Over the weekend of the 11th-12th of May myself and two others undertook a journey on the Western Channel with Brittany Ferries sailing from Poole to Cherbourg and returning overnight from Caen to Portsmouth. This was followed up by a crossing of the Solent to the Isle of Wight with Wightlink sailing from Portsmouth to Fishbourne and returning via Yarmouth to Lymington.
In this report rather than go into extensive details there will be a brief outline and captioned photographs, similar in style to my photographic guide of Dover. For the first time I extensively used the mobile phone application `Instagram’ on this journey, if anybody wishes to follow me please follow this link or search for raygoodfellow within the application.
The Journey to Dorset – Planes, Trains and Automobiles
My journey started with the 11:05 Southeastern trains service from Dover Priory to London Victoria. The journey was just over 2 hours and amazingly arrived on time in London. From here I met Paul Bilbrough and headed to the Underground for a 45min trip to Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport to meet the third member of our party. Have to be honest and say I am not a lover of London and was relieved when we departed for Heathrow.
The beautiful rolling countryside of Kent viewed from the train
After a break and a cuppa we soon met up with the third member of our party, Mr Paul Cloke and started our journey to Dorset. A word of note here is if you go to terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport and are parked in one of the business car parks you have to try out the Heathrow Pod. They are self propelled people carriers which transport you between the Airport and the car parks, a lot of fun indeed, click here for a video.
After departing Heathrow and hitting the M25 (it is known as the worlds biggest car park for a reason!!) we started our road journey to Poole in Dorset we arrived at about 18:00. Due to the anticipated early start the following day we decided to check into our hotel and then enjoyed a lovely 3 course meal in the restaurant before having an early night. It’s worth noting that the weather had deteriorated somewhat and now there was a stiff wind blowing and the inevitable rain arrived (it never fails when you go away does it?)
Poole – Cherbourg “Barfleur”
Our day started at 05:30 and after meeting up with the everybody we were soon on our way for the short drive to the port. One of our party was actually booked as a foot passenger but after a quick query with a Brittany Ferries marshall we were told he could check in with us in the car which certainly made things easier. The weather caused a few problems at check in as our paperwork was blown out of the check in agents hand and she ended up having to chase it up the lanes!
Having checked in and passed through port security the Barfleur could be seen on the berth taking bunkers and it was apparent that there would be a delay to our 07:30 departure. All freight vehicles were being reversed on board which delayed loading. At first we thought this may be due to a technical problem but later found out that there was an abnormal load on board which weighed in at 100 tonnes and was too big to pass through the ship’s bow door in Cherbourg. Interestingly this load was actually a section of ships hull containing a stabilizer fin.
We boarded the upper car deck of the Barfleur and it was apparent that the ship was quite lightly loaded with tourist traffic with about 40 cars and a coach. Having travelled on the Barfleur last year when she was chartered to DFDS Seaways as the `Deal Seaways’ it was quite easy to find our way around.
I am happy to report that the vessel was in excellent condition and there were clear signs of a ship that is cared for and looked after. A lot of the carpets and flooring looked new and there were signs of on going paint work being carried out on deck.
We eventually departed our berth about 20 mins late and started our long journey to the open sea. Winding our way through the islands and narrow channels of Poole Harbour was a delight, passing Brownsea Island and Brownsea Castle eventually passing the Sandbanks ferry about 15 mins after leaving the berth. From here we passed the Old Harry Rocks and made for the open sea. The weather by this point was very overcast and the wind had picked up a lot.
The Condor Express out of service with engine problems with the storm clouds gathering
Condor Vitesse being smoked out by the Barfleur
Cruise vessel “Serenissima”
Navigating through Poole Harbour
Navigating through Poole Harbour
Looking outwards Brownsea Castle, Sandbanks and the Old Harry Rocks
The Sandbanks Ferry `Bramble Bush Bay’ with the Old Harry Rocks beyond
The Sandbanks Ferry `Bramble Bush Bay’
Approaching Old Harry Rocks
Old Harry Rocks with Swanage Bay in the background. I don’t envy these yachtsman at all, the wind was steadily increasing at this point
Having witnessed our departure to the open seas it was time to head inside, not only to thaw out but to go in search of a cooked breakfast. Having found a table with a sea view we were soon tucking into a reasonably priced cooked breakfast. The horizon out of the forward facing window was looking a little foreboding with steel grey skies and squalls blowing up the Channel.
Next stop……. Cherbourg
After breakfast we relocated ourselves to the stern bar for the rest of the crossing. As we proceeded out into deeper water the sea state increased significantly and the ship was rolling around a fair bit. Thankfully we are all seasoned sea travellers but there were a number of pale looking passengers on board.
