Day trip from Ashford to Boulogne by train, ferry and train

Discussion in 'Trip Planning & Reports' started by TheJRB, 27 Apr 2015.

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  1. TheJRB

    TheJRB Established Member

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    This is quite a long report so please just enjoy the photos if you don't fancy a read! :)

    It was an early start and my grandparents picked me up at 06:50 to get to the station. Buying the return ticket to Calais was easier than I thought and as I expected, cost just under £15. We had about a fifteen minute wait for the 07:22 to Dover Priory and in the meantime a tamper reversed in the station.

    Our train arrived and departed on time and we pretty much had a whole carriage of the Javelin to ourselves. It was a pleasant journey and we could see that despite the low visibility, the sea was reasonably calm.

    Arrival at Dover was two minutes early at 07:51 and at platform 1 so we headed straight out of the ticket barriers and on to a taxi. Despite having been to Dover in the car a good number of times in the past, I’ve never been entirely sure where Priory station is so it was interesting to be in a taxi.

    We were dropped off at the foot passenger check in at just gone 10:00 and with no queue, got our ticket and boarding pass. The guy at the office said he didn’t even realise there was still a through ticket available and told us that it worked out a lot cheaper than just going on the ferry. We did however have a forty minute wait until the bus would take us out to the ferry. It didn’t seem such a long wait though as the view out to across the port was quite interesting.

    [​IMG]

    10:40 eventually rolled around and all foot passengers (roughly fifteen of us) were loaded onto the bus. This is where the assault course began! The bus has to leave the complex in order to gain entry to the departures area. The port is seemingly a perpetual building site and the driver of the bus certainly has to show their nous in competing with all the lorries and coaches. It was stop, start, stop, start etc. Then we all had to get off at the French border checks shack which was pretty laid back to say the least. Back on the bus and we moved again for all of around five minutes before we had to disembark again for a full security check at another shed! All bags and metal items in a tray through one machine and passengers through another. Then everybody was back on for the final leg of this long duration, short distance bus ride across the two hundred lanes of the port.

    The next part was relatively easy. Off the bus and into a lift to take us to the ramp to board the ferry. It was difficult to tell when you had actually entered the ferry; the only thing that gave it away was the feeling of vibration from the clearly powerful engines. Our vessel was the Spirit of France, one of the two newest ferries for P&O. With a short time until sailing, we got a coffee and cognac each from Starbucks and found seats. Not having a window at the time, I hadn’t even realised we were on the move when we punctually left Dover.


    Through the course of the ride, my nan and I did a bit of exploring on the boat. We went to the outside deck which was windy but surprisingly mild. We went to the shops, had a peek at the Brasserie and saw the lounge. When we got back, we chatted to a family who had come from Newhaven. They were explaining how despite a direct crossing being available from their own port, it would take four hours and leave only an hour in Dieppe. While we were chatting, the Calais harbour walls appeared and it looked like we were on time or slightly early.

    We made our way to the Calais foot passenger exit as we arrived. We went downstairs to where the ramp normally joins the ferry. The staff were trying to get the ramp to attach but it was apparently too steep so we were sent back upstairs so that the bus could come onto the ferry and we could leave that way. For this to happen however, all the lorries and cars had to drive off first. It was therefore another twenty minutes before we were taken down into the bowels of the ferry and loaded on the bus.

    [​IMG]
    Empty Lounge
    by TheJRB, on Flickr​

    Leaving at Calais was easy. Just off the bus and through the corridor into what seemed to be a newish building, the sort of which put the facilities at Dover to shame. It was modern and warm unlike the equivalent on the other side!

    The bus to the town centre and station was at the front but the driver wasn’t there yet. In the meantime we got talking to a couple from Sandwich who were also heading to Boulogne and would be getting the train from Calais Ville. We discussed the strike in Picardie but I explained that it didn’t look to be affecting the train we’d all be getting. The bus ride to the station was short and cost only €2.


    Alighting at Calais Ville we went to the ticket office and got tickets from the window. This was certainly entertaining for me as there was a sign in the windows that said “Seller does not speak English” and my grandad is, and I hope he’ll excuse me for saying so, pretty bad at French. I only know a little and so does my nan. I think through some sort of telepathic connection we managed to get return tickets to Boulogne!

