Franc Buxton, the founder of the Deranged Off-Roaders Club (DORC), decided last year that he wanted to go abroad for the first time before he hit 50 years old. That only gave him a couple of years to fulfil his ambition! Franc announced his plan to go to Spain and drive some of the less accessible mountain tracks at Easter in 2004. He threw open an invitation for others to go.
So it came to be that 6 friends came to plan the trip that is described in the following diary.
The following people and vehicles went:-
Black Range Rover V8 - very heavily modified and tuned. Dual fuel (LPG or petrol).
Black Discovery V8 - a well worn and used 200 series. Ready for further action and adventures.
Green Discovery Tdi - 300 series named Katie. My pride and joy. Highly polished and much cared for.
Neil and I had previous overland expedition experience as we had both been to Morocco on a Trailmasters trip in 2002. Franc had never been abroad before. None of us spoke any Spanish, though some of us had made an effort to learn a few very basic phrases prior to the trip.
We caught the Brittany Ferries flagship the 'Pont Aven' from Plymouth to Santander. The ferry had only been comissioned two weeks before, so was effectively brand new.
Day 1 - Wednesday 7 April 2004
Neil travelled up from the South East to my house in Birmingham on the day before the trip was due to start. The plan was that we could pack the car and organise ourselves ready to go the day before and have a stress free journey down to Plymouth to catch the ferry.
The others had made their own arrangements to travel down to Plymouth independently, so the plan was that Neil and I would make our own way to Plymouth to meet the others there for lunch.
The evening before, Neil and I had gone out for a curry and a few beers, but not overindulged, so we were up at 7:30am for a quick bite to eat and then load the last few items into my Discovery (named Katie) and sort out the arrangements to leave my house unattended for the next ten days.
I am half way through the process of laying a new driveway, so unfortunately there was only rough hardcore in front of the house. My Discovery was parked on this uneven surface, which made loading the last few items a bit hazardous. I was very conscious of the risk of twisting an ankle which would be disasterous at this late stage. It seemed to take an age to finish loading the car, turn off the water, set security lights and sort out the neighbours. This process wasn't helped by me mislaying a set of keys that I needed to give to a neighbour.
Eventually we were ready to go. I suggested that Neil drive to start with, so that he had some experience behind the wheel of Katie on relatively familiar English roads before driving her on unfamiliar Spanish roads.
We were only a mile from the house, when the car coughed and hesitated - twice. Thoughts of a breakdown before the trip was even properly underway went rushing through my head. It took a few moments for Neil to realise that the accelerator on Katie is a somewhat less sensitive than his Discovery. Neil simply wasn't giving Katie enough fuel, which explained why was struggling, especially when the engine was cold. This problem never manifested itself again.
Neil drove almost all the way to Plymouth. We drove at a steady 60 to 65mph as we had plenty of time and it made for a relaxed and economical journey.
For the last bit of the journey into Plymouth I took the wheel. We didn't know exactly where the quayside where we had planned to meet the others was. Franc had sent me a text message with a grid reference, so I programmed this into my GPS and followed the arrow. We made a few wrong turns, but at the bottom of one hill we got a fantastic view of the side of the 'Pont Aven' (the Brittany Ferries ship we were to sail upon). It didn't take us too long to find our way to the quayside and meet the others.
Franc's friend John who lives and works in Plymouth was there to greet us. He knew of a little cafe that would be good for a bite of lunch, so we all went there.
When we had eaten some lunch, Franc decided that seeing as LPG wasn't legally available to the general public in Spain, he wanted to fill up his LPG tanks in England before we caught the ferry. We got a bit lost in town, but after a bit of hunting about, we found the Calor Gas station and Franc filled up his beast.
We then drove back to the ferry terminal and joined the queue to board the ferry.
We were all put in different queues to go through customs, but my queue seemed to go very slowly. The people in two cars in the queue in front of Franc were stopped and arrested for some unbeknown reason. The person in front of me was asked to pay a surcharge as they had appeared to have the parts for a garden shed on their roof rack, which made their vehicle overheight. After a few minutes wait, we were all through passport control. I was stopped by a very nice lady customs officer who asked me a few simple questions and had a poke around the contents of my Discovery. She didn't keep is long and soon sent us on our way wishing us a happy holiday.
Once we were aboard the ferry, Neil and I went off to find our cabin. When we walked in, for a moment we were a bit puzzled and worried to find it only appeared to have one bunk. Eeek! The I noticed that there was another very well concealed in the ceiling. We carefully folded it down, and due to the gymnastics required to get into it, I courteously volunteered to sleep in the top bunk.
