Bye bye Blighty – hello Spain

Portsmouth disappears over the horizon as we sail off to Bilbao
Portsmouth disappears over the horizon as we sail off to Bilbao

I haven’t covered myself in glory at the outset of this trip.

Just before leaving to catch the ferry to Bilbao from Portsmouth, I managed to set off the van fire extinguisher while trying to collapse the bed back to its day-time role as couch. This covered a significant part of the van in a fetching baby blue colour fine powder.


The good thing was we got talking to our campsite neighbours. They are Brits running a gite business in France. Turns out their campervan parked outside their home was cleaned out by  thieves who used the fire extinguisher to obliterate all fingerprints. They advised us we needed to clean up every particle as it’s corrosive. (I reckon that’s a blue task it being blue and all). They also invited us to visit them some time – which was nice.

Good smooth ferry crossing on the Brittany Ferries ‘Cap Finesterre’ though as we waited for our turn to return to our vehicle, the army of Spanish cleaners marched past us ready to sort the ship for the return trip. One passed us lustily singing ‘oo la paloma blanca’…that’s been an ear worm ever since.

Second error – when we disembarked at Bilbao, I urged Stuart to press on with the journey to the first campsite rather than heed his counsel that we stop in the port car park and just ‘take a moment’. Due to navigation error, we ended up 20 km the wrong side of Bilbao. After a free and frank exchange of views, we set back on course and by 3 pm were very happily settled on our first campsite in the Spanish sunshine.

Camping Salopena did the job -it is 40 minutes metro from Bilbao so very convenient for our evening in the city – me in the Guggenheim enjoying the Ecole de Paris exhibition and Stuart out and about taking photos – of more anon.

And we’re finally on the road

Gorgeous photo album from Ciara and the holy grail – our MOT cert

The van has passed her MOT! She went in this morning at 8.30 am. Stuart paced the corridor outside, chain smoking furiously, beads of sweat glistening on his furrowed brow as he waited for, no he didn’t. I just made that up.

He was as calm as any man would be when you’ve already replaced virtually every part of the van and the pre-MOT check two weeks ago carried out by our nice local garage (hello M&D Motors) revealed nothing more sinister than a teeny hole in the floor and leaky drive shaft seals – all easily fixable.

And so we have started our journey and are now staying the night on a pretty soulless campsite 20 minutes from Portsmouth. The last few days have been hectic –  seeing family and friends, some seriously enthusiastic partying on Saturday which meant a slower than required pace on Sunday, leading to an even more manic Monday of house clearing and packing.


Thanks Susan and Steve Watson for the brilliant mugs xx
Thank you Susan and Steve Watson for our brilliant pink and blue mugs xx

But by 11 am this morning, we were pulling out of our road after one final check that Stuart hadn’t substituted his passport for a bag of apples. And yes that did happen to us a few years back – he unaccountably swapped the bag holding all our passports for  6 Braeburns. This resulted in a tense wait at Gatwick at 4 am while he did the eye wateringly expensive round trip taxi journey home to retrieve them.

But no such drama today. It will be a quiet night in, with good memories of the fond farewells with our much loved family and friends and much to look forward to – all starting tomorrow.

Very apt quote - thanks Karen Venn!
Very apt quote – thanks Karen Venn!

A fish in every country (plus one)

Posted by Stuart

One of my aims for the trip is to fish in every country we visit over the next year. As a precursor, we are in Kilkenny in Ireland this week to see Helen’s mum before we set off and my birthday present was a day’s salmon fishing on the nearby River Nore at the Mount Juliet estate.

Mount Juliet in Kilkenny
Mount Juliet in Kilkenny

Although I have been fishing on and off since I was 14 I have never caught a salmon despite much trying so to be honest everyone’s expectations were low.

Eddie, the gillie, and his Patterdale terrier Jack looked after me and confirmed it has been a difficult season.

Eddie and Jack
Eddie and Jack

Sure enough there was not even a sniff of a fish all morning. So after lunch I set off up river on my own.


After an hour or two I came to a lovely pool, cast a few times with my trout rod and hooked into a salmon. After a few leaps (from the fish) and much toing and froing ( by me) I eventually had to jump into the river and lift it out on to the bank. My first salmon and on the fly!!


A brief rest for a photo op before swimming back into the Nore
A brief rest for a photo op before swimming back into the Nore

Of course, it went back into the river and after a few moments it swum slowly into the pool.

And that was it- after all these years with not a soul anywhere to see it happen – just me standing there trying to believe that it really did happen, the river flowing past, the rain pouring down and a dipper, its white front bobbing up and down, on the river’s edge.

The little Dipper


By this time it was lashing down, my waders were full of water so I headed back to the hotel, a grin plastered across my face, looking for someone to tell.

