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  • jochengielen

The cruise that became a road trip! – take 2 - England & France

What? ... Again? ... Another cruise booked this year and … another cancellation … bugger! (The world as we know it is coming to an end, and you really notice this in every part of daily life!) Again I had the ferries and my hotel for the first and the last nights booked, so again, I decided to go on a road-trip! (This time I planned to spend at least 1 full night in the car)

Day 1

Day 1 started right at midnight this time, I had prepared the car for sleeping in the back this time, so I left home around midnight and drove straight to Calais where I arrived around 04.00am, way before I was going to check in, so I slept in the car to test out the setup of my travel-car, the advantage of this model is that I can stretch out all the way to sleep, the most important thing for me was the mattress, I hadn't tested this one out yet so now was my chance, the cheap sound-foam in double layer did the trick, I slept pretty well in the car and set my alarm in time to get trough the check-in process. This ferry was important to me as it was the 3rd time I had booked on this particular ship and the first 2 times the ship was changed at the last moment by the company, this time however I was lucky and got the ship that I wanted, the Isle of Innisfree (see my blog about the specific ship here).

The crossing went smooth and since this was actually my morning I went to the main restaurant to have an onboard English breakfast, this was pretty good considering some ferries offer pretty basic quality food on the English Channel. Irish Ferries so far offers a good overall service as the newcomer on the Calais-Dover route. After touring the ship for a while, looking for signs of her previous life, it was time to get back to my car and drive off the ship (more can be found here). Again I decided to leave Dover behind and continued on my way to Bournemouth, this was a long drive so I had planned to stop a few times to rest, as the car had passed the first test as a sleeper-car, I had no trouble sleeping but due to the hot weather, I had to leave the engine running for a while to make sure the air-conditioning could do its job, even when parked in the shade it was too hot to just leave it off. Europe was going through a heat-wave! Either this is a hot summer or there is something wrong with our climate … or a combination of both.

Bournemouth was where I booked my Mercure hotel, but the main reason for coming here was the lighthouse at Anvil Point, the lighthouse is located on top of the cliffs at Anvil Point close to Durlston Castle. It was too windy to fly the drone but the walk itself and the surroundings make for a great photographic setup, so I was happy with the resulting photos. Just next to the castle is The Great Globe, a stone representative of Earth, an interesting piece of art and a memorial dedicated to poets, the Bible and the natural world. In the end I didn't really visit Bournemouth as I was too tired from the long voyage, so I went to my hotel, rested out a little bit and went to dinner in the main restaurant of the hotel.

Since this was a Mercure hotel, the hotel and spa together with the restaurant and bar were all very classy and stylish, and the food was following that routine, clearly a high quality cuisine. I had another free drink and decided to work a bit on the laptop in the bar while enjoying a free glass of wine, this would also help me sleep later on … and I needed it! One last thing I needed to do was make a decision on what to do next, as I had no booking for the next night, there were 2 options, either sleep in the car or book a hotel. In the end the hotel option won because I was going to meet my friend in Southampton anyway, he was supposed to join me on the (now cancelled) cruise, so we decided to meet in Southampton the next day, and the Ibis hotel in Southampton was my booking for the next night.

Day 2

Morning started a bit later than originally planned as I didn't need to be in Southampton in time for any ship now, so I took the time to go to breakfast in the hotel and take a shower afterwards before leaving the hotel. I drove to Southampton and parked the car at the hotel, conveniently located near the city center so I could do everything I wanted on foot. My friend Louy and I decided to meet at the IKEA restaurant right next to my hotel and we spent some time in there to relax. I didn't have any big plans for today, only one small stop actually. So we started looking what we could do the next few days. Most of the interesting stuff in and around Southampton I had already seen and done before, the last trip here was only in April so I didn't have any big priorities here. Instead of the cruise, I decided to spend 2 days on the Isle of Wight and immediately booked my ticket for the Red Funnel ferry from Southampton and found a place to stay on AirBNB as I usually do in areas without Accor hotels. After a while we went to get the car and drove to Calshot.