We met up with the others in the bar, where we had a couple of drinks and then went to one of the cafeterias for some food. I risked a rather interested sea food Paella that turned out to be nice. Neil, Sam, Ralph and I went to the onboard cinema and watched the film Starsky and Hutch.
After a few more beers, Sam and I ended up playing the dancing game on one of the video machines. That soon tired us out, and had the added benefit of distracting is from the slight pitching motion of the ship (which was actually pretty minimal as the sea was calm).
When I finally went to bed very tired, I didn't manage to go to sleep immediately because there was an irritating bleeping noise from another cabin that went on the whole night.
Day 2 - Thursday 8 April 2004
I was up for breakfast in the restaurant at 7:30am. Franc and Rick were already there; they had been up for hours, having got up to watch the sun rise.
I ate a bowl of cornflakes and a drank a cup of tea. It wasn't long before the ferry was docking in the port of Santander. Santander is far more beautiful than the nearby port of Bilbao which Neil and I had docked in almost exactly two years before on the way to Morocco for our adventure there.
Drivers of cars were called deck by deck, depending which deck they had parked on. The others were on deck 3, which was called long before we were. We all arranged to meet in petrol station. As we had all removed our CB aerials to fit onto the ferry, we weren't sure if we would be immediately able to communicate once we were off the boat. Neil and I in Katie were virtually the last vehicle off the boat.
When we came off boat there was no sign of the others - even at the two nearby petrol stations we found. We drove around a bit in the very heavy Spanish traffic and got hooted a couple of times (at least we think it might have been us that they were hooting at - it could have been someone else!). We then made a decision, and drove off a mile or so to the West of where the ferry had docked to try to find somewhere to safely pull over to put on the CB aerial. We called the others on the PMR (hand held) radios without any success.
Neil hadn't got the others mobile phone numbers in his phone, and we couldn't find the piece of paper that I had written them down on, so I switched on my mobile phone which had all the numbers in. Instantly, loads of messages welcoming me to Spain and explaining how to retrieve messages and get help with the telephone network. In total, about 8 of these messages arrived - not particularly convenient at the time!
I put on the CB aerial, and almost immediately got a response from Franc. It turnout out they had driven off to the East (as they hadn't been able to find anywhere convenient to park, and in actual fact the ferry hadn't landed where they had expected it to, hence why they hadn't met us at the planned petrol station). The traffic was very heavy - it took us about 15 minutes to negotiate the traffic to find the others at the big shopping arcade called 'El Courte Ingles'. The others parked on a rough area of ground, getting their tyres really muddy in the process, whilsy I pricisly parked on the road.
We spent about an hour in 'El Courte Inglis' and then drove off to the West along the coast road to try to find somewhere suitable for a lunch stop. It rained intermittently.
We stopped in a busy, but mildy unfriendly town (by Spanish standards) of San Vicente. We had no luck with food here though- it was mid afternoon and everywhere was shutting for their siesta. We decided to drive on. We drove over some fantastic picturesque roads and occassionally stopped and took pictures of the scenery.
As the day wore on into evening, we still hadn't found anywhere to stay or eaten any food since landing. We stopped in the town of Potes where Franc had been told by friends that there were some potential places to stay. Franc went into a couple of places to ask if there was anywhere to stay, but was told that every room in town was already booked. I was getting a bit tired and depressed by this point and was resigning myself to having to camp. I hoped that we would be able to find somewhere soon to set up tents before it got dark.
As we drove off up the road through Potes, we saw a large hotel with a very empty looking car park. We decided we would double check to be sure that they hadn't got any rooms. They hadn't, but they phoned a lady nearby who sometimes rented rooms in her house, and she said she had 3 rooms available. The only downside was that her boiler was broken so there was no hot water. The people at the hotel did their best to give us directions, but with none of us able to speak proper Spanish, and the hotel staff not knowing much English it was a struggle.
After a bit of hunting around, we found the elderly lady with the spare rooms in her house. The lady didn't seem to speak any language apart from Spanish, despite us trying all the different languages we knew a little of!
Despite the communication barrier, we managed to elecit that the rooms were 35 Euros per night. That worked out at about 14 pounds per person per night! We thought that was very reasonable and elected to stay with the lady for three nights.We walked down the hill the half mile from the house, into a village called Ojedo where we found a very nice restaurant. Franc recognised the restaurant as one run by an English ex-patriot which had been recommended to him by a friend. The menu was in English as well as Spanish, which was a big bonus for us!
