I studied Engineering Science at Durham University from 1979-82 and was a member of St. Cuthbert’s Society. Durham operates a collegiate system but unlike the other colleges with large halls of residence to accomodate the students Cuths has only a small number of residential students and the rest “live out”. I spent my first year in residence in the South Bailey – at the end of the peninsular formed by the river Wear. But for my second and third years I lived out at the Shafto Arms in Langley Moor. This was a pub that had been converted into student accommodation in a small mining village a few miles outside Durham.
My fellow “Cuths Engineers” who also lived at Shafto were : Tim DREW Simon HAYE John KIDD (Pongo) Steve BARRETT The main picture above was taken on Palace Green after our graduation ceremony in 1982.
Living out meant that we needed our own transport and being engineers we managed to run and maintain a motley collection of sometimes working vehicles.
My memory is a little hazy but I think Simon had a Honda 400/4 that he rode up from Reading each term but after a cam chain problem and dropping oil all over the Cuths courtyard he upgraded to a Yamaha XS750 with a very loud Marving pipe. I can remember Tim having a Ford Escort van and Pongo had a very new yellow Mini. Steve had a Honda 550/4 (I had an identical one) and then an Escort van (identical to Tim’s) and finally a VW Scirocco. I started with the Honda 550/4, then a Honda 750 Phil Read Replica and finally a Honda CBX 1000.
Lots of stories I could tell if I could remember them but at least I have managed to unearth some old photographs as memoroy joggers…
To leave Hauts Du Brel at the end of January, head down through Spain to Portugal to spend a few days with Tim and Helen and then on to Morocco. We had to be back by 24 Feb, which gave us over 3 weeks to play with but nothing booked apart from the first leg to Alvor in the Algarve.
Alexander and I (with a lot of help from Google, Booking.com and AirBnB when we could get an Internet connection…) Georgina was flying down to Faro to meet up for the Portugal stay and then she was flying off to Australia. Susan was hoping to join but was struck down with Flu after the Egypt trip.
Suffice to say that we did the trip in my Land Rover and lived to tell the tale… Although we felt this was sure to be a more reliable option than the Renault 4 we originally had in mind there was the small issue that the Land Rover had done 300,000 miles was making a few funny noises and had recently had a misfire problem.. Oh yes, and the timing belt was overdue for a change.
I took masses of tools and didn’t need them (apart from some duct tape).
We took loads of books to read and never looked at them.
We took fishing gear and didn’t fish.
We took tennis stuff and… you get the picture..
I bought a dash cam to protect against errant donkey carts and the general melee that is driving in Morocco, but this turned out to be of dubious legality so was not used much – they confiscate drones and are paranoid about security.
Although little of this was planned in advance, this was the route we took, highlighting the main places we stayed.
This is the running order and is followed in the rest of this post.
San Sebastien Plasencia Alvor – visiting Tim and Helen Seville Ferry crossing Tangier Asillah Larache Lixus Roman City Rabat Meknes Volubilis Roman City Chefchouen Tetouan Ferry Crossing Algeciras Granada Valencia Barcelona Circuit Catalunya – F1 winter testing Home
I had booked a place in the old part of San Sebastien with parking, which was a bit surprising as there is not much parking available around there. The road outside the accommodation was being dug up so we couldn’t even get near it in the car so went on foot. The owner then explained that there was parking – but it was in an (expensive) underground car park nearby – and that would be extra ! I asked if there was any free parking and he pointed out a street on the map about 20 minutes walk away, which I recognised as we parked in the same place when I was here with Susan in October. So we set off and parked the car in this quiet street and walked back in to the town.
Visited a few pintxos bars and then headed back for the night. In the morning we had a 20 minute walk to get the car so we stopped for breakfast in a local cafe – first taste of toast with olive oil and tomatoes.
Then we went to get the car – only to find IT WASN’T THERE !
First reaction was – “We’ve got the wrong street” and “Maybe we parked a bit further along”, but then Alexander recognised the van parked a few cars back and spotted some broken car window glass in the gutter… Panic starting to get a grip “Someone has stolen the car!”. And then it sinks in – we’re in a foreign country where we can’t speak the language, all we have is our overnight bags as everything else was in the car. Minor point but we have some accomodation booked for tonight that is a 6 hour drive away and were hoping for an early start and it’s a non refundable booking. Thought of calling the Police but : a. Don’t know the number and b. Can’t speak the language Decide to phone the owner of the accommodation (who told us to park here) to see if he can help and agree to head back to his place..
On the long walk back to his place lots of thoughts going through my mind – in addition to the obvious one of what the f&#k do we do now. My car is a 13 year old 300,000 mile Land Rover – who the hell would want to steal it ?
Get back to the place and things start to fall into place – the owner has phoned the police and they have the car. We just need to get over there and fill in some paperwork to get it back…
It turns out that someone smashed the window, then someone else called the police and they turned up and decided to tow it away rather than leave it like that. Were they trying to get in to steal stuff – we did foolishly leave some things on the back seat – and were disturbed before they could get in ? Fortunatey nothing was stolen, but it did take a while to fill in forms and make statements to the Police before we could get the car back – then a long drive to do – and we had to fix the window.
For the trip down we were planning on 5-6 hours driving per day and simple overnight stops, but today was my birthday – one to remember with the car incident – so I had booked a Parador, which was the best place we stayed in on the whole trip.
The next leg took us further down through Spain, across into Portugal and on to Alvor, where Tim and Helen spend six months of the year and have recently bought an apartment. We were staying in an apartment on the beach for four days.
Dropped Georgina off at Faro airport and then went on for an overnight stop in Seville, giving us an easy drive to catch the ferry at Algeciras the next day – very unsure about how long the formalities would take for the car.
We were a little concerned about the crossing – we had no ticket and had read a lot of stories on line about long delays when trying to bring in a car and problems with ticket touts. In the event it all went smoothly as they seem to have streamlined the whole process and tightened security. The car was X-rayed before being allowed into Morocco – don’t know what they were looking for. 1.5 hour crossing.
After a few days in Tangier we went south to Rabat (capital of Morocco) but stopped off at a few places on the way. Assillah is a picturesque seaside town with a very arty flavour.
Went to see the Roman site of Lixus and begin to understand more about the history of Morocco and Mediterranean trade. A huge site but with only low walls remaining. Here was the largest fish salting facility in the empire..
Lixus overlooks the modern town of Larache which is an active fishing port.
We had considered heading further south to Marrakech (which was the original plan) but we had been there before and there were other places to explore in the North of Morocco so we headed East to Meknes, which turned out to be a small version of Marrakech and the most “Moroccan” of the places we visited.
Our second Roman city – this one built on the grain and olive oil farmed in the area. Unlike Lixus, many of the mosaics were still in place and more of the structures were still standing.
Really pretty “blue city”.
Stayed in a “proper” hotel in Tetouan as we needed a bit of comfort and to get some washing done..
We had looked at driving to Ceuta which is a Spanish city on Moroccan soil, but had read stories about long delays at the border. In the end we decided to take the same crossing to get back to Spain. The queue for X-raying the car (again) was very long so we had sniffer dogs and a search instead. Fortunately Alexander had resisted all the offers of “weed” that we had received during our stay – Chefchouen is a major producer apparently.
Stayed the night in Garnada and did have in mind to visit the Alhambra palace – but it was booked up weeks in advance even in February…
We spotted that F1 winter testing was taking place this week near Barcelona so had to call in to take a look… The Mercedes look like they might be hard to beat.
The objective was to be away from the Quercy during Jan/Feb to avoid the cold, miserable weather so it was nice to come home to warmth and blue skies and to see the almond in blossom.
And despite being “stolen” and making a few funny noises and having covered an extra 3,500 miles on this trip the Land Rover worked perfectly…
This was another visit to Hurghada on the Red Sea (arranged by Georgina) and this time we had Alexander and Susan joining us.
Non stop sunshine the whole week (it never rains) so plenty of time for reading and sun bathing. No kite surfing this time but we did a couple of trips – one in a submarine boat and a snorkelling trip to a secret coral reef.
Apologies for the large number of pictures of the reef, but I started with an infinite number and have done well to cut it down this much – the rich colours and amazing diversity have to be seen to be believed.
Welcome to my Christmas blog post – which is a sort-of substitute for sending Christmas cards and provides an opportunity to look back on 2019 and highlight some of the things that happened…
New Year at Ravenside
I spent New Year with Chris and Corinne on their small holding near Newcastle. No major projects this year (like barn building) but lots of other jobs to be getting on with.
On my way back to France (driving in the Land Rover this trip) I stopped off to see Nanna and went out to lunch with Lucy and Bella…
Back home in early January to glorious sunshine…
In January I flew to Alvor in the Algarve to visit Tim and Helen who now spend the winter there. First I had to take Hebe up to Limoges for Alexander and Laurena to dog sit. This invariably involves a visit to the Brasserie Michard, but I see from this photograph that we went somewhere else on this occasion..
