Sunday, September 27, 2009

Tractor weekend September 2009 - a travel story

During our holiday in August (which will get a post of its own) I spotted a tractor for sale at a farm near the campsite we were staying at. B. loves anything with wheels, engine optional. He already has three tractors, a dumper truck, a digger, a Jeep Wrangler and the camper of course. He enjoys doing them up, lying under them for hours and getting them to run well and look better.
We drove past the tractor twice without him noticing that the tractor was for sale, until I pointed it out. The following day we drove past it specially so he could have a look. The people who were selling it, were on holidays, and as it was an unusual model and B. was curious how much money they wanted for it, we left a note with our number. I didn't really expect them to ring us, but the day we came back from holiday, there was a missed call on my mobile. So we rang back and the long and short of it is, by the end of that day, B. had agreed to buy the tractor and go and pick it up! So early one Saturday morning, two weeks ago, we left in this

and drove down to Ramsgate. We shared the driving - I'd never driven anything bigger than the camper before and it did take some getting used to, but was great fun once I got the hang of it. The lorry had a speed limiter fitted so we couldn't go faster than 58 mph and you really do feel king of the road as it's not so easy to manoeuvre and cars have to get out of your way.

We'd booked a freight trip with TransEuropa Ferries. I'd heard of them before, I knew they were cheap (which is why we booked it, StenaLine quoted us an exorbitant amount), but it really was an experience apart. We were parked up next to the big lorries and suddenly felt quite small:


We hadn't had to pay for the trip beforehand, and when we came into the office (a ramshackle little hut) they said 'sorry, come back in ten minutes, we're just off to dock the ship'....
The ship was from the seventies and I actually remember sailing on them when I was a child and we'd go on holidays to Britain - only they felt much bigger then!


But included in the price was a meal and a cabin, and although the interior was obviously old, it was all clean and comfortable. The only drawback was that because there was quite a swell, I got quite nauseous as the ship, being small, got tossed about much more than I'm used to on the Stena ferries.

After docking in Ostend, we had a three hour drive to Nuland near 's Hertogenbosch where the tractor's home was. It was just about still light and with the help of the farmer who was selling it, the tractor was strapped on to the lorry that same evening. We had a chat about its history, had a look at his other tractor and then went off to our hotel for the night.


While we were having our evening meal, we spotted some Germans at a table nearby who were all wearing tshirts with a print about a tractor pulling competition. We walked past them again as we took one last look at the tractor before going to bed, and B. couldn't resist and said 'want to see my new tractor?' as it's originally a German tractor. I think he was excited... ;-) Fortunately for him, they said all the right things!

After a hearty breakfast we checked out of the hotel and were relieved to find that the tractor was still safely there in the car park:


We then had to do the entire journey again in reverse: drive three hours from 's Hertogenbosch to Ostend, the four hour ferry crossing to Ramsgate and then the three hour drive back home to Norfolk. We both like driving and travelling though, just looking at the landscape, the houses, the farms, the road, stopping for coffee at an unknown service station in Belgium.

A Dutch VW camper on the Belgian motorway

The church at Waalwijk

The station and cathedral at Ostend

There was a minor panic when I had to negotiate the lorry with tractor through the city of Ostend (the port is right inside the city) while B. was talking to a customer on his mobile - I needed his navigational help! We arrived without getting lost though, even though we did wonder about their security - we just drove in and onto the ferry without having to show any papers or passports...

Another minor panic as we were docking and B. was taking photos of me sitting on the tractor. The footplate is quite high, the tractor was obviously well strapped down, and I couldn't see how I could get down with the strap in the way. He kept on taking photographs while I was trying to work out the best way of getting off and just laughing at me!


After three more hours of driving we arrived back home late Sunday evening, tired, but safe and well and excited. That was two weeks ago. The tractor has been parked in her own barn and has been driven round the block a couple of times (apparently I don't stop smiling when I drive her). She does need a bit of work to be in tiptop condition and so the engine is now in pieces in B.'s workshop. I have promised I'll take her on the tractor run that is held in their village every year to raise money for breast cancer awareness, if B. makes sure she's all back together again by then.

With T., B's dad, who likes tractors as much as B. does

Normally when we go on a trip, at least some of the children come along. We have four children between us and it's good fun to take them with us, 'they add value', as B. says. But sometimes, it's just as nice to have a weekend away with just the two of us. To have lots of time for each other, to just be adults and not parents, and to do the things that we enjoy. We have plans to take her out to a few small shows next summer. I'm secretly hoping that one of those shows might require another weekend away in Holland.

And the best bit about this tractor?

A Dutch number plate in the style appropriate for the year that the tractor was built in (1969), with our initials on. Who said romance was dead...?