After a pretty dry autumn in SW England it was finally time to hit the road and see if living in a van lives up to expectations. Typically, the night I chose to head from the Somerset Levels down to the Brittany Ferry terminal at Poole was very windy and the wettest for months. A very grey dawn arrived and while the rain had abated there was still a stiff breeze blowing as we boarded the ferry. On the bright side there had, at least, been no leaks in the van.
Despite a 2m swell tossing the pilot cutter about, the all but empty ferry seemed to glide across the Channel to disgorge it’s cargo at Cherbourg, on the Brittany coast, to a Gallic welcome of a few token blue tears in the otherwise still grey overcast.
Driving south through Nantes and on to La Rochelle, ‘La Belle France’ was definitely looking more like the morning after a rough night, with more rain and wind at regular intervals.
Having reached La Rochelle to be greeted with yet another squally front I decided to push on cutting inland to the pretty city of Bergerac. It was still doing it’s utmost to rain the next morning, so back on the road.
Finally, the weather started to improve somewhat giving way to increasing amounts of ‘blue cloud’ and finally the rains stopped. I was to learn later that I had probably ‘got off’ lightly since my ultimate destination – southern coast of Spain – had just had some of the wettest weather in decades with severe flooding in places. I was to see the traces of all the rain, right across the northern plains of Spain, in due course.
From Bergerac I headed south through Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Agen, and Auch before dropping down off the plateau to Lannemezan with the Pyrenees, already bearing their first early falls of snow, forming a wall in front of me.
I now had to make a decision: head west and follow the Atlantic coast south through northern Spain and Portugal, head east and follow the Mediterranean coast south through Spain, or procrastinate and just keep heading south and see if I could get across the mountains. Hardly a difficult choice really – head due south!
From this point on the landscape and architecture began to take on a distinctly mountainous feel.
The air was getting chillier too as I climbed steadily higher to my destination for the night at Saint Lary-Soulan.
A beautiful, cold, crisp morning and decision time ….. yes, go for it!
So I waited until late morning to give the sun time to get up and into the valley in the hope of melting as much black ice as possible and then it was time to go.
Initially the road continued on in the same fairly rough condition as it had been on the approaches to Saint Lary, but then suddenly it was transformed into a smooth new bitumen surface free of snow, though not entirely of black ice. Numerous hairpins later and then the road levelled off somewhat and then there was the tunnel entrance (above).
Starting at 1821m at the French end the tunnel descends over 3050m to emerge in España at 1664m.
It’s the ‘Year of the Cat’!