Sad Day

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Regrettably, we had no further use for Sara. She was bought for a purpose and she accomplished it with flying colours, never having put a wheel wrong. She took us, our luggage and equipment 2,400 miles, and from sea level to 8,000ft altitude, without faltering or complaining. So it was with great sadness that Stuart put up the “For Sale” signs and could have sold her four times over. After exactly 10 weeks with us she was handed over on Friday, 2nd August – the very day her petrol cap and key arrived from the kind manager of Aire du Canaver. He’d boxed it up well and posted it over. Thank you, M. Thomas Touzin.

“Farewell, Sara, and we thank you.”

“She sure was a good ship.”

Sale 1
Sale 2

Tuesday, 16th July 2013

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Came the dawn, and Stuart had had a restless night with his own bout of food poisoning, though not as debilitating as had afflicted Andrew. Nevertheless he took the helm to pilot Team 8bit Pair on the penultimate leg of the journey, the dash to Calais which was 250 miles away. Again, not a moment to lose.

We left the B&B and headed out on the D610 to pick up the A26, Autoroute des Anglais, which would take us directly to Calais. Once more it was just a case of cruising along as fast as we legally could to get to Calais by noon or shortly after – the ferry was due to sail at 13:30. We bypassed Reims, where we had been to the F1 circuit at Gueux the previous Friday, and Saint-Quentin where the Rally proper had started. But we had to press on. One thing is worth commenting on. The motorways, although only 2 lanes, usually, were remarkably free-flowing. We only saw roadworks once and were not inconvenienced, and the only stationary traffic was in Lyon.

The A26 swept us right up to passport control on the docks, unlike Dunkirk where we had to pass through the town. Having completed the formalities we arrived at the terminal. The ferry approached …


… and docked.


Once the incoming traffic had disembarked we were allowed on.


As you can see from the picture, we were joined by Team 54 who were also on our outgoing ferry to Dunkirk the previous Thursday (the metallic pale blue BMW next but one behind Sara).

The crossing was millpond smooth and the White Cliffs were a welcome sight.


Having disembarked in Dover it was just a case of retracing our tyre tracks to the M1 and A1(M) and so on to Darlington by 21:00. It had been another long day. We had reached Monte Carlo and we had made it back without major mishap.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, 15th July 2013

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The distance between Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage, where we stayed overnight, and Darlington is some 1100 miles, with a further 60 miles for Stuart to get back to Blyth. We were due back at work on Wednesday morning so we just had Monday and Tuesday to cover that distance. Time, therefore, was of the essence and we had not a moment to lose. This was a great pity, as Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage was such a pretty enough seaside town on the Mediterranean that we could happily have spent a day or two relaxing, exploring and soaking up the French culture. But that was the story of the whole adventure, and we’re both determined to go back at a more leisurely pace. Andrew’s sons Sam and Will would love it, if only for the ferry trip, and Lyn is a French speaker (as well as German, Spanish, Russian – you name it!)

So it was with heavy hearts that we once more loaded Sara and headed down the A8, La Provençale, which brought us from Italy to Monte Carlo. This time we were heading west to Aix-en-Provence then north-west to Avignon where the A7, l’Autoroute du Soleil, would take us north along the Rhône valley to Lyon. Yes, the trip has improved our knowledge of French geography no end.

Our first priority was to refuel so we pulled in to the Aire du Canaver just past the Fréjus turn-off. Stuart filled up whilst Andrew wandered off. When he came back he said he’d drive so we set off again with Andrew using his own key (we had one each) to do so.

The trip was uneventful. It was just a case of “keeping the pedal to the metal” and eating the miles as we made good progress to our overnight stay in Troyes. Thus we had to pass by Toulon and Marseille, familiar names to Stuart who is an avid reader of Napoleonic Wars naval fiction, Aix-en-Provence and Avignon (where Stuart had hoped to be “sur le pont”) without stopping.

We were mildly surprised to see signs for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is about 10 miles north of Avignon. Andrew was quick enough to get the photographic evidence:


Our next stop was at an aire near Montélimar where we had lunch and where Stuart could buy some nougat more or less at source – which was delicious. It was at this point that Stuart couldn’t find his car key, despite a thorough search.

Soon we were in the port (yes, port – almost 200 miles from the sea) of Lyon at about 15:30, where the A7 runs right alongside the Rhône for a short distance. The disadvantage of taking a motorway through a town is that it becomes congested with local traffic, and so it was. As we crawled along we became in convoy with other rally cars, including Team Tow Mater, 952. Apparently it’s a cartoon character named from the American pronunciation of “tomato”:


As the lanes were moving at different speeds we would become separated again, only to find another returnee.

