Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cheltenham to Brands Hatch - part 1

After a busy working start to 2014 Buffy and myself finally had a few days off to go and do something fun! For Christmas, Buffy bought me a very special present, which I will explain more about in due course. This present meant that we had to go down south for a day, so we decided to extend this to a couple of days and tick off some of the things that Buffy wanted to do while she is over here in the UK.

So after another busy morning working at Asda, I met Buffy at the store in Hyde and we started our journey southwards. Our first stop was in Cheltenham. Although Cheltenham is in part of the country I have visited many times, its one of the only places there I have never before stopped in. The reason we stopped this time is because my mate Dan is now posted here and so we were stopping by on our way for a beer or 6 and to have a night out with him. Dan had visited us last week where he let Buffy try on his gas mask, so we wanted to return the favour and see some of his favourite haunts. It was a good night, starting with teh 6 nations rugby in 'Apres' bar, followed by the Man United game on the massive screen. Beer flowed over dinner and continued as we made our way round town to a rock bar and then an Irish pub before heading back to our hotel just about midnight.
Buffy with Dans respirator on.

Dan and Buffy play with the Statues in Cheltenham.

  We were up early on Sunday morning and continued our short road trip southwards. On the way I noticed we were passing by the town of Swindon, so I decided to give Buffy a nice surprise - a drive around 'The Magic Roundabout'. Now, those of you reading this in Winnipeg will know all about 'Confusion Corner', which seems to baffle the drivers of Winnipeg, with the need to turn one way to eventually get to go the other direction - well you will now understand why I scoff at Confusion Corner because The Magic roundabout is just so much more. In fact it has been regularly voted in the worlds top 10 worst road junctions and in the UK's most scary junctions.

The Magic roundabout sign....

The roundabout actually consists of 5 small roundabouts at the junctions where 5 roads meet a larger roundabout. Even more confusingly the small roundabouts are driven around in a clockwise direction and the larger one in the middle is driven the opposite way -so that at times you are actually driving one way around a small roundabout AT THE SAME TIME AS driving the opposite way around part of the larger roundabout. Traffic comes from both directions and you can actually go either way around the junction depending on your preference. It is a crazy design, but has been noted that is is quite safe as due to the low speed that everyone drives as there are very few incidents that cause injuries!

The actual road layout
So you get the idea of the roundabout? Here's a short video we made whilst driving around it - can you follow which direction we are going?

One I confused Buffy enough we set out again to our next destination - The Eurotunnel.

Now it turns out that although Buffy had visited England and France before she hadn't ever seen the White cliffs of Dover, so we had decided to travel over to Calais for the night and return the next day - where we could take in the sight of the cliffs from a cross channel ferry. As an added bonus it meant we could travel under the channel in our car - on the Euro tunnel car train. This is something that me and my old army mates used to do on a regular basis, but its not very common for anyone else to drive their car onto a train and then under the ocean! I think Buffy enjoyed the short trip although when I tried to beat my own record of driving the car at over 17mph ON THE TRAIN, she didn't look too impressed.

Loading onto the train

Driving at 17mph in a train the width of a wide corridor.

 Calais itself was actually surprisingly nice. I have only ever passed through whilst getting the tunnel or a ferry, so to spend the night was good fun. We had a lovely walk around the town and up to the beaches where the ferries pass by just a little off shore and the fisherman catch their prey off a long wooden pier . There are surprisingly a few nice buildings like the town hall and an old lighthouse tower, which gives the town an nice historical look about it. We stayed in a lovely tradition looking hotel just in the town centre and loved every minute of it, as well as enjoying a huge French meal, once the chef had put us off eating something more traditional and made from the intestines of pigs.
The old lighthouse tower

Awesome french warning sign!

Weird French advert

Calais beach

The town hall and  a statue

Buffy enjoying the park and fountain

Our room
We were only in town for one night and so the next morning we got up early and had a lovely little breakfast of pastries and coffee in a nearby bakery before packing our stuff and heading on out for a little drive along the coast. We even noticed the funnel of a cross channel ferry passing by our window.

Our exploring took us out of Calais and to a place called Cap le blanc nez - or The White Nose - a cliff overlooking the ocean with a memorial atop and old German military bunkers spotted around it. A really cool place where we also got our first glimpse across the sea to spot the White Cliffs!

On the way back to town we also stopped at a small military cemetery where we spent some time paying our respects whilst reading the immaculately kept gravestones from the 1st world war.

Blanc Nez

England from France - Its really that close!

The bunker under Blanc Nez

The military cemetery in Sangatte
 One thing I was a little wary about when visiting Calais was the possibility of meeting illegal immigrants who were trying to get across to England by any means possible. There used to be a large camp of these desperate people and the crime that comes with them when they are in such a desperate position, but apart from a small camp, right by the ferry terminal we were pleasantly surprised that there appeared to be no problems at all in Calais and the surrounding areas.

The immigrants camp, with ferry in the background.

Dodgy looking geezers trying to find a way across the channel
Driving onto the Ferry
 We made our way to the ferry terminal after just one wrong turn and our timing was perfect as we boarded an earlier ferry than we had book almost immediately. The crossing was about 90 minutes during which time we lazed about on what appeared to be an over sized sofa, until Dover and its famous cliffs were close enough to touch. At this time we went outside onto the deck and took in the majesty of England and the thought of 'getting home' again, even though we had been away less than 24 hours, its always emotional for me to think how people felt after fighting in both wars to float across the sea and get their first glimpse again of England. It was always one of my favourite parts of coming home on leave from my army days in Germany in the 1990's.

Huge Sofa on the ferry!

Room for more than 2 and really comfortable

He made do with a small seat - sorry mate!

Buff and the White cliffs
Even closer to home.
That's enough for today, but I will be back in a couple of days with part two or our journey.....see you soon.......

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