Saturday, 5 January 2008



The travel story of getting to and from The Continent… via the Channel, the illustrated experiences of two photographers.


England is our adopted country, especially the biggest county; Yorkshire, where we live... it was a choice we made. We love it here; it is so beautiful and varied!

However going back to the land where you were born, grew up, have so many memories, still a lot of family and your best friends, old and new, is always still a very special moment.

No wonder we go back regularly. To fly is very expensive (no cheap flights to or from Belgium! WHY NOT??? A gross oversight by the tourist-boards on both sides)

The ferries from this area are also outrageously pricey, but that’s no wonder as the ships are now equipped and designed as cruise liners, with restaurants, pubs, cinemas and casinos, well you do fare overnight as it is a 13hr journey at sea.

The cheaper route, especially when it is the both of us, is to drive the 6/7 hours South, around London, a highlight is the Dartford Crossing joins Dartford and Thurrock across the River Thames, to the east of London. It consists of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge,

used for southbound traffic and of two tunnels under the river, normally used for northbound traffic. It is the furthest-downstream road crossing of the Thames, and effectively forms part of London's orbital M25 motorway on to Dover in Kent.

[The bridge, which was completed on 7 June 1991 and opened on 30 October 1991, is a four-lane cable-stayed bridge, designed by Dr. Ing Hellmut Homberg and Partner and Kvaerner Technology Limited. When it was opened, the bridge was Europe's largest cable-supported bridge. The central span is 450 m (1,476 ft) long and is suspended 65 m (213 ft) above the Thames (to accommodate ocean-going cruise liners). The approach viaducts on the Essex side measure 1,052 m (3,451 ft) and 1,008 m (3,307 ft) on the Kent side, giving a total length of 2,872 m (9,423 ft). It has an expected life span of 120 years.

It is a toll bridge and accommodates four lanes of southbound traffic from the M25. When closed, due to high winds for example, one of the two adjacent tunnels is used instead.

When built, the Queen Elizabeth II bridge was only the second bridge on the River Thames east (downstream) of London Bridge constructed in over a thousand years, and it is currently the only bridge east of Tower Bridge (the Thames Gateway Bridge will be the second, when completed). The historic reason for this is that bridges prohibited tall ships and other large ships from reaching the Pool of London, which has led to the building of numerous tunnels instead. Info wikipedia]

It is quite a journey, lots of traffic obviously and the inevitable traffic jams
; we try to circumvent that by leaving in the later afternoon, arriving at the port of Dover around 22.30/ 23.00 for the midnight ferry to Calais or Dunkirk in France.

Still a huge amount of hustle and bustle, mostly lorries and trailers driving on and off, up ramps and fly-overs. Some waiting in the correct lane, some drivers sleeping, others doing their paperwork, some stretching their legs or chatting to fellow truckers from all over Europe. You see all the nationalities there, there is a special vibe in the air, the seagulls are searing past, nothing but their bellies lit by the sodium floodlights… eerie.

The Channel traffic is non-stop. One of the ferry companies has 25 crossings a day!

In English: The Dover Strait,
French: Pas de Calais,
Dutch: Nauw van Kales.
Flemish: Het Kanaal.
It is the narrowest part of the English Channel. The shortest distance is from Dover in the county of Kent in England to Cap Gris Nez, the Cape near Calais in the département du Pas-de-Calais in France, the closest point between those two countries with a distance of only 33 km (20 miles).

While we wait, our ferry comes in, the disembarking starts immediately, from the different decks, it IS roll-on off roll-on!!!

Most people use the crossing to eat or drink or sleep

Once on board we hurry to the upper deck,
to see the last trucks being guided in and parked neatly, everybody on the ready to cast off the moorings.

All the activity, the anticipation, it is a moment we love, suddenly a slight shudder, more steam; we’re off, the land and lights more distant by the minute.

Once outside the safe ‘arms’ of the harbour, the cadence picks up, a foamy white wake broadens, we are at sea!

A few people come to have a look, the romantics standing close, holding each other, the girls cold, and the guys all macho, pretending not to be. It makes me smile, we are also holding, I am warm and snug in my sailor’s jacket (even in the middle of summer, I know the nights on the North Sea are cold!!!)

Crossing during the night has its own charm; the moon glistened on the black water, highlighting the spray and wake. We were standing on the top deck; some seagulls accompanied us gracefully and eerily.
Dotted lights all over the Channel, Ferries still crossing, boats waiting, sloops fishing, some intrepid sailors yachting, yes a very busy place!
The lights of Dover receding, those from France getting closer, a romantic experience, special, well we enjoy those things in life...

The delight and happiness of seeing my sons, family, grandchildren… friends, the favourite places and familiar sights, sounds and fragrance, it all makes my heart beat faster, the ferry steaming along, I can’t wait!

In between we were taking photographs, for fun and freedom.

There is so much to be seen, it is different, the materials, structures, safety equipment.

The water is rushing past along the sides.

In the middle of the Channel, we stand and watch, on the left the lights of England and on the right France!

We decide to go in for a drink, Paul has a latte and like so many weary travelers, stretches out for a cat-nap...

I look after him... and the cameras. I am far too exited to sleep, I enjoy the goings on, 'people watching'.

After a little over an hour, we are invited to return to our car, in no time we are on the mainland of the Continent, passing the waiting vehicles, ready to roll-on, back to England… an alien world, I think of everything we own, eat, wear… I’m sure at some point it MUST have been at sea… AND certainly in a truck, hauled on roads!

With the 1hr time zone difference it is after 2 o’clock in the morning when we reach the autostrade that will take us to where we are staying, it will be almost 4... feeling tired and happy, the end of an 11 hr trek!

THE SECOND PART "THE RETURN", soon, with more stories and images!

Thanx, M, (*_*)

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