16/05/2007
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Caravan and Motorhome Ferries Guide 2007

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Introduction

BRITAIN has a lot to offer caravanners and motorhomers, but there’s a lot more to see if you cross to mainland Europe. More and more caravan and motorhome enthusiasts are doing just that, in a bid to escape our overcrowded roads. However, for most people, leaving Britain automatically means crossing over to France. But there are dozens of routes and operators out there, keen to take you and your caravan or motorhome to pastures other than La Belle France.

As well as Northern (www.discovernorthernireland.com) and The Republic of Ireland (www.ireland.ie), there’s the Isle of Wight (www.isleofwight.com), the Hebridean Islands (www.visithebrides.com) and the Channel Islands (www.visitchannelislands.com) too – and those are just the ones on your doorstep. If you’re feeling a tad more adventurous, you could jump on a ferry to Norway (www.visitnorway.com) or Spain (www.spain.info); take enough time out and you can book a one-way trip to Bilbao then enjoy a lengthy drive home through Europe.

However, we’re not trying to dissuade you from paying a visit to our Gallic neighbours. With largely empty roads and a much more relaxed pace of life, it’s always a pleasure spending time in France. It’s a large country and there are some fabulous areas worth visiting; whether you spend time in Northern France or drive further south, there are some great places to pitch your van and you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to sightseeing.

Introduction
Choose your operator
Choose your crossing
Route planning
Travelling in Europe
A word about Sat-nav
Getting the right route
Useful sites
Operators
Routes Map



Choose your operator


Before you book your tickets, think long and hard about your trip. Working out your destination is the obvious first move, but you may also have a choice of carriers – but it’s unlikely, and prices tend to be broadly similar anyway. That’s assuming you go by the standard, advertised fares. Different companies have different offers at various times of the year; shopping around should save you some money, but not necessarily that much.

Most ferry operators are happy to cater for cars with a caravan on the back, but sometimes there are restrictions. DFDS has a 10-metre limit on total length, so an SUV with twin-axle van, or long motorhome with towed car, are likely to pose a problem. Speedferries can’t carry any caravans at all, while if you’re being less predictable and attempting to explore the British Isles, you might come unstuck.

Caravans aren’t allowed on some of the islands to which Caledonian-Macbrayne sails; these include Gigha, Colonsay, Mallaig and Rathlin Island – the latter three also can’t accommodate motorhomes. Meanwhile on other routes, some of the express services can’t accommodate caravans, which means you have to settle for a longer crossing; Brittany Ferries is perhaps the best example of this, with its Portsmouth-Caen, Portsmouth-Cherbourg and Poole-Cherbourg routes.

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Choose your crossing

Even once you’ve worked out where you’re going, you have to work out how best to get there – and back again. If you’re going to the west coast of Ireland for example, it makes little difference whether you sail between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire or Fishguard and Rosslare, if you live in the middle of the UK. The driving time in Ireland will be much the same, but in the UK it’ll only be much reduced if you live significantly nearer one or other of the welsh ports.

One of the most popular areas for caravanners to tour is north-west France, and unless you live just minutes from Dover, you’re almost always better off sailing from Plymouth, Bournemouth or Southampton to Dieppe, St Malo or Roscoff. You’ll save huge amounts of driving, which also means you’ll cut down the fuel cost as well as the time taken to get to your destination. You’ll pay more for the sailing, but on balance you’ll almost certainly be better off choosing the longer crossing and shorter drive. That’s assuming of course that you’re not going to enjoy a leisurely amble between Calais and your final French destination.

It’s worth bearing in mind that just because you take one route on your way out, you don’t have to retrace your steps on the way back. In most cases you’ll have to opt for one-way tickets if you choose to do this, but Brittany Ferries allows you to mix and match between outgoing and return crossings.

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Route planning

Planning your route before you set off is a good idea, as it’s likely to reduce the likelihood of problems occurring later. Your plans don’t need to be cast in stone as you can always change course during the holiday – but things will be made a lot easier if you’re carrying a decent atlas or your sat-nav is up to date. On that note, sat-nav is becoming increasingly popular with Brits travelling in Europe, so read the separate page on this.

What it doesn’t say on the page is that sat-nav will generally only get you to your destination, and if you rely on the voice rather than screen to guide you, you’ll be oblivious to what’s just out of sight. Maps have places of interest marked, and it’s easy to drive straight through a region without even knowing what’s there to entertain you – so make the most of your holiday by reading up on where you’re going. Again, there’s a separate page on this (doing your homework).

One thing that we’d strongly recommend is an up to date listing of camp sites in the areas that you’ll be travelling through. At peak times there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to get a pitch at no notice, but if your plans go horribly awry and you find that you haven’t covered ground at the rate you expected to, you might just need to find somewhere to stay in an area where you didn’t think you’d be stopping.

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Travelling in Europeferry port

Before you set off, if you haven’t driven in Europe before, it’s worth buying a copy of Driving Abroad (www.haynes.co.uk), which contains a massive amount of useful information. Some of it is general while much of it is specific to countries all over the world; it costs £12.99 and its ISBN is 1-84425-048-2.

However, if you’ve got a decent European atlas there will probably be some information in the front which should cover any key rules for the main countries. If you find the idea of driving on the right rather daunting, there’s no need to be frightened by the prospect – especially as European roads are invariably rather less congested than the UK’s, so you needn’t feel pressured.

