One thing is absolutely certain about the journey home - it takes a very long time. We left just before six on Monday morning, after a fairly sleepless night as lorries were loading and leaving all night long. We loaded up in torrential rain, so the first job was to change before starting to drive. We drive in a loose convoy, Shane's two lorries, Jake Saywell's lorry, my lorry and the Ukrainian lorry carrying Alyona's horses. Although Shane's lorries are easy to keep together as they are both of similar power, it is difficult and impractical to drive five lorries in convoy, so we keep in touch and stable together every night. We are then able to regroup and make a plan for the following day.
Even though we all have similar special truck sat-navs and we are basically travelling North continuously, the sat-navs are able to come up with endless and sometimes surprising variations on the route. We definitely did not go back on the same road as we came on - for a start the road down had virtually no service stations, whereas on the way back there were lots - and I don't think they were all built in six weeks! On the final day while the signs were saying Calais the sat nav wanted to dive off the autoroute through some little French towns, so you do have to have a pretty good idea of what your route is before you start the engine and press drive on the sat-nav.
The priority on the journey is obviously the welfare of the horses, to give them the smoothest journey, make sure they have regular water and hay, and try and have them on the lorry for as little time as possible while making as much progress as we can. Apart from the horses the next major consideration is "drivers hours": by law you can drive for 4.5 hours at a time, 9 hours in total a day, with a 45 minute stop, or two stops of 15 minutes and 30 minutes between the 4.5 sessions. The horses have to be off the lorry for at least 8 hours a day/night, and the drivers should have 11 hours between driving shifts. Twice a week you can drive 11 hours and have only 9 hours between shifts.
In addition to this there are strange rules in different countries. The Spanish road tolls are few and far between and not at all expensive - should be good, but they supplement these by stopping foreign lorries at the border and stinging them with large fines for breaking the rules. The tachograph rules are proper rules and ideally shouldn't be broken, but sometimes those breaks don't coincide with being anywhere near a safe place to stop, and I have been known to be hopeless at swopping the tacho sheets over, or pressing the right button. However, there are also fines for not having a letter saying that you own the horsebox, or the horses and there are new rules every year. In France you are not allowed to overtake in a lorry on a Route Nationale during the day. The main route from Spain up through France is about 150 miles of dual carriageway Route Nationale - not so easy to stick to that rule if you are stuck behind an old lorry going 35 for 50 miles or so! We leave early in the mornings in order to try and get to our stabling and unload in the light, and get the maximum amount of down time before setting off again.
Our first night on the way home is spent at Valloria la Bueno just as you start to climb into the Pyranees. Geographically it is perfect, just ten minutes off the motorway, but it is an incredibly bleak spot, we have been there in horizontal rain, horizontal snow and just plain old wind. This time we had sunshine but no electricity. Nattie, Michaeli, Georgia, Jake, Luke and Charlie headed into the village for dinner, but I gave in to age and weariness and went to bed. The next, and final night was at the Equestrian Centre and Poitier university. My lorry is slightly smaller than the others so the sat-nav took us through the town and luckily just as it decided to take us on a mystery tour we started to see signs to the Equestrian Centre. The Equestrian Centre is frustratingly about 50 yards from the motorway but there is a low bridge on the incoming journey so that the big lorries have to take a long and complicated route round it! The kind ladies at the Centre gave Luke a lift to Dominos pizza and we had a final team meal on my bed.
We left at 4.30 on the final day with the news that immigrant activity in Calais had been very violent overnight. With this in mind we all met up 150km from Calais and drove into Calais in convoy. so that we could watch one another's backs and be reassured that everyone was OK. After such a long journey we came back on the train, which avoids the long wait in Calais. In fact we were the beneficiaries of the tragic events in Brussels as the whole of France was swarming with Police and Calais was very quiet.
We were home at about 4.30. Lovely Steff was waiting for us, and with the help of Gemma and Brian Cassidy who arrived to collect Holly we were organised very quickly. Gemma left at 5 the next morning to start her new job and then Heather arrived to help me sort out the lorry and get the horses out into the field. They were more than thrilled to have a bit of freedom after six weeks with barely a mouthful of grass.
We have had a lovely Easter weekend with the family and had a very exciting day yesterday when Anna and Tom got engaged. Mark's brother and his family were so excited that they came straight over to join in the champagne celebrations and stayed to supper.
We are now packing up to go to Hardelot at the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning. I am just taking Emma and Luendi and the babies will stay at home and get back to work the following week.