Having covered over half of the journey travelling through Brussels, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bern, Rome and Vatican City, Monaco and crossing the Pyrenees Mountains, we were headed for Andorra.
Located at the top of the Pyrenees Mountains at an elevation of 1,023 metres, Andorra-la-Vella it is the highest city, and the sixth smallest in Europe. Everywhere we looked there were small buildings jutting out from the very top of the peaks. Having driven through the night, we set up camp for a well earned rest. Sitting in a valley overlooking both of its bordering countries (Spain and France), there was a peaceful and beautiful vibe to the city. I can understand why people in Andorra have the 4th highest human life expectancy in the world.
Camping under a tree has been the right thing to do at every stop as it provides us with shade and shelter should the weather change. The campsite was clean and quiet, with a lot of British holiday makers, so after a good night’s sleep we woke fully refreshed and looking forward to Madrid.
Having passed a very sparse border control where everyone seemed to just be chilling and watching TV, we set off into the countryside of Spain. I could clearly see why the dessert-like rural areas of Spain have become known as the Spanish Hollywood, used for so many westerns and biblical films. I could just imagine one of the old cowboy stars, like Clint Eastwood, chasing across the miles and miles of baron land stretching for as far as the eye could see. This landscape only broken every now and then with a customary 60 foot high black bull along the side of the road, just to remind you that you were in Spain.
The more off track we went, the more it was for us to encounter local people wearing traditional sombreros, living in the middle of nowhere taking feed to cattle or sheep. Green areas where very few and far between and, as the winds swept bull rushes everywhere, with the occasional twister thrown in for good measure, it conjured up visions of storm chasers making a good living here in the wilds of Spain.
As we crossed the border from the most southern part of Spain and onto the 25th April Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal, we couldn’t help but notice the dominating statue of Christ overlooking the city. Having made our way into the centre of the city we managed to find a parking bay outside a church where there were a number of people sitting and enjoying the views, one of which being ourselves as we seemed to attract rather a lot of attention from passersby.
Already in France, on our last but one stop we had a chance to meet up with a good friend, Arjan from The Greenlace Company, who had helped plot the last leg from Lisbon to Paris. This guy knows a thing or two when it comes to overland travel and is part of David Lovejoy’s off-road preparation company. As this was our last night of the challenge, Arjan had managed to secure us a stay in a lovely converted barn with showers and toilets and a proper bed to sleep in; totally unexpected but none the less very welcome sight. The owners of this tranquil place, Trouvé, made us immediately welcome with a full dinner and relaxing chat about everything. In the morning we woke very early as we had the best part of a 4-hour drive north to Paris, the final capital in the 14in14 challenge that we had started 13 days before.
When it comes to driving, Paris is sadly a nightmare to get anywhere central and it’s very easy to go around the Boulevard Périphérique ring road endless times in a vain attempt to hit anywhere you really intend to go to. To make things worse we were following a demonstration whereby protesters walked behind police escort waving banners that were ablaze! It was the worse 3 hours of our trip that we had encountered, other than the rain in the Czech Republic.
But we finally arrived in Paris to complete our 14in14 challenge that had started 13 days and 21 hours earlier. With only 3 hours to spare, the final tick was placed on the bonnet of the car, job done and time to relax.
We still had to get back home and, believe it or not, at the port of Calais the car developed a minor gearbox problem which nearly meant pushing the car onto the ferry home. But I guess after 8,500 miles of trouble-free driving a minor hiccup at the finale was nothing compared to what might have gone wrong.
If I am honest, I’m still trying to come to terms with being home and having completed such an immense challenge, especially after preparing for so long.
I plan to take on another challenge this year, although what exactly is unclear. I have been asked a number of times whether I would do it all again. In essence, I would, but I think something even more challenging would be best, such as driving through North Cape, Norway and the coldest parts of the world, or maybe travelling from London to Singapore. All I know is that next time I will need a need co-pilot and navigator, so if you know of anyone, get in contact….
If you would like to donate to this fantastic charity then please visit our website, 14 capitals in 14 days.
A quick thank you to all those who assisted with adaptions, planning, finances and support, and a few details about the adjustments:
• Paul Baker of Broadfields Garage, a now life-long friend, who offered continued support and many hours of free advice and labour to the car.
• All bushes on the car were replaced with SuperPro bushes courtesy of SuperPro, which made a real difference in the handling of the car both on and off road. The flex in the movement allowed for greater articulation even with standard suspension set up and proved invaluable as a change on the vehicle.
• Brake discs and pads were also changed to DBA 4000 wiper slot discs which again improved not only the breaking of the car but also the feel of the breaks through the pedal, which was dramatically improved with no break fad as previously experienced with standard breaks.
• Engine tune, provided by IRB Developments, allowed the car to move more freely with an engine gain of around 180bhp. It was also highly recommended to use a performance replacement air filter, a full EGR replacement kit and a set of uprated silicon intercooler hoses. Because the car is a 2004 model, we removed the Catalytic Converter and the DeCAT pipe. With a straight through exhaust system, which basically removes the middle silencer with this conversion, the Td5 turbo boost pressure is also slightly increased, but well within the safe limits of the engine. Because our car was an automatic we had to ensure that we were operating within safety parameters of the gear box and so the use of an additional boost box was required with typical gains of 50% over a standard Td5.
• A Safari snorkel was added to improve air intake as some of the areas were to be dusty. This allowed the car to breath more easily and, should water levels exceed the maximum required on a Discovery 2, the snorkel would allow for deeper travel in such conditions.
• QT diff guards were added to improved protection both front and rear.
• With the plan to drive on both road and track it was necessary to decide on what was going to be best type of tyre for this long haul. After testing different tyre types we settled for a set of General Grabber AT2 which gave the best compromise between road and track conditions and proved more than capable in the build up testing phases in Dorset, with David Lovejoy.
• Having again considered if it was really necessary to equip the car with a hefty extra 40 kilos on the front of the car, Peter Lamb of First Four helped greatly by modifying a Discovery 2 non-facelift bumper to fit our car, which is a facelift version. This meant extending the forward arms which attach to the chassis by an inch or so to give clearance and provided us with a champion 1200llbs winch to cope with the weight that the car was going to be carrying. Also taking into account the need to possibly self recover from within the car was an important factor so a wireless remote was added to ensure this would be easily achieved.
• Additional vehicle lighting came from Simon Rafferty of X Eng. We were provided with a double set of roof lights, in both flood and spot form, to ensure that the spread and distance of light was up to the mark.
• Kelly Kettle offered us sponsorship for using their highly efficient all-in-one kettle and cooking facility, which for quick and easy set up is a must.
• Multimats, a self inflating bed mat that not only keeps you off the ground but provided you with a cushion offering support and warmth.
By Mark Pattenden
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