It’s worth noting that as from the 10th May 2013 Brittany Ferries offer free WIFI access whilst at sea. In the past this had been a paid for service and it’s nice to see Brittany Ferries now offering this service for free. Out of all the on board WIFI systems I have used this was the quickest and the most reliable. To access the WIFI system on board you have to use an access key which is printed on your boarding card, so remember to take it with you! It’s also worth noting that your boarding card also acts as your cabin key (if you have booked cabin accommodation) and allows you to access the passenger terminal at Caen once you have passed check in.
Rocking and Rolling to Cherbourg
Having rocked and rolled our way across to Cherbourg we were informed that due to the weather conditions we would be arriving slightly late but with a whole day in Normandy this wasn’t really a problem. We approached Cherbourg under cold, grey and drizzly conditions and the Contentin could be seen at layby having suffered from some mechanical issues necessitating the cancellation of her scheduled Poole-Santander service. Also present was the fast craft Normandie Express (which was being readied for her Summer season operating from Portsmouth to Cherbourg and Le Havre) and the Celebrity cruise vessel `Celebrity Infinity’ which had only just arrived in Cherbourg following bad weather in the Bay of Biscay.
Celebrity Infinity and Cotentin
Having arrived refreshed in Cherbourg we then embarked on our journey along the Normandy coast to Caen, there wasn’t really a plan at this point, we just knew that we had to be in Ouistreham by 21:00 for our return crossing to the UK.
This area of Northern France is obviously well known in the annuals of history due to it being the site of the D-Day landings on the 6th June 1944. It was from here that the allies embarked to liberate Europe from the tyranny of the Third Reich.
I have a general interest in the historical events of WWII and found it quiet strange driving along the coast seeing the names of places that I know so much about, such as Carentan, Sainte-Mère-Église, Omaha Beach, Utah Beach, Gold Beach, Arromanche and Caen. Being in the area we decided to visit some of the D-Day beaches.
I found some of the locations very humbling, it’s hard to stand on a deserted sandy beach, such as Utah Beach, which is beautiful in it’s own right and think of the number of lives that were lost on that fateful day in 1944. Many of those killed were in there early 20’s and I found that to be a very humbling experience indeed.
Panoramic of Utah Beach
Sherman Tank, Utah Beach
Footprints on Utah Beach
Memorial to the 90th ID, Utah Beach
Naval Memorial Utah Beach
Panoramic Image of Omaha Beach
Memorial on Omaha Beach
Remains of the `Mulberry Harbour’ at Arromanche
Remains of the `Mulberry Harbour’ at Arromanche
Panoramic Image of Arromanche
Part of the Mulberry Harbours floating roadway, Arromanche
Having travelled along the coast and experienced some of the historical locations we reached the sea side town of Ouistreham, the departure point for Brittany Ferries’ services to Portsmouth. With still plenty of time in hand before our departure to Portsmouth we decided to head in land to the historic city of Caen. After having a brief break in Caen, which included a member of our party `gate crashing’ a wedding at Caen Castle to use the toilet we headed back down the Caen canal to Ouistreham.
Caen-Portsmouth Mont St Michel
We checked in for our 23:00 sailing to Portsmouth and then headed to the terminal for some refreshments to await the arrival of the Mont St Michel. During this time it was announced that due to adverse weather the vessel would be delayed by an hour. The MSM eventually came into port and commenced berthing. At this point there was a further announcement to inform passengers that due to adverse weather the vessel would be arriving in 30 mins, personally I found this a little strange as the MSM was already berthed and had commenced unloading her traffic.
One thing worth noting here was the sheer number of foot passengers which were disembarking from the vessel, we counted at least 7 bus loads (that was a high capacity `bendy bus’) coming off the ship to the terminal. They are foot passenger figures the Dover operators can only dream about these days!
We eventually boarded the vessel via the upper car deck at about 23:00 and the one thing that gets you straight away is the size of this vessel. The car deck was cavernous and it was clear that with the mezz decks in use she could carry a lot of passenger traffic.
Upon boarding we went straight to our cabin accommodation to freshen up before exploring the ship and witnessing our departure from Ouistreham. It’s worth noting here that our party were booked in 2 cabins as the bookings were made separately. One member of the party had a 4 berth inside cabin and we had a 2 berth inside cabin. The person with the 4 berth suggested that we swapped cabins so we had a bit more space, for that we were grateful as even the 4 berth seemed a little compact and bijou but was perfectly comfortable.
