Time to Kill

Passport controls, borders, these things are always stressful. They rarely have a sense of humour (no offence to them), have a difficult job and the power to make your life unimaginably difficult. This potential disruption to your life plays on your mind.

And there’s the waiting. You sit in a queue, staring at the barricade in front of you, your mind wandering and wondering what might be about to transpire. Then, eventually, you get to the front, hand over the passports and they wave you straight through. That is exactly what happened to us through passport control, other than a slightly over-zealous chap stopping us to have a look at the Land Rover.

Passports done, scary bit over, we made it through to Check In, breathing a sigh of relief. I’d opted for a flexible ticket this time, giving us an eight-hour window to catch the ferry. All was good, we were so nearly home.

But then there was a pause. The chaps behind the desk spoke quietly to each other in French, then slid closed the window. My brow furrowed and i wondered what was going on.

After a while, they opened it again and i asked, “Qu’est qu’il y a une probleme?” to find out what was wrong. They replied in English:

“Your rabies vaccination. It is not three-weeks old, we cannot let you travel, you need to speak to our supervisor.”

Shit. This was a big problem and one i was definitely NOT aware of, despite visiting two vets in Sweden and Denmark, and corresponding with my friend back home. I’m going to put this as a quote so it stands out for you:

It transpires that the rabies vaccination must be THREE WEEKS OLD in order to travel back into the UK.

Shit. It was the 30th June at this stage and 21 days from her jab took us to the 8th July. Shit. The slightly unhelpful man at the port pointed us vaguely into Calais to find a “dog hotel” or kennel (the thought of which made me cringe) with the simple direction, “This is your only option.”

He was wrong. It transpired that my folks – more often than not the saviours when things go wrong – happened to be further down the French north coast to watch the Tour de France. Once again, they were my first phone call. And the second. Also the third, fourth, fifth and so on…

Eventually we developed a plan: we would meet up with them on Sunday afternoon, exchange Tess for my mum, who i would deliver back to Birmingham for her next adventure to Malta. Meanwhile, dad would remain in France with his own dog, and mine, until such time they could travel back to the UK. Meanwhile, we’d hope all went well.

This gave us 48 hours and as much as i like sailing to and from Calais, it is not somewhere i would like to stay for 48 hours. Dieppe is two or three hours down the coast and there wasn’t anything in between that grabbed our fancy in between. I looked at Em, my face suddenly filled with hope that she would like my next idea: “Shall we go to Font…?”

Well I didn't see this coming! After a small administrative problem at the port yesterday, involving the dog's passport (she's absolutely fine), we weren't allowed to take her back across the channel for another 8 days… With huge help from my folks, yet again, we're now sailing home tomorrow night, but with nothing better to do until then, the #greatswedishboulderingtour has ended up being concluded in #fontainebleau… On the bright side a) I got to show @emks93 the #forest for the first time! b) she got her first #font problem done! c) I got another day of #bouldering in, at one of my favourite venues anywhere #rocherauxsabots d) we're in fontainebleau… Lacking a guidebook, we struggled to get anything done really but I did have a good blast at this: #smash 7b. More importantly, Emily is quite taken with here so we'll soon be back. Silver linings to a complicated end to a stunning trip! #rockclimbing #climbing #climbing_photos_of_instagram #climbing_pictures_of_instagram #climbing_is_my_passion

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We’d said about going and didn’t really have anything else to do in the meantime. At four hours, it seemed a fickle distance to travel, compared to the dozens we’d already driven to get back from Gavle. Pretty quickly, we were on that old familiar route, Em free to sleep while i navigated from memory.

We headed straight to the pizzeria in Arbonne la Foret that i’d frequented back in April. A google search had shown they’d be closed but being hungry and the time cracking on, i figured it was worth a punt. Turns out it was a spot on call as not only were they open but also showing the Wales vs Belgium match! Ideal!

We sat, watched football and cheered on Cymru in front of half a dozen locals, drank beer and marvelled at the insanity of being here. Eventually, the match ended and he headed for another old familiar: the campsite La Musadiere.

