A. Novice

A Dirty Weekend in France

How would you like to go to France for a few days? Visit a few places of interest, do some shopping and perhaps do a bit of off-roading? There are other wives going – and it is my birthday weekend, you wouldn’t need to get me another present!

This is how Chris persuaded me to go on a long weekend to France. The ‘bit’ of off-roading turned out to be 2 eight-hour days! I wouldn’t say that I’m converted, but I certainly enjoyed it! I must have been carried away by the experience, as I foolishly agreed to write the report for the magazine!

Eight of us – Richard & Anne Edwins, Jon & Terena Anderson and their daughter Emma, Steve Knight together with Chris and I travelled to Cambrai in Northern France to take part in a “dirty weekend” with a difference. The trip is run by Mudplug Limited. The deal includes three nights in a B&B or hotel, three home cooked evening meals, together with two days of escorted green-laning with a history lesson thrown in, through the beautiful area of France, where many Battles for the Somme took place during WWI.

Day One – The trip began with a rendezvous at the Edwins (Richard & Anne were the organisers) at 9.00 am Thursday morning. After a steady convoy down the M1 and M20, stopping off for a Big, Big Breakfast at the services, we arrived at Dover in good time for our 1.30 pm crossing. As this was my first trip in a ferry, I was expecting to be seasick, so took several remedies, including a packet of ginger nuts with me. However, the crossing was about as calm as it could be, so all was well, until Chris and I couldn’t find our 110 as we approached Calais!

Someone had closed a big metal wall behind it (presumably to stop the water getting in) and we were on the wrong side of it! Back on dry land, the convoy reconvened and we started out journey south, down the A26 toll-road towards Cambrai – driving on the right of course. The journey was very easy as the roads were very quiet due to a local Bank Holiday in France and we arrived at our hotel, The Beatus, in good time. It wasn’t long before we were all sitting out in the garden having a beer / wine and enjoying the evening sun. At 7.00pm, as arranged, our host for the weekend, Eric arrived to take us to his house in Lesdain about 6 miles away to join his wife Norah and dog Tramp (more about him later!!!) for the evening meal.

Eric and Norah moved to France from England 11 years ago and have fascinating tales about settling into life in a quiet French village. Eric has researched many of the lanes around his home and each day of the trip covers about a 50 or 60 mile radius. This, together with his knowledge of the history of the area, make for an interesting day out.

Day Two – after a hearty breakfast at the hotel (one complaint, the tea wasn’t strong enough for Terena and I!), and an eventful visit to the supermarket petrol station (more about that later!!!) we met up with Eric and set off on our journey. Many of the lanes were quite dry as that area of France have had a very dry Spring and as most were along the edges of fields, so were not too taxing (thank goodness!) Along the way, Eric stopped at various landmarks for us to take photos while he told us of the history -like WW1 cemeteries, and a forest where the allies hid their tanks. The cemeteries are particularly moving.

During the morning we drove through a village and Eric stopped outside the boulangerie (bakery) to buy the bread for lunch. We did attract a bit of attention – five Land Rovers of various shapes and sizes all parked in a quiet street. Within minutes the owner of a brand new Discovery rushed over to introduce himself as a fellow ‘anorak’, having just bought an old Series II and promptly asked us to join him for coffee at his house across the road. Nicholas was very friendly and happy to chat with us in very good English (much better than our French!) and proudly showed the ‘boys’ his new toy. He was astonished to find that Eric ran these tours from a nearby village and took his number for future reference – (the following day, he rang to ask if we were having a good time!) So never again will I think the French are unfriendly, as we were made to feel welcome, not just here but wherever we went.

At lunchtime, we stopped by a war grave at the edge of a wood and picnicked on cooked meats, fresh bread and salads. In the afternoon, more lanes – one particularly overgrown that the boys trimmed back a bit (with a saw and a machete!) before attempting. Steve was a bit upset at the scratches on his new paintwork – but was reassured, several times, that a bit of T. Cut would sort it out! I don’t think he was convinced! But he obviously wasn’t too upset, as he let Emma drive his pride and joy on some of the lanes, while he read the paper!

We finished off the day’s laning with a visit to the WW1 trench which was re-constructed for the recent TV series “The Trench” (a programme in which volunteers spent time in the trenches as they would have done during the war) and then stopped nearby, where un unexploded shell just lies at the edge of a field. Apparently, many such shells have been discovered over the years, many by farmers digging them up with tractors. After a quick visit back to the hotel for a wash and brush-up and of course drinks in the garden, it was back to Eric’s for yet another three course meal.

During the evening we chatted about our experiences of the day and Jon confessed to having a conversation with a petrol pump at the garage in the morning. He had chosen a pump which accepts credit cards, but asked (in French of course) for a pin number to activate the pump. As Jon did not understand the recorded message, he shouted and gesticulated to the machine, and to the girl in the pay kiosk at the end of the forecourt, as he though it was her speaking to him. After several shouts of “I’m English – I do not understand” and waving his arms around, he gave up and moved to a different pump!!! As you can imagine, this was the cause of much hilarity during the evening!!

Day Three – Following breakfast, we all headed off to Eric’s again. Chris and I stopped off at a nearby village to buy a new film for the camera – my command of the French language isn’t great (where is that useless son with a French A level when you need him?) so after a long wait in the chemist – Chris was beginning to think I’d been arrested for asking for something rude, we were finally directed to the local newsagents and managed to buy a ’36 exposure’!

The second day’s lanes were a bit more interesting, and we even found some mud! I don’t want to name names, but guess who got stuck? – yes – Steve! We were all following him and jumped out when we saw he was stuck – not to help, but to take a picture!! I think he just wanted to check that Eric was equipped with a tow–rope! Richard had fun driving through the same ruts twice, the second time at great speed – would have made a great photo but I’m not sure anyone took a picture!

After a very pleasant stop mid – morning for coffee on the edge of a wood, we later stopped for lunch in a clearing, where we all sat soaking up the sun and relaxing – Steve and Chris even went to sleep! My voice often has that effect on people!! – I expect most of you are asleep reading this too!

The day’s laning came to a close with a visit to another war cemetery – again a moving experience. The cemetery was close to a main road, but once inside the walls, it seemed very tranquil. After a 10 mile drive towards home, we rounded off the day with a trip to the supermarket – well the girls did. The boys choose to wait for us in the cafeteria – where of course in France they sell beer!

Again a very pleasant evening was spent at Eric and Norah’s home, with more funny stories being swapped over a three course meal – and a surprise birthday cake and card (in French!) for Chris. Jon once again managed to mention his recent 50th birthday present – a nifty little cordless “Snap On” hammer drill – “it’s got 18volts you know” and do his Arthur Askey impression, which no one else is old enough to remember! But the highlight of the evening was Richard pulling a real French Tramp (and in front of Anne too!)

Tramp, you will remember is Eric’s huge black Labrador, who with a little encouragement climbed up onto Richard’s lap on the settee and tried to eat his ear! He actually had Richard pinned down and was obviously very excited by the experience (Tramp that is!). Again, no-one rushed to help – just reached for the camera! (photos will be available at the next club night – at a cost!!!!)

Day 4– Didn’t want to go home. Bought some booze in Calais. Left France in the sun. Arrived back in England in the rain.