Abroad - and with the Car
by Godfrey R Gould
Today you can take your car across the English Channel on or under the surface, but when I first did so it was over the surface.
In the late 1950s I was living in the north-east of England and my cousin, Stanley Gale, was living in Leeds. We two bachelors would spend our summer holiday together and for several years we motored to Switzerland and Italy. One evening after work I would drive to Leeds and after staying with Stanley overnight we would continue our journey the following day in his car, a Hillman Minx, or mine, a Ford 105E Anglia. Motorways there were none; the best one could hope for were stretches of dual carriageway. We also had to negotiate driving through several towns, such as Doncaster. Eventually we made it to Southend Airport and having dealt with the fairly brief formalities, our car and two others would be loaded through the gaping doors in the nose of the Bristol Airfreighter or some such. Then the passengers would embark in to the fairly primitive cabin conditions. The plane shook itself off the ground and lumbered on never even within cloud cover, to descend shortly afterwards at Calais. Disembarking was normally quick and soon we would be on our way to our first overnight stop, generally Arras or St. Quentin.
The following day would be a long drive along the straight, tree-lined, French, Napoleonic roads to at least Basel and maybe even further into Switzerland. We travelled around - Lucerne, Vevey, Berne, Brunnen; and into northern Italy - Como, Pallanza, even to Milan. In due course the outward journey would be done in reverse, trying to stay in Calais for our final night to ensure an early flight back to the UK. We did this for several years until we both got married - and to two cousins.
My next journey to France with the car (by now a Ford Cortina) was on my honeymoon. As I then had almost always travelled independently 'we' decided to tour Brittany and the Loire Valley by car, a destination and format regarded at the time as very adventurous, not your usual package. We went by Townsend Thoresen Car Ferry from Southampton to Cherbourg and returned by Sealink from Dieppe to Newhaven. Unloading was not as slick as it is now because all activity took place at only one end of the ship. It should have been all right, except that some drivers became impatient and tried to ignore the system. When we arrived at Newhaven on the 'Villandry' attempts by some to do three point turns on the car deck resulted in the French crew just giving up and leaving us to sort ourselves out. Many future journeys from Portsmouth, Newhaven, Folkestone, Dover and Ramsgate proved to be without much mishap and generally taken as a matter of course. And the vessels varied too; the very much larger ferries, the jetfoils and the hovercraft. The latter two were quicker, but so much less spacious and comfortable.
And then came the tunnel. Of course you have to drive to Cheriton (M23, 25, 26 and 20) first, but formalities once there are pretty efficient. Strangely you are in France before you leave these shores, and arrive back in the UK before you leave the continent. Loading and unloading are generally super quick and having cleared passport control and customs before even getting on to the train you just drive straight away after offloading. The train itself is not very exciting, just a very long tube with regular security barriers, but the journey is completed in less than 35 minutes. Travel across the Channel has come a long way, but taken all in all, I think that except for the additional journeys at this end I prefer the Tunnel now to get me and my car to the delights of France, Switzerland and Italy.
But, then, if the weather is sunny, warm and the sea very calm there's nothing quite like the cruise across the Channel with perhaps a nice lunch or dinner. But, of course, if the weather is .........