(A registered trademark of Jayco Caravans, Australia
used without permission but with the hope that
they will understand the joke and maybe appreciate the link!)
(Jayco Owners’ Club UK Limited -
Annual Report - 1999)
The branch membership remained static at four members, consisting of Ian, Christine and Peter Gillis, plus Magic the Cat.
In January our Discovery ground to a halt in an embarrassing place on a roundabout. The good news was that it was within walking distance of the Land Rover dealer from whence it came. The bad news was that the timing belt had failed prematurely; creating 8 bent pushrods, two broken rocker arms and a £700 bill. Part of the cost was for a mod kit to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, so we asked for a contribution for our part in the Discovery development programme. However Land Rover Customer Care couldn’t care less!
The mended Disco successfully took us on a (non-caravan) ski trip to Valmorel in the French Alps in March, as part of Ian’s 60th birthday celebrations, but the engine wasn’t as smooth as before, and we didn’t trust it. So a Capital Expenditure Request was submitted to Senior Management for the purchase of a more reliable tow car, and she said yes!
So at the end of April we got a nearly new, low mileage Toyota Landcruiser in a tasty metallic blue-ish colour. This vehicle has proved much more refined than the somewhat agricultural Disco and the extra power of the bigger diesel engine enables towing at the French autoroute speed limit of 130 km/h with a reasonable overall consumption.
Ian had become increasingly frustrated with the inadequate performance on the Internet of his ancient Macintosh, so it was consigned to Peter’s room as a homework tool. As yet another little birthday treat and not without some heart-searching, we got a new PC with loads of megahertz and gigabytes. It certainly speeds up the surfing but has not been seen to improve the quality of the deathless prose. What a pity you can’t upgrade the brain as well!
There was a reduced attendance at Elddis Owners’ Club (EOC) rallies during the year, since Peter was in his penultimate year at school prior to his GCSE examination year. Ian was kept busy building a fence in the back garden, creating a suitably decorated nursery for the new computer and digging out the wet rot, filling and painting the exterior of the house. He also went AWOL from his DIY on two occasions, walking in the Yorkshire and Derbyshire Dales with his chums in the Ex-Marconi Boring Old Farts Club. Peter had a fortnight’s Work Experience at a local garage that mends and tunes performance cars (mainly Jaguars); he enjoyed the work and they seemed to appreciate his efforts.
The first rally was at Duxford in Cambridgeshire, and was principally a contrived surprise 50th birthday for one of the EOC members.
A very pleasant nine days with generally good weather were spent on the Isle of Wight at Easter at a rally held in pleasant, rolling chalk down land at the “Needles” end of the IoW. We did several walks in the area and visited Osborne House, the country seat of Queen Victoria.
A weekend rally just South of East Grinstead was set in a “tourist farm” in beautiful rural West Sussex and allowed us to visit Battle near Hastings. Our visit happily coincided with a re-enactment of Napoleonic skirmishes by loads of loons dressed as mediaeval soldiers and letting off cannon on the site of the Battle of Hastings.
The year’s summer holiday continued the theme of the Grand European Tour, this time taking in France and Spain. The intent was generally to avoid the Costa del Fish’n’Chips and the attendant bodies frying in Ambre Solaire and to have a look at inland Spain. Poor Magic, of course, had to be billeted in our local cattery to avoid the draconian quarantine laws. We stopped at two sites in France en route to the Spanish border, at Fresnay-sur-Sarthe just North of Le Mans, and at Pont-L’Abbé d’Arnault near Saintes mid-way down the West Coast. We knew both sites from pre-Australia days with our tent; they are the type of municipal site that in France tends to be well appointed, cheap and convenient for village shopping.
Next stop was just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border at Souraide in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, overlooking Biarritz and St Jean-de-Luz. The latter is a pleasant resort, but the mountains provided incredible scenery with picture-book villages featuring the Basque architecture of red-painted timbers and white plasterwork. We walked to the border and the obligatory photographs of Christine and Peter with one foot in France and one in Spain were taken. The Basque natives spoke strange Spanish-accented French and owed more allegiance to the Basque country than to Spain or to France! A little rack railway took us to the top of a 900 metre mountain called La Rhune, which afforded spectacular views along the coast and a pleasant walk down to the station.
So we braced ourselves for a trip into the unknown; caravanning in a new country with an unfamiliar language. Ian had mugged up on the Spanish for everyday phrases such as “Do you have a site for a caravan with electricity, for two adults and one child?” and successfully booked ahead using our GSM mobile ‘phone, which was to prove invaluable. We travelled through the mountains of Navarra and La Rioja to Castilla y Léon and our destination Vinuesa, near Soria. Vinuesa was a charming stone village with cobbled streets and a perfectly preserved covered washhouse through which the river flowed. The campsite had tall pines, excellent facilities and a gorgeous olive-skinned, doe-eyed receptionist (Ian didn’t notice the latter, of course!). Vinuesa was pronounced Binwesa so like many Catalan Spanish words was not pronounced as spelt. An extremely important word cervesa (= beer) was pronounced thare-bay-tha. All this is allegedly due to a Catalan king with a lisp. Electricity was spelled electricidad but pronounced electrithitat, which made me feel a right poofter on the ‘phone! We made trips out to local beauty spots and to the nearby city of Soria.
Our first impressions of Spain were good; the natives were friendly, the diesel was even cheaper than France, the supermarkets took credit cards and sold high quality meat and veg at about 75% of the equivalent cost in Blighty. The roads were wide, well surfaced and signposted, and quiet. The weather was changeable, with some hot sun but with some heavy downpours and thunder; like Melbourne in early December!
