the last post was from Vancouver. This post comes from a little seaside town in France, and in between there has been about a week of some fairly hectic activity. Let me re-cap, for those who might be vaguely interested.
I arrived back from Canada at Heath Row, England, at about 2.30 in the afternoon. There I grabbed a courtesy shuttle bus which took me to the car rental company on the other side of the airport. (very efficient) At the depot I picked up my pre-booked car: I had ordered a Ford Fiesta (the cheapest deal I could find) but as with the previous car rental, found myself up-graded into a new Peugeot 207. Who was I to complain? My plan was to visit a few friends and relations before re-joining The Tribe in the two Camper vans, (who were ‘somewhere up North’)
So the first move was to get up to a cousin’s place just north of Derby. I got away from Heath Row by about 3.30pm, which was a bit late in the day to be starting a 250km drive. However this was the plan, so off I set. The car drove beautifully but the navigator was definitely average, finding himself in a tangle of roundabouts, road signs and general traffic mayhem, trying to get through Leicester. After a hour or so I popped our the other side and regained some momentum, arriving at my pre-booked hostelry at about 8.0pm.
I finally found my cousin’s house at about 9.0 pm and had a most pleasant re-union, but by near-midnight my recent spate of activity started catching up, and I returned for a sound sleep at the pub.
After a good English breakfast, I took off for London again, and had a great run until I reached the outskirts of that seat of civilization.
I should pause here to try and describe the British motoring scene, in any city in this fair land. Britain is criss-crossed with an infinite number of small roads, connecting all villages and towns. These roads were developed during the hey-days of the horse and carriage, and were a comfortable width for one such vehicle. As time progressed and towns grew into cities, some of these roads developed into highways. Now and again the roads were widened a fraction to make things easier, but by band large they remained almost untouched for nearly a 100 years. When England started to get organized they gave the main highways numbers, and so the ‘A” road numbers arrived.
A long time after the second world war, it was realised that the ‘A’ roads were not coping with the traffic, and so the ‘M” motorway roads were built. These highways took the straightest line between two cities, only occasionally allowing other roads to connect into the system. It is in the connecting of these roads that British roading engineers managed to devise a system of round-abouts that confuse the sharpest of minds, and the most skillful of divers. These ‘roundabouts’ are not round but usually oval in layout. They frequently have 6 or7 junctions spread around the circuit, often having traffic lights. There can be up to 4 lanes of traffic hurtling around the circuit. The trick is to know which lane you are supposed to be in to be able to escape into your desired exit. Your required lane is painted on the road in large letters. The problem is that the letters are obscured (usually) by even larger trucks. Of course there are the signs to help you too. These list the route numbers of the various exits, plus the route numbers of roads they will eventually lead to, plus the names of the next few towns (but not the main city you are looking for) etc etc. A total confusion to the driver with no local knowledge. The result is that invariably you take the wrong exit, leaving you no option but to drive 10-15 km down the road until you can find a turn off, whereupon you can return the the roulette wheel and try your chances again. Add to this mix the fact that every car that was ever made seems to be either driving on the roads or, in any town at all, parked nose-to-tail on the roadside. The final little bit of fiendish thinking is to make all rotes in a town a ‘red route’. This means no stopping at any time except for busses. So if you are lost, you cannot find anywhere to pull over and get your bearings.
Do you get the impression that driving in the cities and on the main roads is a frustrating and harrowing business? I hope so – because I was a fairly frazzled specimen by the time I finished my rounds and finally ended up in a peaceful haven at my cousin’s place in the south of England. What bliss!
The next day my racing around was over and I made my way at a leisurely pace to a midday rendezvous with the vans in Reading.
The vans had already covered a fair distance that day, but a booking had been made to catch the Dover ferry in a couple of days time – so on they pressed. I sank gratefully back into the passenger’s seat and relaxed and enjoyed. That day we got to Folkstone – just a stone’s throw from Dover, but the intrepid duo really had been driving long enough for one day.
We found a Sainsbury’s, huge super markets with equally huge parking lots. Previous experience had shown that when asked, the Authorities would permit us to park overnight. Which we did (with grateful thanks to the Management)
The next day we were up bright and early, with the rain pouring down. After a quick breakfast we were off to Dover – intending to spend most of the day at the Castle. Our initial momentum quickly came to a grinding halt as we joined the traffic on the motorway to Dover.
We did not know it immediately but we learned that a computer breakdown at bthe ferry terminal was causing huge hold ups as all traffic was manually processed onto the ferries. Memories of our 7hr holdup outside Antwerp came flooding back, but fortunately we inched our way forward to a turn-off, and were able to escape onto a minor road to Dover. We were in no hurry for the ferry –our booking was for 9.30pm but we did want to see the castle.
And see it we did.
It stopped raining, but the gale winds continued to tear at us. The castle is situated on the highest hill in Dover, and even a zephyr breeze would be able to nip at you unhindered on top of that hill.
We had a really interesting time (did I tell you we are still not sick of castles – even if you are sick of hearing about them!?) crawling up, over and under the battlements, and then descended to Castle Street to enjoy a ritualistic Last Dinner on British soil – Fish’n’Chips!
Being aware of the chaos throughout the day we got down to the wharf fairly early and got ourselves at the front of a queue, waiting for the 9.30 boat.
As good fortune would have it, there was space on an earlier sailing and so we found ourselves steaming out into the Channel at 9.00pm.
We were anticipating a rough ride, due to the gale that was still blowing, but in fact the 1 1/2 hr trip was very smooth, and we were berthed and discharged with amazing speed and efficiency.
A quick drive around the darkened streets and we finally found a park, which was full! a few hundred meters away was an ordinary car park and a hesitant enquiry to a local gave us the assurance that it was ok to park there. So here we are in France!Tags: Observations, Oddities, Transport, Travel, Tag Index