The toilet woods and the pee deck

The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich has to go down as one of the best trips I have ever taken. Not because of anything that Stena did directly but because they don’t allow dogs in the cabins or the common areas of the ferry. This meant that we had a wonderful crossing with a group of dog lovers, sitting in the tiny dog area of the deck.

This was after a very long, non-stop drive from Germany through the Netherlands from quite early in the morning. I say ‘non-stop’ but we did have a couple of breaks for walking around, fending off the inevitable fatigue.

The drive was uneventful apart from two things.

Firstly, there was the woods where Mirinda took the dogs for a walk. She had clearly discovered the woodland toilet. The white flecks in this photo are little bits of toilet paper. It was advisable to watch where you walked.

It was especially odd because there were toilets in the petrol station, though they did cost 50 cents a go.

The second notable event was the reappearance of Ms Cranky Pants. She hasn’t been around for quite some time, but she suddenly made her feelings known when we missed the turning on a huge roundabout and had to make a long detour to get back on track. She didn’t seem to understand that sometimes road networks change and in-car satnavs don’t always know about it.

However, once I’d left her alone with the dogs to think about her crankiness while I went and checked us in at the Stena desk, she was soon replaced by my slightly less cranky wife.

We went through the two passport controls, then boarded the ferry. The woman at the Netherlands border said that the ferry had opened an hour earlier than normal for boarding because of the sudden influx of people returning from France. This is because of the Amber Plus designation imposed by the UK government on France because of the Covid explosion on the island of Reunion.

It means that anyone returning from France has to go into isolation even if they have had both vaccine injections. So, a lot of people who had intended to return via Dover or the Eurotunnel, went to the Netherlands for a while instead then ferried across from there.

And I’d just like to mention how pleasant both passport control officers were. They are not the usual people you’d have a friendly chat with but the two we encountered were delightfully chatty and, well, just pleasant. Mind you, this was not the case for Helen (see below) who said the English chap who she encountered was rude and officious. I guess you just have to be lucky.

Once aboard, we grabbed the girls and our hand luggage and went upstairs. I plonked the protesting dogs in their cage and joined Mirinda in the cabin.

After a bit of a rest in the Captain’s Cabin (the Captain was busy), availing ourselves of the free mini-bar and watching the CCTV from the dog kennel, we went for a wander then, eventually, settled in the bar area for a drink.

We then went down to the kennel; to see the girls. They were a bit overjoyed to see us.

Shortly afterwards, we headed down to the tiny bit of deck designated as dog friendly, and it was there we met our North Sea Friends.

We were a mixed bunch. There was Helen and daughter Liv and their dogs Ninja the black Lab (mostly) and Cookie the King Charles spaniel. There was the young woman from Newcastle, studying medicine in Bulgaria and her tiny chihuahua, Simba. There was the Polish woman and her father and their Pomeranian Shatsi. There was the couple from Hong Kong who were escaping the tyranny for a better, safer life in the UK, and their gay dog that looked permanently startled. And, of course, us.

There was an awful lot of laughter. And dog pee. In fact, there was so much dog pee that Helen and her handy squeegee became known as Captain Peewash as she regularly moved the pools of dog urine back and forth over the deck, eventually finding the drain hole which we hoped emptied into the ferry designer’s cabin.

There was also a few people who drifted in and out, joining in the conversation for a while then replacing their dogs in their cages. The core group above, just stayed and talked, with our dogs, for almost five hours.

It made a bit of a joke about our having a Captain’s Cabin because we only used it for the first two hours, though it did afford us the view of the Woman from Newcastle kissing Simba and saying how much she loved him before putting him in the cage.

The cabins had TVs and the kennels are covered by CCTV. The funniest thing was that we weren’t the only ones who had seen this delightfully emotional parting. People would turn up and say, “Hey, weren’t you the one…” She was a tad embarrassed.

Interestingly, apart from the couple from Hong Kong, none of use wore masks. As Mirinda said, we’d all been tested and knew we weren’t infected. It made things a lot friendlier. Masks create such a barrier.

It was funny. A group of people who will probably never meet again and with nothing obvious in common (apart from a massive love for their dogs) meeting and thoroughly enjoying their company for such a long time. It was brilliant and, as I said, made a normally tedious journey wonderful.

Speaking of tedious, the final stretch of our trip, from Harwich to Farnham, was uneventful and without much traffic. A bonus. We reached home just after 10pm to be greeted by a huge bouquet of flowers from Kate and James as well as whisky and gin. Our house minders were very generous. And tidy. The house looked lovely.

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