    We headed to platform C for the 13:09 train and got a few photos of trains in the station including a TGV and other local diesel TER units. Our double decker electric train came in from Lille and we joined the upper deck. Not only was this my first time abroad, but my first time in a double deck train too! 13:09 came and went however… as did 13:15 and 13:20 until a little before 13:30 we were told to disembark and were taken across the end of the tracks to platform B for the 13:31 train (a four car B 82500 bi-mode unit) which we boarded and which departed only about a minute late. Not the best of welcomes by the SNCF but I understand there were difficulties.


    The journey was interesting. Upon departure we saw the TER depot on the left side followed by Fréthun yard on the right. There was a Euro Cargo Rail Class 77, two SNCB Class 13 locos and an ECR Traxx loco. Also about five Eurotunnel locos were visible. After Calais Fréthun, the journey became much more scenic and quick too. It felt like we were going quite fast on this line. At Marquise Rinxent, ECR loco 66026 was stabled. Can’t go anywhere without seeing a 66! I noticed too that the manual announcement chime is the same as that used on the East Midlands Trains Meridians; I almost thought I was about to be welcomed aboard the 13:58 to Sheffield!


    Arrival at the pretty Boulogne-Tintelleries station was at 14:03 and we made our way up the road to the bus stop just in time to catch the Navette. This was a bit smaller than I was expecting and it could only take about ten people. In any case it was free and we had the whole bus to ourselves until Place de France. Indeed I was surprised how quiet it was considering how busy Saturdays are even in my own town of Ashford.


    Leaving the bus at Place Dalton, my grandad pointed out the restaurant they normally go to, Le Plaisance, and we made our way over. The guy who runs it speaks English which helped matters a little! I had a Welsh rarebit which was soaked in beer and covered in cheese. Divine!


    Once we’d finished lunch, we wandered down Rue Adolphe Thiers and visited a few shops. I picked up a box of orange pain d'epices in Comtesse du Barry and a couple of shower gels in Yves Rocher. My nan and I then had a look around the church, Église Saint-Nicolas, before we headed back to the bus stop.


    The Navette returned via the corner of the old walled town which is somewhere I think I’d be keen to go another time. Back at Tintelleries, the 16:53 train was due in about fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, 16:53 came and it was cancelled. This meant we had to wait for the 17:25. Had we realised, we could have stayed in the town. Nothing came through the station in the intervening time either.


    Still the sun was shining by now and the 17:25 turned up on time with two B 82500 units to whisk us back up to Calais. This line makes for a very pleasant journey, especially in good weather. Travelling through Wimereux, a glimpse of the sea is afforded and there’s lots of lovely rolling countryside up to Calais. Overall, I was impressed with the B 82500s although I did almost hurt myself when I forgot there was a step down from the table we were sat at.

    [​IMG]
    Leaving Wimereux
    by TheJRB, on Flickr​

    Back at Calais Ville, we returned to street level and worked out that the last bus had left about ten minutes beforehand. We caught a taxi back to the port and the weather was still beautiful. Checking in at Calais was straightforward. We showed our railway tickets again and got a boarding pass for the return trip (although the guy serving had to ask somebody else about our ticket). Then it was through the security check and two British passport checks of the more thorough kind compared to the morning’s cursory French glance.


    With twenty minutes to go until the 18:50 sailing, we knew the bus must leave reasonably soon. It actually left with under ten minutes. Once again, the bus had a much easier time navigating than it did in Dover. We were dropped at the beginning of the ramp and it was apparent no lift was available. A lady from P&O asked if my grandad needed mobility assistance. He turned it down initially but after trying two ramps, it became apparent it was much too steep for him so we returned down and were loaded back on the bus to a point where a vehicle could collect us and put us on the ferry.

    Once on the ferry, we heard an announcement that departure wouldn’t be for about another ten minutes. We eventually set off at about 19:15 on the Pride of Canterbury. I wasn’t as impressed with this ferry as I was with the Spirit of France. It didn’t seem to have quite as much space and the seating wasn’t as comfortable.

    We got chatting to a couple of ladies who had come down from Chester on a coach trip. They were staying in the Burstin Hotel in Folkestone and were on a long trip around the UK including the day across to France.

