On The Tunnel And We’re Off!
When we were planning this years trip we fancied trying the Tunnel but Alan was a bit concerned that our old 7.5 tonne lorry based motorhome would be too big. After much himming and haaing, and some advice from the oracles on various Facebook pages, we decided to take a chance and just book it.
We stayed the night before at the Canterbury Park and Ride, about 20 miles from the tunnel. The parking was £7.00. There is a grey/black waste disposal point on the smaller of the two car parks – unfortunately our van was too large to get into any of those spaces so we ended up in the over-spill car park with two other motorhomes.
After a quiet night we set off for the tunnel. We had watched numerous videos on YouTube so we had some idea of what to expect but I was surprised at the size of the complex. There are about 3km of lanes to be negotiated before you even reach the check-in booths. It seems strange when checking in a 7.5 tonne vehicle that they describe it as a camper van, but that is what you book any motorhome as!
Amazingly, we were actually early and were offered a place on the train an hour earlier than our booking. We accepted the change and proceeded to the car park. As soon as we arrived our boarding was showing on the lit up signs. There are several checks to be done – UK passport control, gas check and French passport control. After UK passport checks we were pulled over so an official could check that our gas was off. He boarded the van and Alan showed him where our gas valves were. Happy that we were safe to go he waved us on. The French passport control simply waved us through.
Alan’s biggest concern was having enough room to maneouvre the van into the carriage, but there was plenty of room and we are obviously not the largest vehicle to travel. Once onboard the train we just followed the vehicle in front until a staff member indicated we should stop.
The journey takes about 45 minutes from beginning to end with 35 minutes travelling time on the train. Not much to do except wait – not even a view to look at. We spend half an hour watching the parade of people heading back and forth to the loos though I’m reliably informed that its much better to “go” before you leave if you get my drift.
Back above ground we followed the vehicle in front to exit the train – and there we were – in France.
Our first stop was a small town called Gravelines which was less than 30km away from Calais.
The town has an aire alongside a tidal river marina which costs €4, although there are no services. Just pay for your ticket at the machine and display it in your windscreen. When the tide went out all the small boats on the marina were stranded on the mud flats, when the tide comes back in they start bobbing up and down again!
Gravelines is a fortress town and is surrounded by a large canal moat and high ramparts. It guarded the western borders of Spanish territory in Flanders. We went for a walk around the town and ramparts.
In the old Arsenal there is now an art exhibition but it was closed. The grounds around it though contain many bronze sculptures in beautifully manicured gardens.
We only stayed one night to get our bearings and plan the next part of the trip to Ypres and Theipval, important World War I sites in this Armistice centenary year.