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2020 - Spain
Time for some winter sunshine! We took the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao at the very end of January. There had been some pretty bad weather in Spain, with Storm Gloria battering the country but now things were improving. On our departure from Portsmouth we passed close by one of tour new aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales. 72,300 tons and looked magnificent.
We had a very pleasant and calm crossing, even in Bay of Biscay. As we left Portsmouth we were still citizens of the European Union but when we arrived in Bilbao, Brexit had happened over night, and the UK was no longer a member of the EU. Passport control was very relaxed in Spain and we were just waved through - so no change there! Our first overnight stop was at the Navarette campsite, just outside Logrono. We had stayed here several times before and on this occasion, the site was very quiet. We were the only touring unit on site when we arrived in the late afternoon and only one other joined us overnight. Next day we took the motorway to Zaragoza and then followed the N232 eastwards. Our destination this evening was to be Morella, a hill top town in the mountains, approximately 60km from Vinaros which is on the Mediterranean coast. We had driven past this town several times and always promised ourselves that we would stop and explore. Just a few hundred metres short of the town is a motorhome aire which offered a safe place to stop overnight and spectacular views of the old town. It is about a 15 minute walk into town.
(top left) The aire at Morella, squeezed between the olive trees. (left middle) view of the town from the approach road. Note the twin turrets of the entrance gate in middle left of the photo. A close up of this magnificent entrance is (top right) (left lower) part of the very long aqueduct that supplied the town with water. I had always assumed that it was only the top level that supplied the water but in fact, both levels have a water channel! Double whammy! (above right) the narrow streets in the town were charming. The pavements were in a colonnade which provided shade for the shoppers and space above for larger buildings whose foundations were huge baulks of timber above the colonnade. (left) View from the top of the town looking towards the south east.
Next day it was a short drive to Torre La Sal and to the campsite, Bravo Playa. We stayed here last year and really enjoyed the site and the area around. We had arranged to meet friends there, Keith and Frances Gander, Tom Slater, Tony and Margaret Lago and a new couple Graham and Dee. For the first week or so we were also joined by Jon and Gaye Page, who are Carthago owner friends from Worthing.
The weather was beautiful but we were amazed to see the storm damage to the seafront. The photo (right) shows a boardwalk which had been smashed to pieces by storm Gloria. The pebbles had been carried right up the beach (which is normally sandy) and splattered everywhere. The campsites had been flooded and there was significant damage. The local services have got themselves huge task to re-establish the seafront.
(left) Jon and Gaye Page at Alcossebre. This is a delightful cycle ride of about 16km from the campsite.
Another outing (right) and (below) was a hike with Tom Slater to the castle of Miravet. The ruined castle is right on top of a mountain, (see below). The coast and the campsite are in the far distance. The pathway was pretty rugged and not easy walking. You could easily sprain an ankle and it would not be wise to hike alone.
(left) We had a visit, from Bren and Rich. They have been fellow campers in Bennicasim and were staying there again this year. We met up halfway, in Oropesa, for lunch. It was lovely to meet up with this delightful couple. In the photo,(l-r) Desnée, Rich, Bren and Tom. We agreed to meet up again in a week or so but the Corona virus pandemic brought about a total lock down in Spain and we could not make another rendezvous.
Tom and George were keen to explore the mountains, inland from the campsite. We cycled out to Cabanes to visit the Tourist Office to get a hiking map. It is a 33km round trip but the outbound leg on the CV146 is a harsh climb! Armed with a good quality, walking routes map we set off on our chosen route. The path was surprisingly challenging with some rope climbs on the steeper section (right). It was all worthwhile just for the views from the top (below).
Tom and George had several, similar hiking trips and cycle rides out. One cycle trip we joined up with Desnée, Margaret and Tony, plus Graham and Dee in Torreblanca (about 11km from campsite). They had travelled by car to visit the market and we met to go for lunch. Torreblanca is slightly inland from the coast and not particularly interesting apart from the large number of wall paintings which are very impressive (below). The centre photo is a garage door! In the left and right, the buildings windows give you an idea of scale.
