Bayeux to Saint-Loup-de-Fribois

A day of quiet roads and gloomy skies.

On arriving at our Chambres d’Hôtes in Bayeux yesterday we researched our restaurant options, as usual, with TripAdvisor. One restaurant stood out: Au Ptit Bistrot, which had received stellar reviews. Like many French restaurants it seemed to have no website or online booking, so we plucked up the courage to ring and book. Inevitably we ended up speaking to an answering machine, and while the start of my message was in reasonably coherent French I had forgotten to anticipate that I would have to leave my mobile number. Cue a long awkward pause and then a stumbling recitation of numbers in schoolboy French! How embarrassing. It seemed to work, though, as we received a call back later on, confirming our reservation.

We strolled through the picturesque streets of Bayeux, past the impressive cathedral, for an aperitif at a road-side bar, then headed for the restaurant. It was small, full, and excellent – only a short menu but all the options were tempting. So we lingered over a very good meal with a bottle of Hautes Côtes de Nuits, following that up with a delicious glass of Calvados. By now we had become embroiled in conversation with a couple at the next table – he a cardiologist, she a JP. They were having an animated conversation about “Brexit”: having been abroad for a month (and having voted “remain” by postal vote) they were unsure of the nature of the country to which they were returning. We too are somewhat dreading a return to the new normality of an isolationist “Little England”. So we put the world (or at least the country) to rights over another glass of Calvados, in a most enjoyable exchange.

We had been anticipating finishing off our meal with an ice-cream – sadly, though, we had lingered too long over Calvados and all the shops had shut. The stoker will have to wait at least another day for another cone of “Caramel au beurre salé”!

We opened the curtains to a gloomy vista this morning – steady rain, which was forecast to continue for much of the day. After a good breakfast we saddled up, put on our rain jackets and set off. It was a sort of “on-off” day, as the rain was intermittent, and it doesn’t do to leave the rain jackets on all the time, as they quickly result in a “boil-in-the-bag” effect, especially where the Captain is concerned. Quite soon the rain stopped, however, and we were able to stow the jackets away for the rest of the day. It remained gloomy, though, with only one small patch of blue sky.

Today we were largely away from scenes of wartime history, though the occasional village had poignant memorials to those involved in the Resistance. We cycled on very quiet roads through a succession of small villages – to be honest it is difficult to recall individual ones, but the overwhelming impression was of a bucolic, scenic area, devoid of the half-timbered villages we encountered to the north, but still very easy on the eye.

Today too was the day that our fitness seemed to kick in, aided perhaps by a light tail-wind. We were motoring along on some very good roads, and so arrived at our planned lunch stop way too early to contemplate eating. In fact by the time we were hungry enough to stop for something to eat we only had nine kilometres left to complete. So we settled for a beer and a sandwich in a roadside café (lovely fresh bread, ham and Emmenthal) before hopping back on the saddle for the remainder of the journey.

Here we are, then, in the tiny village of Saint-Loup-de-Fribois, in an utterly beautiful Chambres d’Hôtes. A few hundred metres away are a couple of restaurants, so all our requirements will be fulfilled!

Tomorrow will be our longest and hilliest day, to Le Neuborg.

Click here to see our track from today.

Arromanches-les-Bains to Bayeux

A day of few kilometres

We wandered back down to the harbour last night for an aperitif, and mulled over all the things we’d seen over the last few days here. The tide was still in, and when we transferred in the light rain which was now falling to the restaurant at the hotel La Marine we had a great view of the beach and the remains of the Mulberry Harbour. We had an excellent meal, marred only by the fact that the icecream shop had closed by the time we came out! No ice-cream for us last night.

We slept well, and awoke to the bells of the nearby church, and breakfast in the kitchen at Chez Mounie. The owner popped in to check everything was OK, which he did by asking us “Is life beautiful?”!

