Day 1: Fairford to Bruges
After a 7 hour drive from Fairford on Friday night, I arrived savely in Bruges a few minutes before midnight local time (23:00 UK time).
It was only by chance I managed to arrive so early. I managed to leave work early – not knowing what the Friday night traffic had in store for me, I had been anxious to get on the road for most of the day.
The first half of the journey was relatively simple – I made Bracknell by 17:30, but then after a 15 minute stop things took longer than usual. I crawled out of Bracknell to the M3 mostly in first gear. Then The M25 was crawling from junctions 14-12 (I joined at J13). I know of no other motorway on which I’ve overtaken someone at 20mph. Straight after the junction, things opened out and within a couple of minutes I was back up to speed.
Things remained busy but moving at a reasonable speed all the way along the M25 and on to the M26 – but my sat nav and the electronic signs kept telling me there were further delays ahead. Three quarters of the way along the M26, and I was straight in to the back of another queue – this one lasted all the way along to the M20 interchange and most of the way to the next junction.
It took me 40 minutes to travel a stretch of motorway I can normally do in around 4. It was so much slower than the traffic I had on the M25, mainly because there were so many foreign lorries. Quite a significant number pulled on to the hard shoulder too, which I wasn’t entirely convinced was terribly safe… Plus one or two cars pulled over with their bonnets up. Given the heat of the evening Sun, plus the speed of the traffic, perhaps their engines were overheating.
Eventually, things got moving again but I had a new problem to contend with: I was travelling East. The Sun was setting in the West. It was shining in my mirrors. I couldn’t see a thing when I wanted to change lanes. Still: At least I was moving and as I got further down the M20 the traffic became less dense.
Second pit-stop: 10 minutes at Maidstone Services – ready for the final push towards the Channel Tunnel. At 20:30 I was pulling off the motorway, getting ready for the queues at the Tunnel. There were none. I sailed straight through, and even managed to get myself on to the 20:50 departure – 90 minutes before the one I’d booked – at no extra cost.
Hooray! I would be in France by 10pm (Sooner, actually, the crossing only takes 35 minutes. I was in France by 21:30 plus 1 hour to take account of the time difference).
I didn’t even stop at the Eurotunnel terminal – I went straight round to passport control, sailed through security (the only problem I encountered was that in reaching for my passport, half the SD cards for my camera and dash cam fell under one of the seats: I’ve still not found them).
It took just 15 minutes to get from the motorway junction up to the check-in point, through both British and French security and on to the train (both just looked at my passport for a second before waving me through). By the time I’d checked-in the train I’d switched to was already on its “Final Call” so no need to queue – I just drove straight on! Beat that, Gatwick!
I didn’t speak any French this time. The French security officer said “Au Revoir” to me, but the only answer I could offer up to him was the distinctly German “Bitte Schön”. That confused him.
After the 35 minute crossing – which seemd to pass in no time at all – I was back on the road. What a contrast to the Britsh roads! Given the time difference, it was now 22:30 – it was dark – the locals were all at home watching their favourite TV shows, or whatever it is the Frogs do on a Friday night. I had a 90 minute motorway drive on empty roads!
To say empty wasn’t completely true – that “E40” (the route of the French A16 Autoroute, then the Belgian Autosnelweg A18 and A10) does have a lot of freight traffic on it. If the M5 is where you go to play Caravan Slalom, then the road out of Calais towards Bruges and Brussels is where you go to play Foreign Lorry Slalom.
But: The traffic was relatively light – and the only reason I slowed down at all, was because the stretch of motorway past Dunquerque has a 90km/h limit. As of last Saturday, if I am caught by a speed camera on the continent, they will be able to trace my car and send me a speeding ticket.
France is not a playground if you like to speed. The French Traffic Police (or the “Pelotons Motorisés” can sieze your car for being just a few km/h over the limit – and whilst they do leave a little bit of leaway for British drivers, the fact is that more British drivers are stopped round here than any other Western European nationality.
My journey was very uneventful – as you’d expect, late at night. With the locals tucked up in bed, about 60-70% of the cars I was sharing the road with were other British cars. Plus lorries from all over Europe – but with the French tucked up in bed, I didn’t have to worry about having some old guy in a Renault coming up behind me flashing his lights and indicators.
Within 40 minutes I’d crossed in to Belgium, and traffic got noticably lighter as I progressed closer to Bruges and particularly as the clock ticked past 11pm. Soon I was off the motorwary following the sat nav to my hotel: Easier said than done as roadworks meant the road I was meant to take…was completely closed and I had to turn round. This upset the sat nav.
And now here I am: The Hotel Velotel Brugge, on the outskirts of the city, but only a bus ride away from the centre. I’ll go and have some breakfast in a bit – and then on to the city for the morning.
Driving wise, I’ve not got so much distance to cover today: I’m stopping in Genk on the Belgian-Dutch border (near Maastricht) – it’s only a 2 hour drive but I do have to get round Brussels’ version of the M25. I’ll be stopping half way at the Botanical Garden in Meise, about 4km outside the Brussels Ring (the R0).
I think I might go in search of breakfast now.
Milage on Day 1: 250 Miles