Monday 15th September – Friday 19th September
I awoke, as is now becoming the routine, at 07:00am, but today I decided to have a bit of a lay in. I just lay there thinking about the journey that would start today, although we still had five days until we boarded our ferry at Portsmouth, the ‘Migration South’ would commence the minute we drove away off Sonia’s driveway. Apart from a few last minute ‘bits and bobs’ we were virtually ready to hit the road so there was no rush and just enjoyed our morning coffees. Last year, our first Winter trip away, was a little bit different as we had some apprehensions. The biggest anxiety was getting off the ferry and not actually knowing where we would be stopping for our first night, that and the fact that I whilst I knew all about ‘Aires’ I had never actually used one before and also I had this ‘Gaslow’ LPG system but had never filled it up outside of the UK so didn’t have a clue which of the ‘adapters’ I would need to use. I afforded myself a little smile as this time we knew exactly where we would be stopping for our first night, the ‘Aire’ at Cabarceno, the one outside the Animal Park and we would be meeting up with Nick and Cathy (Tales from Aurora), who we had not seen since our meeting at Wisbech nearly a year ago, although we had kept in touch via phone and Skype. We were now fully conversant with the use of ‘Aires’ and with topping up the LPG so anxiety has been replaced with loads of excitement. Of course we had not yet decided on our route down through Spain or at what point we would enter Portugal or even when we would travel to Morocco, the only thing that we knew for certain is that we would be in ‘Albufeira’ between the 16th-23rd October because we had already made the arrangements for Sonia to come and spend a week out there with us, she had already pre-booked her return flights and accommodation !!
We pulled away at 09:26am, our destination today was Cirencester Park CC Site a journey, according to ‘Snoopy’, of 176 miles which would take three and a half hours, well a bit longer as we would need to stop to put some diesel in ‘Big Momma’ although not a lot at Motorway prices, just enough to get us to the campsite and then to Swindon. Having lived in Swindon I knew where the ‘Sainsbury’s’ supermarket was located, cheap diesel and the last re-fuel in the UK. Then a quick visit to the Swindon ‘Countrywide Farmers’ 24 hour self-service LPG point, this was good as I had an account with them so only pay five per cent VAT, we would be commencing our overseas journey with two virtually full 11kg gas cylinders.
We had been on the road for around twenty minutes when Shazza’s phone rang, it was Chris, one of her brothers, who asked “Is that you behind me ?“. How was that for sheer coincidence, here we were pootling along the Motorway and the car in front was Sharon’s brother !!
We had travelled this route many times in our former lives so in reality didn’t need the services of ‘Snoopy’ until we got closer to Cirencester, but then we would need directions to the site, however, we kept snoopy on as at least we could see how we were doing for time. We knew that the journey would be primarily motorway so it had been back to our pre-travel routines, I had made the flask of coffee and Shazza had made the sandwiches and so apart from the brief stop for fuel at the ‘Hopwood Park’ Services on the M42 we drove straight to the site. We had stayed here a few years ago so had a rough idea of the site layout, we knew that it was walking distance into the town itself but on this occasion we had elected to hire a car for the three days as we needed to get ourselves into Swindon. Shazza had routine Doctor and Dentist appointments and we also wanted to visit Chris and Sarah who still lived in Swindon. We had pre-booked the hire car from ‘Enterprise’ who provided a ‘collection’ and ‘drop-off’ service. They would collect us from the site reception at 3pm, take us to their depot, a five-minute drive from the site and then when we returned the vehicle they would give us a lift back to the site, not a bad service really and it made life much easier for us. Once we had collected the hire car, a very nice 2014 registered Vauxhall Corsa 1.4, we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at leisure.
When Shazza had made her appointments she had managed to get one for 09:00am and the other for 10:30, this would have given us the afternoon to just relax before returning to Swindon in the evening where we would collect Chris and Sarah and go out for Dinner. Like many things these days, you can never rely on making arrangements and them remaining unchanged. Without any explanation Shazza received a phone call from her Dentist reception stating that her appointment had been changed to 1:45pm but with no explanation as to why. This really screwed up our plans as it now meant three journeys into Swindon instead of just the two, then to make matters worse they changed the appointment again, fortunately just half an hour later but still, why can they not honour appointment times, isn’t that why they have such things !!