Time to smell the roses

On display at Cass
On display at Cass

In the foyer of the building where I work, there’s a Tony Cragg sculpture. I think of this when asked about our big trip which starts very soon. ‘Where are you looking forward to going to most of all?’ is a frequent question.

Why I’m reminded of the sculpture is because  I first heard of Cragg a couple of years back just after we bought the van. We took it out for a drive into deepest Surrey and stumbled upon the Cass Sculpture Foundation in Goodwood. It’s an amazing place and we idled a pleasant few hours wandering through the parkland dotted with  massive sculptures, including some by Cragg. Reading up about him in the visitor centre, I discovered he had a piece on display in my office block. Really?

So that Monday I went through the foyer as usual but this time looked around me and there it was – an enormous stainless steel construction spiralling up the ceiling. I’d been passing it every morning without seeing it, while doing the commuter juggle of  walking, texting, fumbling in bag for security pass and sipping skinny americano.

Eerie statues in the woods..more from Cass
Eerie statues in the woods..more from Cass

I went up to it, read that it was called Constant Change, studied it for a few minutes and thought about how important it is to just stop sometimes and smell the flowers and how it had taken the van to bring us to a place miles away to see something I’d been oblivious to every morning of my working week.

Back at my desk I passed on this deep, philosophical insight to my colleague. ‘Oh yeah,  the thing with all the faces,’ he said. ‘Faces? Really?  I say. I went back to have another look.

Anyway, that’s the answer to the question what are we looking forward to seeing most on our van journey which will cover 21 countries. It’s wherever we happen to be. Except now we will have time to stop and see.

Ok enough of that.

Still life with van
Still life with van – Molly at Cass


Pink Tasks or Blue Tasks – division of labour VW-style

I can’t remember whose campervan blog we read which divided everything that needs to be done in the van into ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ tasks. Apologies but we’ve shamelessly copied it for what we need to do preparing for 12 months on the road.
Just over two weeks to D* day and Stuart’s list (that’s the blue one if you are too young to remember when boy babies were automatically dressed in blue) has an impressive number of crossed out completed tasks. My pink list is still a healthy length. As well as the admin stuff involved in leaving your house/job/life behind for a year, my van tasks involve stocking the kitchen cupboard with equipment and staple ingredients – in a post-feminist ironic sort of way obviously.
Anything to do with this...definitely a Blue task
Anything to do with this…definitely a blue task


Our different pace to working through our respective lists reminds me of an exercise we had to do on a work training course – the sort you go on to transform you from sloth to dynamo in 4 hours including introductions and a lunch break. The  course leader asked us to imagine we had a project you knew took three days  and the deadline was the 30th of the month. Then pointing to the back wall she said ‘. ‘Now go stand beside the day you’d start working on it’.
We obediently swung round to see that the width of the back wall was plastered with a strip of post it notes numbered 1-30. After a moment’s hesitation at day 27, I settled on day 25. One brave soul stood at day 28. ‘I’ll do an all nighter.” she said. Bafflingly at least 3 people stood beside  day 1. What’s that about? Didn’t they have any other work to do? Most huddled round no 15- 17. I reckon if Stuart did the course that’s where he’d be standing.
Testing the new drive away awning - a pink task
Testing the new drive away awning – a pink task


All now positioned by our chosen Post Its we looked expectantly at the trainer for the ‘right’ answer. Turns out there wasn’t one. As long as the job gets done, it shouldn’t matter when you start. The aim of the exercise was simply to highlight how challenging it must be if you are  a ‘day 2’ person managing a ‘day 18-er’ or more stress-inducingly a ‘day 28-er’. I remind Stuart of this ‘no right answer’ message when he looks anxiously at my list. Sure there’s plenty of time yet. Dinnae fash yersel.
*departure date 28 September sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao
Tethering the drive away awning to terra firma in the face of the gale blowing in from the Atlantic to Clifden - a blue task. Also blue, the task of throwing the awning away when the wind ripped a hole through it making it unusable.
Tethering the drive away awning to terra firma in the face of the gale blowing in from the Atlantic to Clifden – a blue task. Also blue, the task of throwing the awning away when the wind ripped a hole through it making it unusable.


All tasks relating to cooking are Pink this Remoska casserole
All tasks relating to cooking are Pink this Remoska casserole


..and this fish supper.
..and this fish supper.
..and this boudin blanc dish. Another use for the Remoska.
..and this boudin blanc dish. Another use for the Remoska.
All the driving is a blue task
All the driving is a blue task


And all the navigation is pink
And all the navigation is pink, subject to the understanding that on the road there are no wrong turns and no such concept as ‘lost’.