16 October, etc.venues Monument
30 October, JW Marriott Grosvenor House
1st November 2023, etc.venues County Hall
O N T O U R: Getting To The Other Side
Wendy Long reports
The opening of the Channel Tunnel back in 1994 changed a way of life for we Island people. No longer were we in the hands of a cartel of ferry companies if we wanted to get to the other side. We could now fly, use surface transport or go underground. In fact the competition got so hot that one form of transport disappeared, seemingly for ever, the Hovercraft. Yes there has been some redundancy with the shipping lines but the vessels themselves have got much better, mini-liners on the longer routes with far more than a cruise liner of 20 years ago. Typically P & O Stena Line offer up to 35 sailings a day from Dover to Calais with a journey time of one and a half hours. The ships all offer ample comfortable seating in the lounges, restaurants and bars but there is the inevitable hustle and bustle of a large number of passengers drinking, eating and shopping. However, for just a small supplement, the Club Lounges offer a peaceful haven, enabling travellers to arrive completely relaxed and ready for the road.
Whilst the Club Lounges vary in size and decor according to the ship, they all offer the same facilities: comfortable seating around coffee tables plus writing desks with stationery and telephone. Throughout the journey, courteous and attentive staff offer unlimited complimentary coffee, tea, soft drinks or champagne with biscuits and nibbles, whilst their customers peruse the variety of newspapers on offer. Tea includes traditional and Earl Gray and there is a wide choice of coffee.
More substantial is a good selection of fresh and tasty sandwiches which are available all day. Early morning travellers can enjoy a Bucks Fizz with continental or light breakfast and in the afternoon cream teas, sandwiches and gateaux are available.
This little oasis costs only ”8 per person booked in advance or ”10 on the day. A further useful facility is the priority boarding and disembarkation at ”10 (or the combined lounge and priority boarding at ”15).
A relatively new-comer to short-sea crossings, Norfolkline, has come up with an alternative means of offering passengers a peaceful and relaxing crossing on its seven daily services from Dover to Dunkerque. In not catering for foot passengers nor coach parties, the crossing is confined to motorists and freight drivers, the latter having their own lounge. Motorists have the choice of a panoramic TV lounge with reclining sleeper seats, a lounge bar or self-service restaurant. The video lounge showing films or cartoons prevents boredom amongst the younger element. If you like to pass the journey-time wandering round the on-board shops for gifts and alcohol, Norfolkline is not for you. Items can be requested over the counter of the kiosk but the choice is very limited. However, the terminal at Dunkerque does have additional wine and beers and the town itself has many shops and restaurants (see photo below).
The ferry companies” special short-break fares attract many to the delights of shopping and eating across the Channel, but the area does have much more to offer. In Calais itself, large sections of the old walls are still preserved at the Citadelle, the Watch Tower dominating the main square and in front of the Flemish Renaissance town hall with its impressive stained glass windows stands the famous Rodin statue of the Six Burghers of Calais. The Fine Arts and Lace Museum has a model of old Calais, as well as a collection of machine-made lace, the industry having been brought to Calais from Nottingham in the early 19th century.
Driving south, Mont d”Hubert offers spectacular views across the Channel and the promontories of Cap-Blanc-Nez and Cap-Griz-Nez, as well as a succession of resorts with fine white sandy beaches, ideal for wind and water sports and many fishing villages including the cockle-fishing port of Le Crotoy.
Interesting villages inland include the 16th century fortified town of Hesdin, the walled city of Montreuil sur Mer and Guines near to the historic Field of the Cloth of Gold, the famous meeting place in 1520 between Henry VIII and Francis I of France. Licques, a charming village with a superb Gothic church, is famous for its production of fine turkey, highlighted in December by its annual turkey parade and the 18th century Abbey of Valloires has 20 acres of wonderful gardens. Amusements parks for children include Tournehem and Berck sur Mer, Aqualud at Le Touquet, Eurolac at Ardres and the Marquenterre Ornithological Park near St Quentin-en-Tourmont has 600 acres of marshes, dunes and lagoons, home for hundreds of varieties of migrating birds.
Just south of Calais is the attractive fishing port of Boulogne, its old town perched on a hill, with cobbled streets and ramparts, cathedral and chateau, and is home to Nausicaa, the national sea-life centre, covering every aspect of the sea and the creatures found in it. In the other direction is St Omer with its Gothic cathedral, ruined abbey and nearby La Coupole, the underground bunker constructed by the Germans to launch the V2 rockets. The huge concrete dome houses impressive exhibitions about the war and life under the German occupation.
And of course you can go shopping in the hypermarkets and malls that have shot up in the area although the saying ”I have made a profit” must be one of the daftest of all time, unless you have actually sold some of your goods on (which is illegal). What in fact you mean is that it has cost you a great deal less than in the UK. The ships are a fine alternative to the train and for the most part cheaper. The sea air, on a nice day, completes a rather pleasant episode.
http://www.posl.comhttp://www.norfolkline.com http://www.seafrance.fr http://www.hoverspeed.co.ukhttp://www.calais-port.com