Eventually we turned left, heading west and away from the river, whereupon the A7 became the A6. We again made good but uneventful progress.

Safely past Lyon we could enjoy as much of the French countryside as is possible whilst doing 75mph on a motorway. It was around this time we stopped to refuel – and solved the mystery of the missing car key. Not only was the key missing but the locking petrol cap, too! Back at the Aire du Canaver, Stuart had placed the cap with the key in it on Sara’s roof whilst refilling. We had then simply driven off, Andrew using his own key and depositing the petrol cap and key on the forecourt. There followed a series of frantic ‘phone calls which established that – yes – Aire du Canaver had the petrol cap and key and would send them on. The mystery was solved. It was inconvenient but not a disaster, so we bought a temporary petrol cap to tide us over.

As we had earlier seen signs to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the morning, so this afternoon we passed Nuits-Saint-Georges as we approached Dijon. No time to revisit Dijon, however, as we passed by on the east using the A31, Autoroute de Lorraine-Bourgogne, heading north. Soon we picked up the A5 which brought us to Troyes and our overnight stay at the B&B hotel, conveniently just off the D610 at its junction with the D319. This proved to be the only disappointment of the trip as our rooms had a definite musty smell, but as Andrew said, “It’s only for one night”.

Asking at Reception for a recommended local restaurant we were given a card for La Boucherie Restaurant which had the added advantage of giving us a 10% discount. It was right next to the local Citroën dealership, too, but no-one was at home at that late hour to admire Sara and what she’d accomplished. It looked like the restaurant knew the Hatches were coming – or is that just wishful thinking and poor French?


And so to bed.

Sunday, 14th July 2013 – Rally, Day 3

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With Andrew somewhat recovered and fit to play out, we loaded the ever-willing Sara and set off for the morning rendezvous at the Museo Nazionale dell’Automobile in downtown Turin. It was an opportunity for Stuart to drive like an Italian … There was a group photo taken on the museum steps.

Sunday Meet

Following this we all traipsed in for a wander round the Museum.

Auto Museum

After an hour or so it was time to set off for Monte Carlo and the end of the Rally. The recommended route was the A6 south to Savona then turn right and follow the coast road into Monte Carlo. We decided to be adventurous and turn of the A6 for Cuneo then on to the Tende Pass. Although not as high as the Great St Bernard (6, 135ft compared to 8,101ft), the combination of poor road, poor weather at the summit and poor signposting made it a far more daunting affair. This is a view back down the mountain. You can just about make out the road in the centre of the picture.


And here’s a close-up showing the hairpins:

Hairpins to Tende

Eventually we made it to the summit.


Stuart was happy to park next to a Renault Megane estate similar to his own.


There’s a hostelry offering refreshments to weary travellers, the Chalet Le Marmotte.


Whilst motorbikes were popular and plentiful, the number of people crossing the Pass on bicycles was surprising – it certainly looked like hard work.

We carried on to the plateau where the metalled road gave way to gravel.


Inevitably, we took a wrong turning and the road became narrower and narrower, looking like it would eventually turn into a goat track. You can hear the punishment the suspension was taking on the video. We had to turn round between the mountain one one side and a long drop on the other.

Eventually, we found the right road. Despite looking like the goat track, this one is definitely going down hill!

Remember the hairpins coming up? These are the ones going down!


Having passed into France we joined the D6204 at the exit from the Tende Tunnel and headed south. On the other side of Breil-sur-Roya we re-crossed the border into Italy for the trip down to the coast at Ventimiglia. The Italian A10 became the A8 (“La Provençale”) as we crossed the border yet again back into France and before long we were on the cliffs looking down into Monte Carlo.

Monte Carlo

We made the descent and after cruising round the very busy town decided on a plan of action. Stuart would be ejected from the car to take up a suitable position whilst Andrew did a circuit of the Jardins du Casino, coming down the Allées des Boulingrins and parking in front of the Casino. Once the requisite piccie had been taken he would do another circuit to pick Stuart up. This we did under the baleful eye of the local bobby.


Here’s the heroine of the trip at the moment of her triumph – the gal done good!

Sara at the Casino

So at 17:11 local time on 14th July 2013 – mission accomplished! There were two other things we had to do – Andrew had to drive the F1 course through the streets of Monaco, and Stuart had to view the superyachts in the Marina. This we did. The superyachts included the Enigma and the Baton Rouge, which is actually for sale but if you have to ask you can’t afford it.

