When I first planned this particular weekend away in France I hadn’t really thought about the consequences of what I was doing. Let me first give you some background so you can then understand why I hadn’t!
My little sister, Miriam Goddard, is an international shomjumper and we have grown up with horses. Although I didn’t quite compete to the level that she has, I did my fair share of competitions and travelling. Even after I gave up my horses, I would often go off for weekends to Europe to help her out and drive the lorry back in 12-14hr stints (both having HGV licences meant we could share the driving).
Since having my little boy Freddie, he has spent a lot of his time at my mum and dad’s farm. Driving tractors, riding ponies and going to help out at horse shows from 5 weeks old! The rucksack with kids seat became a regular sight at English showjumping shows!
So when I was planning what to do while my husband was away in Singapore for 2 weeks, my sister rang me up and asked whether I wanted to go out to the South of France for a weekend of showjumping fun and then help her drive the horse lorry back. I thought why not (miserable weather here and I needed a bit of sun) a plane ride should be easy enough on my own with Freddie, so it all got booked!
I soon realised when planning this trip that the show ground was quite a distance from the airport so a few more modes of transport would be required. Looked on Google (how to get from Toulouse airport to Agen) and so many people had completed this journey and gave me all the info, I thought, pip squeak, this can be done.
The week before, I had planned the whole journey; translations in French to where I needed to go on my iphone had been set up, once I got off the airplane in Toulouse, I needed a bus to the centre then a train to Agen. The ipad was loaded with all of Freddies favourite movies (Cars & Cars 2), my bag was full of every snack possible that I think Ella’s kitchen makes, sticker books and Thomas the tank engine magazines! It was the ultimate mummy bag.
I booked an early flight (7:30am) so we were up at 4am to get a taxi to the train station and then a train to the airport. Gatwick has an amazing family departure security gate so we breezed through that and went straight to the gate to get a coffee and a croissant.
As soon as the plane took off Freddie was asleep (tip #1, book an early flight) he slept for the whole journey! We were the last off the plane and after a quick loo stop the bags were ready and waiting for us. My planning came in to its own here (google is amazing) I knew exactly where to get the bus (#longhaller had told me as he had done the journey) and spoke in pigeon French (iphone translation) and got on the right bus! Got to the train station, bought my ticket from a machine that translated to English and thankfully I knew when my train was going and platform from Google planning the week before. Arrived at the show ground an hour later with a very excited Freddie, from all the modes of transport, I was quietly calm and the sun was out which was a massive bonus!
We had a brilliant weekend with my sister, she got quite a few placings, the horses jumped well and we went to some wonderful restaurants all found on Tripadvisor!
The trip back was going to take a day and half with an overnight stop at a horse B&B. Freddie’s car seat was all set up in the front of the lorry and we left Saturday afternoon and travelled 5 hours from Barbaste to Poitiers to the overnight stop. Freddie was great, he loved being in the front of the lorry being able to see everything, watched a Cars movie and had a sleep. By 9pm the horses were all tucked up in bed and so were we!
The next morning was going to be an epic day and I only realising it when we were deciding what time to get up in the morning and how far it was to Calais!
Alarms were set for 6am and we hoping to be having tea at my parents farm by 7pm the next day in Winchester, England.
We were on the road the next morning by 6:30am and left Freddie sleeping, which meant our first stop was breakfast at 9am! We had done 2 ½ hours without him even knowing, a great start to the day! Perusing the map over breakfast we realised we hadn’t really travelled very far and the sat-nav just kept telling us that our journey was getting longer and longer!
Another 5hrs down we were on our 2nd stop, lunch “French style” i.e. pull up in a layby and have a packed lunch. We had played eye spy with Freddie, got him to spot tractors, watched another movie, changed a nappy, played cars and completed the sticker book! There really wasn’t much more in the mummy bag and the sat-nav still said 4 ½ hrs until Calais, aaaahhhhh!
After making him run around the layby garden for 20mins while we cooked our pasta and watered and hayed the horses, he ate all his pasta and started to look a little sleepy (tip #2, exercise them regularly like a dog).
We were back on the road again and with the Cars movie being watched for the 2nd time he soon feel asleep, phew! After a 2hr nap and another 2 ½ hrs with both me and Miriam trying to entertain him, the ferry port was insight, thank God! A well timed arrival and after 2 full inspections by border control (illegal immigrants have been found inbetween horses legs travelling in the back before) we were on the ferry. Freddie was very excited, on to the boat, in the lorry, then to see all the other lorries parked up next to us, wow! The channel ferries now have family cafés with softplay. Another hour was killed playing with lots of other kids while mummy and auntie Mim had a rest and consumed lots of coffee! (tip #3, book a ferry time when the children will be awake not asleep!)
We arrived in Dover, tired and with another 3hrs of driving ahead another border control check wasn’t welcome! (one wonders how these immigrants are getting across our borders with this kind of vigilance!)
On the road again, I was dreading this bit, the long slog home with a very tired and bored child. Amazingly he loved it and was in the front the whole time. Our roads are busy so there is more to see, he was dancing along to David Guetta (the only music that would keep us awake!) he finally feel asleep at 8:30pm, half an hour from home.
We were glad to see my dad’s face at the farm entrance to welcome us back at 9:15pm, what a day!
The long and short of this story is, if you plan ahead, are well prepared and keeping your child active when you stop whilst informing them about the journey, then your toddler can pretty much cope with anything.
A week after and he is still going on about the whole experience, for him it was an amazing adventure. So for those of you travelling with children this summer, it needn’t be an awful experience.