Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Accident on the M20 meant a mad dash for the ferry

The first of our retrospective blog diary entries after a 2 week Easter holiday break in our Brittany Gite ....

As we've been travelling across to France fairly regularly for the last few years and now know how long it takes to get to the different ferry ports, we've ended up cutting it increasingly tight with our arrival at the port and usually end up arriving just before the gates close and driving straight on board the ferry.

For this holiday we were taking our dog to France for the first time and we were booked onto a fairly late (6pm) Speedferries sailing so we allowed ourselves plenty of time to get to the port from home and (unusually for us) actually left home early. All was going well and we would have arrived at Dover about an hour early until soon after we joined the M20 when the traffic ground to a halt.

And stayed halted.

And then didn't move at all.

Dialling up the traffic news on my mobile we were told "4 miles of stationary traffic on the M20 due to an earlier accident, severe delay, avoid".

Not good advice when you're already in the traffic jam !

So we sat there in the queue and didn't move at all for nearly 2 hours. We watched the air ambulance come and go, read a book and thankfully didn't play "I Spy".

When we finally did get moving and passed the accident (two lorries that had collided with each other) we were still 40 miles away from Dover and it was already 6:10pm so it wasn't looking good. SpeedFerries told me that they were running about an hour late so we might still be able to catch our boat if we "got there as fast as we could", but if we didn't make it then the next crossing with any space on it was on the 9th April (i.e. 10 days later!).

Sped down the motorway at warp factor 4 and arrived at checkin just about 15 minutes before loading started.

As I blogged a week earlier, SpeedFerries have moved into new (dedicated) facilities at the old Dover Hoverport but unfortunately we were in too much of a hurry to stop and really take a good luck at them:

Surprisingly our dog didn't even get a second glance at check-in, they didn't check his 'Dog Passport' nor read his microchip. All that happened is that we were given an orange windscreen tag instead of the normal green one and we had to queue in a different lane with the other doggy cars. We then all had to load the boat last and with our hazard warning lights flashing (presumably to tell the crew that we had animals on board). My wife was very worried (and tearful) about taking the dog over but when we came down to the car on arrival in Boulogne he was curled up asleep in the car boot - obviously not phased by the experience at all.

Getting out of Boulogne port was a real pain though. If you pass through the main Dover ferry facilities all the customs controls are done on the UK side and so we've been used to driving straight off the boat in Boulogne (or Calais on the odd occasions we've taken a P&O boat) and straight out of the port. With SpeedFerries move to separate facilities at Dover Hoverport then this doesn't appear to have been replicated yet. Consequently we all had to drive (slowly) past the French customs man who of course didn't look at our passports at all but nevertheless there was still a considerable queue to get off the boat and through the port.
Can only hope that this is one thing that SpeedFerries look to sort out soon but they'd only swapped over to the Hoverport 2 days before we went through so doubtless this was just teething troubles.

An uneventful drive down the autoroute to the Gite, arriving about 3am in the morning (Zzzz).

PS: I have to admit that the photo of the new SpeedFerries check-in was actually taken on the return journey back home as we'd been in too much of rush to do it on the outbound journey. I was also told off for taking it, apparently it wasn't allowed - not sure why though?

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