Green Lane Holiday in the Pyrenees – Captain’s Log
Anne and Richard with Land Rover 90 and Caravan
Ashley and Karen with Land Rover 90 and Tent
Neil and Kevin With Land Rover 90 and Tent’s
The Adventure Begins
Friday 25th August left Milton Keynes at 13.00hrs after the first breakdown the Land Rover would not start to get it out of the garage, Jump start it with the 88”, then decide to take the battery off the 88” to put on the 90. This done we are off, call Ashley, Karen, Neil and Kevin on the way. We meet Neil and Kevin at the Little Chef at Bicester then collect Ashley and Karen on the A34. Steady run down to Portsmouth with no traffic we arrive in Portsmouth at 16.00hrs. The ferry does not sail till 20.30hrs with embarkation at 19.30hrs, went to fill up with fuel as we can use the company fuel card, back to the dock and something to eat. Queue up to get on the ferry, wonder how they get all these cars on the boat in an hour. We are off; leave Blighty with a tear in the eye! Eventually meet up with the others, the ferry we are on is called the Bretagne she is one of the biggest ferries in the Brittany Ferries fleet. Have a snack then go to the bar (there’s a surprise!) watch some cabaret then go to bed late again.
Arrive in France
Saturday 26th August wake up early shower and off to breakfast (we decided to have a cabin on the boat it cost a bit extra but well worth the money). We were second of the boat so Richard videoed the others as they came off. We made our way south getting lost in Nantes (nothing new there) and had a row about map reading! Neil said that we toured the red light district. We stop to check out an oil leak from Ashley’s gearbox and then a strange noise from Neil’s gearbox, but there was nothing to hold us up. We travelled just over 300 miles and stopped for the night just outside Perigueux in the Dordogne, at a campsite called Le Grande Dorgies run by Dutch people with a Welsh barmaid.
And on to Prats
Sunday 27th August wake up about 7.40 pack up shower and have breakfast, leave the campsite at 9.15am, the campsite was excellent. Getting lost in the Dordogne we loose a lot of time, although the scenery was excellent we choose to take the motorway to make up for lost time, we join the motorway at Toulouse and follow it all the way to Perpignan and turn right to Prats De Mollo. It was a very long boring drive but it got us there in good time arriving about 1800hrs, with a mileage of 708 just over 50 miles more than we thought. Get set up and meet up with Mike from Pyrenean 4×4, we all go into Prats for dinner at a café called “Snack Le Sud” by the time we went home Neil was in love with the waitress.
First day off road
Monday 28th August, Journey down to the town centre to get some packing for lunch meet Mike at 09.30hrs, we also join up with some fellow Land Rover owners with a very tasty 110, brand new! John who has bought the 110 for his retirement in a few years his crew Ruth, John and Olive decide not to join us today but we will all join up tomorrow. We set off at a cracking pace (reminds Richard of Morocco!) lots of trees and “normal” off road tracks, its not long before we stop Mick wants to test our driving skills, he points to a very steep hill and asks us not to use diff lock but to fail the climb and prove that you can reverse down in a controlled decent, Richard’s first try is ok but he doesn’t quite make it so he tries again, must be another practice run! On the forth attempt after smashing the diff on a rock he makes it to the top. We all have a go with Richard sitting in with Karen; the only scary bit was as they came down the hill the 90 jumped out of low range. A full days off road driving followed with many “technical” hill/rock climbs. On the way home we visited a truck stop on the French Spanish border where you are able to sample lots of different wines and port before buying, we ended up at the supermarket at Ceret to get some food for a BBQ.
A telling off
Tuesday 29th Woke to another nice day, got a telling off this morning for making to much noise last night and having a BBQ, what us! Must have been the loud northerners that came in late last night, can’t get away with the BBQ thought the big burnt patch of grass gives us away.
Meet Mick at the supermarket also the crew of the 110. Today was totally different to yesterday we had good views of the mountains, I am not sure how high we went but it was high, we drove up to a watchtower above Prats the scenery was fantastic. We had a pleasant lunch stop and a chat with the owners of the 110, carry on and have dinner in Spain, the only problem with this is that Spanish restaurants don’t open till 8.30, so we have some beers in a bar till dinner time. Have mixed feelings about the food but generally not as good as French, set off back to camp approximately 45 minutes drive some off road and get back about 12.45am having stopped on the border (crossed off road) to look at the stars
Wednesday 30th Got up late, pouring with rain watched the loud northerners pack up they are heading south to get the better weather by the time they are finished the lot of them are soaked, 10 minutes after they leave it was hot and sunny! We all made our way to Perpignan and visited a big supermarket; Neil was fascinated with the amount of car parts on sale. After this we split up as we had arranged to meet up with some friend that were staying at Canet- Plage.