I foolishly ordered squid which turned out to be covered in batter (which isn't Gluten-Free and I mustn't eat). I tried to pick off as much of the batter as I could. Despite my minor disaster with the non-gluten-free squid, the rest of the meal was delicious. We all traipsed back up to our accomodation rather merry and went to bed.
Day 3 - Friday 9 April 2004
We had intended to get up bright and early - but after our late night things didn't work out quite that way. About mid-morning we wandered down the hill to the pleasant restaurant we had eaten in the evening before, where we enjoyod croissant, toast and cakes for breakfast (although, due to my Coeliac Disease I couldn't join in for any of those items and had to settle for just coffee). The coffee was delicious: cafe con leche, which is made from a small quantity of strong coffee, with lots of warm milk. Sugar makes it even nicer...
As we ate our breakfast, we looked out of the window and saw that it had begun to gently snow! The snow was just about settling.
After breakfast and a good natter, we wandered back up the hill through the snow to our accomodation. We pondered the maps for a few minutes before loading up the Landrovers and driving out of town.
Franc and Rick lead the way. He turned up a very narrow, steep and rough track that he thought was one that we planned to follow up into the mountains. It turned out not to be the the track we had intended to drive up, but it didn't matter because it joined with the track we wanted a few hundred yards along.
We drove into a tiny little village called Pembes, with very narrow roads between the houses. We were negotiating the narrow roads at a slow speed when Franc was accosted by a Spanish man. I couldn't hear the conversation, but the man seemed to be quite emphatic about whatever it was that he was saying. When Franc and Rick had finished communicating with the man, they turned down an incredibly narrow road leading back out of the village the way we had come in. I had to fold in my door mirrors, and even then only had a couple of inches spare on each side. Franc relayed over the radio that the man had actually been very friendly and helpful. Apparently the track we had planned to take was 'peli-somthing' which Franc recgnised as meaning 'dangerous'. The man recommended a different route, which we went off to explore.
It took about 15 minutes to find the track that the man had recommended, but it was well worth it when we did. It started from a little village called Espinama and climbed up into the mountains. With the snow on the trees and ground the scenery was awe inspiring. We saw cows and calves and their calves by the sides of the road and in the road.
As we climbed higher, there was deeper snow on the ground. The tree branches were heavily laden with snow which was very beautiful.
The track was very bumpy, icey and covered in snow; initially there was nothing that was likely to cause any difficulties for any of the Landrovers, but as we got higher the snow got thicker and the ground icier.
We drove through a deserted village with dilapidated, partially collapsed and boarded up buildings.
A short distance further along there were signs warning that the track would be dangerous in inclement weather and not to stray from the tracks.
Sam and Ralph (in their V8 Discovery) struggled for traction on a gently sloping bit. Their (road) tyres didn't have the grip. They backed up and tried again with a little more speed for momentum. A couple of attempts got them through and onto easier terrain.
As we climbed higher, a Spaniard in a Hyundai 4x4 came up the track behind us quite quickly. We pulled over to let him overtake. By this time it was virtually blizzard conditions so we decided it would be prudent to turn back.
Just as we were turning back, the Spanish registered Hyandai came back down the snowy track. He going way too fast and looked to be completely out of control. There was a moments panic, as I was parked right in his path and I couldn't move because the others were blocking me in. Neil and I shouted over the CB for them to move as quick as they could. We just got out of the way of the other car which regained control and proceded to follow us back down the hill.
We pulled into a turning off the track to let the Hyandai pass. I really wanted to put as much space between him and us as possible. As he came along side me, the driver wound down his window and managed to make me understand that he was advising us not to go up the track we had pulled into. We had no intention of driving up any other tracks, but I thanked the other driver and waved him past us.
Half way down the track, the snow fall was a lot lighter. We decided to pull in and make a cup of tea. As we drunk our tea, the softly falling snow settled on the track, hiding all evidence that we and the Hyundai had passed that way earlier.
Having seen blizzard conditions high in the mountain, we had expected there to be snow down in the village where we were staying. We hadn't appreciated how much difference the altitude makes, and were a little suprised to find that back down in our village there was now no sign of snow!
We were all very tired by this time - the action packed day had drained our energy. We walked into the village to our favourite restaurant for another delicious evening meal. This time I had the prawns for my starter (which Franc had had the evening before and I had thought looked rather tasty). They were actually even more tasty than they looked!
For main course I had entrocote steak (Beef steak in a cheesy sauce) which was also extremely nice.
After the meal we were served a very nice alcoholic short 'on the house'.
Just like the night before, the bill was extremely reasonable - it worked out to be about the equivalent of 20 pounds per head for a 3 course meal including wine.
