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France: More Hell, Different Horsebox

We'd made it! Our spirits lifted with French soil all around us and the worst of the journey well and truly behind. From now on, it was all sight-seeing and watch that thermometer climb.

We filled up with diesel on the outskirts of Calais and then circled around for a while, trying to find the slip road onto the motorway. And there it was – the A26 – Paris and the South.

It was my job to navigate, so I started checking the road-signs. I'd just managed to translate one saying, ‘Beware of Strong Cross Winds,’ when a fierce gust of wind ripped the roof off our horsebox.

We stopped in bewilderment.

And looked back at a huge fragment of roof caught in the central reservation crash barrier, one hundred yards back down the motorway. A fragment the size of an average lounge carpet.

Which would have to be dragged off the motorway pretty damn quick before it caused an accident. Luckily, the motorway was practically deserted, but how long would that last?

And what about the horses?

Shelagh climbed back into the rear of the lorry, expecting the worst – Rhiannon, stretched horizontal by the wind, hanging onto the roof by her front hooves – but amazingly everything was calm. A few fragments of roof and skylight lay strewn around their feet, the inner skin of the roof was flapping and there was a lot more sky than there should have been, but otherwise it had been a remarkable escape.

Once outside, we could see that a complete section of the roof had ripped away and others were split or damaged. We could also see other fragments of roof further down the motorway.

So we ran after them, pulled two off the near lane and slid them down an embankment out of the way of the wind. Then we moved towards the main section which was kicking and bucking in the fierce cross wind but thankfully remained anchored in the central reservation barrier. We looked at it for a while, seeking inspiration. We had to pull it free but be very, very careful. The traffic was light but the danger of causing an accident was immense.

A gap in the traffic came, we ran out and grabbed an end of roof each and pulled as hard as we could. But just as we eased it free, a gust of wind wrenched it out of our hands and up it went. Flying like a kite, up and over the central reservation, the motorway and off towards Belgium.

Five minutes later we're all sitting in the horsebox in a state of shock. The roof has blown off our horsebox. We’re sitting outside Calais in a convertible! The wind is blowing a gale. Rain is imminent. We are countless miles away from our destination.


We limped into the next service area, frightened to try any speed above a fast walk in case the rest of the roof tore away. We also closed the remaining skylight – the horses didn't need any extra ventilation at that point, and it was probably an open skylight that had allowed the wind to rip the roof off.

We found a screen of tall trees and parked to the leeward.

And then phoned England.

They didn't believe us.

It's often like that, I've found – purveyors of bad news met with incredulity. Of course your roof hasn't blown off, take another look.

So Sue's boss asked to speak to me. Though I couldn't think why – if he wanted someone practical to converse with, there were at last three better candidates in the back.

“Are you sure you can't put the roof back on?” he pressed.

“Not unless we go to Belgium first and pick up the remains.”

There was a pause. Perhaps he was going to take me up on my suggestion.

“You'll have to come back to England then.”