Tuesday – day 2
18th October 2016
The best laid plans of mice and men…
Having grown up in Kent and been aware of the dream to connect Britain & France via a tunnel under theEnglish Channel dating back to 1802. The idea has always held a fascination for me.
I had wanted to travel via the chunnel on this trip and realise a small ambition. Sally booked us on the train and so we drove down to Kent anticipating a swift crossing and a new experience.
We were hosted by our good friends Jenny & Mario who wined and dined us in their delightful cottage nestled in the Kent countryside. After a good nights sleep.we set off to book in.When we arrived at the junction the M20 was a truck park and we had to slalom to get to the car entry. It turns out that the Chunnel was closed due to a technical problem and no trains were running. We had to switch to the good old ferry but we have now left British Shores.
The approach to Dover Castle has changed little since Bleriots arrival in 1909
Despite considerable effort we didn't see a single bluebird..!
After a quiet crossing we docked at Calais in a glorious sunset…So it begins!
Tuesday -day 2
20th October 2016 Offekerque
We have decided to avoid toll roads wherever possible to stretch the budget a little further so we are taking a steady meander down through France away from the Peage’s.
You miss out on such sights on the Peage
This means we get to sleep at some interesting truck stops – ‘Aires’ like a lay-by away from the road some times with facilities but often not. It is still possible to get some sleep once you adjust to the noise of traffic!
As we drove through the dark looking for our night stop we noticed a lot of blue flashing lights all over the place. There seemed to be police cars everywhere. It was only some days later when we caught up with the news that we realised this was the end of ‘The Jungle’ at Calais & we had driven & slept through it blissfully unaware.
Wednesday- day 3
19th October 2016
We got going early only to detect a burning smell. I wanted to stop and check it out but Sally was driver and she likes to make progress so she decided it must be the factories we could see nearby. As the smell stopped as soon as it had begun we continued on our way. Mid-morning we stopped for a coffee and Sally got out of the drivers seat and turned to notice a small hole burnt in the backrest. Cobar has -had -heated seats. “My god that was lucky” said Sally, that could have caused a lot more damage!” As she turned around I spotted the corresponding neat hole in her fleece jacket burnt through. “Yes” I said “It could have…lets go and buy a bigger fire-extinguisher, ours suddenly seems a little small”.
A few more miles and the rain was balanced out by the most beautiful rainbows.
We soon found ourselves in the Champagne region & decided to stop and take in the scenery…
The beauty of the Champagne region
The Cobar, pretending to be a grape.
France had a lot of fairly rough camping for us along the way. Our main aim was to hammer away at the miles but do it using the back roads rather than the toll roads. We sampled our first Aire at Offekerque, fresh off the ferry, which was full of lorry drivers reversing into parking spaces designed for cars at all hours and a dark toilet block full of hairy-arsed truckers which made an interesting change from visiting my ensuite at night!! Another night onward found us at a roadside pull-off in Ludes which had the distinct advantage of being a lot quieter than being close to the main road to Dunkerque of the first night. Our final night in France found us trying for a lakeside campsite at Pont del la Pyle only to discover all the campers gone for the year and the place deserted. Quiet was not the word, you could even hear the owl calling in the forest nearby and nobody came or went.
On the backroads I was amazed at how beautiful the autumn is in France. It matches anything I have seen on the roads of New England and it is practically on my doorstep as it happens each year. The yellows , oranges and reds are as diverse as the many species of tree they represent.
Also, when we arrived in the beautiful Champagne region of France, a further colour treat awaited us in the orderly rows of vines. For at this time of year they turn to a burnished gold and bright autumnal red. We had been chasing a campsite in the area but were informed that no camping takes place in that area at all. It is far too upmarket a place for that kind of activity, thank you very much. Still, in one of the rural squares of Champagne we spotted a tiny stall selling pizza and an Italian couple were delighted to sell us their wares, point us to an excellent local bread shop and in the direction where they thought camping may exist beyond the champagne constraints of Challon-en-Champagne.
Friday – day 4
21st October 2016
One of my ambitions was to drive from France Into Italy via the Mont Blanc Tunnel. I had Ice Climbed on the French side and driven a Ferrari on the Italian side but never actually crossed the border by driving through it. Well 35 minutes queueing and 15 minutes driving later my ambition was realised. Our family used to play a game where we held our breath whilst driving through road tunnels. A fun diversion in the UK but, it turns out, a potential health hazard in the French/Italian Alps! Apparently the tunnel is cut as a shallow inverted V-Shape to aid ventilation but that didnt stop the temperature rising about 5 degrees inside the Aiguille du Midi. Part of the ambition was to do with the approach road a twisting, hairpinned alpine road with spectacular views all the way up. I had been concerned about the overcast skies and low cloud obscuring the views but the weather came good on the day.
Views of the Mont Blanc Massif
And it just got better as we drove higher: