This year’s club European trip was to Laon in Northern France for the annual Circuit Historique de Laon, organised by Scenic Car Tours. The trip started for me and Neil & Elaine Wylie on Thursday 1st June as we had decided to travel the day before the official start on Friday 2nd June. A couple of weeks prior to travelling, I had my car serviced and MOT’d by Grange Jaguar Garage at Brentwood in order to ensure everything was ready for the off. Once all done and MOT issued, I put the car away in the garage until the ‘off’ day. A little fettling was undertaken over the following weeks to make sure it was as clean and shiny as possible. Goodness knows what would have happened if on the day of travelling to Dover it rained, but as luck would have it, it was a fine summer’s day. Top down, wind in my
hair head moments! Anyway after last year’s European trip problems with the passenger window jamming open, I prayed that nothing like this was going to happen this year. How wrong could I be! Fortunately, it wasn’t serious. On arrival at the docks at Dover, a warning light came up on the dash that a light bulb had failed. I was prepared! In my tool box was a set of replacement bulbs, one of which was the double filament needed for the rear brake light that had blown. Having had the car for 4 1/2 years, this was the first time a bulb had blown and it was so easy to change. All my troubles were over as I changed to bulb in 5 minutes while waiting to board the boat to France. On arrival in Calais, Neil, Elaine and I travelled through the winding streets of Calais to our hotel situated next to the beach adjacent to the landing area for the boats. The sun was still shinning and the beaches here are immense. There are a number of sun huts three deep on the beach, all neatly packed together with the occasional gap for people to get to the sea. Various French residents were out playing beach volley ball and building sand castles in the beautiful fine sands stretching as far as one can see towards Cap Gris Nez on the Cote d’ Opale peninsular. Had you added palm trees to the beach front area, you would have thought it was the south of France, rather than Northern France!
Thursday evening, Neil, Elaine and myself had dinner in the hotel restaurant and then headed for the outside veranda for a late night tipple. So relaxing and civilized!
The official start of the trip, was to meet up at Bethune, about 87 kms from Calais for a display in the town’s square, again, organised by Scenic Car Tours. As we had started off early from the hotel in Calais, we were the second and third cars at the event – beaten by a 1965 Mini Cooper S!
As time went on, cars started appearing from all directions of the square until I thought they would not get anymore in! There were various types and ages of cars arriving. Some exotic – Lamborghini Espada, some not so – Rover 800 estate! Still whatever floats your boat!!!!
By around 2:30pm that day, we thought it best to make tracks to the Ibis Hotel in Laon, where we had been booked into. The trip down the A26 was fine, no major problems and I had set my cruise control to 60mph, with Neil & Elaine following in their 1999 XJ6 (X300) . I must say some of the French drivers were mad as they were wizzing past me and Neil at over 100mph on many occasions. Arriving at the hotel we were met by the other contingent of the Essex Thameside Region, i.e. Neil & Sue Shanley, Graham & Anne Cook, Chris and Marise White, Steve Rider, who had travelled across to France early in the day. Later that day we also met club members, Mike and Sue Hawthorn in the town too.
Club members, David & Pauline Bearman were also on this trip, but had booked another hotel due to ours being full. The whole day was fine with temperatures up in high 20’s right up until we arrived at the hotel when an almighty storm broke. Thunder and lightning lit up the northern sky. As a number of us ventured out to have dinner in the town the rain really came down. We had booked a taxi to head to the top of the town which was said to be 40 minutes walking distance from the hotel. With Laon being built on a hill, the roads leading up to it were like running streams of torrential water. Fortunately, when we finished our meal, the rain had stopped, but we still got a taxi back to the hotel as we were done in and felt we wouldn’t find our way back.
Rising early, we were to meet up at ‘Parc Foch’ between 08:30am and 9:30am. I left the hotel at 8am with the intention of arriving early due to the number of cars expected – over 800. However, my ‘sat nav’ would not except the location so I had to ‘wing it’. Only I made a mistake when leaving the hotel by turning right instead of left and ended up in the old town of Laon on top of the hill. I then thought I would return to the hotel and try again, this time following another participant. That failed miserably due to the fact on my way back I saw a Rolls Royce and Mercedes going the opposite direction, so I followed. After a few miles I realised I had made a mistake when they pulled into a petrol station to refuel!! I again headed back to the hotel.
After arriving there I discovered I should have turned left, rather than right after leaving the hotel and on doing so, found the meeting place without any further issues. The area allocated was well equipped to take the 800+ cars attending this event.
Here are a few of the cars parked in ‘Parc Foch’.
We collected ‘goodie’ bags – although most of the items were written in French, so were no good to the majority of British participants, straw hats, and our rally plate. We were then instructed to go to Promenade de la Couloire to collect our road books for the route to Gueux which was the old le Circuit de Reims racing circuit, which held its last international race in 1969, but the fabric of the buildings remain on a main through road. The group of participants were split into two groups and routes were indicated to travel to Gueux. The route took us through various villages and on occasions many families were out watching and waving at the cars as they went by. Being on my own, I was always reliant on the car in front. Bad mistake, as whenever they got it wrong, so did I…. as well as all those that were following me too!! Once there however, we enjoyed a free lunch of a baguette with ham, sausage, or cheese and bottle of water and a macaroon, and a look around the cars that were participating in this event. The road passing the grandstand buildings had been closed off specifically for all participants of the rally. Some of the cars at Circuit de Reims:
Saturday night some of the Essex contingent decided to have dinner at the hotel. This is another story, when Gill Cain asked whether the beef was horse!
Woke to all cars in the hotel car park wet due to raining over night. The early risers amongst us were out with the their chamois and cloths drying our precious vehicles. Following breakfast we had instructions that we had to make our way to Victor Hugo Square, which was close to the railway station on the far side of town. Confusion reigned heavily due to the lack of supporting organisers. We later discovered that in fact drivers only needed to go to this place if they had not previously registered. Essex Thameside Region members had. Again, after further discussions one of the support vehicles (Ford Mustang 5.0L) appeared and directed us to follow him. We climbed the hill to the top where the cathedral is located and the castle walls and were parked up on the surround ramparts.
From here we attended a security briefing at the Town Hall, followed by a glass of champagne and ‘nibbles’.
Then it was a leisurely walk around the town and cathedral, before returning to our cars for a ‘Le Mans’ style get away, i.e. running to our cars , starting up and driving off, which resulted in panic and bedlam as no one could move more than a few feet, as trying to get hundreds of cars off at the same time in the small lanes of the ramparts was an impossibility. Once we did get moving we drove over 5 miles around the streets of Laon on a pre designated route set out by the organisers. People young and old, sick (from local hospital) and disabled, lined the streets, waving and cheering us on. We had undertaken nearly 3 laps of the town before we all decided enough was enough and stopped close to the ramparts, parked up and watched the rest of the procession of over 800 cars parade through the streets of Laon. The procession lasted for nearly three and half hours, with cars hooting their horns, putting on sirens or playing various tunes on their car installed musical horns. After returning to the town for a refreshing beer or cup of tea, we all made our way back to the hotel to freshen up before going for an evening meal.
The end, for some, a most enjoyable weekend, of car watching, parading and camaraderie. I say ‘some’, as Neil and Elaine Wyle were off to Normandy for a few days, Chris and Marise White were off to the Black Forest and me off to the Ardennes region of Belgium. What a fantastic trip and one the club will do again no doubt, in a few years time perhaps.