Calshot is one of the best viewpoints for ships entering or leaving Southampton waters, historically speaking, first and for all there is Calshot Castle, built from 1839 to protect the port of Southampton as part of the famous Device Forts. Secondly this is the site where flying boats used to operate for the RAF at their RAF Calshot station, and thirdly this is the site where in 1929 the Schneider Trophy was won by the British Supermarine S.6 floatplane. The old hangars are still there but now they are in use for all sorts of other things like cycling and wall climbing. We waited there for some interesting ships to pass by, the Arcadia and Ventura, I even managed to fly the drone there for a short flight as the weather wasn't really good enough for a high and long flight. We went back to Southampton for dinner at “TGI Fridays” right next to my hotel before ending the day.

Day 3

Today I had breakfast in my hotel and packed my bags before leaving for the Red Funnel ferry-terminal in Southampton, basically just across the road from my hotel. The Red Funnel ferry is quick and easy to get to the Isle of Wight by car, it meant that I could explore the entire island without having to rely on public transport. Onboard the Red Eagle, I went to the public area to relax and work on my laptop for the duration of the crossing, there is free WiFi onboard and a large seating area with shop that offers basic foods and drinks and souvenirs. In Cowes I could just quickly drive off the ship and head for the open road. I had booked an AirBNB not too far from Alum Bay, but my first stop in this fantastic weather was Saint Catherine’s lighthouse where I launched the drone and walked around the area for a while. I went for some shopping to make sure I had food for the evening and next morning and then to my AirBNB to freshen up and rest a bit. The evening was still pretty young so I decided to have a walk around the area of Totland Bay where I had the chance to photograph some wildlife and the beach with views on both Hurst Point on the mainland and The Needles lighthouse, sadly the old coastal defences are off limits due to high risk of accidents but the area is nice to walk around in the evening. Once back at my little AirBNB cabin I prepared dinner and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Day 4

Number one on my list today was something I have been wanting to do for a long time, but first … breakfast! After my self-prepared breakfast in the cabin I packed my bags yet again and drove to Alum Bay. This place is easy because of the large car-park, the small amusement park with shops, restaurant and quick access to the beach by stairs or chairlift, of course my preference was the stairs, just for the scenery and photographic ease. On the beach there is a small jetty where I took the boat tour to the Needles lighthouse, my priority for today! This lighthouse marks the end of the famous rocks they call “The Needles” and in the past many ships would sail past this point, the lighthouse was built and first lit in 1859 on the end of the Needles rocks. By 1987 the lighthouse was equipped with a helipad, substantially altering the appearance of the lighthouse, this is still in place today and the lighthouse is now fully automated, sadly closed to the public as well. From 1861 the Needles battery was constructed to provide a coastal defence system, this is now a museum and offers great views over the Needles rocks and lighthouse. I went back South to Cowes and parked my car near a little known local landmark, the Egypt Point lighthouse, I had been there before and wanted to see if it was still there and in good condition, luckily this little insignificant lighthouse is pretty well maintained and still stands where it once guided local shipping around the island, the light was decommissioned in 1989. Cowes is a nice place to spend a few hours, local antiques stores and cosy places to eat and drink, the main shopping street is certainly fantastic in nice summer weather, the esplanade offers great views on ferries, passenger ships and other that sail to or around the island. I decided to stay there until it was time to move to the Red Funnel ferry, unlike the high speed Red Jets that only carry passengers, the slower double-ended ferries carry cars, the boarding area is located a little distance outside of Cowes. Waiting for the ferry isn’t too bad as there is a small take-away bar and facilities are just at the entrance to the ferry. Once onboard the Red Osprey, I grabbed my camera as it offers some good views on local historic landmarks and on ships passing by, I always prepare for good photo opportunities so I knew the Seven Seas Navigator was sailing past us, luckily my timing was perfect and I had a great view on the ship. Upon arrival in Southampton I left this bustling city behind and went to Portsmouth where I had booked my next hotel, I had originally booked the Ibis on Portsmouth for the last night in the UK, so I just added an extra night to this booking so I could stay 2 nights in Portsmouth instead of 1. I met up with Louy again to have dinner before I would return to my hotel, it was getting late and I needed the rest.

