Getting our furniture to France

When we realized…

…that we were going to be unable to move our furniture over to France, when we completed on the purchase of our French property. The decision to move everything into storage was going to be a stage by stage operation. As I have very limited use of my right hand, moving anything with weight and size is awkward, but it’s got to be done and so “just get on with it” and do the best you can; and how long it was going to take, was just something we were going to have to live with.
We found storage that was local. I had a Ford Transit van and over a period of about four weeks’ of hard work, with the packing and loading of the van, then shipping it up to the lockup then unloading, it was quite a logistical task. I had the house almost cleared by the Friday prior to completion of the house sale on the Monday.
The lockup was full to capacity. I had hired a lockup that was the same cubic area of a 7.5 ton van so I knew that what was in the lockup would also fit into the van.
I did a lot of research into hiring a 7.5 ton van. I posted a topic onto the AngloInfo website asking for advice on the subject with regards to the legal side of driving on the French mainland. I received conflicting advice, some saying “You won’t have a problem”, some saying “You can’t do that, unless you have this and that”, which didn’t give me a lot of confidence. I decided to contact the French Embassy in London, hoping to get clarification on the issue, but the auto-generated response to my email was “look on our Forum”, so there was no answer there! I decided to contact the hire company, with the thought that the insurance underwriters would not insure a vehicle if it and the driver did not meet all of the legal requirements to drive in France. I was told that if I had C1 on my UK licence I was legal to drive in France, contrary to what I had previously been told, i.e. that I needed an HGV2, and that if I didn’t have an HGV2 I was going to get arrested.
We decided to shift all the furniture over on the 21st of February and return to the UK on the 23rd. We were going to load the van on the Thursday, drive up to Redhill and spent the night there, then drive to the freight terminal of the Eurotunnel at Ashford on the Friday. That was the plan anyway. After loading the van on the Thursday, we called into Asda supermarket to get some last minute bits and pieces before driving to Redhill. As we were about to set off I asked Mrs K if she had the car keys which also had all of our other keys on. “No, you’ve got them” came the reply. After about 45 minutes we came to the conclusion I had left them in the car at the van hire company. Mrs K said, “Well, we have all we need, so lets just go to France.” A freight booking allows you to turn up 24 hours before or after your booking time, so it was off to France.
We arrived at the terminal and within 15 minutes we were on the shuttle. Not having crossed using the freight side of the shuttle before, we settled down and got some sandwiches out. “First time?” a guy asked. “Yes”, I replied. “Well, you need to get into that van and he will take you to the driver’s carriage that you’ll cross in, then he’ll bring you back to your van when we get to France.” Glad someone knew what was going on! “Cheers mate.” We got our stuff together and off we went. Some of the lorry drivers looked a bit in need of some TLC – they looked a bit rough and ready, and some hadn’t seen a shower since they had left home. It wasn’t long before we were driving down the French motorways. We had been up since 6 o’clock that morning and were feeling a bit rough, so I said to Mrs K that I’d try and get to the other side of Caen so we could take a break. I estimated it would be about another 3 hours drive. The van had absolutely no power in it loaded up. On the straights it was fine, but any kind of incline and it was hopeless. Northern France, until you get Caen, is hilly and it took us a lot longer than 3 hours to reach Caen, but we got there around 2:30 am. Pulling over into an Aire, we were ready for a break. When you look at a cab on a lorry they look, to me at least, fairly roomy, but they are certainly not. Trying to get some sleep was just a waste of time and it got very cold, so after about 2 hours I said to Mrs K, “Come on, let’s see how far we can get before we need to stop again.” I topped up with diesel and away we went. We were only 3 hours from home and the roads are pretty flat once you get Brittany in comparison to Normandy.
We arrived home completely worn out, cold and in need of sleep/ Mrs K soon had a cup of tea made and we had some reclining garden chairs in easy reach in the van. With the electric fire, central heating on and some blankets we got comfortable in the kitchen and were soon asleep.
For comfort garden chairs are fine on a sunny day on the patio after a beer or two, but after a six hundred kilometre journey they soon become restricting so, after a few hours sleep, we were up, showered and ready to start unloading. Having all my tools and the garage equipment loaded onto the van last made it very easy to unload and store into the cave area of the house.Moving It took us a good few hours to get it all stowed away, but in doing this it allowed us to get to the most important items and sought after furniture: the bed and the bedding. I soon had the bed together, and I think that once you have that done it gives you the feeling that you can relax, knowing that you have somewhere to sleep.
Mrs K was calling out that dinner was almost ready and that I needed to get myself cleaned up. Not long after we were ready for bed and glad to see the end of what had been a very tiring 48 hours. The van was about 40% empty when we’d finished the previous day and the remaining items were the boxes that seem to be never ending. Once we’d started moving them into the house – and we were fortunate with the weather as it was dry, very sunny and turned out to be a warm spring weekend – we had great fun moving in. The couple that we had become friendly with, Robin and Laura, were returning from their holiday in Guernsey on the Saturday, after visiting their son and grandchildren and had offered to help us move the large pieces of furniture into the house. They turned up right on time just as we were moving the last of the boxes, with just the settees, armchair and fridge freezer to do. The van was quickly completely empty and all the furniture moved in by about 2:30pm on the Saturday. We were so grateful for their help. No sooner had they turned up then they were gone again to their own home to unpack from their holiday break. Lovely people.
Unloading the van was the easy part; unpacking the boxes and moving the contents to their rooms, as anybody that has moved will know, that’s another thing altogether. We just moved the boxes from here to there, and as we would be back the next weekend for a couple of weeks, we would unpack them then.
We left for our return journey at 3:00 am the next morning. The drive back was so much easier with no load, and we knew what to do once we arrived at the freight terminal in Sangatte. It was straight onto the train and into the driver’s carriage. 45 minutes later we were on the M20 heading towards Chelmsford to return the truck and pick up our car – with the keys that I had left behind on the Thursday morning. Another part of our life’s jigsaw successfully completed.

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