From Crowborough to Catalonia

An article that appeared in Motorcycle Sport and Leisure in early 2020

This was May 2016, as we rode through a wet France with no idea that within a few days we would make a life changing decision!

“It’s a dream many have, to sell up everything in the UK, head off to somewhere warm and sunny and earn a living doing what you enjoy most, in our case riding motorbikes. A new life and a challenge at that time of life when you are starting to count down to retirement rather than chasing a career.  We did it, so how did it come about and how has it worked out??

In late May 2016 my wife Debbie and I rode our motorbikes from the UK to Barcelona to watch the MotoGP, encountering foul weather and petrol strikes across France. A little bit cold and fed up after three extremely grim days riding, we finally woke up to sunshine as we prepared to cross the Pyrenees. Steam was rising from Debbie’s sodden jacket as we rode the stunning twisty road that led to Spain. We had always had a plan that one day we would retire there, as Debbie had struggled with arthritis in the cold and damp English climate. As we rode south into the warmth I said to Debbie over the intercom “why don’t we come and live here now, what are we waiting for?” It was a throw away holiday remark really, but as we enjoyed the next few days watching motorbike racing and exploring Barcelona and the area, we started to discuss it more seriously. By the time we were on our way back through a thankfully sun-drenched France we were making serious plans. We could do this!

Crossing the Pyrenees

We arrived back in England and announced our intentions to family and friends to mixed reviews, ranging from very positive to people sceptical we would actually do it. Our idea was to have a biker friendly B&B somewhere within easy reach of Barcelona, a lovely city to visit and easy to get to by air or road. We also wanted to be reasonably close to the Med.

The rest of the summer was spent scanning the internet for any properties that may be suitable and trying to get a grasp of basic Spanish via a phone app. In early Feb 2017 we flew to Barcelona for a long weekend and to see some properties we liked the look of around Tarragona. In England the weather is always rubbish at that time of year. I wanted to see if it was really better in Catalonia. It was!! Lovely early spring sunshine greeted us, like you would find on a good day in April in the UK.

Next was to see how the very sketchy property details on the websites actually measured up. Most of the places looked fabulous and incredible value compared to the south east of England. I was very sceptical, and expected it all to be good to true.

It wasn’t; many of the places were set in stunning countryside with more land than you could possible imagine owning. Some needed work but there were definitely possibilities here.

On the last morning, we went to see a pair of adjacent houses, both owned by Brits who wanted to sell at the same time. As soon as we drove up the track to the main house we knew we had found our new home. Buzzing with excitement we tried to control our enthusiasm and then the estate agent told us the town had its own motorcycle track. That was it, we were in.

We had our offers accepted and found a recommended English speaking Catalan lawyer to guide us through the process. We in effect swapped a tatty three bedroom 1930s semi in Sussex for two houses with 12 acres and had cash to spare.

By May we had sold our house, business, cars, a couple of motorbikes, a lot of our baggage and were planning our departure. In the middle of June 2017 we packed a horse box with enough stuff to keep us going until our house contents arrived including a couple of motorbikes. We hitched it to a Land Rover, stuck our two dogs in the back, picked up our eldest son and his mate and rolled on to an early morning ferry at Dover. It was a strange feeling, that we were actually doing this. It wasn’t a holiday when we would we back to normal in a couple of weeks. Normal was gone…

Rammed horsebox with 2 bikes buried inside

The day after we had left England for good we rolled up the track to our new house and life. We had managed to time it so well that it was the hottest June since 1940, knocking on 40 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to sit around drinking sangria. We had a couple of horses arriving in three days and we had no stables. The first week was spent converting a couple of car ports into temporary stables. The horses arrived a few days later on a scorching day at lunchtime. Debbie had to walk them 2km up a dusty track, which was interesting.

The first summer was a massive challenge, much as we expected. It was certainly action packed. I was in A&E within three days, having reacted badly to fly bites. The horses escaped for a morning and we were looking for them all around the endless local trails with two police cars, a neighbour, me on a motorbike and Debbie in the Land Rover. After much panic on our front, they calmly trotted up the track for lunch! Our water was cut off, I lost my wallet with driving licence and Spanish bank card and we had some very interesting times trying to get our Moroccan builders to first of all actually appear, then to do what we asked them. Mañana certainly exists, fairly stressful times but luckily alcohol is cheap out here!

By the autumn we had gutted the Finca and refurbished it for our guests, put in new solar power systems in both houses, fought off stray dogs, adopted a local rescue dog, managed to get the internet connected and were finally feeling we were making some progress.

Two years after we waved goodbye to the white cliffs of Dover, we are now established and are welcoming guests from the UK and elsewhere.

The finca is a popular base for those who wish to just relax in the peaceful Catalan countryside or explore the area via bicycle, motorbike, on foot, or our horses. Guests can also try out some fishing, climbing or kayaking on the impressive River Ebro that runs through the town. The local circuit offers trackdays on your own bikes and karting on their machines.

We have four Honda CRF250 trail bikes that we take out guests on, both on the fabulous local roads and the endless mountain tracks and I bought over my old DR350. These have proved very popular, particular with those not used to motorcycling off the tarmac. The casita has also been popular with bikers touring the region who have stopped over for a night or two as part of their trip. We now offer guided day trips, on and off road plus bikers are welcome to bring their own machines and stay for a night or longer.

We picked a great region, close to the Med, a well equipped local town and within easy reach of Barcelona and Valencia.

Not a bad view

Has it been what we hoped for, or feared? It certainly has been a challenge, and not suitable for everyone. The stresses exist but are different from the UK. The scenery, culture, people and lifestyle are all fabulous. The Catalans have a very good outlook on life and stress levels are a lot lower than the UK. They have an excellent health service and seem to prioritise public services such as police, air ambulances and the fire service. Important infrastructure like the roads and railways are all well maintained. No potholes!

They love a party and the fiestas go on for a week at a time, with music blasting out literally all night and no-one complains, imagine that in Sussex. The weather is lovely, though very hot in July and August. It’s not all plain sailing, they love their bureauracy here and you spend a lot of time running around various offices with bundles of paper.

We are learning the language(s) slowly but there are a few expats around who are happy to come and help translate if needed. My advice is…Go for it!!”

What we left behind…

Crowborough High Street…mid summer!
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