I had to be out of Villa Caprice by 10 am yesterday morning and had a ferry crossing from Calais booked for 17.25. In theory it’s only a three-hour drive – all motorway – on a clear run. And if you don’t meet long queues waiting to cross the Pont de Normandie! So I had all day for a leisurely drive.
My original plan had been to drive straight through to Wimereux for lunch at the lovely Hotel du Centre but when I was walking near Les Roches Noires the other day I saw a minor coastal route to Honfleur and decided to go slowly and take the scenic route. It was a lovely morning and I stopped the car on the hill of the coastal road just before a bend where I would leave sight of Trouville.
It was a pretty route through tiny villages though it would have been even prettier without industrial Le Havre hovering on the horizon. But I was soon in Honfleur, which, not surprisingly for a Saturday morning was already packed with cars and coaches. I’ve been to Honfleur a few times before so I quickly gave up on the idea of finding somewhere to park and instead headed on to my next planned stop – Etretat. But first I had to drive over the Pont de Normandie.
Over 2 km long, the bridge spans the River Seine linking Honfleur and Le Havre. I’ve crossed it a few times now but am always awed by its beauty. Opened in 1995, at the time it was the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. It wasn’t busy as I approached it yesterday and I was able to drive straight across. Once the other side I pulled into a parking area and climbed the viewing platform to look back.
Not much further along the A29 I came to a sign for Etretat and turned off, following little roads through small villages, passing green fields and even a scarecrow. It was busy in the little town and I was caught behind coaches also making their way in. What makes this pretty coastal town such a tourist attraction is its literary and artists heritage. Its cliffs have been famously painted by Monet and the town was a favourite with other Impressionists. The writer Guy de Maupassant lived there in his youth and described one of the cliffs, Falaise d’Aval with its arch, the Porte d’Aval, as being like an elephant dipping its trunk in the water.
It’s a beautiful spot and the sun was shining brilliantly but I was too far from Calais still to want to dawdle long. I’ve been there before and if you have time, it’s lovely to follow the cliff walk for a wonderful view. I drove cross country again back to the motorway where I had to stop for petrol and bought a rather awful Croque Monsieur for lunch – leaving half of it. I decided I shouldn’t divert anymore until I reached Wimereux. It was too late for lunch when I pulled up and parked in the main street but I stopped at the first patisserie I came to with tables outside and sat with a pot of tea and delicious cake in the sun.
I walked along the high street for a bit then cut down side roads to the sea. I’d imagined sitting on the beach for a while, enjoying the sun before the last leg home, but the wind was so strong, and I was being blown about so much, I didn’t linger long.
I began to see that my Channel crossing was likely to be a lively journey and maybe I should just get to Calais as soon as I could in case there were delays. I’m a committed boat devotee when it comes to crossing the Channel. I don’t like the Tunnel experience, although I can see it has advantages … especially when the winds are strong. At the time I pulled in to the ferry port, I’d expected to get on earlier boat – I had a flexible ticket – but maybe I had just missed one as I had an hour to wait. Reassuringly a notice said the boats were running to time and sure enough, we embarked and set off dead on the prescribed hour.
It was very rough and the wind so strong the tray from my Costa coffee and BLT flew across the open deck at the back and I had to seek shelter to eat and drink. However, P&O’s Spirit of France was a rock of reassuring steadiness as it sailed for Dover cutting its path through tall waves like a hot knife through butter. Really, you could hardly feel any movement. The journey should have taken just an hour and a quarter. In the end it took nearly two hours. Cruise liners were having to use the ferry harbour at Dover because of the strong wind and there was a queue to get in. We bobbed just outside the harbour for half an hour. When finally there was room for us to dock the ship moved very gingerly through the harbour walls. We were told to go down to our cars but it took another 25 minutes for them to sort things out so we could drive off. Well I guess my Channel Tunnel loving friends will be laughing now, but it is June and such bad weather could not have been predicted. In the end, it didn’t matter. Soon I was joining the M20 and then the M25 and arrived home in under two hours. I’d had a great holiday but it was nice to be home.