Days 13 to 16

Day 13. We still have a few long days on the road ahead, so it was an early breakfast with Ruth, Angela, Ben and Louise before loading up the bikes and saying our goodbyes. Ruth and Angela took some of Wayne and Harvey’s smelly clothes home to wash, then went off to explore the city a bit more before their flight at 1500.

It was under the new 27 threshold road tunnel for us and a swift exit out of Gibraltar. We were heading to Seville for lunch and retraced some of the twisty roads we had ridden on the way in. Parts of Seville look beautiful with tree lined streets, colourful flowers everywhere and huge parks. We found a little restaurant on a street corner for a few plates of tapas, and we were on the road again, heading for Elvas in Portugal. The roads were lovely and quiet with no noticeable border between the two countries, so I’m guessing the river we crossed was the boundary. We found our hotel, then walked into a very sleepy town to find somewhere to eat. The place was mostly shut but we found somewhere open that served burgers in red, blue and green buns. Not normally my first choice but they were very tasty. One thing we’ve noticed on this trip, once you stray outside of the big cities, no one speaks a work of English which is quite refreshing. An early night and an equally early start in the morning.

Day 14. We thought the roads down through the mountains approaching Gibraltar had been the riding highlight of the trip – apparently not!! The day started fairly wet and at one point, we rode through a hail shower. We had moved onto the motorways to make some progress in the rain but when it dried up, we moved back onto the mountain roads. We had no idea of what was coming next as we approached the Cantabria Mountains. I can’t describe the breathtaking views, twisty mountain roads with lovely sweeping bends and a great road surface which is always important on bikes. There was snow on the mountain tops and amazing views through the valleys down below which was another recommendation from a now retired colleague Pete Dawson and it did not disappoint. The roads down into Potes, our stop for the night were fantastic. We’ve been so lucky with the route choices, and they’ve certainly not been boring. Our B&B for the night was great and after over 400 miles for the day, we popped out for a quick pizza and a glass or two of the local red.

Day 15. Potes is a very pretty town about two hours from the Spanish north coast. With huge snow-capped mountains towering all around and French style chalet buildings, it has a very ‘ski town’ feel about it. It’s one of the busiest towns we’ve visited and is apparently rammed during summer months. We had been chatting to a local the evening before who was telling us about the reintroduction of wolves into the area and about his encounters with wild bears. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any but on the way to Santander, but we had to slam on the anchors for cows in the road. Not once but twice! Seemingly it’s perfectly normal to drive herds of cattle along public roads. Perhaps it’s a form of Spanish traffic calming measures!

The roads from Potes to Santander did not disappoint again, and as well as the amazing roads and views, on this stretch there were virtually no safety barriers if things went wrong in the corners, just small stone slabs about a foot high that wouldn’t stop a kid’s trike! At some points, there were 500ft drops off the mountain side. Suffice to say we stayed more towards the centre of the roads and a little further away from the edge! The weather was also on our side with another dry day, which allows for a little more confidence on mountain roads.

Once out of the hills, it was a short hop to the ferry terminal and a very smooth passport and embarkation process. Our ferry departed at 1400 and it was another chance for us to take a breath and catch up with emails, logistics and a mid-afternoon nap! We were woken up by a PA announcement asking for Rich to get in touch with the crew, where we were invited to the bridge the next day. Never a dull day!!

In the evening, we started chatting to fellow passengers on board and it’s not long before you meet someone affected by prostate cancer. One gent’s brother sadly died from this terrible disease and another’s dad was undergoing treatment. During this trip, we’ve encouraged dozens of men to arrange a PSA test. Some already have regular checks but it’s been frightening the amount of men who know nothing about it or how to arrange a test.

Day 16.

After a bit of a bumpy departure from the port, the ferry settled down into a gentle rocking motion and after a few glasses of wine, we all slept pretty well. There was no rush to get up, so we had a leisurely breakfast before meeting Camille who led us through the ferry up to the bridge. It was a very quick chat with the Captain who handed us over to his team to talk through the various controls, navigation aids, electronic charts and radar plotters. Some of it is surprisingly familiar because the rules of the air were taken from the rules of the sea, and we’re all reasonably familiar with how Radar works.

As if spending time on a modern bridge isn’t cool enough, the chief engineer asked if we would like to see the engine control room. Well, he didn’t need to ask us twice. As you would expect, everything is computer controlled and every system can be quickly accessed at the touch of a button. He explained how the stabilisers and ballast tanks work to keep the ferry as comfortable as possible in rough seas, then casually asked if we wanted to see the engines.  

Again, no need to ask twice. On with ear protection and we were given a full access tour of the on-board generators, twin V12 cylinder main engines (which are staggered for fire suppression purposes), LPG storage tanks and even into the stern to see the rudder steering gear. I didn’t realise that the engines run at just 400 rpm. Most cars would stall at that speed but it’s enough to propel the ship comfortably at 20-25kts. We had a tour of the workshop and spares room before thanking the team and heading off for a bite to eat.

This has given us some time to chat through all the amazing people we’ve met, conversations we’ve had, places we’ve visited, hospitality we’ve been offered, opportunities and experiences we never thought possible when we first started planning this challenge. It’s certainly opened my eyes to a different side of NATS that I’ve never seen before, and I’ve not been disappointed. Nearly everywhere we’ve been, staff have gone out of their way to welcome us, offer us hot coffee, sandwiches, pizza, home-made cakes and scones. And I never did find out what the clearance was for four bikes, a helicopter and two fire engines at a Welsh costal airfield.

Thank you isn’t enough for everyone’s support, engagement, encouragement and by no means last, donations. That’s what this trip has always been about. Raising awareness and much needed funds and I’d like to think we’ve achieved what we set out to do. At the time of writing this our current total stands at £43,810 but we still want more please. At times it’s been blummin hard and we’ve had to dig deep, but we’ve also had a great laugh along the way with memories, stories and friendship that will last for the rest of our days.

We’re approaching Portsmouth and a chance for us, (except Wayne) to catch up with our families again but we’re all feeling sad that tomorrow is our last day. We have Netheraven, Middle Wallop and Western Radar to visit and although that marks the end of the road trip, we will continue with our fund-raising efforts until the official close at the Aerobility Aviators Ball in November.