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The Good Old Days of Cross Channel Travel


Remembering “the good old days” of cross channel travel when just over 50 years ago, travelling to France from the UK was a real adventure that may well have involved driving your car onto a plane…

By Car in a Plane

1958 was a big year for the Jones family, it saw the arrival of our first television set and my father bought his first car, a Hillman Hunter in burgundy red. That summer we flew en famille across the Channel from Lydd Airport in Kent to Le Touquet on the Opal Coast, northern France. We were accompanied by the car in a Bristol Super freighter of Silver City Airways.

By Bike

In the 1970s I was involved in the Round Table which was responsible for two of my more unusual crossings of the English Channel. Round Table was a huge raiser of monies for charity and a sponsored cycle ride from Oxford to Paris was the major event one year. However the rules dictated that it was to be nonstop which gave us a challenge when we reached the coast. Our ferry crossing however was an early morning one and the ferry company left one of the car decks completely clear so we rode our bikes round and round on deck until we reached Calais (I doubt health and safety rules would allow that these days).

By Hot Air Balloon

One of the traditions of Round Table was themed “scatter nights”. This involved member’s names being drawn out of a hat with two other members. The three man team had 24 hours to get as far away from their home town and return within 24 hours – but in order to comply with rules, another Round Table meeting had to be attended during that period. Research showed the Table Ronde (83) Calais of the Table Ronde Francaise met at lunchtime that day. So, together with a printer called Stan Wyatt and Geoff Wells the manager of Barclays Bank in my home town of Banbury in Oxford, we hot footed it to Dover arriving at dawn. Our luck was in big time as a national hot air balloon rally was taking place above the docks at Dover Castle. We hitched a lift and arrived after a very peaceful hop across the channel.

By Yacht 

In the early eighties I was a building society manager and one of my clients successfully sold his business to a Dutch company for several millions. As a thank you he invited me, his solicitor and our wives on a cruise as a thank you for our help. Not on some Ocean going liner but a 38 foot sailing yacht from Gosport to Cherbourg, his boat was called “Slay Crab”, a very clever anagram of Barclays who had originally funded his business. This was my first ever cross Channel crossing on a yacht though I had some experience of dinghy sailing. I hadn’t at all realised how different it would be and mistake number one was my meal in the yacht club, lasagna and red wine.  I would see these again half away across as they were not the best company for diesel fumes and a mid Channel swell. Sea sickness is instantly cured the minute you put your feet on dry land and we were able to enjoy a great night in Cherbourg before a relatively easy sail home, though the sight of our skipper chomping on a whole camembert and swigging a bottle of red wine didn’t help a great deal.

By Submarine

My most exciting crossing to date was in one of Her Majesty’s Submarines, sadly that is all the Official Secrets Act will allow me to say…

Peter Jones is a photographer and writer. With a French mother and a Welsh father he brings a fresh insight to the world of travel writing. He lives in Oxfordshire, UK is a freelance writer and has a regular magazine column. 

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