Before you leave you should also ensure that you have a recovery scheme in place should your car break down or you’re involved in an accident. Assuming you’re not running the risk of pulling an uninsured caravan, and also that you did your homework when you bought your insurance, you should be adequately covered when travelling in Europe. But don’t just assume that you are; check the policy documents and make sure there are no restrictions before you set off. The last thing you want is to break down and find that you’re left stranded.

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A word about Sat-nav

Sat-nav systems have had a rather negative press in recent months, with tales of caravanners being sent down narrow cul-de-sacs or over to France via Ireland. Sometimes it’s down to how the preferences are set, but they’re generally superb as long as they’re DVD-based. CD-based ones aren’t so great because they’re slow to work out a route, slow to recalculate if you get it wrong and you have to carry lots of discs to cover Europe. DVD-based systems are far quicker to do their job, and the whole of Europe can fit onto one disc.

Then there are the hand-held units of course. You can now buy one for £150, although something nice is closer to £250. That gets you a compact unit that’s well built and does a great job of getting you to your destination; stick to recognised brands such as TomTom or Garmin and you can’t go far wrong. However, if you do buy a hand-held unit, remember to remove it from the car when you get out – or someone might do it for you. Sat-nav units have become increasingly popular with opportunist thieves.

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Getting the right route

There are masses of ferry routes to and from mainland Britain. To save space, we’ve listed the main ones below in one direction only; all are available as return trips. There are lots more minor routes offered as well; to find out more about any of them, take a look at www.cross-channel-ferry-tickets.co.uk. It’s also worth looking at the ferry route map on www.cheap4ferries.com while there’s all the port information you could need at www.ferrybooker.com


Clickable Routes Map

Ferry Map











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Useful sites

•    www.1st4ferries.co.uk
•    www.aferry.co.uk
•    www.allferries.co.uk
•    www.bluedogferrytickets.co.uk
•    www.cheap4ferries.com (0870 111 0634)
•    www.cross-channel-ferry-tickets.co.uk
•    www.eurodrive.co.uk
•    www.ferries-trains-planes.co.uk (020 8989 3437)
•    www.ferrybooker.com
•    www.ferrycrossings-uk.co.uk (0871 222 8642)
•    www.ferryoffers.co.uk (0871 566 1596)
•    www.ferryprice.co.uk
•    www.ferrysavers.com (0844 576 8835)
•    www.ferrysmart.co.uk
•    www.ferryto.com (0870 1129 374)
•    www.ferry-to-france.co.uk
•    www.intoferries.co.uk

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Get booking

All these companies offer the ability to book a ferry between one port and another. They’re effectively brokers; they deal with all the ferry operators on your behalf, so you’re dealing with an intermediary rather than the ferry company itself. While their websites are easy to use, they offer varying amounts of information.

Many of the companies like you to book online. There are a few exceptions to this; while www.ferrysavers.com, allows you to book over the phone, it charges a £25 booking fee for the privilege. It’s a similar story where DFDS is concerned (listed on the Operators page), although the fee here is ‘just’ £10.

Some companies are still imposing fuel surcharges; watch out for these being added at the end, once you’ve booked. It’s unlikely you’ll get caught out by such a devious trick, but if you’re booking on the phone, be up front and ask from the outset whether or not there are any extra charges to be imposed because of the current high cost of fuel.

Finally, make sure you book your ferry as early as you can. Not only does the price usually go up as the crossing date draws closer, but there are only a certain number of spaces available for bulky vehicles. Leave your booking until the last minute, and the chances are that you won’t find a space – and certainly not if you’re crossing during peak periods such as the school holidays.

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Operators

•    AT Ferries (0870 1129 374, www.at.ferries.org)
•    Brittany Ferries (08703 665 333, www.brittanyferries.co.uk)
•    Caledonian Macbrayne (08705 650 000, www.calmac.co.uk)
•    Condor Ferries (0870 243 5140, www.condorferries.co.uk)
•    DFDS Seaways (08702 520 524, www.dfds.co.uk)
•    Eurotunnel (08705 35 35 35, www.eurotunnel.com)
•    IOM Steam Packet (08705 523 523, www.steam-packet.com)
•    Irish Ferries (08705 17 17 17, www.irishferries.com)
•    LD Lines (0870 420 1267, www.ldline.co.uk)
•    Norfolk Line (0870 870 10 20, www.norfolkline.com)
•    Norfolk Line (0870 600 4321, www.norfolkline-ferries.co.uk)
•    Northlink Ferries (0845 6000 449, www.northlinkferries.co.uk)
•    P&O (08705 980 333, www.poferries.com)
•    P&O Irish Sea (0870 24 24 777, www.poirishsea.com)
•    Red Funnel (0870 444 8898, www.redfunnel.co.uk)
•    Seafrance (0870 443 1653, www.seafrance.com)
•    Speedferries (0870 22 00 570, www.speedferries.com)
•    Stena Line (08705 70 70 70, www.stenaline.co.uk)
•    Superfast Ferries (0870 234 0870, www.superfast.com)
•    Swansea Cork Ferries (01792 456 116, www.swanseacorkferries.com)
•    Transeuropa (01843 595 522, www.transeuropaferries.com)
•    Transmanche Ferries (0800 917 1201, www.transmancheferries.com)
•    Wightlink (0870 582 7744, www.wightlink.co.uk)

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