Some of us wanted to stay late and drink some beer, but Sam (who had theonly key to our house) vetoed it on the grounds that it might upset the old lady we were staying with if we came back late and drunk. I was a bit fed up about this, as I would have really enjoyed a couple more quiet drinks and some more good conversation. Nevertheless, when we got back to our house, I went to sleep the instant I was in bed!
Day 4 - Saturday 10 April 2004
We went back to the same restaurant for breakfast. By now the staff knew us well. They gave us our usual table.
It was decided that today we would do a longer trip today, and try to find somewhere new to stay. I had hoped to camp a couple of nights, and Ralph and Sam were on a tight budget and therefore also wanted some cheap accomodation. Ralph and Sam volunteered to be the lead vehicle for the day.
We drove off up into the mountains along a road leading south east from the house we were staying in. There was ice and snow on the roads, but the snow plough had clearly been through though ahead of us so we had little difficulty. There was a two wheel drive car towing a caravan that we followed slowly for quite a few miles. I was quite apprehensive because I was worried that the car would lose control of the caravan, possibly jack-knifing and blocking the whole road. At the rate snow was falling it wouldn't take long for the conditions to make recovering the car and sending it on it's way very difficult. As it was, we came to our turning towards Tudanca and turned off without incident.
We climbed higher and higher into the mountains, with the snow at the sides of the road becoming deeper by the minute. As we descended down from the high altitude pass we followed a two wheel drive Renault. The driver seemed to be struggling. We watched as he skidded straight on at one corner and gentle bounced off the snow bank at the side of the road.
Along the road to Tudanca, we saw a vast damn. We stopped to take photographs and admire the fantastic scenery. We even built a snow man and took group photos of us stood next to it.
I threw a snow ball down the damn, which I timed as taking over 6 seconds to reach the ground - by my calculations that means the damn retains over 200m of water!
We headed further south and east down towards a lake near Reinosa. The scenery around here was less exciting as there were fewer hills and the villages were more bleak and desolate. We drove through a number of villages which may have had accomodation, but weren't inspired to stop and check as the countryside and villages didn't look inviting.
At one point Franc came through on the CB to tell me that my tail lights weren't working on the right hand side of my Discovery. When we stopped to look at the map I found the fuse had blown. I changed the fuse, but the new fuse blew shortly afterwards. (It was only after the holiday that I managed to fix this problem - and electrical short had developed in some wiring I had added).
We stopped repeatedly to look at the map. At one point when we were stopped a local came up and asked Franc where we were headed for. The local desperately wanted to help, and despite us having worked out where we were he insisted on explaining the correct road to us. Just after we had set off, we were overtaken by a Spanish car, with the driver leaning out of the windo gesticulating wildly. It was only once he had reached the front of our convoy of three vehicles that we realised that it was the same chap who had offered us directions: he had got out his car and was now leading us to the right road. It was a little embarrassing, as we had decided we wanted to take a different route to that which he was advising, so when we came to our turning we simply turned off leaving the Spaniard to do his own thing! I felt a little awkward over this, but soon came to my senses and realised that we probably hadn't offended the man who had tried to help us.
We stopped in an ugly little village near the lake, where we had a long discussion about the best thing to do next: find a hotel somewhere local despite the unappealing surroundings; go back the way we had come; or go back by a different route.
Eventually we agreed to go back by a different route. I let Neil drive, as I was suddenly very tired.
As we were driving west near Torrelavega heading back to the house we were staying in we passed an impressive and expensive looking hotel. We drove past, thinking it would undoubtedly be beyond our means. Then we had second thoughts, and decided to check it out: the owner might know of somewhere more suited to us if he couldn't put us up.
We walked in to be greeted by the delicious smell of fresh chips (well, it seemed delicious to me at the time - bear in mind I work in an office above a chip shop, so am normally fed up with the smell of chips!). We couldn't see a reception area, so we asked at the bar where reception was. The chap serving at the bar (who later turned out to be the proprietor) explained that the hotel was 'completo'. We knew from out previous eventful experiences looking for accomodation that this meant the hotel was full. Fortunately Franc said 'manyana', meaning 'tomorrow', at which the proprietors face lit up; he had vacancies from tomorrow onwards. When he told us that it would only be 48 Euros per twin room including breakfast we immediately booked three rooms for the remaining four nights of our holiday.
We were very relieved to have accomodation sorted for the whole of the rest of our holiday.
We headed back to the house we were staying in, and went to our usual restaurant for our evening meal. Rick and Sam were too tired to join us, so it was just the four of us.
