48 hours ago we set off in our rented people-carrier from Stuttgart to Keswick. Initially there were four of us, but we picked up Ariane’s aunt in Rotterdam and my mum in Wetherby. We are now safely settled into our home in Keswick for the next week. The journey is one I’ve done a few times now but I can’t remember ever having done it in such good weather from start to finish.
I had packed the vehicle the evening before we left and to my surprise we left at 8:00 on the dot as I had suggested on Thursday morning. The summer has saved it’s best til last in Germany this year so we were driving off during a heatwave. But we had air-conditioning and a cool box full of drinks so everything went well. The car is big and a little bit noisy so above a certain speed I couldn’t hear the kids asking if we were nearly there either. Excellent driving conditions.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the traffic was light so we were already crossing the spectacular Autobahn bridge over the Mosel before lunchtime. The river meanders between terraced-vineyards at the bottom of the valley. It’s a big river at this point and sure enough there were plenty of boats and a water-skier on the water below. Back in the 1970s we went on a family camping holiday in our old VW Caravette and I am sure there is a picture of us at the little car-park and viewpoint over the Mosel somewhere. I always like getting to this spot because it is almost exactly half way between Stuttgart and Rotterdam (where we take the ferry to England).
After the Mosel it’s a fairly unspectacular Autobahn dash up to Venlo on the Dutch border and then we turn left towards Rotterdam. For the most part the journey through the Netherlands isn’t very interesting either. Only we approach Rotterdam and start crossing huge bridges or diving through tunnels do you get a feel for the “real” Holland with all that water. We had two jobs to do in Rotterdam. One was to collect Ariane’s aunt, and the second was to get the ferry to Hull.
Christa, Ariane’s aunt was waiting for us at her daughter’s house on the outskirts of Rotterdam. It’s a pretty area with canals and lakes all over the place. As a driver you have to be really careful because at every junction or roundabout you have to keep an eye on the traffic but also be aware that cyclists often have right of way on the cycle-paths which cross all the junctions too. I am sure you get used to it but as a newcomer, it’s pretty tiring. I didn’t want to start our holiday by squashing a dutch cyclist under the bus. I didn’t have too much time to admire the scenery, but there is one particular stretch of road which briefly runs along the side of a large lake and here was a Holland in a nutshell. The sun was beating down, there were loads of boats on the water and cyclists were cruising past on their highly-geared sit-up and beg bicycles (which still have baskets on the front). In the background was a windmill.
I had told Carolin, Ariane’s cousin and our host for a couple of hours, not to go to any trouble with lunch for us as I wasn’t exactly sure when we would arrive and we might eat something on the way. As I expected, Carolin completely ignored my comments and put on an excellent spread which we ate in the shade in the garden. We loaded Christa into the bus and off we went to catch the North Sea Ferry.
The drive out to the ferry terminal is pretty grim. You are sandwiched between a large canal and oil refineries for about the last ten kilometres of the journey and it’s always a relief to see the ferry port hove into view. We were in good time and I felt confident we would soon be sitting in our cabins getting ready for a nice smooth overnight trip to Hull. Because we were taking Christa, I had taken extra care to make sure we booked the right sort of cabins and a day before we left I confirmed all the details again and entered the registration number of our hire vehicle. I also checked that I had really booked the right size of vehicle (height between 1.80 and 2.20m). Check. I had done everything right and was feeling uncharacteristically organised and a little smug.
Unfortunately my smug-bubble burst as soon as we tried to check in. The friendly Dutch lady in the booth informed me that I was checked in to board in Hull in an hour and a half. I had made the bookings the wrong way around – Hull to Rotterdam instead of Rotterdam to Hull. Oh dear – car full of hot passengers and Dad’s got it all wrong again. Nice start, I thought. The P&O staff took pity on me, though and after half an hour of frantic re-booking and being let off the surcharge because their credit card machine was on the blink we were able to board the boat. There was a bit more drama when we found that our cabins had been double-booked too but eventually we got settled in.
We like taking the North Sea Ferry when we are heading to Northern England. It sails overnight and there is plenty to do on the boat so the kids are quite happy. Once we arrive in Hull, it is only an hour to my Mum’s place. All in all it’s a great way to travel. On the other hand, it is a little seedy. It’s a bit like Blackpool on the water. It’s not a great advertisment for Great Britain. The buffet restaurant serves some reasonable stuff – but nothing healthy. I was glad we’d eaten at Carolin’s because the nearest you are going to get to fresh vegetable on the “Pride of Hull” is if you scrape the tomato sauce off a baked bean. We decided against the buffet and went to the cafe instead. At least here you could get a Pret a Manger style sandwich. Or that’s what we thought. Probably the inspectors took offence to the fact that there were salad leaves in the sandwiches and banned them. Now we chould choose between hot-dogs or pies. So we all tucked into a bit of stodge and then headed to the “Sunset Lounge” for a drink and to watch the entertainment.
As a regular North Sea Ferry traveller I have seen my fair share of “entertainment shows” but this one plumbed new depths. The singing, dancing combo of one lad and three lasses treated us to a show called Destination Space. This meant that they would sing vaguely space-related songs and dance around in a variety of home-made space-costumes. It was unspeakably awful. They really couldn’t sing, the dancing was terrible and the sexy space-suits didn’t look so great because our entertainers had obviously been hitting the hot-dog café too. Thankfully the set finished earlyish and my girls didn’t notice the compere asking us to think of requests for a later show (to which my standard answer is Can you play “At Home”?) and so we headed back to our cabins.
After an uneventful crossing we woke to blue skies and stodgy breakfast before disembarking at 8:00 the next morning. Even though I have lived more than half my life in Germany I always feel like I’m home when I set foot in Yorkshire and am keen to show off my homeland. Christa knows England well and could perhaps be described as an anglophile but I still felt responsible for making sure Yorkshire showed it’s best side. After the Ferry I had some catching up to do.
Things didn’t get off to the best start. We spent the first hour on English soil stood in a Hull car park, accompanied by only seagulls and some litter, waiting to get through border controls. Eventually we were through and soon after that we had left the grim fly-overs and traffic lights of Hull behind us and were barreling along the M62 enjoying the unmistakeably English countryside. We collected Mum in Wetherby and pushed on up to Scotch Corner and then over the hills to the Lake District. As we got closer to Keswick the afternoon sun was out – lighting up the purple heather on Blencathra and the area just looked beautiful. Phew!