Thursday 16th January – Bilbao – Portsmouth – Kidlington – Cromwell – Doncaster (248 Miles)
There are a number of great things about having a Motorhome, obviously there is the using it as one’s home to travel to lots of lovely places, stop when you want and for as long or as short as you want without having to keep packing and unpacking suitcases. However, another bonus is not being reliant, in the main, on the use of Public Transport, taxi’s, buses, trains, aircraft or in our current circumstance, a ferry !! It was late in arrival at Bilbao due to ‘adverse’ weather conditions, which of course meant that it was late departing Bilbao, although the Captain had announced that he would try to make the time up on the crossing so that we arrived on time at 14:15pm in Portsmouth.
It seemed to take an eternity to board, fortunately, being in ‘Big Momma’, Shazza was able to make us lunch and hot drinks and we could relax in the lounge area, unlike the car and van drivers who either had to sit in their drivers or passengers seats or alternatively the uncomfortable bright orange plastic chairs in the small passenger lounge. There was the added bonus that at Bilbao, I don’t know about other ferry ports, there was free ‘WiFi’ available in the ‘car lanes’, this meant that I was able to finish writing my last post of this trip (Part Forty), download the photographs that my duty Photographer had taken en-route, insert them into the blog and publish it, all whilst munching on my Tuna Baguette and drinking my hot mug of coffee and all before getting boarded, bonus !!
Once on board, and to keep you entertained, they make the interior of the boat a bit of a maze ! There is no straightforward means of getting to your allocated cabin. One set of stairs, or a lift, to take us up to Deck 9 would have been too simple. No, we had to take a lift to Deck 8, then get out and find our way through a maze of narrow corridors of cabins to another lift to take us to Deck 9. Obviously we were not the only passengers playing this game, others were coming in the other direction, towards us, with their overnight bags and even suitcases, so everyone had to slope past each other sideways, saying sorry for ‘side swiping’ each other with aforementioned weapons. Finally, we found our inside ‘petite’ cabin, this was nothing like we had experienced in ‘Commodore’ class on the outbound journey, Oh ! how we miss our ‘Commodore’ class now !! We had bunk beds so I asked Shazza the innocent question “Would you like me on top dear or would you prefer to be on top ?” and she replied, “I would much prefer you on top babes” !!
After ‘dumping the bags’ and plugging in all our electrical gadgets to get ‘re-charged’, yes we did remember this time to bring the ‘continental’ adapters, we decided to play the ‘maze game’ once more and explore our new ‘temporary’ home. It did not take me long to find the nearest ‘smoking’ area from the cabin, useful for the night-time wanders and with the bonus of it also being one of the many WiFi zones ! We soon ‘sussed’ out that all the main facilities were on Deck 7 and found the Stairway that led to this from our Deck. There was one main bar but it was set on two levels, this is where the evening entertainment would be held, is ‘Bingo’ always a mandatory requirement for on-board ship entertainment ? We will be giving that a miss then !! That would be followed by the Comedy Magician, sod that for a lark, I thought, best I stick to the bar, smoking areas and WiFi Zone. After our ‘Maze Game’, whilst Shazza was booking us a table for ‘Dinner’ that evening I found another nearby smoking area and enjoyed watching the ship depart. It was a nice sunny afternoon and I took my last glimpse at the Spanish Coast before returning to my beloved, we then decided that we would say a proper farewell to Spain, in the time-honoured tradition of course, with a glass of ‘Vino Tinto’ !!
We were not long into the journey when the sunshine disappeared and the sea got choppier, and choppier and the boat first rolled to one side, then the other, then the Bow would surf down a wave as if the Captain was used to being in charge of a submarine and he had ordered ‘Dive, Dive, Dive’, the Stern lurching into the air !! Then the Bow would rise again and anyone still standing took about ten involuntary steps backwards !! Shazza was feeling a little ‘queasy’ so we ‘rock’, ‘rolled’ and ‘staggered’ our way back to the cabin where she could lay down. Being confined in a small cabin, with no windows, rolling first from side to side then lurching forward made me feel a bit ‘woozy’, I have never suffered with sea-sickness but if I remained confined in the cabin there may be a ‘first’, so I grabbed my iPad and ‘reported’ to my nearest smoking area and WiFi Zone, that’s me sorted !
I returned to the cabin to check on Shazza, she was looking a little ‘green around the gills’ !! She was not sure whether she would be able to sit in the restaurant and eat dinner but decided to take a walk to get some fresh air to see if that made her feel any better. Long story short, it didn’t, she returned to the cabin and I went to the restaurant and enjoyed a beautiful four course dinner !!…………. As if I would do that !! No I went and cancelled our reservation then called into the sandwich bar, bought three assorted packs of sandwiches, two packets of biscuits and four bottles of water !! It remained a very rough crossing all through the night, although Shazza stayed horizontal, I made several ‘reconnaissance’ trips to check on the weather conditions, well okay, I confess I really went to smoke my cigarettes and use the WiFi !!
