First, I've remembered something I forgot to mention earlier. You may
remember I bought a carbon monoxide alarm and that it went off and I
was out of the van faster than you could imagine. Well, when I was
parked one night a little later later - next to the chap I asked if he
was staying the night in that spot - and
whilst I was cooking it went off again. Again, I was out of the van at
the speed of light.
I couldn't stop the alarm, even after I took it out of the van, and
was looking at it wondering why the 'silence' button was not working
and before I took the batteries out I noticed there was a red light
flashing next to the words 'smoke alarm'. It's a combined CO and smoke
I'm not worried about a bit of smoke and I had noticed some smoke from
my anti splatter frying pan cover so that was a relief. The I
remembered. It had gone off scream scream scream before it repeated,
that was still buzzing in my head. If it had been the CO alarm it
gone off in groups of 4 screams.
A couple of people have mentioned that they were concerned for my
health after the CO
alarm had gone off earlier. Well of course, it goes off well before
dangerous levels have been reached. Wouldn't be much use otherwise
So on my last update I was parked on the top of a pass with a huge
thunderstorm in action. At 2 am a couple of vans arrived and parked
next to me and the occupants wandered around. Didn't make a lot of
difference in the storm.
By morning it had abated and there were just clouds to the north over
It was much clearer looking south to Spain
Actually, it often is like that. It tends to be sunnier, and drier, on
the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. On the French side it is greener,
and, I think, prettier.
I was heading down into the cloud, into France. I had about 5,000 ft
to descend, in about 7 miles. Not particularly steep but enough when I
was trying to descend without using the foot brake. In 1st and 2nd
gear it took an hour to do that 7 miles. Reminded me of the climb out
of the Copper Canyon in Mexico. I made that climb in an RV that was so
prone to overheating I never ever dared use the air conditioning and I
had to start out that climb in the cooler airs before dawn and go the
whole way with minimum accelerator. It was later I found out the
electric radiator fan had never worked all the time I owned that van.
Thanks to Tim at Kahunas
for discovering that.
I spotted a church in the distance in one town (Oloron Ste Marie) and
diverted to investigate. It was a cathedral and very old.
Here looking south to the Pyrenees. Higher up the valley in the
distance is where I took my trip on le petit train, where my GPS
suggested strange routes, and where I saw the Dutch cyclists. And, just
at the valley entrance, is the town of Arudy where where a Canadian
correspondent, Jerry England, likes to stay when he visits France.
Jerry will no doubt be thrilled to be reminded that although we lost
touch for a long while, it is 50 years since we met..........
I was on the outskirts of Pau when I noticed a sign to the Grottes de Betharram.
I'd had them down on my list of places I wanted to see but got around
to finding where they were. I had planned to take the autoroute from
near Pau towards my home, in deference to my limited braking abilities,
but the lure of the caves was too great.
As usual, my cave photography was not up to much.
The caves were OK, with a huge amount of walking in a small cave.
Maybe I'm getting a bit blase about caves, I've been to over 50 now.
They advertised a boat trip and a return by train. The boat ran on
rails for about 50 yds, and the train was more like a guided car. I
don't regret going though!
checked my route after leaving the
took me past
Lourdes, no problem, but then around Tarbes. Oh-oh. I know that route
well. There are about 8 roundabouts on the town bypass. When you
don't have, or don't want to use, brakes, then roundabouts are the
worst thing. First, they are always on busy roads, lots of traffic.
Then you sometimes need to stop quickly if there is traffic on the
roundabout. Absolutely no problem, normally, but when you have limited
braking you must approach extremely slowly, and then you get a huge
of traffic behind.
I'll just divert a moment and discuss roundabouts. They work
brilliantly in the UK. They didn't used to work in France, but now
they do, brilliantly. They don't work in the USA. Why is that you may
ask? You may not be interested, but I'm about to explain anyway.
In France, and in the US, in the absence of any other signage, you give
priority to the right. This means, on a roundabout, priority is given
to traffic entering the roundabout. With more than half a dozen
vehicles around, you have a traffic jam. Everyone can get on, no one
can get off. Doesn't work.
We never had a similar priority rule in the UK so never had a problem
with roundabouts. What the French did was to erect huge signs on the
entrances to roundabouts 'Give Way'. So now traffic on the roundabout
has right of way. Like I said, it works brilliantly. Way better than
the ridiculous 4 way stop signs to be found throughout the US and in
many cases better than traffic lights.
