From Dunkerque To The Old Dart

Look! I think, I think that could be blue sky! It’s not raining! And look…look…I think that could be a glimmer of sunshine!! We left Dunkerque in rain, but arrived in merry ol’ England with almost, almost sunshine!

We found our way to the ferry terminal in Dunkerque and proceeded through passport control. While Steve was showing the man inside the van, to do a vehicle check, I was answering the questions from the lady in the booth. It’s always that first question I find the hardest. “Where have you come from?” That question just scrambles my brain!

I explained we’d come from France, having stayed in Dunkerque, but had driven from Italy. She asked how long we were staying, where we were going, what our jobs were, how long we were in the UK last time…and on it went. When I told her we’d been cycle touring and had cycled through the UK the last time we were there, she asked, “How was that?”

“It was…” I didn’t get to finish the sentence, which was going to be “magic”, because she finished the sentence for me.

…”hard?” she offered. “Cold, wet, windy…”

I laughed, “It was a bit chilly. We didn’t quite get the summer we were expecting!”

When I told here where we were heading, she said, “Cornwall is lovely, but you wouldn’t want to be cycling there now.”

In the end, I passed the questions and Steve passed the inspection and we were ready to roll on board.

On we go. The voyage begins!
On we go. The voyage begins!

When we drove on, even though we were still in France, we already had a taste of that marvellous British character and humour. The man directing us on, who came to the front of the van to tell us when to stop behind the van in front of us, told us when to stop by launching into a little dance and then beaming at us, with two thumbs-up! How can you not love that! I heard him talking to the other fellas, so I knew he was English and it was great to see that sparkling personality!

We found a good possie for the two hour crossing, on comfy chairs, with a table, near the tea supply and the toilets and the emergency muster station. Every base was covered! We also had floor to ceiling windows, so had a view too, even though that view was just grey and misty, but we could see the water. This proved not to be an advantage, because it was a rocking and rolling ride at times, so looking at that rolling horizon and the wild waves, wasn’t going to be a good idea for some parts of the crossing!

Settled into our top spot
Settled into our top spot

The time went by and, even though there was still a monochromatic palette of grey outside the window, we did manage to just see the white cliffs of Dover as we neared land. Very speccy! Back down to the car deck, into the van and ready to roll onto British soil again. I reminded Steve to switch his brain back again and remember to drive on the left side of the road now!

A glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover
A glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover

Hello England! As we looked out towards the ramp, we could see patches of blue sky, an ever so slight glimpse of sun and it most definitely wasn’t raining! You little ripper! Things were already looking different to the last time we were here! I’m all for new experiences and this was grand! It was still cold and blowing a gale, but there was a glimmer of promise! As we drove out, we were directed to customs and waited to be checked over. In that beautifully polite English manner, the customs officer apologised for holding us up, explaining that since the events in Paris, they were being extra vigilant with vehicles entering the UK, so they have the dogs going over them, sniffing for bombs and explosives. He certainly didn’t need to apologise, it’s a good thing that they do that and we don’t mind waiting when it’s about security. We smiled as we watched the Spaniel go to work, running up and down the van, being directed to sniff here and there, have another sniff of that tyre, back here, sniff under there… All the time, that dog did not stop wagging its tail and did not wipe the huge grin off its face, as it went under and over our van and the van and trailer in front of us, with its tongue lolling out and performing its job with boundless enthusiasm. There was a dog that loved its job! We passed inspection and off we went again.

A view of the white cliffs from land
A view of the white cliffs from land

As we zipped along the motorway, we spotted signs for various places we had ridden the last time we were here and found ourselves reminiscing, “Remember that… Blue Bell Hill, remember that… we stopped for elevenses there…that was the day I got hit by the car…we went over that bridge…we rode up the side of this road…” It was like driving down memory lane, even though at that moment, memory lane was the M20 motorway! We found our hotel in Dartford, which puts us within shouting distance of London tomorrow, and checked in. I’m still getting used to speaking English! I stopped myself saying “Bonjour” to the lady at reception and checked myself, with my confused brain clicking over, “Which language am I trying to speak today?” I’m still adjusting!

We settled in and thought about the drive from the ferry, which took about an hour. We noted that when we passed some places we recognised along the way, it was taking us half and hour to travel  between places that had taken us three days to ride last time. Which trip do we remember the most though, we asked each other? THE BIKES! Which trip did we enjoy the most? THE BIKES!

So here we are again in England, ready for the final leg of our journey. You know what I’m really hoping? What’s been on my mind? I really hope the cycle of repeats and reruns is just right, so Steve gets to watch the episode of The Waltons that will finally let him see the end of the saga with Jim Bob and he will, at last, know if Jim Bob has a baby! It seems it wasn’t only I who was thinking that, because when we settled into the room, Steve started checking TV channels and exclaimed with delight, “The Waltons is on at 6:00 in the morning! And at 8:00! And 9:00!!” I guess we’ll have to time our breakfast, so we can watch it before we have to leave, just in case…just in case it’s the Jim Bob episode! No matter what we need to do, even finally returning this darn van, our departure will be held up until the Big Fella can have his Waltons moment! Bless England and these little bonus moments of joy it brings! You have to love it!

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