Leaving Gib I drove along the coast road through Algeciras past the southernmost point of Spain, Tarifa, and skirting the Parque Natural de los Alcornocales until the main road turned inland. Here, I turned off along the coast and happened upon the small village of Bolonia. It’s almost on the beach and there is a great deal of parking for motor homes. Sadly the wind was still blowing hard without moving the heavy clouds.
The weather remained the same overnight as I decided to carry on along the coast road towards Zahara de los Atunes. The sat-nav warned me that there was a restricted road on the route but I decided to go and look anyway.
I missed the junction and carried on climbing eventually reaching the end of the road. When I returned to the junction it turned out to be an unmade road which looked interesting. It started off as a well maintained road and appeared popular with walkers. Further on it became more interesting but in the interests of exploration I carried on. Eventually it became so interesting that I didn’t feel confident taking such a large vehicle along it. I managed to turn round and retrace my route to the sensible road passing through Tahivilla before turning south to Zahara de los Atunes, through Barbate and on towards Cadiz.
At Los Caños de Meca there was a large car park which seemed popular with a lot of campers who were there for kite boarding and other water sports.
As one continues to Cadiz the road turns inland to avoid the mouth of the Guadalete river and passes through the Parque Natural Bahía de Cádiz which consists of marshland, beaches, reed and sand dunes. It has many types of shrubs and bushes, and ocean pine.
The city of Cadiz stands on a spit of land which forms the huge natural harbour of the Bay of Cadiz and was the scene of an attack by the English fleet upon the Spanish during the disagreement of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries when King Phillip of Spain took rejection by Queen Elizabeth badly and which culminated in the attempted invasion of England by the Armada.
Leaving Cadiz I headed for El Rocio passing through Seville as it was getting dark in the evening rush hour .
I arrived in El Rocio the following morning was before dawn and got some more sleep before taking the camera for a walk.. The town’s streets are sand and completely unpaved and it stands on the edge of the Doñana National Park which is notable for the great diversity of its habitats, especially lagoons, marshlands, fixed and mobile dunes, scrub woodland and shrub land. It is home to five threatened bird species.
The buildings in El Rocio are brightly decorated. The town has a number of hotels and one wonders why such a small place warrants so much temporary accommodation until one discovers that it is a place of pilgrimage the object of which is a 13th-century statue of the Virgen Del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew).
For a few days in late May or early June, Catholic brotherhoods and countless others flock from all over Spain and beyond to pay tribute to the Virgin del Roció, housed in her own church in the town.
Until the 1950s the town had only a few houses, and everyone camped in their wagons. Now, each of the ninety or so brotherhoods has its own house with stables, as well as its own chapel, with its name displayed at the front. The pilgrimage takes place over the weekend before Pentecost Monday.
From El Rocio I headed north and some nine and half miles later drove into Almonte. It is a bright attractive town and the street market was in full swing. As I turned the corner to bypass the market there was an disabled empty parking bay so I took this as an invitation to stop and look round.
Almonte is the scene of an annual event on 26th June which sees the semi-wild horses of the Doñana National Park rounded up, given veterinary attention and their feet trimmed. Some are held for sale and the rest returned to the park.
Leaving Andalucia I passed into Extremadura and had a happy accident. I’d originally been heading for an aires whose name I cannot now remember, but saw an aires sign (a pictogram of a motorhome disposing of waste water) and followed what turned out to be a series. So far apart were they that I thought I’d missed one and turned off to look. As evening was approaching I found the place I was looking for which turned out to be a multi-functional site on the outskirts of Fregenal de la Sierra. Not only is the facility for motorhomes, but it is also the bus station and is used by lorries.
In the morning I drove into the town centre. As I manoeuvred into a parking bay two people pointed out that is for the disabled. When I held up my blue badge they laughed and gave me a wave.
Wandering around I discovered a castle that was built in the 13th century on the instructions of the Knights Templar. Although closed at the time I visited, there is an information panel by the gate with an English translation. In the narrow streets there is the Jesuit School, dating from the 17th century, and many other interesting buildings. The town’s old quarter has been designated as a Property of Cultural Interest.
Leaving Fregenal I headed for Badajoz which almost on the border with Portugal. There was a major battle here during the Peninsular War.
Driving straight into town, I found myself in the old quarter below the castle passing along some streets little wider than my camper. Heading for the castle, I managed to find some parking adjacent to an entrance. As I was reversing into the parking space, a gentleman stopped in front of me and held up a blue badge. Naturally I responded in the same way at which he looked less than pleased and drove on.
