Cabarceno – Alto Campoo – Villada (164 miles)
We awoke to a very grey and overcast morning but it was still warm. After taking my second cup of coffee for a brief walk outside, it was time to get packed up and convert ‘Big Momma’ back into ‘On The Road’ mode. We had quite a heavy downpour just as I had finished loading the chairs back into the garage and after saying our farewells to Nick & Cathy we headed out from what has become one of our favourite ‘Aires’. As last year, Shazza was doing the travel itinerary, I just drove in the direction that I was instructed and today ‘Shazza’s Expedition’ would see us climb to 1,650 metres to a Ski Station at Alto Campoo, which, according to our ‘Aires Guide’ had full Motorhome Services and overnight Parking, all of which was ‘Free’.
The journey was quite leisurely, I had forgotten how good, and relatively traffic free, the Spanish roads were. We had intermittent light rain throughout the journey and as we started our ascent the low cloud came down and visibility with it !! We didn’t really know what to expect from this our next nightstop, the guide had stated that it was good for ‘large’ vehicles, however, it didn’t specify what ‘large’ actually meant. We did know that the road ended at our destination, one way up, one way down and with visibility down to no more than about Twenty feet I hoped that there would be an obvious sign that we had reached the top !!
The visibility was no better when we arrived at our destination and the only way that I knew we had arrived was because ‘Snoopy’ voiced the information, ‘You have reached your destination” !! We could see by yellow markings on the road in front of us that we were in a car park but we had no visible way of knowing how long or wide it was. Out of my driver’s side window I could make out silhouettes of some buildings and a fence line, so moving extremely slowly I followed the fence line which after a while became crash barriers !! We decided to stop, a good decision I thought, as crash barriers inevitably indicate a sheer drop on the other side. When I got out of ‘Big Momma’ I could make out through the grey mist the Mountains and shapes of buildings, I could see that we were parked across four car parking bays but as there didn’t appear to be any other vehicle around decided to just stay where we were. Who knows, when this ‘eery murkiness’ lifted, if it lifted, we may find ourselves parked with another half-dozen Motorhomes !!
We had lunch and whilst munching away on Pork Pie, Ham, An assortment of cheeses and slices of Shazza’s freshly baked ‘Sour Dough’ bread, the greyness lifted and we found ourselves in a massive car and coach park and we were quite alone. It was also quite obvious, with the lack of any sign of the cold white stuff, that it was not the Ski season and so everything was shut down, the Cafeteria, Bar, Array of Ski Gear Retail outlets all had their steel shutters firmly locked down, even the more modern glass structured Information building was closed. We had this place all to ourselves, it was like being in a ‘Ghost Town’. In the grey mist and gloom it had felt quite spooky but once this had lifted, although still overcast, we could see Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees and we were encircled by mountains and we felt quite safe and comfortable, well at least until the ‘Zombies’ and ‘Werewolves’ started to appear as darkness falls !! We could see the long approach road we had arrived on and it was so quiet here that if any vehicle was to approach when it got dark we would hear them and see their headlights well before they got to the parking area. As the afternoon progressed there were cars coming and going, just sightseeing, stretching their legs and then moving off again, no-one bothered us though. In between the rain showers I went out and explored our surroundings, it was just as eery even when close up to the buildings, if anyone had spoken to me I think I would have needed those brown trousers with immediate effect !! I am not sure how often the publishers of these ‘Aires Guides’ actually inspect the ‘Motorhome Service Points‘ as the one I came across here had quite obviously been ‘out of service’ for a very long time. It was a good job that we had only just begun our travels and didn’t need to empty or fill any of the ‘essential‘ services and we would certainly only be using this as a one nighter !!
