Euro Road Trip – Day 1 – London to Calais

It was a hectic final 48-hrs in London, and I’d realised that I’d been overly ambitious thinking that I could complete everything in a single day before leaving London. That extra week of income might be handy in six-months time. It was extremely fortunate that the new tenant that was moving into the flat didn’t need the room for another week, giving us breathing room to spend another night preparing.

Well, at least that is what I should have been doing, but instead, I’d promised a friend that I would let him be a passenger while I drive around Buckingham Palace – and unfortunately for me, he didn’t forget that promise!

At least we tried to drive around Buckingham Palace – the road works and a movie being filmed meant the whole region was closed off… But, we did get to drive past Big Ben (twice), and over the Westminster Bridge – and sit in lots and lots of traffic.

To make up for lost time, we continued to pack, and prepare until nearly 2AM. I booked a ferry that departed Calais at 2PM. With a quick detour to a friend’s mother’s house to drop off some suitcases meant we had to leave our house at 8AM. I hadn’t had a full night’s sleep in well over a week now.

It all went according to plan, with easy driving on vacant roads – other than an alternator belt that continued to squeal. This squealing started the previous week while in Wales and had been getting progressively worse. I had a quick look at how to tighten the belt, but didn’t find any obvious way to adjust the tension.

Well, by the time we were on the motorway, headed for Dover, the belt wouldn’t stop squealing. Until it did, and co-incidentally the alternator warning light came on and the temperature started rising (it also runs the water pump) – in case it wasn’t obvious, the belt was no longer attached. Fortunately we were right near a service area, which I limped into with as little engine load as possible. Also fortuitous was the previous owner suggesting that I purchase a spare belt, which I happened to have with me in the car.

We’d left an extra hour to get to Dover for our Ferry, and it was looking increasingly unlikely that we were going to make it, as I struggled to work out how to loosen the tension to get the new belt on. In a state of semi-panic, we called ADAC (German roadside assistance that provides European breakdown cover), and spent more time than I’d have wished to provide an address of where we were currently situated – only to have a voicemail message from AA (UK roadside assistance) requesting information on where we were currently situated. In the meantime, I’d found the extra alternator bolt, replaced the belt, and tensioned the new belt as best I could, using a tyre spanner to lever the alternator away from the motor.

We were back on the road, and the squealing had gone! Spirits were lifting, and had only lost 45-minutes in the process. While I was working, Risa called the ferry company and managed to change our booking to a later slot (for a £40 fee). We probably wouldn’t have made our original time, so it was a wise decision.

The drive was slow and boring, and with all the late nights the past week, it was a struggle to stay awake – especially with Risa dozing off. But, we made it safely to Dover, only to find out that we could only arrive 2hrs prior to the scheduled departure – and it was now more than 4hrs away. Thankfully they moved us to an earlier slot (and didn’t charge a fee), but we still had an hour to kill – I chose to sleep.

Boarding the ferry was a simple process, passing through French immigration, UK customs and then past the ticket office and into a waiting lane. We drove deep into the ship, on a deck filled with trucks and other large vehicles and joined the rest of the bored passengers on the upper decks. We spent a total of five-minutes walking around looking at our options for the next 90 minutes, only to realise that a coffee, some cake, and a seat by the window was as good as it was going to get.

With the thick fog that rolled in as we were approaching Dover, there wasn’t even anything to see as we departed UK.


Before we knew it (partly due to the fog), we were slowing to dock in Calais. It was a mad rush to get to cars, and get out of the giant ferry. I had to remind myself a few times that – I’m in Europe, we drive on the right now. It paid off, I didn’t hit any on coming cars.

The fog was still thick as we left the port, not allowing us to see more than a few hundred meters. It was fine, we just wanted to drive as far as a rest stop, and sleep long and deep sleep – which we did.

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  1. Epic start Ross – way to set the scene.

  2. I am SO excited to live vicariously through you, Ross.

    P.s. I hope there’s a road bike on the back of your van so you can tackle some epic climbs!

    • You’ll be living it several weeks behind the events… at best. Things will get posted eventually, when I get the free time!

      Sadly… no bikes at all. I’m too paranoid about theft, so I left my MTB back in London. If we get somewhere worth cycling, I’ve got my gear, so I’ll try to rent a bike. Any favourite road climbs? Thought about Stelvio Pass, not sure if you went?

  3. That’s awesome moment Ross!

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