Waking up and starting week 7 to poor weather, we got up and went to Peñíscola which by all counts looked reasonable with a well spec’d campsite nearby.  Upon arrival the town looked very similar to those we’d seen numerous times and avoided.  That said, it did appear to be one of the better ones.  Untempted, we decided to spend the unpromising weather heading inland away from the coast.  After about an hour we unbelievably met a snow shower and saw a few snowploughs! 

The scenery in places was breathtaking sometimes with a thick dusting of snow, and also very barren without anything around.  High mountain roads, lakes, rivers, and distant snow capped mountains.

On arrival at our planned campsite, the site was closed possibly for lunch, and a quick look around showed it was deserted!  So we ventured on to another site a bit further on, and this one was open, and also had great facilities – including Jacuzzi, indoor swimming pool, and a nice bar with free wifi!  The surroundings were stunning so we decided to have a couple of nights here preparing for our final adventure of this trip.

With snow and ice on the ground, we ventured for a walk to Ainsa with its historic hilltop town.  Lovely to look at and stunning views – this would really be the place to visit with the sun shining and alfresco dining in the main plaza.  On settling our bill we got a nice free bottle of wine and checked the forecast for the Bielsa Tunnel into France – and tomorrow is looking clear.  We are slightly daunted by the road out, as apparently snowchains are currently needed – and the road is described as “tight hairpins without barriers”.  Fingers crossed.

As you are reading this then obviously we survived.  The road was very windy in places and a little icy, but in fairness wasn’t too bad at all.  We’re glad we made the trip on a gorgeous sunny day though (signs made no suggestion of snowchains) as this reduced the ice and gave some unbelievable and stunning views of the mountains.  We got to our campsite in Saint Lary and got into conversation with a French guy who could not speak a word of English and it was a challenge to keep out of Spanish!  Apparently he was constructing some new pylons for a new ski-gondola.  In return for loaning him my water hose we got a nice and strong whisky & coke!  Though we are only camping at 2,500ft (Sierra Nevada 7,800ft) it is much colder here so the van winterisation and anti-freeze measures were tested.  The waste drained into an external container which froze every night, but in the sun defrosted during the day.  The fresh tank (always in shade) never froze and the cold water was never icy – so we must assume the heater worked!

Unfortunately Mel had a sore knee either from our first snowboarding trip, our long recent run or the small amount of hill climbing we did so opted out of snowboarding again, simply visiting the top on the first day and reading, and having a girlie spa day on the second.  As it was clear Mels knee would not be up to it we decided to cut the snowboard trip short and just head home.  The slopes weren’t as good as Sierra Nevada, and a lot of the long runs were very narrow with large drops on one side.  Here I learned that whilst I can snowboard down a hill, I cannot snowboard in a fairly straight line on narrow passages and had a fair few flying tumbles.  Next time more training required…

It is actually funny – being away for almost 7 weeks – and we’ve seldom thought much about home.  Since planning the journey back though and knowing when we’ll be back, it becomes the main thought.  Annoying – so the lesson is not to plan the route home till the last possible moment.  Our plan involved driving back over 3 days, around 6 hours easy driving on non-toll roads per day.  When we awoke to leave St. Lary we found it had snowed quite a bit!  This made the first few miles a little “interesting” and we came across two recent accidents in the space of 5 miles (we’d seen only one other in the other 3,500 or so miles) – one of which was between a coach-built campervan and a car which sadly showed how weak the coach-built bodywork is.  After the snow we had a lovely drive through some lovely French villages until we got to Magnac-Bourg where they kindly provide free serviced camping next to a frozen pond. If you park here then the top of the area is in range of a local restaurants unsecured WiFi!

The second days driving we planned to get to Rouen, but as the weather was perfect for driving we continued on hoping to find somewhere between Boulogne and Calais.  But blimey – we struggled as all the places we had logged just didn’t exist or weren’t great.  We eventually found somewhere and just wild camped.  In hind sight, the top of an exposed hill just as a gale hit wasn’t great and we slept really badly.  However it meant we got an early ferry and got home to all the chores.  4,327 miles and 49 nights away – now its time for a bath!

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