Shazza decided to go for her mornings Doctors appointment by herself, it would literally be in and out again so pointless me going. In the meantime I had a few last-minute jobs to do on ‘Big Momma’ so it worked out quite well really. Shazza returned very quickly and we had a nice leisurely lunch before we both headed back to Swindon for her Dental appointment, just a routine check up and again she was no sooner going in and then out she came again £17.50 worse off !! Shazza had prepared her pre-travel shopping list so next stop was the large ASDA supermarket at the Orbital Retail Park. This used to be our local supermarket, only a five-minute drive from our former house, we resisted the urge to have a drive by !! She had insisted that we were not going to be taking as much as we did last year as we could buy the majority of our requirements locally in supermarkets in Spain and Portugal, so what was in the five large shopping bags is a mystery to me !! So with the jobs now complete it was a hasty return to Cirencester to unpack this ‘small’ amount of shopping before a shower and change and back in the car, direction……….yup you guessed it, Swindon. It’s a good thing the hire car deal came with unlimited mileage !
We collected Chris and Sarah and drove into town to the ‘rendezvous’ Chinese Restaurant where we opted for the ‘All You Can Eat’ menu. This was a great deal, it was not one of those ‘buffet’ style affairs, this one you selected from the ‘normal’ menu and they served you at the table. It was great as we could order our ‘Individual’ favourites but there was sufficient for us all to sample everyone else’s. It was a great night as we hadn’t seen Chris and Sarah for some time and this would be the last time for another six months, or so we thought. They have also decided to fly out to see us whilst we are in Albufeira at the same time as Sharon’s mum comes out. That also just happens to be my birthday so this year I may do a little bit better than the ‘Burger King’ birthday treat I celebrated with last year !!
And so our last full day at Cirencester arrived, we were able to get a bit of a lay-in but not for too long as we needed to return to Swindon and we had a full itinerary. First stop was ‘Maplins‘ to purchase a ‘Attenuator‘, a what ? I hear you ask !! Let me take you back to last Wednesday, the day that I had to take ‘Big Momma’ to Auto Trail. Whilst waiting for Mark and his team to complete the jobs I was sat in the waiting area and got chatting to another customer, as you do. This ‘other’ customer worked for a ‘mobile satellite’ company and we were discussing the pro’s and con’s of ‘Dishes’ and ‘Domes’. I happened to mention that one of the big disadvantages of a ‘Dome’, which I had, was that I could not get a signal on the ‘Astra‘ satellite once I got into Spain. He told me that I could improve it by installing a simple device called an ‘Attenuator’. Now at this stage I had to inform him that he was talking to a complete ‘technophobe‘ and apologised in advance if my eyes started to glaze over and not to take it personally. To cut a very long story short, this very ‘cheap’ gizmo blocked or disregarded unwanted ‘frequencies’ that tended to jam up the necessary incoming frequency signals. Now my question, which I didn’t ask out loudly, was how on earth did this gizmo know which signals to block and which ones to allow ? Anyway, I took a note of the relevant information and as advised went to ‘Maplins’ to purchase said device. Before I made my purchase I sought a second opinion from the very helpful and knowledgeable young staff member, so helpful and knowledgeable that as he was explaining how it worked my eyes began to glaze over !! But basically, whilst this ‘Attenuator’ gizmo is not a signal booster it does eradicate unnecessary frequencies thereby improving reception quality. Now Shazza reckons that the gizmo looks like a simple ‘Plug & Play’ device which she reckons is well within my capabilities !! How long have we been together ? Anyway, I will add this to my ‘To Do’ list for when we cross the water and if it doesn’t look as simple to install as everyone has made it sound then I am sure that whilst on my travels I will come across a ‘competent’ person who may just be able to assist me. By ‘Assist’ I mean by myself holding said gizmo until said ‘competent’ person is ready for me to pass it to them to install it wherever it needs to be installed !!