Only about 16km planned for today, and we got underway just before 10, up the hill out of Arromanches, heading for Longues-sur-Mer to see the German gun emplacements. They were incredible, four huge great concrete constructions each housing an enormous gun pointing out to sea. They were sort of brutally beautiful, concentric rings of concrete providing a “cupola” over the gun. We reckoned that they could cover around 120 degrees of the coastline, ranged as they were along the cliffs. Closer to the cliff edge were more bunkers, where it looked like German soldiers would have manned smaller guns to protect the battery. We went right inside, using the torch on a phone to light our way, not something which could have been conceived of in 1944!

After Longues it was just 8km into Bayeux, where we found our hotel, parked up the tandem, changed into civvies, and headed into town to see the cathedral. Smaller than Rouen, but a similar plain style. After lunch in a little bistro we moved on to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum – our main reason for including Bayeux on the trip. It was an amazing thing to see – faded now of course, fully seventy metres in length, and beautifully preserved and presented. It tells the story of William of Normandy’s accession to the English throne, and his battle with Harold who claimed it on the death of Edward I against his wishes that William should be king. We were given little headsets which described each numbered panel and explained how it told the story. It’s not actually a tapestry at all, but embroidery on linen, very fine work. It’s brilliant that it includes a sighting of what we now know to be Halley’s Comet, and the possibly apocryphal story of Harold being hit it the eye by an arrow. Well worth a visit.

And so we wandered back to our hotel, just as the rain started. Hope it gives out before dinner. We may or may not have booked at a very highly recommended local restaurant, depending on whether the owner understands the rather incompetent answerphone message we left, including rather a mental blank on how to do numbers in French!

Click here for today’s track.

Lion-sur-Mer to Arromanches-les-Bains

A short day, allowing time to explore the Sword, Juno and Gold landing beaches.

Lion-sur-Mer is a small town, barely larger than a village, but boasts several restaurants. It being a Monday, however, we knew from previous experience that most of them would be closed, and so it turned out. Only one remained open. Helpfully, as we discovered from TripAdvisor, it was only 48 metres from our hotel. It turned out to be a pizzeria, a very friendly one with excellent pizzas. For the first time in our journey we sampled Normandy cider – a pichet of Brut cider, shared between the two of us. It was deliciously dry and refreshing. We enjoyed our meal very much, and escaped just before the England v Iceland match was shown on their TV.

As so often on this trip we were woken by the church bells at around eight in the morning. After a simple continental breakfast (of the “no plates supplied, just use your napkin” variety peculiar to France) we rescued the tandem from a corridor in the hotel and set off. Today was always planned to be a short day, as we knew we were travelling along key parts of the landing beaches, and suspected that we would stop frequently to investigate. 

The weather was more helpful today. There was no rain, the sun emerged intermittently and we didn’t seem to have much of a headwind. Our route alternated between the main coastal road and some very pleasant dedicated cycle paths next to the sandy beaches.

Our first objective, soon reached, was the Juno beach memorial and museum at Courseulles-sur-Mer. This area of the landing was achieved by Canadian soldiers, and there were many Canadian nationals at the museum. It was well-designed, with two short films topping and tailing the visit, the second of which showed the landings in harrowing detail. Outside, behind the dunes, were German gun emplacements and observation posts, which looked horribly claustrophobic and rather sinister. 

We set off again in the late morning along the main road, with only eight kilometres remaining. Just before Arromanches we tackled our only serious hill of the day – a longish grind up to a viewpoint from which we caught our first site of the remnants of the Mulberry harbour for which Arromanches is famous. At the top of the hill was a viewpoint and small museum. We ate crisps and chocolate bars for lunch (really pushing the boat out on this trip) and gazed out from the viewpoint. To the east we could see the Sword and Juno beaches, and to the west, set in a narrow valley, our destination at Arromanches, an attractive town, bounded at sea by the ruined, ghostly remnants of the once-massive Mulberry harbour.

