We are back on terra firma after an exciting and interesting adventure with Land Rover to Corsica. “Where exactly is Corsica?” I here one of you say. Look at the map especially the region of the Mediterranean Sea and look for Italy. It sits just to the left of Northern Italy and just above the island of Sardinia and it belongs to France. We had booked to go on an escorted trip to the Islands with a travel company that specializes in overland trips with your 4×4 vehicle. Now then, you and I know perfectly well that I don’t need much escorting in Europe having criss crossed Europe over the past 30 years on motorbike. This adventure though was a bit different, for a start we were travelling in a two and half ton eleven yrs old two litre Land Rover Defender TD5 rigged for overlanding ie full of all sorts of camping stuff, the OZ tent was straped to the roof and carried various spares and tools…just in case. We mostly managed a speed of around 70 mph on the auto routes though at times we achieved 85 going down hill with a favourable tailwind in Southern France. It was to be a fact finding trip for life on the road via Land Rover and all its four wheeled quirks! RD landrovers had worked wonders putting my truck back to its original state after the collision with the container weeks earlier. We had a few days left to fit the rear wooden interior and to decide what was going to go where, the heavy stuff went low to the floor to keep the centre of gravity low, this would be important when transiting between campsites rolling over tracks in the woods and high up the mountains, it wouldn’t be a good idea to roll the truck over on a rocky track in the middle of nowhere, not even a really nice man would come to the rescue where we were going!
Sunday morning came around quickly, the truck was loaded with all the camping gear some tools and a box of “just in case” spares, Peter the tour leader was also the mechanical back up for everyone on these tours so was equiped as such and he knows such a lot about 4×4 vehicles that he proved to be a diamond.The fridge had been on overnight so was nice and cold, bacon and sausage, milk and some beers were cooling inside. The long tent was strapped to the roof, its just too long to go inside a Land Rover 90. We were soon heading to the A1 then turned south in the direction of Peterborough, from there we would turn towards Cambridge and onto the M11 joining the infamous M25 for the short hop round to the Dartford bridge. It was a lovely warm day and the 65 mph we travelled at was just fine in spite of my previous cruising speeds on the motorways on motorbikes! We had plenty of time so accepted a detour “offered” by Garmin that took us through picturesque Rochester, it’s steeped in history and worth a visit. We turned back onto the M20 towards Folkestone and our overnight stop. It was just twenty minutes from the ferry and was a great deal, they had good food and a bar, so for one night it was fine. Waiting for dinner at Folkestone
Remember folk you can enlarge the smaller photos by double left clicking with your mouse when placing the cursor over the photo….though maybe not over this particular photograph!
It was just after nine in the morning when we pulled out of the hotel back onto the M20 and headed toward Dover, the day was bathed in clear blue sky and a happy sun again, we had plenty of time, in fact we may make the earlier crossing (if you arrive early they will put you on the next available ferry if there’s room) Dovers roads were busy, especially near the huge ferry terminal, coming from the M2 is better as the road spirals down the white cliffs straight into the terminal, however coming via the M20 from Folkestone can sometimes mean a slow parade through Dover. We joined the slow traffic into the terminal and then picked our way through the maze of lanes looking for the right ferry dock with guidance too from the yellow and orange jacketed port staff. At Dover several companies sail to several French and Belgium ports, today we would be sailing with the Scaninavian company DFDS to the French port of Dunkirk. We were waived towards the huge Customs and Excise shed, I have done this a couple of times over the years and it’s just a check of your vehicle and contents, it’s a few friendly questions whilst expert eyes scan over you and the vehicle. We were there just a few minutes then we were excused. Continuing in the lane we turned and twisted towards the ferry, passing a silver Land Rover as it too was herded into the searching shed! We waived as we passed, perhaps they too had booked the Corsican Adventure with Atlas Overland? The staff in the booths checked us in scanned the passports and said we would be boarding the next ferry, a full two hrs ahead of our original ferry booking. All the tarmac in front of us was divided into white painted lanes with a number on, “Please follow lane number 14” is all we needed to hear, we duly followed lane 14 until we came upto the back of parked vehcles and turned off the engine, at the head of the stationary traffic stood a man in a yellow jacket with a radio waiting to wave everyone forward in whatever order was neccesary, it’s all down to weight and size, ferrys have to be loaded carefully. To our right endless containers and trucks slowly moved inside the deep dark bowels of ferries parked nose first up to the pier head, their chins resting on the rubber tipped pontoon, their actual bows were tipped up and over like knights helmets. Further down the line others sat bum first to the pierhead lowering a ramp and took everyhting up the rear so to speak! Several thick ropes held them firm, long lines of trucks slowly filed forward. Britain’s tradelinks into Europe were certainly flowing today.
We saw the silver Land Rover in another lane, the occupants were walking over to us to say hello, this was Clare and Lee and their two young boys. We had been issued a form with each others vehicle details and Clare had identified us. We had a few minutes chatting before the man at the front began to wave us forward, we were just a six of sixteen million people per year to pass through Dover! By now most of the lorries had been embarked and the little truckettes had ferried the dozens of containers aboard, these little trucks are basically a huge engine on wheels with a revolving cab that the driver just turns fore or aft depending which way he was going, they just went back and forth all day long filling and emptying ferries of containers. We had a two hour sailing to Dunkirk and time to relax, we could just see France 21 miles away, Calais was just an hour and a half away but we had an extra thirty minutes on the sea as we tracked north from the Calais coastline to Dunkirk. It’s a modern sea port on the outskirts of Dunkirk, I always feel sad coming here. To be honest don’t come this way often, Calais is my preferred port as it’s the shorter crossing into Northern France, Dunkirk is the site of our army’s biggest defeat in history. Germany had invaded Poland in 1939 and we had gotten involved because of treaties cobbled together after the mess in the last war, in fact Europe hadn’t really got over the carnage of WWI so nations were understandably reluctant to get involved in another war just twenty years later and fresh in the minds of everyone, but then the Nazi’s invaded Holland, Belgium and France it was clear it wouldn’t stop there. We now had little choice but to commit and we sent the army to France to fight but before we knew it we were pushed right back to this little town on the coast called Dunkirk. The defeat was not quite complete as the Nazi’s stopped advancing instead hemming us in at Dunkirk. They sent in the dive bombers, the Royal Navy lost many warships close to the shore line as they stopped to pick up our soldiers. The RAF had fought hard the preceeding months but lost many aircraft and had now been pulled back to protect England as the threat of invasion became clear. The army was being pounded in and around Dunkirk all along the beaches by both dive bombers and artillary. Hundreds of smaller civilian owned boats had been called into service to ferry the troops from the beach to waiting ships further off shore and had in fact pulled off a remarkable rescue to evacuate nearly a quarter of a million men, it was called a miracle though hundreds died on the beachs and sand dunes, the same sand dunes we looked at now as we neared the terminal. No, I’m afraid I really don’t like coming to Dunkirk! Anyway it was noon and we drove onto dry land following the traffic inland on the new tarmac through dunes and waste ground to the established road network and onto the Mway to Lille and round the back of gay Paree missing out the not so gay Paris circular route, is like the London North Circular Route…but on crack cokaine!! We had decided to go further south than the itinerary suggested in order to make Day 2 not quite as long a haul all the way south to Avignon. Clare had the same idea and they had a campsite in mind and this was an hour further south than the one at Chalons. We made our own way east then south on the A roads before joining the Mways. The weather was still nice and sunny and we ticked off the towns and cities of Lille, Cambrai, St Quentin. Mistress garmin after a false start was doing her usual good job, it seems I’d engaged GPS simualtor at some point! But now everthing was fine. We left the Mway in the late afternoon at Troyes and headed for the Parc Natural at the lakes and searched for the sign for the camp site. It wasn’t long before we picked it up and slowly drove along narrow lanes before arriving. We booked in for the one night and made our way to our spot, passing the silver Land Rover and the family setting up their tent, they had just arrived too. We set up camp pretty quickly and cooked our evening meal. It had been warm all through the day and the air con in the truck wasn’t what one expects! we just had the windows and two slots below the windscreen, they measured about two foot long by about four inches, to open the flap there is a lever in the dashboard with a knob on. I don’t think they had been opened in years because a cloud of dust blew over us when we opened them during the afternoon. It was very noisy and windy too, we had to shout to make ouselves heard, the howling wind drowned out the sterio too and rendered the sound suppression covering pretty useless! It was almost like having a soft top. We met up with Lee, Clare and their boys at the bar on site later that evening, their silver Land Rover 110 was only 2 yrs old and had some modern items such as electric windows! We chatted about the days journey what we did and how many stops, how much fuel etc etc. For us we were finding out how our 11 yr old TD5 was going to perform on this long trip. Everyone had to make their own way down to Marseilles and meet either at Avignon campsite or at the very last to meet at the docks to collect our tickets for the overnight ferry to Corsica, landing the following morning, that’s three days from now. It’s also where we would meet Peter our tour guide for the Corsican adventure. It had been a great day full of new experiances and a drink or two was in order.