However, roundabouts are not designed for people with stopping
problems. So I got out my trusty (haha) GPS and entered in a way
Now I was given a route that skirted round Lourdes, on a sequence of
tiny roads that I would never ever have thought to plan by myself. As
drove the route I was continually expecting to find a road closed or
similar, but no, there was no other traffic, I didn't hold anyone up
bar myself, and it all worked and I
got home safely. They were pretty roads too.
Now in case you think I might have taken to implicitly believing my
mapping program, I give you the reasons why I was doubtful about it in
first place. If you enter the name of my village, I have
marked here where you are taken as the centre of the village. If you
drive down by the church, the
Marie, the post office, the village
hall, the school, and most of the houses, all of which are on the other
street, it tells you "Off route". Instead
takes you exactly here, to it's version of the village centre.
As far as a
garbage bin storage area it's not bad (nice flowering trees alongside)
but it would not be my choice as
the village centre......I would hope people come to the village not just to
dump their garbage.
But you can't blame everything on the GPS. Just a mile or so north of
where I live, it shows a road
junction. This is it. The hedge is wide enough for there to be a road
down the centre but you could not get though on foot never mind by car.
But that 'road' is shown as a road on the new large scale area map
that I have. So is this one, which is even nearer home. I've shown a
close up of the sign. Interdit means forbidden.
You remember I left my garage door open for the swallow who had made
her nest inside? She has already had 3 babies this year, now she has
another 3 eggs in the nest. Here she is.
I don't remember if I've previously mentioned the cattle egrets. They
arrived last year. There were lots of them. They eat insects and such
like, and hang around cattle in small groups because the cattle disturb
insects so the egrets can catch more.They are beautiful birds, quite
large, with 36 inch wingspan and about 18" length. They originate from
Spain and Portugal but they have spread around everywhere - I saw a
flock of them in Mexico a few years ago. At night they congregate
together, in trees, by a lake.
I didn't take the above photo by the way. Anyway, they all
disappeared a few months ago. I don't know where they went, but I
think they went to some breeding grounds. But they are back, I just
saw them on the lake earlier this evening.
I guess there are at least 200 egrets on that photo, there must be
another 100 or so on the other side of the trees, which is a perfect
spot for them, on a small island.
Now we've got through everything else, I'll tell you about the van
brakes. When I got home I took the
wheels off and had a
look. The disks (rotors) seemed in a good state. A neighbour agreed
with me. At first look the pads might have been worn so I checked on
the Internet. Parts are difficult for my van in France. They do sell
them, but in 15 years I have only seen 3 similar vans with French
registration. So parts are slow to get, and expensive. The only
Internet companies willing to ship disk pads from the UK to France
showed out of stock. So I phoned my brother in law in the UK. No
problem he said, I'll get some and put them in the post.
He and my sister have just (last week) celebrated their 40th wedding
anniversary. So he's a pretty tolerant sort of person.
He emailed to say he'd ordered them, so I started to strip out the old
pads. When I looked closely, the pads looked like new. I checked my
old invoices for work done on the van. The pads had been replaced less
than 2 years ago. I don't use the
van much, the odd balloon retrieve, this recent trip was only 560
miles, last year not much more. Must be less than 2,000 miles total
since the disks were fitted.
I phoned Tony, brother in law, again. He's an engineer. If the pads
are OK he said, there could be a few reasons for the noise. You could
have dirt or small stone trapped on the pads. Actually I knew that,
which is why I had been continuing on, hoping it would clear itself. I
was also looking for a garage who could check the disks. Didn't see a
single one until the last day when I drove past about 6 on the way
Tony suggested that I try brake
cleaning fluid to clean off the disks. Or, he said, he'd heard of
people stopping noise by
putting lubricant between the brake piston and the disk but he didn't
know why that should work.
Easiest, because it didn't need removal of the disks, and I didn't have
brake cleaning fluid to hand, was to try the
lubricant. I sprayed WD40 behind the disks - not on the front - where
the piston was located, put
the wheels back, and made a test drive. Perfect. No noise.
So I didn't need to have crawled down that last mountain, or bothered
about slowing down at roundabouts, or worried about my brakes giving
up, or done all that other stuff, for the 3 or 4 days they were making
noise. Or bought some disk pads I don't need. I guess that's life.
I hope you enjoyed this account of my ramble, as Don Piccard called it,
if I make another trip I'll write again. Thanks for your company
and your kind comments.
Just a brief reminder, if you've missed any reports from this trip, or
(heaven forbid!) wish look back on an earlier one, they are all on my
web site address below. There you can find a total of about 350 pages
containing some 300,000 words and 2,500 photographs........