Here we are in Calais at last! But not thanks to P&O Ferries.

We wrote earlier about the message P&O Ferries sent us, saying that despite our booking they were withdrawing foot passenger services from 17th March for “operational reasons”. Subsequently they told us it was for the safety and overall well-being of all their customers. We didn’t know whether we should feel insulted by that or confused as to what it really meant. They offered us the opportunity to cross by car, but of course we are not travelling with a car. Not many pilgrims do. We wrote to their CEO appealing for his help to get us across, but that didn’t solicit any helpful response. We contacted BBC Radio Kent to see if a little publicity about our plight might lubricate the door hinges, but still got no better assurance than that they were exploring all options. Then on the morning of 17th March we received a text from our BBC contact to say that P&O Ferries were recalling all ships to port. Next followed the news that they were sacking all 800 of their seagoing employees on 30 minutes notice, to replace them with overseas agency workers on a fraction of the pay and well below the UK National Minimum Wage. The rationale for this? That the company had lost £100m in 2020 (the year of Covid lockdowns) and such is unsustainable. We don’t know of many companies that didn’t lose money in that awful year. Meanwhile we read that they paid out £270m in dividends to their shareholders (the Dubai Royal Family) for the same year, and took advantage of £14m of UK taxpayers’ money in furlough assistance. The whole story is really quite appalling. Our misfortune over our crossing pales into insignificance in the context of the tragedy for the hundreds of loyal employees and their families.

On this journey so far, we’ve experienced a number of difficulties which at times have appeared as significant barriers to us. There have been the storms, the mud and of course the Covid Pandemic, which set things back by nearly two years. But the one thing we’ve learned as pilgrims is that there is always a way through or around eventually, if not immediately obvious at first.

Today, that way around came in the form of Tom’s old childhood friend Ed and his lovely wife Jane who came to our rescue and offered to drive us across via the tunnel!

Sunrise over Dover Harbour with the P&O Ferries moored up alongside the Eastern Dock

So it was that Ed and Jane picked us up from our Dover seafront hotel and drove us to the tunnel terminal in Folkestone. Despite our concerns about the newly imposed bureaucracy, all went smoothly and we were soon on our way under, rather than over the Channel. Once on the other side it was just the same as it always was pre-Brexit and pre-Covid. It seems that the bureaucracy is all taken care of ahead on-line. Perhaps instead of worrying about these ways of doing things, we should just get used to them.

The famous Hotel de Ville of Calais

We had a lovely day with Ed and Jane. After an al fresco lunch, we visited the Hotel de Ville, whose famous belfry tower can be seen from many miles offshore, and serves as a valuable landmark when crossing the Dover Strait. The gardens in front of it were in full bloom with colourful polyanthus, tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and lilies, radiant in the spring sunshine. It was a thrill to visit the famous Rodin sculpture of the Burghers of Calais at last. Whenever we’ve arrived via the tunnel before, we’ve sped off down the Autoroute without a thought of exploring Calais itself. Now we are going to stop and take in all those places along our route south, doing it the slow way.

The Burghers of Calais

After a lovely day together Ed and Jane delivered us to our Auberge de Jeunesse close to the beach and we said our goodbyes, with promises for a campervan trip together when we return later in the summer.

The kindness of friends!

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