Our next destination was Coquelles near Calais, the French terminal for the Eurotunnel, we drove down the long slip roads and passed through the passport , frontier and customs check points without problems.
This was to be my second trip on the Eurotunnel Shuttle.
Initially I had been really concerned that I would find the whole experience overwhelmingly claustrophobic. In the past I have suffered from problems with phobias and panic attacks, for example I find travelling on the London Underground quite a nightmare, the fear being trapped, unable to escape, being jostled in a crowd. The dry mouth, the heart pounding, hyperventilating. Even certain supermarkets and shopping malls make me feel spaced out and queasy.
However, I was determined to be brave and give the Eurotunnel a try. Faced with having to traverse the choppy English Channel by some means or other, and the fact that I am not a good sailor – I tend to get seasick even when crossing a millpond, and the fact that during the winter La Manche is known for its choppy seas, the short sharp Eurotunnel crossing seemed to be perhaps the lesser of two evils. I had to be brave and strive to confront my fear.
There is a simple roll on, roll off system, cars are directed to drive up a ramp to board the carriages. Inside it is brightly illuminated and not SO SMALL I suppose!!! There is just about enough space get out and walk up and down a narrow walkway, but I preferred to stay put in the car.
At this point it was probably not best for me to dwell on the fact that the tunnel is 31 miles long, that 24 miles of it are in an undersea passageway, at a depth of 40 metres. It is indeed, an amazing feat of engineering.
So I tried to concentrate on reading my book to keep my mind occupied, and sucked on a peppermint or two to moisten my dry mouth. In fact, the journey passed quite swiftly and uneventfully, it takes about 35 minutes or so. A gave a huge sigh of relief as we emerged into the daylight at Cheriton, West Folkstone. Back in Olde Blighty !!!
We had various presents to deliver nearby. We drove through the countryside of Kent which is often described as “The Garden of England”, because of its infamous hop gardens and orchards. We passed some traditional old Oast Houses.
These conical roofed buildings were used as kilns for drying hops used for the brewing of beer.
Historically, the hops would be ready for picking during the month of September, and it was a very labour intensive process. Workers, sometimes whole families, from the East End – the poorest part of London, were annually recruited to help gather the hops. Many folk leaped at the opportunity to escape the gloom of London and work in the fresh air of the Kent countryside. Some even came to regard it as a sort of annual holiday, but it was hard work all the same. Special steam trains were laid on to transport them. These migrant workers were housed, during their 6 week stay, in huts or tents with basic facilities. There was a certain feeling of community spirit that developed in such camps and in the evenings, after a hard day’s toil, they would gather around the open fires and tell stories, play music and have a good old sing-song. Some families returned year in year out, even subsequent generations of the same family often followed in the custom.
Sadly, during the mid 20th century this industry began to fall into decline, thus many Oast Houses fell into disuse and disrepair. Some of those still remaining have now been restored and converted into unusual houses.
For more information on the Hop Pickers see this excellent website:
Here are some fascinating personal memoirs of Hop Picking: