GB07-1.Driving to Scotland

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March 20th 2007
Published: March 20th 2007
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1. Driving to Scotland1. Driving to Scotland1. Driving to Scotland

The city of Rugby on the way
1. I'm back from a trip driving my car from my place in France to Edinburgh in Scotland, and back. It took 2 weeks and 5 tank fill ups. My car is an old Ford mondeo running on diesel and I love driving it. The steering wheel is on the left handside as driving on all countries of the European continent is on the right side of the road. Although I drove on the lefthand side of the road for many years in Australia and New Zealand years ago, I was apprehensive of the change over between Calais in France and Dover in England...

2.I had been wanting to travel to Scotland to see if I could actually live there for some time. But for the whole of 2006 I was stuck at home without a car like an old lady with numerous nagging problems of everyday life to solve. I hated this and I jumped on the opportunity to leave when my friend John had to go back to England on 20 March. John is the new kid on the block, so to speak! He's my age and has been around too, working in Australia and various other
2. Driving to Scotland2. Driving to Scotland2. Driving to Scotland

city of Rugby on the way
places. He bought a ruin, an old stone house to renovate, in the village where I live called St Civran (sain seevran) in rural France. But he still works in England and comes to his French home once in a while. This time he had taken a cheap Ryan Air flight from London to Limoges and had asked me to pick him up at the airport in Limoges, one hour drive from the village. So I jumped on the opportunity and asked him if he'd be 'interested' in going back by car with me instead of flying back. It suited him allright. He had left his own car at the East Midlands airport and the plan was to drive there first and then as he had business to do in Edinburgh, I would just drive following him.

We left late morning taking time in Paris to go to my bank and for me to a political meeting (while he waited in a nearby cafe). I had booked in a reasonably priced brand new hotel on the motorway to Lille past Charles De Gaulle airport north of Paris. But when we got out of Paris it was dark and raining
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city of Rugby on the way
and I drove way past the exit of the motorway without seeing it. It is only when I saw signs for Compiegne that I realised we were way too far. Getting late and darker John fidgetted and said we ought to stop and look for a place to overnight. So I took the motorway to Amiens off the normal way to Calais on the motorway to Lille. John was getting worried but I was beaming. After a year as a little old lady by the fire I was again free and mobile, and care free really. We eventually got to the outskirts of Amiens and stopped at the McDonalds about to close. They advised us for a hotel. We ended up in a not so new hotel in a room with two beds and no heating. There was an electric heater that John said was not working. I figured out how to make it work in the morning...

After a medley French English breakfast we headed for Calais but via the highway this time. I wanted to do some 'touring' in this northern part of France and show John that France isn't just the sunny south. Or Paris. I
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city of Rugby on the way
drove to Berck because since my geography lessons in my school days in France (I'm French) I was curious to see Berck-plage. The word 'berck' in French is the equivalent of 'yuck' in English when something looks disgusting. So I was interested what a 'yuck' beach could look like! Well, when we got there, it was stormy with gusty winds and choppy seas but somehow it looked pretty. It could be nice to spend time on this Channel beach on a hot day in summer... not so 'berck' at all finally.

Then on the final leg to Calais a snow storm hit us. Mad winds and big snow flakes were hitting the windscreen. I thought the ferry might just be cancelled. So when I got to the turn off for the Eurotunnel I took it and ended up queuing to take the next train. You drive like onto a platform in a railway station and you get into a carriage driving your car in. They tell you to stay in your car, to leave the four windows half open because of the pressure, to keep your handbreak on and stay in first gear. The train starts moving but as
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city of Rugby on the way
there's no window to see the scenery, you have no idea where you are. When the voice on the loudspeaker tells you we've arrived in Dover, "don't start your engine until you're told," etc, you hardly believe it. It's great, really, although rather expensive. I paid €170.- for the car and two passengers all told.

3.In Dover we changed over, John took the wheel and I sat in the passenger's seat. He knew the way and is used to drive his own 'continental' car in England. It was early, about 10 am in UK while it was 11 in France. There's an hour difference in winter and two hours in summer between the two countries. I think it dates back to the 2nd world war when France was aligned to German time. Paris is in time with Berlin whereas London is two hours late... They're talking of getting all standard. I don't believe it!