At the campsite, we enjoyed social evenings with some of the Brits that were there or close by. Ray and Melissa Knight drove up from their home in Alcalali to see us for a day. It was great to see them again and catch up on each others news. Ray was pleased to show off his new Mini Cooper S Countryman. A lovely car. They would have stayed for a few days but Melissa had to get back to get the charity shop, that she supports, up and running after its refurbishment. We also had a visit from Bob and Caroline Shepherd, who stayed for a few days in one of the campsite bungalows. They were on their way back to UK from their apartment in Teulada (just south of Javea). It was good to see them and they were looking forward to a new Cockerpoo puppy when they were back home. Keith and Fran arrived to join us after delaying their departure from UK. They had their new puppy with them, also a Cockerpoo, called Daisy. A wriggly, fluffy bundle of energy! As a group we would meet up with other Brits for the ‘5 o’clock club’ A drink or drinks at the bar before going back to our motorhomes and caravans for dinner. On Fridays we would walk or drive down to Camping Didota, about 700 metres away for a Tapas evening and a variety of musical entertainment. They served a very good tapas meal for €4.50 and the entertainment was a high standard. On Thursdays, the bar/restaurant on our own site had a regular entertainer, Bosco, who played a range of music on keyboard and sang all the songs that got people, particularly the Germans, up and dancing along.
(left) Desnée, Caroline and Francis enjoying one of the Thursday evening events. Then, suddenly, everthing stopped! The Corona Virus had hit Spain and on March 14th Spain declared a National Emergency. Total lock down started as from March 16th. All entertainment cancelled, bars and restaurants closed, everyone confined to the campsite and to be 2 metres away from other people. You could only leave the site to shop for food or visit the Pharmacy.
It was no longer an enjoyable holiday and became fairly stressful. No vehicle movement was allowed apart from above reasons. Our return ferry to the UK was booked for March 31st from Bilbao. We watched the Brittany Ferries website carefully. Some sailings had been cancelled but our route was still running on schedule - phew! But then, March 17th late evening, the Brittany Ferries website announced All sailings to Spain cancelled until April 23rd at earliest !!! Our opinion was that there was no guarantee that they would reinstate sailings for the foreseeable future! We needed an escape plan! Frantic activity on a slow Internet link and we eventually managed to secure a booking on the Euro Tunnel for Friday 20th in the evening - yesss! That gave us just £ days to get to Calais! We were up and about until 1:30am packing up everything ready for an early departure later that morning. Filling water tanks, emptying waste water, putting away table and chairs, stowing five weeks worth of camping paraphernalia. We had to pay our bill when the office opened at 8:00am, unplug the electric and we were on our way! It is around 1600 kms to Calais, so we needed to cover at least 530kms per day for three days and fingers crossed for no punctures nor breakdowns!
Wednesday 18th, good progress, the autoroutes were deserted apart from the odd truck. We thought we may have trouble getting into France because they were also on strict lock down. At the border the police saw we were British and waved us through. We stopped for the night in a beach side car park at Narbonne Plage, in France. The town was deserted. Just us and another two German motorhomes in the place! Off early next day, beautiful and sunny. Again an easy journey on the beautiful A75 (toll free apart from the Millau Viaduct). I think the A75 is one of my favourite routes through France. Stopped overnight at a lovely village aire in La Ferté Beauharnais (just 11kms off the A71 autoroute). Again everywhere deserted. Managed to buy bread at the Boulangerie in the morning. Direct route took us through the outskirts of Paris where there was minimal traffic. A16 to Calais. We arrived 4 hours early for our train. Drove straight on, without a wait. The Euro Tunnel train only had 4 motorhomes and nothing else on the train! Back home in Worthing before dark and in time for dinner! The Euro Tunnel fare was very reasonable and Desnée and I decided we would use the service again on future trips abroad.
PS. Brittany Ferries did not re-instate sailings as from April 23rd! Our friends, that we left behind at Torre La Sal, followed our escape route the following week.