Wednesday, 26 December 2012

South for Sun

After an excellent meal in Brecon with good friends from the badminton club I made an early start on a wet Thursday morning to cross a saturated Wales and England reaching Portsmouth in time to enjoy the impressive attractions of  the historic dockyards : HMS Warrior was (to me anyway) even more interesting than Nelson's Victory but both are a tribute to our nation's seafaring heritage and the skills of modern day restorers. The Mary Rose will be open again next year in a new state of the art display building. I resisted the attraction of the arcades at Southsea and joined the short queue for my LD Lines overnight crossing to Le Havre. After an uneventful voyage I instructed the sat knave to take  me to the Loire via non motorway routes, stopping en route to pick up provisions for lunch in the sun in a sleepy village - the familiarity of France fitting  like a pair of old slippers.
The quiet site just outside Tours provided intermittent wifi, hot showers and a chance to rough out the next few days. The rain blanketing the UK was in evidence so as planned I headed south again with a rural site outside Bordeaux the goal. A supermarket sweep to top up my cupboards to see me over the festive break, a tankful of fuel at around £1.10 a litre and a fast stretch on the empty A10 had me at the site gates by dusk - ferme despite the listing in my book. However the huge benefit of the new roof is that discreet wild pitching is so much easier so I was soon tucked away in a quiet car park in a nearby village - Guitres.
A few hours in warm sunshine brought me to Ixtsassou in the French Basque country - the foothills of the Pyrenees whose loftier snow capped summits had been shimmering enticingly in the distance for a while.
The large well kept site was empty bar two other vans which suited me very well and I was soon set up for a doze in the sun - the village pharmacy's thermometer indicated 68 degrees when I walked in later.
In need of some exercise I spent the next day cycling up to a nearby ridge which offered wonderful views on another warm but very windy day - it can obviously blow like mad up here as a radio mast had been bent right over but the local pottok horses seemed oblivious. Sixteen vultures were arguing over a carcass but were still sufficiently wary of me and took off en masse in a remarkable display. The 2.5 hour ride up was retraced in half an hour with brakes heating up as I passed remote farms with lambs in the field.
Christmas Day saw a flurry of texts exchanged with friends and family before I drove through the Nive Valley (amazed to see the boulangeries open) to park in sleepy Urdos and start a 5 hour walk to the Pic D'Iparla on one of the many crests that form part of the GR10 Trans Pyrennean route. Passing sheep being gathered for milking and up through chestnut woodlands I soon reached the Col and turned north for the lofty summit with more pottoks and vultures for company but no bipeds. Lunch at the top with its panoramic views was welcome before I picked up a lesser path - described as difficult but in reality no worse than the average British mountain route - which dropped steeply off the ridge and took me right under the outcrop where the vultures nest. The longest worm I have ever seen was emerging from its burrow in the warm weather as I dropped slowly back to Urdos and had a chat with a local family.
A short drive to Arneguy on the French/Spanish border set me up to climb high above the valley towards Urkulu where I found a lofty vantage point to spend the night. Today I continued upwards ignoring the 'road closed' sign as hunters had also gone through in their vans and was soon crossing large patches of snow.
The sat knave wanted me to take a track down to Roncesvalles which would have been great on a mountain bike - never fully trust these modern devices - and with heavier snow lying ahead I decided to return to Arneguy. The taste of the these empty summits has convinced me to return for a fuller exploration next Autumn so I resumed my intention and headed over the Puerto de Ibaneta to Roncesvalles in Navarra. Whilst still part of the Basque region the Spanish influence was in evidence with different brands, signage and  other subtle nuances. Turning east for a couple of hours took me through sublime limestone valleys with lunch atop a pass at 1150m. The Roncal valley south had towering cliffs either side before emerging at a large new lake above which a few miles further on stood intriguingly abandoned Esco whose quiet eerie streets hid so many tales and secrets.
The nearby monastery at Leyre and the Castillo de Javier were both impressive and a new autovia soon had me in Pamplona where a small site provided the night's accommodation  - with wifi and hook up. The latter seemed to be malfunctioning as I failed to get a supply but after various tests it seems it is my cable that is at fault - fortunately by moving I could use my shorter back up and will source 20m of Spain's finest copper three core in town tomorrow A quick Skype to family was welcome  and this blog up date completed. Pictures here as ever and Spotty spot here
Happy New Year to one and all - my intention is to head to Bilbao for some culture and then west to Gallicia, before turning south through Portugal to reach Gibraltar by the last few days of January.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Final Preparations