A crashed plane
Thursday 31st August leave at the normal time and travel down the valley, we then go up a mountain with drops at the side that have to be seen to be believed, at the top we have a panoramic view including the border crossing into Spain and all the way to the Med. We walk to the top of the mountain to look at a church/hut; there are views that no photograph would do justice to. Back on the road and well into Spain the pace is brisk, a lunch stop is followed by a brief stop to look at crashed DC6 in which 4 people lost there lives trying to put out a forest fire on the mountain side, the most amazing thing is that it is all still there the bodywork hanging in the trees and the engine smashed into the rocks, somehow it is a very sorry sight.
We go a little further Mick asks if we want to visit a castle, no one is sure who owns it but the local farmer charges 2000 pastas for a good look round, there must have been 60 rooms some in near liveable condition with beautiful tiled floors and good plaster work and some near derelict, you have the run of the place, secret passages, dark holes with massive drops, walk on the roof what ever you please, no safety barriers or warning signs here. We carry on to look at a washed out river crossing, Mick suggested that we come back another day and clear it, but we decided to sort it out there and then, so out come the picks and shovels, gloves, video cameras etc.
A plan was hatched to sort out a bad cross slope, cut down a tree and drive into the river, up the river and turn right using a bolder to get you out onto a sandy beach, yes we had made it! A few miles further on we come across a blocked track, no problem we take to the rough open land one stop to winch a tree out of the way and we are off. We finish the track on the wrong side of a sign telling you not to go beyond it under any circumstances! To late! A very long drive home stopping to have a meal in a Spanish bar, it was full of local people and very noisy but the food was good Ashley had wild boar, which he said was very good. Got home about midnight.
Then we were 5
Friday 1st September, off at the normal time to meet Mick at La Boulou after he dropped Kevin off at Perpignan airport We then travelled for about an hour and a half down to the Med in Spain pass lots of small bays with sandy beaches and small boats, we turn inland and go up a steep hill with wind generators at the top, spend some time going up and down the hill we also have lunch there, the views were fantastic you could see the sea on three sides. Back to the coast on dirt roads, Neil wants to dip his wheels in the sea and gets some very funny looks from the people sunbathing as he drives into the water. The next track we were going to use has an interdict sign on so we have to go back the way we came. Lots more travelling both on dirt and metalled roads takes us to another beach, we stop at a bar for a beer or two, and Mick decides its time to try “the hill” he has been talking about this hill all week it turns out to be a rock strewn slope going strait up about 200ft with sheer drops all round, Richard is first up and asks Mick which gear to use as it is a bit hard to judge from the bottom Mick suggests 1st and asks him to make sure the back door is shut as a 110” that tried the hill lost all his stuff out of the back it was that steep.
Neil decided to go with Richard, Anne having taken one look at the hill and got out, they got up ok with a bit of scrabbling took some photographs at the top and came back down they had been gone along time it seems that you can’t see the top from the bottom and there is another couple of hundred feet to go after you go over the first ridge. Neil is next to go but after lots of attempts including one backwards he has to admit defeat. Ashley’s first try was quite spectacular he didn’t make it to the top and on the way back down his motor jumped out of low box and Mick can be herd shouting brake, brake, second attempt he makes it to the top and is soon on his way back down. Neil lets some air out of his tyres and has another go he got a bit further this time but not to the top. We leave on dirt roads and make our way to a Spanish restaurant called Bar Tappas full of very noisy locals where we had dinner Ashley had wild boar which he said was very good (Neil managed to hit a boar on the way home), another late night and we get home after 1am no wonder the other campers complain!
Saturday 2nd We had no plans to go out today so it was decided that a check over of the motors was in order, Neil changed a prop shaft U/J, Ashley changed a gearbox out put seal and Richard changed a wheel that had gone flat, further investigation showed that the side wall had been pierced. Richard decided to take the tyre off the rim and fit a new inner tube, what the other campers thought of us I don’t know but one complained that he couldn’t hear his TV because Neil was running his engine to pump up Richards’s tyre. The afternoon was spent shopping in Prats, and visiting a fort at the top of the hill behind Prats to get to the fort you had to go up a tunnel with stairs cut into the hill, by the time we all got to the top we all thought that we were going to die it was so steep, it looked like some thing out of an Indana Jones film. After the fort we went back into Prats and sat in the town square in the sunshine and had some beers at a bar.
Out on our own
Sunday 3rd We decided to venture out on our own, we turned left out of the camp site and travelled up hill for an hour and a half where we came to an interdiction at 7,250ft where the views are fantastic, we then turn around and head back down hill looking for a supermarket to get some food and fuel, we had no luck with the food as the supermarkets are closed on Sunday but we managed to get fuel ready for the trip to Andorra on Monday, then back to camp and pack for the trip which will take two days.
