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To Basse Normandie via the Tunnel


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May I please have the combined wisdom of the forumbers who regularly make the journey from Calais to, say, Cæn, by road.

When we were first looking for our place, and the first year we had it (2000), we travelled via the tunnel. It is pretty convenient for us at the UK end, but not the French. It took a longish while (4-5 hours) driving, sometimes in bad weather, mostly on peages and then there was Rouen. Always bruddy Rouen...

I ended up on the docks, one time. Oh how Julie laughed.

So we started using BF, getting a cabin and travelling overnight. Now we are fed up with BF. Costs have spiralled, cabins are actually pretty uncomfortable, and we are looking again at the £39 single journey season ticket via the tunnel.

So, what's it like now? Is the Rouen Bypass finished? How long do you take for the drive? How expensive is the peage? What is the tunnel service like? (the last time we went there were zillions of trains), how do the £39 tickets work?

Gosh. Lots of questions. Please treat me to your wisdom.

It's the total experience I am trying to judge.

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Oddly, on the occasions we did it, we found we felt fresher on arrival than doing the BF thing. I have no idea why... maybe the ventilation on the boats isn't as great as one would expect; maybe it's just that one stays alert through the journey (well... the driver does...[Www]) but we never found the journey as tiring as expected. The England side used to be the worst part of the trip - especially as we were heading for Wiltshire whereas you're kind of in the right place comparitively. For us, the total journey time was slightly less than drive+BF+drive - you may even find it a couple of hours faster.

We don't go via Rouen. The express route takes you well to the north of the city. If you use viaMichelin.fr or mappy.fr, it will show you the toll amounts and the locations. It's not an exciting route but it is fast and usually uneventful.

Calais to Mortain:

Distance : 435.03 km dont Voies express : 390.87 km
Durée (1) : 04H16
Véhicule : Routière
Essence : 46.32 € (37 l)
Péages (FRA : 22.40 EUR

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Is the Rouen Bypass finished?

They have yet to finalise the route! It will be at least another five years.

Have you thought about Newhaven- Dieppe?. The new bridge (The highest lifting bridge in Europe) will soon be open in the centre of Rouen , which will make things a little easier.

 

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[quote user="catalpa"]

Calais to Mortain:

Distance : 435.03 km dont Voies express : 390.87 km
Durée (1) : 04H16
Véhicule : Routière
Essence : 46.32 € (37 l)
Péages (FRA : 22.40 EUR

[/quote]

I make that about half the cost of a summer sailing on BF.

How long is the Newhaven-Dieppe sailing B?

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I don't think Julie would put up with that. We originally used the tunnel because she is a bad sailor, but the BF cabins helped a lot. Rather like C[:)] we now think they are making us feel ropey on arrival - uncomfortable bunks (the last one we had the ladder didn't reach the floor!) - bad time. At least you can walk around on terra firma at the various aires.

I'm just a bit concerned at some things I have read here which suggest that tunnel travel is not as on-demand and slick as it once was. But at £39 each way...

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Dick

Last year we went via Dover rather than Poole/Cherbourg, for fun . . . . Really enjoyed the trip down the autoroute. If you would like the exact toll costs I'll look them up for you. However  . . . am v v worried, as we went to Caen and I don't remember Rouen - should I? (The trip took 3.5 hours) [8-)]

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We frequently travel to our house between Pont Audemer and Lisieux via the tunnel so not quite the same route as to the Caen area but not too far away. On a good run it takes us 2:35 from house to tunnel and almost never over 2:45 unless we encounter a blocked road or other serious problem - the distance is 180 miles. That is travelling at the legal limit all the way on the Autoroute but holdups are rare and traffic generally light. The exception is the A13 towards Rouen on a Sunday afternoon/evening which can be very congested and I suspect the stretch past Deauville will be tricky at that time. In the summer the telepeage doofer is indispensable as there can be delays at the peage.

Travelling to Caen it would probably be quicker to avoid Rouen and take the A29 via the Pont Normandie (I agree - it is a beautiful structure and worth the detour) but if travelling through Rouen there are routes which are fairly pain free which I think have been described by others but I can post if it helps.

Last year we made 12 return journeys via the tunnel between March and October. We frequently go for a long weekend travelling out Thursday evening straight after work and back Sunday night. If we leave Buckinghamshire at 5:30pm we can be in bed in France around midnight or just after if we get a clear run. In winter we tend only to make one or two standard weekend trips and take advantage of the special offers on BF and travel Portsmouth Caen.

The £39 fare only applies off peak - late afternoon and evening to France and morning and early afternoon back to the UK. We usually travel to France in the evening so no problem there. We never get a £39 fare on the return journey as we leave late afternoon to get a crossing around 8:30pm. For most summer weekends that means a fare on the return leg of £69 and £59 at other times.

