The journey from Oxford to our home in Spain is about 1,300 miles. We mostly take it slowly and endeavour to enjoy the trip: it’s like a holiday.
This time we travelled in our replacement camper van: it’s bigger than the old one which we had for ten years. We got as far as Dover without mishap. There we visited the castle which is enormous and commands an imposing position high above the famous white cliffs. There I learned that this stronghold was only once invaded – by a group of drunken townsfolk during the English civil war. We ate in an interesting restaurant called the Allotment and had a long conversation with a delightful pair. The mother was some sort of adviser to the EU in Brussels and the son captured pirates in different parts of the world. We were in awe.
Next morning we got up in plenty of time for the ferry to Calais. I went for a run, we ate breakfast, showered, then with an hour or so to go before departure I turned the key of the van. Nothing. It had a completely flat battery! I raced around trying to find someone with jump leads: no good. A kindly local lead me to Halfords, but it did open until 10 a.m. on Sundays! I ran back to the van removed one of the bicycles we were carrying and pedalled quickly to the ferry terminal arriving just before our boat was due to depart. There a friendly P&O Ferries employee rang a few people then informed me that it was OK: I could take a later ferry at no extra charge.
I cycled back to the van then walked once more to Halfords which was about a kilometre away and just opening. I explained my problem and asked if they could bring a new battery around and possibly fit it. The young man at the counter was willing to bring the thing around in his own car, but had to check with his boss. This man shook his head slowly and mouthed the stultifying words “health and safety”.
So, I had to carry the heavy battery back to the van – and it was heavy. At least two people actually said, “That ttttlooks heavy,” as I struggled along – such wits the Dover men. But I finally got there and began the difficult job of changing the batteries over: things are such a tight fit in modern vans. By two o’clock or so we had left the old battery at Halfords and were on our way across the channel. Not too bad really. The man at the ferry gate wanted to see the receipt for the battery before letting us through, but then gave us a ten-pound token to spend on board! I had a Cornish pasty, the last for at least three months.
France was as enjoyable as ever, but expensive for food and drink, and run down in places. Highlights of the journey were the Ouche Valley in the Bourgogne where we rode our bikes alongside the canal, and Villefranche in the Pyrenees, a magical walled town full of shops and restaurants.
We reached our village just in time to catch the end of the major fiesta where the firework-spitting bull chased us. We danced, were kissed by people we hardly know, drank far too much and finally went to bed at five in the morning. Nice to be back.