We then had to travel down the coast to Nice for the official end-of-Rally ceremonies and prize-giving at Ma Nolan’s Irish Pub. There we eventually caught up with Sir Cuthbert Ware-Armitage whom we had supposedly been trying to track down over the 3 days.


At 22:00 we repaired to the Quai des États-Unis to watch the fireworks sent up from a couple of tenders off the beach – it was Bastille Day.

Afterwards, we joined what appeared to be most of the population of southern France in trying to leave the town – slowly – and made our way to our overnight B&B in Villeneuve-Loubet-Plage. And so to bed.

Saturday, 13th July 2013 – Rally, Day 2

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This was probably the most taxing day of all.

We arose with the lark, as usual, and having breakfasted and retrieved Sara from the bowels of the Earth proceeded to the morning briefing outside Dijon. This was a large Carrefour (a French supermarket chain) complex in neighbouring Quetigny. It was just a question of reporting in and picking up the day’s treasure hunt tasks. We caught up with other teams, too, such as Team 05 Yeee Haaa:

Team 05, Yeee Haaa

It was at this point that Stuart realised he’d left his camera in the B&B. We retraced our tyre tracks and fought our way through the traffic and one-way system to the hotel. The receptionist was helpful as ever and accompanied Stuart to the hotel room to help with the search. Nothing was found, so Stuart returned to the car and had another rummage round in his handbag. It was at this point that Stuart realised he hadn’t left his camera in the B&B after all …

With the clock ever ticking we now had to drive the 200-odd miles to the afternoon check-in at the summit of the Great St Bernard Pass, downhill (or rather, downmountain) from which was our ultimate destination of Turin. So off we went, this time passing through the French countryside on normal roads rather than motorways. We took the D72 and passed through the village of Houtaud, and were gratified to find a Lidl which allowed us to buy our lunch and some sun-cream for Stuart. Next stop was Pontarlier at 13:00 local time to eat our goodies next to the Triumphal Arch in the centre of town.

Pontarlier, Triumphal Arch
Pontarlier, Triumphal Arch 2

Lunch having ended we resumed the trek to the French/Swiss border. We were surprised to find that we were not asked to pull over, produce our passports nor have Sara searched. All the two bored border “guards” were interested in doing was selling us a vignette (motorway tax sticker for Sara’s windscreen) and we had to approach them for it and interrupt their conversation.

Once through the border and having picked up the A9 then A1 motorways we were fast cruising again. We paused at a services and received some ambiguous directions:


Ignoring these we pressed on, and Stuart who was driving at the time thought we’d got low tyre pressure at least or a puncture at worst which necessitated a check.

Wheel check

Everything looked OK and this was confirmed at a pit-stop at the next services.

There then followed a grand sweeping drive through the Swiss countryside to Lausanne then along the mountains parallel to Lake Geneva below. Passing Montreux and Villeneuve at lake level we headed for Martigny and the ascent to Great St Bernard.

Starting the climb

The road deteriorated and narrowed the higher we got.

Onwards and upwards 3

Here, with steep ascents and hair-pin bends I was at last able to try a bit of proper rallying – much to Andrew’s disgust.

We finally arrived at the summit of the pass around 17:00 and checked in with the MCoB team:

St Bernard Hospice 1

We did some touristy things and visited the conveniently-placed Bazaar where Stuart was pleased to find Swiss chocolate on sale at reduced prices. You can see the pile of 100g bars on the extreme left of the picture, sitting on the display case of Swiss Army knives. The friendly shopkeeper spoke excellent English and had visited our shores before:


Hopping back into Sara we set off down the other side of the pass and into Italy.

Descent 2

If you asked me where Switzerland ended and Italy began I couldn’t tell you – there was no sign, no customs house, nothing. Welcome to the United States of Europe! We had another 100 miles before us so once we descended into Aosta we picked up the A5 motorway and pressed on to Turin. Our new-build B&B was fairly easy to find on Corso Orbassano, again with an underground car park. This proved to be a blessing because the intermittent rain that welcomed us to Turin turned into a fierce thunderstorm. We later found that there were the proverbial “hailstones the size of golf balls” which had in fact damaged the MCoB hire car roofs.

