Pre-Brexit France

Up bright and early, I cycled down through slumbering Poole to the ferry harbour. It was very exciting to line up alongside all the cars and trucks on my bike, particularly as I got ushered to the front of the queue.

The only other cyclists were a lovely old French couple on a pair of well-used tourers, their frames littered with stickers advertising things that no longer exist, as well as things that barely exist, like esperanto. We talked briefly in pidgin French as we pushed our ‘push bikes’ (thanks Brittany Ferries) into the belly of the ship. I handed over my bike to a guy whose job it was to chain it to the wall. I gabbled at him about whether I should leave my panniers or bring them with me. He bellowed: “FRANCAIS”. I apologised (in French) and ran away.

There is something quite ancient and forever about ferryports, like we may have conquered gravity with our fancy aviation malarkey but there will always be a role for floating across things.

Today’s thing was the English Channel and it was very smooth.

My family had also arrived on the ship: I’d bumped into them in the car queue, and we headed upstairs to the deck for my auntie’s half-surprise gambit of waving to us from the headland (she couldn’t find an Irish flag, as planned, so had instead brought a “beautifully ironed linen napkin”) to wave at us, to the bemusement of her fellow land-lubbers, not to mention those of us on the ship, to whom she looked to be surrendering.

There were military men in the ship too – D-Day enthusiasts, dressed up as Yank infantrymen, driving vintage jeeps and heading to Normandy for anniversary reenactments. Was my auntie playing the role of the wehrmacht?

Arriving in Cherbourg-Octeville was glorious, shooting off down the ramp before any of the cars, belatedly remembering to cycle on the right, and escaping the port in seconds* (sure beats airports) The weather had already improved, and I got lucky and immediately found a cycle path out of the town to the coast road beyond. My first sights in the port town’s backstreets were a poodle and a knackered old Citroën pootling (not poodling) slowly to nowhere in particular.

My destination had the same name as my ferry: Barfleur, a small port town / large village an hour or so’s cycle to the east. The roads were a dream, and the drivers treated me with plenty of respect (and room). The sun was out, and I arrived sweaty but happy, falling swiftly asleep on the rocks in order to suffer the first bit of sunburn of the year.


*This might not be so easy in a couple of years time

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