Having been bought up near Ashford in Kent I’ve always felt rather close to and been very aware of the Channel Tunnel and the Eurostar, I clearly remember visiting the Channel Tunnel Visitor when construction was underway. Over the years the services have had their ups and downs and a certain amount of resistance.
In the early days of the service the trains ran into Waterloo along one of the two railway lines through Kent – and infuriatingly took priority over local trains leading to delays seemingly always on a Sunday night when I was trying to return to London. Initial plans for the high speed line through Kent went smack bang though the middle of my parents’ village demolishing many houses and would have caused a blight on the whole community. Happily the final line was moved further away from the village, but there was considerable opposition in Kent to the whole project.
Nowadays the HS1 means you can travel from Ashford to St Pancras in about 40 minutes and the time saved makes the lives of commuters considerably more tolerable, and makes the London to Paris journey take a little over 2 hours, well over an hour less from when the service first started. With the cheapest tickets starting at £69 return popping to Paris for the day, or for an indulgent lunch, is a realistic thing to do. The service is now far more reliable, with fewer delays and problems. (About 15 years ago I was evacuated off a broken down Eurostar and memorably spent about 40 minutes sitting in the back of an SNCF van in the middle of Northern France whilst the rain poured down outside, before boarding a local train and getting to Paris at about 2am). Having flown from London to Paris in the past, I now simply cannot imagine going any other way than by the Eurostar, city centre to city centre in less overall time and you can take as much luggage as you can carry!
I have always been irrationally slightly prejudiced against Waterloo – for some reason I simply do not like the station – although I’ve used it often enough and the synchronicity of trains from France arriving at Waterloo has raised many a wry smile, the new terminus at St Pancras is infinitely better. The Eurostar ticket barriers are a 5 minute walk from the underground or just yards from the taxi drop off point. Automatic barriers scan your ticket, there are plenty of x ray machines and with a leisurely 30 minute check in time there is time for coffee or a snack before you board the train, if you are early St Pancras is fantastic for both shopping and dining.
On my recent trip to Bolougne we travelled out in standard class (above) from London to Calais (if you are travelling back from Calais be aware that it is a small station so do not be too early as there is one cafe and no shops) and returned in Standard Premier (top of page). Standard is perfectly comfortable, although now a little dated, seats are arranged in a 2 + 2 configuration, both airline and facing. In Standard Premier the seats are wider and are in a 2 + 1 configuration and you are served a light meal, with the service feeling more akin to a plane than a train. There are both British and Continental power sockets in Standard premier, almost a necessity in this age of smart phones with seemingly dwindling battery life. Interestingly there is now full 3/4G connectivity for the entire journey, impressively including the time in the tunnel.
The Eurostar now runs directly to the South of France – taking just under 6 hours from London to Avignon – a trip I am intending take later this year.
Fuss Free Flavours travelled to France with Eurostar on a press trip. All opinions our own.