Next stop was on the ‘other’ side of town to get my much-needed and long-awaited haircut. The last ‘professional’ person to cut my hair was ‘Debbie’, almost one year ago just before we ‘hit the road’ on our Big Adventure. Debbie had been my regular hairdresser for the Seven and a half years that I had lived in Swindon and since leaving she has been one of my most loyal and devoted blog readers so it was good to see her again and we had a good catch-up chat whilst she tended to my follicles !! When it came time to pay she refused to accept any payment, so Debs, thank you very much for the usual brilliant haircut and for your kindness but next time there will be no argument, I shall be paying you, just remember that you have a ‘Vino Calapso’ fund to think about for that cruise you are going on !!! Whilst Debs was tending to my hair Shazza went off to purchase some ‘Euro’ currency, which we will need for when we initially get off the ferry. Our main fund for Euro once we commence our extended touring will once again be via our ‘Caxton FM‘ Euro Currency Cash Card, this worked really well for us on our last trip.
Next stop was the large ‘Retail Outlet’ not far away from where Chris & Sarah live, as he had a day off we met up and had a coffee before going our separate ways. Shazza needed a new pair of jeans and I needed some new ‘walking boot’ socks and a fleece lined sweatshirt. Because we do not have much spare space in ‘Big Momma’ we have adopted the ‘principle’ of ‘One in then one out’. This is pretty self-explanatory really, before we bring anything new ‘into’ the van then something must go ‘out’ so Shazza’s old jeans out and new ones in, same applies to me of course. I didn’t have old socks to dispose of, they had already gone whilst we were in Scotland, however, the ‘Mountain Warehouse’ store just happened to have a ‘special offer‘ on, what is known as BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) so I had thrown out one pair of socks but was replacing them with two, I assured Shazza that we could cope with the weight of an extra pair of socks !! I had not been as enthusiastic as Shazza in respect of replacing my fleece, this was not of the fleece zip up jacket variety, more of a fleece lined sort of sweatshirt. I couldn’t argue with her that I had owned my current one for more years than I care to remember or even offer any reasonable argument that it was now becoming a bit worn. But I loved my fleece sweatshirt, it was comfortable and after all I didn’t wear it out in public, unless of course I didn’t think she would notice, which she always did and then refused to be seen with me unless I took it off !! To be honest, I had looked around for a new one, perhaps not very hard, but at least I had made the right noises on the numerous occasions that she had seen potential replacements, but they never quite managed to be just right for some reason or another !! That was until today, there it was, a nice burgundy ‘novice’ fleece sweatshirt, I had actually seen it for myself and not one of Shazza’s eagle-eyed observations. I tried it on, damn it was a perfect fit and what’s more it was the right weight of material and even better, although it was ticketed up at £50 it just happened to be in the ‘sale’ at half price !! So not a bad shopping day for me, a ‘Free’ pair of walking boot socks and a half price fleece sweatshirt, but my good fortune didn’t end there. Whilst the Assistant was checking my items through the ’till’ I was reading the advertisements scattered along the ‘checkout’ desk and saw a sign offering a further 10% discount if you were members of certain organisations! one such organisation just happened to be the ‘Camping & Caravanning Club‘ so I hastily produced my current membership card and received the additional discount. Isn’t this retail therapy stuff great fun !! Later that day we would have a ‘ceremonial disposal‘ of my much-loved but well worn old fleece sweatshirt, perhaps we could invite a few close friends around to mark this somber occasion and then like all good funerals, toast in the dawning of a new fleece era.
With our purchases tucked under our arms, and a very smug and contented look on my face, we departed the ‘Retail Outlet’ and made our way to one of Shazza’s special little places, namely the ‘Marks & Spencer’ food outlet. She had insisted that seeing as we had a ‘M&S’ discount voucher for £5 that we may as well spend it. She appeared to totally ignore my protestations when I pointed out that we first had to spend £25 before we could claim the £5 discount. We left the food outlet, Shazza triumphant that she had earned her £5 discount voucher !!
The final task of the day was to collect Shazza’s prescription from the Pharmacy. Normally the Doctor would only fill her ‘routine’ prescription for a maximum period of six months, insisting that she returns for routine check-ups before receiving a further prescription. However, on this occasion, having informed her Doctor that we were going on an extended European trip he actually provided her with a prescription for 12 months, result !!
Whilst we had arranged to return the hire car the following morning we now didn’t require it any longer, all our tasks were now complete. It would certainly save us time in the morning if we didn’t have to drive it back to the ‘Enterprise’ depot, wait until they had checked the car over for any damage, completed the ‘Admin’ and then waited for them to have someone available to run us back to the campsite. I called them to see if we could return it early, they were happy for us to do that but stated that they may not have anyone available to drive us back to the campsite. However, if this were to be the case they stated that they would order us a taxi and refund us the cost from the hire charge. As it happened this was not necessary and even better, because we had returned the car early they gave us a partial refund on the hire charge, another result !!