I had the prawns again for starter, as they had been utterly delicious the evening before. I had veal for main course, and ice cream for pudding. Again, the total bill including wine was very reasonable. The managed to get into conversation with the waitress who had been serving us for the past three evenings. She was reasonable fluent in English, but turned out not to be Spanish; she was Romanian. She had been very good to us, and had tolerated our merryment and incompetance very politely over the past few days so we left her a generous tip.
Day 5 - Sunday 11 April 2004 (Easter Day)
Again, we woke up late again. Before we went for breakfast in our usual restaurant, we packed all our belongings into out vehicles and paid the lady for the use of her house.
For breakfast this time I asked for an omlette ('tortilla' in Spanish). After the food, we said our good-byes to the staff who by now new us quite well.
The weather was sunnier and drier, so we decided to go back and revisit the snowy pass through the mountains where we had previously been caught in the blizzard. We wanted to confirm that it was still impassable.
Neil drove and I sat in the passenger seat and took photographs. As we drove out of the village, the sun shining on the snow capped mountains made them look quite fantastic. We drove up the same track, but it looked very different without the snow. The track also seemed bumpier without the snow covering.
As we climbed higher, we saw walkers and ocassionally other Spanish registered 4x4s. We reached the point we had got to before without too much difficulty, and found another 4x4 parked up there. The Spanish driver told us that the snow was very deep. Franc got mildly stuck, and noted that the snow was very deep and getting deeper by the foot. He decided that it wasn't worth attempting to drive any further, so he backed out. With my Trac-Edge tyres I was able to drive through the snow drift that was blocking Francs path, and up a good deal further. I came to another steep snow drift, which I attacked gently. I was concerned however, that if I were to get stuck there would be way any other of our vehicles could get close to render assistance. I decided that caution was the better part of valour, and came back down the way we had gone up.
We drove to our new hotel where we unpacked a lot of spare kit from the cars to try to save carting it around the tracks we intended to explore the following day.
The rooms in the hotel were very pleasant. We noted that the building standards were very different to what we would expect in the UK; thin walls such that you could hear people in adjacent rooms, and joints through the walls through which you could see light!
Rick, Neil and I sat outside and drank beers until the others came down. The hotel owner was apologetic that due to some other parties at the hotel, he was not able to serve us an evening meal right away - he plied us with free beer until he was ready. We were then treated to a fantastic and very filling meal with a number of courses including a number of different of different omelettes followed by a choice of interesting deserts.
We drank rather a lot of wine, beer and brandy. Eventually, feeling rather light headed, I bid everyone a good night.
Day 6 - Monday 12 April 2004
Due to our exertions during the days, it had become habitual for Neil and I to be very late rising. All the others except Sam had got up earlier and been for a walk into the town. They said we hadn't missed much though as much of the town was shut and it was raining.
Those of us who could, enjoyed a breakfast of cakes and coffee. As I had gone to bed before the others, I asked what the bill had been for the evening meal the night before. Franc said that they had been told it would go on our hotel bill, and wasn't sure what it cost. We were all a little nervous about this, as we didn't want to run up a huge bill. So Franc asked the proprietor. We could barely believe it when he told us that the total cost of the 4 course meal, including wine, worked out to be the equivalent of less than 6 pounds per person!
We set off to expore some local lower altitude tracks.
We found a promising looking track leading through the Parque Natural, but unfortunately half way through we came across a sign that we translated as saying 'no vehicular access without express permission', so we had to retrace our steps. Every minor track to the side that we explored had similar signs or lead to a house. Eventually, we found a track that did appear to lead somewhere. We drove up it about half a mile, but it got rougher and rockier. Ralph (who was leading) decided at much the same time as I suggested it, that the track was getting to be a little bit more challenging than we ought to be undertaking without further equipment. Ralph proceeded to turn around (with a great deal of diffculty - it turned out to be about a 10 point turn which would probably have resulted in my vehicle getting stuck on the tow hitch and damaging the front valence. Fortunately, Ralph's Discovery has neither encumberance so it was deemed to be good fun).
Whilst Ralph was turning around, I found somewhere to pull off the track and turn around. The area I chose was down a short leafy slope, which I struggled to drive back up, but just about managed. Franc reversed back from where Ralph was turning, and tried to turn where I had. With his road tyres he couldn't get traction to get backup the leafy slope onto the track, so he undramatically winched himself back up.
