The Scottish Mail on Sunday

ROAD TRIPPER

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PEARSE LE­HANE, 46, a sea­soned trav­eller, sailed from Dover to Calais aboard P&O Fer­ries’ Pride of Kent, in a bid to dis­cover the hid­den cul­tural gems of North­ern France. I’m stand­ing in the door­way of the Musée Vi­vant in Ablain-Saint-Nazaire. It’s 1pm. A sleepy, un­apolo­getic French­man is turn­ing the lights on. You see, there’s no one else in­side. Just me, the old man and a cat (pos­si­bly also a stray). He un­locks the door to the mu­seum, waves his hand in a vague way – then closes the door be­hind me. I’m all alone. In a First World War mu­seum. Wow.

I’m ab­so­lutely not sup­posed to be here. But that’s the beauty of be­ing a 40-some­thing Road Tripper.

I missed a left-hand turn to some­where else, turned right – be­cause, what the hey – and now I’m stand­ing be­side a gen­uine Vick­ers ma­chine gun. I know it’s a Vick­ers, be­cause that’s what the hand­writ­ten note says it is. This is an ab­so­lute gem of a place.

I also feel fool­ish. Ablain-Saint-Nazaire re­ally should have been on my itin­er­ary – it should have been the place I was try­ing to find. But that’s the joy of trav­el­ling in your own car, off the clock, off the beaten track, to the beat of your own drum. What­ever you were sup­posed to find, I guess you find it.

For me, trav­el­ling with P&O Fer­ries from Dover to Calais isn’t just about the 46 sail­ings per day; or the on-board shop where you can save up to 50 per cent on high-street prices; or the cheeky Starbucks; or the 90-minute cross­ing; or even the op­tion of pri­or­ity load­ing and dis­em­barka­tion.

No. What I love is the free­dom it af­fords me, to travel the way I want on the roads I find be­fore me.

I ar­rive at Dover in good time, and, with­out even ask­ing, am of­fered an ear­lier sail­ing (when does that ever hap­pen at an air­port?). My ad­ven­ture starts the minute I set foot on board, and, a mere 25 min­utes af­ter check-in, I’m sit­ting on the aft deck with a tall caffè mocha. As the sun beats down on the white cliffs, I’m sorry I didn’t go for a frap­puc­cino #high­classprob­lem.

We see the French coast within 20 min­utes, which I take as my cue to head to the shop­ping precinct. Be­cause my boot will be do­ing all the car­ry­ing, I go large – en­sur­ing all I have to think about when I hit the mo­tor­way is where I want to go, what I want to do. This isn’t just start­ing the ad­ven­ture early, it’s start­ing it in some style.

Wan­der­ing out of the Musée Vi­vant, I learn that Ablain-Saint-Nazaire is the largest French war ceme­tery any­where in the world, and from March through to Novem­ber, the vol­un­teer ranks of the lo­cal ‘Guards of Honour’ stand in silent vigil for the fallen. Every day. This is truly a breath­tak­ing place.

It’s just a short walk to the An­neau de la Mé­moire (‘Ring of Re­mem­brance’), a struc­ture de­signed ab­so­lutely in keep­ing with the en­vi­ron­ment and spirit of the scene.

In un­der an hour I’m parked up out­side the Lou­vre-Lens (is it très Bri­tish to men­tion the park­ing is free?). In a nut­shell, the Lou­vre-Lens is the over­flow site for its much grander, much crowdier Parisian name­sake.

The main ex­hi­bi­tion space is smartly laid out. You ar­rive at a point 3,500 years in the past and walk for­wards in his­tory to the Ro­man­tic pe­riod. If you were ex­pect­ing a poor show­ing from a satel­lite mu­seum, think again. There’s a Bot­ti­celli, a Rem­brandt, a Raphael, and a Reynolds (Sir Joshua, if you’re ask­ing). There are also some im­pres­sive mar­bles, one of which serves as a crisp re­minder that the in­ter­net’s fas­ci­na­tion with Kim Kar­dashian’s pos­te­rior is a tale older than time. I take a selfie in a 200-year-old Turk­ish mir­ror, #un­em­bar­rass­able.

I dine at Le Derby Brasserie, a three-minute walk away. There isn’t a menu, just a waitress who says, ‘We have, potchevlec­h – how do you say, you know, three kinds of meat?’ That’s my kind of haute cui­sine. Three kinds of yum.

I drive to Wimereux. A splen­did Pinot Noir awaits on the bal­cony of my room at the Ho­tel At­lantic. I watch the sun set on a day of ran­dom chance, ran­dom choices and won­der­ful out­comes.

 ??  ?? The im­pres­sive Lou­vre-Lens, in­side and out
The im­pres­sive Lou­vre-Lens, in­side and out
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 ??  ?? Just a 90-minute cross­ing from Dover to Calais
Just a 90-minute cross­ing from Dover to Calais
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