We were quite tired when we finally returned to ‘Big Momma’ so first priority was get the kettle on and enjoy a nice cup of coffee. The down side to all this retail therapy and other expenditure was that I was now going to have to wade through all the receipts and get our financial spreadsheet up to date. I tend not to do this on a daily basis, primarily because we rarely spend money on a daily basis but also because the accounts database is held on the ‘laptop’ which is stored away and is a bit of a ‘pain’ getting it all out, plugged in and logged on so I tend to only do the accounts every once in a while. However, we have had a fair bit of expenditure over the last week so the time has come to get it all sorted. Fortunately these account records will be coming to an end at the end of this week and I shall be starting a new set of account records for our overseas trip. I say fortunate because I have since invested in a spreadsheet ‘App’ for the iPad, ‘Calc XLS‘, which is much more convenient and practical.
Shazza set about finding storage space for ‘all’ her purchases over the last couple of days, primarily of the ‘groceries’ kind, then she decided to bake her first new bread loaf of the season. Whilst we were working she hadn’t really had the time to keep up with ‘feeding’ her ‘Sour Dough’. However, whilst at her mums she had started a new batch, it is a strange sort of ‘Alchemy’, in olden times I am sure she would have been burnt at the stake for such acts of ‘witchcraft’, breeding life into this strange mixture, feeding it on a daily basis until it had grown to the required stage !! But today was the day she decided to test this new batch and if successful she would continue to feed and nurture it over the next few months and we would have fresh bread loaves and bread buns on a regular basis. I was looking forward to being back on the road for very many reasons but especially because as well as home-cooked fresh bread there would also be a return of Shazza’s home-baked cakes like Lemon Drizzle cake, Ginger cake, Cherry & Pecan and even Eccles Cakes !!
It was moving on day and the only thing left between us and an appointment with a ferry to Spain was an overnight stop at the Salisbury C&CC site. It was a dry and warm morning but very grey, once our morning coffee’s had been drunk it was time to get ready but there was no rush, Shazza still had time to change the sheets on the bed and go and launder the ones she had just taken off !! We were still pulling away from the site at 10:00am and we headed to Salisbury via Swindon where we did our final top up with both LPG and Diesel. The BBC work of fiction did it again, the weather forecast had shown a nice day but shortly after doing the re-fuelling the heavens opened and I mean opened. However, by the time we arrived at the Salisbury site at 12:30pm, the weather cheered up and their were signs that the sun may even make an appearance. We checked in and got settled on our pitch and then Shazza made me a lovely bacon sandwich, using her recently baked Sour Dough bread loaf, I can confirm that it did taste as good as it looked !!
Stacey, my daughter, had taken the day off work and I sent her a text to announce our arrival. She and Dean, her partner, arrived shortly afterwards and we enjoyed a couple of cold ones whilst we commenced our catch-up on all their news. It had turned really warm and so we decided to stroll the short distance from the site, along the river, into the town. It was getting warmer and warmer and we didn’t need too much of an excuse to stop en-route at the rather pleasant riverside ‘Boathouse’ hostelry for some cold ‘refreshments’ !! Suitably refreshed we continued our walk along the river bank into the very pleasant town. Our intention was to look for somewhere ‘informal’ to eat but none of us actually knew what it was that we fancied, Pub Grub, Italian, Steakhouse…….?? There was only one thing for it, Stacey knew of a nice town hostelry with a rather nice beer garden where we could sit and mull over our preferences, not that we actually had any but it was another excuse to enjoy another round of liquid refreshments.
We perused the menu but it was typical ‘pub grub’ of burgers, steak & ale pie, more burgers, cod & chips or more burgers…….. we gave it a miss and went for another wander. We came across a nice looking place called ‘Bills’ and the menu had a good variety so like the ‘democratic process’ taking place a little further North, we took a vote and came to an overwhelming majority decision, we all voted ‘Yes’, perhaps this was a good omen for our ‘Gaelic’ compatriots, they even had ‘Salmon’ on the menu !! We entered said premises and were led down some stairs into a very nice eating area, you know when something is right if it has a good ambience. We all feasted well on a full three courses, washed down with a nice bottle of falling over juice. My one criticism would be that whilst we didn’t mind walking down the stairs when we entered, we were so stuffed at the end that a mechanical hoist to get us back to street level would have been much more appropriate !!
