Overstaying by 24 days, form filling, Covid tests and self-isolation plus Test and Trace
On the 23rd of January 2020 we set off on the Eurotunnel. The original plan: drive through France, Italy, Greece, on to Turkey through Georgia to Azerbaijan, and then come back. Simple really.
We never realised our dream to drive to Azerbaijan – Covid stopped us in our tracks - but it has been an enormous adventure, including over 6 months of various lockdowns (3 in Turkey and 4 in Spain).
Now we are heading home, to continue our motorhome travels in the UK.
We had to drive across the middle of Spain, with the trepidation of Karen having overstayed the 90 / 120 days allowed to British citizens because of Brexit. More of that later. As we set off, we decided to revisit two places from our 2016 adventure. First off was Villanueva de los Infantes, a picturesque small village off the main E5 heading north to Santander. We had stayed near here in 2016 but since then they had installed a magnificent Aire on the outskirts of the town. Opened in 2020, it can accommodate 10 motorhomes. It also offers electric hook up and showers, along with the usual waste disposal and fresh water. (Look at our Google maps page, which has every stop of the trip with reviews).
You will have heard from us many times just how much cheaper Spain is away from the main tourist areas, so here is an example. Where we were locked down in Barbate the average price of a coffee was €1.20, visiting the boys in Marbella it was €2.20 and in Villanueva de los Infantes we had a coffee with cake for just €1.00. The best thing about it was how lovely the people were. We were nervous that with Covid there would be some hostility to us arriving, essentially in the middle of nowhere. This was not the case. We were made welcome, and the weather changed, the sun shone and we were able to walk and explore. The town is one of the Bonita Pueblos de España. If you ever decide to visit Spain, we recommend perhaps doing an itinerary based on these villages. Many of them have Aires and, as the name says, they are pretty.
We had one meal out and our three-course meal with drink and coffee was €20 for the two of us. As we walked, we reflected on the year and bit we have been away. There is no doubting Covid changed everything for us, we were not alone in that, but at the same time we were able to see and experience places and things very few were able to.
When people ask us what we did during Covid we answer, ‘we travelled’ - all made possible by being in a motorhome. It was the enabler, our ‘Buster’ was our home and protector. It allowed us to visit 7 countries safely. Our ‘Lockdowns’ were by all accounts much more flexible than most. We are so grateful to the people we have met on the trip. The kindness shown was overwhelming.
The views in Spain can be overwhelming. It is so empty and big you can see for miles and when the roads are empty, even more so. We continued to our last stop of the trip, the beautiful city of Burgos. We had to get there a day early as it was a bank holiday, so we stayed at the Municipal Campsite and again we were treated wonderfully well. They even printed out all the paperwork for our return to the UK for free. It could be said the campsite is ‘utilitarian’ but, as the word means, it has everything you need, and it all worked. It may not have been pretty, but it was lovely, plus there is a bonus of the most gorgeous walks by the river to the town. The weather forecast was the standard ‘Gapper’ one - rain! - but unusually for us “rainmakers’ the sun came out and we were able to wander out into the country for the last time for two weeks and take in the air.
We needed our first Covid test to be able to re-enter the UK. This was a simple affair, and the results were quickly ready for us and printed out. (They recommended that we have everything printed rather than on our phone).
We have fond memories of Burgos. It has one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain, although we were not allowed enter this time due to Covid. On the other hand, Karen remembered a lovely jeweller there and it was open, happy days!
The next morning it was up early and on the road to Santander for the ferry. We topped up the diesel at £0.90 a litre, topped up our gas and did some shopping before heading to the port. We were grateful for the advice of having all the paperwork printed. Our check-in was seamless… now we only Passport Control to get through – and we were 24 days over visa for Karen.
I made sure that when I handed the passports through (with my Irish one on top for luck) I was wearing my Irish rugby polo shirt. The frontier policeman was genuinely nice, stamped Karen’s passport and wished us a safe trip. That was it! Panic over! We boarded the ferry, found our cabin and then waved Europe goodbye.
The procedure for entry to the UK is simple: Covid test to enter (Antigen will suffice). You must quarantine for 10 days after you arrive and have two PCR tests during this period on days 2 and 8. These must be paid for and you must use an approved supplier from the Government list. There are now over 50 suppliers on this list and the reviews of most are awful. Just because they are on the list does not mean they work. You pay your money and take your chance. We have heard of people being in quarantine for more than 15 days and having to buy the test again, because without negative 2 – 8 day tests you can’t leave quarantine. We chose a company called Testing For All. They had very good reviews, were a not for profit and were only £99 each for the two tests compared to the NHS company at £210 each.
Our arrival in Portsmouth was lovely, the sun was shining, and Karen’s cousin was on the fort waving his Pompey Cross of St George to welcome us back. This made Karen cry. Also, the Royal Navy had their two aircraft carriers and myriad of other boats in to greet us. A friend of ours had kindly lent us her flat in Bournemouth for us to quarantine in, but is took over 4 hours to get off the boat and so we stopped overnight in ‘Buster’ at Port Solent. The owners allow motorhomes to park for up to two nights. We had a comfortable night and set off in the morning to Bournemouth and moved into our home for the next ten days.
As you read this, we are on day 9 of our quarantine and have had 2 negative results and await the results of the 3rd. All being well we will be getting our vaccine first thing Thursday morning, here in Bournemouth. We have had two calls a day from Test and Trace asking if we are self-isolating. Usually the calls are 15 mins apart - very strange.
So it’s over??? Well, no, its not! We are heading back to London to see family and friends and do the life laundry stuff (medical check-ups, check on the house etc).
Come June we are back on the road, here in the UK, and we will be letting you all know what we get up to and what we think of how we do motorhoming here in the UK. Oddly enough we have toured huge chunks of Europe but never the UK. So, how will the UK compare?
We are doing some planning and thus far we have found there are few Aires - and wild camping is just that. We have now booked places to stay in Dorset, Somerset and Hampshire for June and we are heading up to Scotland in July for a 60th birthday party. So come with us for what we hope we can call the ‘After Covid UK tour’.
We hope you will continue to follow our blog as we explore the UK in ‘Buster’. Thanks for all your support and good wishes through the past 14 months we have been away. Big virtual hugs to you all!
David and Karen