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Thursday, 11th July 2013

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.

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Thursday, 11th July 2013 from Monte Carlo - or bust!