It’s the end of October and time to head south again for the winter. This will be the twenty-fifth winter when I’ve spent some of the months caravanning in Spain. Our early visits were comparatively short: the first one being only four weeks. But gradually, they have lengthened, so that now, I stay for the maximum time my insurance will allow - 122 days. Over the years, we’ve stayed at several popular areas from Alicante on the Costa Blanca round to Albufeira on the Algarve, but our favourite has always been the Costa del Sol. So it will be to El Pino at Torrox where I’ll be going after a slow meander through Central Spain. In the early 1990’s we flew to Malaga and stayed in an apart-hotel so that we could explore the possibilities for caravanning. It was during that stay that we discovered the site at Torrox. However, we didn’t stay there during our first years because the lack of a decent road made it very inaccessible. By the end of the ‘90s, as the area began to be developed, the approach road was somewhat improved. Now that I caravan on my own, I look forward to arriving at El Pino where I know I will meet lots of friends from previous years.
The ferry I’m booked on this year is the Baie de Seine; it’s what Brittany Ferries use for their “Economie” Service. The ship is smaller than the two cruise ferries, so the facilities on board is not as great However, cabins are comparable on both services. Bunks and en-suite bathrooms are the same. The only difference is that one has carpet on the cabin floor whilst the other has wood laminate. The Economie ferry has a self-service dining room with a limited range of meals, whilst at least one of the cruise ferries has a waiter-service dining room.
For me, one of the plus points of the smaller ferry is that unloading is done in much less time. Being parked in the ‘wrong’ position on the big ships can mean a wait of up to an hour between doors opening and driving off. The second plus point of the “Economie” sailing is that for my sailing dates there is an approximate saving of around £60 each way.
All the crossings from Portsmouth to Northern Spain take between 30 and 36 hours. For the first time traveller, both departure time and arrival time should be carefully considered. A convenient departure time will not necessarily be followed by a convenient arrival time. For instance leaving Portsmouth at 17. 30 means arriving in Spain in the evening by which time, in winter, it will be already dark. On the other hand, a departure from Portsmouth at 22. 30hrs gives a very early arrival at 07. 00hrs, with a good day of travelling time ahead of you.
On Tuesday morning the departure time from Portsmouth was 08. 45hrs and whilst I could have managed by leaving home at around 5am, there’s always the chance of early morning fog, and I do like to have time in hand for contingencies, so I left the evening before and spent the night on the dockside. When I arrived at the port, there were six other towed caravans and motor vans already there, so I parked where the marshal indicated. Having ascertained that I wouldn’t be required to move before morning, I wound down the legs, settled down for dinner followed by an evening of DVD’s in the caravan.
Tuesday morning started early with check-in opening at 05. 45. Having been there over-night, I was one of the first through. I was immediately met by Border Control. Maybe because it was the start of their shift, the lady assigned to my outfit was conscientiousness personified. After many questions regarding my car and its contents, she then asked for access to the interior of the van. This was followed by an examination of the underside of both car and caravan with mirror and torch. Finally I was allowed to proceed to the loading lines. From being almost first to check-in, I became almost last to board, and found myself with some other tourers down below the water line on deck 4 among the solo trailers and HGVs. My cabin was on Deck 8 and in an ideal position for both restaurant and reception. In fact, it was so close to reception that I was able to get on the internet in the cabin.
The crossing was made in good weather with only a mild swell as we crossed Biscay.
The ferry docked on time and within twenty minutes I was heading towards passport control and the exit. Border Control took a quick look at my passport and I was soon out on the road leading up to the A8.
For several years, when arriving at Bilbao I’ve wanted to stop to see the Hanging Bridge which is built close to where P&O used to berth their “Pride of Bilbao”. I’d already researched on Google Earth a likely stopping place for the car and caravan, so with coordinates entered, I headed for the spot and unloaded the bike. I cycled around the harbour for a couple of miles and arrived at the mouth of the river where the Vizcaya Bridge was built to connect the two sides. The builder, who was a student of Gustave Eiffel was given the brief to build a bridge that wouldn’t disrupt the river traffic, but would also not need long ramps to gain height. He came up with a design for a hanging bridge.
The bridge was built in 1893 and is made of iron. It uses twisted steel cables with a gondola hanging below which can carry six to eight cars and maybe a hundred foot passengers, The crossing takes less than two minutes. I would loved to have made a crossing on it as a foot passenger, but already the first few drops of rain were starting so I headed back to the car.
By the time I’d reached the A8, the rain was really hammering down. It was time for a review of my plans. Instead of heading west towards the Pico de Europa, I turned for the A68 and set off for Burgos – just over 100 miles away. It rained all the way.
A topic often mentioned on forums is about how to keep the caravan fridge cold on the ferry. My method is to turn on the caravan fridge the day before the travel date. At the same time put items in your home freezer. I put three 1ltr cartons of orange drink and I already had two fruit loaf cakes prepared a week ago. In addition I prepared a large chicken casserole and doled it out into meal -sized cartons. On the afternoon of departure, all the frozen stuff was taken from the freezer and packed into the caravan fridge, together with packets of ham and cheese, plus other necessary items. For my night on the dockside, the fridge was operated on gas. By not opening the fridge door too often, by the time I arrived in Burgos, my chicken casserole was still frozen and only required several minutes in the microwave.
The rain petered out during the night and the morning was giving a promise of a lovely day.
I was already beginning to regret my change of itinerary. But what’s done is done! For the present, the most important thing was to get to the local Mercadona and stock up on some essential items – most urgently some rolls for lunch. The store was only 6 or 7 minutes away by car, so it was to there I headed. Even from some distance away I could see the car park was empty. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw the shuttered entrance. It was closed. It was a Bank Holiday!
I continued on into town and Tomtom directed me to an underground car park close to the Cathedral. Having parked, I crossed the road and onto the bridge which leads up to the Arco de Santa Maria – the most impressive of the dozen gates which in the 12C were built into the wall surrounding the city.
Through the gate, is a plaza in which the Cathedral is built.
Work started in 1221 on the orders of King Fernando of Castilla. It’s built in the form of three naves surrounded by 19 chapels. To one side is what is reputed to be the finest Gothic cloister in Spain, decorated with sculptures from the 14th Century.
At the centre of the Cathedral is the tomb of Rodrigo Díaz – better known as El Cid. He has become a Spanish folk hero; especially in this part of Spain because he was born only a few miles down the road at the village of Vivar. Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar was born around the year 1040 into a family of the Spanish nobility.
He became an important general-administrator fighting against the Moors but when his King died, he was caught up in a Royal family squabble and was exiled. He worked as a mercenary-general fighting for other leaders, both Moor and Christian. It was the Moors who gave him his tittle - ‘El Cid’. Later in life he captured the City of Valencia, ruling it himself until his death in 1099. After leaving the cathedral I went to see his statue in one of the town’s squares.
Later I walked through shopping streets hoping to find a bakery open, but there was nothing. I returned to Fuentes Blancas for a very late lunch. Thank heaven for some baking potatoes in the car together and a tin of beans. Mercadona will have to wait till tomorrow.
To be continued……………...You can see this blog with several more pictures here:- https://jondogoescaravanning. com/spain-nov-2018-feb-2019/