Our (my) close encounter with a Portuguese wall during our 2019 travels left the van with a few wounds that needing tending. Unfortunately these dragged on while spares were sourced from Germany and ultimately meant that we didn’t get to use it again last year. Then the arrival of the pandemic in early Spring and subsequent lockdown kept us at home for the early summer before the return of the family from Germany meant that we were happy to stay home until August had come and gone.
Come September, however, and it was time to get back out on the road and see whether the British weather would hold out long enough for a few short trips away.
A three day trip to North Wales provided us with an opportunity to make a flying visit to the family in Bramhall before we headed out to Aberafon on the Llyn Peninsular for a couple of nights. The first evening was an interesting experience with 50+ mph winds and driving rain, but the following day brought some welcome sunshine and we enjoyed a nice walk to the tiny harbour at Trefor.
The next day we headed back along the coast, stopping briefly to do a bit of family history research at Rhuddlan and taking in Carmarthen and Conwy along the way. An overnight stop at Ruthin on the edge of the Clwydian range of hills took us into an area that we hadn’t previously visited and ended a short but enjoyable break away from home.
For our second trip we’d planned to visit the Devon coast but it seemed that everybody had the same idea and we struggled to find a decent campsite close by the sea that had space, so we eventually settled on a three day stay at the Dart Valley Country Park on the southern edge of the Dartmoor National Park near Buckfast Abbey. On the way we stopped briefly for an icecream at the lovely little seaside town of Teignmouth which looks as though it will be worth a longer visit some time in the future. One spectacle we hadn’t expected to see was the plethora (fleet?) of cruise liners at anchor out in the bay – one has to wonder when anyone will want to be cooped up on-board ship in close proximity to thousands of others? Not for me, thanks.
Yesterday we cycled the few miles across to Buckfast Abbey which is a lovely site and a remarkable achievement for the community of Benedictine monks who spent thirty odd years building it.
Around this time of year we should be getting the Triumphs on the road, visiting some of our local car shows and preparing for trips to Spa, Le Mans and the like. Sadly, this year the longest journey they’ve taken is from the local barn, where the GT6 and Stag are stored, back to the house.
At this time in April the classic car fraternity usually celebrates ‘Drive It Day’ so this time, as we’re all locked down, we’re celebrating ‘On Your Drive Day’ – this is our substitute for our planned trip to France – we’re calling is ‘The Arc Des Triumphs’.
We’ve just returned from spending a few lovely days with the ‘Ewbanks of Nurnberg’ on what seems quite likely to have been our last trip to the Continent as true members of the European Community. In years to come I’m quite sure that we’ll look back on this time and wonder to ourselves just how we (as a country) could have been so very stupid and short-sighted. Still, nothing especially new there …. as a nation we seem to be experts at the stupid and short-sighted.
Germany is remarkable. Whilst we should of course be wary of spending too much time looking back over our shoulders, you do have to wonder how over the past 70 years they’ve pulled themselves up by their collective bootstraps to become a rich and confident nation whilst Britain has become a faded, bitter and introspective laughing stock. Still, mustn’t grumble eh? That’s the spirit ….
It was great to be able to spend some time with the family and to see the twins getting stronger whilst Gretel develops into a bright and lively (to say nothing of determined) young lady. No doubt they’ll all have a few more challenges along the way but at least Richard and Collette have a chance now to look up and see some light at the end of the tunnel – without wondering whether its a train approaching.
Nurnberg looked at its very best amongst the Christkindel celebrations and it was good to see large numbers of visitors enjoying Europe at its best. Not like …… still, better not start that again.
Our recent visit to the family in Nurnberg just happened to coincide with the Christkindlesmarkt which is both a bad thing and a good thing. On the one hand the city is full and so accommodation is at a premium, and on the other hand it’s a perfect excuse for drinking gluhwein and eating bratwurst!
Our apartment was in the city centre, which isn’t really the sort of place you’d expect to find riding stables, but these two intrepid riders managed to catch a quick ride on a passing pony!
With autumn well and truly under way, and with the prospect of several months of short, cold and potentially miserable winter days looming, we made a spur of the moment decision to visit the Italian city of Padua where, by spookey coincidence, one of Europe’s largest classic car shows just happened to be taking place.
Padua, as many will know, was the setting for several of Shakespeare’s plays, including The Taming of the Shrew in which the ‘hero’ makes a bit of a hash of persuading the ‘heroine’ of his good intentions. Fortunately Denise needs no persuasion when it comes to holiday trips and even the prospect of a day spent watching me drool over exotic Italians (cars, that is) didn’t put her off the idea of a short winter break.
Our original plan to say in the heart of the city went awry when our AirBnB hosts cancelled our booking a couple of days before our departure. Our second booking was more successful but resulted in our accomodation being several miles off the beaten track; fortunately the local bus services were frequent and reliable – not at all what we’re used to!
Padua is an ancient university town with plenty of impressive buildings (unsuprisingly many of which are churches) and plenty to see and do. As well as enjoying some lovely weather we managed to fit in a visit to the City’s botanic gardens, a viewing of some Giotto frescos and a trip out of town to Villa Pisano.The Auto d’Epoca show was enormous – at least as big as the Classic Car Show at the NEC and with some stunning vehicles both for sale and on show. Inevitably most of the cars were Italian, but we did manage to find a few Triumphs among the Ferraris, Maseratis and numerous Fiats, Lancias and Alfas of all shapes and sizes.
