It was raining when we woke up on our final day in Spain. Actually, raining is an understatement and despite donning my long cycling waterproof, that covers me up from head to knees, I was drenched in minutes doing the outside tasks that go with leaving a campsite. I’d suggested to Shirley that I should do the outside chores because I’d just come back from the showers and had wet hair already. There was no point us both getting a soaking. It was a fine idea in principle but then half way up the road towards France I realised I hadn’t finished getting dressed after my shower and was wearing little more than a pair of scruffy jogging bottoms and a fleece. After it stopped raining we stopped for diesel and while Shirley was filling up I went into the back of the van and got dressed. It was only after I’d put my fleece back on over a t-shirt that I realised the bedroom blind was open. Shoppers coming out of Lidl will have got more than they bargained for if they’d glanced our way. Fortunately they will never see me again so I chose not to feel too embarrassed.
We drove over the border into France without our usual sense of excitement. For a start off the wind was howling around us and we were bobbing about as we struggled up the steep hills on the motorway feeling the pull of numerous massive trucks overtaking us. They seemed unaware of the effect they have as they pulled up alongside to overtake. It’s as though they were sucking us into their sides, especially the ones who drove too close and pulled in too sharply. We usually drive at least at the truckers normal 56 mph but the high winds made us insecure so we were travelling at 50 mph, a speed that frustrates truck drivers because they need to overtake but they can’t do it quickly. We try to be conscious of their time pressure but on this occasion we just hung on to the wheel as the high winds whipped down through the Pyrenees and met us face on. We did manage a hearty burst of the Marseillaise as we past the ‘Welcome to France’ signs and felt once again that sense of coming home to our second favourite place in the world. The other reason for our slightly somber mood was the realisation that our trip will be ending in a little over two weeks. We’ve already extended it a week because of the solar system replacement but it still feels like it’s happening too soon. We’re stuck right in the middle of mixed feelings where we’re looking forward to seeing our family and friends and relaxing in a bigger space yet at the same time this adventure has been so incredible that it’s hard to accept it’s almost over.
Our first planned stop was at the little town of Collioure in France, not far from the Spanish border. Our friend Julie had recommended it and we’d found an Aire de Camping Car advertised that had views over the top of the town and over the Mediterranean. It really was a fabulous spot with wonderful views and loads of space to park up but the wind up there on the hillside was intolerable. We pulled into a sheltered spot to eat lunch and decided that we couldn’t stay the night there, the van was bouncing around like a cork in a bucket. We were sad not to stay so it’s on the list for another time.
Next stop was a Camping Car Park behind a motorhome dealer in a little place called Latour bas Elne in the Rousillon region. It was sunny and sheltered with beautifully kept pitches and a very well designed service area. On a less positive note there were notices stating that you must take your dogs outside of the area to exercise them. The road alongside had no pavement and cars were driving by at hair raising speeds. Dog walks are usually relaxing experiences – but not here. The satnav had brought us to that site through incredibly narrow roads with twists and turns, so we assumed that we were on a one way road. The next morning, attempting to leave the area, we were horrified to discover that the way out was on the very same roads, not one way at all. It was impossible for us to get the van through onto the tiny road because of the angle so we had no choice but to drive on into the town hoping that the satnav would find us an easier way out. We soon discovered that we were stuck in the small town square with all possible exits signed as no entry. We had no idea what to do, we certainly couldn’t turn the van around and go back so we startled some young Frenchmen who were standing in the middle of the road looking in the direction that traffic should have been coming from, shot out of the turning before we met someone coming the other way and drove blindly along another road with no idea where we were going. The satnav kept insisting “Turn around when possible” but we ignored her, apart from calling her names. Eventually, after driving on what felt like footpaths for miles we were spat out onto a main road and heading towards Narbonne. This wasn’t before the satnav bleakly informed us that we were on a road that was too small for us. We’d been aware of that for at least two miles. I would like to recommend the Aire de Camping Car at Latour bas Elne but in all honesty the effort and stress required to find it, at least according to our satnav, is not worth the peaceful night when you get there. Other satnavs might be more sensible and we would be happy to hear about it if you’ve been there and found a suitable way in.
We decided at this point to buy new habitation batteries from Narbonne Accessories, a large well stocked motorhome accessory shop not far from the motorway. It finally dawned on us that trying to get home with failing batteries was only going to spoil our last two weeks of this amazing trip. Sometimes I take my Yorkshire heritage too far and stubbornly refuse to pay over the odds for anything. On this occasion the difference in price between the batteries in France and in the UK would be more than repaid by peace of mind as we meander through France towards our ferry home. We turned up at the shop and asked the young male assistant if he spoke English. The thought of trying to explain in French why we didn’t want AGM batteries and would like lead acid instead felt like too much of a challenge. We were relieved when he said he did speak English and he also understood why we wanted the older style of battery. He told us that they could lift the batteries into the van but not into the lockers where they belong and that they couldn’t connect them up for us. Seeing my face fall he told us about FeuVert, the French equivalent of Kwikfit, and directed us to the nearest branch which was about 100 yards away. Here they agreed to do the fitting but not for another three hours and there was no room for us to wait there. This is where having a motorhome comes into its own. We drove a few miles out of town, pulled into a pleasant layby, ate our lunch and read our books in complete comfort until it was time to go back. The work was done efficiently but it took a little longer than normal because these batteries were slightly wider and they needed to adjust the base of the boxes. Our fitter was head down, bum up in that underseat lockers for longer than his boss thought appropriate so he wandered up and asked him if he was having a sleep in the camping car. We were standing outside and started laughing, much to his embarrassment, because he’d assumed we couldn’t understand him. This is one of life’s mysteries about learning another language. It’s so much easier to understand it than to speak it.
Mightily relieved now that we were all fixed up with onboard power, we made our way to Gruissan near Narbonne for a night in one of our favourite places.
Gruissan Aire (Les quatre vents) is a massive commercial motorhome park on the marina at Gruissan. If you wish you can park right on the water’s edge and take a wander amongst the massive yachts of the rich and famous. We walked the dogs in the early evening sunshine, watched the sunset, had a fine dinner of salmon with a bottle of good wine and slept like logs. Gruissan, if you’ve never been, is a lovely Mediterranean town with narrow streets, a weekly market, a beach and a co-operative cave where you can buy the best of the local wines for good prices. We love it. Did I say that already?
On Sunday morning we drove to Marseillan for our much anticipated visit to Shirley’s good friend Julie. We parked up on a quiet street for two nights, were wined and dined beautifully by Julie, walked the delightful streets and along the waterside, talked until we were too sleepy to keep going and had a truly fine time. Shirley and Julie worked together in the Middle East thirty five years ago. Isn’t it great how good friendships can last over years of not seeing one another?
Our only slightly scary moment in Marseillan was when a massive road roller pulled into the street at 6.30 a.m. making a terrific noise. It was still dark and we had no idea what was going on. Opening the rear blind we saw this huge machine with massive lights rolling towards us. Just for a moment it was reminiscent of the film Close Encounters until we realised what was happening, groaned and pulled the covers back over our heads.
It is Tuesday now and we are in yet another of our favourite places, the Chusclan Vigneron and its free aire de camping car. We’ll be going over to the cave for a wine tasting in a little while. More on that the next time. Au revoir!