Tests, Vets, Checks: Yorkshire Bound After Rollercoaster TravelsThe ongoing exodus of travellers from Europe to the UK due to a combination of Brexit and Covid include our Time for Life Correspondent and motor homers Sharon Cain and Steve Hare - our photographer
Sunshine drenched Santander belies turbulent climes
Now back at their Yorkshire home for the first time in 16 months, Sharon recalls the turbulent turn their journey took before the Covid pandemic dramatically changed the world - and life as we knew it.
If We Knew Then…
Newbie motor homers: Steve, Sharon and Bracken
To say we encountered far more than we bargained for when we locked our front door on a bitterly cold and foggy October night in 2019 and set off in our motor home - is a wild understatement.
Since then the world - as we and everyone else knew it - has changed beyond all recognition.
At that point we were fairly-seasoned travellers across five contents, had lived and worked in Hong Kong and London, and enjoyed many years of UK caravanning.
Our motor homing experience, however, was limited to a single weekend in Scarborough before tackling Europe.
In high spirits we waved the white cliffs of Dover goodbye with Bracken, our overexcited golden retriever.
First Week - Magnifique!
Voulez-vous un verre de champagne?
Learning as we went, our first week was frenetic, fun and overall fabulous.
Captivating and charming: Chablis
A whistle-stop tour of Epernay and the iconic 'Avenue de Champagne’ along with navigating height restrictions made parking challenging - as did the motor home refusing to start.
Our first wild camping experience was in a permitted council car park as the rain hammered down in picturesque Chablis with its medieval houses and quaint streets. Compensating for the cold and damp was ‘un peu’ de wine tasting and ‘beaucoup de’ piping hot croissants!
More city centre height restrictions with parking deterred us from exploring medieval Perpignan. Instead we found the nearest seaside resort where we cheated and swapped camping for a bargain pet friendly boutique hotel.
Camera, Action: a Daenerys look-alike at Girona Cathedral
Home for the next two nights was a designated car park for camper vans and caravans in the heart of the Catalonian city of Girona which boast a history rich and compelling.
Surrounded by tenement blocks of locals loudly and passionately discussing politics on their balconies while consuming copious amounts of wine, we drank in the sights.
A highlight was Girona’s gothic Cathedral - the backdrop for season six of Game of Thrones complete with lookalikes of key characters including Daenerys the Dragon Queen.
When Things Went Downhill
Two hours away we were wild camping in sun-streamed Sitges in a stunning beach location. Everything was going swimmingly - what could possibly go wrong?
Stunning view: Wildcamping in Sitges
Our rude awakening came at 4am when our motor home was broken into while we were asleep - and a bag with all our passports, credit cards and money stolen.
Our first port of call was a local hotel - where we had eaten - who we asked to help us and contact the police.
Despite our obvious distress they refused to assist.
The next hours were a blur of police reports, navigating language barriers - and the enormity of the nightmare sunk in.
Having been on the road for just 12 days, our first inclination was to try to get back home but being gluttons for punishment, we stuck it out.
The next 15 months were surreal. They included savouring beautiful landscapes, dashing across European borders before they closed and being embroiled in Spanish Covid lockdowns.
The allure of Andalucia was among our magical explorations
On returning to the UK in April 2020, we had no house to go to - ours was rented out just two weeks before Covid struck. Forced to find somewhere to rent (all camp sites were closed), we were ostracised by locals.
On returning to Europe later in the year, we encountered more challenges and lockdowns. Stay posted for the next instalments in our ‘Time for Life’ column.
Fast forward to February 2020 when we headed from the Alicante region - still in lockdown - to the port of Santander on Spain’s north coast. Stops included an appointment with a veterinary surgeon so Bracken could have tapeworm treatment which had to be administered between 24 and 120 hours before he arrived in the UK.
Land of windmills: Don Quixote country
Our journey took us through Don Quixote country - made famous by the dashing knight and world famous book, Don Quixote de La Mancha.
Our last night in Spain was at a campsite outside the beautiful Burgos renowned for its magnificent historic buildings, castle and gothic-style cathedral.
We arrived at the bustling port of Santander and lined up in the eclectic queue of motorhomes, caravans, lorries and cars.
It was particularly busy because of fears that Spain would be added to the ‘red list’ of countries with Covid variants. In the event of this happening, travellers would have to abandon their motor homes and caravans, fly to a designated airport in England then quarantine in an outrageously expensive allocated hotel.
Despite the apparently heavy volume of traffic embarking the ship, our dog-friendly Brittany Ferry, the Galicia, was eerily quiet as it headed out of the Med on its 30-hour crossing to Portsmouth.
It made us nostalgic for the former days of freedom and cruising, bringing home the seismic changes the world had undergone in just 11 months.
Full Steam Ahead
Steaming across the English Channel
Excellent Covid protocols ensured a relatively smooth crossing and disembarkation - followed by a long drive to Yorkshire.
Our 10-day quarantine included a further two Covid tests. This was in addition to one we took in Spain (all were thankfully negative) - which gave us the green light to return to England.
Reflecting on our experience of extremes, who could have forecast the advent of a deadly global disease when we set off in a carefree climate where personal and travel restrictions were too trivial to merit a mention?