It was at this point that Andrew succumbed to a suspect sausage he’d had for lunch and retired to his room with food poisoning. Speaking to the helpful receptionist (I really do recommend B&B) he arranged a taxi for me and, since I didn’t have any Italian beyond “si” and “mille grazie” and the driver didn’t have any English, he explained to the driver that I wanted taking to an ATM and then the rally check-in at Largo IV Marzo. This was accomplished very easily, and driving through water up to the hub-caps in places showed what a deluge had occurred. Having confirmed our arrival to the organisers I then found another taxi and held up a piece of paper with the word “Farmacia” on it (I saw such a sign on the way in). This was enough for the driver to deposit me at an all-night pharmacy (it was getting on for 23:00 by this time) where I held up another piece of paper with the word “Loperamide” on it (the active ingredient of Imodium which I’d discovered using the hotel’s free wi-fi connection). This worked, too, and I soon had a box of the necessaries. Finally arriving back at the B&B I handed them over to a definitely ill-looking Andrew then went a few doors down from the hotel to Lentini’s restaurant for something to eat – a chicken/raw spinach/cheese affair.

That marked the end of a very long day. As always, please see the Photo Gallery for the day. And so to bed.

Friday, 12th July 2013 – Rally, Day 1

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Another early rising as we had to make the starting line by 09:30. A surprise awaited us at breakfast when we found another couple of Englishmen tucking in. The surprise was that they were Team 59, Riggy Roger. Later, on the car park, our surprise proved to be inadequate and we had to resort to astonishment as we saw Richard’s transport – a 1960’s Triumph Spitfire done up as an RAF Spitfire, complete with roundels and a small tailplane on the boot.

59 Riggy Roger 1

Off we set to the Multiplexe Car Park on the Boulevarde Léon Blum near the bank of the Canal de Saint-Quentin, and there the teams were assembled.

093822 Crowd scene
Crowd Scene

After having a look around and taking piccies (please see the gallery for Rally Day 2), we counted down to the blast of the horn that marked the official start.

093700 Start line

On the way in we’d spotted a Lidl round the corner on Boulevard Victor Hugo, so we called there first to get some sandwiches for lunch. Next, we went up into the shopping centre to get a new charging cable for Andrew’s iPad. This was quite important as the iPad had our satnav software (CoPilot Live) on it. We parked outside the Basilica:

Sara & Basilica

Can you spot Sara? With Andrew back on board we set off down the A26 for Reims and the afternoon check-in, stopping at an aire to eat our lunch on the way. The afternoon meet was at the Reims-Gueux racing circuit, now sadly defunct, where we met Pims O’Clock, Riggy Roger and others.

Flying the Spit

With 65 miles behind us already, our next stop was to be Dijon, a further 200 miles. Of we went again down the A26 and A5 with a stop for afternoon tea (or coffee and hot chocolate, to be accurate).

Finding the hotel in Dijon proved to be problematic. Firstly, we arrived in the rush hour. Why it’s called “rush hour” I’ve no idea, as we spent a looong time sitting in traffic and going nowhere. Secondly, the road layout had been changed and the new one-way system was the wrong way for us. Eventually, after several circuits of the block, Stuart was booted out of the car and despatched on foot to the hotel which was on the Rue du Château. The helpful receptionist produced a map and showed me exactly how to get to the underground car-park which served the hotel and shopping centre. This proved to be somewhat exciting as the entrance to this subterranean parking place entailed driving over what looked like a pavement.

Having put Sara to bed for the night we dragged our luggage up to the hotel and checked in. After freshening up we asked the receptionist if he could recommend somewhere to eat, and he pointed us to L’Epicerie et Cie. It turned out to be on a square (Place Emile Zola) with quite a few other restaurants. It was a popular place so we had to wait a while for a table but it was worth it.

Dinner, Dijon 2

The meal was delicious. I went back to the hotel whilst Andrew went for a wander around and to find the evening Rally get-together. And so to bed.

Thursday, 11th July 2013

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The alarm was set to go off early as we had to negotiate the M1 and M25, and be in Dover by lunchtime after covering 200 miles. The first task was to set ourselves up for the day with a good breakfast so we repaired next door to the Little Chef – only to find the doors locked and barred against us. The place was not only shut but closed down!

Little Chef - shut down

The helpful sign on the door:

Little Chef notice

We set off down the A46 to Junction 21a of the M1, then stopped at the Leicester Forest East services for breakfast. The restaurant seating area is on the bridge and gave a panoramic view of the congestion we were about to join on the southbound carriageway.

A bit of movement!

After filling up with BP we were off again. We successfully transitioned from the M1 onto the M25 clockwise and went over the impressive Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at the Dartford Crossing.

Then it was full speed ahead to Dover where we arrived in good time and had chance to do a bit of last-minute shopping.

121620 Approaching Dover

We then made our way to the port area and queued at the check-in. We had our first glimpse of other Rally cars – see the “Pre-Rally pictures” photo gallery.

