I finished the last blog post with a sign off as we sat at the check in gates for the ferry in Dieppe with our passports at the ready. At that point I imagined that this particular trip was all but over and there would be little else to report. It was only a short while after I clicked the publish button that things began to unravel again.
It was 3.20 p.m. and the boat was due to leave at 6 p.m. The ticket office had told us that loading would begin at 5.00 p.m. so we imagined that we had lots of time. The sun was shining and we were full of relief – we were going home. Shirley took the dogs for a walk and I started making a sandwich because they had told us that there were no services on board – not even the cabin that we had booked and paid for. The crossing is only four hours so we had planned to have a shower and a lie down because, to be brutally honest, we were fairly manky by then and exhausted. The disappointment of no cabin and therefore no long shower almost made us cry but we squared our shoulders and took it on the chin. Shirley went off for a walk and I was making coffee in our travel mugs when I noticed the check in gates sliding open. I dashed outside and approached the very scary looking woman standing by the gate. She glowered at me before I even opened my mouth then when I told her the sorry truth that Shirley was out with the dogs she almost spat with indignation. “You are at the front of the queue and you tell me that your passenger is not here?!!!” she growled. So I set off to look for Shirley. I had this vain hope that she was just on the grass verge encouraging the dogs to have a pee but of course she wasn’t. She was completely out of sight and a man told me that he’d seen her walking towards the town. I took off at a sprint and saw her at a distance coming back with the dogs. I yelled “Quick!” and “Let the dogs go!” because I knew they would run to me and she would be free to run without them. We landed back at the van gasping and groaning, right past the queue behind us that was full of frustrated, irritated and stressed people longing to get on that boat and go home.
Finally we made it through check in and parked up at the next part of the loading process – otherwise known as ‘Just stay there for a couple of hours’. So we did. After the first couple of idle hours the big scary port lady came around to inform us that they needed government permission to sail because the borders were now closed. We had to wait. Time ticked slowly by with people getting in and out of their cars, walking their dogs, making conversation and trying to overhear what the port officials were saying. We waited for more than three hours and as the pains and aches that came from sprinting the length of the port and back set in we got more and more stressed. It really looked like we were going to be kept back from sailing home and we felt a slow creeping despair.
In the meantime we observed that many of the other people awaiting their fate made absolutely no attempt to keep a distance from their fellow travellers. Had no-one heard the numerous health messages to keep your distance? Dogs pick up tension very easily and our two began to react to everyone that passed the van, particularly those with dogs. Every few seconds Boo would set up a baying like the miniature Hound of the Baskervilles with a bad perm. Poppy would then leap to join in , despite clearly having no real idea what she was supposed to be protecting us from.
Shirley had her door open because it was very warm in the late afternoon sunshine and suddenly a portly man of mature years appeared with two rotund King Charles Spaniels and stepped right up to her open door. Boo and Poppy went into overdrive, yapping and howling like mad things and Shirley tried with all her might to back away from his big smiley face pushed right through the doorway as he began to make conversation of the ‘looking for something to pass the time’ variety. Shirley, normally the people’s friend, realised that her attempts to get out of his immediate vicinity were failing so she just shut the door in his face, almost removing his moustache in the process. He left looking puzzled.
Four hours after being told off for not being ready to check in and after several truckers had given up and gone back to the parking area and night was falling, a small van shot up to the officials guarding the entrance of the ship and they began to direct traffic onto the it. We let out a great shout of relief only to fall silent again when she let everyone round us onto the ship and put up a hand to tell us to stay put. We watched dejectedly as all our fellow motorhomers got onto the ferry and then all the truckers rolled on. Were they going to tell us we were too big with our trailer or was the scary woman from earlier punishing us? Eventually we were called forward and were put at the back of the boat with only one truck in behind us. The jury is out on whether it was a punishment for us or a kindness to the dogs because it was a very quiet spot.
Up on deck we found that, despite the lack of cabins, there were very few people compared to normal and there was plenty of room for people to spread out and not be too close to anyone else. We were soon settled in huge leather reclining chairs and drifting off to sleep when the sudden and shocking sound of electronic music came from across the aisle. A man wearing a huge mask was poking wildly at his phone as it blared in full volume. Some people were already asleep and shot up in their seats as though they’d been shot. A man behind us stood up and yelled at the top of his lungs “Turn your bloody music off!” at which point the man in the mask let forth a stream of an unintelligible language and pointed at his phone as though it had taken on a life of its own. Two hours passed in blissful sleep before the intercom came on to tell us that we would land in two hours and they were sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for that …. the people around us fell back to sleep and the man behind began an almighty snoring. A few minutes later the man in the mask pulled out his phone and the blaring music started again, causing the snoozers to leap up again in fright. I began to think that if coronavirus didn’t get us we might all die of shock.
At last we pulled into the port of Newhaven where, despite the fact that it was midnight French time and we were almost asleep on our feet ,we were searched for illegal immigrants even though this had been done just before boarding. We drove out of the port completely disorientated, found that our usual spot for parking up for the night was full and drove out into the town. Someone had told us that we could park not far away at a pub on the other side of the marina so we set off in that direction. As we approached we saw a sign that said “No turning for HGVs ahead” … I have no answer to the obvious question of why we ignored this and carried on regardless. The carpark of the Hope Inn is far too small for a rig of our size and there was absolutely no way that we could get into it which left us with a massive problem. We were pointing in the direction of a dead end on a narrow lane with a rig that was too big to turn around. Out we hopped … did I just write that? … out we staggered, unhitched the trailer, pushed it back and went to turn the van. Just as Shirley was reversing it towards the hitch and I was guiding her using a torch, a car drove up with music blaring and stopped because we were blocking the whole road. I went over to speak to them to apologise for keeping them waiting when to my surprise and relief, they jumped out of the car and came over to help. The young man said, “tell me what to do I’ve never done anything like this before”. He followed instructions with a tad more vigour than was strictly necessary almost pushing the trailer right into the back of the van but then, in double quick time, he got the idea and had us hitched up and ready to go. As we turned to thank them we realised that the girl with him was in her pyjamas and slippers. With a wave they hopped back into their car and drove off, tooting cheerily as they went. I am still convinced that they were angels.
Just up the road at the football ground we spotted a big space off the road and pulled in. The dogs were let out for a pee, we closed the curtains, pulled off our trousers and literally fell into bed. We had been awake by then for 21 hours.
Early this morning we woke up, put our trousers back on, washed our faces and cleaned our teeth and set off before 7.00 a.m. to drive north. We were back in the UK and, despite our exhaustion we were grateful to be back on home soil and heading for home. Life isn’t going to be normal for a long time but we can adjust I’m sure.
Thanks again to everyone who has followed us on our journey and please keep well … and remember not to approach any wild looking women in motorhomes with their door open.