Now I want to examine in a bit more detail the mechanics of actually getting to your chosen venue. In other words, booking the correct ferry route, mastering the French road system and the unique French manner of driving which is somewhat hairy to say the least.
First take a look at an example of how to get things wrong! Imagine you are planning to fish a lake south of Bordeaux. You chose the Portsmouth - Le Havre crossing, the ferry leaving at 8.00am. You live 200 miles away, and bearing in mind that you have to check in an hour before sailing time, you have to leave home in the very early hours of the morning, just to be on the safe side.
The ferry takes six hours to get to Le Havre - thatís 2.00pm. Wrong! Itís 3.00pm as you have to add and hour to come in line with continental time. It takes you, say, an hour to get off the boat, through customs and on the road. Now itís 4.00pm. By the most direct route, itís about 450 miles to the lakebut the most direct route consists of only about 225 miles of motorway. It will probably take you about four hours to get to the motorway itself. So now itís 8.00pm. Once on the motorway you put your foot down. The rest of the journey is completed in only four hours. Midnight. Add, say, an hour for rest breaks, eats, change of drivers etc. brings it to one oíclock in the morning. And what with the tolls and the fuel costs, youíve spent about fifty quid getting there
So. Youíve been on the road and ferry for the past 24 hours. Though you wisely took a day cabin on the ferry your time clock wasnít ready for sleep yet. You'd just dropped off when the ferry docked! The drive down was very time consuming and tedious. You arrived dog tired, tempers perhaps a bit frayed, and exhausted. And you arrived at the lake in the middle of the night with dawn still many hours away.
Whatís the point?
Nightmare scenario? Not a bit of it. That was the masterpiece of planning that was sorted out for Bill Cottam and myself when we visited Rainbow Lake in March Ď95 to make the "Ultimate Carping" video. We arrived at 2 a.m., shattered after twelve hours on the road with no sleep for the previous 12 hours. That might be OK for you younger visitors, but not for me!
However, if Iíd had my way, this is how Iíd have planned the trip. Iíd take the overnight from Portsmouth which arrives at 7.00am French time. Though youíve still been on the road for four or five hours to reach the ferry port, your time clock says you are ready for some kip, so you sleep like a baby, arriving before France really wakes up, refreshed and prepared for a long drive.
(Incidentally, I know it is an additional cost but I strongly advise you to book a decent cabin - one with its own shower and toilet - as this will ensure a much better nightís sleep than one of those appalling, uncomfortable reclining seats.)
The roads are likely to be less crowded so you can be off the boat and onto the same motorway an hour earlier, say within three hours. Four hours on the motorway, an hour for rests etc. You arrive at the lake at 3.00pm with five hours of daylight still remaining. You can do a reasonable recee in this time, perhaps bait up a likely spot, put the baits out, bivvy up and catch up on your sleep. Itís still cost you about £50 in tolls and fuel, but at least you havenít wasted those hours waiting for it to get light.
Alternatively you might chose to sail to northern Spain, either on the Portsmouth-Bilbao route, or the Plymouth-Santander one. More expensive itís true, but if you can afford it, the extra is well worth it. Though the crossing takes a leisurely 30 hours, you have plenty of time to cruise down there, eating and drinking well on the way. You arrive in Spain around midday Spanish time. It takes, say, an hour to get off the boat and onto the motorway. The journey from Bilbao to the lake - about 170 miles - is all motorway. Less than three hours after leaving the boat, you are there! The tolls and the diesel cost about £20. and you arrive at the lake with plenty of daylight hours remaining. You are totally refreshed and ready to undertake a hard weeks fishing.
I guess that I am pretty lucky as I live only forty minutes away from the Brittany Ferries ferry-port at Plymouth so my usual ferry route will normally be the Plymouth to Roscoff line. Unfortunately Roscoff itself is set rather out on a limb in the county (Departement) of Finisterre, but even so I have managed to fish plenty of good fishing venues within three or four hours of the port. In fact, it is a case of horses for courses but whatever you do, please give your ferry route some careful consideration.
So you can see that just picking any old ferry route and the cheapest possible crossing may not necessarily be the best plan. Certainly to a large extent your choice of ferry crossing depends on your eventual destination, and to a lesser extent, on where you live, but there are other things that should be taken into consideration. How close is the nearest motorway for instance? And how easy is it to get onto the Autoroute?
Most French Channel ports are serviced by a motorway system that is almost exclusively toll based. They are not cheap to drive on but they are quick and usually trouble-free, often starting within a few kilometres of your port of arrival. Calais is without doubt the best served French port with a motorway that begins almost in the ferry port itself. Dieppe is a bit out on a limb. The nearest motorway crosses northern France at Rouen some thirty miles to the south. However, a new motorway has recently been opened north of Rouen and this will allow for speedy travel to the north of Paris if your destination is going to be one of the lakes in eastern France.
Le Havre can get pretty congested at the busier times, mainly due to the heavy volume of lorry traffic that uses the port. Cherbourg is the pits! The port is placed in the most inaccessible part of France, at the tip of the Cotentin Peninsula and simply getting clear of this long finger of land can be a right headache. Personally if I was fishing the south or in western France Iíd never use the blessed port but if you are heading for Eastern or South-eastern France, I suppose the port does have something going for it, namely a motorway which starts at Caen, about fifty miles to the east.
It is a fiercely competitive business carrying passengers across the short route to France. Both the Chunnel and the ferry companies have had to take a good look at their prices and there are some real bargains on offer now. It is as well to shop around for the best prices, and if you are not fussy about travelling at unpopular times, you should be able to get substantial reductions on some of the "unsociable hours" sailings. Look out for special return rates covering eight or ten-day saver sailings. These too reduce the overall cost of the ferry as they are about 20% cheaper than open-ended return fares.
DRIVING IN FRANCE
A carp fishing trip to France can put a great strain on your car or van, and itís no exaggeration to say that you will never find enough room in your chosen transport for everything that you need to take. Such is life, it happens! So invariably a few compromises need to be made along the way, which is one good reason for making extensive planning in the weeks and days before you leave.
If you find that there simply isnít enough room even for the essentials, it may be as well to consider hiring a van. The French are much more sympathetic towards diesel powered cars and vans than we are and diesel fuel in France is much cheaper than petrol. Diesel - called 'gasoil' in France - costs around 51p per litre at the time of writing, compared to around 81p per litre in the UK. The cheapest fuel is invariably found in the towns at large supermarkets. Country service stations may be as much as 10p a litre dearer while fuel from the motorway service stations can be more pricey still. For example, in May this year, diesel fuel at the big hypermarket at St Brieuc cost 5.09 francs per litre, whereas the service station on the dual carriageway just outside Rennes was charging 5.99 francs; still cheap by our standards but you can see the savings you can make for yourself.
Make sure your vehicle is properly serviced and in top class working order. You will need to fit headlight beam conversion kits to allow for driving on the right, and a warning triangle should be carried at all times, even if you have hazard warning lights fitted on the vehicle. Spare bulbs, belts, and clutch and accelerator cables are also recommended, as are a first aid kit and a fire extinguisher.
I know itís stating the obvious, but donít forget your passport! In addition, remember to have handy in the glove box your driving licence, GB sticker, and the vehicleís registration document and MOT certificate. These days the green card of motor insurance is not usually required but it is as well to check with your insurance company first.
Plan your route carefully. The French main roads are generally less crowded than ours so it may pay to do more driving over there, rather than travel extra miles in the UK simply for the sake of saving just a few miles in France. Though bear in mind the cost of the tolls you may have to pay.
Make every effort to avoid the rush hours in the bigger towns, even though they are usually by-passed. The Paris ring road - the Periferique - can be a nightmare. With its almost perpetual congestion it makes the M25 look like a deserted country lane. The best time to travel on the Paris ring road is between three and four in the morning, when the traffic is at itís lightest.
Avoid the Paris rush hours like the plague and wait until the office traffic is off the road. It should also be noted that the routes into and out of Paris can be very busy and congested at weekends and at holiday times. Be especially wary of the period around Bastille day (14th July) as the weekend following that marks the beginning of the major holiday period on the continent.
Donít rely on French road signs to point the way for you. Until you get used to them you will almost certainly find them to be some of the most confusing signs you have ever seen and even after a fifty or more visits even I still find them hard to fathom at times.
Youíll need road maps, of course. The big 1:200 000 Michelin Motoring Atlas of France is detailed enough to show the main roads, side roads and even smaller tracks, but for extra detail you will find the IGN Green Series more useful. French maps are on sale in the bigger branches of W.H.Smiths and at other large newsagent chains, or you can buy them in France at the hypermarkets, where there is a wider choice at a lower cost.
I would suggest that wherever possible you stick to the main autoroutes, though bear in mind that you will have to pay tolls on the French motorways. The journey from Calais to the south of France costs about £65 each way though other charges vary from motorway to motorway.
The speed limit on motorways is 130kph in dry weather and 110kph when it is raining or in poor visibility. An 80kph minimum speed limit applies to the overtaking lane of motorways in daylight and during good weather.
If you are in no great hurry or have not got to travel all that far, you might like to stick to the back roads. Some of the D-routes run arrow straight for many miles and are often devoid of traffic, and some non-toll dual carriageways are often almost deserted. The opportunity to pull over and have a coffee or even to stop for the night presents itself in every small town or village along the route and rural France can be one of the most welcoming parts of the world.
On the down side, it has to be admitted that some of the busier N-roads are only single carriageway with the occasional stretches of limited dual carriageway to allow for overtaking. Due to the high cost that HGV traffic has to pay on the toll roads, the non-toll N-roads carry a great deal of heavy lorry traffic and, given that you will probably be driving a right-hand drive vehicle, it can often prove a real nightmare getting past a single lorry, let alone the convoys of heavy trucks that often form on the busier roads. Driving on the right is a piece of cake, provided you keep your eyes open and donít start taking things for granted too soon.
All in all the journey to your chosen venue should (and I stress the word!) be a lot less stressful than a trip down the M1, round the M25 and along the M20 to Dover. And if the fish of your dreams awaits you at the end of the road, I am sure you will think the trip has been well worthwhile.
Join me next month when Iíll be talking about: insurance both personal and for travel; buying your permits; the strange concept of "camping sauvage"; the problems associated with mozzies and other biting beasties and how to cope with them; the importance of speaking at least a tiny bit of the French language, as well as a look at a few basic yet effective rigs along with an initial strategy for approaching the lake. Until then thanks for joining me on this website.