Monday 4th We are ready to leave about 9am and travel on mud and narrow roads, the scenery is different again massive hills and not much growth on them, the route takes in some technical driving which had the Range Rover bottoming out at the front and back at the same time, a couple of side slopes that made you twitch and then 3 miles down a dried up river bed with huge boulders, we exit up the river bank which is a bit of a scrabble. A little more roadwork through some lovely villages perched on the hills. We drive into Andorra on the main road, go through passport control without stopping and go to the hotel, this turns out to be a bit of a shock as we were expecting a bit of a dive, it turned out to be a rather nice middle range hotel with all the facilities you would expect, our room had en-suite bathroom, TV and sea view! We had a shower and went down to the bar and had another shock Mick had showered and changed into a clean shirt and trousers. On the way to Andorra we had received a call asking us to get Ashley to call home, it turns out that his Mother was very ill and he decides to get a flight home, Ashley and Karen leave Andorra about 3am to go to Barcelona airport, with Karen driving back to Prats the next day.
Tuesday 5th We get up and have a leisurely breakfast followed by a duty free shopping trip in Andorra Safari aftershave is a good comparison on price £34.00 in John Lewis, £25.00 on the boat and £11.00 in Andorra. We head up out of the valley after buying fuel; Mick buys a tyre for the Range Rover as he damaged one yesterday. Another off road Boarder crossing, last night Mick was telling us how smugglers steal cars strip them out and fill them full of cigarettes and push them off the mountain over the boarder to be picked up by more smugglers, as we drive down the same hill we see several wrecked cars that have been used for smuggling.
Most of the day was spent off road, just before it got dark we came to the last track over the mountain to get home, we came across a large trench dug to prevent off roaders using the track we manage to fill in enough of the hole to be able to get past and drive on about 100ft further on we are stopped again by a huge bolder, it is decided to winch the bolder back down the track and onto the hole Neil volunteers for this. Back on track for home making good time having driven for about an hour Neil had just made comment that one wrong turn would mean half a day out with the undertaker! We find two further areas that have been dug, out by this time it is dark nether Neil or Richard are very keen now there are 1,000ft drops to the right and nowhere to turn round, they manage to build the track up and we all get across but it is a bit worrying. Mick is very unhappy about the state of the track as he keeps his sheep up on this mountain. Another hours drive and we are back in Prats we pick Karen up from the campsite and have another late dinner (10pm) at Snack Le Sud.
Wednesday 6th Today is spent packing up and realising that we may have a problem getting home because the French lorry drivers and farmers have blockaded the oil refineries and motorways, we pack up and go and visit Mick’s house, originally we wanted to stay at Mick’s house as he lets out part of it in the summer but it was fully booked this year. The house is set in a hill at 1000ft and is in a farm type setting with a swimming pool and Land Rovers in the garden. Mick had been listening to the local news and heard that the motorway at Le Boulou was blocked, this is our main road north so we may have a problem. Mick also felt that we may have trouble getting fuel on the way back to the docks, and advised us to get as much fuel as we were able in Spain before we leave for home on Thursday, so Wednesday afternoon was spent on a French rubbish dump looking for cans to put diesel in, anything that would hold more than two litres including old wine kegs were pressed into use.
We put all the fuel we had left into Ashley’s tank and Neil and Richard headed for Spain, the first garage that they get to the attendant did not seem bothered about the amount of diesel they wanted to bye and the number of cans that kept appearing, but the fellow customers wanted to lynch them especially when it came to paying for it all and they wanted to pay separately, and then when he thought that they were finished they produced another jerry can and asked for 5liters of sans plomb for Mick! We have a final dinner and get to bed quite early ready for a long day tomorrow.
Thursday 7th We are ready to leave about 9.15 and set off our first destination is Toulouse Airport to pick Ashley up so he can travel back with Karen, we have decided to do the first part of the trip on the back roads there is no hold up but we make very slow progress and are lucky to make 30miles per hour with the caravan.
The approach to Toulouse airport is blockaded with bonfires and there is total confusion because we don’t know where the main entrance is and have to stop and ask the way from a Gendarme who does not speak English and we don’t speak French, after a lot of hand waving we get there in the end, Karen parks up and goes to find Ashley and we look for somewhere to wait for them, we end up in a tow away zone but no one appears bothered. Karen arrives back with Ashley just as the Gendarme arrive to move us on Richard asks if we can camp here a pat on his pistol holster gives him his answer and we get out while we still can.