    The time once again passed and so did the good weather as a short trip outside on the deck proved! A rainy, murky Dover welcomed us back to Britain and we disembarked at about 19:45. The bus picked us up, this time a combined bus of crew and passengers. It dropped us off and my grandad wasn’t exactly pleased when we discovered we had to walk through about a quarter of a mile of unmanned Border Control corridors to get to the terminal. This was completely unnecessary and just proved again how disorganised things are at Dover compared to Calais.

    [​IMG]

    We hopped in a cab and got back to Dover Priory at a little before 20:10. We had only just missed the 20:03 so we had to wait for the 20:49! It was alright in the end because the Javelin was already at platform 1 which made the wait less of a pain.

    When we were on the move, the Onboard Manager came through with two enforcement officers and he quipped to his colleagues that they should look at my ticket because they won’t see one of those very often. One of them said they didn’t even realise a through ticket was available anymore.

    Ashford International was a welcome site in the end when we arrived back at 21:16. I may have almost killed my grandparents with the exertion of the day but we all had a good time despite a few setbacks.

    All in all, I’d recommend doing this for the value and the experience but I warn you that you need stamina to do it. Alright for somebody of my age at 19 but my grandad only just got through it at times I think. Still it was a good day and plenty of experiences for a first time travelling abroad!
     
    Last edited: 28 Apr 2015
  2. Techniquest

    Techniquest Veteran Member

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    Looks like you had a good time, well worth it! It must have been tough on your grandparents for sure, hopefully they enjoyed the day out still :)

    £15 is very good to do Ashford to Calais and back, I've been tempted now to get down there and give it a go!
     
  3. AndrewR232

    AndrewR232 Member

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    Sounds like it was a great day, glad you enjoyed it. :)

    Me too!!!
     
  4. at60

    at60 Member

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    Thats a good report, very interesting, and very well written.
     
  5. TheJRB

    TheJRB Established Member

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    Yeah it was £14.70 for Ashford to Calais anytime day return (only variety available) with a railcard. Would be £22.30 without it but I think it would still be good value.

    Certainly did! Like I say, you can't beat the value and it's interesting to travel on SNCF trains and compare them with out own stock.

    Thank you! :)
     
  6. Nicholas43

    Nicholas43 Member

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    Thanks for fascinating report and lovely photos. You all seem to have coped brilliantly with more than your fair share of messups, and found great stuff to see and do in Boulogne. Dunno if it appeals to you, but your local paper might love an article from you. We'd soon have all the over-60s clubs from miles around giving it a try!
    Oh, and any chance of you persuading your nan and grandad to post their sides of the story?
     
  7. CC 72100

    CC 72100 Established Member

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    Nice trip report - I personally quite like the SNCF units you used (as a passenger, not as an enthusiast), although I always try and sit in the leading end of the driving cars, as I find that I just don't 'like' being so low down on the other seats, I like being at a 'normal' height.

    Only problem is the tables make them rattle like hell - although probably not helped by the 'challenging' passengers that often use the examples I'm familiar with!

    As for the small nature of 'La Navette' - when I saw what was possibly the smallest bus in Paris, I just had to have a ride on it - it was like a people carrier!
     

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    Last edited: 28 Apr 2015
  8. TheJRB

    TheJRB Established Member

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    You're most welcome and thank you. I'll have to have a look into your suggestions! :)

    I certainly like the units. It did seem more natural to sit in the higher seats but when it came to leaving the train, there seemed to be plenty of space around the doors and definitely enough room for a fellow passenger to safely stow his bicycle.

    I like that bus! The French seem to have a thing for small buses then, quite unlike around here where there are double deckers on some lightly used routes. The other buses I saw in Boulogne were of the "bendy" variety which I wasn't expecting.
     
  9. CC 72100

    CC 72100 Established Member

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    On some really city-centre routes they will use these little buses, often on lines that have a special ticketing system or are not considered as part of the same local network.

    Indeed, bendy buses are much more common on the continent. Try finding a double decker though ;)

    I also see in the photo of the trains back at Calais that you got a photo of the 700th of that family of units built at Bombardier's Crespin plant, that's a good one to get!
     
    Last edited: 29 Apr 2015
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