Monday 19 September – final lunch in the Loire Valley and travelling north to Normandy
So after Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem it was time for Team Tandem Ecosse to enjoy some rest and recovery by heading north to a mobile home near Bayeux in Normandy.
Before we could head off to Normandy there was the small matter of getting back to the start point of Le Tour at Blois to recover Matilda Transporter. My dynamic duo were not sure about taking me on the French trains you see! Bikes are common place, but tandems can often present a problem on trains.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t have been a problem as the “old git” reported there was plenty of room on the fast 2-hour train trip he took back to Blois, accompanied by John from Team Yukon. The “old gal” and Nancy decided they would stay behind for some sightseeing around Angers.
After recovering Matilda Transporter from the car park, and stopping off to buy some local wine, the the pair drove back down to Angers and I was carefully packed in for the journey north.
Just time for a quick final lunch with John and Nancy – which appropirately was held at a nearby Scottish pub, called the Black Peat. However my dynamic duo said it was just a Scottish-themed tourist attraction rather than a traditional Scottish pub.
One final toast to Team Yukon, and Team Tandem Ecosse were on the road for the three hour drive to a mobile home and camping site called Camping Port’land – situated on Ohama Beach at Port-en-Bessin just a few miles from Bayeux.
And the good news was that we were meeting Ann and Jack there – good friends of all three of us! – after they had driven over from the UK in their motor home to meet up with us.
We met up at the local supermarket – as you do! – to stock up on supplies for the week, before a celebratory first meal on the campsite and a toast to real friends!
Tuesday – a restful day of acclimitisation!
After a welcome sleep – without being wakened by an early morning alarm call – the first full day saw my dynamic duo explore their luxury chalet mobile home and the campsite.
The chalet was described as a “cottage luxe” and was a brilliantly designed modern chalet with not one, but two en-suite bathrooms as it could easily take a family of 5. It had every luxury – equipped with a television, a dish-washer, and an outdoor terrace with a lake view. And as it said in the brochure, it provided the ideal base to relax and unwind.
The campsite itself was beautifully landscaped and also featured a bar restaurant, shop and two swimming pools – an outdoor one (only open in July and August) and a heated indoor one.
After Matilda Transporter was unpacked I was parked up against the front of the chalet – and allowed a day’s rest with the promise of a ride to stretch my spokes tomorrow.
After a smorgasbord alfresco lunch on the terrace – my dynamic duo headed for a walk with Ann and Jack to the nearby fishing harbour village of Port-en-Bessin. This was a lovely working port with some beautiful seafront bars, cafes and restaurants – and a well stocked deli and wine shop.
This visit obviously required the purchase of some wine for that nights bbq, and the sampling of some local cider in one of the bars – before heading back up the steep hill to the campsite. On the walk back up the 18% gradient, the “old gal” firmly stressed that she wasn’t cycling down this road to the port! Fortunately there were other roads into the town!
On returning to the campsite the “old gal” and the “old git” decided a bit of fun was in order and went to the swimming pool.
After much laughter – involving playing with a ball – they worked up an appetite and eagerly joined Ann and Jack for a bbq, washed down with a few glasses from the 3 litre bag of red wine that we bought on day 5 of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem! And, I am told, very tasty it was too! Well worth me carrying it around that day on my ageing frame it seems! Glad to be of assistance!
Wednesday – tandem ride to Bayeux – market, cathedral and tapestry
Wednesday dawned and I was so excited as we were heading back out on the road again today – with a leisurely tandem ride to the the medieval city of Bayeux, just 13 km away.
I was really looking forward to getting some air between my spokes again – and my dynamic duo were keen to get on my saddles again.
And there was the promise of a market in Bayeux, as well as a visit to its famous cathedral and of course the world-renowned Bayeux Tapestry.
You can check out the details of our route on our trip into Bayeux and back to the campsite on the scenic cycle path on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!
We went on the direct route, on the local veloroute paths, easily getting into our stride again. Synchronicity took over and my dynamic duo were pedalling along at an average speed of 16 km/hr. An uphill stretch towards the city proved no obstacle – and we were soon pedalling down through the quaint historic streets to a bicycle parking area near the town hall.
First stop was the local market which was in full swing – with the “old git” and the “old gal” making a few purchases – with local fromage again being one of the key elements on the shopping list!
A few presents were also purchased, then it was a visit to the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral, described as “a gem of Norman architecture”.
The cathedral was consecrated on 14th July 1077, by Bishop Odo of Conteville, in the presence of his illustrious brother,William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.
