When our boys were young we spent most summers in France in trailers tents then caravans whilst our dog or dogs were looked after by family members. A new border collie and ageing grandma brought an end to our France trips and anyway our children may have been familiar with Brittany, the Vendee, Les Landes, the Loire Valley, the Gers, and even North West Spain but their knowledge of Britain was sadly lacking. For the last fifteen years therefore, first as a family then as a couple with dogs we have toured Britain.

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               Lucy in the Cotswolds                        Telfie March 2007

 In 2007 we acquired a young rescue Springer. Telfie is a typical Springer, friendly, boundless energy, always eager to hunt and pulls like a train. We had bought a motorhome and continued to tour England and Wales but the summers of 2007 and 2008 meant the motorhome had an aroma of wet dog wherever we went. In 2008, now sadly down to one dog we met a couple at a campsite in wet Worthing who had for the last few years taken their dog to Spain for the winter and an idea was born to visit France again but this time with Telfie.

 On our return home in September 2008 it was time to start planning. The first step was the DEFRA website to find out about how to obtain a pet passport. We then had a visit to the vet who checked the microchip details and gave the rabies injection. A month later, or in our case 28 days, (the significance of this difference will be revealed towards the end of this travel log), we returned to the vet and found the dog was now ok to travel and were given our passport. We could take the dog to Europe the next day but would have been unable to return for 6 months as that is the time span you must leave after a successful vaccination before re-entry to the UK.

In January 2009 we started to look at options for getting to France. We had always enjoyed going by ferry, especially the longer crossings as it meant the driver could have a relaxing time before driving in Europe. With the dog however we thought there was only one option for us, the tunnel. We would stay in the vehicle with Telfie which must be much less stressful for him, (and us) than him being left alone on a noisy vehicle deck on a ferry. The tunnel is more expensive, but save up Tesco vouchers, (4 times their face value when transferred for travel tokens), and you and the vehicle can virtually go for free. Unfortunately we only found this out after we had paid the full amount. There is no charge for the dog to go to France but there is a fee, about £40, for the return journey, to cover customs costs when checking the passport; this cannot be paid for by the vouchers. 

We had booked our crossing to give us just over three weeks in France but had made no firm plans as to where our journey would take us. I wanted to visit the Alps, as I had never seen them in summer.  That was as far as our initial plans went.  As our departure date came closer however, I started to get more and more concerned about another requirement of the pet passport scheme. In order for the dog to be accepted to re-enter the UK you have to visit a vet in France between 24 and 48 hours of the return journey. The vet must check the passport, check the microchip, check the dog is in good health and fit to travel and administer approved tick and worm treatments. The vet then has to stamp, sign and date the passport in three places. Unless this has been done you don’t get your dog back in to this country.

I wanted to get this all organised before our departure as I knew if I did not I would be worrying about it all around France and this would spoil my enjoyment of the holiday.  I started looking on the internet for French vets in an area of around one day’s drive of Calais. I found telephone numbers for many vets but what I was really searching for were email addresses. My reasoning was that my wife and I knew we could put together an email in French to make our request and would be able to understand the reply. On the phone, although we could script what we wanted to say we were unsure that we would understand the reply.  Email addresses were not however forthcoming. I did find several sites in England which, for a fee, would arrange a vet appointment but I was reluctant to use them if at all possible. I was just about to pluck up courage and phone a vet when by chance I came across a campsite near St Omer in Northern France where they advertised that the owner’s wife worked at a local vet and could organise the vet visit if you stayed at their site. This really put me at ease so we arranged to stay there for our first night in France to check out all the arrangements and the last two nights in order to see the vet.

With all this organised, and the dog treated for worms and ticks and fleas a week before we were due to depart, we decided there was only one more thing to do before departure, have Telfie professionally groomed. He had never experienced this before and we had not done so with any of our previous dogs but we thought a trim would be a good idea before taking him to the, hopefully, warmer temperatures of France.

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Telfie just after grooming

Telfie is very much an outdoor dog and loves nothing more than chasing through the fields, dashing through bramble thickets, putting up pheasants or chasing rabbits and can often be seen rolling in fox poo or carrying a dead and decaying pigeon. It was strange seeing him look so smart and even smelling beautifully.

