Travels to Normandy

By Derek Longly

In 1973 a few years after I had returned to work in England following a period spent in Libya there came a great event for the Newhaven - Dieppe route with the introduction of the magnificent new ship Senlac. Arguably at that time the finest car ferry ever to serve on the crossing the Senlac was very much the jewel in the crown when she was first introduced to the service.

Photo:An early artists impression of Valencay

An early artists impression of Valencay

Derek Longly collection


When she made her debut Senlac was the largest ship that had run between Newhaven and Dieppe and she was easily the most spacious and luxuriously fitted in so far as the day time run was concerned.  She was, however, provided with very few cabins and those there were were buried deep in the bowels of the ship, being less than attractive as a result. This was the only fault that could be found with her and as she was not primarily intended for use as a night boat her designers could, perhaps, be forgiven for having failed her in that respect.

Photo:Valencay at the ramp at Newhaven

Valencay at the ramp at Newhaven

Derek Longly

Having seen the ship's maiden arrival at Newhaven I was anxious to sample the Senlac's delights and in 1974 my opportunity came when a visit to Normandy was arranged.  The outward crossing was however made aboard the Valencay and once I arrived at Dieppe I renewed my acquaintance with this attractive town spending some of my time visiting the impressive Chateau and in particular seeing the beautiful Napoleonic ship models housed there. I then travelled on to the delightful little town of Veule des Roses a few miles along the coast.  Here I visited the Fishermen's Memorial in the ancient church, enjoyed an excellent lunch then returned to Dieppe where I was to take the late afternoon sailing back to Newhaven. To my delight the immaculately gleaming funnel and superstructure of the Senlac could be seen above the terminal building as I approached this just a short while before sailing time.  I passed through the customs formalities, crossed the gangplank and entered the embarkation lobby of the ship.  

Photo:Valencay as rebuilt in her later life

Valencay as rebuilt in her later life

Derek Longly

The Senlac still smelled fresh and new.  On either side from where I had boarded were big lounges well provided with dark blue armchair seating arranged in rows with tables in between each group of chairs. Both lounges had yellow curtained windows running their full length and were very bright and cheerful, with their light cream walls, light grey linoleum flooring and chrome fittings. Between these lounges was to be found the duty free shopping area. Forward on this deck was a further lounge fitted out and decorated in similar fashion to the others, this one running the full width of the ship.  Aft was a cafeteria lounge and bar, again in similar style with this one capable of being used as a TV lounge. On the upper deck there were covered promenades running aft from the largest public room on the ship, which was the main lounge bar situated at the forward end on this deck. The bar, situated forward in this room, ran across almost its full width and there were therefore no windows overlooking the fore part of the ship.  The room was handsomely furnished with comfortable armchairs in subdued tones grouped around small tables, whilst there were also banquette seats in alcoves at the after end. Both the bar and walls were panelled in light mahogany.  In contrast to the lounges on the lower deck here there was  deep pile carpet on the floor and the curtains were in orange tones.

Photo:Senlac looking impressive as she departs Newhaven

Senlac looking impressive as she departs Newhaven

Derek Longly

Aft from the bar lounge was a spacious lobby where were to be found toilet facilities, with this lobby giving access to the external promenades.  Leading further aft from the lobby on the starboard side was the restaurant. This was a very elegant room.  The tables were set between sculptured gold effect screens, each alcove thus created having a window looking out onto the sea, meanwhile the black leather tub chairs set at the tables and the dark brown carpet and curtains provided a contrast to the gold screens. To port in a similar position to the restaurant was an area set aside for lorry drivers, who had their own lounge and cafeteria space. It was usually these travellers  who were accommodated in the few cabins aboard the ship, where they were able to obtain some rest to prepare for the next stage of their normally long, tiring journeys across the continent.  At the far end of the superstructure on this deck was a deck shelter supplied with plastic seating and open at its after end to give views over the ship's stern.  Compared to the rather Spartan fittings aboard the Villandry and Valencay those on the Senlac were of a far higher quality and the whole ship exuded an air of solidity and comfort.  Having explored all the ship's accommodation I found myself a seat in the forward Lounge Bar and enjoyed the crossing back to Newhaven, made over calm seas and with our arrival at the English port being right on time.