Eventually, we were all facing back out, and we drove carefully back to the main track. We then parked up in a woodland car park to make hot drinks on my petrol stove. As it was raining, we very carefully positioned our vehicles so that the back doors opened beneath some small timber shelters provided to keep the weather of some notice boards. Whilst eating snacks and drinking our drinks, we tried to read some of the notices on the notice boards. We found one very small notice that said something along the lines of 'no vehicles on any tracks except for access'. Oops. We had been assuming that vehicles were only banned on the tracks that were individually signed as such. We felt a bit guilty, but seeing as we hadn't gone far up the one track we had explored, and hadn't done any lasting damage we weren't going to worry about it.
As we left the Parque Natural on the lookout for other tracks that we could explore, we spotted some interesting looking tracks going up a nearby hill. We could see some other 4x4s on one of the tracks, so we decided to try to get there. We found a likely looking turning, but it was partially blocked by a Spanish car. There were two Spaniards getting fishing rods out of the back of the car. The moment we pulled off the road, they inquisitively came over to chat. They told us that it was okay to explore any of the tracks we were considering, and told us roughly how to get there.
It didn't take us long to find the first track, which we set off up with enthusiasm. Ralph and Sam were in the lead, and struggled a little for traction on the wet red clay soil which had recently been rained on. We came across a Nissan Patrol parked up in the middle of the track about half way up the hill side. There was no sign of anyone with it, so Ralph and Sam, and then Franc and Rick struggled past it with a little wheelspin and sliding. I had no difficulties driving past; but I have BFGoodrich Trac Edge tyres on Katie, whereas the others were both on road tyres.
We got to the end of the track, about three quarters of the way up the hill. There was a flat, but very slippery area suitable for a three point turn. The other two vehicles skittered and span there way around, whilst I performed a casual three point turn with no loss of traction. We took photos for a moment or two, and then descended the same way as we had come up.
Near the bottom of the hill was a turning off for another track that we had spotted on the way up. This track had a smooth surface - some of it was concrete. It wound its way up the hillside for about 2.5 miles. At one point there was a very shiney and cared for looking Land-Rover Series III 109" parked at the side of the track. It was tucked away under some trees, and looked very at home. At the highest point on the track, the surface detoriorated to a rougher, rockier surface. Franc was running low on fuel and wanted to turn back to the nearby petrol station. I was keen to explored the track a little further, so whilst Franc parked up, the two Discoverys drove on. It wasn't very far before the steepness and slipperyness of the track surface dictated that Ralph and Sam should turn back. The wet grass under the wheels made getting back up the slope very hard for them. Nevertheless, I was still getting good traction, so I pressed on a bit further. The whole time all three vehicles were in contact via the CB radios when we were aboard, and PMRs when we got out. In total, I drove on very nearly another whole mile. The track was washed out and getting quite difficult, so I got out and walked all the way to the bottom of the hill. That was another half mile. At the bottom of the hill, the track came out next to a house. There was a fence across te track, but a panel of the fence was only tied in place with string. It seemed to me that we _could_ get out that way if we had to, but that the fence was there to discourage people from driving the track. I decided that when I got back to the car I would drive back up the hill the way I had come down.
Back at my Discovery, I explained the plan to Neil. We backed up the track a few hundred yards and found somewhere where we could safely turn around. Neil got out and helped me to turn the car around. We then set off up the track. It was quite nerve racking - in 1st gear Low Box we hadn't quite got enough speed and momentum to get over the slippery bits, but in 2nd gear Low Box I had to go a little faster than I wanted to keep the engine in the torque band. We lurched and crawled our way back up the track with only a couple of hairy moments when we nearly lost all forward motion. By the time we got back to the others I was drowned in nervous perspiration, and simultaneously very excited and releaved.
Whilst the others had been waiting for Neil and I to return, Rick and Ralph had been discussing axle articulation. Ralph had a moment of madness, and decided to deliberately drive his Discovery off the track and cross axle it in the adjacent drainage ditch. It was an impressive sight with opposite wheels crammed up inside the wheelarches whilst the remaining two almost hung in mid air. Not to be outdone, Franc had a go too. We all took lots of photographs of the two vehicles poised in the unusual position.
The journey back down the track was uneventful and we made it to the petrol station for Franc to buy more fuel.
Back at the hotel we enjoyed a meal of cured, hams, battered squid (Calamari) and breakcrumb covered bites. There was a sort of mushroom and prawn stir fry and mushroom, bacon and breadcrumb packages with chips. Pudding for me was yoghurt. Everyone was a bit too full to enjoy everything, and some really didn't like the food served in this meal anyway.
