Vintage voyages

Just a hop across the channel

P And O Ferry

* the P and O ferry

Christmas time, mistletoe and wine... lights twinkle down the valley, decorations go up and the festive season is almost up on us. It's definitely time for a bit of absent minded humming. Ah, Christmas time, mistletoe and ...WINE? It has such a lovely ring to it, but in that second I realise that our share of the European wine lake has run dry. If we're not to miss out on the perfect accompaniment to mistletoe, remedial action must be taken, fast and with no half measures.

It's a simple plan and one that has much to recommend it. Order wine from obliging merchant in France, where excellent quality wine flows freely, cheaply and in abundance. Hop across the channel after a short drive to Hull taking the off-season and inexpensive ferry. Wake up fresh in the morning, nip along the coast to pick up said wine and reverse the process. A tiny, 36 hour, wine-related mini adventure.

So it's just me, the Land Rover and the open road. With only the massed forces of Storm Desmond and a Belgian complete anti-terror lockdown between me and our supplies of Christmas cheer.

First up was defeating Desmond. The ferry may have set out into a force nine gale but with the deployment of not one, but two, plucky little tugboats we finally made it beyond the harbour wall. With the engines clattering and straining to make headway I feign composure when a fellow passenger tells me he's only been in weather conditions like this twice in his life. He's merely been a submariner for 22 years, after all.

No matter, I can retire to the comfort of the cabin as we forge our way over the swell. When I say 'forge' I mean roll, wallow and vibrate our way forward. Probably forward but with a bit of sideways and possibly some backwards as well. And by vibrate I mean really bad. Like, oh really bad and then 'shut down one of the engines' bad. Just as I was beginning to doze off.

A mere five hours late, we limp into the port with the help of another tug. But we made it. Storm Desmond eat your heart out.

Only a few miles from Belgium to France, land of wine and location of my Christmas spirit. Unfortunately, the Franco-Belgian police have enthusiastically taken to the job of trying to weed out international terror suspects from innocent booze cruisers and were policing the border with unheard of thoroughness. Whilst I and my wine would, undoubtedly, be safe from the crazed psychopaths of Da'esh it took two hours just to clear the border.

Safely loaded up with my preordered cases, I called P&O from the wine merchant's to check on the ferry's health and wellbeing. With divers still trying to fix the propellor I decided not to bother the border queues again and booked a ticket straight from Calais to Dover. Surely the quickest way to get my cargo home.

Not so fast. Whilst I might have avoided a rematch with the anti-terror operation, Storm Desmond was still in full fury. Not content with causing a ninety minute delay to the sailing, he greeted our arrival in Dover with near hurricane conditions. With visibility barely beyond the nose of the car, progress was 'slow'. Staring into the gloom just ahead of my wipers I completely missed the turning for the M11 and had to continue around the full joy of the M25 to the A1. I drive 330 miles home in utterly miserable weather.

Staggering in from the storm to the calm of my cosy home at 2.30am on Monday morning, it feels as though I have been away for a lifetime. Or a month at least.

The dog grunts in his sleep. And confirms my suspicion that over the weekend, he and my wife have barely noticed that I'd gone.

But the cellar is restocked. Cheers!

*in my dreams... none of this journey looked remotely like this

by James Cartwright at 13 Dec 2015, 00:00 AM