ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

STRANDED IN FRANCE, JAMES WALSHE COMES UP WITH A CUNNING WAY TO GET HOME.


by J Walshe |
ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

James preps his 200 euro Renault ahead of the journey home.

Taking a fancy to my 20-year old Peugeot 806, friends living in France decided to buy it and so we hatched a wacky plan for me to deliver it to them in Limoges, where I’d stay for a few nights and then catch a train home. I like railway journeys. This one would give me the chance to sit still for a while, stick my headphones on and catch up on the mass of new music I’ve missed out on of late. The stint to Paris would snake through sprawling green farmland and following a brief coffee and dither across the French capital, in no time at all I’d be rolling into Waterloo. But, what if…? I glanced down at my phone and began having naughty thoughts. Wouldn’t it be fun to drive home in a banger?

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

2CV advertised as ‘easy project’. Errrm…

The French – like us Brits – have fallen out with cars of a certain era which, for the first time, means they’re disappearing fast. What a waste. Legislation means it’s costlier than ever to drive perfectly serviceable vehicles so they’re being mercilessly kicked off the road in their masses. That nagging voice in my head was suggesting I might just take advantage. A plane ticket would be the cheapest way of getting home but at least with a car, I could sell it when I got there...

I have been here before. Having once been stranded at York train station, I went online and found a £200 Alfa 156, which I drove home that evening and sold for the same price twelve hours later. My daily driver is a £250 Citroen C5 diesel estate I bought in Birmingham one day, whilst at the mercy of a broken West Midlands rail network. Two years on, the roomy and comfortable C5 HDi has since become the most useful car I have ever owned.

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

Talbot Samba sadly wasn’t for sale.

So, my track record appears to be solid in the UK but where does one start in France? Having delivered the Peugeot to my friends, I logged on to the hotel wifi and began a trawl of Leboncoin. The online French flea market responded by attempting to coax me into another Peugeot – a very clean 305 saloon. Unfortunately, the voice at the end of the phone was unable to comprehend my clumsy attempts at communication. Just as well, I thought, as a 2CV presented itself and it was located just down the road. ‘Rusty!’ beamed the man, who was wearing an actual beret when he answered the door. Following him around the back of the house, we stumbled over broken bicycles and aged farming equipment to find a decrepit Deux Chevaux under a tarpaulin in the gentleman’s allotment. No tin snail for me, then.

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

Even shabby Renault 4s are expensive.

I momentarily switched for a ‘door-to-door enquiry’ approach. Up the road, a scruffy Talbot Samba looked promising but my question was met with guffaws of laughter from its owner and a door in the face. A previous enquiry online led to a short taxi ride into Limoges and the viewing of a Renault 4 but given its knackered (albeit working) condition, I was not about to part with €3000 for it. However, my efforts were eventually rewarded. I returned to the bar of my guesthouse and was browsing Eurostar timetables when I got into conversation with a couple from Saint Yrieix-la-Perche. Philip and Lynne Taylor had decided it was time to get rid of their aged Renault in favour of something newer. Their local ‘garagistes’ - Patrick Bayle and his son Benjamin – had maintained the car for years and had urged the couple not to scrap it. My smile widened as it became apparently the Renault in question was a 25. Wine was drunk and hands were shaken.

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

First sighting of James’ Renault 25 diesel.

Next morning, the Renault was revealed behind a set of garage doors and in return for €150, I was handed the keys, a carte grise and a Contrôle Technique paperwork (French MoT), reassuringly not due to expire until 2020. The car fired immediately in a swirl of diesel smoke, settled down to a satisfactory Parisian taxi tickover and following some scribbles on paperwork and a call to my insurance company, I began my journey home.

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

Inspecting for roadworthiness: Wheel is attached.

Everything on the car appeared to be functioning despite its shabby state. I set course for Tours, via numerous perfectly straight stretches of tree-lined country road and stuck to a route which vaguely followed a line of train stations – just in case I had to abandon the car in a scrapyard en-route. But as scruffy as it was, it gave me no cause for concern – reassured by the bills for recent brakes and tyres and the large pile of service history paperwork, including fitment of a new cambelt in February.

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

The mileage increased, as did my confidence in the Renault. Near Le Mans, I nosed onto the autoroute and settled into a comfortable 130kph cruise for a few hours until stopping for lunch with friends Alex and Kerry Lester at their holiday cottage near Alençon. Familiar with my antics, Alex loaned me a wooden plank with which to prop open the bonnet. ‘Is it likely to get you home?’ he quipped, picking up a piece of trim which had dropped onto his lawn.

Continuing north, I approached the coast with the intention of spending a night or two in Le Havre where I would find a Renault enthusiast to take the car off my hands - seamlessly make the transformation from banger driver to Brittany Ferries foot passenger. However, the prospect of a train journey from Portsmouth to Waterloo, with a traipse across the capital to Kings Cross filled me with dread.

Hours later, the car was bouncing onto the vehicle deck of the MV Etretat. If nothing else, with no experience of importing cars at all, I would use it to further my education and immerse myself into a world of DVLA paperwork. Given the Renault’s comfy ride, usefully torquey turbo diesel engine and tow bar, I was certain I could find good use for it in Blighty. Who needs trains anyway?

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE

DOOR TO DOOR SERVICE

FRANCE TO CAMBRIDGESHIRE

TRAIN

Limoges to Paris: £63.00, Paris to London: £205.50, London to Peterborough: £55.40, Taxi home from station: £20.00

Total: £343.90

PLANE

Taxi to Limoges airport: £30.00, Limoges to Stansted: £87.00, Stansted to Peterborough: £60.60, Taxi home from station: £20.00

Total: £197.60

CAR

Car: £133.93 (€150), Ferry: £85.00, Diesel: £64.00

Total: £279

ESCAPE FROM FRANCE
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