The service on the Tunnel is not what it was up until 2001/2002. Financial problems have meant a reduction in the number of trains that run with often only 1 per hour at quiet periods and even fewer between midnight and 5am. That said if we travel out from the UK in the evening the check in is usually rapid with short queues and it isn't unusual to board a train within minutes of driving to the marshalling area. The frequent traveller tickets are flexible and in the last couple of years we've never had a problem getting a shuttle earlier than the booked crossing if we arrive earlier. Conversely if we are seriously delayed on the M25 travelling to the Folkestone terminal and arrive very late we are then into the period of 1 train per hour and it always seems that we've just missed a crossing and have to wait an hour.

Staff reductions have meant that they have installed automated check in devices that result in severe delays at busy times with long queues to check in. It only takes one traveller to have a ticket problem, not understand the instructions or for a machine to run out of printout for the delays to be frustrating.  We have found that it is not unusual to queue for 30 minutes and sometimes much longer at the check in. Experience here varies and some other frequent travellers report few problems but we tend to come home on a Sunday night which I believe is their busiest period.

We have found that it is necessary to arrive in plenty of time to catch the booked crossing at busy times because arriving late can mean being allocated to the next available space two or three hours later. It's no fun sitting for that length of time in the car park as we find there is little to attract us into the terminal building. That said, one point in there favour is that if the check in queues are the reason for the late arrival at check in they usually allocate us to the booked crossing, even if it has already left so that we can then get the next available crossing.

Overall we have experienced serious (over 1 hour) delays on 1 in 3 crossings back from France but again others report never having a problem so it is obviously the luck of the draw. The most common cause of serious delay, other than long queues at check in is if there has been a train breakdown in the tunnel when it can take them hours to clear the backlog.

We could of course choose to travel back at another, quieter, time but in general that would mean effectively losing a day in France as we find that if we plan to leave earlier that the whole of the final day is spent preparing to leave whereas if we leave at 5-6pm that isn't the case - just one of life's mysteries. Another alternative would be Speed Ferries but my wife suffers from sea sickness so we have discounted that route.

Eurotunnel seem to be getting to the end of the negotiations to reduce their debt. If they succeed they should be in a position to start showing a profit so perhaps we can expect to see some investment to improve the service.

Overall we tend to find the journey from Calais to Normandy quite relaxing and don't feel overly tired by the trip - even after all these years there is still the sense of anticipation as we make the journey to France. When we first purchased, back in 1998, I was working stupid hours, weekends and no holidays, and we used to do day trips when I could snatch a day off, up at 3:30 down to the Tunnel and in Normandy by late morning, leave in the late evening and back home at 1 or 2am. The ageing process means that I'm not up to that any more. We have a diesel powered car with 212,000 miles on the clock so low fuel costs (especially in France) and no concerns about depreciation, which means that the high  mileage on the trip isn't of much concern. On that basis, for us, the Tunnel is a good option even with the irritating problems.

 

 

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Thank you, Alan, for such a full answer. Much appreciated.

We always tend to travel at relatively off-peak times, so may not get too battered by the check in problems!  You have all laid to rest my worries about the drive - a relatively powerful car with cruise control should be OK. I had anticipated paying extra for returns on some journeys, so that isn't an unforseen problem.

When I buy my season ticket do I have to nominate dates and times for journeys, or can I just turn up?

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Well at last something has become clear to me.  I have never understood why people have said that our car must be rocket-powered if we can get from the tunnel to our house 20km north of Vire in 3.25-3.5 hours.  We have never broken the speed limit to do it but we have also NEVER encountered Rouen - we always go A29 via the Pont de Normandie and have done since 1999. According to mappy it's the quickest route.  It just wouldn't occur to us to go via Rouen - why do all you people go that way?  We went to Rouen once (1981) long before the Pont de Normandie was built and after driving round the one-way system for 2 hours in the rush hour in the pouring rain vowed never to go there again - and never have!!

When we had tunnel season tickets (or property owner bulk-buys, whatever they were) in the days when we worked in London, we could slip off work at 4pm on a Friday afternoon and be in our local restaurant here in Manche for a 9pm reservation and that includes the hour forward!

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Dick

At the time of purchasing the ten tickets you will not need to specify journey times. Individual journey times can then be booked either online or by phone. According to the rules journeys need to be booked 24 hours in advance but I've found they can be booked by phone on the day of travel - even while we're travelling down to Folkestone. I only had a problem once with someone who refused to book at such short notice but it only needed a bit of smarming to get them to do so. It is not, however, possible just to turn up at the terminal and book. Once a booking is made it can be amended, by phone, right up to, and even after, the time of travel.

The number of Frequent Traveller tickets are limited so it is risky to wait until the last minute to book at popular times although I've found that it is never a problem three or four days in advance. This became more of a problem last year so I don't know if Eurotunnel are gradually tightening the restrictions on the number of Frequent Traveller tickets.

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Like others we have avoided Rouen ever since the alternative was available. Generally we take it fairly easy as only one driver and generally have a couple of breaks - Baie de Somme and Bolleville. Generally takes us 3.5 hours Calais to the house (between Bayeux and St Lo). When we started using this route (5 years now) the motorway between St Saens and the bridge always seemed practically deserted but it's getting busier all the time - though only by French standards, not English.