Day 5

Today I was going to stay in the area, Portsmouth is a great place in nice summer weather and I decided to make the most of it, the area of Old Portsmouth offers many interesting viewpoints for a photographer like me, there is even free Wifi around the Round Tower. The most prominent ships you can see sail in and out of Portsmouth are the Wightlink ferries to the Isle of Wight, the Condor ferry to the Channel Islands and the famous Brittany Ferries ships that sail to France and Spain, I managed to get several of them today. Southsea is an area a little bit further South of the Round Tower, most famous for Southsea Castle and the D-day museum. Southsea Castle is another one of those coastal defences built as part of the famous “Device Forts”, ordered by Henry VIII. This fort was built from 1544 and it saw action in several internal and external conflicts, by 1814 it was completely renewed and in 1828 the most visible feature we see today was added, the lighthouse! In 1854 the height of the lighthouse was raised to 10 meters as we can see it today, it remained in use until 2017 when the approach to Portsmouth was changed. The fort saw action in both World Wars but became outdated and in 1960 was sold to become the museum as it is today.

The other interesting thing to see here is the Hovercraft, the last passenger hovercraft in active commercial service in the world runs between Southsea and the Isle of Wight, seeing one of the 2 hovercraft arrive here on the beach is spectacular to say the least. One last place I wanted to visit was The Hard on Victoria road in Netley … why? Not because it’s at the entrance of Royal Victoria Country Park, but because it offers one of the best views on ships leaving Southampton, and today there was an interesting fleet of ships passing by. First of al the Aurora … that I was supposed to be on earlier this week … left for her first cruise after her refit. Next in line was Emerald Princess, then Anthem of the Seas and Spirit of Adventure closing the ranks as the last one for today. By now it was time to get some dinner and relax, conveniently I found the menu in my hotel pretty good so I decided to take advantage of the easy service in the hotel so I could leave the car in the parking lot and relax the rest of the evening.

Day 6

My last day in the UK started the same as yesterday, but this time I went to see Louy again, at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. I explored the tower, although I have been there many times before … and then went out towards the HMS Warrior for a short walk before going back towards the Round tower to spend the last few hours photographing ships like the ferries again and a long distance view on the Sky Princess coming from Southampton.

By the time the last important ship had sailed past me, I re-organised the car for the last part of this trip and went to the ferry-terminal in Portsmouth. The check-in was smooth but once on the Bretagne, I had to wait a while before I could put my bags in my cabin, it looks to me that either Brittany Ferries doesn't allow enough time to clean up between crossings or they have the same issue as most companies in Europe these days and that is shortage of staff! Onboard surprisingly it was mandatory to wear a mask again, although half the people didn't pay attention to it and crew didn't say much about it. I decided to go for dinner in the buffet restaurant as it 's relatively cheap and I wanted to eat quickly to make sure I had most of my time available for photography. Sunset was just perfect and from the ship I had a good view on other ships passing by and the forts around this area. I spent the rest of the evening exploring the ship and in the end I had one last drink for the evening before going to bed.

Day 7

Brittany Ferries wakes up the passengers with a nice musical tune in the morning, so when the wake-up tune started I slowly got up (in stages like usual) and prepared to go to breakfast in the buffet restaurant. After another short walk on the ship, I prepared to go back to the car. Once I left the ship, with the normal customs checks waiting in the Port of Saint Malo, I drove off and left Saint Malo (France) behind because the hot weather and the fact that it was weekend in the tourism season, I wanted to avoid large crowds.

So I decided to go to the lighthouse of Cap Frehel instead. Underway I stopped quickly at the strange lighthouse of La Balue. I spent a few hours around the lighthouse of Cap Frehel and even went all the way to the top, this lighthouse is located in a wide open area with high cliffs and great views. Next place I wanted to go was Cap de la Hague, it was a pretty long drive to get there but this point is perfect for going to a quiet beach and have a view on another iconic lighthouse located just outside of the coastline. This means you can't actually visit this lighthouse as it is located about 800 meters from shore on a small island, it was built I from 1834 and unlike numerous other French lighthouses it survived both World Wars. The area offers a touristic information point, a restaurant and a small take-away with outside seating area, so I took my dinner here as it is much nicer to eat here than in a truck-stop. This was also the last stop for me on this trip and I drove off towards home until I was past Caen. I found a good truck-stop to spend the night and decided to park here under a tree and prepare to sleep in my car.

Day 8

Waking up at the truck-stop, I went to the toilet and found some breakfast snacks and coffee. After re-organising the car for the last long drive I went home, it took me about 10 hours to get home, stopping a few times for a quick stop or a short nap.


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