Photo:Senlac leaving Dieppe on a fine summer day

Senlac leaving Dieppe on a fine summer day

Derek Longly

I made a number of crossings to France aboard the Senlac after that first experience of sailing on her and she seemed to wear well over the years always being smart, clean and welcoming.   In 1981 I boarded her for yet another journey to France, this time accompanying a friend who was a native of Ouistreham near the city of Caen, en route to that city where I was to stay with her family.  The weather was blustery and as the Senlac left the shelter of the harbour at Newhaven she began to pitch into the rough seas that greeted her.   My companion was well known to several of the Captains and Pursers of the ships on the route since her husband, who had died some years previously, had at one time worked for the service. When the lady saw that the crossing was going to be rough she sought out the Purser and he made available for our use one of the officer's cabins.  This was the first occasion I had been into one of these cabins and I found it very impressive. Situated a little aft from the Bridge the cabin was surprisingly large.  It was provided with twin beds as well as a sitting area complete with a writing desk and had plenty of wardrobe and drawer space plus a big window.  It was equally as good as many of the superior cabins to be found on cruise ships of the era.

Photo:Senlac in the Channel in poor conditions

Senlac in the Channel in poor conditions

Derek Longly

My companion, despite protestations that she was not unwell, promptly took to one of the beds to sleep.  Left to my own devices I returned below to the public rooms of the ship which, with the crossing being early in the year were only lightly occupied.  I found a comfortable armchair and buried myself in a paperback book to pass the time.  My interest in the book soon waned however so I went out for a stroll around the decks to get a good lung full of fresh air.  Outside the sky was covered with scudding grey cloud and the seas were an even darker shade of grey between their frothing white caps.  Although the sea was rough the Senlac rode the white crested waves with ease, only occasionally plunging her bow sufficiently deeply into a trough to throw water over her fore deck.  The decks were however slippery with rivulets of water and the wind tugged at my clothes as I strode along. The spray being thrown up by the ship's progress through the waves wafted back over the decks lining my lips with a salty tang whilst the air was redolent with ozone.

Photo:Senlac arriving at Newhaven

Senlac arriving at Newhaven

Derek Longly

Refreshed by my stroll I returned to the cabin to check on my companion and finding her still asleep went to the restaurant where I enjoyed an excellent lunch. By the time I had finished my meal the French coast could be made out in the distance, so I once more went back to the cabin, where the lady was now awake, to inform her that we were only some thirty minutes from arrival at Dieppe.  With the ship into more sheltered waters and the sea therefore calmer it was agreed we would vacate the cabin and together went below to find the Purser to thank him for providing this retreat then sat in the Lounge Bar to await the ship's docking.

Photo:Senlac laid up at Dover together with the Caesarea

Senlac laid up at Dover together with the Caesarea

Derek Longly

We disembarked from the Senlac and immediately boarded the waiting boat train, which was alongside the ship.  Once all the remaining passengers had climbed on board the train set off, initially running along the quayside then through the quaint streets of Dieppe till it reach the town's main railway station where it picked up more passengers.  From there it was a fast non-stop run to Rouen, where we were to change trains to take the local auto-rail stopping service from Rouen to Caen.  The coaches of the auto-rail were very different to those of the boat train being entirely rudimentary.  However they served their purpose and before long we were on our way, the diesel engine burbling merrily as we threaded our route through the attractive countryside of Normandy with its pretty thatched cottages and early flowering blossom trees.

In due course the train rumbled into Caen station where we disembarked. We were met by family members before setting out in a taxi to the apartment just a short distance from the city centre where we were to stay. There followed a thoroughly enjoyable sojourn in Caen together with outings to visit villages in the nearby countryside. I saw most of the sights of the beautiful city of Caen during my stay, including attending Easter service at the magnificent church of St Pierre, plus shopping excursions in the city centre.  All good things must come to an end however and in due course it was time for me to return back to England.

In order to reach Caen in time to catch the boat train for Dieppe I had to leave at the uncivilised hour of 5.30am, which was a nasty shock to the system. In addition it was a bitterly cold morning with a thick frost.  The auto-rail awaited me on arrival at the station and having found a seat its engine was soon revved up and it began its chugging journey out of the city into the Normandy countryside.  Despite the cold it was a lovely journey through this countryside, which was white with hoar frost, the trees dripping icicles and the breath of the cattle seen on the way forming steamy little clouds in the chill air.  

The connection with the boat train at Rouen went smoothly and within a short space of time it pulled in alongside the quay at Dieppe.  There the Valencay was being readied in preparation for her sailing and I was quickly aboard where I found a seat in the panoramic bar on the boat deck.  Once the ship departed the French coast I made my way down to her comfortable restaurant where I passed most of the voyage over an enjoyable meal.  The crossing was calm and uneventful, terminating as the ship sailed into Newhaven harbour in the dusk of early evening.  



This page was added by Derek Longly on 17/08/2018.
Comments about this page

My family and I crossed many times on the Valencay, Versailles, Falaise, Villandry, Senlac, Chartres, Londoner and Parisienne. Happy memories. A few years ago, my daughter boarded the Senlac, where it lived out its days ferrying in Greece. I now live in a flat called Versailles in Newhaven. Three other blocks are named after the "V" ferries. 

By Gemma Dugard
On 07/02/2020

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