Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Manche to The Med - The Crossing

Setting off day was a nervous affair; have I got everything I need in those pannier bags?. What if something breaks on the bike, have I got enough spare parts? I'd packed, unpacked and packed again - The bags were full anyway - no room for anything else, even if I needed it.

We picked Gary up and loaded his bike onto the rack. The car's interior was packed with stuff - bags, helmets, bottles and we set off for Portsmouth with nervous apprehension. The journey was uneventful and conversation was limited. I felt like a trooper on the eve of D-Day. What would happen to us once we crossed the cold waters of the English Channel?

We arrived at the docks at around 3.00pm - there was a queue for our ferry already - even though it didn't depart until 8.15pm. We loaded up our bikes, more checking that nothing was left in the car and then we were on our own, wondering what to do for the next 5 hours. There was a large departure lounge and we decided we'd have a look in there. We locked up our bikes in the racks just outside and entered. There was nothing much - no cafe, just a Brittany Ferries help desk - we asked them what we needed to do and were told to go to check-in at around 6.30pm. We went back to the bikes. There was a man in a hi-vis vest and a lady from Bilbao. The man told us that loads of bikes had been stolen from here - great we thought. We asked if there was a pub nearby - he pointed to some flags 200 yards away. We set off.

Our first stop!
The Ship and Castle is a traditional waterside pub - offering hearty ales and fare - perfect. We sampled a pint of London Pride. Then another. After the third we decided it might be an idea to get something to eat - probably better than the food offered on the ferry. After that we had another pint. Then we could see that the queue of traffic was beginning to move.

We scrambled into action and cycled the 200 yards back. Getting through the check-in was quicker than expected and we were ushered past the lines of vehicles to the very front of the queue. There were a few other cyclists and a group of motorcyclists. We got chatting to the nearest cyclist who was travelling on his own. He said he'd cycled about 30 miles to get here, "What about you" he asked. Gary told him we'd cycled 400 yards and had four pints in the pub. The lady on the motorbike next to us overheard and burst out laughing.

In the queue - meeting new Paul
Soon we were boarding the ship - first on! We had to walk our bikes up the ramp and were directed to a small hold at the front end. We were told to lash our bikes to the rails that were provided, once that was done we made our way up to our cabin - the crossing is overnight and we had comfortable accommodation for the first part of our adventure.

We changed into shorts and shirts and inevitably found ourselves in the bar area - it was busy already - we grabbed a table and ordered a couple of glasses of wine. Tasted good, so we had a couple more. Then we decided it was cheaper to buy the small bottles they had on offer - same price as a glass but more wine - couldn't argue with that. Soon after the cyclist we had met in the queue turned up - we called him over and asked him to join us - he was another Paul. Pretty soon we found out he was a retired engineer living in Christchurch who had worked on the Airbus project. Like us he was heading to the Mediterranean to meet up with some friends in their camper van, spend a few days in the sun and then fly back. He was a seasoned cycle tourist who had taken up cycling after a drink-driving ban. It transpired that his fondness for the odd tipple has stayed with him.

Our downfall!!
Pretty soon we were ordering our second (full-sized) bottle of Cotes de Rhone. We were amazed that despite his cycling prowess he had no fixed agenda. He wasn't sure what route he was taking, no fixed plan of where he was going, where he would stay or when he'd get there. He pulled out a crumpled map and said he'd have a look?

By the time we'd finished the fourth bottle things were getting silly and slightly surreal. There was some sort of caberet act performing songs from Sleeping Beauty - at least that's what we thought they were doing. It was a close thing but we managed to agree that instead of another bottle it would be best to get to bed and meet for breakfast before disembarking - anyway the bar had closed.

I don't remember much else until being woken by the sound of a tannoy announcement in French. Breakfast was over and the ship was coming into St Malo. I threw on some clothes and staggered up to the breakfast lounge, legs plaited as if the boat was in a storm. I could see no sign of new Paul - I assumed he too had been waylaid by last night's over indulgence. I decided to head back to the cabin and get packed. Gary was awake by then - pale, mumbling and bleary eyed, like a man just waking from a coma. At any other time we might have thought this funny - not today. The ship was in port - we needed to get off. We hastily scrambled our belongings together, all ideas of items being neatly stowed were forgotten - everything was rammed into bags as if loading a cannon at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Three idiots abroad!

Somehow we weaved and wobbled our way down to the lower deck where the bikes were. Still no sign of new Paul - The ramps were lowered we were told to push our bikes into France - we were here. First day on the road was about to start - and we were too hungover to worry about it - I laughed as we took our first pedal strokes on French soil and headed into the centre of St Malo.


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