To be honest we just made the last hour in the bar before it closed at 10 and I managed two of the above monsters! Lee said they wouldn’t be travelling so far in the morning and planned to meet everyone at Marseilles. We would go all the way to Avignon, Garmin said it was about 350 miles away, as we were on a schedule we had to keep on the Mways so we would be paying tolls. I have to say I don’t really mind, at least the roads are top notch and the service areas are great and not overpriced. The more I travel on the continent the more I find how rubbish it is when travelling on the roads in England and it’s getting worse every year, it’s quite a depressing reality to be honest. Anyhow we had another full days driving to look forward to. We got up early had breaakfast and dropped the tent, everything else had been loaded the night before so we only had the tent, beds and sleeping bags to stow. We quietly packed away leaving the dozens of oldies to sleep away in their motorhomes, most of whom seemed to be Dutch, German or English retired folk (I guess that’s us too then these days!) We left the camp and the silver 110 behind making our way back towards the M-way in the early morning mist to continue our journey southto Avignon a fair few miles away. Today I would put my foot down a bit more and see how the truck performs. By mid afternoon we had done over three hundred miles, the further south we drove the warmer it got, the front vents let more hot air in as did the wound down windows! We drove by Dijon, Lyon, Montelimar, and Orange arriving in the region of Vaucluse, we could see the Alps away to our left and I saw name places I’d visited years ago triggering old memories. Avignon soon came into view as we approached our exit junction, driving another ten miles or so to the edge of town and the campsite on the banks of the River Drome. It was one of those dry hard ground sites with little grass and few sparten trees which offered little shade against the sun, these sites are familiar to us as regualr travellers to Southern France and Spain. I was checking in when a couple walked in behind, hearing me speak the woman said in her singing Welsh accent “Hello are you on the Atlas overland tour by any chance? These two had come across from Nice having spent a few days in France already. Slowly the four trucks on our tour were coming together! We just needed the last couple now and they came from the channel tunnel and not the ferry. ….”Hello guys are you on the Atlas trip?” came a voice from an old Land Rover Discovery. We had all arrived within an hour of each other, how good is that? The silver 110 would be somewhere further north by about an hour, I’d give them a call later and arrange something. We got dinner going again as Greg and Hayley chose to walk across the river into town with Richard and Cyris for theirs. We had ours and took an evening stroll along the banks of the River Drome. Avignon is one of those very ancient cities that held great importance several centuries ago. Back in 1309 well before France became France The city Avignon was part of the kingdom of Aries and it’s here that Pope Clement V made his residence, thus Avignon became the seat of the Papacy and not Rome. There is a curious site over the river as you walk along, it’s a bridge or should I say part of a bridge, I thought maybe it was in such a state of disrepair because of the war? Or maybe the men went on strike and its been left as a reminder of maybe the first strike in France? Or maybe the men just said “Fook it” after the king of the time died maybe?? The truth is that it fell down so many times, once during a seige, the rest of the time because of floods, they repaired it again and again until 1669 when they did indeed say “Fook it” and it was abandoned as a bridge, it’s just an historic ruin now with four out of twenty two spans remaining. I took photos the following morning in the brilliant sunshine. After breakfast we all took a stroll around the old part of the walled city, spending most of the time looking up at the magestic buildings, I’m a bit suspicious though as to exactly how old some of the buildings actually are because the French are extremely good at reproducing old buildings! Beautiful they were all the same, we ended up at a cafe/bar sitting in the sunshine and watching the French go about their business. They impressed me as usual with their style and flair for clothes, young and old look equally smart, I could have sat there all day “people watching” it’s one of my favorite pastimes! But we had an eye on the time and decided to have a stroll back over the river to break camp and get ready for the eighty kilometer drive to Marseilles
We were just about done packing when the silver 110 turned up! The previous evenings phone call had placed them somewhere north enroute to their planned camp, they were having a bit of trouble locating the site and it was proving to be nearly the end of a long old day for them. Lee and Clare were upbeat and raring to bash on, the two youngsters had plenty to keep them occupied with dvd players and their rear seating compartment was becoming their daytime bedroom judging by the amount of “stuff” they had all about their feet! It was good to be all together for the first time, four sat nav’s and one address and the good old map! We convoyed out of the city after topping up with fuel. French city driving left some high eyebrows as they lane swapped at the very last second darting just in front of Defender bumper bars and snook in tight behind the smoky Disco’s …..Fooking lunatics! But not as bad as the good folk of Pompei and southern Italy at large who’s driving put the F in fookin lunatics!! In no time we started the downhill run to the coast line of the South of France. The sea really was an azzure of shimmering blue. Yeah Hey! we had the Mediterranean Sea at our fingertips, we just had to follow our nose to the docks, we had just about completed six hundred miles in glorious sunshine and clear blue sky, Oh this was brilliant! We spotted our ferry and made for it, unfortunatly it wasn’t ours and was berthed in the wrong bay. Our four trucks rejoined the main drag after seperating at traffic lights we could hear each other on the CB’s so knew we were all heading in the right direction. The front truck drove slowly and we all caught up and turned off again this time arriving at the correct dock.
The staff at the ticket office sorted our group paperwork and issued us with tickets before sending us to the parking area up on the ramp above us, harbour staff guided us with a smile and we switched off the engines got out and basked in the sunshine overlooking two ferries, we had an hour or so to wait so we took photos and watched the early boat load up with vehicles.
Julie and myself pose in front of our ferry
The boys introduced us to “Bob” and “Gary”
We sat and stood around for quite a while before the girls with the radio’s waved us forward to start boarding. Two lanes turned into one lane and we slowly crept forward towards the cave like entrance at the rear of the big ship, the handlers on board waved us forward and directed us to one side making sure we were tucked together nice and close. We switched off the engines and made our way upstairs to the main foyer and exchanged our tickets for door cards, our cabin wasn’t far away down the corridor.
We took a quick cooling shower before heading aft in search of Le Bar which I thought was a bit of a dissapointment, unlike any previous ferry bars this was very old and tired looking with old shitty looking wallpaper and 60’s furniture and no music nor stage, behind the small bar stood Le Nick and Le Knack, one supervised the till whilst the other guy poured the drinks very slowly into half pint glasses having been in this situation before, I ordered four beers for me and one for Julie and 2 packets of peanuts. It was so bloody painfully slow. Le Nick called out what he was pouring then Le Nack repeated it Le Nick agreed then Le Nack entering it in the till….It went like this but in French.. Le Nick…One glass of lager Le Nack repeated….One glass of lager? Le Nick replied… Yes, one glass of lager Le Nack enters One lager in the till Then it was my turn.. he just stood there mystifed, when I tried to order 6 beers and two packets of peanuts..I was by now getting really thirsty and upped the volume. I pointed and tapped the pump and fingured 6 but he didn’t seem sure! Now I always do OK at the bar in any country but all countrys don’t have the likes of Le Nick and Le Nack to deal with. A Gothic looking French girl behind me was also getting impatient and repeated my order loudly to him, I turned saying “Merci” to her, they continued their labourious routine…. “fuck the fucking peanuts” I muttered quietley to myself! It was ages before we all settled down at a couple of tables having a belated chuckle at the two imbeciles behind the little bar, Lee led the second charge for the bar this time we spotted some decent sized glasses and tapped them eagerly. Lee felt adventerous and tried for the peanuts. I’m the first to admit my French is rubbish but with plenty of animation a smile and a normal voice I usually get through but these two buggers had me scuppered. Hmm I don’t think I was going to get many beers tonight! To cap it all off as we were clearing the old part of Marseille a mile or so down the coast an old dignified looking Frenchman stood before us and proceeded…totally uninvited…to “educate” us in English about his wonderful Marseilles. I’m not sure but I think it may have been a jolly old telling off…French style? It was one of those godstopping moments because nobody said anything. I grabbed my camera and snook out the door leaving the gang to their French lesson. I returned later to see Le Teacher sat with his missus absobed in a book. I don’t think he took kindly to British tourists more interested in drinking beer and having a laugh than marveling at his wonderful Marseilles!!