Nothing left to do, then, but to release the brakes and let the tandem carry us down the hill into the centre of Arromanches and to our lodgings for the night in a very pleasant Chambres d’Hôtes. Changing out of our lycra cycling gear and into shorts and T-Shirts (this always feels strange on a cycling holiday) we strolled into town, partook of beer and wine in the warm sunshine, then headed into the Musée du Débarquement for the afternoon. Our articulate French guide, speaking in English for the benefit of visiting school parties, took us through a series of showcases explaining how the Mulberry harbour was constructed. It was clearly an immense achievement, to the enormous credit of the engineers who worked to satisfy Churchill’s requirements. Again, the museum was extremely well designed, and after our visit we stepped down onto the beach to look at the remains of the harbour, and to stick a token toe in the water as one must do on such journeys.

Tomorrow will be an even shorter day in cycling terms, as we switch our focus to a much earlier conflict and head into Bayeux to see the tapestries.

Click here to see today’s route.

Honfleur to Lion-sur-Mer

A lovely evening in Honfleur last night, an aperitif in one of the bars right on the harbour edge, and then a walk round to the restaurant ‘Les deux ponts’ by the lock for a leisurely dinner. We’d spotted an ice-creamery on our way to the restaurant, so we passed on dessert at the restaurant in favour of an ice-cream on the walk back to the hotel. And they had ‘caramel au beurre salé’, fantastic.

It was raining when we woke up this morning, disappointing but expected, so donning our rain jackets after breakfast we set off west out of Honfleur and up the first gentle climb. It didn’t rain for long, fortunately, and it was still warm. We could see the ever-widening Seine estuary, and remembered that the lady in the hotel had pointed out the beach for us on her town map, but had told us not to swim in it, because “it’s not the sea, it’s the Seine”. The road wound through a series of picturesque and beautifully kept villages, with the sea (the actual sea, not the Seine!) on our right now.

At Trouville we dipped inland briefly to cross an inlet via the bridge, and cycled through the town centre, across a series of paved squares (well, more ‘circulars’, really) and out again on a road right by the beach. There were houses between us and the beach for the most part, but occasionally there would be a break through which we could see sand and waves and sometimes the remains of a World War II bunker, grey concrete up to three feet thick in places. 

At Villers we set off inland again, but this time climbing steadily. Not much to look at, so just heads down grinding upwards until we reached the top and struck off on a delightful tiny road. Which fairly quickly became a gritty track. And then grass! We turned around, retraced our tracks and took the road instead, a long, long descent into Houlgate. We followed a second inlet inland, crossed over the bridge and then headed into Cabourg for lunch. Strange place, it looks like a spider’s web on the map, although it doesn’t feel like that on the ground. The ‘spoke’ we went in on was full of shops and restaurants, so we parked up the tandem and went into a creperie for a delicious lunch. 

The skies cleared whilst we were inside eating, and when we emerged, fortified for the afternoon, it was actually sunny, hurrah! We chose the next ‘spoke’ round the Cabourg wheel to escape and quickly found a good cycle path to take us onward. We were headed to ‘Pegasus Bridge’, famous for the exploits of an enormously brave bunch of British glider pilots and their crews, who flew silently in to the fields right next to this strategically vital bridge under cover of night. This tiny bunch of British forces captured the bridge from the Nazis before they could fire the explosives they had packed it with in case of just such an attack, and held it for the Allies until reinforcements arrived. There was a very well put together museum explaining it all, with a reconstruction of one of the gliders (and a nearly complete hull of one of the actual gliders). There were lots of artefacts, and amazing first-hand accounts from some of the British troops, including pictures of them then and in recent years and information about what they’d done in the rest of their lives. We spent about an hour there, then cycled across the bridge itself, and on towards the first of the Normandy landing beaches. 

At Ouistreham we stopped again at the ‘Museum of the Atlantic Wall’, an enormous concrete bunker five stories high, built by the Nazis as part of their defences in this area. Absolutely extraordinary, and a huge contrast from the Pegasus Bridge museum with its tales of Allied bravery and success. The bunker was full of reconstructions of the various activities carried out by the German soldiers who manned it, with their original equipment still in place, the radios marked with reminders that ‘Feind hört mit’, or ‘the enemy is listening in’. A good view ‘from the other side’, as it were, and an excellent view out to sea from the top level. The bunker was captured by British forces during the D-day invasion.
With just 5km to go we headed off west again, and cycled right along the first of the landing beaches we’ve encountered,  ‘Sword’ beach. A beautiful sandy stretch with clear seas now, this is where some of the British forces landed as part of the D-day invasion on June 6th 1944. Difficult to imagine now, but it must have been terrifying. 

