Plymouth – Santander

The 103 mile ride from Goathurst to Plymouth was predictably slow and rather damp. Traffic on Somerset and Devon roads travels in lethargic clumps of 8-10 cars, all trying to get past the lead car, which in most cases was towing a caravan and / or being driven by somebody whom had spent their entire lives being rushed about and was now determined to make up for it. Endless 30 and 40 mph limit stretches with no oncoming traffic are followed by brief stints of national speed limit road, with either more oncoming traffic or mostly unecessary double white lines preventing any meaningful progress. The fact that most of the route lay inside cloud cover only added to the frustration.

A tub of Pringles and a pint of beer on a table in the ship's bar

Wanting to leave it until the last minute before filling up, I duly arrived at the continental ferry check-in with only 20 miles in my tank. Oh well, at least the bike will be easier to pick up off the deck of the ferry if the anticipated force 9 gale materialises throughout the night. After driving into the curiously smelling bow of the ship I transferred my sleeping mat and overnight back into my rucksack, locked everything else onto the bike, and went for the bar.

Kudos is due Brittany Ferries for not taking the opportunity to rape their captive audience alive over price – all prices are Sterling, pints are pulled at 2.90 and a steak dinner in the self-service restaurant / carvery was about 7.00, or 13.00 once you added a salad and half a bottle of Cotes du Rhone. After dinner I took a stroll to the posh restaurant at the back of the ship (I expect I should know whether this was the stern or the bow) where the food being served to those who had reserved a table looked absolutely divine, especially the langustines and crayfish, but then any seafood with antennae always does in my opinion.

Several rows of single reclining chairs in a large cabin on a boat

The standard rate cabins I passed on the way to my budget reclining seat lounge looked fabulous, or at least compared to those of the Portsmouth – Bilbao ferry I took eight years ago. Back then, your basic 2 bed bunkroom was like the inside of a Formule 1 hotel, with everything formed from a single lump of septic looking formica. The rooms on the Pont Aven had wood panelling, mirrors, and actual carpet. The reclining seat lounge also impressed me as better than expected; about eight rows of chairs, 3 and 4 each side of central aisle, looked out onto deck via a large sliding patio door. There was plenty of space for luggage (read: snoring Welshmen in sleeping bags) and the carpet here too was thick and lush. The only drawback was that this room seemed to have been reserved as final resting place for any defective ceiling tiles, whose clattering in tune with the engine must have been viewed as a hazard to health in other parts of the vessel. Not to worry, I was the only occupant in a row of 4 seats, and since the owner of the leather jacket and bike boots in the adjacent seat had not presented himself by 21:00 I inflated my sleeping mat and took to the footwell. Closing thoughts for the day: earplugs are worth ten times their weight in gold, and Gore-Tex jackets with CE approved armour do not, despite their numerous other merits, lend themselves to service as pillows anywhere near as well as you seem to remember from previous excursions. (When the cashier at the breakfast counter the following morning spotted the deep imprint of a zip across my cheek he gave me a look similar to that of the old lady at Argos, when I asked her if the cordless baby monitor I was about to purchase would work from our garage)

Breakfast was a simple croissant and black coffee. The huge line of people waiting for their fry-ups was not the encouragement I needed to dive into the grease at this hour anyway, so I took to the deck and spent a while talking to a group of bikers (GS riders, natch) who do this run for 2 weeks every year. Apparently northern Spain can be quite wet, the mountains unexpectedly cold and foggy. They’ve never had any problems arriving at campsites without reservation, hotels / hostals are often as cheap as camping, and you can get by almost anywhere with a mixture of English and French. Encouragement indeed.

Expectant holidaymakers on the deck of a ship as it pulls into harbour

We’re pulling in to Santander shortly, so I’m off to see if there’s a 3G signal yet, upon which I’ll post what you’re reading now. If you’ve made it this far and are still with me – thank you, I hope the pictures and words over the coming days will make your patience worthwhile.