As you can imagine between the chuckle brothers behind the bar and the grumpy old teacher we decided it wouldn’t be a late night and retired couple by couple to our rooms! Dawn arrived with a sea fret and some sign of land along our starbord side, we were close to docking, at last we were in Corsica!
Peter met us outside the small port in the picturesque L’ille-Rousse. He stays out here for a period of time because he has co-ordinated several back to back tours. We were to park up just down the road and we would be treated to morning coffee as he introduced us to Atlas Overland Tours…that’s Pete and his partner Jo, she’s recently packed in teaching primary school back in the UK to do this full time so provided the alure and glamour to complement Pete’s Geordie loggers look! He just had to run through some information and spoke about what we could expect and what he expects in return, making sure we were all on or near the same playing field. It sounded like we were all quite sensible and didn’t have any odd requests or demands, Peter walked us back to our trucks and sorted out a radio for everyones truck, with that done we took to the road, Peter and Jo at the front in their white Nissan 4×4 the rest of us dropped in behind and we drove out of town heading inland reaching open country in no time, it looked dry and sparce but soon turned green as the hills came into view. The main roads were in excellent condition for such a small island and put England to shame, not for the first time did I think this! Peter gave us some background to the tour and Corsica as we drove. We soon turned further inland into the hills looking at the trees as the land thickened with them. Corte was a central town with a huge supermarket and garage and several yellow Butlins type road trains taking people up and down the roads of Corte. Folk stocked up with some fresh food, we had done a big shop back at Avignon a day or so earlier and our on board fridge was already full. That done we set off again heading south through the middle of the island and into heavy forested land, all the time Peter filled in our knowledge gaps and told us to be aware of things on the roads especially in these remote areas, things like cows…goats…and wild pigs?? I pricked up at that! He piped up again “Sorry not wild pigs just pigs” It seems the remote areas belonged to everyone and the farmers let their stock roam to feed off the land, I presume they don’t wander far from the farm but not once during the trip did I see any sign of any farmer! Peter again…”Though sometimes we do see wild boar, in fact on the last tour we saw a couple”…I’d brought a selection of knives…but alas I’d left my AK47 back home in my dreams!
We got moving again as the light drizzle descended on us, it didn’t spoil anything we were up in the mountains and covered in forest greenery so to be a bit damp was OK. We neared out first camp at Zonza in the mountains when Peter said “follow me down here…” Low box and second gear should cope with it, we dropped off the road onto a muddy track that twisted and turned through the trees and around huge million year old boulders. We were following Peter along a black line on the map and did a large circle in Col De Bavella, in parts it was quite muddy as the trees prevented the sun getting in to dry the ground out. We stopped at a steep hill where Peter invited us to “have a go at it” there was a slightly longer route round but I think he wanted to see if we could cope with this, on reflection I think It was a test of sorts, Pete’s big white Nissan skipped up the hill first we got out and watched looking to see which line he chose. When it was our turn we drove to the start of the hill in low box second gear and began to tilt up, the bonnet pointed at the tree tops and blue sky, increasing power we roared upward to the summit with ease as did the Defenders 110, we all had grippy tyres you see! Greg’s Disco slithered a bit and dropped back a touch before giving it a second go and skipped up and over. Both he and Hayley did this as a fun hobby at the weekends back home, in fact Hayley had her own Defender which had been kitted out with fancy suspension stuff, her photos and video clips looked impressive. Richard had gone up second without a moments thought. he had obviously done this kind of thing in the past, later he showed us some photos of him playing with previous trucks on muddy circuits. I think Peter thought we were all capable now though I was the least but not frightened and willing to learn and we had the truck to do it in!
With that done we carried on with the loop mindful of storm gullies, the winter rains certainly changed the landscape as Peter observed, he comes on these roads in early spring months inspecting roads and tracks for groups to explore. We came upon tarmac again and drove into the little town on the hill called Zonza parking up for a coffee and ice cream and a little look round for the yellow post box with the words POSTE in bold blue letters. It was late afternoon when we drove into our campsite just a mile or so down the road, it was on a stepped hill, the ground was hard packed sandy soil and dotted around were dozens of pine cones from the fir trees, a well maintained shower and toilet block sat in the middle, there was a male and female entrance but once inside we all shared the same wash basins! the toilets and showers had doors on so privacy could be had, by the entrance to the camp sat a structure from a cowboy movie which was with a large lean to under which sat large benches, the brick built barbi ovens were put to use by Lee and Greg. We got stuck into our own cooking after which we all strolled over to Peters truck with chairs and beers for an evening of chat. So there we all were, sat around in a semi circle consuming drinks and chatting about ourselves and relating funny stories, ten adults and two young boys who went to bed as the tempo revved up a notch and I began to tell about what I used to do at “The Zoo” talking about the funny stuff and kinda took the stage as questions came my way about this and that. It was the first time I’d talked about it in company of folk I didn’t know but I figured non of these guys gave me the impression that they had frequented the same place, and all had led good lives and hadn’t strayed far from society’s guidelines. It was a right good laugh, right up until bedtimes in fact! During the night we had thunder and it sounded to be right over our heads followed by some rain which was expected. The morning brought a slight ground mist but it was dry, the sandy ground had absorbed most of the water, as you looked through the trees you could see beads of sunshine pierce the canopy and start the drying process on everything it touched
The camp awoke, Pete strolled by on his way to the shower block with his towel slung over his shoulder, Jo followed a few minutes later and within half an hour everyone was up and about, Lee got the lads up and doing things Hayley and Greg made their breakfast, just Richard and Cerys slumbered it til the last minute before clambering down from their roof tent, it was a slow start this morning we were due to move off at 0930 hrs but that wouldn’t happen today though, we had a great time last night and some of us got moving a bit slower than normal.
There was time for a bit of footi!
Today Peter and Jo would take us out into the wilds for some off road driving but first we drove up into the hills, he expalined how forest fires ravage Corsica frequently and pointed out the roadside signs that looked like bus stop signs, these were in fact signs telling the fire brigade that a huge water tank was situated nearby, obviously there is no mains water nearby so the authorities have built these huge tanks near the tracks in wooded areas. We stopped on a run off to have our first close look at the countryside, I went up into the rocks to get some good photos.
We got moving again only driving a couple of hundred yards before turning left off the road and dropping away down the hillside on a dusty track, the soil was quite bare here in places because there had been a huge forest fire a couple of years agoe, many fir tree trunks stood like black charred pencils, some quite erect and others had twisted and curled as the fire consumed them, the grasses and shrubery were beginning to come back.
Road signs in Corsica seem to mean target practice
We drove for miles on the forest track, the fire had consumed the forest in 2007 some of the trees had started to grow again at the tops many stood pretty lifeless though, the plants and shrubery began to establish again but large areas were just bare brown and rusty coloured patches. We eventually arrived at a tarmac road and drove towards the town of Sarte, most of the older parts sit on top of the cliffs so a walk up the narrow stone steps soon had people breathing rather more quickly, the path weaved its way up and around the houses until it came out in the old stone square and food! We stayed here for a while sitting in the square and snooping around the small streets exploring the little shops.
Do they like Sarte? Thumbs up from Clare and the boys Kieron and Piers.We went back to the car park after lunch and a spot of people watching, we saw plenty of motorbikes in the square from several nations, French German and a couple of Swiss, it was a popular spot! we were now heading for the beach about 15 miles away and down another track, but first we drove along a country road to Tizzano, this was a small boat marina with holiday homes dotted along the way, it looked lovely with plenty of greenery right to the rocky edge. The road now became a dirt track with patches of sand, it was very bumpy as the rains had carved gullys and swillies across the road as it ran off the land and into the sea. Peter assured us that it had been re-graded by a mechanical digger just a week ago and just to re-inforce his point a Honda Goldwing 1800cc motorbike came bouncing on towards us, the guy had no helmet on and he was struggling along the track which at this point was quite sandy. I wouldn’t have brought mine down this road I can tell you! Several large puddles later ( the width and length of several cars) I can’t believe the bike had just come through here! Finally the track ended at a clearing and we parked in the shade under some trees. I noticed a few “ordinary” vehicles sitting here too and concluded that Corsicans hadn’t much respect for their cars (or motorbikes) …..or were we just a bit soft with our careful driving over round through the rutted tracks?
