My interest in Brittany Ferries began in 1992. But before I start my story I want to give it some context. My great-grandfather served as a second-mate officer with Cunard Line on their Liverpool to New York route. As a result, my grandmother was a lifelong ship enthusiast. She lived in Cork - not a million miles away from the Ringaskiddy terminal and she made frequent trips there with my grandfather. It would make part of one of their many afternoon drives. It gave my grandmother an opportunity to see what ships came in. It and also gave her an opportunity to people watch some of the “fogeners” and their strange ways.
During the school holidays, we would make many trips from Dublin to Cork to visit the grandparents. During one of these trips to Cork in 1991, I remember my grandmother mention numerous times to my mother about a “beautiful” ship that was now coming into Ringaskiddy. She would say stuff like “you should have seen it…”. I remembered what was said but never really knew what she meant. Because, any time we took part in these excursions to Ringaskiddy, there only ever seemed to be the Celtic Pride (Swansea Cork Ferries) the St Patrick (Irish Ferries) or a car carrier in port.
The M/V Bretagne and Me
Fast forward to the summer of 1992. Instead of a holiday in Galway, Wexford or West Cork, my mother suggested we go to France. My father said he would “make some inquiries” at work. He came back with two pieces of information. First, there was a company in Galway called Campotel that did mobile home and camping holidays in France. And another colleague told him, about a boat that goes direct from Cork to a place called Roscoff in Northern France. He should have just asked my grandmother!
Anyway a phone call was made to Campotel. There had just been a cancellation and yes, they could also organise that boat that sailed from Cork. In two week’s times, we would be all off to France.
So, we arrive at Ringaskiddy. And there she was. The M/V Bretagne in all her resplendent glory. Now I knew what my grandmother had been on about. We drive on board and clambered up the steep steps the passenger decks. And all I could think was “wow”. I remember seeing the futuristic neon. The art filled atrium. The new ship smell. It was amazing. Myself and my brother were given the key to our cabin. It was one of the Ving cards – it was the weirdest and coolest looking key I’d ever seen in my entire life. The cabin had a sound system, cool little reading lights and even a telephone. This was amazing. We were picking up the phone asking the poor reception desk staff stupid questions. “What time does the cinema open at?”. “What are they showing?” (It was Medicine Man btw). “What time does the shop open at?” Now I know why some operators don’t put phones in cabins…
"Like something out of a James Bond film"
I never slept a wink that night. The excitement of this spaceship at sea was too much. We arrived at the campsite in Benodet, in southern Brittany. On a campsite you can hear everything. For the next two weeks, all I could hear holidaymakers talk about their holidays. Inevitably the topic of what route was taken would come up. For those who had travelled on the M/V Bretagne, superlatives were used. Comments like “amazing boat”, “more like a cruise ship”. One holidaymaker even said it was like “something out of a James Bond film”. I certainly could not wait to get back on it. The return journey was just as magical. That afternoon after the trip was over. We visited my grandparents’ house. I felt like Buzz Aldrin when he returned to earth. He had experienced something other worldly and was despondent to back to normal life.
For the rest of the summer and well into that Autumn, I even dreamt about the Bretagne. I was totally smitten with the whole BF operation. That ship, those announcements, the food and even that weird soap. Everything was so perfect about it.
The Val de Loire Years
In subsequent years we went on the same Cork-Roscoff route this time on the Val de Loire. Back then, the only BF trip reports I could find were in the Sunday Independent. In this paper every July or August, the Irish playwright Hugh Leonard would invariably sing the praises of Brittany Ferries and their Val de Loire ship on his annual trip to France. He knew a good thing when he saw it.
In my college years, the opportunity arose to study in France for a year under the Erasmus programme arose. I jumped to it. When the year was over, I bought a EuroDomino pass and spent a month backpacking around France. I also decided it would be fitting to end to arrive back by sea. So, one Friday night in the middle of July, I ended up in Roscoff terminal sans billet asking if they had availability for that night’s sailing. “Non” was the firm response. But after a lot of cajoling, I finally, and at the last minute, got a ticket. Val blasted her horn and slipped her berth. It was Bastille night. Fireworks adorned the Roscoff skyline. The fully laden Val headed into the pitch black of the English Channel swinging left towards the Celtic Sea homeward bound. My sojourn in France could not have ended nicer.
Brittany Ferries à Vélo
But this was not be the end of my relationship with Brittany Ferries. One of my passions is cycle touring. I cycled extensively in Europe, but France and Spain remain my favourite destinations. So, from Dublin, I would fly to Nantes or Tours and cycle up to Caen. (Yes, you probably guessed it MSM is one of my favourites) From there it would be a hop over to Portsmouth to meet the PA or CF which take me down to Spain. Sometimes, if I had time to train at home, I would start in my trip in Mediterranean Spain and cycle up to Bilbao or Santander.
The four or five days spend cycling across the verdant fields of Pays de La Loire and Normandy were always a delight. Not being too hot, the gently rolling hills made it a perfect for a warm-up trip for the more demanding Spanish terrain and weather. One year, I was a little bit behind schedule and did Le Mans to Caen in one day. Except for a quick coffee stop, I did it more or less non-stop. I remember arriving on the outskirts of Caen lying on a grassy patch beside some industrial estate absolutely knackered. But I still had the Ouistreham Canal to cycle. I eventually made it to the terminal with about 20 minutes before check-in closed. Drinking a pint of cold Murphys under the warm funnel of the Mont-St-Michel as we pulled away from French terra firma was probably one of the nicest pints ever! (Followed of course by a few more in the Blue Note bar). The next day in Portsmouth was a scorcher. My aching muscles had a chance to recover chilling on the deck on Pont Aven as she steamed down to Santander where the second leg of the trip would start.
Over the years, I did many a hybrid Franco-Spanish cycling trip, getting to know northern France and deepest Spain very well in the process. Having friends in Spain and the UK, I would often try to sneak in an Autumn trip on BF.
Conversations in the Grand Pavois
I have great memories of the interesting conversations with fellow travelers in the Grand Pavois bar. Like one lady who was spending a week on the Pont Aven as her main holiday. She would arrive in port, get off, walk around Santander, Plymouth or Portsmouth and then check her herself in again! “People at work think I’m crazy” she said. I told her there was online forum that could help her… Another gentleman I got talking was convinced that Brittany Ferries was partly owned by the Mafia. Nothing would convince him otherwise. Conversations with some more mature couples could also be quite poignant. Some of the them realised that their days of taking foreign holidays were probably numbered. They were just enjoying life while they could.
I remember many historic events also co-inciding with a crossing. The first time I was on the Pont Aven was the same day as the London Bombings. That morning every café-bar in Santander has pictures of partially destroyed red buses on their TV screens. I remember tuning in to RTL2 on the PA in-cabin entertainment system getting the latest updates.
Au Revoir and Adios to BFEnthusiasts Mk I
Anyway, I could go on about BF all night… I’m pleased to say that I’ve never really had a bad crossing with BF. All them were great! I’m very sad to see this forum disappear into the ether. A couple of years ago I read a comment here where one poster commented how this forum was was “better than a lunch break”. And I could not agree more! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time here and hope to see most of you over on one of the new forums. A massive thank you to Andy, all the moderators and of course the members for making BFEnthusiasts into a really unique online community. Thank you and as they say onboard “we ope to see you on Brittany Ferries again”.
PS: I never did get to see Medicine Man, it’s really amazing how 29 years can fly by in a heartbeat.