Easy Like Sunday Morning
Itchy like Sunday morning, more like, but never mind. Sunday began in a similar way to Saturday. A busy hotel breakfast involving the usual continental breakfast fare, lots of juice and coffee, and some half-cocked planning. There was a goodbye event sort of on our way home. We decided after that we’d head to Coudekerque to do a moderately sized walk there.
The Geonord event crew had organised a “goodbye event” in the little town of Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, just up the road from Valenciennes. It was one where we had to pre-book tickets, as they’d placed a headcount limit on the event. Free, but had to be pre-booked. It was a lovely little town and had a collection of Earthcaches in and around its old abbey, partly due to the interesting rocks used in construction of the abbey and the surrounding plazas. Four variations on the theme of spotting fossils and xenoliths.
After the event we were in need of a drink, so we grabbed a table outside the nearest looking decent cafe and engaged in some refreshment. There was also a brief discussion with a couple of French blokes about our the UK’s recent decision to leave the European Union, but that went unresolved as I think the majority of us didn’t understand either why we voted that way or what was likely to happen as a result of it. Funny that ! We seem to have voted to jump into totally unknown territory in the hope that it might be better than what we can already see. Time will tell, I guess.
But enough of the politics. We’d got more caching to do. The series in question was most of the way back to Calais, near the little village of Coudekerque just outside Dunkirk. The caching series was a relatively densely packed affair around paved routes in a park containing a load of old fortifications and surrounding a golf course. We found around 25 caches round there in what proved to be our last caching burst of the trip. It was warm, a bit sweaty, and a bit insect-ridden. The caches were pretty much all through woodland. The local inhabitants were making us very aware of the fact that they didn’t like being disturbed. In fact, this was a bit of a theme for the weekend. Some of us were more tasty to the insects than others.
The caches we found in Coudekerque were:
To the Tunnel
By the time we were finished it was after 5 pm and we had a train to catch at 7:30. So we decided to head for the tunnel terminal and see if we could get an early train again. We couldn’t. As we checked in we were given the option only of getting onto the train I’d booked, and when I accepted this, I was promptly presented with a boarding card for a later train. I guess it’s busy then.
We retired to the terminal building where we queued far too long for another Burger King, which turned out to be of dubious quality, and then Izzy and me ran around the shop looking for a little souvenir for Izzy. In the absence of anything especially nice, she decided on a cuddly toy rather than on keeping her money for another day.
We queued somewhat less to get up to the holding pens here than we had done on Friday night (partly because on the French side the terminal is already past the passport control, whereas on the English side it isn’t), but then the fun began. We sat in a queue and watched the projected time for our train get later and later. And later. And then a bit later. So eventually, after arriving at the terminal over 2 hours before our scheduled train, we got onto a train that left about an hour after our scheduled time.
Back Home, Albeit Slowly
The train did what trains do, and we arrived safely in England ready for a high-speed trip back home. Until we got stuck near Maidstone, that is. I phoned Kas to say hello and let her know where we were, and she proceeded to read to us the horror story on the Highways Agency site about the state of the M20 and how we might well still be there at Christmas. Oh, great! Just what I need. At least we could keep ourselves entertained with Alibags’ excellent suggestion that we let my iPod play through all the songs in alphabetical order and see what came up. We got stuck somewhere around the word “Absolutely” – I seem to have loads of tracks beginning with “Absolute” and “Absolutely”.
Whilst queuing we started considering contingency options, but to be honest there weren’t really any. We’d already passed the last exit before the problem, so we basically had to sit it out. Much to my surprise though, as we approached junction 8 and the Maidstone Services the traffic all started speeding up again. We decided to take a punt and just go for it. That proved to be a good idea because we didn’t see any more queues at all.
Hemel Hempstead was more or less where we’d left it, so we were able to drop off Alibags more or less where we’d found her, and then pootled up to Milton Keynes to drop off Carolynn and go home. It was about 11 pm when we got home, so maybe an hour after I’d thought we would. Izzy had school the following morning, but she only had two days during the week. It was the end of term, and they never do much of any use in the last couple of days anyway.
Valenciennes looked like a typical northern French town, not that we saw much of it. I would like to go back again, if only to go to the restaurant and introduce the owner to my wife and other daughter. The hotel was about what I expected. Clean, fairly spacious, quiet and generally unspectacular, in a good way.
The mega event was very well organised and the series of field puzzle caches they’d put out were very well done despite getting bitten to hell and back by the mozzies. I gave every one of them a favourite point. The fact that it was this good contributed to my deciding to go to the next two in 2017 and 2018. The Sunday morning event was also good because of the location. We didn’t do a lot of eventing there.
Walking around the fort was the kind of caching series that I do a lot of at home. OK, but not spectacular, and suffered a little bit from variable coordinates. It was a pleasant and untaxing walk though. We filled the afternoon with useful caching rather than coming straight home. It was a good enough location that I returned with the Happy Hunter 2 years later at GeoNord 2018.
All-in-all I really enjoyed it. Izzy now wants to buy a ukelele, but that’s often the case with her.