Santiago de Compostela or bust by Pembrokeshire Superwoman

Well it seemed like a good idea to me…  But friends were taken aback…  “You are doing what?  In that old thing?  You are joking…  Seriously you are joking aren’t you?”  And all I had said was that I was planning on driving Miss Daisy to Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain.

Miss Daisy by the way is my 1934 Austin 7 Tourer.  We have a love hate relationship and as you can imagine, she certainly did not relish the idea of a 2,000 mile round trip to Spain.  Well if you were 77 years old and had to carry someone my size all that way, you wouldn’t be too keen either.  Actually, Miss Daisy is no stranger to driving on the Continent with two trips to France and one to Ireland already under her bonnet.  Even so, on every trip, this little old car has always marked her protest by breaking down, usually in the most awkward place.

Sir Herbert Austin had always intended that cars like Miss Daisy were to be used for little jaunts into the countryside, or perhaps a week at the seaside.  But for some reason past owners of Austin 7s never quite got that message.  In fact ever since the 1930s they have had designs on undertaking massive journeys in them.  Indeed it is believed that more Sevens have circumnavigated the globe than any other single make of car.

Then I discover that I wasn’t the only one wanting to do this trip and we were joined by two other vehicles, a 1931 Model A Ford and a 1938 Austin Seven Special.  We were also joined by an Austin Seven fanatic, fortunately in a Landrover as his Austin had thrown a wobbly just before we were due to leave.  His tow bar was to prove helpful on several occasions.

So one morning last September I left Pembrokeshire with just about every spare part I could find stowed away in various crevices of the little car.  Miss Daisy didn’t disappoint, barely 100 miles into the trip the red ignition warning light came on.  ‘Uh-oh, dynamo’s packed up.  A good thing I packed a battery charger’.

We raised a big grin from the Guardia Civil at passport control as we arrived at Santander, or was it the girls in the low cut tops?  Our route took us from Santander to Gijon, then inland through A Fonsagrada, Lugo and finally on to Santiago.  And what a route!  The locals would come out of the cafés cheering and clapping as we passed through.  I think even Miss Daisy enjoyed the attention.  We used a sat nav set to avoid motorways and to take the shortest route.  This wasn’t a good idea as Miss Daisy doesn’t like Sat-Navs and as a result it took us along some very small roads and on occasion through farmyards, scattering chickens as we passed through.

Another small difficulty was that the Cantabrian Mountains stood in our way and as we headed inland, the long climbs and drops started.  Gently at first and then the climbs got steeper and every day we found ourselves travelling not only through the most stunning scenery but also over some very high mountain passes.  One pass turned out to be 1,500 feet higher than Snowdon.  At the top we stopped to let the engines cool down and to take in the scenery.  But when it was time to move on, Miss Daisy decided that she wasn’t going to start.  So after a shove from the others, we started to roll down the other side of the mountain.

This again was not a good idea as with no engine, I only had Miss Daisy’s cable brakes to stop us as we started on our 6,500 foot descent and Austin Seven brakes are not well known for stopping efficiently.  Fortunately the engine finally kicked in after we had dropped about 500 feet and by the time we reached the bottom, Miss Daisy was running perfectly again.  But no sooner had we got down than we started yet another climb.  The Sat-Nav then took us on some very narrow, steep climbs with sheer drops of several thousand feet only inches from our wheels.

It took us about six days to reach Santiago de Compostela.  Fortunately for us, the Archbishop of Santiago rather liked vintage cars and we had been given permission to park up in front of the cathedral for a photo call.  But as there would be thousands of pilgrims and visitors milling around after 9.00am, could we please be there by 8.00am, take the necessary photographs and go…

Our mission completed, it was time to think about our journey home and that is never as much fun as the journey there.  The route back to Santander took us north to Ribadeo on the coast and then along the coast road, finally reaching Santander four days later.   But while we didn’t have massive mountains to climb, the coastal scenery of what they call ‘Green Spain’ was still stunning.

Would I recommend such a trip to others?  I certainly would.  It’s such a different Spain compared to the Costas where we British normally head.  But it is quite beautiful and the locals are really warm and friendly, even if they think you are bonkers.

I’m doing John O’Groats to Land’s End next year and on top of that Miss Daisy is allowing me to turn her diaries in to a book. I know it’s not usual for a woman to own and drive a vintage car; this has been a male pastime for years with wives dutifully occupying the passenger seat…  But why not?  It’s brilliant fun and for those who live a high speed lifestyle, a car like Miss Daisy certainly slows you down and lets you put things in perspective.

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