Day 7 - Tuesday 13 April 2004
Todays plan was to revisit the snowy mountain pass that we had already twice tried and failed to get through. This time we were going to tackle it from the other end.
Neil drove whilst I navigated. A few miles into the journey, Franc suggested swapping passengers, so I leapt out and joined Franc, whilst Rick rode with Neil in my Discovery.
The main road we had planned to take was closed at one point for roadworks, so we had to take a high winding mountain road to bypass the blockade. We were nearly at the start of the track over the mountain pass, when I inadvertantly missed a turn, and we went about a kilometer off course about half a mile. It turned out to be for the best though, because we found ourselves at a fantastic viewpoint looking down a deep valley gorge near a village called Camermena.
We drove back to the turning I had missed and followed the a picturesque road south to a town called Sotres. Along this road we saw waterfalls and some beautiful valleys. At Sotres we turned off the tarmac roads and started up our favourite mountain pass. We frequently stopped on the way up to take photographs. Rick and I swapped back to our usual vehicles and I took Katie's wheel again.
We climbed higher and higher into the mountains through the snow. Ralph and Sam occassionally stuggled for traction, but by making use of the power of the Discovery to gain momentum whenever possible they kept up with Franc and I. Due to the driving technique that Ralph was forced to adopt to get through the snow, the engine on his Discovery was running very hot. He asked us to all stop for a few minutes to let it cool down. He was also a little concerned at the abuse he was dishing out to his differentials, as he was spending a lot of time with wheels spinning.
The snow had drifted so in places it was quite deep. At one point, there was a drift of powdery snow that was about two feet deep. We discussed turning back, but I volunteered to try to 'bulldoze' through the snow drift with the front of my Discovery to make a path for everyone else; this was ten times as much fun as it sounds! The only thing that really worried me was that we werre driving along the top of a very narrow ridge, on slippery ice. There were very steep drops off either side of the road. We cautiously and carefully crept upward and eventually reached an altitude of very nearly 5200 feet.
At the point where the road forks, one part of the road carries on up the ridge to the high mountain pass, whilst another track curves around back down to lower altitudes. Both tracks were covered in deep snow drifts and looked dangerous so we decided not to try to go any further. There wasn't much room to turn around, so whilst others offered advice and 'spotted' for me, I tried to drive forward to a slightly wider and flatter area right on the fork in the road. Unfortunately, the snow was simply too deep and I got stuck. I couldn't go forwards or backwards. Katie's chassis was bottomed out in the snow. After trying rocking the car and pushing rocks under the wheels, we opted to upack the hi-lift jack and waffle boards. We jacked Katie's back end up and put waffle boards under the back wheels. I was then easily able to back out and turn around.
Whilst I was being recovered, Ralph gingerly undertook a very brave multiple point turn right on the brink of the ridge. We couldn't see exactly where the edge of the ridge was, and if he went to far there was a risk of driving into very deep snow, or falling right off the ridge down the mountainside. In the end, he turned the car around in a width barely wider than his Discovery is long.
Back down below the snow line we stopped for a cup of tea and some food where Sam looked for rocks to take back to England as momentos. Ralph spotted one very red rock that he felt sure Sam would like. It was only when he had put it in the car that he realised it was red because it was literally covered in red ants. By the time he had realised, they were all over the footwell of the car. He and Sam spent a frantic few minutes evicting and exterminating the insects!
On the drive back towards our hotel we stopped in a picturesque little village to look in the shops and buy a few momentos. We were in one shop browsing the shelves when two teenage lads came in. A they passed Rick and Neil they polited said "Ola" (meaning 'hello') in very English accents oblivious to the fact that we were all also English - so Rick quickly came back with 'Alwight Mate' (or something similar - perhaps mildly less polite!) much to the two Enlish teenages surprise and amusement.
Back at the hotel, it was warm and sunny, so we all sat outside drinking 'Servesa' (lager). A huge blonde coloured dog belonging to the hotel came over and made itself at home at Franc's feet. Unfortunately, when we were called in for dinner, the dog stood up, sending the table flying and smashing a glass (empty - phew!). The hotel proprietor didn't seem to mind at all - in fact he seemed to think it was funny. Possibly he was amused at the Englishmen's polite embarrassment.
The hotel food was once again delicious.
Day 8 - Wednesday 14 April 2004
Today we planned to have a more relaxing 'cultural day' without the stresses and worries of off-roading. It would be a nice way to wind down on the last full day of our holiday. Neil and I unloaded everything from Katie, and piled it all into Ralphs Discovery. This meant I could fold all the seats back into postions and get all six of is into Katie for a trip into Terelavega. Putting everyone into one car made parking easier and made us less conspicuous driving around town.
