Cycling touring in Normandy
In July 2002 I had a weeks Tour In Normandy, riding from St Malo and around the peninsula up to Cherbourg. As usual I went alone but on an organised cycling package holiday with a Company that I had been away with several times before, so I knew I would meet new people also on the trip. The company plan the route and have a back up Vehicle to transport all the luggage to the next Hotel, with a mechanic including spares just in case anyone needs help, he would also recommend lunch stops and where necessary be our translator, (I'm sure I can now ask for a beer in fluent French only to be looked at by some stupefied Garcon who when he finally works out what I want repeats it back to me in what appears to be exactly the way I said it in the first place) he would also always cruise the route making sure we were all OK. Unlike Last years End-End ride this was to be much shorter, daily mileage being just 25-50 miles, allowing for plenty of refreshment stops…………and we all know what that means in France with superb and inexpensive food and drink!
On Saturday Morning I went by train to Poole from Waterloo, which I thought was very good value at only £16.00 return and I only booked it 10 days in advance; it is worth noting that the bike went free of charge although I could not pre book it; I actually took the last bike space on the way home, I am not sure what would have happened if the bike compartment had actually been full! I sailed from Poole to St Malo by the new and very quick ferries that take only four hours for the crossing and that included a stop in Guernsey, the return crossing from Cherbourg being even quicker at 2 ¼ hours, very impressive, although I must say it is an experience standing outside at the speed these modern Sea Cat type ferries go, a bit like belting down your favourite hill with the wind in your helmet; can't say hair any more these days, one because I wear a helmet and the other as like many middle aged men but still in their prime I'm err….growing a sun roof.
St Malo, pic on left shows the ramparts that enclose the old town
We arrived in St Malo Saturday evening, I had been to the Port several times before, only to immediately leave as I headed into Brittany, however this time we actually stayed in the old walled area of the Town, literally two minutes ride from the ferry, for those who have not thought to visit this area I can highly recommend it, the hotel was superb and situated amongst lots of traditional street cafes and bars, the atmosphere and setting in side the walled area instantly gave the start of the holiday a truly French feel. That is another good thing about Cycling holidays that many people do not take into consideration; no transfers, you are off the ferry and immediately on holiday.
After a superb evening meal with my seven new best friends, a couple of us decided to go for a walk around the ramparts that enclose the old town, as France do not appear to have any local health and safety chappies with clip boards and wagging fingers this proved to be a bit risky in the dark, the ramparts were unlit and it was pitch black, it was in fact a couldn't see your hand in front of your face type of dark; at one point the path along the top drops dramatically and the pitch black made the steps that appeared (or not) virtually impossible to even notice at all let alone see….as I found out, I didn't think that I had that much to drink, however that familiar impression of walking in mid air after a beer or three only lasted until I landed!
The first day was a beach front and pretty country lane ride to the very beautiful Island and spectacular castle of Le Mont St Michael, which for those who may not know it is the second most popular attraction in France outside of Paris; that is according to the advertising, they did not say who the 1st most popular attraction was! Although it has many of the inevitable tourist shops and tacky atmosphere that goes with them it was still well worth a visit.
Le Mont St Michael in back ground, on the way to Granville
The Next day we headed around the bay staying mainly to quite coastal roads and paths to stop the night at the coastal town of Granville before the next stage (very Tour De France) to Countances. As this was a short stage (TDF again…I just can't help it) we decided to have another quality time lunch stop. A good tip in France is to go to the same places that the local workmen go to, for about £7.00 or even less you get the menu of the day, normally four or five courses with a bottle of red wine and in this case also a bottle of Cider, another tip is to make this break nearer the evening accommodation as it is very easy to take full advantage of the hospitality and spend the rest of the day wobbling along merrily and getting lost as we did; even with every single junction very clearly marked by our experienced guide!
Cider Press at Feugeres on the way to Carentan-Utah Beach,
The following day was my main reason for taking the trip as we were going to visit Utah Beach (nearest town on the map at the beginning is St Mere Eglise) where the Americans Landed as part of the Normandy invasion during WW2, it was an option on this stage to visit the beach as it made the total for the day 50 miles, but we all took this option, some car assisted to lunch so that we could all do the last bit together, a beautiful ride over flat farmland roads in countryside that had obviously at some stage been reclaimed from the sea, with numerous drainage ditches and hedge rows it was easy to imagine how hard the fighting must have been after the landings, we passed many memorials as we had done throughout the whole holiday, nearly all well maintained and inspiring to see.
The beach itself is well worth a visit, the water itself was extremely warm and you could walk out a long way before getting out of depth, the beach sandy and the Ice cream cold, what more could you want! It is very popular really for being both a great beach and a truly historic place, they also have a very good Museum for any one interested in that period as I am. I found it quite moving that there I was with the freedom to sunbathe, play Frisbee, swim in the sea and generally have a great time, all this on a beach where not a lifetime ago many gave their lives so that people like me can do exactly as we please.
Utah Beach On D Day
Utah Beach now
The Next day we headed back across the other side of the peninsula to the coastal town of Barneville, the hotel was literally right on the beach front so those who wanted to even up their cyclist tan could if they so desired; civilians and normal people often find cyclists tans very amusing have you noticed?
Briquebec not far from Cherbourg
The next day was a short and hilly ride to Cherbourg, not as pretty as St Malo but still worth a visit. The next day was the 2 ¼ hour fast ferry home, once again I had met some great new people and had a super holiday organised as they always are to perfection, it was hot and sunny every day, the country side fantastic and as with all my other tours I thoroughly enjoyed it; I can't wait for next year….not sure where to go yet!