Hoorah! It was with a sense of relief that disembarked our ferry at 1:15 PM in Calais to begin what should be our main event of the year. We were off to a good start. An early natural awakening at 5:00 AM helped us board an earlier crossing and had put us 1½ hours ahead of schedule.
We always love rolling off the ferry onto French soil. Arrival used to be a little more atmospheric when the exit was through Calais itself and the typically French combination of the scent of diesel and Gauloise filled one’s nostrils. These days, of course, there is an excellent road system around the town getting traffic to and from the port much more readily.
Ah, yes, the roads. Now to this year’s major reason for our sense of relief. Long gone are the days of the English making smug jokes about the state of French road surfaces. Now la botte is very firmly sur l’autre pied! We rolled off the ferry onto smooth road surfaces without our now expected bumping, pounding and rattling that assaults both vehicle and human alike attempting to make a journey anywhere on England’s roads these days. The constant battering on our side of the channel makes driving a thing to be avoided. [Ed: Is this a sneaky government plot to lower carbon emissions?]
We headed for our normal first night at good ol’ Neufchâtel-en-Bray, sucking down our diesel on the very hilly A16 southwest from Calais. We passed an intriguing road sign declaring “trous en formation” (holes forming). They were as nothing compared to ours, very minor. Of course, there are still some broken road surfaces in France. The usual sign warning of them is “chaussée deformée” which, over the last few years, we have taken to referring to as “chaussée Anglaise” with a knowing smirk on our faces. Clearly, then, this is not a new phenomenon. It’s just worse than ever this year.
Arriving at Neufchâtel-en-Bray, albeit without our bones and nerves jangling, was a little bit of a shock: the campsite was heaving, relatively. In May? This very well managed site always does a brisk trade, largely from one night stoppers heading to or from the channel ports, but this was unusual. It felt more like August, especially as the sun was screaming down from a cloudless blue sky. Ah, wait a moment, we’ve bumped into this situation once before. Tomorrow is a French Bank Holiday – Pentecost or some such religious nonsense. Lots of folks will be leaving swarming back to Paris tomorrow.
Having had an early start we had arrived quite early, about 3:30 PM, and were placed in pole position for the morning’s Le Mans start that would occur as half a dozen Brits would peel off and hit the roads to get further into their respective journeys.
Now it was time to relax with our first evening en France.