With all six of us crowded into my Discovery, someone put on one of my Dire Straits tapes, cranked it up and we went on our way.
In the town we found some waste ground which was signed as 'public free car park' so we parked there.
We wandered around town on foot - by this time it was about 1:30pm, so everywhere was shut. Nevertheless, we peered through the windows of a few shops including hardware stores, estate agents and shops selling various other odds and ends.
Eventually, we decided to stop in one of the few open cafes for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. We all had cups of cafe-con-leche and various snacks a bit like Danish Pastries (due to my dietry restrictions I had to make do with a bag of crisps).
After paying for the food and drink, we wandered around town a little more. Everywhere was still shut for the afternoon siesta - it would appear that most places shut for between 3 and four hours in the early afternoon. They then stay open until about 8pm. This is probably very practical in the heat of the summer sun but it took us a little getting used to as we were used to the UK where most shops don't even seem to close for a lunch hour nowadays. We stopped and looked a couple of buildings, before coming across a small supermarket. We spent a good half an hour going around the supermarket buying sweets, bottles of wine and spirits and various other unsual foodstuffs that we hadn't come across in the UK.
When we left the supermarket, the siesta was ending and some shops were opening up. Nevertheless, we sat in the town square immediately outside the cathedral on the benches in the sun. We ate some of our purchases whilst waiting for Sam and Ralph who explored the inside of the cathedral.
When Sam and Ralph re-appeared, we decided that we didn't really want to actually buy anything more anyway, and we were quite content having 'window shopped' for a few hours. So we loaded ourselves and our purchases into my Discovery and cruised back to the hotel.
It was to be our last evening in Spain. The hotel proprietor did us proud yet again; soup, cod in source, ice creams, vast quantities of wine and beer. We proposed a toast to the proprietor, who looked suitably embarrassed!
Day 9 - Thursday 15 April 2004
Neil and I woke up at about 8:45am. A quick breakfast, followed by loading the cars. Having packed everything into my Discovery, Neil and I went for a walk into the local village.
Most of the shops in the village looked like houses. There was very little outward indication as to what lay inside. Most of the shops were so dark inside that they actually looked like they were shut when they were in fact open.
We went into one; it was like Granville's store in Open All Hours: shelves stacked high with everything from Fork Handles and Hose to Plugs (.... or was it the shop that Ronnie Barker was in in "The Two Ronnies"?).
As we got further from the hotel, I called up Franc on the PMR radio just to see what the range was. We were just crossing over a bridge over the river and taking pictures when Franc radioed and said the others were almost ready to leave. Neil and I set off back to the hotel to say good buy to the proprietor and settle up. We all shook the propritors hand and told him (in English) how grateful we were that he had helped to make our holiday so much fun. We then piled into our cars and got onto the Autovia in the direction of Santander.
En route, we spotted signs for a Carrefour Supermarket. After a brief discussion on the CB's we decided that we wouldn't bother going back to 'Le Courte Inglis' as we had planned and instead we would visit the Carrefour Supermarket.
In the Carrefour, we all bought gifts and momentos to bring home. DVDs, alcohol, chocolate, sweets, cheese and various cosmetics were bought. Then we got back into the cars and headed for the dock at Santander.
Once we were parked on the dock, we lounged around in the baking sunshine waiting to be loaded onto the ferry. Time seemed to drag on for ever. The ferry was late being loaded, but eventually we were taken on board. We met up in the bar were we gossiped and drank soft drinks.
As the evening drew on, some of went off and bought food. Others wandered around the ship. I eventually bedded down for an early night; we had a long drive ahead of us tomorrow.
Day 10 - Friday 16 April 2004
We woke up early, met up over breakfast and waited for the ferry to dock. It docked about half and hour late at 9:30am.
Having been unloaded, it took a while to get through customs and then out of Plymouth. I was itching to get home, so was pleased when we finally got onto the M5 and found the traffic not to be too heavy.
There were a few delays due to accidents and road works, but we eventually pulled up outside my home in Birmingham at about 2:30pm.
Neil and I despondantly unloaded my Discovery; the holiday had come to an end. Over a cup of tea, we chatted and agreed that we had enjoyed a fantastic time. The weather hadn't been hot and sunny, but we had enjoyed ourselves enourmously nevertheless. If the weather had been sunnier and hotter, we might not have enjoyed playing in the snow quite so much.
After our drinks, Neil got on the road back to London, and I unpacked my bags and put away all my belongings. Weary and exhausted, but relaxed and very content at our successful adventure.