We Try Brittany Ferries’ New VIP (Very Important Puppy) Service
From Bournemouth, it was always a long diversion, but it meant that we the dogs could stay with us during the crossing. However, our relationship with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle ended abruptly with a 4,500% price hike.
“It’s £2 to change your booking now. If you wait, it might go up a bit.”
“It’s a long drive. We’re not sure what time we’ll arrive in Calais, so we’ll call when we’re nearer.” We figured that even if it went up to about £10, it would be worth it.
The next day; “Change your booking? Certainly sir. That’s £88.00 please.”
The operator played back the recording of the previous day’s telephone conversation as proof that ‘it might go up a bit’ constituted fair warning. The justification was that it was much more expensive to change the booking on the day of travel.
We argued that it would have been more honest to say that it would go up “a lot” and that they could easily choose to waive the charge as a gesture goodwill to a regular customer. They refused, so we sat in the terminal for six hours, while partly-filled trains raced across the Channel. They didn’t catch us out, so they lost the £88.00 – and we have not given them a penny since.
Travel by boat is always romantic; it makes the journey a much more enjoyable part of the trip. Luckily for Mark, I forgot to sing my Andreo Bocelli ear-worm to him; “Con te partirò, Su navi per mari…” (With you, I go on ships, over seas…)
Our only problem is the separation anxiety. Leaving our precious pups in the caravan on the ferry was almost bearable. However, the experience of our first crossing when we put them in the ship’s kennels for their own comfort was like sending them to purgatory.
We were delighted, therefore, to be offered a pet-friendly cabin, a new facility introduced by Brittany Ferries on their French crossings only this year.
It was not all plain sailing, however. The night before our crossing, we stayed on a campsite in Chichester, near the ferry terminal at Portsmouth. The weather was filthy and we were held up by a serious accident on the M27. We had booked, but as we looked for signs of life at 8.10pm in the dark and lashing rain, the site was deserted. Mark rang the warden’s number posted on the door at Reception and was greeted with;
“Do you want the police or an ambulance?”
“Oh. I think I’ve got the wrong number. I am trying to contact the site warden. “
“I am the site warden. I’m off duty. If you are going to arrive after 8pm, you should ring.”
“We’re ten minutes late. We were caught in traffic. There was an accident on the motorway.”
“Your wife could have rung.”
“She was in the car with me…” It was going to be like that.
“We’re catching the ferry from Portsmouth at 8.15am. We need to be at the terminal by 7.15am at the latest.”
“We don’t open the gates until 7am.”
Welcome! I appreciate that wardens work long hours and it is getting towards the end of the season. However, I worked long hours in a customer-facing role for twenty-five years, yet I managed to remain helpful and polite every day of the year. My job depended on it. And all of the sites near the Poole ferry terminal have been very flexible about opening gates to ensure that customers don’t miss their crossings.
At least we were level and didn’t have to unhitch; we connected the electricity and didn’t bother with the water. Mark had asked if there was anything I needed out of the van before he put the bikes on the back. I had failed to realise that I was down to my last two tea bags. Mark ruled;
“You can’t have tea until the bikes come off!” – so who needs water?!
I had a restless night of worry, although the 6am start went better than expected.
My first concern, getting the caravan off the sodden pitch, was fine. My second – that to press home the value of ten minutes, the miserable warden would deliberately delay us by opening the gates late – was assuaged at three minutes to seven. I wound down my window to thank her and was assiduously ignored; a gesture which says much more about her than me. We won’t be back.
With seconds to spare, we pulled straight up at a check-in window. As usual, our Fur Babies’ microchips were scanned, but for the first time ever, we had to show their muzzles. On-board, our pet-friendly cabin was two steps from the car deck and had a window. Luxury! Previously, we have only ever had inside cabins. Mark brought our final fry up to the cabin and we all had breakfast. Then a shower and a lovely, lovely sleep.
Considering all the gales that we’ve had, it was a remarkably calm crossing. It was hellishly windy on the exercise deck and there were small gaps under the railings that dropped straight down to the water. We kept the doggies close, although worryingly, Kai did manage to slip his lead at one point! The Fab Four didn’t seem to understand that the area, supplied with a bin and a hose, was for peeing and pooing, so nobody did.
We were allowed back to the car deck about half an hour before docking to allow time for the staff to clean the cabin. For the last few days I had been asking Mark “Are you excited yet?”
The answer was always “Not until we’re on the ferry.” As the ferry door opened like a bright portal on to a new adventure, I got the answer I had awaited. “Yes!”
Contrary to the forecast, the weather in Ouistreham (Caen) was remarkably mild and pleasant as we queued for the new experience of having our passports scanned. Despite the ferry being barely even half full, it took some time. A sign of things to come. Away from the port, we passed a small migrant camp under some trees. Half a dozen refugees were kicking a football around their makeshift tents, constructed from blue tarpaulin.
The weather came later; a furious storm graced our route towards Alençon and Radon with a mixture of bolt and sheet lightening. Curiously, the thunder volume was on mute as we wound through pretty, mountain scenery. This was a bonus for Rosie; she is terrified of thunder.
A mosaic of autumnal trees and russet ferns decorated the bends as we wound through the Forêt d’Écouves and the Normandie-Maine Regional Natural Park. We decided not to press too far; 30th September and 15th October are magical dates on the French camping calendar, after which most campsites shut for the season. We didn’t want to arrive late to find our proposed campsite closed and no alternatives nearby.
Although we had stayed there a couple of years ago, Mark had no recollection of Camping Écouves in Radon in Normandy. As we pulled up in torrential rain, my memory the pitches being mostly grass was confirmed. Thankfully, Madame found us a little bit of hard-standing. I took the pups for a very wet woodland walk and a much-needed poo.
But we had done it! We had actually set off. After several near-starts, each thwarted when problems arose just days before departure, we’re back on the road.
Brittany Ferries – Ships with Pet Friendly Cabins
I called Brittany ferries and was given the following information;
- Portsmouth / Le Havre – Pet-friendly cabins available on both Baie de Seine & Etretat
- Portsmouth / Caen – Pet-friendly cabins available on Normandie but NOT Mont St Michel
- Portsmouth / Spain (Santander & Bilbao) – Pet-friendly cabins available on Cap Finistère and Baie de Seine but NOT Pont Aven
Not all pet-friendly cabins have windows; some are inside. If you want a pet-friendly cabin, book well ahead (as much as one year in peak times) as they are like gold dust!
Walk With Us!
We are heading for Italy, Poland, Finland and the Baltics. To keep up with the adventures of The Fab Four, Big Blue and Caravan Kismet, please follow my blog. In the next few weeks, we hope that some sunnier postcards from the Continent will land in your inbox!
For further information on pet travel, including the potential impact of Brexit, please see my Wuff Guide to Travelling With Dogs.
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