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RE: How to enjoy winter driving...

RE: How to enjoy winter driving...

Wednesday 13th December 2017

How to enjoy winter driving...

Or How We Learned To Stop Moaning And Love The Continent When The Ferry Was Fast And Cheap



Now that the mercury has officially dipped below freezing, there is surely no better time to talk about convertible motoring. Not in this country, of course. Oh no. In Europe, where the temperature's still comfortably in the teens and the driving is easy.

A few years back I took my old 911 to Switzerland. The return journey began at Kandersteg in the Bernese Oberland at 7.30am. By 3pm, we were five hundred odd miles north at the ferry terminal in Calais, having taken a leisurely fuel+food stop and a one-hour detour through some Moselle villages.


No special driving skills were required. All I did was sit there and follow the superb roads at a decent but safe pace. In 1500 miles or so of Continental motoring, the score was as follows: speed cameras spotted, one; threats of violence against the person, nil; traffic holdups, nil.

The nearest thing to an incident that I saw in the whole trip was a Renault Kangoo tipped on its side blocking one lane of a two-lane French autoroute. In Britain, that would have resulted in an 8-hour delay, a 20-mile tailback and the cancellation of all police leave within a 50-mile radius. In France, the police presence was one blue van on the hard shoulder, one gendarme sweeping up some broken glass and a second gendarme standing by, whistling a few selections from Edith Piaf's repertoire. Meantime, passing traffic did just that. It passed. No fuss, no drama, no reduction in speed.

The very next day, I had to drive into suburban London. The three-mile trip along roads that were apparently being deliberately constricted by the local authorities took 45 minutes and was pure hell.


The main problem with Continental motoring these days is not in the driving, which remains a joy despite the gradual disappearance of limit-free roads. It's the getting there.

Cross-channel operators have been cosily fleecing Brits for many years now. It more or less started the day after the Channel Tunnel cranked up its fares from around £100 return to nearer £300.

After the ferry operators had bravely matched these bold new Chunnel prices, they then threw in longer journey times for good measure, so not only were you paying more, you were getting a reduced service.

A purser with whom I shared a pre-breakfast rum on board one of these glitzed-up scows, the MV Beyoncé I think it was called, admitted to me that every cross-channel operator could easily get their tubs from Dover to Calais in half an hour, just as they used to, but then there wouldn't be enough time to empty every traveller's pocket in the amusingly entitled 'duty-free shop'.


For four years from 2004 to 2008, an outfit called SpeedFerries operated a car-only service between Dover and Boulogne off the back of a decommissioned troop transporter. It did what it said on the tin, covering the once-popular D-B route in a shorter time than every other operator was taking to do the shorter Calais trip, and a lot less expensively too. It was an excellent service until it was bullied out of existence by the other operators, whose dubious tactics included 'forgetting' to vacate vital berths in time for the arrival of the SpeedFerries boat.

Of course, to get your Euro-motoring kicks you could always fly somewhere and then rent a car, but this is fraught with danger and hidden costs, especially if you try to do it on the cheap and end up paying through the nose to be rescued from your misery by one of the global rental outfits. Plus, your Euro-choice is nowhere near as interesting as that on offer in (say) the US.

Again, things used to be better. Cat-Seven was a Chantilly-based outfit that rented out a Caterham Super Seven to anybody willing to stump up a 2,000 euro deposit plus 550 euro a day. For that, you got a Cat-Seven bod riding shotgun and giving directions so you could give maximum concentration to the essential task of frightening him half to death. After a gourmet lunch, you would switch seats with the Cat-Seven guy and become the giggling frightenee.


Sadly, the Cat-Seven enterprise seems to have withered and died. Perhaps clients destroyed the fleet in the first week, or maybe there weren't enough renters willing to put their hairdos at risk. Tom Waits once said that there's nothing wrong with anybody's looks that a hundred dollars wouldn't fix, but not everybody agrees with that these days.

Two things need to happen for the fun to come back into motoring. One, a new SpeedFerries needs to come along to facilitate Euro-jaunts and keep the other lot honest. And two, somebody needs to invent some sort of convertible head protection that doesn't look annoyingly like a roof. And that isn't a hat.

[Motorway photo: Highways England]

 

Author
Discussion

Hugh Jarse

Original Poster:

2,942 posts

130 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Definitely a cartel operating cross channel.
A good read ta!

jagnet

2,173 posts

127 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Dover to Calais in 30 minutes easily? Wouldn't that require a minimum speed of over 40 knots, which seems a little optimistic for anything but the very fastest ferries.

