For the past few years, it has become an annual event for Carole and Colin Duggan in their green 1933 Beetle Back JAP powered Super Sports and Len and Bill Critchlow in Len’s blue 1936 Barrel Back Matchless Super Sports, to take a two-week driving holiday to foreign climes. Starting with various tours around Ireland, 2018 saw them go slightly further afield to Brittany, then in 2019 the decision was made to make this year a tour of Northern Spain.
Bill has written all about this epic trip. Just read on and enjoy. Lots of photos too, click to see them.
With milometer trips zeroed, we set off from Birmingham on 25th June, destination Plymouth to catch the Brittany Ferry to Santander. It was an atrociously wet day and even with full wet weather clothing, we were all soaked to the skin! A brief stop in Stow-on-the-Wold for hot tea and breakfast came as a welcome break, before continuing through to the port.
The following evening, after a 23-hour crossing, we arrived in Santander and then a short drive later, to Cortiguera for our first night in Spain.
The next day, we headed south for a couple of days staying just outside of Ruesga. Each day, we’d cover about 100 miles of touring the local roads. Colin, with previous experience of cycling in this region, had planned a route each day which was uploaded into our sat navs. Some people may scoff at having a sat nav in a vintage Morgan, but doing routes like these in unfamiliar lands with paper maps would make life extremely difficult, especially for the navigating passenger, who wouldn’t be able to appreciate the spectacular scenery if they had their head buried in a paper map. Sat navs can have their downsides though, as ours led us through an industrial estate, along a forest track and then through a ploughed field back to the hotel one evening, whereas Colin who had been behind us, very sensibly followed the very large signs proudly promoting, ‘Hotel Parador de Cervera de Pisuerga’.
It was very hot in Spain (though not as hot, as we learned, as it was in the UK!), with temperatures hitting the mid 30’s. The cars coped extremely well climbing the mountain roads in this heat, with only the steepest of climbs with full luggage requiring a break to cool off.
By Saturday 29th June, we had moved on to Boca de Huergano for a glorious couple of days exploring the local area, lakes and mountains. One evening, whilst having a quiet drink in a local bar, a loud tannoy outside broke the tranquillity with, ‘Arriba, arriba!’ and a few moments later the thunder of hundreds of motorcycle engines announcing the arrival of their owners. Scores of thirsty motorcycle riders piled into this tiny bar, shoulder to shoulder, all demanding drinks. The landlady burst into action having quickly got assistance from colleagues, friends, family? from the back, to serve everyone. No money changed hands, but a careful tally of each drink was kept by a dedicated and eagle-eyed individual, presumably to settle up later. Half an hour later, with most of the riders refreshed and enough space back at the bar to allow us to escape from our bar stools, we discovered that this was a local motorbike club and all quite normal!
On Tuesday 2nd July, we moved back north to the delightfully named coastal town of Poo! This hotel was just a short walk to the beach, allowing some of us the opportunity for a cooling swim in the sea after a hot day of Morgan piloting, or if you were named Critchlow, the far more sensible option of occupying the bar overlooking said beach. After all, sun stroke is not to be trifled with and it’s important to stay hydrated. Here, along with the usual daily maintenance of oiling chains, valve guides and greasing sliders, Dad had to take the nearside headlight apart to coax an errant sidelight bulb back into operation. Looking at the explosion of parts, wires and tools strewn about in the road outside of the hotel, the manager took pity on us and asked if we’d prefer to park in the private hotel courtyard to the side. The gates to the courtyard had not been opened in years, but the chain lube had not been packed away yet and was used to free off the seized lock and hinges.
The manager, who seemed wary of these strange people and their even stranger cars when they first arrived, was over the moon the next morning having seen a picture of us printed in the local paper! Colin, the only Spanish speaker of the group, had inadvertently described our trip to a local reporter who had clearly been having trouble finding copy that day.
It was on Wednesday that our route took us to Cain de Valdeon, a little village at the bottom of a valley accessed over a 1450m mountain pass. This is an area popular with hikers and with only one road in and out that’s closed to trucks and coaches. The reason for this soon became apparent as the road got narrower and narrower, steeper and steeper and the valley walls overhung more and more the further we climbed. Time for a quick coffee, then on to the Sanctuary of Covadonga, a very impressive church and pilgrimage destination set at the top of a winding mountain road. Suffice to say, the arrival of two Morgan three wheelers blasting up the switchbacks disturbed the peace for a while, but the tourists still seemed to appreciate them, greeting us with smiles and waves, as it was for the rest of the trip. Wherever we went, the locals were keen to talk to us about the cars, how old they were, how far we’d come and how fast they go!
After a spectacular few days of local touring in the mountains, with 1 in 5 gradients, hairpin bends, overhanging cliff walls and stunning views, we headed East again, past Santander to Barrio de Arriba to explore that region. We got there on the Friday and the next day we woke to the sounds of some very high-performance machinery testing their limits a mile or so from the hotel. An organised event, whether it was road racing, auto testing or time trialling, we never found out the details. Also not knowing where exactly it was taking place, meant that we couldn’t see much other than the race cars going to wherever they were going. Not that we’d have time anyway, as we had a full day of driving scheduled ourselves. Having completed about 2/3rds of our mountain route on Saturday, we found our route blocked for the racing. With no other way around the mountain and back to the hotel, we had to go all the way back the way we’d came.
On the Sunday route, whilst looking for the usual ‘Menu del dia’ for lunch (3 courses for EUR 8 to 12 usually), we stumbled across the fantastic ‘Bar Asador Castro Valnera’ tucked away up a backroad. The place was already fairly busy for Sunday lunch, but they could fit us in. At the back of the eatery was an enormous barbeque where everything was cooked. It reminded me very much of the rustic restaurants you find at the ski resorts in the Alps, with thick stone walls and rough, ancient timbers, strange when you’re halfway up a Spanish mountain in the summer! It felt like I should have been wearing ski boots!
Starter comprised of a huge platter of King Prawns, followed by a main of BBQ lamb and stuffed peppers. Packed to the gills by this enormous feast and in two minds if we could fit in a pud, we were slightly taken aback when another huge platter of side of BBQ beef arrived! Not to be outdone, we heroically battled through it, now far too rotund to fit comfortably in the cars for the afternoon’s drive.
By Monday 8th July and with the tread on our rear tyres wearing thin (possibly due to the lunches), it was time to head further east along the coast to Muskiz, just outside of Bilbao, where we’d be catching the ferry the next day to head home. Even these coastal roads were extreme in their gradient and the stunning views down from the hills towards the sea served as a fitting finale to a wonderful fortnight’s touring through Northern Spain.
Getting into Portsmouth on Wednesday morning, we were back home in Birmingham by the afternoon. The final distance for the trip was 1483 miles. Driving a Morgan three-wheeler in Spain was a glorious experience. The roads, particularly the back roads that we used, were smooth and with very little traffic, absolutely perfect for blasting about on. The people, the food and the weather were just icing on the cake. If you ever get the opportunity to take your trike over, we can wholeheartedly recommend it!