All preparations complete, the motorhome packed, it was time to get Telfie in to his travelling crate and begin our journey. Telfie has never been one of those dogs who as soon as they see a car door open jump in. Whether it’s the car or the motorhome you want him to go in we always have the same ritual. When called to get in he runs around to the front where he can’t be seen, we then walk the opposite way and get him in view. He will then walk as slowly as possible to the door and reluctantly jump in.

Just over four hours later we arrived at the first of the fifteen sites we were to stay at, this being Black Horse Farm near Dover, about forty minutes drive from the tunnel. One of the site wardens had a young female Springer, the last we were to see for over three weeks, (Telfie likes all dogs but is particularly fond of other Springers). There were also lots of rabbits around the site that really attracted his attention.

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Telfie relaxing after the drive to Black Horse Farm

The next day after a good walk in Reinden Woods we set off to the Tunnel. Checking in went without a hitch but once through the barriers the signage was very poor.  We and others were unsure which way to go to find the trains. Once this was sorted the rest was easy, just a slow drive over cameras to ensure you weren’t carrying anything illegal under the vehicle, a check that gas bottles had been turned off then on to the train. This was a new experience for all of us but very relaxed. Once our engine was turned off it was quiet and when the train started Telfie didn’t realise we were moving as there is no vibration unlike when we are travelling on the road. Thirty five minutes later we were off driving on the right towards our first campsite in France.

An hour and a half later, (it would have been less than an hour if we had taken the correct route), we arrived at our first French campsite. We were met by the owner, a man who would not have graduated in first place at a French charm school. He was wearing then, as on every other occasion we met him a t-shirt with Bouvier des Flandres emblazoned across it. The restaurant at the site was called Grange des Bouviers and as you may have guessed there were two bouviers wondering slowly round the site. The bouviers didn’t seem to mind a series of unfamiliar dogs coming on to their territory but Telfie did not really know what to make of these two bear- like creatures when first he saw them but soon realised they were dogs and that was ok. The site was beautiful with flowers everywhere, surrounded by fields, footpaths and quiet roads where we could exercise the dog. There were doves in a cage and ducks wandering freely. There would have been nothing Telfie would have enjoyed more than to have wandered round the site with a duck in his mouth but we thought that would not have gone down too well with the owner and we were to be returning in three weeks time.

So the next morning saw the start of our tour through France. Whenever possible we travelled on the smaller roads rather than the peage motorways as they were much quieter but still perfectly good main roads which went through lovely countryside and villages and were free. It was great to be driving along straight tree lined roads with no vehicles in front, none coming towards you and nothing in the mirrors. The only time we were in a queue of traffic in the whole time we were there was in the Alps when we got stuck behind a slow moving, large circus lorry which was towing a trailer and a caravan on twisty mountain roads approaching a small town on market day.

 We found no problem at all travelling with a dog; in fact it was a bonus. People would come up and speak to us because of the dog.  When travelling with a dog in France you do have to consider which places are suitable to visit but that is also the case in Britain. You would not be allowed on the tourist beaches for example but that is the same here. This was not a problem for us as we had done beach holidays in the past with our boys and now wanted to visit regions of France we were not familiar with. We visited medieval towns and historic sites, lakes, rivers and walked in the beautiful and vast French countryside.

We never stayed in one place for more than three nights, often for only one, and dogs were welcome everywhere. If we went to a bar, or for a meal Telfie would be with us, at my feet under the table and without exception the waiter would bring a bowl of water without being asked. Telfie, who, when at home will often go for weeks without seeing a lead, as we live surrounded by fields and woodland, took to being restrained really well. I took just two of my large collection of different leads, (I must have tried virtually every type of lead and harness to stop him pulling) and he was fine. In the countryside and around campsites I would use an extending lead to give him a little freedom but around towns I would use a spaniel lead and put in a twist around his muzzle. (This arrangement stops him pulling and he walks perfectly well but he hates it.)

 We took Telfie virtually everywhere we went He was even allowed in a very nice air conditioned car on a tour of the vineyards in Chablis. In towns if we were looking in shops or churches one of us would go in whilst the other looked after the dog but that is something we always do. In the smaller shops such as the boulangerie the dog would be invited in unlike here. The only times we left him was when we visited the hypermarkets and once in Cluny when we both went to visit the abbey. The motorhome is very good for a dog as at times when it would be too hot to leave a dog in a car we are able to open up the roof vents, close all the blinds at the side and roof, put the curtains around the cab and put a damp towel over his travelling crate. This way the inside is cool and as a bonus the towel gets dried.