This ‘Shazza Expedition’ had not been one of ‘our’ (her) better choices, to be fair, had the weather not have deteriorated to such an extent as it had, then perhaps we would have felt more inclined to have explored the wider environment. As it was it seemed pointless going out and getting soaking wet just for the hell of it and with the reduction in visibility we wouldn’t have seen very much anyway. So being cooped up inside most of the time made for a very long day although as dusk fell we did see a pair of foxes and had the company of a car that just continuously drove up and down, at first we were a little concerned but it soon became obvious that this was someone who was being taught to drive and to be honest it was a great place to do it. I think Shazza felt a little bit guilty about bringing me to this isolated and pretty boring location and suggested that perhaps ‘we’ review her next couple of pre-planned ‘Expeditions’. As it happens this did turn out to be a worthwhile exercise as we decided that ‘our’ (her) next two ‘suggestions’ were probably, from a ‘drivers’ perspective at least, not the best, so ‘we’ had a change of plan and agreed jointly on the next ‘Expedition’ or three and these involved, if possible, a spot of ‘Wildcamping‘ by a lake, a stop in the large Spanish town of ‘Zamora‘ (No Motorhome Services but large parking area in a suburb on the outskirts of the town), then into Portugal to the large town of ‘Braganca‘ (Aire with full services) where we would put our clocks back by one hour (Same time zone as the UK), then on to a ‘Baragem‘ (Reservoir). The Baragem Aire is an official ‘Aire’ but with no services, however, there is, according to our ‘Aires Guide’, a ‘Motorhome Service Point’ a short distance away. All of these ‘tentative’ stopovers would of course be subject to availability of parking and the weather.
Our ‘learner’ driver finally departed and all went quiet, apart from the sound of cow bells who were still wandering around the mountains somewhere in the darkness of the night. Although we did not feel at all nervous or apprehensive at being alone in this quite isolated location we were not totally alone. In the glass structured building there was a resident security guard, we had first seen the car, it had been parked outside the building when we arrived, then later, we had seen him go to and from the building. At that time we thought it was someone just doing maintenance but at a little before 8pm another car drove up and a female, dressed in uniform style clothing, met the man outside, he got into his car and drove away and she went inside. Shortly afterwards some unobtrusive night lighting around the buildings were turned on and we saw her go out and do what I presume was ‘physical security checks’ of the external buildings, that night we both slept soundly.
Alto Campoo – Villada
We both awoke refreshed at a little before 7am and had the customary morning coffees, we opened the Heki only to find that it was still pitch black outside. Half an hour later I decided to get up and take a walk outside to do the weather check, dawn was arriving, there was no rain or mist or low cloud but there was a slight chill in the air, which I suppose was to be expected when you are this high up in the mountains. There was the sound of t desperate multiple conversations coming from the direction of the ‘Ski Buildings’ and as I looked across I could see five men stood together, they were too far away for me to pass my own morning greeting although I was looking forward to using my smattering of ‘Espanol‘ and saying ‘Buenos Dias‘, shortly afterwards the female ‘security’ guard drove off.
We needed to move off as although we were not desperate for ‘Fresh’ water or to empty the ‘Grey’, we did need to empty the ‘cassette’ toilet so as soon as we were washed and dressed we pulled away to drive quite a long distance than what we would normally consider doing, it would be a journey today of just over One Hundred miles !! Our ‘rough’ plan, I say rough as nothing is cast in stone on these trips, is to now start heading to the Western edge of Spain and at some point enter Portugal. Last year, due to adverse weather, we entered Portugal at Badajoz, about half way down but this year we wanted to start a little further North so we were heading in the ‘general’ direction of ‘Salamanca‘.
It was a chilly 8 degrees(c) when we departed ‘Alto Campoo’ and the journey down from the ‘Aire’ was somewhat different to our journey up to it, in as much as we could actually see where we were going !! The other noticeable difference, once we got back down, was the rise in temperature, within half an hour the external temperature had more than doubled to a lovely 17 degrees(c), the sun was shining and the sky was blue.
Last year our first night stop was at a place called ‘Aguilar de Campoo’ and although we hadn’t used them on that occasion they had a very good ‘Motorhome Service Point’. We saw the sign for this place and knowing that it was minutes off our route we took the decision to use their facilities. We could have carried on to our destination as the ‘Aires Guide’ stated that there were ‘full facilities’ their, but they had said that about our last stopover ! However, at least we knew there were decent working services at ‘Aguilar’. It is strange when you return to somewhere you have been to before, it feels familiar. We did all the necessary services so now we were happy that all our ‘on-board’ tanks were ‘Empty or Full’ as appropriate and then continued on our journey. I had not mentioned to Shazza that I was a little concerned with one of our rear tyres, I didn’t want to worry her, but it certainly looked under inflated by quite some way. Mind you, she would probably just have told me to stop worrying as I still had five other properly inflated ones !! Not long after our stop for the on-board services I saw a sign for a ‘Repsol‘ fuel station, it was just off the Motorway, Shazza asked why I was pulling off as we still had half a tank of Diesel so didn’t need to re-fuel so I then told her the reason for ‘our’ unscheduled stop. To my surprise she wasn’t unduly concerned and on seeing the advertised price of the Diesel it was she that suggested we top up. At €1.36 per Litre (£1.12) this was too good an opportunity to miss. I was right to have been concerned about the tyre it was under-inflated by quite a lot, not that it was close to being flat but it was quite noticeable, anyway, all six tyres were checked and we were soon underway again and I now had that certain ‘Peace of Mind’ that we drivers like to have about our vehicles. I like to keep a check on my fuel consumption, it also helps to prevent boredom setting in whilst I am driving, so I keep flicking through my trip statistics on my dashboard display and on today’s journey, travelling at a pretty constant 55mph on cruise control, I achieved a very pleasing 29mpg, not bad I thought compared to last years average of just over 23mpg !!
