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IBERIA IN WINTER

by

Chris Day

Who would think of driving a Pembleton around Spain and Portugal in January? Tom Rae. A man who is impervious to cold and wet and who revels in a physical challenge and hard endurance. He knows no fear. When he asked me if I was up for it, naturally I said absolutely not.

So on January 15th we set off. Just in the one car as I had sold mine a few weeks earlier and, as it turned out, I think the trip was all the better for being in one car.

The car - Tom's Supersport named SNOTAMOG- already with 19000 or so hard miles on its clock. A small block Guzzi engine and Phil Gregory's new 19" skinny wheels, as yet untried.

Tom A-framed the Pembleton from Edinburgh to my place in Dorset taking advantage of Dave and Nikki Parr's hospitality on the way and arriving at midday on the 15th. Lunch, squeeze in our meagre luggage (a small bag and a sleeping bag each), put on several layers of clothing and set off in bright sunshine and a low temperature. First photoshot was just outside Dorchester where a friend who took the picture described it as like a motorbike and sidecar but without the motorbike. Later telling me that she had little expectation of ever seeing me again. It was a tightish fit with our combined length of more than 12 feet, total weight of say, 26 stone, mostly muscle which is heavier than fat and a total of 129 years which doesn't weigh anything but adds value to the story. It is worth noting that Tom and I hardly knew each other, a couple of years but only a couple of Pembleton group trips in our individual cars. Being a passenger is just not the same thing as driving your own car. It comes naturally to girls but for chaps it ain't natural. It has the potential to be fraught, uncomfortable and frightening and I can confirm that actually it wasn't that uncomfortable or fraught and only a little bit frightening.

Side car - no bike

Guggenheim - ideas for a Pembleton










Skinny tyre - long road

Tom KNF Rae

I think he wants to get on

Spain's only Pembleton

Starting the ascent into the fog

Snall road getting smaller

The cottage

We relax

Stopped for lunch

Pembleton at the Ibis hotel

Pembleton arse up

Shed dreams - 1










Shed dreams - 2

Household pet

Pembleton pals

What am I doing? I'm jammed in a tiny car, my left arm is already frozen, my arse is nearly dragging on the road, we are hurtling along at 80 mph with our heads at roughly the height of the wheel hub of a medium sized truck. At the front there are two horribly skinny tyres designed in 1923 and at the back there is only one wheel. I am being driven by a large, Pembleton obsessed Scotsman who knows no fear. I am jammed in trying to be both nonchalant and unobtrusive; not to get in the way and make a good show of enjoying myself and being brave.

Another thing; from the outset the tribal differences needed to be clear. Tom is Scottish and I am English and neither let the other forget it. Every time someone said Inglés? the difference had to be explained. Still it could have been worse; Tom could have been a Yorkshireman.

In the summer waiting at the ferry port in an open top or otherwise interesting car attracts attention and there are always other cars to look at. In January it's quite different. Exclusive? Ridiculous? Those that do speak do so over partially lowered windows in a tone of incredulity. I explain that he's from Scotland and feels no pain and they nod understandingly and then look at me questioningly. Once on the ferry we are just two blokes drinking a couple of pints and a couple of bottles of wine and with the beginning of a sense of adventure.

Then we arrived at Bilbao and the worst part of the adventure began. It was dark and lashing with rain. We had nowhere to stay so we programmed 'Ibis Hotel' into the satnav and set off into the dark and wet, the very dark and very wet. Will it be like this for two weeks? We finally arrived in the city with a sense of relief and found our way to the Ibis by challenging the oncoming traffic on a few one-way streets. This technique saves going round the block yet again. We parked up in the warm and dry Ibis underground car park, shared a room, ate, drank, laughed. The adventure had started. Let Iberia throw at us what it might, we were ready.

The next day was fairly ordinary. Visit the Guggenheim in Bilbao and drive 450km to Madrid. The Guggenheim is certainly worth seeing. Curvaceous and emotional and clad in titanium which gave us ideas for a future Pembleton. Madrid, another Ibis Hotel and epic gin and tonics. I can recommend Ibis Hotels, the rooms are about €50 and so are the bar bills. The next day I wanted to see Picasso's painting 'Guernica' so we abandoned the little Pembleton on a side street and marched off to the museum. We whizzed round the Museo Sofia Reina and then whizzed off to Cordoba covering another 400km or so. Those two legs of the journey were on good roads, mostly dry, sometimes cool with snow either side and always fast. The Pembleton cruising comfortably at 80 not noticing the hills and the highest speed recorded on the satnav at 90. All this time I am sitting there being stoic and watching the skinny near side wheel going round and round and riding the road perfectly, hoping that the other one was behaving just as well. Obviously there was no need to worry about the back one.