It is a pretty boring stretch that which is why we have the second break.

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Dick,

May I ask why you are using the tunnel in preference to SF to Boulogne, you would save on the fare, save on the distance and hence save on the fuel costs. I realise that you say your wife is not a 'good sailor' but 55 mins on a high speed boat is not really too bad ( my wife also doesn't sail well).

Timing shows about 4 hrs to Caen from Boulogne and there is no need to touch Rouen.

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[quote user="powerdesal"]Dick,
May I ask why you are using the tunnel in preference to SF to Boulogne, you would save on the fare, save on the distance and hence save on the fuel costs. I realise that you say your wife is not a 'good sailor' but 55 mins on a high speed boat is not really too bad ( my wife also doesn't sail well).
Timing shows about 4 hrs to Caen from Boulogne and there is no need to touch Rouen.
[/quote]

 

No difference in the mileage, I hate the boats, she hates the boats, I don't want to be on a booze cruise ship - that's about it. I agree with what RH says - Julie can be ill for days after a bad crossing, and it really makes her miserable.

I was once on a Dover-Boulogne when the sea was so bad the fire extinguishers went off spontaneously - it can be a pretty bad hour...

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I have subscribed to the tunnel's "frequent traveller" deal twice.  The lengthy post above (sorry, forgot to note poster's name) is excellent.

For the £39 deal to work, you have to travel out late in the day, and back to UK early in the day.  As I was making short research trips, I needed to make maximum use of each day, so usually fell into having to pay an extra £20 or £30 each way. 

If you went on a cheaper deal and turned up, say, 2 hours before your outward booking, they would usually let you go on a one-hour earlier crossing - which should be more expensive but to which they would turn a blind eye.  They will not bring it forward earlier than that though. 

I have always done my booking on line.  You make a booking, but can change it as often as you want prior to travel.

NOW HERE'S A TIP they once told me on the phone. 
Your FT deal covers 10 SINGLE crossings.  OK, that probably means 5 return trips to you.  But when booking, make them SINGLE bookings.  i.e. book a single trip out.  Start again, and book a single trip back.  This is so that you can change your second leg booking easily should you need to.  Otherwise, if you make the whole thing a *return* booking, once you have made the outward journey you cannot amend the incoming one without penalty.  But if they are considered as separate trips (i.e. two singles) then you can amend the inbound one up to the time of travel.

If you miss your booked time, or just decide to stop on the way, or do a bit of shopping before turning up, you don't have to tell them - as long as you would still be travelling on the *booked day.*  (Though you need to be aware of the departure time of the last shuttle.)

If you want to amend it to a different day, though, you would need to contact them.

Make sure that you always have their phone number (to call from France) and your booking references with you; sometimes you might be too far from a computer to do the amending online.

I must say, the winter's evening of rain, gales etc, when I was struggling around the car at a peage (in the dark days before I had a doofer), I was VERY happy to think I was actually on my way to get on an undersea train rather than a catamaran!   (Though in all fairness to the excellent Speedferries, I have used them several times and always had good crossings - but I would hesitate to book with them in autumn/winter.)

Bon voyage/s

Angela (now quite hooked on tunnel travel!)

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Travelled back from UK to Charente via tunnel, Rouen and A28 (Le Mans, Alencon) yesterday. Transit both ways via Rouen went better than several years ago. Followed 'Caen' or 'Bordeaux' or blue autoroute signs via the 'Boulevard Industiel' and out to the south of the town. Apart from road widening works slowing things a bit the route was easy to follow. Once on the A28 the road was very quiet, and no problems.
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The Mappy route (Calais - Mortain) seems to take me well north of Rouen, over the Pont de Normandie. I once hit a pothole in the ZI outside Rouen that was so bad it broke the propshaft out of the car (a Volvo 145 tank, at that) and try to avoid the place if at all possible.

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Hi, another tip for tunnel travellers arriving from Yorkshire going to Brittany or well in to France as an onward journey, use the hotels at the Cite Coquelles, all Accor hotels and splendid value. Then leave early next morning refreshed and ahead of the traffic. We tried doing an 11 hour straight through journey on a number of occasions but find we are getting too old to do this and light the fire when we arrive! So a break after 4 hours travelling on the UK side after work, and then six hours on excellent roads on the French the following morning is a very easy way to undertake the journey without being tired for days.

Brittany Ferries for us is very expensive as we are always tied to the school holiday weekends, and until a very bad journey in October had found a Friday evening a quiet time to go. I too hope the new financial position will put on a few more trains and ensure no tunnel works on a half term Friday night.

The return journey to stay in Coquelles overnight and an early morning shuttle can be done within the £39 ticket price. Chance to shop for that last bottle of wine in the huge supermarkets, and a meal. Advice on a decent restaurant nearby would be appreciated though as we haven't found one. Any advice?

Lyza

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