Anyway from Dover we drove full speed on the motorway circling London by the north to join the western side of England on the M6. Whereas it had been a snowing blizzard in France, it was lovely spring weather in England. Nice surprise! When
6. Driving to Scotland6. Driving to Scotland6. Driving to Scotland

city of Rugby on the way, John
we got to the East Midlands airport, John was worried about the amount of money he would have to pay to retrieve his car from the carpark after 10 days. I waited outside at the entrance gate to the carpark and when he drove out that's when I was going to drive on the left side of the road. Well! no problem at all! Actually I was very surprised of my reactions. It's as if we have a context memory... I started driving as if I was in Australia even using the wipers instead of the blinkers because they are in reversed position in cars. I didn't quite look for the gear stick on the left... but just!

My job then was to follow the back of John's car in heavy and fast traffic. We made it back to Rugby, a small city stuck between Manchester and Leicester in the middle of England. Reminiscing England was nice. I started using my new camera like mad. I bought hard cover adress and exercise books with single lines. I love those... can't find them in France. Also people are much more friendly and polite in shops. I also bought a road
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city of Rugby on the way
map of the United Kingdom. I love maps! I have lots of them filed in various boxes at home.

4.The third day out from my place in France we drove from Rugby in the middle of England to Scotland. It went like this: behind the wheel on the left hand side of my green Ford I followed the back of John's dark blue BMW with a left hand steering wheel and a French number plate too. Three lanes of heavy traffic on the motorway... chasing the BMW in the middle lane, zooming out and overtaking in the fast lane and sometimes veering full steam back into the slow 140 km per hour... it must have looked like Starky and Hutch!

Driving on a motorway you go past famous places without realising it. John pulled up for fuel at exit 36. They call it 'services' area in UK. It's just a short exit to the outside of the motorway where you can find a petrol station and take a side road to accommodation. Very different from the French motorways where they are called 'aire de repos' (rest area) with fancy names, a petrol station, a nice place to
8. Driving to Scotland8. Driving to Scotland8. Driving to Scotland

city of Rugby on the way
eat, shower facility, but no exit to a side road as motorways are a world on their own. So, we got diesel and a sandwich at exit 36 on the M6 going north and off we went.

Past Carlisle about half way to Glasgow we turned off onto a highway going west to Edinburgh. John claims it is the best way to drive to Edinburgh. He knows that road by heart having done it twice a week or so for many years. By then, it really looked like Scotland to me.

We were actually going to Buckhaven on the north shore of the fjord facing Edinburgh to pick up some mail. So we headed for the bridge crossing the forth of Firth. The queue was too long and John headed for the other old bridge up river to the west. It meant a long detour. I followed the back of his car like an idiot. But I actually enjoyed this crazy driving session! When we lost track of each other, once we got back in view he'd put his blinker once to the left and once to the right to indicate he'd seen me and I'd flash my
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city of Rugby on the way
headlights. Great stuff!!!

We made it to Buckhaven and then drove back towards Edinburgh, took the Forth Bridge this time going south, no queuing and no toll. Just on the south side of the bridge we stopped to book a hotel. It was booked out but the lady advised us to try a brand new hotel just opened round the corner. We ended up at the Dakota hotel... sipping whiskey and eating mussles and chips with white wine. End of third day.

5. About the town of Rugby it is actually stuck in a conglomerate of cities spreading out and crawling over the entire south of England. It is some 20 miles directly south of Leicester at the forking of the M6 with the M1. Motorways are numbered with M something. In France the word for it is 'autoroute' and they are numbered with A something. The M6 goes right up to Glasgow on the eastern side of Britain. Roads going off it are called 'exits' and are numbered. Same in France. That's very convenient.

Anyway, we stopped at exit 36 on the M6. I followed sheepishly and John explained that fuel (gaz) was cheaper here than
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city of Rugby on the way
further up on the motorway. We therefore bought diesel and sandwiches and went off to another exit as he claimed that the view was nicer at exit 38... well, it was. At this stage the motorway goes past and around the famous lake district. To my surprise this area is very hilly, almost mountanous with very rounded tops. It started looking like New Zealand. Bare hills with sheep grazing in earnest and a road trekking through it. Much less traffic by then.

I was tired. But there was no stopping. John had to pick up his mail in Scotland and get back south to start work the next day. So I followed.

At exit 13, a place called Abington we took a regular highway numbered A702. I don't know why highways are numbered A in England. In France highways are called 'route nationale' and are numbered RN something or N something. It was around 3 or 4 pm but the light was already slanting dangerously. My reflex was to turn my lights on but I saw that I was the only one with headlights on at this time of the day. The lack of light, or lack of
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city of Rugby on the way
intensity of the light rather, is what struck me. We were as far north as 55° latitude in the northern hemisphere. I usually live just above 45° latitude north... and I have lived in the tropics where the sun is usually blazing right above your head for most of the year. This oblique light was disturbing!

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city of Rugby on the way
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