We reached Cordoba in the rain and there we met up with Juan who bought my Brooklands – 'Crazy Frog' about 4 years ago which, I believe is the only Pembleton in Spain. Juan also has one of the best Lomax three-wheelers I have seen and a collection of 2CVs. We stayed as guests of Juan and his partner Maria-Luisa who made us feel like visiting royalty. It was fantastic to see them again. We were only there for about 18 hours in total but such was their kindness and hospitality that the happiness of that stay will stay with me forever.

That night a huge storm swept in from the Atlantic and continued to rain and blow very hard when we set off for Portugal although whilst we were parked in the middle of Seville the rain stopped and the sun shone. We had coffee and watched the parasols blow away and oranges rolling about everywhere. Off again and next stop Tavira just over the border in the Algarve. Despite the beating we were getting from gale force winds the little car battled on with its skinny tyres hanging onto the road. I was beginning to relax.

Three days in the Algarve staying with Tom's brother David. This was like a real holiday. The sun shone, we cycled, wore shorts and paddled in the Atlantic. Tom said we couldn't stay any longer as there was a danger of getting soft so we squeezed back into the Pembleton to head for Lagos on the other side of the Algarve. It wasn't far but the roads were so... Pembleton. Up until then it was mile after fast mile on dual carriageways now we were on brilliantly surfaced, twisty roads through fabulous countryside and no traffic. Just about perfect. Tom said it was like being back in Scotland! Yea, right!

We stayed with Tom's old pal Aidan and his wife Ann. It was another few hours of memorable fun which words can't adequately describe but it involved eating, drinking and singing. Aidan was so taken by the Pembleton that he has since bought a Citroen one-off special – he'll never be the same again.

The next destination was Aidan's cottage in the hills about two-thirds of the way up Portugal. That is a bit of a vague description but what with just being a passenger and thanks to the satnav I had no map reading duties so I just sat there, looked at the view, slept and got out when the engine stopped. Clearly I was feeling relaxed and confident. The cottage was too far away to do in one leg so we fetched up at a place called Évora and another Ibis Hotel. Évora was a real find, an intact walled city with all the streets cobbled. The whole place was delightful but you can only take so much architecture and the following morning we were off again and heading for the hills.

The journey to the cottage was in two parts. To start with, ordinary roads, quite interesting surroundings and with an exceptional lunch on the way. The second part was mile after mile of twisting, continually uphill, semi-alpine roads with a steep and increasingly long drop on one side – mine! Not to worry by now I had every confidence in the car and, I should emphasise, in Tom's driving. Oh yes, it was also in thick fog. Despite the fog or rather thanks to the satnav we arrived in the little village with its very narrow, cobbled streets and our cottage. We were glad to be there and very glad to get the log burner going but we had to set off again to find food. Back to the twisties in the fog but now also very dark in a sparsely populated area. We chanced upon a village with a small shop with bar attached. Perhaps the other way around depending on your priorities. We bought provisions, ordered beer and asked if we could have a meal. They didn't do that kind of thing but Tom chatted to the lady of the house, in French! I was tres impressed, and a little while later out came a fantastic meal. Exceptional kindness and hospitality even by the standards we had encountered everywhere.

On one day of our stay we went to the Museu Do Caramulo. It is half art gallery and half motor museum. Not only is it a great place to visit but the road to it from Coimbra is amazing. Perfect in a Pembleton, zig-zag roads climbing up and up for 20 miles to 3000 feet and the snow line. It is a very good motor museum and well worth a visit. The museum director was pleased to see us as well and came over to introduce himself and then filmed us to use as an exhibit on Facebook. Actually if we had a Euro for every time we were photographed during the entire trip we would have made a small fortune. Such is the enthusiasm we received wherever we went.

We were due to stay in the cottage for two nights but a phone call from Brittany Ferries informing us that our sailing had been cancelled, and would be two days late, meant that we were obliged to stay in that delightful place for an extra two days. On one of those days the sun shone and we explored the area in the Pembleton and on foot. It was just as well because the day before it rained torrentially just because we had to go out for more supplies. We got thoroughly soaked probably because of slow speeds as much as the rain itself. Visibility was very limited, torrents were running across the roads and there were fallen trees, rocks, mud and gravel everywhere. It was much wetter than the journey from the ferry to Bilbao.