When I awoke at 6am, the boat was no longer doing ‘water acrobatics’ only the usual movements of a passenger ferry in a moderate swell, I went to ‘kick start my lungs’, it was still pitch black but I could see the lights of unknown towns along the French Coast. When I returned to the cabin Shazza was awake and feeling much better, I knew she was better even if she hadn’t said so, as she had eaten her sandwiches and biscuits !! We both went back to sleep and awoke again at 8am gagging for a coffee, so up, showered, dressed and down to the coffee bar and all was once again well with the world. The Captain announced that due to the ‘adverse’ weather during the night we would be late arriving in Portsmouth, our time of arrival would now be Half Past Three !! It didn’t really matter that much, as far as the delayed arrival, we had already booked an overnight pitch just outside Oxford, but there is only so much sitting around on a boat that you can do, in dispersed with going to the on board shop and re-stocking with a few months supply of cigarettes, I certainly wasn’t looking forward to having to pay UK prices again, perhaps it’s time to ‘really’ consider giving them up, after I have finished my recent purchases that is !! What was strange was that as we were sat in the cabin waiting for the last hour of the journey to pass, we had taken a look and we could see Portsmouth, but we both said how we missed not being in the van, it was like being away from home and we couldn’t wait to be called to our vehicles so that we could once again be re-united with the rest of our family, ‘Big Momma’, ‘Snoopy’ and yes even that ‘Damn Duck’ !!
We eventually were permitted to leave the ‘bowels’ of the ship at around four thirty !! Then the snake-like queues to the border control points, why is it I always choose the shortest lane but get stuck behind ‘prats’ who cannot read the instructions provided to them ? It clearly stated ‘Have your passports ready and open at the page where the photograph is displayed’, it wasn’t as if these were foreigners who couldn’t read the multi-lingual instructions !!! these were ‘British’ registered vehicles !! Oh well, no matter, we have our night-time halt pre-booked and it is only just over Eighty Seven miles so a couple of hours drive. And oh what a drive ! It doesn’t half get dark early in the UK ? But after spending three months driving on near empty roads it does take a while to get back into the swing of driving, or not driving, on the British roads !! It didn’t take long to see our first Motorway ‘Congestion’ sign, then the glow of hundreds of brake lights stretching out like one elongated ‘rope light’ in front of me and then the welcome home rain !!
You would expect that if you ring and speak in person to someone who would be able to provide you with useful information, let’s see, something like “You say your vehicle weighs 5 tonnes and is nearly thirty feet long, well our ‘grass pitches’ are waterlogged and we are not using them and our car park may be a little tight for your vehicle”. But no, we discovered these facts when we arrived ! But they did manage to move some vehicles to fit us into one of their parking bays, they did place three bollards to the front and sides to offer us some protection, and we did have EHU and access to their ‘free’ WiFi, but another minor point they omitted to advise us of was the fact that they back on to the main ‘High Speed’ and ‘local’ railway line with trains that run all through the night and early morning !! In the morning when I went to pay for our less than peaceful nights sleep, they wanted to charge me the princely sum of £14 but we ‘bartered’ and agreed on £10 !! We had not had a decent nights sleep now for two nights and we needed to put that right, so where could we go where we could be guaranteed a decent hard standing and spacious pitch, with EHU and some rules about noise after certain hours ? Well they may have their critics but you know what you are getting with a ‘Caravan Club Site’, so although we hadn’t pre-booked we arrived at the ‘Milestone‘ Caravan Club Site in the small village of ‘Cromwell‘ just seven miles from ‘Newark‘. Bearing in mind that we are going for our Interviews and Assessment Centre for the ‘Assistant Wardens’ jobs with the Caravan Club next week, we were interested to see what type of reception we would get from the resident wardens here at ‘Milestone’ ? Well they gave us a warm welcome, told us we could find our own pitch, gave us the required information about the site and facilities and then left us to get settled in, what more could you ask for ?
It was nice to be parked up, hooked up and settled onto our pitch, unfortunately the site did not have WiFi !! No matter, our mobile phone contract gives us 2Gb of Data per month, all we need to do is to ‘tether’ our iPhones to our iPads, which we did, but the connection was so slow that I gave up !!
We both had a wonderful and peaceful nights sleep and woke up totally refreshed !! Note to diary though, ‘change the clock’ on ‘Big Momma’s’ digital control panel ! I thought we had slept until 09:30am when in fact it was only 08:30am !! There was no rush, we could remain on the pitch until lunchtime if we so wished, we didn’t so wish as we had decided that we would go straight to our final destination Doncaster, one day earlier than we had originally planned !! But there was still no rush and having access to a heated shower block with ‘oodles’ of hot water just could not be missed. As ‘Big Momma’ was going to be stood empty for a while we no longer needed to keep any ‘Fresh’ water in the on-board tank so that could be drained along with the ‘Grey’ waste. Likewise we would no longer be using the ‘Cassette’ toilet so this gave us the opportunity of giving it a good clean out with some ‘Chemical’ cleaner so that it would be nice and fresh when we next started to use it. Those jobs done we departed ‘Cromwell’ and set off to complete the last Forty-Five miles of our current journey.
Externally, ‘Big Momma’ was in need of a damn good wash and wax, that would have to wait but by the time we get back ‘on the road’ she will be looking respectable again !!
So, we now have a busy week ahead, as well as sorting through the ‘Mountain’ of Mail awaiting us, there was the all important bank accounts to reconcile and we knew that whilst we were in Spain/Portugal that there had been a new ‘mapping’ update for ‘Snoopy’ so that will need to be done as well as visiting family.
We do not know exactly when we will get back ‘on the road’, perhaps a week and as yet we do not know where we will be going to within the UK. How quickly we get back to Europe will depend on the outcome of the ‘Interviews’ on Wednesday, although we may not know whether we have been successful or not for up to a week afterwards !! We shall be meeting up at some point with our good friends ‘Paul & Debs’ so will probably get a weekend Wildcamping in with them. We shall also be calling in at some point to see ‘Brian & Jan’ on the West side of the country and also a few of our other ‘non-motorhoming’ friends, it could be a busy time !!
I am now in the process of putting together some ‘Reflections’ on our recent trip and will include some ‘Statistics’ and ‘Costings’ for those of you who are interested in that kind of stuff.