As we made our way to the beach following Peter and Jo he said as an almost by the by “Oh yes and this used to be a nudist beach” Nice timing! It wasn’t anymore though because some bright spark had built a cafe overlooking the lovely nudists! The location was beautiful and secluded the small bay was protected by the elements by the half moon shape of the headlands to our front. Pete took his shorts off to reveal his bathing shorts, Aha ..”bathing shorts”… thought I, I had plenty of those but they were all in the drawer back home, Well I’ve not come all this way to not go in the water so undaunted I dropped my shorts to reveal a nice pair of Marks and Sparks underpants and off I went to join Peter in the sea, god only knows what the gang thought of this 56 year old, all I care to say is at least it wasnt a bloody thong, the other lads stripped off and joined us…in their bathing shorts..as did the two young uns and we had a nice couple of hours. The trees came right upto the edge of the beach I stood ages in the water just looking I did see a bird of prey it was a Kite it drifted along the treeline without a care in the world. Regarding the frollicks on the beach I have to report that the ladies failed to “man up” and join us except for Hayley who came in briefly but could probably smell the mischief so let her man Greg sweep her up in his arms! The water was cold at the bottom but nice and warm from the midrift upwards. We spent more time than anticipated here, it was nice and quiet with just a handful of people sharing the beach, it was my idea of a nice day on the beach the boys loved it and would still be there now I’m sure, come to think of it so would I!
We were given options as we had stayed longer at the beach than anticipated, we could either drive back on the main road to camp or proceed with the adventure and arrive at camp a lot later. Pete didn’t really need to ask but being a thoughtful chap he ran it by us. So it was back into the hills we went then! We fuelled up and drove around Sarte to pick up the tarmac northbound before hitting the dusty tracks again going into the earlier region.
It certainly looked dry and bare thanks to the fires in 2007, we would see a contrast over the next few days as we moved around the country. Eventually we crossed this region and onto tarmac again, our speed increased as low box was disengaged and we drove back to our camp at Zonza. Late that night we sat around talking about the day but drank less..I think! It had been a great day of life long images and experiences and I think everyone slept very well that night. I awoke with the dawn chorus around 05.30 the blackbirds in particular were so noisy, it’s a shame nobody has invented double glazing for tents for mornings like this. The feeling changed when stepping out into the early morning, it was great! the low mist was rising as the early morning sun did its stuff. I stood in the woods with my coffee enjoying the moment and the chuffing noisy blackbirds! Lee came out fo their tent and the boys ran to the shower block, Peter ambled past, we mumbled “morning” to each other, which for me was nothing short of a miracle because I don’t do early morning back home, I guess there is something about camping that brings out another me! Julie stirred at the smell of coffee and rolled of her campbed…long gone are our days of airbeds on the ground! I started breakfast of bacon and sausage on the fire as another day got under way. Lee was ferrying water to a fro in a bucket, this man walked about 1000 miles all told during the tour with that flipping bucket it was exhausting to watch!
We had got our act together this morning and were ready and packed away at Peters suggested start time. Our tent was wrapped and stacked on the roof, Lee and the boys got theirs wrapped in good time as Clare swooped around packing and stowing stuff in the back. Hayley and Greg closed down their roof tent and packed away the extension sides in quick time too, packing away the tent is all about team work and deciding who’s doing what job it’s easier when you fall into a routine. Watching Halyey hopping about on the roof with her wet hair wrapped in pink towel and tall Greg packing the tent into its sandwich style container made it look so easy that I could have made an information video. Pete and Jo had a wall to wall bed in the back of their truck so packing up for them meant closing the rear double door and stowing the map table! We rolled out of Zonza on time waving to the owner unaware he had gifted us some Corsican rocket fuel bless him. We turned south towards Levie driving down some challenging tarmac of dubious width, it reminded me of my old scalextric race track…smooth but not a lot of it! The scenery made the extra effort worth it my arms got well exercised as we went into one tight corner after another! Then Peter found us another track and off the road we went, slowing down as we meandered through a “Dingly Dell” we emerged an hour later into bright sunshine as the clouds gave Corsica another wide berth, the countryside today was thick with greenery, Oh what a complete contrast to yesterday. We stopped at lunchtime by a huge dam parked nose to tail in the shade the vast blue water was a nice change to the various shades of green.
We moved on after lunch making our way to the start of another track, unfortunatly it had the gate across and was padlocked, there wasn’t a notice or anything. Peter got the map out and looked at an alternative and thinking about the times involved. We drove back towards Zonza and took another mountain road heading east to the coast and onto the main coastal road. We twisted and turned on the mountain road so much it would have driven the Sat Nav round the bend! Down we went to sea level and joined the north south highway. We had a straight run up to Aleria, the campsite was just before the town and was practically on the beach. Peter booked us all in and led us to our pitches. Once again it was a slightly sandy floor dotted with pine cones from the pine trees that offered some shade, there were plenty of Europeans camping here, most had those horrible large road clogging campervans that are the bain of every other road user but there was a scattering of resonable sized vans mainly the modern VW type except for one classic that caught my eye.
(As seen at home in the UK)
The beach was a mere thirty paces away, the border marking old picket fence and small dunes was the only thing that seperated camp and beach. It was a long campsite that ran in the fir trees for quite a distance, at the far end there sat a large amount of mobile homes and chalets, many camp spots had electric hook ups for the campervans it had several large shower blocks and toilets of a high standard, also there were a couple of shops, cafe, mini golf, tennis club, etc. though it had all this there was plenty of open spaces. I guess it was still early season too so suited us. I imagine in high season its gets really busy.
Kieron and Piers got the girls involved in a French game of bowls, normally played on sand (so’s the ball doesn’t roll off down the street) it’s a bit like our own game but the French toss their balls to get nearest to Le Jack….I think! Peter meanwhile decides to get to the bottom of the infuriating sh-sh-sh-shisshing noise coming from my truck especially on right handers, now then folk it never really bothered me I just turned up the sterio! But it was driving Peter mad and he sounded determined to “sort it”. I was somewhat amused by his annoyance and said “OK mate crack on, be my guest”, with that he dived onto his back and shimmied under the truck, Richard came over with the tools and handed socket to Peter on request. You could hear faint Geordie oaths eminating from underneath! Within two minutes Peter shimmied back to the surface holding the culprit in his hands. I kid you not it was that quick. In plain speak this was a simple guard that sits behind the brake disc on both front wheels, a bolt had sheared so it was rattling a bit causing that sh-sh-shisshing noise, the one at the other side had sheard and dropped off many moons ago probably before I bought the truck….I never heard it break off and clang down the road anyway. Peter was now a very happy bunny and we drank some beer to celebrate!
In our group we had several spanner monkeys! The first being Peter of course, then we had Richard whose job was fixing broken down lorries back home in South Wales, then we had Greg and Hayley they love the inside of their vehicles as much as the outsides! Fixing and tweeking their land rovers, making them go that bit better further higher deeper. I’ve had motorbikes all my life that have been either new or newish models. Adventuring for me starts with putting the odds in my favour with good servicing, good tyres and a good recovery package. I’m applying the same way of thinking to my truck. My knowlwedge gaps are huge but the simple jobs I’m slowly getting to grips with and none of my working jobs have involved any kind of spannering whatsover. At some point during the night I could hear a faint irritating noise…beep beep…..beep…beep..beep………….. beep! It kept me awake for ages I couldn’t figure out if it was an animal, insect, bird or mabye something mechanical that activated the lights maybe? When someone went to the toilet block?….Who the fook keeps going to the bog so many times at this hour? it went on for ages. I brought it up over breakfast with the others, Clare said she heard it too. Peter came over and said yes its a frog…Fookin frog?? I looked at him closely not a whiff of a smirk on his face but I didn’t believe him! Especially after he recounted his story told to his pupils once of the velcro spiders of South America! Oh yes our Peter can be one witty bstard!!
After breakfast we took a short drive to look at a lighthouse on the beach a few miles away, depending on how many folk were around determined how much we might play on the beach with our trucks! Unfortunatly there were lots arriving already so that plan was scuppered. Piers and Kieron didn’t let that spoil their fun and headed for the water.
