We are now one step closer to being ready for the rally. The car has made it to the starting point. Jon & I spent the weekend driving the car from Madrid through France back to England.
Friday night was uneventful and allowed us to make a good start. We spent the evening in a budget hostel in Burgos. The following morning we set off for San Sebastian and the Spanish / French border.
We continued our somewhat leisurely pace, stopping off for Lunch at St Jean de Luz, just north of the border. Next stop was at the picturesque St Emillion based on a recommendation from one of the Frenchies at work (Thanks Freddie). A beautiful little village surrounded by vineyards. Of course we were unable to resist the opportunity to stock up on some fine wines from the Bordeux region.
Unfortunately we didn't leave St Emillion until about 7 o'clock which put us woefully behind our schedule of making it to Paris for the evening. We set off regardless with the intention of making it to Tours.
Running into the final quarter on the fuel gauge we started to look for fuel. Kilometer after kilometer passed, yet no signs of any Petrol Stations, despite being on one of the large national roads. Running on the last few drops we finally saw the blessed fuel sign by one of the exits. There were in fact three petrol stations in the village, however one was closed, and the other two fully automated but unwilling to accept any of the 5 different credit cards we had (despite advertising Visa and Mastercard).
In desperation I ended up approaching a Frenchman and asking if he would be willing to put the transaction on his card with us giving him the cash. Thankfully he obliged and we were on our way again, albeit having lost 45 minutes.
We found what appeared to be a nice peaceful campsite for the night just outside Poitiers only to find that this was next to an express railway line. Good practice for camping next to the trans Siberian express.
The next morning we were up early enough to realise that we should have got up earlier. We had about 500km to cover in 5 hours. Some flat out driving (we almost hit the speed limit down hill) and some slipstreaming of large Mercedes 4x4 enabled us to make excellent progress up until Paris. Unfortunately we then got lost...
Navigating the ring road (we still don't know if we were going clockwise or anti clockwise) we spotted a sign for Boulonge. Diving of at this exit we followed the signs for Boulonge, until there were no more signs. Turning round, we once again picked up signs for Boulonge... but once again they miraculously stopped. After a little while, it dawned on me that we had stumbled across the region of Paris called Boulonge, when all we wanted to do was exit Paris in the direction of the city of Boulonge. We eventually got back on track, but lost another 45 minutes in total.
We continued to tank it on up to the North of France, but after our problems missed our Ferry by about (yes, you've guessed it) 45 minutes. With 10 hours wait until the next available ferry with that company, I phoned Hoverspeed and managed to get a ferry an hour and a half later up in Calais. Horrah for Hoverspeed and the French call center girl with the sexy accent who managed to somehow knock sixty euros off the initial quote!
With the bulk of the journey completed and the ferry problem resolved, that just left us the short distance of Dover to north west London to cover. This was made a little more difficult by the fact that the car had no tax, MOT or registration and hence could not be driven on British roads. Thankfully a work colleague had kindly offered to come down to meet us with his trailer.
Within 50 miles of home, there was a sudden bang and the trailer started snaking. Thankfully Jarod managed to control the car and guide it safely to the hard shoulder. Now I understand why the speed limit is so much lower for trailers and caravans.
It turned out that one of the trailer tires had given in a big way. A huge tear across the tread left it completely flat. Sitting on the M25 without a spare on a Sunday evening left us well and truly stranded.
A call to the AA left us hopeful, with a relay truck potentially on its way within the hour. We waited and waited, it got dark and this one hour turned into three. I was a little concerned that the AA would not be able to put a trailer with a car on it onto one of their flat bed trucks. A job made all the more difficult by the width of the trailer.
Once the AA arrived the relay driver set about trying to load the trailer and car. A job in itself that took about 40 minutes and a lot of ingenuity. After a 5 mile test run the driver was satisfied that it was secure and that he could get us home. We arrived home at about 12:30, however it took a further 45 minutes to get the trailer and car off the truck, and drag the stricken trailer round the back alley.
We were lucky. Tim, the AA man, was resourceful and willing to take on such a job. He could have very well said no way, let alone assist us drag the trailer round the alley at the end. Tim told us the reason we were waiting three hours was as nobody wanted to tackle the job. He also said that this was one of the most difficult relays he'd ever done. The sort of work that is a nightmare at the time, but a good story to tell afterwards (at least it wasn't raining).
So, an eventful journey, but the Mini stood up to the task superbly. It was a real eye opener for me, as we covered a large distance in a short time. Yet this distance is minuscule compared with the task ahead. Europe will be the easy part of the journey, yet this short hop from Madrid to London wasn't exactly easy. On top of that we will have to step up the pace given our time limit for the Rally.
Oh, and one other thing we've learned. An atlas of Europe is not sufficient. We will need detailed maps of the countries we are going to. Any one out there able to assist with this?