After two weeks of icy winds and rain and news reports of a polar vortex sweeping its way across Europe, when we finally left the UK it was on the kind of February morning that hints at spring being just around the corner. We left from East Grinstead which is perhaps not the most symbolic of starting points, ‘East Grinstead to Cape Town’, doesn’t have quite the ring of ‘London to Cape Town’ or ‘Paris to Dakar’, but it is where my mum and her husband live and after giving up our own flat we had been staying there whilst waiting for the remaining motorbike parts to arrive. After an emotional goodbye, we headed for Dover. The early morning mist which still clung to the fields soon gave way to clear blue skies and bright wintery sunshine. It felt like a final salute, a reminder of the gentle beauty of the English countryside we were about to leave behind.
On the ferry I stood on the top deck, watching as the white cliffs dissapeared into the distance and wondered about what the future held for the tiny town of Dover on the frontier between the UK and Europe. What kind of England would I would be returning a year or more from now, would it be an England I want to return to at all?
From Calais began the long slog of French motorways. We were unprepared for their expense, especially when we realised that the elevated height of the motorbike (designed for off roading) meant we were considerably taller than most cars. As a result the toll booths were registering us a different class of vehicle and charging a higher fee. This led to what must have been an amusing sight of us driving up to the tolls whilst attempting a strange variation on the limbo as we tried to get around this.
Whilst France is undoubtedly a very beautiful country, the motorways south of Calais were not a highlight and I was relieved when the sight of the snow capped Pyrenees heralded our crossing into Spain. We needent have worried about toll booths here, the only two we passed were broken, a sign in Spanish (which looked like it had been there for some time) saying ‘coming soon.’ Gone were the shiny french service stations and 9 euro baguettes, replaced by shabbier (and in my view more charming) roadside restaurants selling very reasonably priced brocadillos. The drive was beautiful, distant mountains and wide open plateus. The only downside was the vicious crosswinds which made the bike sway from side to side in a way Leon assures me was fine, but which I found disconcerting to say the least!
In Seville we ditched the winter thermals that had served us well across Europe and changed our tyres over to some more suited to African roads. Tomorrow we take the Tarifa to Tangier ferry and the adventure really begins.