We are off to France or to be precise The Semaine Federale, a cycling extravaganza in Albi that attracts 10,000 participants. We decided to leave a week before the start and meander down through France stopping along the way.
After booking our ferry crossing several months ago the Dover to Calais crossing has come under siege by illegal immigrants trying to enter Britain or French trade union activists invoking strike action in support of working grievances.
We had been monitoring the situation for a few weeks and listening to the delays being experienced by travellers and this came to a head last weekend when as well as the delays mentioned travellers were also being warned of a 90 minute wait to get through border control as a result of passport checks to see who is leaving the UK.
The Sunday television news did not make good viewing with one motorist claiming it had taken 7 hours to get from London to the point of embarkation at Dover and mile upon mile of HGV’s parked on the M20 with no food water or toilet facilities.
We were booked on the 06-40 crossing on Monday morning but given the gloomy reports we decided to travel down late on Sunday night with a view to sleeping in the motorhome at Dover if necessary to make our ferry.
Leaving home at 10pm on a wet Sunday evening there was almost no traffic, the M20 was also clear apart from deserted portaloos at 1/2 mile intervals on the hard shoulder. We entered Dover with passports and travel documents to hand but border control was in darkness and we went straight to P+O check-in, the clerk required no paperwork from me and had my details on-screen from number plate recognition. We were told we could go on the 00-50 ferry. While we were waiting for our boarding passes the clerk recounted yesterdays chaos with Dover gridlocked and his 20 minute drive to work taking over 2 hours resulting in him being 1 1/2 hours late for his shift.
We proceeded to our waiting lane and couldn’t help but notice that a fair few of our fellow travellers were driving Eastern European white vans with car trailers loaded with high-end British registered cars. I do not wish to jump to any conclusions but I am thinking a money-making scheme was in full flow.
Without any announcements we were delayed for 2 hours because of the bad weather and strike action in Calais and when we eventually boarded we just followed the van in front without any visible instruction, on arrival at Calais I got a text from P+O advising me of the delays!!
Calais was much the same as Dover, we just drove through border control which was unoccupied and in darkness, the journey out of the port revealed the high fences topped with razor wire that were needed in an effort to keep out the illegal travellers.
I am no expert on security but from home to our camp site in Loire we spoke to just one official and were not subject to any inspections, we did not show any paperwork at all, passports, travel documents or boarding pass so I can only conclude we do not have any border control outside of normal working hours on a wet Sunday night which is why Eastern European white van man chooses to travel after midnight.
Suddenly I am thinking UK Plc does not have any idea who or what is leaving the country let alone getting in or was I in the middle of a giant experiment to prove we can operate on trust without the need for any human involvement.