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What! We’d sweated blood waiting for a window to appear in this storm, and as soon as we hit France, we have to turn round and start again? The weather forecast was horrendous. It might be Saturday, Sunday or Easter before we'd get another chance. And more lairage and forms to fill in and...

The dog and cats!

I could have kissed Gypsy. Thank God for quarantine. We couldn't go back or the dog and cats would be impounded for six months!

We were saved!

“Ah.” He wasn't pleased, I could tell. “I'll ring back.” The phone went dead and Gypsy got a hug.

But what could we do? We couldn't continue very far as we were. One more gust of wind and we'd be a hazard to every other road user.

The answer came very quickly. Sue's boss had arranged for another lorry to come out and meet us but it might take twelve hours or so to arrive. Which meant the horses would have broken their allotted number of hours in transit and...


“Yes, Lairage.”

I should have known. But we were not sleeping in the darts room again.


We set off for Boulogne where the lairage was located. Leaving the motorway at the next exit and tracing a circuitous route through every back road and utilising every hillock and piece of shelter we could find. The sky above us was streaked with scudding clouds and getting darker by the minute.

The mobile phone rang again. We were booked into a hotel at Wimereux, just outside Boulogne.

“And they'll take the dog and cats?”

“Yes, no problem.”

The fools! But thank God for the relaxed attitude of the French towards pets. We'd noticed this before on previous visits; how supermarket and restaurant doors would be opened for a lone dog to walk in and browse around. Unlike England, where lone dogs were seen as the biggest single threat to the nation's health; children's hands snatched away from them by anxious mothers, shopkeepers shooing them off doorsteps. But France was the country of égalité for all – even the hairy ones – and we were booked into a hotel!

But first, we had to find the lairage. We were told to look for a riding school on the cliff road between Boulogne and Wimereux. Which was just what we wanted – a nice exposed cliff road to drive up and down. We crawled even slower. We couldn't have been more exposed if we tried. Fate had opened a hurricane training academy out in the Atlantic and every gust of wind was lined up and racing down the channel straight towards us. The sea below was more white than blue and it was a long, open road to drive down.

And where was the riding school? We couldn’t see any fields of horses or anything that looked like a stable block. We doubled back and tried again. Was that it? I noticed a small homemade road sign flapping in the wind up ahead.

We stopped. And squinted. Was that a picture of a horse? And did that say turn left up the track and then right after one hundred metres? I was convinced it did, but by then I'd perfected a method of translating every other word and filling in the rest with what I wanted to hear. It might not be accurate but it kept me happy.

And I must have been right for two turns and a hundred or so metres later we found the stables. Which couldn't have looked more unlike the lairage at Dover. While one had been purpose built and new, this one was old and still recognisable as a farm. And it had character. The old courtyard was surrounded by a brick-built farmhouse and outbuildings and beyond that were small paddocks and further buildings – all long and low with the familiar undulating roofline of age and bowed timbers.

And they were expecting us. We didn't have to explain our plight or throw ourselves upon their mercy in halting French. They knew our story and seemed unconcerned that we couldn't tell them exactly when we'd return – the fact that it might be in the middle of the night was dismissed with a Gallic shrug. C'est la vie. It certainly was.