We normally travel to Dunkirk with DFDS and have never paid more than £100 return and certainly nowhere near £300. A couple of hours on the ferry is a nice way to relax and stretch your legs after the drive to the port and before continuing onwards, which is one reason we prefer the ferry to the Channel Tunnel.

I have absolutely no idea what the point of that articles is or what it has to do with winter driving, or anything for that matter beyond having a moan about how things used to be better. So driving on the continent is more pleasurable than driving into suburban London - ok, I think most of us already worked that one out. I wouldn't describe all driving over there a joy though - the Brussels ring road immediately springs to mind.

Alucidnation

7,534 posts

95 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
sleep

Turbobanana

827 posts

126 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
The article seems to have been written in response to a different title.

There are some valid points, though:

- driving in Europe certainly is better than in the UK. I normally find myself stuck in a jam within minutes of hitting the M20, after days of lightly-trafficked Autoroutes / Autostradas / Autobahnen
- crossings aren't as expensive as the poorly-researched article makes out: we recently (October) did a 2-day return trip on the Chunnel for £60
- things are only likely to get worse with Brexit. Already I'm noticing a change in the way French Customs view the Brits, and I have to say I don't blame them. We (the nation) voted to leave* yet we still expect to be treated the same by European neighbours. I feel for the businesses in Northern France (and further afield for that matter) who rely on the British Euro for a living.

  • I didn't.

TooMany2cvs

21,113 posts

51 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Hard to see how the "trad" ferry operators could have blockaded SpeedFerries from their berths, since they left Dover from the old hoverport (separate to the main ferry port), and went to Boulogne (separate from Calais).

The big problem with the SpeedFerries cat was that it hid, crying, at the first sign of anything too wobbly. Several times, I got to Dover to find that the cat was having a milky cocoa and a hug, and I needed to buy a new last-minute ticket for "the pirates", who promptly rubbed their hands with glea at the sight of a desperate wallet.

When they went tits, I still had half a "multi-buy" 10-crossing pre-pay.
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Neil G60

679 posts

149 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
I've never paid £300 for a normal sized car? Just book in advance on the tunnel. What's the big deal?

jagnet

2,173 posts

127 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
- things are only likely to get worse with Brexit. Already I'm noticing a change in the way French Customs view the Brits, and I have to say I don't blame them. We (the nation) voted to leave* yet we still expect to be treated the same by European neighbours. I feel for the businesses in Northern France (and further afield for that matter) who rely on the British Euro for a living
I'd put any change in attitude amongst French Customs to have a lot more to do with terrorism issues rather than us voting to leave a political club tbh. Being questioned as to whether or not I was carrying any weapons or explosives in the boot before having it searched probably had little to do with Brexit voting choices.

Ed Straker

191 posts

68 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
....... things are only likely to get worse with Brexit. Already I'm noticing a change in the way French Customs view the Brits, and I have to say I don't blame them. We (the nation) voted to leave* yet we still expect to be treated the same by European neighbours......
FFS
Is there anything the remoaners DON'T blame on Brexit?
The French have ALWAYS hated us, in the same way the Brits adore France but hate the French.
Plus ca change.


TooMany2cvs

21,113 posts

51 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
jagnet said:
Turbobanana said:
- things are only likely to get worse with Brexit. Already I'm noticing a change in the way French Customs view the Brits, and I have to say I don't blame them. We (the nation) voted to leave* yet we still expect to be treated the same by European neighbours. I feel for the businesses in Northern France (and further afield for that matter) who rely on the British Euro for a living
I'd put any change in attitude amongst French Customs to have a lot more to do with terrorism issues rather than us voting to leave a political club tbh. Being questioned as to whether or not I was carrying any weapons or explosives in the boot before having it searched probably had little to do with Brexit voting choices.
Migrant trail, too.

Turbobanana

827 posts

126 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Ed Straker said:
Turbobanana said:
....... things are only likely to get worse with Brexit. Already I'm noticing a change in the way French Customs view the Brits, and I have to say I don't blame them. We (the nation) voted to leave* yet we still expect to be treated the same by European neighbours......
FFS
Is there anything the remoaners DON'T blame on Brexit?
The French have ALWAYS hated us, in the same way the Brits adore France but hate the French.
Plus ca change.
Not sure that's fair, but you're entitled to an opinion.