Back home, then off to Toulouse for the flight to Faro…
Back home and off to Limoges again to collect Hebe…
In late February Alexander, Georgina and I went off to Morocco for a week. The previous year we had spent a week in Agadir but were looking for a bit more excitement and we certainly found it in Marrakech…
Just when I was starting to think I was getting the hang of the new bike and having successfully completed the 3 day navigation enduro in the Dordogne, I went out for a ride with some of the young lads from Lot of Bikes…
Organised by John from Lot of Bikes, this was a team event involving navigation (with map and compass!), trail riding to obscure locations and solving tricky clues – the last one being attached to a buoy floating in Montcuq lake ! http://v2xs.com/golden-gnome-treasure-hunt/
I don’t get time for quite so many adventures in the summer time as I have to pretend to do a bit of work selling shade sails. But there are plenty of fetes and events to fill the evenings and you never know who you might meet…
Doug, Mark and myself “The Old School” signed up to do a motorbike navigation event in the Pyrenees called The Vince. It is run by a rather eccentric guy called Austin VINCE who has done lots of round the world tours and now regularly runs adventure holidays.
The 2019 event is restricted to the use of maps and compasses only – no GPS allowed. Austin and his team have placed a series of small metal tags on objects scattered around the Pyrenees – typically on trees/posts/electric pylons. He has then supplied a very small scale map and guide book to tell you exactly where each tag is located. The event is held over two days and you are allowed exactly 12 hours each day to navigate your way around the objects collecting the information on the tags. Different tags score different amounts of points. The winner is the team with the most points at the end of day 2. http://v2xs.com/the-vince/ http://v2xs.com/the-vince-2/ http://v2xs.com/the-vince-3/
Well it’s not the end of the year yet… Georgina, Alexander and Laurena should be here for Christmas, then I’m flying to the UK for a tour of the UK to visit the family. Back here early January to start the adventures again – trip to Alvor and Morocco at end of January…
Just back from a week in Hurghada, Egypt with Georgina…
This trip was arranged many months ago by Georgina as we decided that we would need some winter sun in November. As she works for Hays Travel she was able to find a great deal on an all-inclusive package deal with TUI. This was a first for me having not done a package deal before but it was fantastic. If you just want to relax in the sun by the pool this could be the perfect holiday. Average tempertures were in the high twenties and we didn’t see a cloud all week – not too surprising as the average annual rainfall in Hurghada is 3mm !
But package holidays like this are what you make them and we were looking for a bit more than just tanning and consuming the huge variety of all-inclusive food, wine and cocktails on offer…
Our resort hotel was the Jaz Bluemarine which was right on the Red Sea. It is huge – has over 1,000 rooms and 20 swimming pools..
The beach runs along a shallow lagoon which with the steady wind made this a perfect place to learn kite surfing (there was even a kite school on the beach).
I had read that this was a great spot for learning to kite surf and on the first day went down to the beach to book in for some lessons…
Having done quite a bit of windsurfing and having had one kite surfing lesson in the UK I was hoping I would quickly get the hang of it – but it proved a tricky skill to learn. After 9 hours of lessons over the course of the week I managed to get my level 2 certificate. My target was level 3 but that required me to waterstart and then plane for 50m in each direction. I was only managing about 10-20m.
My biggest windsurfing sail is 6.5 m2 – we started the training with a 9 m2 kite and once using the board we were up to 17 m2 !
On the positive side the instructor said another 4 hours and I would be surfing independently. My kite control was good but board control and body positioning needed more practice – maybe next time…
Swimming With Dolphins
We booked a day trip to go snorkelling and swimming with Dolphins in the open sea, which was an amazing experience. The trip also included snorkelling on a couple of coral reefs and rides on inflatables being towed behind a speed boat.
It was a full day and an early start – we were collected at 5.30am !
I carried on with my kite surfing lessons while George went on a scuba diving trip..
Quad Biking In The Desert
Another trip was quad biking in the desert. I thought this would be quite tame but the bikes eventually wind up to about 60 km/h which is plenty fast enough across sand with lots of bumps – enough to bounce you out of the seat if you don’t hang on tight making it tricky to use the GoPro with one hand while controlling the bike with the other.
We went 20 Km or so into the desert to a Bedouin village for camel rides and tea..
Chilling By The Pool
Plenty of time for chilling and tanning (some of the pools were heated like bath water) and taking advantage of the all inclusive food and drink. I managed to read both of the books I had brought on the trip.
Caught the coach back to the airport (along with 200 other people), which arrived 3 hours before the flight, only to be told there was a three hour delay. After some waiting around this turned into a 5 hour delay.
TUI then shipped us back to the hotel for a meal where some of our fellow travellers took full advantage of the complimentary beverages on offer…
Eventually got home 5 hours later than planned, arriving at Georgina’s house in Brighton at 4am…