Being the last day of the trip, we naturally had an early start to the day. We still needed to pack everything away and leave the place at least as clean as we found it. As ever, it has been a whirlwind trip. Fortunately, I wasn’t in too much pain this morning. The problem is slowly resolving itself, although the timing couldn’t have been worse.

I exchanged a few messages with the hose about what time he would come to collect the key and return our security deposit. The house served us well, albeit there were a few annoyances. The lack of any TV channels, seating space and hot water controls for the shower was frustrating, but not so much that it spoiled the holiday. I will write a review when the dust has settled, but it will be honest.

Whenever we visit the UK, we always stock up on those things we cannot get back home. This is typically things like certain biscuits, chocolate, malt vinegar, and good old British sausages. Technically, we’re not supposed to move meat products across the border since Brexit, but that hasn’t stopped us in the past. In fact, we’ve never seen any vehicles stopped for inspection on the return journey. Customs will typically check us on the way over to the UK. They like to verify the correct number of people in the vehicle. The authorities don’t seem too bothered, on the other hand, by what people bring across to Europe from the UK.

The host arrived shortly after the agreed time. He looked around briefly and was happy to return our £150 security deposit. By now, we had mostly exhausted all the local currency, so this would come in handy for our trip to the Lakeside Tescos superstore and our planned visit to Dover Castle later this morning.

At Tesco, we filled the car with fuel and wandered through the countless aisles, grabbing all the things that reminded us of home. We made sure to stuff all the meat products deep into the cabin. They wouldn’t be found without a deliberate search.

Joey was not cooperating. He was non-communicative, sullen, moody and in a bad mood. He didn’t want to get out of the car when we got to Dad’s house to say goodbye. Sandy eventually got him out, but he then refused to say goodbye to his Granddad. We see this behaviour regularly. Today represented a difficult challenge for Joey. We were asking more of him than he was capable of handling. He had to pack all his things and leave the house he had just spent a week acclimatising to. Joey hates leaving the security of his bubble. He was also struggling with the emotions that come with saying goodbye to his family. Everyone was stressed because of the packing, timeline, the need to tend to everything, squeezing into a tightly packed car, etc., which didn’t help the situation either.

We spent a few minutes at Dad’s before saying goodbye to him and Paul David. Joey never actually made it into the front room where Dad was. This was a little unfortunate — upsetting even — but we understood the challenges Joey was facing, and we know from past experience that such things cannot be forced. Reluctantly, we had to depart without any interaction from Joey. Once in the car, Joey started to settle. It wasn’t long before he came around and was reasonably normal again.

It was by now around 10 am. Our ferry crossing wasn’t until 4 pm, with a 3 pm check-in time. We planned on visiting Dover Castle for the day. Sandy and I have visited many castles throughout the British Isles (some of which you can read about in the recently released travel memoirs). We’ve transited through Dover many times in the past and have always wanted to visit the castle but have always been pressed for time to catch our channel crossing time slot. For this trip, we deliberately went with a later crossing time to allow us an opportunity to visit the castle. With Joey’s disposition, it was still up in the air as to whether we would make it today. The weather wasn’t too great either. The worst-case scenario would be that we catch a slightly earlier ferry.

Once on the road, we contemplated whether we should stop straight away to have something to eat or wait until we got closer to Dover. It was a split-second decision to press ahead and have lunch at a Maccas we were familiar with near Dover. We always pass it on the way to the port. What we didn’t anticipate, however, was the satnav taking us down the M20 instead of the A2. That meant approaching Dover from a different direction, meaning we wouldn’t be passing our familiar Maccas. There was a bit of stress in the cabin as we fumbled to find an alternative. In the end, we ended up passing the castle and doubling back a little to find our Maccas. There were very few other options available and they were all behind us by the time we realised which route we had taken.

We ate in the car on the short drive to the castle. As luck would have it, the cloud cover had lifted, and it had turned into a pleasant afternoon. Better yet, everyone was in a much better mood for having had something to eat. Even Joey was bouncing up and down with a positive disposition.

Dover Castle is a sprawling complex of war-era buildings. It was quite a walk around the circuit. The entire complex is on a hill, so there was also a lot of climbing up and down stairs and embankments. There’s an actual castle in the middle of the complex, so there was plenty to see. Thanks to Sandy, all four of us made it into the grounds for just £35, which we thought was a bargain given it’s normally that much per person. Joey had a great time. He picked out a few things from the gift shop to burn away his remaining pocket money. I was in a benevolent mood, so I treated both kids to a little something from the gift shop.

We spent a couple of hours wandering around Dover Castle. It turned out to be a really pleasant family day out in the sun — which has become a rarity in recent years for us.

Our timing was impeccable. We made it the short distance to the DFDS check-in terminal exactly one hour prior to boarding. Despite a line of lorries hindering our progress slightly, we weren’t delayed boarding and departed on schedule.

Our ferry was mostly empty. We found our way to the table we usually sit at. It’s one of a few where there is a nearby electrical socket. I unpacked my laptop bag, including the extension cable with a 6-socket power strip, and we were once again all plugged in and charging.

Despite my continued hope of improvement, the meal I ordered for myself in the forward canteen on deck 6 was mediocre at best, not to mention quite expensive. With so few passengers on board, each meal was cooked to order, so I didn’t have the same problem as the last time, where the food was prepared and left to cool down before being served.

For the majority of the tedious crossing, I sat at the laptop to polish off a couple of blog entries I was behind with. I would have completed today’s also, but the boat docked at Dunkirk, and we had to make our way to the car deck for the three-hour journey back home.

We stopped halfway through Belgium for a bite and to stretch our legs. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful…right up to the last half hour. The homeowner had planned for a plumber to repair a leaky radiator and a couple of other things in the house today. Sandy had given him a spare key, but we suddenly realised we had not organised what to do about getting back into the house. Stupidly, neither Sandy nor I brought with us a house key. If the plumber had locked up after leaving, we wouldn’t be able to get into the house. A friend of ours, Angelique, had a key because she was visiting the house daily to feed the cats. We decided to err on the side of caution and swung by to collect her key, just in case. That added a few minutes to the journey. When we finally arrived home, it turned out that the back door was unlocked after all.

And that brings another whirlwind trip back to the UK to a close. This one was a bit of a mixed bag. We had our successes, but my suffering from neck and shoulder issues took the edge off a little. We could have done with a few more days also, to make it a little less hectic and rushed. As predicted, we now need a holiday to recuperate.