So here we are in sunny Lion-sur-Mer. Tomorrow we’re cycling just as far as Arromanche, where we plan to visit the museum to learn more about the landings.
Click here to see today’s track.

Jumièges to Honfleur

A day of cycling along the Seine to the Normandy Coast

Jumièges was lovely – a ruined Benedictine Abbey set in delightful surroundings, with a handful of restaurants, hotels and bakeries. We enjoyed an aperitif in a local bar (Abbey beer for the Captain, Crémant for the Stoker) before a simple meal of steak frites. On leaving the (very friendly) restaurant they told us there would be fireworks later. Sadly (but inevitably) we were fast asleep by the time they started.

The day dawned, cloudy and slightly wet, and pleasantly cool. Our muscles felt fine after a night of rest, and we enjoyed a quiet breakfast (with excellent bread) before returning to our room to pack the panniers. As always we checked the room at least three times to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, then we pedalled away.

Straight away we had a short sharp climb out of Jumièges, but we felt strong and it seemed to pass quickly. We passed a group of motorcyclists by the side of the road, preparing for a day out, and waving cheerily in our direction.

Our first port of call was the ferry at Yainville, for our final crossing of the Seine. Everything looked much the same as the previous ferries – flashing red lights and signs warning us not to cycle off the quay. Here, though, as we approached, things began to look a little different. The main difference was the distinct lack of a ferry. It wasn’t on our side of the river, and we certainly couldn’t see it on the opposite bank. Undaunted, the Stoker dismounted to look at the sign. Ouvert Chaque Jours, it proudly announced. We were confused. Perhaps they had detected that we came from “Perfidious Albion” and hidden the ferry? Let’s face it, we couldn’t blame them for feeling rejected at the moment. Reading on, in smaller letters it was revealed that from 2008 onwards chaque jours meant Monday to Saturday only. Today is Sunday. 

Not to worry – a quick look at the map revealed that we could cycle north alongside the river to the Pont de Brotonne, a few kilometres away. It would add perhaps 7km to the journey – not too bad in the circumstances. So we headed off on a fast main road, thankfully quiet. After a while we were passed by the same group of motorcyclists we’d spotted earlier – each one greeted us with a different air horn as he passed – clearly a cheerful bunch!

 We were following one of the boucles of the Seine – wide meanders, bordered by forests, with occasional stark white chalk cliffs – rather beautiful and generally unspoiled. As we neared the bridge we began to wonder how we would climb up to it – the bridge is a high, elegant suspension bridge. It became apparent that we would have to turn “inland” for a kilometre and then around a hairpin bend before a long, steady climb onto the bridge deck. When we’d achieved that we were rewarded with spectacular views in both directions along the Seine. It was really windy up there too, though, so we were relieved to descend to the rive gauche and rejoin our original planned route.
Our route now took us south towards Bourneville (no dark chocolate being manufactured here, as far as we could tell). We passed through the attractive village before climbing steadily onto a plateau, only around 150 metres high, mainly afforested, with some quiet cycle paths and minor roads. We stayed on top of the plateau for some time – the roads were undulating but made for very pleasant riding.

Normandy’s villages, so far, have been strikingly lovely. Houses either half-timbered, or with flints in the walls, often with thatched roofs. Along the top of the roof-line of each thatched roof would be a line of what appeared to be sedums inter-planted with lilies – something we’ve never seen before. Every town and village seemed to be very well kept indeed.

By now our legs were informing us that it was time to stop for lunch, so we duly descended steeply into Pont-Audemer, quite a large town, chosen earlier as a potential lunch spot because it had at least one restaurant which was open on a Sunday. The restaurant was a pizzeria – to be honest we wouldn’t normally choose pizza for lunch, but on this occasion we deserved it, we thought. The captain scanned the menu for a Pizza Savoyarde – France’s finest contribution to Italian cuisine! It wasn’t there, but he spotted a Pizza Tartiflette – perfect!