My experience is that the French don't hate Brits, but then when I visit I make an effort to speak their language, engage with their customs etc. My vote to remain in the EU was nothing to do with liking the French - it was because I have young children and want them to have the same opportunities to explore Europe (not just France) as I have had. I don't want them to have to get a visa to visit the continent.

Apologies for derailing the topic - this was about motoring abroad (I think) and it seems we all agree that's better than it is here. smile


LewisR

649 posts

140 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
I remember the Stena Discovery service from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.
I/we caught it a number of times from around '03-'06.

There was a real sense of occasion travelling on it. I just happened to catch it during its last fortnight of operation in early '07.
I think it's been scrapped now. Such a shame.


Turbobanana

827 posts

126 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
LewisR said:
I remember the Stena Discovery service from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.
I/we caught it a number of times from around '03-'06.

There was a real sense of occasion travelling on it. I just happened to catch it during its last fortnight of operation in early '07.
I think it's been scrapped now. Such a shame.

I used to work for a well-known on-line car importer and travelled out & back on that daily, meeting customers.

Used to do my shopping in Hoek at the Albert Hejn supermarket, so always had a fridge full of Dutch cheese and other random stuff.

It was a terrific thing and was able to travel in really rough seas, although the smell of vomit on such occasions was overpowering.

TooMany2cvs

21,113 posts

51 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
LewisR said:
I remember the Stena Discovery service from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.
I/we caught it a number of times from around '03-'06.

There was a real sense of occasion travelling on it. I just happened to catch it during its last fortnight of operation in early '07.
I think it's been scrapped now. Such a shame.
Ah, yes. Caught that a few times...

Most notably in an Alfa 75 v6 that I'd just been given by a Kiwi mate who'd moved to Amsterdam. UK plates, ticket just expired, not worth registering there - so we Easyjetted over, then drove back a day or two later. Heading off the boat at Harwich, the French Connection swam into our minds... Amsterdam fly-drive, car not registered to us, keeper not easily traceable, "booked MOT", "somebody else's car" insurance... <parp>

Fortunately a lowered, bodykitted Mk2 Golf GTi was available to merge behind where several parts of the boat joined together. Windows visibly moving with the bass, full of baseball-capped lads... Customs damn near had it apart before the roller shutter was fully down, and nobody was available even to check our passports...

jagnet

2,173 posts

127 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
... I have young children and want them to have the same opportunities to explore Europe (not just France) as I have had. I don't want them to have to get a visa to visit the continent.
rofl

Turbobanana said:
Apologies for derailing the topic - this was about motoring abroad (I think) and it seems we all agree that's better than it is here. smile
Some of it is, some of it isn't. There's areas with little traffic and lovely driving roads, other parts that are heavily congested and filled with impatient drivers, some good quality roads and some pothole ridden tracks. Much the same as it is in Europe.

For most, driving on the continent is done during holiday time when relaxed and with little need to be watching the clock - that in itself makes for a more pleasant drive than stressing about being late for meetings / getting to work / etc.

Riley Blue

12,803 posts

151 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
I can't see the connection with enjoyment of winter driving. Is there some text missing?

TooMany2cvs

21,113 posts

51 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Riley Blue said:
I can't see the connection with enjoyment of winter driving. Is there some text missing?
There's some lame link in the first para or so, assuming that "Europe" is in the mid-teens temperatures. It isn't, of course, but...

Turbobanana

827 posts

126 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
rofl ???

jagnet said:
For most, driving on the continent is done during holiday time when relaxed and with little need to be watching the clock - that in itself makes for a more pleasant drive than stressing about being late for meetings / getting to work / etc.
Agreed, although I have driven on the continent extensively for work also.

jagnet

2,173 posts

127 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
Turbobanana said:
rofl ???
There's zero chance that your children are going to have to get visas in order to visit countries in Europe because of Brexit.

Turbobanana

827 posts

126 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
jagnet said:
Turbobanana said:
rofl ???
There's zero chance that your children are going to have to get visas in order to visit countries in Europe because of Brexit.
I'll hold you to that :-)

TooMany2cvs

21,113 posts

51 months

Wednesday 13th December 2017
quotequote all
jagnet said:
There's zero chance that your children are going to have to get visas in order to visit countries in Europe because of Brexit.
For tourism, no.
But to live or work there...?

Isn't that the whole point of "regaining control over migration"? UK will issue visas to Schengen nat'ls who want to live/work here. Shengen will issue visas to UK nat'ls who want to live/work there.