Zagan the motorhome’s been placed in stasis, a bit like Han Solo in Star Wars (so he likes to think). He’s been frozen in hibernation, and is stood in his secure storage location on a farm a mile from our house in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire. When we finally got up there yesterday, we found we’d been away for so long someone else has used our space! Matthew (who runs the place) quickly found us another spot, which is much easier to get the van into, so we’re happy. Zagan’s cupboards have been emptied, his tanks drained, and he’s now getting some well-earned rest. Much fettling is needed before whatever we do next – new front tyres, new exhaust, servicing for the fridge and heater, possibly stiffer front suspension springs, a damned good wash and umpteen other smaller things.
So, that’s it folks. Another long-old wander done, and we’re all in one piece, woo hoo! We set off on a rainy November day last year and arrived back on a rainy July day, having travelled through France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, Andorra and Morocco. Thinking about it, as our travel insurance only allowed us back in the UK for a short while, which we used to get an MOT, we’ve been on the road pretty much since January 2016, visiting over 20 countries from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert. We’re a bit knackered, travelling about sometimes doesn’t feel like the holiday it is, and are ready to call a halt for a while and regroup.
Our mates, and in many ways inspiration for life Jules and Phil, met up with us last year, and our paths converged for a few months of the tour in Europe and North Africa. Coming to the end of these trips is always a little emotional, and we were both really pleased when they said they’d booked the same ferry as us home. Brothers in arms, if you like. We last saw them in Gibraltar after a roller-coaster trip in Morocco, before they headed to the Alps for some skiing then making their way south into Italy and Croatia, then back north through Switzerland and Germany. On the way they used meetings with friends and running events as a way to get closer to local life, and to add focus to their journey. In Morocco we all ran the Marrakech half marathon, in Croatia they ran the Plitvički Lakes half marathon, and in Switzerland Phil (who has the character/nadgers to ski off the Aiguille du Midi), did the Zermatt half marathon, which basically involves running/walking/crawling 21km up the side of a mountain, I kid you not.
So, on our last night of the tour we nipped around the free motorways across northern France to a municipal aire next to a small walled town called Bergues (50.9652382, E2.4361002). Looking at the place now on Google it looks a historic and pretty town, but that was a little lost on me.
Pulling up alongside their van we jumped out, hugged, and started talking and supping beer. That was about 3pm in the afternoon, and we were still at it 7 hours later, having made it into the town for food and some jug-sized head-hammering delicious Belgian Trappist beers. The two of ’em had recently turned up at a Belgian town to enter a run (Phil and Jules, not our beers), and found themselves to be the only foreigners in a small village event, and in turn the guests of honour. They were instructed to park up on the vicar’s driveway, were given a special prize of assorted weird foods (jar of de-shelled snails anyone?) and pretty much fed and watered for two days. Fantastic.
The next morning the alarm went off, a shock in itself, and once Ju had had a whiff of my beery breath it became obvious she was driving to the ferry. Under rain-laden skies and on a lorry-fat motorway we cruised the 50 minutes to Calais. Anyone using the port these days will know the sight which greets you there: miles of high security fencing and razor wire, like you’re entering a maximum security prison. Just before the fences started we saw a handful of dejected-looking migrants, sat around waiting for something. A sad sight, these guys have probably crossed the Sahara with next to no means to get this far, and for what?
On board the ferry we caught up with Phil and Jules again, and just before we left the port I headed on deck. Looking off to the west I was rocked a tiny bit by the sight of the beach. Almost four years ago we stayed on the aire which used to be next to that beach (it’s gone now) on our last night of a two year life-changing adventure. I’d walked the cold, windswept beach and watched the ferries come and go, one of which was about to rejoin me to ‘normal’ life. Since I’d left that old life under a cloud of depression, the thought of being forced back into it was less than appealing, and a battle raged within me. This time, I smiled a little. That feeling’s no longer there. This time we were both keen to come home. Our options are open, which is a massively liberating sensation.
Ju had been worried about the weather and impending sea-sickness. We’d used the chunnel on the way out to avoid the problem, which was a fun experience, but the ferry was so much cheaper so we took a chance on the way back. Although the surface looked rough, the boat was steady and cruised the sleeve (the French call the English Channel La Manche – the sleeve) smoothly. Sat looking back at a retreating sliver of France, the grey-white cliffs of Dover came at us in a rush as we spun around in the dock, and my heart beat went up a little as I tried to persuade myself I could remember to drive on the left. Another farewell hug with friends at the top of the car deck stairs and once again we were alone.
