A Travellerspoint blog

September 2009

Normandy Trip

I checked the bike out the night before we were to leave. The tyres were perfect and I had to give her 250ml of 20w/50 to take it back to the full line in the sight glass. Then I checked and double checked the maps and routes were in the Garmin SatNav.

On Friday morning all I had to do was load the Touratech bags into the Touratech panniers - German panniers for a German bike!

Ready for the off...

Ready for the off...

Ready for the off...

We left home a little late for the Shuttle, but only 3 minutes! We checked in and were given the next train after our booking. A little bit annoyed but that’s the way the Shuttle does it. In front were loads of Harley’s on a trip across for the day. They went off onto the 0820 and we had to make do with the 0843. It left late. Superb. The 50 minute wait at Folkestone makes it as long as the ferry to make the crossing, except of course we have to sit on the floor and no coffee, unlike to ferry!

Once on French soil it was evident that the hurricane that had been crossing the Atlantic had arrived. Although it was supposed to have died long before landfall in Europe. The winds very high. And this could be seen as all the wind socks were horizontal!

The route that I had planned (or rather let Mapsource for the Garmin choose) had us taking the A16 towards Abbeville, then A28 towards Rouen and A29 towards Le Havre and the Pont de Normandie and then to Caen. We set off on the A16 towards Boulogne. I kept the speed down as the wind was coming hard at us from the front right quarter. As we approached the toll plaza above Boulogne we had to cross a long (1.3km) viaduct. This one is lined with glass as a windbreak, except for a narrow slit at the bottom. On the down hill I lost all steering and it felt as though the front tyre had gone. It hadn’t but such was the wind it felt like it.

We stopped at our usual place at the Aire de la Baie de la Somme near Abbeville. It was lunch time and I needed some respite from the high winds.

Aire de la Baie de la Somme

Aire de la Baie de la Somme

Aire de la Baie de la Somme

Aire de la Baie de la Somme

Once we had eaten I had a walk around to look at the tower they have built at the back with views over the “marais” towards St Valery and the Somme estuary and also back towards Abbeville. I got half way up and found they had closed it due to the wind!!

From here we headed south-west. The wind still strong, we stopped for petrol and my normal 50mpg (imperial gallon) was down to 45. I put this down to the wind as my speeds even considering I was two-up with luggage was some 20mph less than my usual commuting speeds!! I do 150 miles a day round-trip to work and home.

If the viaduct near Boulogne was scary, the Pont de Normandie was even worse. The preview is a small viaduct over the canal before you reach the main span. It looks like two huge chicken wishbones set into the ground with the single “bone” projecting high into the sky. The roadway is suspended from these. As we approached I steeled myself for a terrible experience. Slipping through the motorcycle lane (it’s free for us) and we started the ascent. Once again steering became harder and harder. On the downhill section we hit a cross current and we wobbled all over the place. Even at 30mph it was a nightmare. I stopped at the bottom to take a photo.

Pont de Normandie, Claire had to hop off to take it as I held the bike up on gravel. We were still alive.

Pont de Normandie, Claire had to hop off to take it as I held the bike up on gravel. We were still alive.

From the bottom of the bridge it was plain sailing to Caen and the SatNav took us straight to the hotel. Hotel de la Fontaine is in the street of the same name and is already in Mapsource, so no messing was needed to get a waypoint.

The owners, Helene and Philippe, said we could park in their private garage and we took them up on the offer. We were unlikely to want to use the bike again on Day 1.

The rest of the day was spent exploring Caen visiting the Castle of William, Duke of Normandy and later King of England, the art gallery inside and a long walk around ostensibly looking for a bar to have a drink; a bar that might have seats free and not be filled with “young people”. We eventually achieved this goal.

Caen Castle

Caen Castle

Caen Castle

Caen Castle

That evening we ate at a restaurant overlooking the marina following a walk round checking the menu boards outside and a first beer of the trip at a small bar. With the Pound to Euro exchange rate at poor as it is, a simple three course dinner with a beer came out at around £50 ($75) and so it went on the pre-paid MasterCard I keep for holidays. The restaurant was called Le Costa. The food excellent and fish soup to die for!

Estate Agents in Caen

Estate Agents in Caen

Whilst we were out we saw this rather aptly named estate agents. Usually you'd expect the first name to be Robbin' or Lying...

After a longish day in the saddle we were ready for bed.

Day 2 – The D-Day Beaches

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and after breakfast we made sure the SatNav had the route in and we were off out of Caen.

Me, the GS in Caen

Me, the GS in Caen

I have to admit that as the basis of the route I used a waypoints file that was posted on the BMW Club forum enhanced from the Major and Mrs Holt’s Pocket Handbook to the D-Day Landing Beaches. If anyone is interested I’ll post the file on the forum once I can get it off the unit, this is the one that I downloaded plus some places they didn’t get to!

From Caen centre we headed out past the Castle and towards Ouistreham, better known to the British as a cross channel ferry port. Brittany Ferries run a service from Portsmouth.

The first stop was just to the south of Colleville-Montgomery and a bunker, dedicated a national monument to the Suffolk Regiment that took this one codenamed “Hillman” and another just down the road codenamed “Morris”.

Hillman Bunker

Hillman Bunker

Hillman Bunker

Hillman Bunker

GS @ Hillman Bunker

GS @ Hillman Bunker

Hillman Bunker

Hillman Bunker

Hillman was attacked on 6th June 1944 by the 1st Suffolk Regiment, supported by C Squadron 13/18 Hussars, A Squadron Staffs Yeomanry, two batteries from 33rd and 76th Field Regiments Royal Artillery, 246th Field Company RE and a machine-gun platoon from 2nd Middlesex Regiment.

Hillman was outflanked to the north, where high grass allowed an approach to the minefield area surrounding the bunkers and barbed wire. This was cleared by the RE, and a path made through the wire by Bangalore Torpedoes. A Company of 1st Suffolk’s then charged through the gap, and entered the bunker area, but came under such heavy fire that they lost the company commander and had to pull out. Sherman’s from 13/18 Hussars then came up, and a second assault carried the position. However, in the process two tanks from 13/18 Hussars were knocked out and the Suffolk’s lost two officers killed, along with five men and 24 men wounded.

From here we had intended to go to Pegasus Bridge but I changed the route and we could do the bridge area on Sunday. Instead we went straight into Ouistreham and the Grand Bunker Museum.

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

The bunker is on four floors and was the command post for the batteries on both sides of the Orne and in the event of invasion was supposed to protect the river and the docks that extended as far as Caen. In the grounds are some vehicles as exhibits plus a landing craft.

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

La Grande Bunker Musee Ouisterham

We had a look round and a few photos and then set off along the coast further along Sword beach towards Lion sur Mer.

The plan was to cut inland to take in the radar site near Douvres la Déliverande. At Lion there is a monument to the Royal Marines known as the "Sun Dial", and alongside it there is a Churchill Tank.

Churchill Tank - Lion sur Mer

Churchill Tank - Lion sur Mer

Churchill Tank - Lion sur Mer

Churchill Tank - Lion sur Mer

Sadly the radar site was closed and there was no one there to let us in. We also didn't get a chance to photograph it, but it looks pretty complete.
From the radar site we returned to the coast with a first stop at Intermarche for petrol. A mistake as it turned out but one I wasn’t to know until later in the day.

The petrol/gas station was on automatic and I filled up the tank with €17.26 worth of 95 unleaded. Later when I checked my pre-paid credit card, I had been scalped for €70. I have a receipt for €17.26. Attempts to get the money back are being chased internationally with the company. As an aside, MasterCard were completely useless and offered no support or advice.

After the fuel stop we had to virtually ride across the road to the first stop of the afternoon session.

This part of Juno beach was assaulted by the Canadian forces and the bunker on the seafront is now a memorial to their exploits. Plaques on the side commemorate the regiments that took part.

Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer

Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer

Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer

Canadian Bunker - Bernieres sur Mer

he bunker is on a dog-leg in the seafront and the gun slot is angled to provide a field of fire in one direction only and is protected on the beach side. It does provide fire across the entire beach from the sea to the small dunes on the land side.

From Bernieres we moved a short distance up the coast to Courselles-sur-Mer. This was a strategic point as the town straddles the River Seulles. Both sides of the river mouth were heavily defended with pillboxes and bunkers.

On the east bank is a memorial to General De Gaulle who arrived here with the French soldiers under the British control. There is also a Sherman Tank.

In 1969, fishermen in the harbour of Courselles-sur-Mer in France discovered one of the Regiment's D-Day tanks. With the assistance of a local marine salvage company and the Royal Canadian Dragoons from Lahr, Germany, the tank was recovered from the sea where it had rested for more than twenty-five years. Thanks to an ambitious financial campaign by the Association and the Regiment, this "A" Squadron DD tank "ANEMIC was restored and dedicated, under the erroneous name of "Bold", at Juno Beach on June 6, 1971 as a Canadian memorial initially to the 1st Hussars and later to all those units that landed on D-Day. Photographs to follow as sadly the Samsung’s battery ran out!! Luckily Claire’s Sony Alpha DSLR us more reliable.

Also at Courselles-sur-Mer, across the river, is the main Juno Beach Museum. For more reading please go here.

We parked up and we had a walk to one of the almost buried bunkers on the edge of the dunes. From the beach these would have been invisible. Once again, they featured the Tobruk Pit style of machine gun nest. I managed a picture of the museum on my BlackBerry.

Juno Beach

Juno Beach

Juno Beach bunker

Juno Beach bunker

Juno Beach Memorial

Juno Beach Memorial

Juno Beach Memorial

Juno Beach Memorial

On the way out from Juno Beach Museum

On the way out from Juno Beach Museum

German Bunker @ Juno Beach

German Bunker @ Juno Beach

From here we continued to head westwards along Juno Beach towards Omaha Beach.

In the dunes as you leave the Juno Beach Museum is a massive Cross of Lorraine dedicated to the French troops that took part in Overlord. Just around the corner is another tank.

Once back on the D514 we headed towards Arromanches-les-Bains. At Asnelles we turned off the main road and down to find the beach to see if we could see the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour.

We were disappointed as the ring of concrete caissons is easy to see about half a mile off the land. Claire took some pix with her functioning camera and then he headed off up to Arromanches.

The next stop was at the viewpoint around the headland from the town itself. You’ll find a huge car-park and a viewpoint and the 360 Cinema. The queue was massive as we had arrived just after a couple of coaches and so we decided to take in the view and some pix of Mulberry.

2835955578_a65741051b.jpgMulberry 2-733273.jpgMulberry 1-731872.jpg

I did manage to get one with my BlackBerry, but the quality despite supposedly 3.2 megapixels is poor. Remember when digital cameras aspired to be that good?

As well as the cinema there are memorials and a large statue of the Madonna.

From there we head back along the D514 into the town itself. As you enter the D-Day Museum is in front of you and there are limited parking opportunities to park a motorcycle. Some riders had mounted the high kerb to park by the museum. We had a tour around and eventually parked next to a large flower bed at the far end of the car-park. Once again we had timed our arrival with that of coaches; this time a mere six! I have been in the Museum before and we decided once again that the crowds weren’t for us.

After a coffee and then a crepe we had a walk to the top of the headland to where there is another preserved Sherman Tank – you know the drill – pix to follow!!

The spot actually marks the position of a battery that took part in an action during the Napoleonic War when they fired in defence of a convoy of gun boats being menaced by British warships. According to local history they won the battle, however, more than likely the British ships knew of the battery’s position and wouldn’t engage the smaller gun boats in its range. History is for the winners’ to write!!

By now it was well after 4pm and we wanted to get away to get to Omaha before it closed. But the next stop was at Longues sur Mer.

A most impressive set of bunkers housing the Longues Battery. In all there are four big concrete bunkers housing the large guns intended to fire to see at any invader.