The day we set off to head for the ferry – a two day trip – the sun shone brilliantly and all was well with the world. Tom checked the car, oil, loose wires, that kind of thing. I pointed out a cracked weld on the light bar. You know that small tube along the front that has a headlight screwed into each end, hence its name. In reality it is the engine-holding-up-bar which has more profound connotations in my opinion. We fairly roared along the twisty roads with the fabulous views, through a boring built-up bit with badly pitted roads and finally onto the motorway and up to our customary 80mph cruising speed. The skinny tyres performing impeccably. Suddenly there was a loud bang from the back of the car and the Pembleton lost its composure and went all wobbly. Our simultaneous thoughts were 'must be a puncture but it doesn't feel like a puncture'. It was the rear cross-member snapped cleanly in two. Quite alarming really. Tom, the Scotsman who knows no fear and me the Englishman mustering up my best sang froid took it in our stride. Well I did, literally. Tom drove off in search of a welder and I walked along the hard-shoulder to wherever I might meet up with Tom again. In the event that was about 5 miles on. The walk in the sunshine wearing several layers was rather warm and occasionally alarming but it did give me time to reflect on how lucky we were. Had the ferry not been cancelled then we would have been on that road on a Sunday and in heavy rain. Had we not been going in a straight line at the time of the break...

I left the motorway and trudged on to find Tom in good spirits outside a garage. He was urging me on up the hill. 'Come on its lunchtime!' The Pembleton was inside a workshop hanging from a chain with its arse in the air, the work had been started. Tom was covered in filth having been under the car taking the fuel tank out. This being Portugal – or anywhere else on the continent – nothing gets in the way of lunch. What could we do? We went to lunch, you know, the usual thing, three courses, a litre of wine, coffee. Fortifying stuff for the kind money you don't mind paying and even makes you feel slightly guilty. The welding had to be finished and after close inspection the light bar welded at both ends. Interestingly the light bar is not very far from the petrol filled carbs but a piece of cardboard strategically place is quite sufficient to prevent a conflagration. Take note health and safety executives. Tom and I were feeling jolly cocky about the whole experience. We had got away with a potential disaster, the sun was warm, half a litre of wine each sloshing around our bellies, the Pembleton better than new and then, Brittany Ferries rang again. Another cancellation.

Car fixed, back on the road and waving goodbye to a bunch of bemused Portuguese mechanics we still had most of that leg of the journey to make which meant pressing on hard and tediously leaving us glad to arrive at the hotel – er, yes, Ibis. We had to think about what to do with the spare time but a couple of gin and tonics came to the rescue and a phone call to David Stevenson resolved things. To hell with the Bilbao ferry we would drive to St Malo, stopping with David en route. Why didn't we think of that in the first place? I suppose it seemed ridiculous to be driving all that way in January.

David lives near Cahors. I can't be any more precise than that because there is a law of nature that says that it isn't possible to go straight there. You can get within a few miles but you have to drive round mysterious roads for a couple of hours before suddenly you find yourself there. I know from a previous visit that maps don't help and now I know that satellites don't recognise it either. It's worth the effort though for the hospitality, the conversation and the mouth-watering machinery that lurks in the sheds and any bloke who keeps a Bugatti in the house gets my vote.

It was a bit of a dash and a feat of endurance to get to St Malo on time thanks to an over optimistic, possibly red wine induced estimate of the time to get there. Fortunately this is the kind of thing that Tom thrives on. The first part through the Dordogne was delightful scenery but wet. After that it was relentless. Seven and a half hours later with only two stops for fuel one of which did include a quick coffee and a bar of chocolate we arrived with 45 minutes to spare – plenty! Once on the ferry and in our cabin we drank the last of our gin and laughed and laughed. In the annals of happy Pembletoneering no two Pembletoneers could be happier or more self satisfied than we were at that time.

POSTSCRIPT

We left on January 15th and arrived back on February 1st having travelled 2667 miles and bringing back happy memories to last a lifetime. We saw marvellous places, received the finest hospitality, ate well, and had an occasional drink. We endured. We laughed. We set off hardly knowing each other and came back as firm friends.

Would I do it again? Would Tom? Would we? That trip couldn't be repeated but a trip in winter? You bet! Tom was planning the next winters trip on the ferry from St Malo.

Advice to anyone else who may consider a winter trip? The glib answer is to just do it. Specifically I would say make sure you wear the right gear, especially goggles and have some of the destinations planned and remember - You only live once.

Perhaps someone could suggest quite what's going on in these two pictures?


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