Phil and Jules: thank you. Thanks for sharing your time with us, and for graciously putting up with me being, on occasion, a miserable git. Thanks for giving us the push to do the runs in Morocco, we’re so pleased we did ’em. Thanks for continuing to gift us ideas and thoughts for the future. Thanks for being delightful, adventure-seeking nutters.
Out of Dover, onto the M20, and into traffic. Traffic, if you spend any time in Blighty, is a fact of life. Traffic, once you’re out roaming around Europe, is an oddity. This is the fifth longish tour we’ve done, so I’m used to the immediate weight of vehicles on the roads now, and the pressing rush to be somewhere. On previous occasions I’ve been appalled at just how full Britain’s roads are, at the sudden signs blaring away about parking charges in motorway services, height barriers and the manic-desperate manoeuvres cars would pull off to gain a few seconds here and there. Our 4 hour journey home took closer to 7 as we detoured around, or sat in various lengthy delays all the way along the route north, and I was relieved to make this final section of travel home in one piece.
Getting home Charlie went a bit mad. He’s always a little barky when we arrive somewhere new, keen to get out and sniff around do a bit of ‘marking’, but back in the Cooler he embarked on a barkathon, yapping away in excitement as we emptied, emptied, emptied Zagan, bags and bags of clothes, food, beer and wine, books, half of our lives. The Cooler is deliberately a small space, designed to be just enough for us. It works perfectly when everything’s packed away, but as it all piled up in here we felt crammed in, unable to move. Thankfully my mum and dad had offered a lift back from the storage place, so after we’d hugged ‘hello’ back to them, and re-introduced an even more barky dog, we were dropped off and able to empty some of the bags (we being Ju, I sat and stared at the roof, knackered).
A bag of fish and chips from the chippy a few doors down for tea. We’d drooled over the idea in France, and the deep-fried Englishness didn’t last long out of the paper! After that we collapsed. The end of a tour. It’s finished. We’re back, safe, secure, in our own space. The highlight for me, by the way, was Morocco. I enjoyed the way it stretched me. It made me, again, peer inside of me to work out a bit more of who I am, and what I really think about the world and the people in it. I enjoyed both the Fes and Marrakech half marathons (once I’d finished ’em – I put in way too little training to enjoy the actual slogs themselves), but the day which really stands out for me was the one where we drove through the Ait Mansour oasis gorge and onwards, all the way across dirt roads and river beds to Icht on the very northern edge of the Sahara. What a bloody amazing, beautiful and stupid (for a 2 wheel drive vehicle) drive that was, I’ll never forget it.
Last night Charlie snored louder than ever, happy to be back in reasonable temperatures and his home bed. We both zonked out from sheer exhaustion. This morning Ju’s completed the put-away and the Cooler again feels great. My dad’s been up here from time to time, keeping an eye on it, but I’m still surprised to find everything works! The tenant’s taken good care of the rest of the house, and our little shop (which we rent out separately, we don’t run ourselves) is in the process of having a very professional-looking fit out to make it a phone sales and repair shop.
What next? Well, I’m in the final stages of getting geared up for a three month contract, doing some technical writing for an old manager of mine, a guy who is also a friend and I’ve a lot of respect for. We don’t really need the money, but I need the focus of work for a while, and the money will no doubt find a home. Various ideas are bouncing around as to what we do in the coming year, but nothing has firmed itself up yet. Having a purpose is important in life, and we’re turning attention to finding that purpose again. What’s important to us? Not quite sure yet, we need a bit of reflection I think.
Right-o, that’s it I guess. We’ve friends and family to catch up with, paperwork to sort out, washing to do and more British food to eat! We’ll do some more blog posts while we’re still for the next few months, summarising costs, how our equipment performed, highlights of the countries we visited and the like, so keep an eye out for ’em if you’re interested, or subscribe to the email updates and we’ll send you a Sunday email reminder when we’ve written a post. In the meantime, if you’re after a motorhome travel blog fix, we can recommend our friend’s blogs: ourbumble.com and charliethechucklebuss.com, or there are a ton more on our Fellow Traveller’s page.
Thanks for following. Thanks for all the support. Thanks to all the folks we met on the road who’d read some of this here rambling life-blog. Thanks for all the comments and help we’ve received as we’ve rumbled along. Generally, thanks, ta, cheers, merci, gracias, shukran, and happy travels!