We took a ‘slow’ walk back along the riverside to the campsite and spent a little while just jibber jabbering before saying our farewells. It had been a really good night but all we wanted to do now was to sleep off the excesses of the afternoon and evening.
We awoke to a very gloomy, grey and misty morning. I checked the news to see whether ‘Scotland’ had also decided to ‘set sail’ from the United Kingdom on its own voyage of adventure. It hadn’t, our neighbours across the border had unanimously voted ‘No’ to becoming an Independent nation, oh well, better luck next time Mr Salmond and I am certain that at some point in the future this issue will raise its ugly head again. For now though the next big issue is to see which ‘Party’ in England will be ‘chosen’ to lead the country in the 2015 elections !! I think it would be a safe bet to put money on Mr Cameron starting to pack his boxes early as he will undoubtedly be re-locating to new premises !! Perhaps I should send him my blog address so that he could see how living in a plastic box on wheels has certain advantages, for then he could remain in Europe for as long as he wanted to without the need for a ‘Referendum’ and another ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote !!
We would remain on site until the very last-minute as we were in no rush. The ferry terminal was an easy one hour drive and we were not due to sail until 5pm. Shazza got on with a bit more laundry, she wanted everything to be done before we left as we had no way of knowing when we would next come across laundry facilities. I got on with filling the water tank, emptying the grey waste and the cassette toilet and then cleaning off the van, the previous days rain had spoilt my earlier efforts and ‘Big Momma’ was dirty again !!
Time was running away with us, the grey and gloomy morning turned into lightning and thunder, it was threatening rain but stayed dry. However, I had just unplugged from the EHU and stowed the cable and at a little after 12pm reversed off our pitch to make for the exit when the heavens opened, the rain was torrential and it didn’t look as if it would stop anytime soon.
We pulled in to the Ferry terminal at 1:15pm in glorious sunshine and the temperature gauge reflected an unseasonal 21(c) degrees. After a brief pause at the drive-in checkpoint, where we were issued with our boarding paraphernalia including our cabin key cards and a letter apologising for a Forty-Five minute delay to our departure time. We proceeded to our designated numbered parking bay, re-programmed ‘Snoopy’ for directions to our first Motorhome ‘Aire’ at ‘Cabarceno’ in Northern Spain then turned it off and locked it away. The next priority was to change out of our rather heavy and hot ‘denim jeans’ and change into Shorts, Tee-Shirts and Flip Flops, yes we were now well and truly in holiday mode !!
We had assumed the ‘chillaxed’ position stretched out on ‘Big Mommas’ spacious lounge seats when suddenly there was an official looking man in an orange coat peering through our open door, “Would you like to move forward” he stated. I was about to reply “No thanks we are quite comfortable here” when I realised he was talking about moving ‘Big Momma’ through the security checkpoint and into the pre-boarding area !! I hadn’t expected to move quite so soon and hadn’t even heard the vehicle in front start its engine or see it move off ! We moved forward and were beckoned into the dreaded ‘Customs Shed’, oh no, please don’t ask me to unload ‘Big Momma’, thankfully the nice customs official didn’t. He asked various questions about the vehicle, “Was it mine“, “Had I loaded it myself” etc. etc. then the really good one “Do you have any sharp knives on board“, “Yes” I replied, “Loads of them” !! After a quick look inside ‘Big Momma’ he was satisfied that I had secured the ‘Axes’, ‘Chainsaws’ etc safely and let us proceed to the pre-boarding lanes.
Having a large vehicle has certain advantages when it comes to boarding priorities. We were called forward very quickly, up the ramp, parked, up to cabin, ditch bags and then a quick reconnaissance, where is the Restaurant, The Bar(s) and the WiFi Zone, it just so happened that the latter two were located together. Like last years trip, we will not know when, where or how frequently we will get access to WiFi, however, I shall continue to draft them as we travel and post them whenever the opportunity arises which of course may mean posting several at the same time, but at least you will have something to read as those cold winter nights draw in………………….