Back in the UK, both before becoming ‘Fulltimers’ and since, I have spoken to people who have stated their anxieties about driving in Europe. I have lived for a time in parts of Europe and spent a number of years holidaying in both Caravans and Motorhomes and so have no such anxieties. I often try to explain how much easier it is, and far less stressful, to drive in Europe than it is on UK roads but undoubtedly there is no substitute for personal experience. However, for those who may read my ramblings who have some concerns I am including some photographs of the type of roads we are using here in Spain and typical throughout Europe, although they may call them something different dependent on what country you are in.
Even with our two separate ‘unscheduled’ stops we pulled into the small village of ‘Villada‘ at 11:30am and ‘Snoopy‘ directed us to the ‘Aire’. What a beautiful well maintained area this is and we had it all to ourselves, for now at least, even the services were in full working order. After ‘Brunch’ we took a stroll around this lovely quaint typically Spanish village, it was as we expected, very quiet, although there were people sat on benches in the immaculately maintained public areas and even on chairs in their doorways enjoying the warmth of the sun. They all looked and said ‘Hola‘ or ‘Buenos‘ as we passed, we returned the greetings and carried on with our explorations of this friendly little place. We finished our short and gentle stroll and returned to ‘Big Momma’ and then as the old saying goes, “When in Rome……“, well we are in Spain so here it was almost ‘Siesta‘ time, or as I refer to it, a time for some individual personal contemplation !! By the time I had completed my ‘personal contemplation’, and I had a fair bit to contemplate, so it took a little longer than I had anticipated ! But we had been joined on the Aire by a Dutch registered Motorhome and later a small van with a fairly youngish couple in, it looked just like a normal small van but they were obviously travelling and camping in it so I shall call it a ‘Campervan’. It pulled in on my blind side next to the Dutch van so I couldn’t see what Nationality they were. That is the nice thing about this lifestyle, you are rarely alone on an Aire for long, unless of course you are parked 1,650 metres up a mountain at a Ski station outside of the Ski season !!
It had been an extremely hot and sunny day but with quite a welcome stiff breeze blowing, inside ‘Big Momma’ with the habitation door open and all the Heki’s it was still registering a little over 25 degrees(c). For the last 4 days we have been reliant on our 2 x 105amp Varta Leisure Batteries topped up with our 2 x Solar Panels (providing 170Watts) for all our on-board power. Whilst at ‘Cabarceno’ with the glorious sunshine we had more than enough and surprisingly even in the very poor weather up in the mountains we were still putting some solar energy into the batteries. Fortunately with the regulator, when the Solar panels are providing a constant strong source of energy they it shuts off to prevent the batteries from boiling dry. When on the move we use the vehicle battery, via the cigarette lighter socket, to charge our iPads and iPhones but when static we use our portable ‘inverter’ and so far we have had more than enough to keep all our devices charged up. Our iPhones on the O2 contract have enabled us to turn off the ‘mobile data’ and ‘Data Roaming’ functions but keep the normal 3G so we can receive and send texts and make and receive phone calls. I could use the ‘Mobile Data’ function to connect to WiFi (At £1.99 per day unlimited use) but haven’t used that yet. Local WiFi, apart from at a restaurant/bar at Cabarceno, which I didn’t use, has not been available although that will change once we reach the Algarve as many of the ‘Aires’ now provide this. This means that the two blog posts that I have currently ‘drafted’ will have to wait to be published. Shazza is well into her baking, well as far as bread loaves are concerned, she is producing a fresh loaf every other day, hopefully it won’t be too long before she gets back to making her variety of yummy cakes !!