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      Audrey and Telfie in Chablis                Me and Telfie in Troyes

The most unusual character we met was at a campsite in Beaune in the Burgundy region. We were just beginning to prepare our evening meal when a black cocker spaniel appeared at the side of Telfie who was fastened to the motorhome by a long lead. Moments later a man with a strong Australian accent came round calling for Ella, explaining that she was a hoover on legs. That was the start of a long conversation and a late meal. It turned out that Paul, an Englishman, had been living in Australia for thirty years but a break up in his marriage and being made redundant from a highly paid job had led to a mid- life crisis. He decided he would move back home to England but had a slight problem, his dog. In Australia his dog had not had the rabies injection which would allow him to bring her to England. As a result he had left the dog with friends in Australia whilst he came to England and bought an old left- hand drive motorhome. He then took the motorhome over to France and arranged for his dog to be flown at great expense to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris where he met her. He then began the long process of obtaining a pet passport which meant he had to spend around seven months touring in France until he would be allowed to take his dog back to England. That is a true dog lover!

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Telfie relaxing in the shade at Lac d’Aiguebelette in Savoie

After three weeks of great experiences, mixed weather and good drives we returned to the St Omer site and made our way to the vets. Telfie had picked up a tick in Chablis despite being treated before we went, although when we found it, it was not engorged with blood so it is possible the Frontline had done its job. He had suffered from a runny eye and a pharmacist in Hauterives came out of the pharmacy to look at him and sold us some drops which cleared up the problem. We thought therefore everything would be fine. The young vet who spoke very good English got me to put Telfie on a low and very shiny stainless steel table which could be raised at the push of a button. Telfie was terrified; he curled all his paws round trying to get a grip. The vet said the table had to be shiny in order to ensure it was clean. I was thinking back to the tables used in my vets which are padded and have a leatherette type covering but are wiped down between each consultation. I got the feeling this vet was looking down his nose at us. This was not helped when he looked at Telfie and said “What’s that?” I looked and there on his shoulder was a flea. I have never seen a flea on him before, I’m sure it must have been a plant. I grabbed it between finger and thumb and the vet shouted “don’t let that go in here, make sure it’s dead”. He then explained that Frontline was an old drug and not very effective anymore and that our vet should be using some of the newer treatments that are available.

He then administered the flea and tick treatment and the wormer and started to fill in the passport.

He told us that our vet had not completed it correctly as there should be a full calendar month between the injection and the blood test and ours had been just four weeks but that it would not be a problem. With that we paid him his forty Euros and left.

On our last night in St Omer we went for a meal at the Grange des Bouviers on the campsite. The owner’s wife, Bernadette, who cooked, as well as working at the vets, was full of life, Guy, the owner was a bit more jovial after a few drinks but would never make waiter of the year with questions such as “What you want?” to a rather frightened- looking English child when taking an order.  It was a great atmosphere, French, British and Dutch all getting along eating, drinking and chatting together alongside two bouviers, our springer, a whippet and several dogs of mixed parentage.

Next morning came our short drive to the tunnel. You have to show the dog’s passport in a building which is on the right as you drive in. I never saw a sign and went straight to the check in booth, thinking the dog’s passport would be checked after we booked in as are ours. Fortunately we went to a manned booth and the attendant noticed our paperwork said we were travelling with a dog. An important lesson for anyone travelling by tunnel, the building for checking the dog’s passport is on the right before you get to the first check in barrier and is not well signposted. Look for a yellow sign with a paw print on. This sorted we moved effortlessly through check in, customs etc. and straight on to the train and because of the time difference we arrived in England before we left France.

Four and a half hours later we pulled on to our drive. We had been talking on our journey about how Telfie would react when he got home and as we expected he was ecstatic when he saw HIS grass again and went chasing round with great excitement checking on the scents left by the four springers next door. I’m sure he enjoyed his adventure but he was pleased to be home.

Telfie by the pond at home (excuse the weeds and hosepipe)

Ó John Wright 2009

Rules Change on January 1st 2012

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