Saturday, 31 July 2010


I've just realised that it is over four weeks since I last posted here so before July is out, I must do a posting to tell you about our recent trip to France. My father and I have recently had a most enjoyable few days over in Normandy. For more recent readers, I should explain that my father home cares for my elderly mother who has advanced Alzheimers. Ever three months, he has a one week respite break and my sister or I take him away for a few days. He's been to Falmouth and Florida with my sister and to Northumberland (twice) and Hong Kong with me.

This year, he didn't fancy a either long car journey or the hassle of airports so I looked in to local ferry trips from Poole, close to where he lives. We settled on the Poole to Cherbourg ferry trip which is only two and a half hours by the fast (38knots)ferry. The only downside was that it leaves at 7.15am so we were up and out of the house just after 5am! Taking the car on the ferry was simplicity itself and by 11am french time we were heading east from Cherbourg on the local coast road. We took the MGF and toured with the roof down throughout our travels.

Our first port of call was Barfleur from where William The Conquerer set sail for England in 1066. It has a delightful fishing harbour. (If you click on the photos you should get enlarged images).

We then called in at St Vaast-la-Hougue which has an enormous marina before heading down to Port-en-Bessin, central to all the D-day landing beaches, where we had booked five night's accommodation. Port-en-Bessin is a delightful village with an active fishing fleet, harbour and many seafood restaurants. In the picture below you can see the outer harbour but the port itself goes inland beyond the very far right of the photo. The hotel we stayed at is on the far right of the photo and overlooked the fishing quay where the boats unloaded their catches each day.

During our five night stay we visited most of the D-day landing beaches. The next photo shows Arromanches-les-Bains and Gold Beach where British trops landed on 6th June 1944. We (the British troops, not us) actually built an artificial harbour and its remnants can be seen in the photo.

There is a great museum in the town with an excellent guided tour. The tour guide spoke excellent english but with a very pronounced french accent. My father listened for over two minutes thinking the man was speaking french and being surprised how many words were similar in both languages. Then it dawned on him that the man was actually speaking english! "Ze sup-lies were brrrought in-too ze arbour and off-luuded". Once tuned in, he was actually a very articulate and knowledgeable guide.

A few miles inland is the town of Bayeux with its beautiful gothic cathedral and the world famous Bayeux Tapestry. To be honest, I only went to the tapestry because my father was interested, but it is truly fascinating. 70 metres (230 feet) long and full of marvellous details. In 58 scenes it tells of William's conquest of England in 1066. It is amazing to think that this fragile linen has survived over a thousand years whilst buildings have crumbled and disappeared. The centre of the town, around the cathedral is full of old buildings that survived the war. Here is the cathedral.

On the outskirts of Bayeux is the British Cemetery with over 4,800 graves of British soldiers killed in the liberation of Normandy in 1944. It is a poignant sight - row upon row of white headstones. And the ages of dead - 19, 24, 22 etc. All young men buried in a foreign field away from home. This photo shows only a small part of the cemetery.

Here's another view with my father looking at the monument.

Apparently, the film "Saving Private Ryan" gives the impression that only US troops were involved in the liberation of France. This blog isn't so crassly nationalistic. During our visit we saw Utah and Omaha beaches where US troops landed and Pointe du Hoc where US Rangers stormed 90 foot cliffs under heavy fire. And Juno beach which was taken by Canadian forces with Poles, Dutch and Czech soldiers also involved. No one individual army could have overcome the german fortifications along the "Atlantic Wall", it was truly an full Allied effort. Here is the US "Omaha" beach.

Everywhere along the coast there are Union flags, US stars and stripes and the Canadian maple leaf flying in the breeze. The locals welcome their liberators warmly.

Sitting in a restaurant on Friday evening we saw a poster advertising the UEFA Under19 football tournament in Normandy. I went online later and discovered that France were playing 'Angleterre' the next day in Saint-Lo so we even managed to take in an international football game during our brief visit!

All too soon, our five days had flown by and it time to head back to England. I can thoroughly recommend Normandy for a short vacation. Lovely scenery, gorgeous beaches, excellent museums and a special history are to be discovered only a short journey away from the UK's south coast. The roads are quiet, the parking is free everywhere (a refreshing change from the UK!) and the food excellent.