130626 Dover 1

Having checked in we went to the boarding area and waited for the ferry to dock and discharge vehicles coming over from France.

132005 Dover 6

Having upgraded to first class (and well worth the extra fee) we were given pole position on the car deck so we were first off at the other side. Once loading was complete we slipped our moorings and steamed out through the harbour entrance and into the Channel. Farewell, white cliffs of Dover!

We arrived safely in Dunkirk and quickly adapted to driving on the right. The French had helpfully placed a series of roundabouts in the road that seemed to serve no useful purpose other than to give some much-needed practice in going anti-clockwise. Very thoughtful,

We made our way to Le Mémorial du Souvenir, a museum telling the story of the evacuation of the remnants of the defeated British Expeditionary Force together with its French allies from the beaches of Dunkirk in the spring of 1940. Space here does not permit a full account of Operation Dynamo and the heroic “little ships” which came from all parts of the British Isles to ferry the troops from the beaches out to the larger ships in deeper water. The successful evacuation was a miracle. Regrettably, we’d arrived too late and the museum was closed.

175810 Operation Dynamo museum 3

We then began the second leg of the day’s drive with a 120-mile sprint to Saint-Quentin, the official starting-point of the Rally. We quickly learned about the toll system on the motorways and what “Péage” meant! On arrival, we hunted around for our motel which proved somewhat difficult to find. It was one of the B&B Hotels chain, the French equivalent of Travelodge but with a better breakfast, and situated in Rue Antoine Auguste Parmentier. Having located it and checked in, we freshened up then headed off to the “Golden Pub” in the town centre to register.

234907 MCoB Team

We showed the necessary documents and were passed “good to go”. Then there was an “ice-breaker” quiz to complete which involved meeting many of the other teams, and we left just short of midnight to get ready for an early reveille and the official start of the Rally the following morning.

Wednesday, 10th July 2013

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At last the photos and videos have been collated and catalogued, so I can now give a complete account of our epic journey to Monte Carlo and back.

Wednesday 10th was the day we set off. Following the last-minute aircon fix as detailed in an earlier post, Stuart set off down the A1 and A1(M) to Darlington to pick up Andrew and arrived about 20:00. With grandsons Sam and Will safely abed and asleep, we loaded the car, posed for cheesy piccies, then with Andrew at the wheel made our way down to our overnight stop.

201339 Darlo 0
200439 Darlo

Yes, we still have an engine. Note the red klaxon on the right, just behind the headlamp. It proved entertaining …

201756  Darlo 3
201805 Darlo 5

We passed through Nottingham on our way to the Travelodge at Thrussington, just north of Leicester, and were gratified to spot a conveniently-placed Chinese takeaway. The Tung Fong at 666 Western Boulevard was a serendipitous delight.

224130 Tung Fong, Nottingham

After taking on calories we travelled on and arrived at the motel around 11:00. And so to bed.

Day D – The End!

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Well, it is with deep regret I have to say that I have not been able to update this blog as regularly as I would have liked. With Internet access only available at the motels in the evening, and with driving, eating and sleeping taking up all that time, it’s just not been possible. I promise to catch up with a full account ASAP.

The good news is that Sara has done us proud and we reached Monte Carlo on Sunday afternoon as planned. Here’s Andrew with Sara parked (very briefly!) outside the Casino.

Sara with Andrew outside Monte Carlo Casino

The Twitter and Facebook pages have been updated far more regularly – several times a day in many cases – as Andrew was able to do techie things from his iPhone. Please see our Contact Us page for links to these feeds.

We’re now (Monday evening) in Troyes and just about to grab a bite to eat before a welcome early night in preparation for the “Channel Dash” for Calais and the 13:30 ferry back to Blighty tomorrow.

Day A: Pre-Rally

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This post comes courtesy of the wi-fi connection on the DFDS cross-Channel ferry. I’ve adjusted my watch to French time and we approach Dunkirk with an ETA of 17:00, should the wind stand fair

We rose at an unearthly hour and having checked out of the Travelodge proceeded to the adjacent Little Chef for breakfast – only to find it not only closed but closed down. I suppose the tumbleweed blowing past the front door should have given the game away. Photos will appear in the gallery once we’re on dry land.

We then headed down the M1 for the first available services, then on to the M25 and M20 with the usual delays. I skirt over our little flirtation with the Channel Tunnel.

We left Dover on a grey day but are now sailing into bright sunshine. Our first stop will be the military museum in Dunkirk, simply because the name of the town has such significance to members of my generation but more especially to the previous one.

The super-duper air conditioning has been a worth-while investment already, and hopefully will prove vital in the next few days.