After a while on the beach watching the boys running up and down and splashing about in the shallows we turned the trucks around and headed back to camp, some of us would have a lazy day, a couple would go look at an old ruin, we opted for the lazy day to stroll on the beach, on the way back we could see the distant mountains with snow on their tops. It looked a bit strange looking at it from down here through the wine grove! Snow topped mountains and wine
We got back to the camp to find Greg and Hayley doing some “fettling” to their truck. This was the first trip overlanding with their Disco and the weight of everything stacked inside and on the top meant for the first time the trucks suspension was going down all the way and part of the rim was rubbing on the outside of the rear tyre, Greg could see the tyres were a bit wider than he wanted. The solution was to cut some of the body off and give the tyres more room to flex. We had started to store some of their kit on our tents to make their truck lighter on some of the days but they wanted it sorting so out came the chisel hack-saw and files! Greg chopped and sawed away some of the wheel arch and Hayley set-to with the file to finish it off.
They didn’t need any help with it, I took a few photos then we took ourselves off to the beach. Tree trunks had been stacked on the beach to be used I think as breakwaters like we see back home in England, but here the trunks have been bleached white in the sun.
We explored the white trees and, Ive never seen ordinary wood so white, I climbed up and promptly fell off as I stood on a layer of sand on the trunk, falling “out” of the tree I held my million pound camera up as I fell between two trunks grazing my arm and chest but the camera was fine! “Ooof that bloody stings!” I thought
It was a nice afternoon in spite of me falling out of the tree! I walked inland for a while as Julie went back to camp and got the kettle on. Today had the right pace I thought. I joined Julie for tea and biscuits, Greg had done the job and now they were getting dinner ready, Lee, Clare and the kids were dining out tonight at the on site eatery. The rest of us cooked up dinner then sat around with a few drinks for the rest of the night, tommorow we would be moving on again this time to camp number 3 somewhere in the mountains in the distance…but right now it was chillaxing time as the evening came as did that bloody beep..beep..beep beep! I walked towards it at the shower block but “it” kept moving, maybe Peter was telling the truth after all!
Greg, Richard and I stayed up late talking Land Rover stuff, when it turned technical it was time for me to turn in. I love the driving, adventuring, going places and my truck but I’m not such an in depth enthusiast as to how and why it works or how I could improve it as these two lads so I turned in for the night. The camp here at Marina d’Aleria on the east coast had been great, the sun, sea and sand coupled with not too many mad happy holiday people their screeching kids or their yapping dogs made this a happy place for me.We would be packing up and moving again in the morning heading back into the mountains.
I was up at dawn with the birds again and quietly brewed a coffee then walked across to the beach for the last time inspecting the campers large and small, the blue VW from the 1960’s was my favorite and I was impressed that it had driven all the way from Switzerland, I didn’t see any from England, in fact I didn’t see any English number plates at all during our stay here on Corsica. I returned to the tent and woke Julie up with coffee, others began to stir, first Peter climbed out and padded across to the shower block followed by Jo, Gregs truck began to wobble as they moved around upstairs in their roof tent. Lee appeared with his blue bucket! Richard and Cerys were as quiet as the grave as they seemed to be every morning always last to wake up, early risers they were not!
Tranquility camping at Aleria
Come 1000 hrs we drove out of the camp, on the road again this time heading north, we pulled over a couple of miles after the town of Aleria to fuel the trucks up and top up with supplies. Greg decided to drive round to the garage after picking up supplies so dropping Hayley off with us in the car park he set off, we were all drinking chatting and eating fruit when Gregs voice piped up, he was out of view behind us and calling for Hayley to come over quickley. After a few minutes I ambled across to see what was going on and saw they had some stuff piled up on the pavement about 20 yards away? Greg said he thought he had a gas leak! As Greg was moving off to the garage he could hear a HISSSSSSSSING noise from the back, he stopped to leap out and unloaded the gas bottles in double quick time putting them as far away as he could but he could still hear the hissing from the rear of the truck and searched frantically then he saw it….A bag had fallen on a canister of WD40 and set it off! It had sprayed itself onto the floor of the truck and now they had a huge damp patch of the best smelling lubricating oil ever! Fear had turned to that “Oh bollox” feeling and eventually a moment of amusement!They decided to sort out the rear of the truck when they got home and put in some some kind of shelving system. At the moment things were shoved in here and there with everything of importance always ending up at the very bottom. Gregs quick thinking and brave heart had been wasted on this occasion! Well done all the same mate. Calming his pumping heart he carried on to the fuel pumps returning a few minutes later with his normal face on!
We left the scene of action going back onto the main road before turning off just a few miles up ahead. We were now back on the wriggly roads this time heading up into the region of Castiginiccia the hills were coated in lush green with dots of cream spotted amongst it as the few houses poked through the trees. Once again it was another lovely warm day with white whispy cloud and blue above us. We twisted and turned slowly as our trucks pointed skywards for the next couple of hours, behind us the coastline got smaller and smaller.
Some images of the morning drive Double left click on images to enlarge.
Back on the twisties
we could see Aleria and that inland light house in fact we saw it for most of the day it stood out that much. At midday we pulled over for a cuppa and a leg stretch, the stone dam was behind is nestling before the hills but to our front was the widest view, the green land rolled all the way to the thin line of silvery tarmac and the beach, I could see this through my bino’s and not because I had the eyes of an eagle! Speaking of eagles, I hadn’t spotted any so far, the only bird of prey I’d seen was the Kite, though I have to admit driving on the twisting mountain roads tended to keep my attention and I was on the lookout for cows and bloody pigs roaming out of the tree line! From over the edge of the road, a drop of about a hundred feet up popped a goat then another and another until we had half a dozen goats around us from out of nowhere sniffing for food!
Before the arrival of the goats
Peter..Richard..Cerys..Clare..and the boys with Aleria in the background
Julie and Hayley by the trucks
Lee with the supa quick “jetboil” boiling enough water for two cups in less than a minute.
Torro Torro! Richard lines up for a shot with a bemused mountain goat!
Another mountain goat!
Sometimes the tracks were wider than the flipping roads!
We set off again and carried on our up hill journey. Before too long Peter turned off onto a dusty track and we followed into the undergrowth following the dust cloud of the guys in front. Sometimes it was clear as we skirted around the edge of hills, the dust blowing away quickley “I SEE YOU PIGGY PIGGY!” came the voice over the radio, as Peter spied more pigs up ahead and was giving us a lighthearted warning. He had in fact stopped because in front of him were dozens of them running about with lots of piglets too!
Oink Oink Oink!
Oink! Oink! Oink! bloody Oink! Oink! Squeeeeel!
I didn’t think we would be moving for a while as a few pigs turned into a couple of dozen with lots of piglets running around our feet and under the trucks, a couple of us threw apples which made it worse coz now even MORE turned up and they wouldn’t get off the road! These farmers are not daft are they? this Corsican way of letting the livestock roam free in the hill means they will probably get fed for free..as was the case today! When we eventually began to move they just ran with us for ages in and out of the convoy I was papping my horn, I love the little creatures and love bacon but didn’t want one under my wheels! eventually we saw some man made fencing and the lot of then ran off through the broken fencing. A few miles later we pulled over for our own lunch and wouldn’t you know it? a bunch of pigs wandered out from the undergrowth at the smell of food, the fact that it was ham didn’t seem to put the buggers off!
…and another Oink!
We saw on several occasions wrecked vehicles below us, some had completley rusted out, it looked like they had been there for a long time, the roads are so narrow the hillside is quite steep, the soil fairly loose and studded here and there with some trees but mostly thick shrubs, they are to be honest out of reach of recovery. One was a recent wreck and was just off the road and had Bulgarian plates, it looked like it had rolled here from above. The tarmac was badly eroded now and was just about a vehicles width, “No Entry” tape had been loosly wrapped from tree to tree just an arms length away where a couple of trees had toppled over and taken part of the road with it, it was damp too, the road ran with water and showed us again the power of water, I imagine these mountain roads suffer from erosion more than most roads. It was a quiet few miles as we concentrated on the narrow worn out tarmac. To keep things in context they are repairing a lot of sections and strengthening the edges in a lot of places and not just for the benefit of the tourists, after all the Corsican people also have to get around.
Having a rest on the roof
Camping La Ferme
We came to our next campsite sitting on top of the hill with extensive views over the next valley, it was late afternoon after a taxing last ten miles or so. The tents were put up and beer and wine poured as we sat around chatting about the days journey. We then made evening dinner and turned in before midnight, yes it had been a busy day. The camp was Camping La Ferme and was just a few miles from the small town of Venaco.