It is believed that Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. The masterpiece from the Middle Ages was probably intended to be hung in the cathedral nave.
After a selfie outside the cathedral – with the “old git” and the “old gal” still attracting attention in their lime green hi-vis t-shirts, despite me being nowhere to be seen – it was time for lunch. The traditional meal in Normandy is a galette – or savoury pancake – washed down with local cider, which was enjoyed by all.
Refuelled the tour of the conservation area continued with a walk to one of the “must do” visits when in the town – the Bayeux Tapestry.
Now it would need to be said here that the “old git” wasn’t overly enthusiastic about going to see a tapestry – thinking it would be quite a dull experience. But he soon changed his mind, when on entering the museum visitors are kitted out with a head set which – complete with music and illuminating commentary – brings the historic tapestry to life.
The tapestry itself is nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 cm (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England, culminating in the Battle of Hastings, 950 years ago in 1066.
And believe it or not this “old lady” is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry! Well at least someone called Queen Matilda is – or Mathilde de Flanders. This turns out to be the wife of William the Conqueror, and not a classic tandem! Shame!
On return to the bike parking area, we found lots of other Mathilde references – a street, a bridge and a hotel! Fame indeed!
Along with Ann and Jack we headed back this time following the more scenic cycle path through some beautiful countryside to the campsite – with one downhill stretch seeing my wheels fair whirring round to hit 47 km/hr!
A quick swim, a meal and some more excellent local wine finished off an interesting day.
Thursday – trip to see Mont-Saint-Michel and the start point for Le Tour de France 2016
Today’s schedule was for a visit by car to the famous sight of Mont-Saint-Michel. Now I was getting very excited about this as the landmark was the spectacular starting point for this year’s Tour de France and I had visions of re-creating the start on the causeway.
Unfortunately however, with the “old git” the “old gal” and Ann and Jack in the car there was no room for me, so I had to stay at home. But I knew my dynamic crew wouldn’t forget about me – and they didn’t disappoint!
One of the first things they did on arrival at the massive car parks was to take a picture at the official sign marking the start of the race.
The Mont-Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most unforgettable sights. Set in the mesmerising bay where Normandy and Brittany merge, the island draws the eye from great distances.
Apart from monuments in and around Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel is the most visited tourist attraction in France. This remarkable mediaeval walled city, crowned by its great gothic abbey, is built on a small granite outcrop standing all by itself in the flats of the estuary of the Couesnon river, in an area now known as Mont-Saint-Michel bay. It was one of the first monuments to be classed as a UNESCO world heritage site, as far back as 1979.
On arrival we headed for a tour of the Abbey situated right at the top of the Mount. Again it was brought to life with a highly informative and interetsing electronic tour guide.
Amazingly the Abbey dates back to the early 8th the construction itself was clearly an amazing achievement. One of the most interesting areas is the cloisters which seem almost to be suspended between the sea and the sky.
After a fantastic tour my dynamic duo explored the walkways around the Mount and had a quick look at the busy tourist shops which cling to the narrow steep streets.
After a cooling drink it was time to head home, but the “old git” it seems couldn’t resist a picture as if he was on the start line of the Tour de France! The fact that he didn’t have a bike with him didn’t seem to bother him – although I am reliably informed he got a few strange looks from passers by!
As my crew travelled back across the causeway to the car parks, they found an eye catching sculpture made out of bikes – which again had been installed to mark the departure point of Le Tour de France.
The holidaymakers headed home via dinner at a fantastic seafood restaurant at Port-en-Bessin where the “old gal” and the “old git” were able to induldge in a wonderful fruits de mer (seafood) platter which included some fanastic local oysters!
All in all a great day it seems. the “old git” said it could only have been bettered by arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel by tandem! Next time it seems!
Friday – tandem run to visit war sites at Arromanches and Gold Beach
Today was forecast to be the best day of the week for warm sunshine – and it didn’t disappoint as we woke to bright early morning.
The “old git” had planned a ride for today to visit some of the World War 2 landing beaches and museums along the Normandy coast at Arromanches.
So after a hearty breakfast Team Tandem Ecosse – accompanied by Ann and Jack – set off on what turned out to be a beautiful ride through relatively flat countryside and scenic villages. And the good thing was that it was if they hadn’t been away for my dynamic duo – with even the “old gal” admitting to how easy it was to pedal today.
You can check out the details of our route on our trip to Arromanches and Gold Beach on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (The actual distance was 44km but again we had post picnic operator error!)
