Our stay on a ferry pitch at the Caravan Club site worked well. With our ferry being at 10:15, latest check-in would be 9:15. With only a 15-minute run to the port, our morning preparations were unhurried. We were ready in good time and ended up on the road heading for Dover East ferry terminal at about 08:15. A short wait in a queue saw us checking in and being presented with boarding passes. We’d been put on the earlier ferry departing at 09:25. Bother!
Bother? Normally getting on an earlier ferry would’ve been just what we wanted. On this occasion, though, it really felt less than ideal. We had found and booked a site on the north side of Brussels for our first stop. The site manager’s return email said the booking was fine but that we would not be able to get to the site until 17:00 – it sounded as though there was a bike race closing some roads for a while. That had meant that we would already have had to kill an hour en route. Now, arriving in Calais almost an hour earlier than originally anticipated, we’d have to kill two hours which was going to be too much dangling around so we re-planned our route to head further into Belgium. I tried to send an apologetic email to Mr. Brussels.
Francine came up with another site, further south, and devised a plan to skirt Lille instead of heading to Brussels. The decision needed to be made on the boat because the dividing of the ways was immediately outside Calais.
All was fine until Satnav mayhem struck. A traffic warning showed. Reportedly, there was a blockage with a 1-hour delay skirting the south of Lille. We ummed and ahhed but continued to see if it cleared. The traffic report eventually vanished – maybe things had cleared up. We continued. A traffic report re-appeared, this time advertising a delay of 2 hours. Strewth! Sally Satnav came up with a diversion to the north of Lille. This time we opted for it and dived off the autoroute, as instructed, while it was still flowing smoothly. No sooner had we turned off, than Sally then asked us to do a U-turn and get back onto the autoroute. A U-turn with a caravan in tow being less than easy, we continued a little further and Sally presented us with an alternative road back to the autoroute. We took it. Mercifully, the new route crossed the motorway before turning left onto the slip road. From the bridge over our target road we could see 2-lanes of solid, unmoving traffic, as far as the eye could see. OMG, keep going – we’ll work out our own way around this chaos. Primary Navigator Francine assumed control.
Francine found us a route via Lens and Mons. We still got snarled up in some roadworks delay but finally made it to our chosen campsite.
L’Hirondelle is in the ACSI book. It’s a HUGE campsite. Actually, it’s more of a holiday village. The place has about 150 touring pitches, some poorly arranged, but its main business is countless cabins/chalets etc, of which there must be about 1000. Friendly, welcoming staff wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the logo “Capfun” should be taken as a huge warning sign. However, time was marching on, there were no viable alternatives in the vicinity and we needed a place to sleep. Our receptionist offered a pitch “that would be easy to leave in the morning”.
We got Guillaume set up. We looked more closely at the pitch map and realized we were occupying two pitches. I got Guillaume unset-up and moved him a few metres to get him set-up again in just one pitch. We settled down with a beer or two; it wasn’t great but it seemed OK; unexciting but OK.
In the early evening 5 or 6 vehicles arrived on the square of four pitches directly behind us and discharged a gang of young studs who began unloading camping gear, including a gazebo, accompanied by an inconsiderately loud radio, all the time swigging from cans. This wasn’t going to be good. The reception was now technically closed but we managed to catch somebody locking up and asked to move. The lady understood saying that technically they shouldn’t make noise after 22:00 but they’d be drinking all night. We moved up to a completely different touring zone where there were still a few family encampments but it was much better. Mind you, a night on a motorway service area would’ve been better.
Something needs to start going right soon ‘cos at the moment I desperately need that magic “beam me up, Scotty” button.