Rainbow at dawn.
A crispy 0600 hrs view
Not quite like South Yorkshire!
I awoke at dawn to see and hear the morning chorus shouting at the top of their voices! The view out of the tent was spectacular, the whole of the next green valley was framed by an enourmous rainbow the morning drizzle coming down enough to cause it. It had stopped at breakfast as everyone busied themselves and got ready for another days adventure! Peter said we would be going towards Corte before heading up the mountainside high up Monte Cinto.
Greg and Hayley pack down their roof tent
It was 0930 hrs when we set off, driving on the little twisting roads up the valley side towards Venaco, on the previous evening we’d been looking across the valley at the clutch of twinking lights over in the next valley and now we were nearly at that location. The junction was a blind right hand turn on to the main road which we were coming to from the road below, it was so steep that we couldn’t see if anything was coming very well! Peter pulled out and kept calling on the radio if it was clear or not, this was very helpful and we all managed to climb up swinging sharp right onto the new main road. The wall of the village houses were only a foot or so from our vehicles in places! That’s the only thing about widening a road through the village, it brings the walls of the houses really close. Once through we began the long descent on a beautiful new road to Corte, we passed by on the bypass and turned off onto a smaller road though just as perfect in condition.
Hayley takes a photo thru the windscreen of their Disco
Can you see the silver 110 on the narrow bridge?
Hayley captures this one of the silver 110 verses BIG bus
The huge and long valley is the result of the river below cuting it over thousands if not millions of years, it was well below us as we drove up the edge of the narrow road, there was plenty of traffic on this road especially motorbikes, they were from Germany France, Holland and Switzerland, the motorbikes were mainly old classics. It really was a great road for motorbiking, the bends were every few seconds, everyone kept an eye out for them and the big bloody tourist busses too! I couldn’t hug the side because of the rocky overhang, I heard the arial ping once or twice as I came close to the rock on one occasion whilst crawling as far over to the inside as I could to let a coach through. We stopped for a cuppa and stood around the rear of our trucks making a brew. The bikes kept on coming and I kept breaking off the conversation to watch them. Richard is also a biker and we stood together watching, the wind was farily howling up the canyon from the valley floor, it was being chanelled all the way to the top. Peter shouted we should be moving and so we moved off following the winds upwards.
Time for a bush and a brew
Monte Cinto and the snows…all 2706 metres of it beyond the last village
One of Hayleys again..On the track heading up to Monte Cinto
Julie takes the wheel as the road turns to “track”
We soon came to the top and crested the rise sheilded from the winds but not for long as we turned off the main road onto a single track going up again and behind the village. Peter said “OK follow me chaps” This usually meant he was going to turn off the road at any moment into the bushes and onto a dirt track! True enough he turned up onto the hill, the track was yellow and dusty and pointed towards the snow caps high above. The terrain wasn’t so steep it just went on for miles and mile, it was a sandy yellow in colour and dotted with small bushes and boulders.
There was a lot of this…jumping in and out of trucks to get a good photo, its Hayley this time
Peter said it would get pretty bumpy presently and suggested folk change down into low box and second gear. This seems to cover a mutitude of terrains when not busting a gut against fellow competitors or against the clock. We stopped often to look and take photos, the dam we’d passed earlier was begining to shrink in size I could see the white Nissan above, following his line backwards I picked out the others or at least their dustcloud!
Julie happy on in the driving seat halfway up Monte Cinto
We switched seats and Julie had a go, I was pointing where she should drive, straddling the gully’s and making sure the boulders missed the diff and the sump, I was no expert and neither was Julie but we were doing OK. we approached a switchback and julie was on the wrong line so she stopped to line up again. I keep getting it drummed into me to leave the clutch well alone and kept reminding myself when I hovered over it! Now Julie was doing it! “Oh my god what you doing with the clutch woman? Just keep going forward it will pull itself up and over that lump no problem”…I put the camera down! It was a few minutes before we caught up with the group as they sat around a deep gully on the track. Peter was pointing out where we might attempt to cross it, doing so with a thumbs up we bashed on upwards and onwards.
Peter waits at a deeper rain gully
Julie trying her hand at some rough driving, note the angle of the front wheels (articulation)
It was jackets and fleeces on at our final destination as Jo and Hayley demonstrate.
Richard wears Cerys’s hair too on windy mountain!
Cold and very windy but very beautiful!
I think it took us about an hour or so to finally reach the shack that was the refuge. I guess in winter these building are lifesavers to walkers and farmers alike. Greg walked further up the track and looked up at the snow peaks above. Hell it was cold enough here and the wind was quite fierce. We didn’t say standing around for too long and began the long descent. The summit above us was 2,706 metres, I think we were about two thirds the way up. The dam looked more like a puddle from up here.
This is nowt compared to Britains roads!
Going down down down the mountain
The way down was quicker due to gravity and a bit more confidance but it still took ages to get back to the road at the start of the track. We were going to have lunch down on the shores of the dam a few man made beaches could be seen..as could the white horses whipping across the surface indicating really windy conditions so we opted to take lunch up here. We now had the downward leg of the canyon to drive on heading into the wind, at least it would act as an air brake on our brick shaped Defender! We began to pick up speed as the road surface and the sweeping corners egged us on, until that moment when I went into a corner a bit hot and the truck swayed a bit to much over towards the rocky edge! I tapped the brakes, wishing I was on the bike just for the ride down, it would have been ace! Several bikers came on by to rub my face at their pleasure.
A couple of vans were coming up behind Greg at the back and as usual the information was passed to everyone. One of these white vans was very impatient and buzzing about Gregs door looking to overtake like yesterday! I saw a car coming towards me suddenly brake and swerve towards the rocks beeping his horn, the clown behind had swerved around Greg but had to pull in chopping his nose. “Right enoughs enough” I said I stopped the truck blocking him, Greg pulled up right behind him.
I got out staring at the driver, shouting at him I bent at his door, lookin inside he was a young man with a teenager at his side, he kept repeating one word but I didn’t recognize it, I bellowed my annoyance at him wagging my finger. I knew the moment I got out he probably would understand what I was saying but I figured he would get my drift if I shouted at him and waved my arms. Safe to say I served notice on the twat!
I got back into the truck and set off again still chuntering and coming back down from my “spat” For a few minutes I drove very carfully and was mindful of other road users especially on those dangerous corners..in other words I went really slowly for a bit! When the opportunity came I pulled over for said twat behind. He zoomed by pipping his horn and waved..Twat! The info was passed to the gang ahead and I smiled at the thought of him against four more slow moving trucks! After a few minutes Peter piped up on the radio that the white van had tried to come through his back door, but was long gone now so everything was fine again…twat! Needless to say there are no photos either
We finally came to the roundabout at the very beginning of the valley road and cruised into Corte for a look round and a nice ice cream!
The main street of Corte seemed to be a cul-de-sac with all the tourist shops and cafe’s along the one street, at the end was a mini roundabout and more cafe’s and back we walked onn the other side. There were small side roads that seemed to squirrel away around the corners, small and simple Corte seemed to be but quite beautiful too.
Corte looked very old with tall narrow building, many had pastel coloured walls the paint peeled away on many and rusty railing fronted some windows, others had painted on them what was left of old advertisments, Corte in fact reminded me more of Italy than France. It looked to be a popluar watering hole for both tourists and regulars. An hour here was enough, we’d seen what we wanted and had an ice cream it was time to go back to camp. On our way we called at an old Genoese Bridge, left over from their occupation of Corsica in the period 1282 to 1729.
The Genoese Bridge
That night we had a group meal at the campsite, chunks of wild boar in a rich sauce on a bed of rice, to be honest I didn’t like it at all, especally the sauce which reminded me of that awful thick starling blood stew I endured years ago on a campsite in Portugal, Greg bless him slipped me some beers so I bid the gang goodnight. We didn’t have a late night because of the long driving today and so retired before midnight, as usual I was up early had a coffee and a stare at the distant green valley, god how beautiful this country was!I woke Julie with coffee then made breakfast after which we set about packing up ready for the days journey to the next and last camp of the holiday.
We drove up to Corte again in the morning only this time we carried on north on the new road towards the coastline at Desert Des Agriates. (I won’t mention how Peter, our guide got mesmerized by the little yellow train and took us on a tour down through the shitty car park with the anti exit ditch!!) I thought it funny but someone towing a shanky trailer or having a full length mirror on board may have thought differently.
