Part One: The 2016 road trip was the 15th consecutive European road trip that I’ve done and although it’s difficult to pick out which of those has been the best there is no doubt that this trip is a definite contender.
I think there are a few things that contribute and that have to come together to make for an outstanding road trip, and I suppose most bikers will have their own list of what does it for them.
For me it includes: – good roads, decent weather, decent accommodation, great scenery and if I’m traveling with others then its got to be good company and the 2016 trip ticked each of those boxes … oh and of course it always has to include this
I had set off on my own to stay at my brothers in Wrecclesham, which is on the outskirts of Farnham in Surrey. The plan was that I would stay there on the Saturday evening before two separate meet ups the following day en route to Plymouth for the Sunday sailing to Santander.
There isn’t a great deal to say about my ride down there other than that it was done in the continuing odd weather of this years English summer – which really means a mix of nice and dry, heavy rain, hail, wind, sunshine and a bit more rain – so wet gear on, wet gear off, wet gear on etc. Had the weather been decent then I would have taken a more leisurely route on the A roads and took in some of the Cotswolds but as it was, I just stuck it out for the most part on the motorways.
I arrived a little after 4pm and took my evening meal with my brother and sister in law at the The Spotted Cow (Farnham).
On Sunday morning I was off after breakfast and headed for Popham Airfield which is an unlicensed airfield around six miles south west of Basingstoke in Hampshire. The airfield is just off the A303 and was a really convenient place to meet up with my friend Colin who was traveling from Sittingbourne in Kent, as well as offering a decent cup of coffee and breakfast it’s a biker friendly place and makes for a decent stop off. We met as planned, had a coffee and general chat and after half an hour or so set off for our next meet up at the Haldon Grill on the A38 south of Exeter.
We met with Mick and Rich and had lunch before doing the last 40 or so miles to Plymouth. The journey south on the A38 is nothing to write home about, it’s a major A road that runs from Nottinghamshire right down to Bodmin in Cornwall and is a mix of dual carriageway and single lane, although it cuts through some pretty scenery it doesn’t really tick any of the memorable route boxes but it does provide the way to Plymouth and the ferry for Spain.
We were traveling on the Brittany Ferries Plymouth – Santander route, and although Santander is some 60 or so miles further down the coast from Bilbao where we had traveled to last year (from Portsmouth) the sailing is actually about four hours shorter.
The ship – the Pont-Aven was good with decent facilities for the 20 or so hour crossing. It’s worth saying that Brittany Ferries have quite a stark and contrasting policy to P&O Ferries when it comes to looking after and securing motorcycles. Whilst Brittany Ferries actively advertise the fact that they will look after your bike and have plenty of crew on hand to immediately secure bikes, P&O go out of their way to let you know that it is your responsibility, seemingly have minimal staff on duty and all in all provide a service that just doesn’t come across as being as good as on Brittany Ferries.
The crossing was pretty good although there was a slight swell at times that made for a slightly queasy feeling early on in the sailing. I was up early and had a wander around but despite the promise of good weather for the day ahead there was no stunning sunrise to greet me in the way there was last year as we had approached Bilbao.
Whilst i had my first coffee of the day (€0.80 from the vending machine) I spoke with a woman who told me she had been up all night drinking and chatting (as part of a Hen Party), I did say to her that I hoped she was driving and when I asked her where she was going she explained to me that they were only in Santander for a couple of hours before rejoining the boar for the return sailing back to Plymouth … fair enough of course but I couldn’t help but think it lacked a little imagination for a Hen Party.
After leaving the boat we were set to travel to Irurtzon in Navarre (Northern Spain) which is pretty close (about 14 miles) to Pamplona the historical capital of the Navarre region. Our route took us initially towards Bilbao and then to Bedia on the N-240, Lezaaun, Urdanoz, Anoz and onto Irurtzon.
As with last years trip we had decided to share the route planning and the first day had been my turn and we traveled pretty much as planned and on some fine and fast roads.
Our accommodation was good and we stayed at the Hotel Plazaola – it’s a modern hotel with decent facilities and made for a good stop over and with decent food and bar and secure underground parking for the bikes it more than met our needs.
In some respects this years trip had been something of a compromise in terms of where to go to. My own early preference had been to spend a couple of weeks in Spain but with availability of others and taking account of commitments we had decided that we would return via Rotterdam the following Sunday night, arriving back in Hull on the Monday – a week to the day after we had landed at Santander. Additional to that was that our original plan included just the three of us Mick, Rick and me, but fortunately Colin was able to add himself to the trip late on and this meant that whilst three of us we would travel back from Rotterdam for our journey home to the North West, at some point Colin would leave us and head for Calais for his return to the UK via the Euro-tunnel service to Dover.
Our compromise on arrangements meant that in broad terms our route would take us across parts of Northern Spain with stop overs at Irurtzun and Bossost and then onto stopovers in Lodeve in France – with these first few days allowing us plenty of time in the deserted Pyrenees and on miles and miles of fabulous roads, before heading via the Rhone Alps to Beacroissant in France, then to Burnhaupt-le-Haut (France) and onto our final stop over in Berdorf in Luxembourg.
Although the weather was warm on the ride to Irurtzun we did have some rain around the mid point of the journey – and despite this being a fairly heavy rain shower it was very localized and we back on warm dry roads for almost all of the journey apart form the last 15 miles or so when once again we were hit by some heavy localized rain.
What we didn’t know as we left the ferry and port of Santander that this years Road Trip was to become an absolute classic played out on empty roads against a backdrop of exceptional sun drenched scenery and in scorching temperatures.
Read more in Part Two.
Some pictures are posted below. Clicking the first picture will open a scrolable gallery