Our trip to Spain and Portugal seems like a very long time ago – but the summer hasn’t been wasted because I’ve been putting quite a few hours into completing the rebuild of our 1971 Triumph Herald 13/60 convertible. I’d originally planned to have it completed for the Tufty Club meeting at Stratford in early August when the 60th birthday of the Herald was being celebrated but, like most ambitious deadlines, that milestone came and went and the car is still a little way off being ready.
As I shall be ‘off the road’ for a few weeks in a fortnight’s time I thought I’d put up a few photos of how the car now looks – just to prove that all those hours in the garage haven’t been completely wasted….
On Tuesday we got an email from Brittany Ferries explaining that due to mechanical problems with the ferry our return destination had been changed to Plymouth instead of Portsmouth. This turned out to be a bit of a mixed blessing as, given that we’d already just about done everything and been everywhere that we’d planned, it gave us the opportunity to bring forward our return by a few days. So, unexpectedly we found ourselves on the last couple of days of our holiday.
Leaving the Picos we headed north towards the narrow coastal plain and the small town of Comillas which boasts the ‘Capricho’, one of the few houses outside Catalonia to have been designed by Antoni Gaudi, some of whose work we’d seen when visiting Barcelona a number of years ago. We spent a pleasant hour or so wandering around the villa which, as well as being architecturally unique (and not a bit whacky), contains some beautifully made art nouveau furniture – fantastic to look at, but wholly impractical to live with. We stayed that night at a camperstop just to the south of Santander near Cabárceno on the edge of the Nature Park, which turned out to be a large naturalised space reclaimed from a former open cast mine. According to the website: “The natural park is home to a hundred animal species from five continents living in semi-free conditions, which are distributed in large enclosures where one or more species coexist. Except for food provided to them, the rest of the animal’s activities are marked by their almost total freedom. Almost all of them trigger fights and mating season struggles for control of females.” Sounds just like parts of the Cotswolds!
On Thursday morning the weather had improved a little, which made for a pleasant and fairly simple two-hour drive along the coast to Bilbao’s port from where we’d started our holiday some four weeks earlier. This time we’d been given a four birth cabin which meant that Denise didn’t have to sleep on the upper bunk with her nose pressed against the ceiling. Once again the Bay of Biscay was almost a flat calm and to her immense excitement, and making a perfect end to the holiday, Denise was convinced that she saw a whale – I knew that buying her that glass on wine was a mistake!
Tuesday’s weather was a touch disappointing with frequent rain showers and not much sunshine – as a result we stayed close to the van for much of the day, though we did manage to take an afternoon walk into Las Arenas which, in common with most small Spanish towns at that time of day, was shut. Where the Spanish go in the afternoon must be one of the world’s great mysteries – surely they can’t all be taking siestas?
In the evening we strolled down to a local bar for a quick local sideria. The local custom seems to be that cider is poured in such a way as to create a head of froth, which we assume must improve the taste somehow. In some restaurants waiters hold the bottle aloft and make a show of tipping the bottle from a great height, taking pride in their ability to catch the stream of liquid without spilling a drop. As we were in an especially classy establishment, however, our hostess went one better and provided us with a two foot tall wooden model of a waiter which, on the push of a button, squirted the contents of our bottle of cider across the table, filling our glasses with unerring accuracy. You just can’t beat style!
This morning we drove the 6km up to Poncebos and took the funicular up to the tiny hamlet of Bulnes which sits high in the mountains at the foot of the 2,519m Naranjo de Bulnes, one of the highest peaks in the Picos. The funicular is a remarkable bit of engineering as it runs entirely inside the mountain for some 2,200m, lifting visitors and provisions some 450m up to Bulnes . The hamlet looks as though it hasn’t changed much in the last few hundred years – apart, that is, from the bars and Coca Cola adverts. Unfortunately the clouds refused to allow us a clear view of the mountains which was a tad frustrating after forking out for what I suspect must be Spain’s most expensive 16 minute return railway journey.
We stayed a couple of nights at Playa Penarronda and would probably have stayed for longer if the weather had held out, but as the forecast for Sunday was wet we decided that it was better to be motoring than to be sat cooped-up in the van all day. This time we opted to follow the motorway, partly because the weather was rubbish for sightseeing but mainly because there’s no toll on that particular stretch and it’s really the only decent road along that bit of Costa Verde coastline. Around Aviles we started to run into areas of heavy industry, which came as a bit of a surprise after the very rural areas we’d been travelling through, but the coast around the Cabo de Peñas is mercifully unspoiled and the views from around the lighthouse there are to die for. On Sunday evening we sat in on a concert for local kids in the church at San Jorge de Hevas, which was a relatively short route-march from our campsite at Bañugues. Not quite the equivalent of ‘Spain’s Got Talent’ but probably all the more enjoyable for that.
Yesterday (Monday) we carried on heading east, cutting inland towards the Picos de Europa which rise to more than 2600m and provide an impressive backdrop to the coastal strip. We had lunch at Cangas de Onis, with its impressive Roman bridge, before eventually finding last night’s campsite at Las Arenas. Unfortunately the weather today is pants – the only minor consolation being that we’re in a relatively (despite my recent modifications) weathertight van whilst some of our fellow campsite residents are under canvas. This is my new definition of schadenfreude.
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a look at our family history