The ship herself is very impressive with a feeling of size, space and luxury, a classic cruise ferry in many ways. Owing to the early start’s over the previous 2 days we decided to for go an evening in the bar and head straight to bed as we were due to arrive in Portsmouth at 06:30 the following day. I myself am looking forward to travelling on this ship again during the day time so I can complete a proper voyage report.
We eventually departed Ouistreham at 23:55 and with the weather deteriorating yet again I headed to the self service restaurant for a hot drink before turning in for the night.
Following a decent nights sleep which was only interrupted once by the ship hitting a rough patch of sea we were up at 05:30 just as the MSM was passing the Nab tower on her approach to Portsmouth. The restaurant and the self service opened for business at 06:00 but we decided against eating as there is a café I usually visit whilst in Portsmouth which does a very hearty breakfast which the rest of the party wished to visit. The other thing worth noting was how beautiful and sunny it was compared to the previous day. Whilst in Normandy we saw the sun just a couple of times.
Passing the Isle of Wight
Apart from one other, I seem to be the only one photographing the sunrise
NYKCool Reefer `Crown Garnet’ outbound from Portsmouth
Type 45 Destroyer HMS Duncan (D37)
Having docked bang on time at 06:45 we were soon making our way off the vessel. It is at this point I am going to make a point. Why is it, which ever port your sailing from or too that the UK Border Agency never seem to have enough staff on duty? Out of 6 lanes available only 2 were open and this meant queuing for over 10 mins just to pass through passport control which in my view is pretty poor. Imagine being a person visiting Britain for the first time, yes the rest of the world makes fun of us for being a queuing nation but do we really have to show that to visitors at our border? Surely UKBA have a rough idea of how many people are arriving on any particular sailing thanks to the passenger manifest. Rant over…….
Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight
After leaving the ferry port we were soon heading through Portsmouth to the seafront. After a hearty breakfast at the aforementioned café (that’s the Spinnaker Café, previously the Old Slipway Café, Broad Street, Portsmouth PO1 2JE, that’s enough of a plug lol) we headed for the Round Tower to witness the departure of the Mont St Michel on her way back to Caen.
St Faith loading for her sailing to Fishbourne
Mont St Michel slowly departing Portsmouth due to an inbound reefer
Brazilian Reefer and the tug Guy James
Brazilian Reefer and Mont St Michel
Wight Ryder I inbound from Ryde
Wight Ryder I
Mont St Michel
Mont St Michel
St Clare departing for Fishbourne
After watching the departure of the MSM we were soon heading to Wightlinks Gunwharf terminal for our departure to Fishbourne. For our sailing we would be boarding the St Faith for the crossing over to Fishbourne. From here we would cross the Island via Cowes to return to the mainland via Yarmouth to Lymington. Having driven on board we were soon sat down on the open deck, coffee in hand to enjoy the glorious sunshine as we crossed the Solent.
Wight Ryder II and the St Helen laying over on a Sunday morning
Lightship at the entrance to Haslar Marina
Spinnaker Tower and Gunwarf Quays
The crossing was going well until we were mid Solent when we came to a grinding halt thanks to a yacht skipper (let’s just say WAFI, if you can’t work that one out, you can fill in the gaps, “Wind Assisted _______ Idiot”) who clearly couldn’t see the brightly painted Isle of Wight ferry he was steering right into. After an exchange of words shouted from the wheel house of the St Faith we were once again on our way with the yacht giving us a wide berth.
St Clare and the yacht Celestine
St Clare passing Ryde
Looking up Southampton Water
Having arrived in Fishbourne we then took a leisurely drive across the Island to Yarmouth to cross back to the mainland on the Wight Sky.
Wight Sun seen approaching Yarmouth
A distant view of the Needles
Wight Light departing Lymington
Wight Light departing Lymington
After 3 days and 770 miles the trip was over. All in all it was an excellent weekend, even if the weather did try to throw a spanner in the works. In regards to Brittany Ferries I was very impressed with not only the ships but the customer service and warm welcome received from the crews. I for one will be sailing with Brittany Ferries again before the year is out. It’s been many years since I last experienced the Western Channel and I am already looking forward to another foray to the Dorset and Normandy coastlines.
I would like to take this opportunity of thanking Paul Cloke for doing all the driving and Paul Bilbrough for joining us on this thoroughly enjoyable trip. Even though we do many trips between us we seldom get the opportunity of doing them as a group and it was certainly a very entertaining weekend.
All Photographs on this page are the © Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos) 2013, All rights reserved.
I would like to remind you that the photos on this page may not be used without prior permission. If you require high resolution non water marked copies of any my photos for your own private collection or for publication please free to get in contact via email to discuss your requirements.