The roads are better now and we make good time, but we still see a lot of bonfires on the roundabouts. We stop for a Mc Donald’s at about 9pm we have been travelling all day and decided to look for somewhere to camp, we cant find anywhere near the main road and eventually decide to camp on the services, Karen and Ashley have the small double at the end of our caravan and Neil sleeps on the roof of his 90” Richard has vision of him falling off in the night and expresses his concern, it turns out that he did not sleep on the roof in the end and had a bad night in the passenger seat.
Friday 8th Lots of phone calls back to the UK to try to assess the situation, it does not look good we do not want to run out of fuel in the centre of a French town or industrial area. It is clear that we have not got enough diesel for all of us to make it to St Malo, we plot a route North west to take us to the coast not to far off our planed route. More telephone calls to work and family to tell them that we will not be back on time for work on Monday.
All the time we are travelling we are looking out for fuel we pass lots of garages most of them roped off and signs up saying no fuel, and littered with cars that have run out, the drivers sitting on the grass near by just waiting for some to turn up they could be there for days!
We reach Les Dunes in the early afternoon; we know the area well having had several holidays in this area in the past. We are soon checked in and the caravan and tents pitched, we grab a beer and asses the situation our 90 is running on fumes but we have 5 litres in a can Ashley and Karen are all but empty, Neil has ¼ of a tank and we have a further 40 litres in cans between us. We decided to give the diesel to Ashley and Karen so that they can get home on Saturday as planned.
We all go out for pizza on Ashley’s credit card that evening (thanks Ashley), they will need to leave about 4am to make the ferry, we offer to pack the tent and take it home with us.
Now there are three!
Saturday 9th to late now! We wake up about the time that we should have been getting on the ferry, we have a long breakfast and then sunbathe for the rest of the morning, Neil spends the morning reading in his hammock that he has strung between two trees, Richard has a go in it and decides that he wants one! Neil says that at least they have there own loo paper here even if it is John Wayne type (ask Neil), spend the rest of the day on the beach Richard and Neil looking for topless sunbathers!
Fuel at last
Sunday 10th Up late and breakfast on fresh croissants before we decide which beach to lay on today, we had a BBQ last night using the Pyramid barbeque that Richard got at Billing this year using pine cones as fuel much to Neil’s surprise this worked very well. As we were eating our breakfast an English guy calls out from his car that he has got diesel in Les Sables you can only have 200FF worth, much haste to get down there the queue is down the road but we have no choice but to tag on the end we get our 200FF worth and calculate that it is not quite enough but we manage to convince the man to let us have another 100FF worth. A quick call to the ferry company to make sure there is space on the boat on Tuesday. We spend the rest of the day on the beach to top up our tans before we go home.
Monday 11th Pack up and leave the camp site about 10am, we make our way North and reach St Malo in the early afternoon, go to the booking office and change our tickets to Tuesday. We go into St Malo to the supermarket to get some beer to bring home with us, there is diesel there and Neil fills his tank but Richard decides not to bother saying that he will get some when we get back to England! We walk into St Malo in the early evening to look round it is a very pretty walled town, we walk round the battlements and then into the town centre to get dinner, during the summer there are street entertainers but it is a bit late in the year now, so we have a beer in a kerb side bar and watch the world go bye. After a walk we have dinner in a restaurant called The Lion De Ore the meal is excellent with lots of red wine and lasts all evening.
When we get back to the docks we meet up with two blokes and their son suffering gearbox trouble with their Renault Traffic, they have a trials bike and Neil has a ride round the docks making a hell of a noise Richard is worried about getting moved along. Some more people park along side of us, Neil gets chatting to them and find out that the chap is a musician and singer and gives him a CD, they decide to go to the pub, so we go to bed and leave the door unlocked for Neil.
More fuel trouble
Tuesday 12th Neil got back about 3.30am, and we had to be up by 7am because the embarkation process starts at 8 o’clock and we needed to get the caravan sorted out.
When we got on the ferry we find that our cabin is at the very bottom of the boat, so we go to information and get it changed meet up with Neil who has found his cabin and put his stuff in and cant be bothered to move it he recons that his cabin is next to the engines it is that noisy. The crossing was very smooth and the weather hot and sunny so we sat on deck for a while, then had lunch and went to bed for a couple of hours. We docked in Portsmouth about 6.30pm.
After we got of the ferry we made good progress and decided to look for fish and chips when we were almost home. But Richard had another problem having spent three days extra in France due to there being no fuel we got back to find that the strikes had started up in this country, we travelled up the A34 on fumes, but someone up there must love him because we found a BP station with diesel it took some very tricky driving to get out of there without a scratch due to everyone trying to get in there at once, we then got our fish and chips and got home about 10.30.
We would like to thank Mick Strawson from Pyrenean 4×4 for all his help and support during our holiday, without it we would not have got as much out of our visit to the area.