The next stop was Zaragoza (pronounced Tharagotha!), in Aragón; here we stayed in a pleasant municipal site, featuring yet another olive-skinned, doe-eyed receptionist. The city has an impressive square on the banks of the river Ebro, containing the cathedral La Seo and the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The latter contains a pillar reputedly left after the appearance of the Virgin in AD40; the queues of pilgrims to kiss this relic testified to the deeply religious nature of the Spanish people. We had another thunderstorm here, too and were glad we weren’t in some of the tents that were flooded with some inches of muddy water. Ian had found that the receptionist used the full impact of her limpid-pool eyes and husky voice on every visitor, not just him, so he left in disgust in the direction of the Mediterranean. Well, the weather was warming up and the Speedos needed using!
Cambrils was the furthest south we reached; it was a rather crowded beach site but we were fortunate to get a fairly large pitch. The weather was very hot, humid and sunny; Ian’s sleeping bag got sweaty and stinky and unfortunately so it stayed until the end of the holiday! While at Cambrils we had a look at Tarragona, which is a busy city with a charming walk laid out through the gardens at the foot of the city walls; these walls dated from the third century BC. Tarragona also has a mediaeval city within its walls, clustering around the tenth century cathedral.
It was just a short trip up the autopista to Barcelona, where we stayed at a campsite in rural and undulating countryside, but still only 20 km from Barcelona. We managed to get lost several times in the motorways surrounding the city, but were finally able to have a look at some of the obligatory sights such as La Rambla (probably the most famous street in Barcelona) and the Gaudi church of La Sagrada Familia. The impact of the organic shapes making up the latter was not lessened by the fact that it is still in the course of construction. Peter and Ian climbed up the stairs in one of the towers for a superb view of the city.
From Barcelona we headed north through Catalunya to the French border on the Meditteranean side, in the Pyrénées-Orientales. Our site was a friendly, family-run concern a short walk from the village of Maureillas-las-Illas, about 20 km from Perpignan. As in the Basque country on the other side of the Pyrenees we noticed the strange accents and a devotion more to the Catalan area than to France or Spain. The dramatic Fort de Bellegarde was a reminder of more restrictive times as it overlooks the local French flocking over the border to fill up with cheap motion lotion in Spain. August’s somewhat over-hyped eclipse occurred during a visit to Perpignan; we watched it by means of a pinhole in some foil projecting the crescent-shaped sun on to a piece of paper. Our vantage point was the ramparts of the palace of the former King of Majorca (yet another illustration of the colourful past of the area). The weather was clear, but we were too far south for dramatic darkness and the street lights switched on by an over-cautious local factotum looked rather silly. For us the most interesting effect was the myriad crescent-shaped images of the sun on the pavement as it filtered through the trees. Since the campsite was friendly, the neighbourhood interesting and the weather good we lingered for several days before striking off in a northerly direction. One evening we had a gorgeous dinner in a nearby restaurant engagingly called “Le Chat Qui Rit” (The Laughing Cat), which had lots of pussycat artefacts to make Peter miss Magic the Cat even more!
Lot & Garonne
The mediaeval village of Montpezat-de-Quercy, near Cahors in the Départment du Lot, was our last significant stop; we know and love the area and used the time to look at the local property market as part of our “crumbly cottage in France” pipe dream. After that we made good time back to Blighty, overnighting in Chateauroux to stock up with wine and then at Le Gros Theil (near Rouen). Magic was reprieved from her sentence; I have never seen a pussycat so pleased as she was to be back home!
We did a total of about 3,500 miles from door to door of which some 2,500 miles were towing the ‘van.
So what were our overall impressions of Spain? Clearly it has a lot going for it as a holiday destination; it’s inexpensive and scenic with good weather and friendly people having a rich cultural heritage. But we didn’t think the people were quite as warm-hearted as the Italians, and, as confirmed Francophiles, it really was pleasant to get back into familiar old France.
After only a couple of days attacking the tomato plant jungle and renewing our acquaintance with the luxury of dishwasher and washing machine, we were off again to the Elddis AGM, held in the grounds of a school at Cherry Hinton, near Cambridge. Some 118 ‘vans attended and there were lots of youngsters, so Peter enjoyed himself more than he expected.
Aston village hall, near Bampton in Oxfordshire was the scene for the “Conker” rally in late October. The weather was a wash-out, as was Ian’s performance in the inevitable conker competition. Christine, however, did well to reach the quarter-finals but was glad when her conker finally disintegrated before her arm gave up. Peter was happy to renew his acquaintance with a young lady he met at the AGM.
We then moved to a nearby Caravan Club site near Burford for a week, doing a little walking in the area and visiting Blenheim Palace (Winston Churchill’s birthplace) and Westonbirt Arboretum. The latter was a riot of colour, even the indigenous trees were wearing particularly fine autumn colours, but the Japanese maples were a mass of unbelievably fluorescent purple, red, orange or yellow.
We travelled directly to the Halloween rally that was held at Brampton near Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. The witches’ Sabbath was suitably celebrated by armies of “trick-or-treaters” demanding sweets with menaces. Peter was able further to cement his relationship with his sweet miss.
On arrival back at base the ‘van was drained of freezable fluids ready for the winter frosts and probably won’t be used until spring, although there are plans afoot to dig it out of the snow for a Millennium New Year rally at Lutterworth.