A Very Scottish Brexit – Two Countries in One Day
Iggy the Hymer motorhome has woken after three days in France, to a beautiful -t-shirt weather morning in Saint-Lons-les-Mines in French Basque country. The commune has kindly placed a free Aire at the top of the village, next to the sports hall and excellent boulangerie. There is water, there is waste disposal, there is grass for the dog… and there is a view to die for of the circling, snow capped Pyrenees.
It is the perfect place to find ourselves on this, most monumental day. Friday, 31st January, 2020. The day that England takes the UK out of the European Union. Brexit Day.
I mean no offence, truly, to our English cousins as I sit here in this beautiful, welcoming, French village with tears in my eyes and my throat. I know many of you do not want this either. And for those of you that do, I am okay with that to. It is your choice, and I wish you good luck with it.
But Jay and I are not English. Back home our nation has woken up to a day of mourning. Many a tear will be shed in Scotland before this day is over.
Our alliance with this beautiful country I have chosen to be in for this final morning, goes back centuries beyond the one we hold with England. We are Europeans, we are children of the world, we treasure the principle of open borders. We treasure our European Citizenship. To travel this incredible continent not just as a visitor, but as a citizen, is one of the great joys of our lives.
This is not the blog post I intended to write this morning. I planned on writing up our four days rapid travelling to get here for this moment in time. But as I began to write, this is what my heart and my head decided needed to be said today.
In an hour or so’s time, when I have finished writing, and Iggy is clean and packed for the road we will head towards those mountains. Cross over one last time as citizens between two countries who have laid down their borders. In the true spirit of the European Union we begin the day in France and we we will end it in Spain.
And that was our plan way back on Sunday when Iggy, Marley and I sat in Armadale in Scotland waiting for Jay to finish his last shift. I’d spent the last four days cleaning out every locker, washing everything, dumping or donating everything we no longer needed or wanted. And no sooner did Jay come through the door but Iggy rumbled into life and began the 1,162 mile drive to our current spot in Saint-Lons-les-Mines.
Our first night was just a short hop. An hour’s drive down to a rural spot near Abingdon services on the M74. We were far too excited to wait till the morning to leave, and it was only a short distance from here to the English border in the morning. The plan was to stop halfway to Dover for the night on Monday, and then catch the ferry last thing on Tuesday night.
It was a fairly sleepless night with the wind buffeting the van from side to side, but this just made the thought of the warm days and sunshine waiting down the road seem even more appealing. As we crossed into England though the thought of a night here had just the opposite effect. It was Brexit week, and we just wanted to get to Dover as quickly as possible and get the heck out of here.
As Jay drove I checked the amendment fee on DFDS if I switched our ferry times. Delighted to see it would only be £20 to take an earlier ferry we swapped to the 00:45 ferry on Tuesday morning and set our sights firmly on Dover. We would sleep when we got to France.
The motorway fairies were on our side and we had a very non typical drive for a Monday in the UK. No traffic jams on the M6 – or later on the M25. We found good petrol stops easily. Our one motorway food stop was at a Greggs which had almost warm vegan steak bakes. On our other stop we had homemade lentil soup in Iggy. The joys of motorhome travel! And finally we sailed sleepily into Dover ferry port with an hour and a half to spare to catch our ferry.
Customs and border control were as seamless and easy as always. We were pulled into the security search shed by the British side for the random customs check. The staff were pleasant and smiley as Marley’s giant waggy tail always seems to make them, and in no time at all we were on the ferry and underway.
Marley gave us her “sad face” as we left her in the van to go upstairs. We fervently hope that one day people will get civilised in our “First world” countries and start having a space for pets and their owners on board these boats. But in the meantime she has to stay in the van on her own for the crossing.
Apart from supermarket trips ( when she’s sitting on the dashboard outside waiting for us ) Marley is almost never alone. Maybe about ten hours a year in total. We felt so sorry for her when we found her abandoned in Greece. Our poor little baby dog all alone and starving in the bushes. She was so, terribly, frightened and heartbroken. We just hate to leave her for any reason.
But, sensibly, we know she’s absolutely fine on the late night ferry crossing. She’s only alone for an hour and a half, and is cosy and at home for all of it. We close all the blinds, apart from the windscreen, and shut the curtains between the cab and the habitation area. This way she has the choice of staying out of sight in the back or sitting up on the dashboard and looking out if there are any noises she wants to investigate.
The crossing was pretty rocky in places, and we were a bit worried about her. But we’ve done this trip quite a few times by now and she was curled up fast asleep on the sofa when we rejoined her at Calais and quickly opened the blinds and rumbled Iggy up the ramp and on to France. We had arrived! Now we just needed someplace to sleep…
The motorhome Aire at Cite Europe in Calais has been our first stop ever since we started travelling in Iggy three years ago. But there’s been a lot of break ins there recently and the Aire is reportedly daytime only now. I was tempted to go check it out, but we were too tired for messing about, and instead I just set Iggy for a stopover on Park4night about twenty minutes south of the ferry port.
The weather was pretty intense with driving rain so thick it was hard to see at times, and we were pretty much done in by the time Iggy rolled into the sports centre car park we were going to spend the night in. It was too dark to see the lines properly, but we parked up as best as we could and climbed straight into bed. The wind pushed Iggy from side to side, rocking us to sleep like babies in a giant cradle.
