Crossing the channel

We crossed the channel on Tuesday 26th July and then spent 3 nights at a campsite in Guines, just outside Calais.

Highlight:

The fun of travelling underneath the English Channel and being able to make phone calls and surf the Internet from 250 metres below sea level!

The channel tunnel

For anyone not familiar with the channel tunnel, it is not the sort of tunnel that you drive through in your car. Instead you drive your vehicle into a special train that then carries you through the tunnel and you drive off at the other end. It also operates passenger trains and freight trains.

Eurotunnel - outside of train
Eurotunnel: you and your car travel in a special train for the crossing. Some carriages have an upper had lower deck for carrying cars.

You sit in your car during the crossing, although you can move up and down the train if you want to. There are toilets in certain carriages, just like on a passenger train, but no other facilities such as shops or restaurants, although at only 35 minutes journey time you don’t really need these. Each train is divided into sections with security doors that close in between each section when the train sets off. When you drive on you have to make sure you don’t stop your vehicle across one of these sets of doors. However, they don’t make this very clear before you board and there was no-one there as we drove onto the train. When we have used the ferry before, there is an army of people waving you on, guiding you as to where to park, how far to pull forward and so on. Here there was no-one around so we were on our own. Fortunately Andy had watched a video on YouTube of someone taking a car and caravan onto one of the trains and so he knew about this, otherwise we would most likely have driven right up to the bumper of the car in front of us and would then have been sitting straddling two carriages!  He also did a great job of getting us all on board safely, which was no mean feat.  You have to steer into a relatively narrow gap between the carriages and then straighten up so that your car and caravan are perfectly in line as you drive into the carriage, otherwise you would clip the side.

Eurotunnel - the train
Eurotunnel: skill is required to get a large unit onto the train – you have to swing across through the gap and straighten up before you enter.

Anyway, someone did eventually walk along the train, putting chocks under our wheels and making sure everything was set. We got out of the car to look out of the train windows until we went underground and then settled back into the car for the journey. Then we realised we still had 4G on our phones and full mobile signal strength, so we did what surely anyone would do – we posted on Instagram and Facebook and phoned people we knew just for the novelty of talking to them from below the sea! (Apologies Mum, we tried you but your line was engaged!)

Eurotunnel - entering the train
Eurotunnel – as you can see, you don’t have a lot of room to play with getting onto the train.

Surprisingly, it was quite a bouncy journey, although nothing like as bad as a choppy ferry crossing.  Apparently the trains can travel up to 99mph (160 km/per hr) and the carriages (and your car within them) both shake quite a lot from side to side. It was fun for the girls to chat to people whilst we were on the move and tell them we were under the sea, and then before we knew it we were emerging into the light again and it was all over. All in all it had been a very good crossing. There was about a 15 minute delay but as you only have to arrive about an hour before your crossing, this wasn’t a problem. We were so happy that we had chosen the tunnel because last week there were terrible delays for passengers on the ferries due to increased security checks by the French authorities. Some reports said people had had to wait between 5 and 15 hours and there were massive queues on the roads leading up to Dover port. Fortunately for us, there were no such delays on the Eurotunnel.

Eurotunnel - looking out of the windows
Inside the Eurotunnel – you can get out of your car and move around if you want to. We had a look out of the window whilst we were still above ground.
Eurotunnel - inside the tunnel
Inside our ‘carriage’ on the Eurotunnel

Some other interesting channel tunnel facts:

