bradley. Then amazingly enough, later in the day, we get the news that Shane has been knocked off his bike in Manchester and is in hospital. Unbelievable. Car drivers all in a rush, no doubt.

One of my regular rants. Why is everyone always rushing around? Does no-one want to take time to relax and enjoy life. Rush out, rush back, what time has been saved? I can understand the pressure that a professional driver is put under by business. But the individual needs to slow down, put the morning alarm on a little earlier to allow more time to get to work and chill out.

The Brit van left without any contact or chat. The other van, a French one, has two adults and five children in it. I watched them all getting out this morning.

Got a text from Pauline that Auntie May had died last night. Patricia really upset.

We had a ride to Super U where Patricia saw a frock for Lily but we decided to have a look around Gravelines first before buying it. Popped into Lidl, no height bars on this one. I got 24 bottles of wine for home. We parked on the Gravelines Aire for dinner. No vans at all, it is usually chock-full with vans.

Parked across the road on a car park after dinner and walked in to have a hunt around for a children's clothes shop. Eventually we found one, just as we were nearly ready to give up and leave. Patricia bought a lovely dress for Lily, so we didn't return to Super U for the other one we had seen earlier. The lady in the shop spoke no English at all. She was dressed all in black, with black hair.

4 pm by now, so back to Grand Fort Philippe. No vans at all, we are all alone. Quite unusual around here. Chilled out with Kindle and radio. Patricia working on Woolly-Pully. Had steak, onions, mushrooms, wedges and salad for tea. A quiet night passed, chatting, radio, reading, knitting. Bed around 10.30 pm. Alarm on for 6.30 am, ready to get off for the ferry tomorrow.

Day 49 Friday 8th November 2012 Grand Fort Philippe

N 51 00.086 E 02 06.524

Alarm 6.30 am. Had a quiet and peaceful night after some noisy local youths had dispersed, just after getting down last night. Our lights have just gone off, also the heating. We need a new leisure battery, I think. Ran the engine for a while, which sorted out the battery, but it needs looking at when we get home.

Had breakfast then went up to Super U to pick up a baguette and diesel. Diesel I calculated was around 1.13 to 1.15 per litre. At Tesco in Dover it was 1.42. Quite a difference.

Passing the Aire at Gravelines there were only 4 vans parked up. The quietest we have seen it. Sorted out services and then got off to the port at Dunkirk.

No problems, straight in, again very quiet. One motorhome with us. This turned out to be Bernard and Kath from Cambridge. I had a natter with Bernard, whose wife was busy making sandwiches, as was Patricia. They had been to Morocco earlier in the year, so I asked him about it, for feedback. Bernard was actually from Blackburn originally, he still had his accent. It's amazing what you can discuss in such a short time.

Ferry on time. I bought 'The Times' for a read. Had our rolls with a coffee from Costa and we were soon glimpsing the white cliffs. As I said, the ferry was really quiet, it's the time of year obviously.

Off at Dover, we went out to Deal to spend an hour with Charlie at her mum's house. Good to see her, she looked well. Good catch-up natter but we didn't stay. Went off to Tesco for some food for tea. Went down to our overnight spot on the front and were surprised to see two vans there. We thought there may not be any with the ferry being so quiet.

Got radio on. Had tea and a chat with Pauline, Nicky, Marc, Helena and Lily. Lily keeps asking if we are at home yet. We had an early night to get up at 6 am. It started to rain.

Day 50 Saturday 9th November 2012 Dover

N 51 07.443 E 01 19.087

Alarm 6 am, a quiet night. Didn't hear any rain later. So, some breakfast now and usual route home. We discovered later that the telephone with the alarm set hadn't automatically reset its time, so it was actually 5 am when the alarm went off. Ah well, a good early start.

A reasonably uneventful journey back to Wigan, except for the accidents on the motorways. One on the M20, a van and an articulated lorry. One on the M6, several cars. We hadn't seen any accidents all the time we were in Europe, except for our little Spanish incident in A Coruna. I wonder where the human race will be in years to come, if all that it is bothered about is doing everything as fast as possible.

Reaching Wigan we were met by Pauline and Bob, who had opened up the house ready for us. Motorhome on the drive and all security in place, the end of another 'Mrs Elsie' journey.