With our recent holiday in the south of France coming to an end, it could mean only one thing – the long drive home! A journey of around eight hundred miles door to door; or should that be tent flap to door?
The drive was arduous enough without adding the extra pressure of having to get to Calais by a certain time in order to catch the ferry. However, my little SALLY (the sat nav – see “Ignoring A Sat Nav” & “Male Or Female Sat Nav Voice?”) displayed our ETA and was constantly updating it so that I would know if I needed to try to squeeze a little more speed out of the car.
In order to cope with such a drive, it was a journey which, mentally, we would split into six sections. The first would take us up and down the mountainous area known as the Massif Central. And towing a very heavily laden trailer, this was not an easy route to negotiate. Some of the climbs were as high as 1100 metres, that’s over 3,500 feet – higher than any ‘hill’ we have in England!
However this was by far the most scenic part of the entire journey, and despite the struggles with the trailer and the resulting lack of speed, it was a joy to drive. There were several long slow climbs up the mountains made all the more pleasurable by the view from the top. And one such view came from the Milau Bridge – a quite impressive piece of engineering.
Having successfully completed ‘section one’, and having watched SALLY add several minutes to the ETA each and every time we went up a mountain, I was still happy with our progress; we were still on course to reach the ferry terminal in good time. Now we hit ‘section two’. There was nothing difficult about this part of the journey; the terrain was incredibly flat. There were no major cities to pass through, just country side. Very flat country side as far as the eye could see. We did drive through an area that had several fields of sunflowers all in the last throws of summer, beginning to bow their heads towards the end of their life.
Sunflowers apart, it was a fairly dull section and a struggle to keep ones eyes open. In fact it was only me who succeeded in doing that. Thank goodness it was also me who was driving! But with the end of ‘section two’ came the start of ‘section three’; the part of the journey in which we had to negotiate Paris.
All eyes, well at least my eyes, were on three things – apart from the road. SALLY, for directions; the clock, to ensure we weren’t losing too much time and the petrol gauge, which was beginning to head towards the empty mark.
It was a Friday afternoon, and we had been making great time, despite the earlier mountains. We were only a few miles from Paris, and it was around 4.30pm. I was really hoping to get to Paris before 5pm so that we would, potentially, be ahead, albeit marginally, of the end of the week traffic chaos. Things looked good. That is until we hit the toll booth where we ground to a halt.
Up to that point, ‘section two’ had in absolutely no way impacted the ETA – we hadn’t lost anytime or gained any. But that was all about to change! It took more than thirty minutes to clear the grid lock waiting to pay the fee for using that section of road, which of course meant that we no longer had any chance of getting to Paris by 5.00pm. It was, after all, already 5.00pm and we had only moved a few yards in the last thirty minutes!
However, we had no choice now but to carry on and hope for the best. So with our faith resting entirely on SALLY to find a way round Paris, we set off once more.
SALLY, however, had other plans, and took us directly into Paris. She took us along the river Seine where we enjoyed wonderful views of the Eiffel Tower and surrounding area. I have to say I was, to say the least, somewhat surprised by and concerned at the choice of route SALLY had made, however, we did seem to be sailing along the Seine without a hitch. Except the trailer which, fortunately, was still hitched to the car.
That is until we were approaching Saint-Denis where we were to pick up the autoroute which would take us to Calais. And that is where things started to take a serious turn for the worse with both the clock and, more worryingly, the petrol gauge rapidly heading towards a critical position.
So this was our situation: around four hundred and eighty miles under our belts; about another one hundred and eighty to the ferry terminal, then a final one hundred and twenty in England and a petrol tank nearing empty.
Was I worried or concerned?
Of course not, if I have learned anything over the past five years of driving through France every summer, it’s that there are refuelling stations at very regular intervals along the French autoroutes. All I had to do was be patient in this very slow moving traffic and sooner or later we would be back on the move and heading, with as much speed as the car could muster, towards one.
And at least the low fuel indicator hadn’t yet been illuminated. Yet.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, we had cleared the traffic. SALLY was still saying we would reach the ferry terminal in good time – at least one hour before we needed to. So everything was rosy again – wasn’t it?
Well, in a word, no! Remember that low fuel indicator which hadn’t yet been illuminated? Well, very shortly after we cleared Paris, it lit. Suddenly my brain went into overdrive doing mental arithmetic to try to calculate how much fuel I had and how far I could go.
Did I have enough fuel, and were my calculations correct?
Find out in part two…