Richard leads the way for another coffee stop!
Extending westwards from the Golfe de St-Florent to the mouth of the Ostriconi River, the Désert des Agriates is a vast area of uninhabited land, dotted with clumps of cacti and scrub-covered hills. It may appear inhospitable now, but during the time of the Genoese this rocky moonscape was, as its name implies, a veritable breadbasket (agriates means “cultivated fields”). In fact, so much wheat was grown here that the Italian overlords levied a special tax on grain to prevent any build-up of funds that might have financed an insurrection. Fires and soil erosion eventually took their toll, however, and by the 1970s the area had become a total wilderness. Numerous crackpot schemes to redevelop the Désert have been mooted over the years – from atomic weapon test zones to concrete Club-Med-style resorts – but during the past few decades the government has gradually bought up the land from its various owners (among them the Rothschild family) and designated it as a protected nature reserve. Needless to say its pretty barren around these parts and ideal to explore. A couple of rough pistes wind into the desert, but without some kind of 4WD vehicle the only feasible way to explore the area and its rugged coastline, which includes two of the island’s most beautiful beaches, is on foot. From St-Florent, a pathway winds northwest to plage de Perajola, just off the main Calvi highway (N1197), in three easy stages. The first takes around 5hr 30min, and leads past the famous Martello tower and much-photographed plage de Loto to plage de Saleccia, a huge sweep of soft white sand and turquoise sea that was used as a location for the invasion sequences in the film The Longest Day. “Follow me chaps” says Peter and we turned left onto another dusty yellow dirt track.
Peter checks out the latest info about the tracks
Heading to the beach…about 8 miles to go!
Stopped to take another photo
This was the most fun track to get to the beach it was very rough and bumpy and practically devoid of all human activity, we saw maybe two or three couples making thier way on foot to the beach.
Julie takes the rise out of my life long stance!
Photo-bombing the family shot!
It was a long drive, the beach seemed miles away….actually it was! Folk swapped places now and again and at the magic moment as Julie was driving over the radio from Peter came “Follow me folks”! OMFG WHERES HE TAKING US NOW Julie shouted as Peter disapeared over the side of the track, her knuckles turning white! I just managed to take a photo through the windscreen..have to say I was giggling out loud and saying “follow him it’ll be fine I’m sure”
Peter and Jo take the scenic route to the beach
It certainly spiced things up as we dived into a river and proceeded along with the current. Julie wasn’t quite ready for Peters detour but once the bonnet stopped diving into the river and came level again she was OK and we trundled along the rocky river for a couple of hundred yards, the water wasn’t that high.
Greg and Hayley enjoying the water splash
We finally came to the beach and had a spot of lunch before exploring. We found a single stony track and followed Richard and Cerys down to a lovely little cove, it was deserted except for a local couple who were sunbathing there, we relaxed on the beach for a while and fooled around taking photos and stuff. I was a bit surprised to see a couple of ordinary cars parked up. Did they really drive all this way on the bumpy track? I wondered
Julie relaxing in the sunshine on the beach….notice anything odd about the photo folks?
Make a hole, Im coming through!
We were surprised to see the bull pass by as Julie relaxed, it just walked on by! Hmm maybe its lost we thought. After a while we decided to take a walk back to the trucks, retracing our steps on the narrow stony track when over the hill came huge black bull! “Oh for fukcs sake”! I said leading the way, “Right everyone off the path theres a fooking big bull coming!” It hardly gave us a glance as it sauntered past us on its way to god only knows where! Thankfully there wasn’t any more of the buggers coming down to the beach and we got back up to the car park without incident. Nobody was around so we walked around to another cove and saw everyone on that beach, it seems we had followed the cattle trail and not the trail trail!
Clare and Julie strike a pose
Apart from the encounter with the bloody black bull it was a nice afternoon by the sea, the drive had been great but now it was time to head back and as usual we went a bit quicker, making it back to the main road after about an hours drive.
We made our way across the hills to the junction then turned onto the tarmac and drove along a superb road through the desolate region that was Desert Des Agriates, it didn’t look like anyone lived here, it was just a great road and a couple of tracks to the sea-side over ten miles away! The road twisted and turned around the hill gradually heading down towards sea level until finally we came to the small picturersque coastal village of St- Florent, Peter took us down the hillside and along the coastal road to another superb camp site, this was Camping Acqua Dolce.
We drove to our pitches and were set up and functioning within the hour (cracked open the beer) Once again it was sparcely poppulated with thin pine trees, grass grew amongst the sandy soil in patches but we were pitched on a nice tufted patch, it seems they had made an effort keeping the grass going on the tent pitches, leaving most of the snady plots to the motorhomes and of course the hundreds of pine cones. The shower block was top notch and the shop stocked with basics and lots of fruit, they had a pizza restaraunt on the front too that provided some fine dishes and had very friendly staff. They even had Wi-Fi here too so I thought I’d get a code and have a quick look at the internet and post a phew photos on FB. The connection was very limited though and disapeared when one wondered ten paces from the shop, so you could only do your business stood by the veg stall, It was all very laid back and cosy! in the main arena sat lots of white tin tents AKA motorhomes from France, Germany and some from Holland, once again not one from the UK. People you are missing some great stuff here on Corsica! We had dinner on site whilst most of the others went either to the pizza place or walked along the beach to St-Florent just twenty minutes away. Around us during the evening just a few tents had sprung up, three of four teenagers in small cars, further along a few with bicycles turned up otherwise we had the area to ourselves, the tin tents gathered near the front of the site, this suited us just fine. Our fellow adventurers made their way back and we settled to drink the beer and talk about todays fun.
Richard set up the rooftop tent in seconds and announces he’s got a beer
Julie soom joined Richard with refreshments
Once again I was up at dawn with the dawn chorus, it had become the theme of the tour and to be honest I didn’t really mind, I never do when tenting. We could catch up when we got home, there will be plenty of time to sleep then and of course as we all know we will spend a long time dead!!
A photo of the region of Desert Des Agriates
Peter had planned another day at another beach via another long dusty track! This was in the Desert De Agriates again. This track however was a bit busier, it seems it is advertised as a 4×4 track to the beach and you could hire them nearby, maybe we would see a few more vehicles on this track? It’s the kind of vehicles that surpised me, in fact I was gobsmacked at some of the family filled little things coming our way!
Following Peter and Jo…wherever they go!
The drive down to the beach was a long haul and was about an hour and half again, practically the same as yesterday, today though the terrain was rougher but by now everyone had their eye in and traversing quite well, even we were doing very well. Peter had measured the groups ability well and felt he had been quietly monitoring us all the while. This beach was beautiful and white the sand was quite powdery and suited our feet…and the cows hooves!
Corsican cows sunbathing
Rivers run down from the mountains into the sea
It took some getting used to seeing cows and the odd bull sat down by the waters edge sunbathing.
We chose a spot away from the herd and its youngsters and eventually relaxed to enjoy a last afternoon by the beach. Eventually the cows stood up and began to wander back along the rivers edge and out of site. I presume the farm was somewhere between the sea and the hills?
By late afternoon it was time for us to make our way back too and we set off individually or in pairs, Julie and I set off on our own thinking it would be a long bumpy lonely ride back to the tarmac. First came a quad bike going like a bat out of hell both on board dressed in skimpy kit, next came a car, just an ordinary car it was bouncing across the grooves going around the rocks as best as it could. I was a bit surprised yesterday to see an ordinary car or two but this track was a lot worse! This was the first of a handful of cars making thier way to the beach, they must surely damage the undersides and I bet the springs are shot in no time! Now we were watching for the dust clouds amongst the shrubs that signalled the next car coming down the track. It was pretty amazing, their faces stiffened as they bounced round the corner to come face to face with an English Landrover Defender, starring directly at my grill! But the next approachng dust cloud took the biscuit, We had worked our way to within half a mile of the tarmac when came Ze German motorhome! Not one but two. We shook our heads in disbelief, they wouldnt be going far in those bloody things, the exhaust looked to have ground clearnce of about six inches, they rocked from side to side as they came very slowly down the steep corner, their on board crockery must have been smashed to bits, we stopped as they came on, our disbelief turned to laughter, I looked at Fritz shaking my head and tapping my head with my finger. “y’ll never make it, silly bollox” I shouted! I revved the truck and drove past the struggling pair, round the next corner was another silly boxhead in another one. We passed on the info by radio to the others somewhere behind and continued on to the nice tarmac before a coach or something decided to head down to the beach as well!
