Wednesday, 7 October 2020
The long road
I asked on Twitter what people would like to hear more about, and the most popular choice was life in Spain, So I'll give you a little peek at a section describing the eventful journey from the suburbs of London to the ferry port of Cadiz departure point of the ferry crossing to the Canary Islands.
Again this is a draft so will get changed a bit for the final published edition...
Finally with the van packed and all the stuff from the storage collected and taken to a warehouse ready for space to come available in a container headed for Tenerife. It was time to start the road trip, La Palma, or bust. The first leg wasn't far, it as just to Helens' daughter not far from Gatwick where we were having a little goodbye party.
Having said goodbye to the family, we then started the journey to our first stop, nothing interesting, just a Travelodge near Folkestone in Kent. The only thing exciting about this location was it's close proximity to the Euro tunnel terminal.
The following morning we got up, ate a good British breakfast. The last we would get for a while, and prepared to hit the road. When we got to the terminal we sailed through with very little waiting and before we knew it we were on the train and heading through the tunnel and on our way to France. On the other side we drove out of the train an hit the motorways.
The motorways on the continent are so nice, and before long we were happily heading southwards, the only slight issue was running into a number of quite serious rain and even hail storms. We were making good progress and decided to stop at a service station for a break. When we got inside the station we actually realised that we were in fact very near to the Somme battlefield, and there was an information display and an observation platform where you could look out over the fields.
Standing up there on this cold and drizzling day, you could see why the war here had been a virtual stalemate, the ground was flat with just very tiny little bumps and small clumps of trees. It was actually quite a moving experience just thinking about the sheer number of lives lost over inches of the ground. Back inside we warmed up with a coffee then back on the road. I had paced the journey so that each day would only be about four to five hours driving with two stops in France and two in Spain. Tonight's stop was at a place called Tours which was just south of Le Mans where the famous 24-hour race is held.
But before that, we had one more coffee stop, and that is where disaster struck. As we were sitting drinking coffee I noticed a couple of French Gendarmes paying particular attention to the English registered Bertha parked outside, they then went to their car and just sat there. When we went to leave they got out and approached us and asked to see in the van, as I opened the back door some of the stuff had shifted and I caught it as it fell.
They took one look at the back at the van and asked us to follow them, so nervously we followed them to an industrial plant, where they stuck us on the weighbridge. They then told us that they considered we were overweight and took us to the police station. This is where things got a little hilarious, as we had two manuals for the car, it’s original Spanish, and an English copy. There were trying to determine the allowed weight for the van because depending on how much we were over would determine the severity of the penalty, but as neither of the manuals were in French they were struggling with translation.
In the end, they decided that we were just over 150Kg overweight and fined us 130€ After I had filled in the paperwork and paid the fine. We were then free to go, which I found a bit strange as they had just fined us for an overloaded vehicle and yet they would still allow us to continue. What happened later would fill me with shame for years to come. The van was clearly overloaded and we had to lose some weight or we would only possibly get stopped again. The first thing we jettisoned was the battery we had purchased to provide solar power for the house, this we left at one of the roadside stops along the way.
Later that night after lunch we drove into an industrial estate near the hotel and emptied a ton of stuff into a large industrial bin. Of all the things that were binned that night there was one item that I wish we hadn’t left, was Helen’s air compressor. I know it sounds stupid, but in my mind, the fact that this was something of Helen’s and I felt that losing it meant that she wouldn’t be able to work on her artwork. Which was something that she had wanted to do and it was my fault.
For several years afterwards, I wasn’t able to talk about the trip without feeling a great amount of shame and self-blame for causing the whole mess, even today the last few paragraphs have been difficult to write. It’s quite surprising how such a relatively small and insignificant thing can have severe and ongoing mental health repercussions for years to come. On reflection I don’t think I acknowledged at the time that my mental health was in a more fragile state than I’d let on, I’ve always hidden a lot of things and not been open about issues, preferring to suffer in silence. I have only just recently replaced the compressor, which has gone some way to alleviate my guilt and allow me to finally talk about it.
The following day was uneventful, with the exception of my pulse rate going into overdrive every time I passed any police car. The stop that night was just south of Bordeaux, an hour or so north of the Spanish border. I must admit I think we must have taken the most boring route through France that you could, we didn’t really see much, at one point we were going through the obviously planted forest for hours and hours, on a dead straight motorway.
I was really apprehensive the following morning as we headed towards the Spanish border. I was expecting there to be some kind of check at the border and there apparently was a little bad weather ahead, the first signs of that was about 20Km north of Spain when the queues started. We crawled along in traffic till we got to the border where we sailed through without even stopping, not a check or anything. At this point, it also became obvious what the queue was all about as all HGVs were being diverted off the motorway at this point.
As we headed down the motorway into Spain the snow got heavier and heavier, until we were almost in complete whiteout conditions. We reached a section of the motorway were it climbs steeply with a series of hairpin bends. As we approached this section I could only see one other thing on the road in front of us, the road was effectively a single lane at this point with the snow. Coming up closer behind this vehicle I realised that it was a snowplough. So here we were crossing the Pyrenees in a fully loaded van in one of the worst snowstorms for a number of years and we were the only idiots on the road beside the snowplough.
Eventually, we made it over the other side and started to come down through the foothills at one point we were stopped for an hour when we got going again we passed a number of lorries that had jack-knifed into the central reservation. Once we left the snow behind and the sun came out, it became a glorious day. At one point our breath was taken away as we rounded a corner on the motorway to be greeted with the sight of the road gently curving away downhill next to this absolutely gorgeous lake.
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