Once a very common route with regular scheduled boat trains and stations next to the ferry terminals at both ends, since the commencement of Eurostar services the journey from London to Paris via Dover and Calais is now a little more difficult.
The journey starts in London, with a South Eastern train to Dover Priory- Dover Western Docks station closed in 1994 once Eurostar trains started, negating the requirement for an easy connection from train to boat. These days the connection is by taxi, or on foot (approximately 30 minute walk) as soon after my trip in August 2014 ferry operator P&O withdrew the shuttle bus which connects the station and the port.
Not everything for the 'traditional' journey has disappeared however- bargain priced through rail ticketing is amazingly still available! London to Calais 'Day Tripper' tickets are still available starting from just £39.50 (as of April 2015)- These tickets carry no peak restrictions and allow travel on any train to Dover Priory, and any P&O ferry across to Calais, and back on the same day. A small extra supplement is payable to use high speed services in the UK. You can even get a 1/3 discount on these tickets with a railcard and buy from many other stations in the former Network SouthEast area! An absolute Bargain!
Of course to make France and back in a day it is an early start- but allowing for the 45 minute foot passenger check in at Dover we make the 10:15 crossing to France on board the 'Pride of Burgundy' and were heading across the straight of Dover. What a beautiful day it was too!
There is a good catering service available on the P&O ferries as well as plentiful indoor seating should you not be blessed with the sunshine we experienced.
Interestingly we had followed the former rail ferry 'Nord pas de Calais' most of the way across the channel- until the opening of the Channel Tunnel this was the way that rail vehicles made the journey across the straights of Dover. Built in 1987 she had a very short life as a rail ferry and now continues to see use with My Ferry Link on freight only services due to her limited passenger carrying capacity. Like the stations at Dover Western Docks and Calais Maritime the rail ferry traffic ceased soon after Eurostar operations began in 1994- most freight was now able to pass through the tunnel while passenger traffic between London and Paris by boat almost vanished. Many predicted the end of the cross channel ferries as well- but this has certainly not proved to be the case!
One could quite happily while away the day in Calais before taking the boat back across the channel to the UK- but there are also options to continue the rail adventure to other towns in the area, or of course to abandon the day trip and continue on the full traditional journey right through to Paris.
|Crossing the viaduct at Wimmereaux viewed from the train.|
Local TER trains depart from Calais Ville heading to towns along the coast such as Dunkirk, Boulogne and Etaples (for Le Torquet). One of my favorites is the smaller town of Wimmereaux between Calais and Boulogne which boasts a traditional shopping street and pleasant beach- once the home to rich Britons wishing to escape to their summer homes in France. For long distance travel TGV trains also call at Calais Ville heading to Lille and Paris.
|BB67533 in the traditional blue livery waits to leave Boulogne with the traditional Intercities service to Paris gare du Nord.|
|TER train at Calais Ville.|
Sadly I would have to wait for another day to make it all the way to Paris for I would be using the return portion of my 'Calais Day Trip' ticket. It feels like it has been quite an adventure- and certainly helped by some stunning weather. Watching the sun set over the straights of Dover from the Spirit of France is the perfect end to a long but very enjoyable day. I've just got the delights of night trim travel back to London left to look forward to now- but at least I have a rucksack full of French goodies! Next time you fancy a day out with a difference - without breaking the bank - how about setting sail for the France day trip?