Only twenty eight or so kilometres remained, and we set off, refreshed, in the direction of Honfleur. We’d left the plateau behind now, but the roads were undulating all afternoon, through quiet bucolic villages, heading down a green valley towards the estuary of the Seine. The sun came out just as we spotted the slow brown waters of the estuary to our right. Soon after that we saw the high suspension bridge at Honfleur and knew that we were approaching our destination. 

The outskirts of Honfleur were uncharacteristically tatty, but we dropped down towards the central harbour area – much more like it. Taking one look at our sweaty, weary faces our host at the hotel joked that she had allocated us a room on the fourth floor!  In reality though, it is on the first, above a bustling street leading towards the harbour.

Tomorrow we head to Lion-sur-Mer, via Pegasus Bridge and parts of the Normandy landing beaches. Our country fought proudly alongside others to oppose fascism on those beaches. Food for thought.

Click here to see today’s route.

Rouen to Jumièges

A day of following the Seine in sunshine and in rain (well, only a tiny bit)

A good breakfast in the hotel in Rouen this morning, and then a frantic twenty minutes of turning the room upside down looking for the car keys. Just when we thought it was hopeless, there they were, in the side of the already twice-searched rucksack. Phew.

Assemblage of the tandem was performed in the shadow of the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, an imposing if rather grubby church, and then we were off. Straight down to the banks of the Seine, tricky section around the port, then the first of today’s cycle paths. It was very industrial to begin with, lots of silos and conveyor belts, but gradually gave way to greenery and villages of beautiful half-timbered houses. Very, very quiet, hardly any traffic, and only a few people out mowing their lawns or weeding in their gardens.

We tootled along, only 50km to do today, enjoying the sunshine and not even minding the slight headwind. The Seine meanders in great loops in these parts, and we’d plotted a course which largely followed it. Not the most direct route, but piling to the destination wasn’t really the idea. A short rain shower, during which we were unexpectedly pelted with hailstones, was a bit of a surprise. After 20km we hit the first ferry across the river at Sahurs, and it felt very reminiscent of the Highlands and Islands ferries we took two years ago in Scotland. On the other side we landed at La Bouilles, now bathed in sunshine, where we stopped for lunch in a little bistro. Fabulous frites, accompanying omelette and steak respectively for stoker and captain.

After lunch, we followed the Seine just a little further, and it was full of eddies now, the turning of the tide we presumed. We hit the only climb of the day then, barely even deserving of the name. A long slow rise, the captain setting a good pace, but soon done and everything feeling fine, physically and mechanically, so far. We’d struck across country between the loops of the meanders for this section, but we could see the curve of the river’s valley coming back around to meet us. The second ferry of the day took us across the river again, across a strong current now, and then we set off on a beautiful little road right next to the river, past more half-timbered houses, all with lots of land. Some had fruit groves, some were grazed by goats and sheep, and the rest of the residents must have had to spend most of their summer hours mowing their enormous lawns.

Soon enough we were arriving in Jumièges, another lovely village, getting rather blasé about the half-timbered houses by now! A quick turn around the village for orientation purposes, then along to the hotel, and a very welcome dip in the pool. Best not get used to that, though, it’s the only one of the trip!

Click on the link below to see today’s route.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1228179378#.V26Snsxo7u8.google

Coming soon – a trip to Normandy

 

TIme for another tour – this time in Normandy. We’ll be starting in Rouen on Saturday 25th June, then working our way along the Seine and then the coast, past the WWII landing beaches, towards Bayeux. From Bayeux we’ll be taking a southerly route back to Rouen.

Our planned stopping places are:

  • Rouen
  • Jumiéges
  • Honfleur
  • Lion-sur-Mer
  • Arromanches
  • Bayeux
  • Saint-Loup-de-Fribois
  • Le Neuborg
  • Rouen