We all met up in the evening at dinner after trying for the supermarket and then a futile drive around the town which was “packed to the gills”, it was rammed with people and vehicles, we couldn’t find a spot to park anywhere so gave up and returned to the campsite a few miles away by road. They were celebrating something in the village but we never found out what. Tonight was our last night I for one was feeling a little sad, it had been a fab adventure and was over way too soon.
0600 hrs The last camp
It was dawn in no time! We’d had dinner, gathered round the lamps and drank the last of our beer and wine then turned in at around midnight, now here we were, 0630 hrs and making the last coffee. Oh well there will always be a next time! We had breakfast before packing down the tent, the boxes of stuff we had packed away the night before, we just had to pack away the breakfast stuff and the beds. Everyone was busy doing the same and by 1000 hrs we had hit the road for todays long journey going practically the length of the island. The twisty drive up and over the hills was fun punctuated by several Swiss bikers who were have a blast doing some “scratching” They howled past us, at the top we rumbled past them as they’d stopped to turn around and do it all again. We tooted the horn and waved. Now we ran down the long road to Corte and beyond. The sun was still with us as it had been since day one, though today we saw a dark shadow in the distance, this got bigger and bigger as we drove closer to it, then the rain started it was heavy, really heavy stuff, suddenly hail stones were bouncing off our bonnet, the road was awash and the hailstones pounded everything, I saw the poor bloody bikers as they dived for cover, stopping under any cover they could find even down to a single tree by the roadside. A wry smile and a thought “that used to be us” Julie echoed the sentiment “Im glad that’s not us anymore”
We recounted the time when we got caught in the mother of all storms returning to Bertesgaden from Dachau one year with Barry and the Appy Wanderers on our Honda Goldwings, it was so bad so quickly we had to pull off at the nearest exit, the traffic had slowed to a crawl the visibility was reduced so much it was like fog.I pulled into the garage and sheltered under a fuel pump, Julie hopped off and ran into the cafe to sit with the others I stayed and got into conversation with a German airline pilot who told me the story of how he usd to ride a Triumph motorbike when he lived in South Africa. You meet the most interesting folk in the most unusual places sometimes!
30 minutes after the amazing summer storm
Over the next hour or so we drove on the best scratching roads I’ve ever been on and for the first time I thought I wish I was on a bike again, the speed increased, the grin got wider and the bend tightened, the truck began to sway over to one side, “Whoa you bugger!” I said and dabbed the brakes to counter the increasing lean!
Clare captures our ferry through the palm trees at Ajaccio
We follow the ferry signs at Ajaccio and it takes us along the seafront, over in the distance we see our ferry at the terminal, we followed the road around the bay trying to pass through the traffic lights as one group but that soon failed and we became two groups, safe it was though because we’d all spotted the ferry, we arrived a bit early so had to park up for a while until the gates opened
The vehicles were lined up by the dockyard staff cars moved slowly on the huge pan and stuff was behing loaded in a paticular order weight and size, trucks, containers, cars and us. We were waived forward and leap frogged in front of a large convoy of exotic cars, it was a French touring club consisting of 1960’s sports cars, they looked shiny and sleek in the midday sun, the occupants didn’t look a day under 60 but acted like teenagers! I climbed down to have a look and had a chat with a couple of them, one old girl was very chatty and told us where and what they had been doing and that she liked Spain the most, I told her of our trip and said I loved the interior of Spain also having ridden motorbikes there at least six or seven times, she was very animated as she explained this to her husband. This is how it is at ferry terminals quite often with people, everyone is keen to tell everyone what they have done and where they have been, we could have stood there hours chatting but we had a boat to catch! The yellow jacketed man pointed and waved us forward. We followed his instructions to the next yellow jacket, guiding us around stacks of containers and into the right lanes, into the black hole we drove and followed the pointing men until they said OK. The ferry was larger than the UK ones crossing the channel, we rode on an escilator from the car deck up to the centre office to collect our cabin tickets, this was a first for me! the cabins were the same and the bar was at the stern just like our own.
Happy smiling faces at the bar on the sundeck
We met up at the bar and enjoyed a couple of hours in the sunshine and saw the island of Corsica grow smaller and smaller behind us. We moved indoors to find dinner, after which we had yet more drinks before retiring to bed around midnight again. At dawn we were all up as the tannoy announced in French that we would be docking shortly in Marseilles, we said our last goodbye’s on the car deck, Peter and Jo would be heading north east to Germany to look at their next overlanding vehicle, the rest of us would be heading north towards Dunkirk. The big doors opened and we started up the trucks, following Peter onto the concrete and out of the dock area picking up the motorway that ran parrallel to the docks, we all put our foot down and increased speed to join the fast paced traffic and headed north out of the city, once clear we began to gap each other, then someone would put a spurt on to pass and wave, then someone else would have a go! On it went for a few miles until we found ourselves alone in the early morning sun on a French motorway.
We were destined for a last night somewhere just north of Paris, from there we could head into Dunkirk within two hours. A couple of hours later we spotted the silver 110 and slowly began to catch up, but Lee had seen us and put his foot down, we just couldn’t reel him in any more! We finally met at a toll booth. On many motorways in France one has to pay to use the motorways hence the toll booths, the road widens to about a dozen lanes leading to toll booths barriers and money slots, these days they are mostly automated and quite easy to work out. We pulled over to the 110, they were going to do the same thing as we’d planned but had a campsite in mind so we decided to use the same one. They had seen the others now and again as we all leapfroged each other stopping for fuel and food and whatever else. We checked the map before setting off, we would travel together for the rest of the day. The municipal campsite was between Reims and Amiens and just a few miles off the motorway. We drove into the town of Laon and followed Sat Nav to begin with then road signs, it was on the edge of town, it was well set out with high hedges to seperate the plots and a well maintained shower block right in the middle, the cost was really cheap, we signed in and ordered the bread for the following morning. Once again we made camp before “finding” the last of the drinks, Clare cooked for the family and invited us over so with tins of food we joined them for another “last get together” We were a bit chilly now so more layers were found, you could tell we had left Corsica! In the morning it was even colder and we all felt it, packing the tents up was quicker in order to get warmed up! By 0900 hrs we’d collected the bread and waved the lady goodbye. By mid morning we had reached Dunkirk and managed to obtain passage on an earlier ferry. We got word that Richard and Cerys had in fact driven all the way home to South Wales getting there in the early hours, Hayley and Greg had to get the recovery truck as their turbo had failed
The failed turbo didn’t spoil Greg and Hayleys adventure
We got to our house mid afternoon after a dash up from Dover on the M2, M25, M11, A14 and the last bit on the A1. It has been a great trip to a place I’ve wanted to go for quite a while on the motorbike but have never managed to fit it in. Who would have thought I’d eventually go in a Land Rover! Corsica to me was like a huge national park, having spent many hours exploring dirt tracks I think we saw more trees than houses, we never really chatted with any locals as we were quite self sufficiant and camping every night so I can’t say what the people were like. Reading about Corsica, its history and its people can be a little off putting to some people with things like a high murder rate…mafia activity..and some quirky beliefs. Saying that, we had no problems or worries whatsover and its safe to say we or I will deffo be going back at some point.
Some stats for you
In two weeks..from leaving the house we spent £700 .. More straps.. T shirt.. and some of the fuel on Corsica ..a box or three of wine and some more beer.
We paid around £170 on motorway tolls, on this trip we were time bound to get to Marseilles in two days otherwise we would have taken an extra day or so taking the A roads, probably through the Alps thus avoiding the motorway tolls ( Two extra nights camping eating and drinking would still have been cheaper and more enjoyable)
Finally we paid around £450 in fuel, our truck does about 330 cruising miles on a tank of fuel that costs about £70.
We paid Peter and Jo at Atlas Overland for their expertise and knowledge of Corsica, for his technical help and advise and the mechanical back up he offered, in fact to see the huge pull out drawers stuffed full with “just in case” equipment tools and supplies was awesome, he was happy to show me things in preperation for my own trip tp Morroc later this year, and offered lots of tips and advice. I believe Peter could have serviced half the Africa Corps! He has been doing this about 12 years if not more and must be the most travelled non pike Ive met. Just dont let him have you over about the South American Velcro Spider!!