After a walk round the castle I headed for the aires just across the river. There was some work in progress, although suspended for the holiday, and I spent the night with ten or so campers packed in a bit tighter than usual. Fortunately there was enough space that if anyone needed to leave they could do so without disturbing anyone else.
While listening to the New Years Eve music booming across town and the fireworks, I booked myself on the 06:00 ferry on Wednesday morning.
The ferry booking didn’t leave too much time for dallying. Someone’s music was still booming after going all night, so that was another reason to get under way.
I breakfasted, cleared the condensation from the windows, got in the seat, put the key in, turned it and…
Just a loud clunk. Pistonial uppey and downy was there none.
Being on a slight slope I tried bump starting but couldn’t get enough momentum before running out of gradient. This where investing in RAC twelve month European cover paid off as with one phone call, in English, there was help on the way.
The chap who came out, I suspect, was solely a recovery mechanic, no tools, no kit apart from a jump start box and a couple of bits of wire with crocodile clips. Not even a tow rope. He had his flatbed recovery truck and that was it.
He wanted to take me to a workshop but of course there would be no one available until Monday morning to look at it. Eventually, through the magic that is Google Translate I got him to give me a tow start with his winch cable. I’m told that the EU has made towing illegal. If true it would explain his concern and comments about the police.
Thankfully, after about half a rev the engine fired, I signed his form to say he’d done the job and off I went about an hour after I first turned the key.
The road to Dieppe
I followed Wellington’s line of march when he drove Napoleon’s army out of Spain passing Salamanca, Vitoria, San Sebastian and on to the border. I didn’t dawdle, only making stops for breaks, and spent the night at Aire d’Urrugne – just north of the French Spanish border.
Leaving Aire d’Urrugne reasonably early I stopped for lunch just north of Bordeaux. Disappointingly, the motor refused to start again. Once again I put myself in the hands of the RAC and decided to get it sorted rather than faff about and risk making myself unpopular by having to be pushed on or off the ferry.
It’s worth noting that the likes of the RAC are not allowed by French law to send assistance if to a breakdown. One has to call the emergency services (dial 112) and they send the recovery truck. Where the RAC is concerned, when the recovery truck arrives, one asks the driver to speak to the RAC and they make arrangements for payment and other details.
As always, my timing was “off”. The chap who came out made an effort to get the motor working again but to no avail so he recovered me to his yard in Bordeaux where I learned his mechanic had just started two weeks leave. The RAC then had to find a garage who could do the job and get the motor moved to it. I ended up spending three nights in a very basic hotel that was nowhere near any restaurants, pubs or shops. The cost of the hotel and taxis from and to the garages was met by the RAC. On the basis of this incident, I recommend taking out such cover, but make sure you’re properly covered for your type of vehicle.
Obviously I wasn’t going to make my ferry sailing so I phoned the ferry company (DFDS) and asked what arrangements could be made. I was told that as long one phones before the sailing and pays a £10 admin fee the booking can be altered with no loss.
The really annoying aspect of this incident is that I’d had the same problem at the beginning of December. Luckily I’d been able to get myself out of trouble on that occasion but I put the camper into a local garage at home to get it checked and they changed the starter motor. Having nothing better to do while waiting in Bordeaux I left a message on their Facebook page. To their credit, they offered to send a new starter motor and cover my costs as there was a twelve month warranty on the motor they’d fitted. Replacement was already under way but they did refund my costs on my return home.
I thought about stopping in Bordeaux overnight but after topping up my water tank at the aires on the Parc des Expositions I decided to drive on for a while even though it was the evening rush hour. If there had been fewer pile ups I’d have got further than the lorry aires de repos at Le Maine Méraud on the N10/E606 – 45.520484, -0.096047. There are no facilities that I saw, not even lights, it’s just a place to stop and rest.
I had a few hours of good kip until I woke up needing a pee. In the meantime some (insert adjectives and expletives of choice) had parked behind me and kept his engine running. A few minutes up the road brought me to Roullet-Saint-Estèphe, where I’d stopped on the way south, and got back to sleep.
The following day I had a good run to Dieppe arriving at about eight-thirty in the evening for the 05:30 sailing. There was no objection to stopping overnight in the ferry terminal car park.
The ferry left on time and we had a good crossing to Newhaven.
Apart from the starter motor problem, a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I look forward to some more Iberian rambles in the not too distant future.