The last three days since then have mostly been spent driving. We had a deadline of the 5th of February for our family meet up in Salobreña and, as I explained at the start of this post, we wanted to cross into Spain on Friday.
The weather in Northern France was encouraging us to move fast. We arrived at our first proper stop of Harcourt on Tuesday evening, in pitch darkness and heavy rain. Jay quickly took Marley for a toilet walk while I made dinner and we settled in with Netflix and a bottle of wine for the night.
Just before bedtime the rain cleared up and we discovered a beautiful, historic, timbered village as we took Marley for her last walk. I wished we could take more time. Spend a few hours wandering around in the morning, taking sunshine photos of all the pretty buildings.
But time waits for no mixed band of motorhome nomads, and Salobreña, sunshine, and Brexit, were all calling us from just down the road.
A quick daylight glimpse of Harcourt as we drive south
The next day, as we headed south down the road from Harcourt, we were somehow not very surprised when water suddenly began to drip down from the bed area.
“Darn!” I thought. “Some of that rain yesterday must have got in through the bed’s air vent.”
On further inspection though the water was coming from too far forward to be from the vent. Unless it had pooled somewhere in the bed mechanism. It was turning increasingly red looking as well, and I was a bit concerned by how rusty it looked.
Jay pulled over at the next parking space and we checked outside the van and deduced the leak must be coming from the radio aerial. The rubber seal was worn through in places, and we decided rain must have found it’s way through last night. We’d put some sealant round it at the next proper stop. The van was due a damp test this year anyway, so if there was any interior damage we’d find that when it was checked in a couple of months. A couple of warm months in Spain would keep everything nice and dry in the meantime.
We thought no more about it, and another day’s long travelling later and we started to leave the winter behind us, as we reached the gorgeous little town of Vivonne just south of Poitiers. The free motorhome Aire here was right in the main square, with a little tributary of the river running right past Iggy’s nose. The rain was forgotten, and my winter scarf atayed firmly in the van as we took Marley for a walk through the riverside park.
Another beautiful place that we had no time to visit with. Feeling more regretful about the pace we had set ourselves with every stop, I vowed to return here one day as we wandered back to Iggy for an hour’s Netflix before bed.
We’d left the bed up so Marley could sit on the dashboard and growl at the neighbourhood cats, and Jay shooed her on to the sofa and shut the blinds before releasing the belt clip that holds the drop down bed in place while we’re driving.
The clip doesn’t hold the bed up as such. There are clever gas struts on each side that do that job. The clip just stops it bobbing up and down with the motion of the vehicle, or being accidentally pushed down by someone leaning on it when parked up.
It was a bit of a shock then when jay unclipped it and the big, heavy bed frame promptly fell right down into place over the cab seats. That wasn’t supposed to happen! We were meant to pull it down. It wasn’t meant to fall on it’s own!
It didn’t take long to realise our “rusty leak” of the morning had, in fact, been the lubricating oil leaking out of a broken gas strut. The bed was perfectly safe in the “down” position for sleeping in. But what about when it was in the “up” position for driving?
It was too late, and we were too tired to think about it now. Leaving the drama for the morning we turned in, just as the forgotten rain returned with a vengeance to lullaby us to sleep with it’s furious drumming on Iggy’s roof. At least we knew he wouldn’t leak…
And so yesterday morning we woke to a broken gas strut and our last full day’s driving in France until we returned at the end of March. Jay was concerned about the seatbelt type clip holding the bed in place. It wasn’t designed to hold the full weight of the bed, and if it broke while we were driving the whole thing would crash down on top of our heads.
We discussed propping the bed up somehow as I did a shout out for information on the ever helpful Hymer Owners Group on Facebook. The answers came back quickly. A few other members had experienced the same thing while on tour, and had carried on with no issues using timber and awning poles to prop up the bed while travelling.
A call to our repair centre back home, and they confirmed they couldn’t see how the bed could fall if it was adequately propped up. But if we chose to go to a repair centre it should cost us somewhere in the region of £260 – £300 to have both struts replaced.
We had some strong, adjustable, aluminium poles for the awning, and the bed seemed very secure once we used them to support the seatbelt clip. And so, reassured by the stories of our fellow travellers, we decided to carry on to Salobreña. We would see if a repair centre there could fix it for us while we were staying at the villa for ten days. And with four seperate things now holding the bed in place, if one should break, the others would still hold it fine while we replaced the broken one.
And so we drove on. Stopping for frequent breaks to test the security of our temporary fix. Everything held strong and stable as the day grew warmer and sunnier the further south we went.
Finally, just as the sun was setting we reached our final stop in France, the tiny village of Saint-Lon-les-Mines, and it’s welcoming little Aire.
And there I will leave you, as you found me. Packing the breakfast things away and climbing into the navigation seat of Iggy the Hymer motorhome. The border with Spain is only about fifty miles away. Our destination a small Basque town called Tolosa.
On this Brexit Day we will spend our last few hours as European citizens doing what we love most, travelling nomads across the countries we have been so privileged as to be able to call home.
We can only hope and dream now, for an Independent Scotland, and being able to return here one day – citizens once more.
Alba Saor. **
** Alba Saor is Gaelic for “Free Scotland”