The second week in Cumbria continued in much the same vein with largely clear skies, sub zero temperatures leading to tricky walking conditions and the fells looking sublime with their dusting of snow. My parents joined me for a fun filled few days and I managed to finish scanning in around 20 albums of photographs covering the period of my life between 1976 and 2001. That stirred memories of my happy days training in Hampshire, the move to Bristol, many years of caving around the UK and the many triumphs and challenges of life on the farm. The transition to digital storage since 2001 is a reminder of how much technology has changed - certainly life in the van is far more sophisticated than those epics in the 80's when I had an air cooled Type 2 that was never happier than when on on AA Relay truck returning down the M6 from Scotland and communication relied on shoving substantial coinage in to a phone box.
Returning south via York to see family and Sheffield for an excellent curry with Penny I then diverted to the showrooms of Timberland Motorhomes where their range of sleek and sophisticated campers was rather enticing. However after a thorough look round nothing really floated my boat and I am now considering two options - keep this amazing old girl and maybe buy a van in Oz to leave there and use for the 6 months or so of our winter, or source a good base vehicle and commission someone to assist me in conversion to my own spec. based on the knowledge and experience gained over the last 7 years of being on the road.
A brief break in Coventry enabled me to arrange travel insurance that will provide cover in the unlikely event of another coronary meltdown, purchase the last few items prior to leaving for Europe and extract enough medication from the surgery to see me through to April.
In Brecon I sorted out finances for the trip, plus arrangements for requesting breakdown cover, enjoyed the usual energetic badminton session and survived a particularly cold night in the town centre car park alongside a French couple. 
I hope to post on Thursday night whilst waiting for the 23.30 sailing but beyond that communication will become patchier as I will be restricting phone and internet usage thanks to the usual unacceptably high cost of European usage. 
The plan is to head south to Bordeaux fairly smartly and then track the coast of Spain and Portugal with a final leg to Gibraltar for the 1st of Feb. when my Green Card van insurance for Morocco starts. If Morocco suits me I will stay on another few weeks and return either late March or the week after Easter.
Either way I have a fairly tight schedule as it is such a large country and I will need to keep up a steady rate of progress.
Some piccies here cover the last week of Cumbria and click here to see where I am lurking!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Lakeland at its Best

After the dubious pleasures but substantial achievements of the bothy dig I travelled via watery Warwickshire to the Lake District to be joined for the first weekend by a trusty trio of walking buddies. A circuit of Bow Fell and Crinkle Crags returning to Cockley Beck via Ulpha Fell gave us a mix of weather and conditions with a final river to cross well after dark.
A damp Monday proved the ideal day to explore the slate quarries and mines of Tilberthwaite with impressive Cathedral Cave providing a dry lunch spot. Penny joined us on the Tuesday for a stiff climb in wintry conditions behind Harrison Stickle before the men departed south.
A change to cold, dry, icy conditions saw the fells looking at their best as we walked locally and then mid week took off to Ullswater to catch the ferry from Glenridding and walk back along the shore line on a perfectly calm day. A meal at Zefferelli's after seeing Silver Linings finished off an excellent day.
Friday was spent walking at Wray Castle, Tarn Hows and near Hawkshead before crossing to Bowness after visiting Hill Top - all related to the life and times of a certain B. Potter.
A walk round to the Drunken Duck on Saturday took in a former family property although the icy conditions made for slow and delicate progress on the paths and lanes.
Today we caught the bus in to Ambleside and walked back via the slate caves of Loughrigg on a final day of sunshine as out west we could see the cloud bank moving in ahead of tomorrow's forecast rain.
My future plans focus now on spending the month of February down in Morocco - it is about the size of France so should offer plenty of interest and challenges. This may prove to be a precursor to a longer trip there in the Autumn.
I depart in just over a fortnight so have a little while to prep. the van and say tara to friends and family .
Pictures of the last ten days can be found by clicking here and the eye in the sky locates me here.

A current favourite piece of music from Ozzie singer John Williamson.