The planning was over, the route confirmed, all the paperwork was completed and even following a late health scare for Chris, from which he was given the all clear 4 days before the departure, our African Odyssey adventure was beginning.
The weather forecast for Sunday 11th September was atrocious but the God’s changed their minds and although the winds were gusting at up to 45 miles per hour the sun managed to shine for much of the day. MG’s started gathering in the Abingdon Town square a little before midday and before the official flag eventually dropped at around 3:30pm there were at least 30 MG’s of differing vintage.
Both Chris and I were kept busy chatting, not just to the many club supports, but also to interested passers-by. One particular senior lady approached on her mobility scooter and asked if she could escort us! Her scooter was capable of 8 mph and she had lived in North Africa for many years so her experience would be invaluable. I reluctantly spurned her offer as I was afraid she would out-run us.
At 3:00 pm the official town-crier announced the impending ceremony. Paul Plummer, the clubs International Director, made a presentation of a plaque for me to deliver, on the clubs behalf, to the South African MG Car Clubs to mark the occasion. Then with the rain threatening to drench every last one of us it was time to get on the road.
Jo Thoenes, from BBC Radio Oxford, had very kindly agreed to be the official ‘flag waver’. She had been commentating at the Blenheim Horse Trials until 2:00pm and had to hijack a car to bring her safely down to Abingdon in time for our departure. Jo also brought her parents along who just happened to be visiting from Nairobi at the weekend and they have offered us a nice cold beer when we get down there.
The first day driving and I was, for the moment, travelling in my traditional mode i.e. alone! Chris’s health alarm last week had put him a couple of days behind and so I went ahead to Arras, France to wait for him to catch up. Arras is some 70 miles from Calais and north of Paris. It is a pleasant market town, twinned with Ipswich, and has a picture postcard town centre. Just 5 miles away is the Canadian Cemetery at Vimy. The monument there is quite spectacular, commemorating the losses in the Great War 1914-18 and in particular those that perished in the Battle of Arras. I cannot help but think, every time I visit one of these First World War cemeteries, of the courage and bravery of the individuals, but the stupidity of man. The losses, on both sides, were almost beyond conception but they continued to waste lives for four years.
Arriving in Arras at around 3:00pm I knew immediately that I was to receive a warm welcome. As I parked in the square two middle aged couples were standing nearby with beaming smiles. As I eased myself out of Bridget one of the men could barely contain his delight as he rushed over to greet me. Although he spoke no English it became apparent that he is also the proud owner of a 1976 MG Midget garaged at his home near Paris.
I spent the rest of the day and the next exploring Arras and on Wednesday Chris arrived.
The next day was to be the first for us driving together. We left Arras at around 8:30 am with the sky clear of clouds and the wind more or less back to normal. We drove south skirting Reims then on to Chaumont, finishing in Nuits St George. The villages in this part of France are all very Disney image, complete with the classic Chateau. Nuits St George is certainly of that ilk but additionally the aroma everywhere is of sweet fermented grapes. It was really pleasant.
From here we would continue in the morning down to Chambery and then across the Alps via the Cenis Pass. Back once again to one of my favourite themes, mountains, and the scenery is just breath-taking. It turned out to be a long day starting at 8:00am and finishing in Asti at almost 6:00pm. We found a hotel almost immediately and also found out that the Palio di Asti was to be held on Sunday. I have always wanted to see the Palio and this chance just fell into my lap. Then I found out that there was not a hotel room available for miles, so I had to forego the opportunity until another time.
Asti is a pretty little town from much the same mould as Sienna although not quite as nice, but the people are great.
From Asti we made our way on to Modena. We plan to stay here for a couple of days and wanted to visit the balsamic vinegar vineyard (OK guys, if you don’t know what it is ask your good lady). However it appears that they are all away on annual holiday and so on Monday we will have to visit a small car factory just down the road instead.
That’s the end of this chapter of the adventure. There are a number of photos of the various parts mentioned. Because of the number of comments left from my round the world run and as I can’t reverse the order that they are in, I intend to delete all comments prior to this adventure. Sorry to anyone that left a comment to which they were particularly attached, but you can always try again. Finally, the charity donations are doing very well but please don’t stop now. The kids need your cash!