On arrival at Arromanches the “old git” and the “old gal” decided to bypass the little sea front town and head on to Arronmanches 360 – a circular cinema which sits on a point high on the clifftops above the town and which overlooks the spectacular bay which was the focus for the D-Day invasion on 6th June 1944.
After taking in the views, my dynamic duo and Ann and Jack watched the excellent “Normandy’s 100 Days” short film made up of 19 minutes of unseen archive footage which depicts the horror of the terrible 100 days of the Battle of Normandy on 9 massive HD screens. The film is a tribute to soldiers from all countries and to the 20,000 civilians who were killed during this battle for the liberation of Europe, battle which gave rise to so much hope.
The most moving part for the “old gal” was the fact that there was literally a stunned silence at the end of the film – with people leaving the circular cinema shaking their heads in disbelief, many in tears.
After that sobering visit, we tandemed on in beautiful warm sunshine further along the coast to Gold Beach – which was the beach where the British forces came ashore. Today it is just a wide open beach, and it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like all those years ago when the British 50th Infantry Division stormed ashore, meeting stiff resistance from the German 352nd Infantry Division.
After a walk along the beach it time for a picnic – but only after I got to show off my new shiny red leather accessory – my la bouclee wine carrier – which perfectly matches my paintwork! And it looked all the better in the sun.
And it clearly works as, despite the warm temperature, the clever design keeps the bottle cool with the air flowing past the bottle generated by cycling.
After I was parked up, it was time to introduce Ann and Jack to the delights of a Cremant picnic – on a picnic bench which had the most amazing view overlooking Gold Beach.
After demolishing the picnic, the “old gal” and the “old git” decided it was the perfect spot to take a view “portrait” shots of Team Tandem Ecosse. Ann was roped in as photographer and did a great job capturing the team. Indeed the “old git” was so pleased with the results that he is talking of using the shot in this year’s Team Matilda Christmas card!
Back on the saddles we tandemed further along to Ver-Sur-Mer to sit and enjoy the sun while having a much needed coffee. The temperature was probably the warmest it had been today, and the “old gal” was lapping up the sunshine. And despite having to apply regular coatings of factor 30 suncream, the “old git” was enjoying watching his skin turn brown instead of bright red!
As we pedalled back towards Arromanches the sun was perfectly placed for the “old gal” to take an arty shadow shot of the three of us tandeming along. You know, she is getting quite good at this photography lark!
As we tandemned into Arromanches you cannot fail to notice the military reminders as no other port is more closely linked with the liberation of Western Europe after D-Day.
Arromanches is a very moving place. Here, in the midst of the D-Day beaches, you still get a strong sense of the huge effort involved in the Allied invasion to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from June 1944 on. Troops deliberately did not land at Arromanches on D-Day itself, to leave the coast here clear for a portable harbour (nicknamed Mulberry Harbour) being tugged over from southern England to be put in place, free of any debris.
The port was meant to be temporary, lasting maybe three months. It served for some five months. The Arromanches Mulberry Harbour became known as Port Winston, after British wartime leader Winston Churchill, who was closely involved in its conception. A staggering 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies arrived via Port Winston.
A visit was paid to the Musee du Debarquement which is built looking out to the staggeringly big concrete blocks which remain in the sea. This central museum focuses on the D-Day landings and the crucial months of Allied action afterwards. It goes into fascinating detail about the setting up of the Mulberry Harbour via models and displays.
Despite all its somber reminders of the shattering war effort, Arromanches has a good deal of charm and after the museum visit, I was parked up in the bike parking area and the “old git” and the “old gal” wandered round the town.
There are reminders of the military links everywhere, with most shops having artefacts in their shop windows and shop front displays. An old military engine-powered relic of a bicycle caught the eye of the “old gal.”
Perhaps the most thought provoking image of the day was painted on a wall just beside a main road junction at the main square – depicting the plea from children for “please no more war”.
It was time to tandem back to the campsite and I must say my dynamic duo had one of those moments on the return journey when all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse feel as if we are part of a finely tuned machine! We climbed hills as if they didn’t exist and effortlessly tandemed along on the flat – even outpacing Ann and Jack in their pesky e-bikes!
A quick stop at the supermarket resulted in every corner of my panniers stuffed with supplies, before we returned to the campsite after a fabulous – but very moving – day.
Jack’s impressive skills with the bbq provided a fitting meal to end the day – with the wine I carefully carried up from the supermarket providing suitable refreshments!