  • It opened in May 1994
  • It took 6 years to build and went WAY over budget. The original estimate was £3.6 billion, but it ended up costing £15 billion
  • It is 31.4 miles long, of which 23.5 miles is under the sea, which is the longest under sea portion of any tunnel in the world
  • At its lowest point it is 250m below sea level
  • Each train is 775m long (that’s 8 football pitches!)
  • Up to 400 trains pass through the tunnel each day, carrying an average of 50,000 passengers, 6,000 cars, 180 coaches and 54,000 tonnes of freight.
  • The lining of the tunnel was designed to last for 120 years
  • There are actually 3 tunnels – two for trains and a smaller service tunnel in between. The trains mostly travel one way in each tunnel, although there are two crossing points where they can cross over into the other tunnel if needed, such as for tunnel maintenance or in the event of an accident.
  • All of the chalk marl that was bored out of the ground on the English side (about 4 million cubic metres of it) had to go somewhere and most of it was deposited at Lower Shakespeare Cliff in Kent, which is now home to the 73 acre Samphire Hoe Country Park. However, so as not to pollute the English Channel with chalk sediment, a gigantic seawall made of sheet metal and concrete had to be built to keep the chalk debris contained. On the French side it was piled up to make a new hill.
  • Over 1 million pets have travelled with Eurotunnel since they started their pet service in 2000. The advantage is that your pet travels in your car with you and there are even special pet exercise areas that you can use prior to boarding the train.
  • You have to pay for dogs, cats and ferrets (!) but other pets travel free, including rabbits, rodents, birds (except for birds of prey, poultry and racing pigeons), pet invertebrates (but not bees or crustaceans), ornamental tropical fish, amphibians and reptiles!

It was only a 15-20 minute journey from the tunnel to our campsite and so it wasn’t long before we were pitched up and enjoying our first meal in France, courtesy of the campsite bar/restaurant.

Pas de Calais - La Bien Assise
At La Bien Assise, enjoying our first meal in France

Other things we did whilst we were here:

We spent an afternoon at a VERY windy Wissant beach, which is a beautiful stretch of white sand between two headlands, Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc-Nez. Cap Blanc-Nez literally means ‘cape white nose’ on account of its white cliffs. I’m not sure what ‘Griz’ means (does anybody know? – Google translate didn’t come up with anything!). From here we could see the white cliffs of Dover and the Kent coast in the distance and the U.K. seemed very close indeed. There were a few brave souls trying to make sandcastles on the beach, but the wind was so strong that it nearly knocked you off your feet and your legs got sand blasted as you walked. This whole beach really belonged to the kite surfers. We counted at least 30 of them in the air with more preparing to launch, and then there were wind surfers too and one sand surfer. The wind was so strong that when they caught it just right in their kite, the surfers literally took flight, twisting and gliding through the air before sinking back onto the waves once more. It was amazing to watch!

Wissant beach
Holding on to our hats on a very windy Wissant beach!
Wissant beach - kite surfers
Kite surfers on Wissant beach, with Cap Blanc-Nez in the background

Campsite: La Bien Assise in Guines

Liked: clean and well laid out site with large, partly shaded pitches and great facilities – swimming pool, play areas, restaurant and shop. Very friendly staff. Busy but not too noisy.

Didn’t like: there’s nothing much to dislike really! The site is only about 15-20 minutes from Calais and the Eurotunnel terminal and so many people use it as a one-night stop on their way to/from the UK. This means there is a high turnover of people every day and people are often up and moving very early in the morning, although this didn’t really impact on us at all. Would definitely recommend.

Next were off to St Valery sur Somme and from there down to Deauville. Has anyone spent any time in this part of France? I’d love to know where you visited and what you would recommend. Has anyone else ever used the channel tunnel? What was your experience and did you prefer it to the ferry (assuming you have used both)? It is so great getting your comments, so please keep them coming using the form below – we would love to hear from you!

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4 thoughts on “Crossing the channel

    1. Thanks Liz. I remember it being built and there was lots of coverage about it on the news at the time but there were loads of facts about it I either didn’t know or had forgotten. I do remember they showed you the day when the French cutting through from their side finally met up with the English boring through from ours and two men shook hands through the hole. I just can’t believe it’s been open 21 years already!

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  1. Hi Sarah This brings back so many happy memories for us . It was lovely to speak to Emma from under the sea. Also , please thank Andy for phoning . Glad you are having a great time . Personally I would recommend the chocolate croissants, where you are now . We have lovely photos of Cath , at about the same age Emma is now , enjoying the go karts at the campsite. I remember this as a lovely relaxing place to be . Hope to speak to you again soon . All’s well here . xx

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    1. Hi Anne, yes Megan is really enjoying the pain au chocolat in the mornings! The rest of us are sticking with the baguettes, as long as we remember to order them all from the campsite shop the night before! I remember that you did a lot of Eurocamp holidays when Cath was younger and you’re right, everyone seems so relaxed over here. Talk to you soon. Xxx

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