A few days later Paul and I, our younger son and our two faithful hounds prepared for the off. We were to lead the way, towing the caravan, I was to navigate, and our son was to follow behind in a second car.
Thus our mini convoy rolled out on the first leg of the journey to West Sussex. We were in high spirits as we trundled out of Wales, over the Old Severn Bridge and into England.
We stopped over night with family in West Sussex and the next morning, feeling re-energized, we set off again heading for Cheriton in West Folkestone, the English terminal for the Channel Tunnel. We drove down the long slip roads and passed through the passport , frontier and customs check points without problems, the dogs’ Pet Passports were hardly required.
Initially I had been really concerned that I would find the whole experience overwhelmingly claustrophobic. In the past I have suffered from problems with phobias and panic attacks, for example I find travelling on the London Underground quite a nightmare, the fear being trapped, unable to escape, being jostled in a crowd. The dry mouth, the heart pounding, hyperventilating. Even certain supermarkets and shopping malls make me feel overwhelmingly “spaced out” and queasy.
However, I was determined to be brave and give the Eurotunnel a try. Faced with having to traverse the choppy English Channel by some means or other, and the fact that I am not a good sailor – I tend to get seasick even when crossing a millpond, the short sharp Eurotunnel crossing seemed to be perhaps the lesser of two evils. I had to be brave and strive to confront my fear.
At this point it was probably not best for me to dwell on the fact that the tunnel is 31 miles long, that 24 miles of it are in an undersea passageway, at a depth of 40 metres. It is indeed, an amazing feat of engineering.
So I tried to concentrate on reading my book to keep my mind occupied, and sucked on a peppermint or two to moisten my dry mouth. In fact, the journey passed quite swiftly and uneventfully, it took about 35 minutes or so. I gave a huge sigh of relief as we finally emerged into the daylight on French soil.
However, as we emerged on the other side of “La Manche” we found that the French weather was set against us, as the rain lashed down while we struggled to fit headlamp converters to the cars whilst endeavouring to shelter under numerous jackets and coats. Foolishly we realised that it would have been so much easier to have done this task during the boring but dry train journey. With window-wipers vigorously swishing back and forth onwards then into Belgium, to the Flemish city of Ghent, where we spent the first night of our journey in our compact caravan home in a distinctly damp campsite near the waterway at Blaarmeersen.
The next day as we progressed on our journey, we were buffeted by mischievous side winds which made towing the caravan something of a challenge. As we traversed the seemingly endless flatlands, we saw signposts to some of the renowned Battlefields of the First World War. It seemed incredulous that this now peaceful pastoral landscape had once been a quagmire of muddy trenches, a site of horrific slaughter and carnage, where countless good young men had been savagely cut down in their prime.
We entered the Wallonia region of Belgium before heading south, through the wooded hills of the uplands of Luxembourg. Finally we reached the Alsace region in situated in the north eastern corner of France, where the blend of French and German heritage was very apparent. We opted to take a slight detour towards Colmar, wandering through the charming verdant countryside passing small farmsteads, vineyards and blossoming orchards along the way.
Then on to the small city of Mullhouse, on the Rhine, near to the German frontier. Locating this campsite proved to be tricky, as we found our convoy repeatedly circumnavigating the bustling town centre desperately looking for campsite signposts. Eventually we parked up near the train station and were fortunate to be rescued by the owner, who sportingly came out in search of us and kindly escorted us to his premises.
photo* Alsace (www.all-freephotos.com)