Saturday morning, i headed back up to reception to check in, explaining in my poor French that we’d arrived at midnight and they were closed. “Oui!” came the reply, plus something about “dormir!” or sleeping.

One of the reasons for heading here was my intimate knowledge of the place. Needless to say, we were lacking in any sorts of guidebook but i’ve been more than enough to be able to show someone around and find something good. Last time, someone had asked me what my favourite crag in the forest was and i’d replied i didn’t have one but after a couple of days of reflection, and a subtle shift in the question, i changed my mind slightly. If i could only show someone one crag in Font, it would be Rocher aux Sabots. So that is exactly where we headed.

Not before we had a wander around Milly la Foret, touring the shpos in the middle of town and picking up some essentials – a bottle of Oasis for myself as a continual throwback to my childhood summers, some pastries and some sausages for the evening. Once again, it was wonderful to share somewhere close to my heart with the person closest to it.

Our session was good, all things considered, being not spectacular but we did manage to get some things done. Em had a bit of a climb and i pitched camp under the uber-dyno Smatch 7b. While success did not flow that well, it was a great way to spend the day, especially coupled with a brief walk in to Cul de Chien to see la plage sans la mer or the beach without the sea.

By the time we left Font the following afternoon, after a wander around the grounds of the chateau hand in hand, it certainly seemed that we had made the best of the short time we had to kill before trying to get home again. Emily left saying she could understand the appeal to the place and agreeing to come back in the near future – my biggest success to the entire trip in my eyes!

While our time in Font was nowhere near long enough, it was, after all, a last minute way to try and do something useful and i was incredibly glad to be heading to Dieppe. Four hours later, we were back on the French north coast, tickets adjusted and paid for, before meeting my folks to shuffle kit and deliver my faithful dog for her extended holiday.

We can go home now tess! Although without tess… She's waiting in France (with my father, don't worry) for her rabies injection to be 21 days old before she can come back. I'm gutted but she is in safe hands and will have a great week. This is the trip that just kept going. Our last night was in #dieppe and after dad left with the dogs, we went to watch the #france versus #Iceland #football match. The public support in this small seaside town was immense after after the French prevailed 5-2, the town went into utter chaos – it was exhilarating to see! The way the football has turned this country is nothing short of #incroyable Yet another story from one of the best trips I have ever had #greatswedishboulderingtour

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Most of the rest of the trip was exactly as you’d imagine: driving, but there was one last very memorable event before we boarded the ferry for home. This was the night of France’s European Championship match with lowly Iceland, who had dumped England out not long before and, even in this small port town, everyone was excited for what might be.

All day people had been driving the streets with flags hanging out of the windows of cars that were constantly blowing their horns. The people had been growing a sense of excitement and anticipation and, as has been usual all over the continent this summer, a large screen had been put up in the middle of a large field.

We arrived at half time, the score sitting at 4-0 to France. Iceland clawed the scoreline back to 5-2 by full time but, for the locals, it was the win that was crucial. We exited the security gates with throngs of people and were instantly into a barrage of people jubilant and excitable.

For large parts, the roads were at a standstill. The car horn reigned supreme through the night air, the sky lit in a strobe style from countless cars driving with hazard warning lights on. Flags flew from everywhere and people piled out of sunroofs and windows to race up and down the streets.

I remain convinced that the football had been long since forgotten by this stage. The match had finished long before and this was a nation releasing some stress. It was one relieving it’s own national tensions, being the target of various terrorist attacks in recent times, united by a common army of their national sporting heroes. And it was a thrill to witness; yet another phenomenal experience on a trip that simply refused to end.

Our own relief wouldn’t come until the car rolled off the ferry on England’s foggy shores and even then, several hours of travel remained. With the sun slowly rising, the journey to Birmingham was swift and easy, the short slog back to Wales similarly so. With that we could finally breath a slight sigh of relief that we were finally home.

That being said, full relaxation hasn’t been possible since then, as Tess has yet to return home. It should be in the next few days and then, finally, we’ll be able to look back properly on one of the greatest foreign excursions i have ever experienced.

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