Saturday – Omaha Beach and the American Military Cemetery
After yesterday’s Team Tandem Ecosse pedal to Arromanches and Gold Beach, today my dynamic duo decided on a morning visit by car to the American sector – Omaha beach and the American Military Cemetery.
Along with Ann and Jack my crew drove just a few miles to Colleville-sur-Mer where you overlook what is now known as Omaha Beach where the American forces landed on D-Day – 6 June 1944.
Today the beach itself is beautiful, but it is easy to imagine the D-Day invasion scene – and what a frightening prospect that must have been for those involved.
On walking down towards the beach there is a Monument to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade – built on the remains of a blockhouse – which commemorates those who died protecting movements between the landing craft and the beach.
Next was a though provoking visit to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer which contains 9,387 white marble gravestones which are perfectly lined up on the field that overlooks Omaha beach.
An impressive memorial includes a massive bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”
On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.
The impressive visitor centre contains numerous exhibits which bring home the stark reality of the D-D Landings. The cemetery itself receives more than 1 million visitors a year.
As the “old gal” said – you cannot fail to be moved by the size of the cemetery and that it contains the graves of so many soldiers. Thought provoking indeed.
Back at the campsite, a relaxing afternoon followed – allowing the “old gal” a chance to chill and do a bit of reading. Evening saw a lovely dinner at the Camping Port’land restaurant – including the now almost obligatory cocktails to mark the last full day in Port-en-Bessin.
Unfortunately we start the journey home tomorrow ….
Sunday – packing up, market day, fabulous lunch, the British Cemetery and the long drive home
Sunday was our last day and the morning passed in a flurry of cleaning and packing with me safely secured in Matilda Transporter for the journey home. The “old gal” was delighted with the extra space around me in the new vehicle – allowing plenty of room for the boxes of wine that she and the “old git” had purchased during the holiday!
After checking out of Camping Port’land – and thanking them for a most enjoyable stay – it was time for a farewell lunch with Ann and Jack in Port-en-Bessin. But only after we discovered that it was market day in the town and my dynamic duo eatgerly rushed around the stalls buying up some wonderful looking local cheeses from the various fromagerie stalls.
Ann and Jack had the luxury of going to be spending at least another week touring around in their motor home – but sadly Team Tandem Ecosse had to head home. But there was a wonderful final lunch of moules-frites to be eaten at a brilliant restaurant looking out on to the fishing harbour.
After a long – and most enjoyable lunch – it was time to bid “au revoir” to Ann and Jack after a great week of companionship.
Having visited the American Military Cemetery the “old gal” and the “old git” were keen to see the British version and allowed time for a visit to The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery – which is the largest Second World War British military cemetery in France.
The Bayeux War Cemetery marks the graves of nearly 5,000 soldiers. This includes nearly 4,000 British soldiers but also graves for military personnel from ten further nations, including a large number of German soldiers. A memorial honours the memory of a further 1,807 Commonwealth soldiers missing-in-action.
Construction of the Bayeux War Cemetery began two days after the D-Day landings. Since then, the simple crosses on the graves had been replaced by stone headstones. In contrast to the American and German war cemeteries, headstones here are not totally uniform with the top ends slightly different for the respective nations.
Also, in contrast to the American practice, the inscriptions on the headstones in the Bayeux War Cemetery are personalised. In addition to the traditional names, rank, dates of birth and death, headstones here also carry images of the regiment or country, as well as personal messages from family members.
After a truly moving visit, with the clock ticking towards 6pm it was time to bid farewell to Bayeux and get into Matilda Transporter and start the 800 mile trip direct back home to Matildas Rest in Perthshire.
And with the two hours on – two hours off – rota system employed by the “old gal” and the “old git” we whizzed up the French motorways arriving in plenty of time for our Eurotunnel crossing.
Then the last part of the journey, round the M25, up the M6 and M74 before the welcoming A9 and back to Matilda’s Rest where we arrived before 6am – just 12 hours driving from our departure from Bayeux.
And although I was missing the warm French sunshine – it is always nice to be back home. And the “old git” and the “old gal” had even got a new French-style sign for my garage signifying it was a “Place des Cyclistes”! How very true!
So the end of another fabulous French adventure – which leaves only two things to say – what a holiday … and when can we do it again!!!
I hope you enjoyed reliving the adventures of Team Tandem Ecosse through my Musings – and I promise I will have the “old git” and “old gal” back in the saddle very soon so I can continue to recount my adventures as we travel around Scotland. Speak soon!