The first bunker from the car-park is badly battered and the gun has been destroyed, although suspicious looking pipes still out of the ground in front of the firing area. The other three are in much better condition.

Longues-sur-Mer%20Battery%20-%20Bunker%203-724000.jpgLongues-sur-Mer%20Battery%20Bunker%201%20Barrel-726507.jpgLongues-sur-Mer%20Battery%20Bunker%201-727828.jpg

Time was getting on and by the time we arrived in the area of the Omaha Monument it was 5.55pm. A huge arrow points to the Monument from a roundabout and next to it... a sign... 4 kms and closes at 6pm!

In the end we head a little further to St Laurent sur Mer and the already closed for the night Omaha Beach Museum.

Sherman Tank @ Omaha Beach Museum

Sherman Tank @ Omaha Beach Museum

All in all I had planned a day that really needed two days. The weather was warm, 25 °C, and despite the numbers of coaches with their large numbers of fellow tourists traffic on the roads was very light.

Day 3

The plan had been to include Pegasus Bridge into the main beaches day but as it turned out it's a good job we didn't as Day 2 was pretty full.

We had a late breakfast and we set off for the Bridge a little later that anticipated. The new bridge was open and we had to wait in a long column of traffic waiting for it to close. I have to admit to being a little underwhelmed by the place.

We parked alongside the Gondree cafe with a few other bikes The cafe was full of British tourists having lunch and we had a drink across the road before we decided to move on to Ouisterham.

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus Bridge

The weather was a bit chilly and we had a walk through the village near the casino and had lunch! We always have lunch.

We had a gentle ride back down to Caen and parked the bike up round the corner from the hotel and went in to change into civvies.

Once dressed in our non-biker clothes we had a walk around the city again in search of Old Caen. Most of the city was bombed during the war and there was a little bit near the castle that was from the middle ages or so.

GS parked in Caen

GS parked in Caen

Tram in Caen

Tram in Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

Old Caen

3920257423_8e88ffd9d1.jpgCaen - Abbaye des Dames

Caen - Abbaye des Dames

In the end we opted for a cheaper meal! Across from the Cathedral was a simple, but very popular, kebab house. For the price of a starter in a restaurant we ate like, well not exactly kings, although it was very tasty. It might look a little pink but it was fully cooked and for €6.50 it came with frites et un boisson.

Sunday Dinner in Caen

Sunday Dinner in Caen

Once this was knocked off we went in search of an ice-cream for pudding. Then time for bed. Tomorrow was the last day of the trip and we had to be off home.

Day 4 - August Bank Holiday Monday

Today was the relatively simple ride along the coast from Caen. We had the 210 mile ride back from Caen to Eurotunnel. We opted to take in the delights of Honfleur.

Due to a problem with the Garmin not charging on the bike it decided to die before we had really got to where we wanted which included a crossing of the Greenwich Meridian. As we approached Houlgate I saw that 64000 miles was about to pop up on the odometer, and so I
stopped for Claire to take a pic of me!

Houlgate and 64000 Miles

Houlgate and 64000 Miles

From here it was on into Honfleur. Parking up in the centre of the town where I saw a couple of other bikes. It was okay until we had to get away and I had to ride along the pavement and squeeze through the barrier at the end.

We had a walk around the harbour and took a break in one of the cafes, sitting in the burning heat of the day.

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

Honfleur

The harbour area is a mass of cafes, restaurants and gift shops. With the Garmin not working and the deadline of the Shuttle ahead of us we reluctantly set off.

Finding the Pont de Normandy was easy enough as it is signposted, and with there being no wind it was a joy to ride across.

From here it was a motorway run all the way back to Coquelles and onto the Shuttle. Just one stop for petrol and as it was BH Monday the roads were busier mainly with British holiday makers on their way home. We bought some baguettes and made another stop at an Aire to eat them.

All in all the trip was very good and the ride along the Invasion beaches is one I can recommend to anyone.

Posted by InvictaMoto 07:45 Archived in France Comments (0)