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Winter sun Pt. 13 – the dash home!

Winter sun Pt. 13 – the dash home!

Monday 16th March

We left Larrouletta at 09:30 for the short-ish hop to Bordeaux. I used the journey to make phone calls and change bookings – especially our Eurotunnel crossing. We had worked out that the earliest we could travel was Thursday to allow time to get the boys seen by the vet, travel to Calais and wait the prescribed 24 hours before travel. I amended all our appointments and bookings accordingly. Job done! We would be back in the UK by Thursday evening – just 3 days earlier than planned but it seemed prudent to leave as the situation was clearly deteriorating and quite volatile.

We arrived at our campsite – Camping Le Village du Lac and did the usual chores. We had a very nice location, overlooking a lake with ducks. The site has a mix of touring pitches and chalets, which looked very attractive. I could imagine sitting on the deck and gazing at the lake and chatting with friends in the summer.

Our pitch overlooking the lake
The lake
The fountain

I checked my emails and had one from the site in Le Mans that I had spoken to earlier, saying that they would not be able to accommodate us the next day. We also had reports that President Macron would be making an announcement that evening and it wasn’t likely to be good news. This changed things. Again.

We had a quick pow-wow and decided that we would try and get the dogs seen by the vet here in Bordeaux, which would give us a bit more flexibility travel-wise

I got straight on it and the vet nearest to where we were agreed to see them within the half hour. We set off almost immediately. She had told us to wait in the car until we were summoned – she was very sensibly doing this with all clients.

Paul went in with the dogs while I made some more phone calls. I calculated that we could travel any time after 3 pm (allowing for the 24 hour regs). I managed to change our Eurotunnel booking, yet again, to Tuesday evening at 22:50. The die was cast! We would sleep in Bordeaux that night and drive through the next day to get to Calais.

The vet charged €60 for the privilege of scanning their chips and and giving the tablets we give them every month! But it has to be done so no point in counting the cost. And we could now travel after 24 hours had elapsed.

Not knowing quite what tomorrow would bring, we called in to the local E LeClerc to top up with fuel. It was utter chaos. French panic buying had kicked off big time!

Later that day, President Macron announced that France was going into lock-down and would be closing its borders from midday on Tuesday. The swiftness with which the new measures would take effect was a bit of a shock and we panicked a bit – briefly. Reason soon returned and we guessed that (hoped that) we would be allowed to leave the country. I asked my brother Bruce to make enquiries for us the next morning, but we agreed we still try and make it. I emailed the very accommodating vet in Le Mans, to apologise and say that – after all the changes (a total of three!) – we would not be requiring an appointment at all. He was very understanding.

We set the alarms for 06:30 and went to bed.

Quick review of Camping La Village au Lac

A pleasant site, electrics a bit dodgy, good facilities. Great for families in summer I imagine, but none of the facilities (other than shower and laundry) were open at this time of year and we felt the €35 for one night in low season was a bit steep. Nice little epicerie on site and plenty of bread with no need to order. I’d be happy to return.

Tuesday 17th March

We left the site at 07:30, picking up a couple of baguettes and some pain au chocolat for the journey. The roads were quite quiet and when we called in at the first service station after about an hour and half on the road, we were actually served by a person – which surprised us – but no fuel was available. This was a bit of a worry as we would need to refuel again before Calais. We hoped it was just a blip.

We stopped regularly for all our sakes and took a longer break at lunchtime. The aire we stopped at had a good dog walking area and the boys had a great run around.

The day wore on – and on -in this fashion and by teatime we had all had quite enough of being in the car – and yet we knew it was far from over. We also did not know quite what to expect at Calais.

At the aire

We were hearing rumours of needing to have a piece of paper completed with reason for travel – an “Attestation de Deplacement Derogatoire”. Well we didn’t have one of those, but we did have our tunnel crossing confirmation and hoped that would suffice. As it turned out, we weren’t stopped or challenged, although we did see numerous gendarmes in cars or on motor-cycles making their way to somewhere. We wondered where?

We passed through Rouen at rush-hour and it was like a ghost town.There was a police presence on one of the bridges which was a bit worrying, but the Pont Mathilde – our usual Rouen crossing – was fine.

The Cathedral Rouen
Deserted streets in Rouen

The journey seemed interminable – especially the last couple of hours, but we eventually arrived after just over 12 hours travelling. The boys were very good, although Ted did get a bit bored at one stage, bless him.

Bored Ted

We went to the Pet Reception, but were told we were too early and to come back in an hour. We put the steadies down on the van and had our tea. Bread and strawberry jam! But we did manage to make a cuppa!

We went back to Pet Reception at the allotted time, got the boys checked in and then drove round to get us checked in. It was all very organised ( I had imagined it might be somewhat chaotic) and we managed to get on a train a half hour earlier than booked. All good.

We arrived back in the UK just before 11. What a relief. Now all we had to do was get back to Fareham. Another few hours in the car. No problem. You’d think!

First the M20 was closed, then the M25 was down to one lane in a few places and the final insult – the A3 was closed just after Guildford. Dear old Gabby took us off on a torturous route via Frensham Ponds, dumping us back on the A3 at Hindhead just south of the tunnel. But we finally arrived back at our temporary site in Newtown and were in bed just after 2 am. What an adventure!

So there it was – around 3,000 miles in our 10 year old Volvo V70 (D5), plus all the driving around and exploring and she didn’t put a foot wrong. When we left we had an erroneous “Engine System Service Required” message, which appeared (and we ignored!) every time we turned it on. That had disappeared by the time we got home, to be replaced with an even more incessant and annoying “Windscreen Washer refill required” warning, which I’m sure Paul can cope with. She did get a bit hot one day as we drove to Zaragoza, but we stopped for a while and she was fine.

We had an absolutely amazing time and would do it all again in a heartbeat (other than the Coronavirus issues!). The boys took everything in their stride and had lots of new experiences – as did we. We have come back to a very unpredictable situation, with events being cancelled and everything in disarray. It’s been lovely having you all with us on our journey. Here’s to the next one – whenever that may be. Stay well.

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