Cycling along the D-Day Landing Beaches
Twenty years on since my last visit to Caen...
My girlfriend and her Mum were heading down to Portsmouth for my Mum’s hen weekend aboard the P&O cruise ship – Britannia from Southampton, so I went along with Jilly for the long drive from Manchester and decided to make my own plans for my time down there.
I decided to do a cycling day trip along the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy by taking the Brittany Ferries night boat from Portsmouth on Friday, spend Saturday riding from Ouistreham near Caen to Bayeux along the coast before catching the afternoon sailing back to Portsmouth.
French Exchange Experiences...
When I was at school, I went to this part of France quite frequently as I had a French Exchange student that I visited in Caen a few times per year. Mickael came from a very traditional French family that owned a country house in nearby Lisieux, an apartment in Caen located in a military police housing complex and despite our obvious upbringing differences, we became quite close friends.
I still remember his Dad – Yves, telling me to bring home several bottles of super-strong Calvados homebrew cider for my family and a few of the crushes I had on my exchange student's female classmates!
Riding to the Landing Beaches...
I rode over to the Portsmouth Ferryport via the Gosport Ferry and had to enter the ship via the car deck. I have done this a few times now and it never stops being exciting. Riding through a busy ferry terminal and joining the sailing through the bow of the ship is a uniquely exhilarating experience.
There were plenty of other cyclists on-board the Mont-St-Michel, but after an excellent meal in the onboard restaurant and no cabin to go to, I headed to the seating area to get my head down for the night on the reclining chairs and floor! For some people, this is one of their worst travel nightmares. For me, this is part of being 'on tour'.
I arrived into the French port town of Ouistreham at around 0645 French time and went down to the car deck to collect my Brompton which annoyingly was folded up and placed behind 21 other bikes! This wasn’t really an issue as after disembarking the ferry, Passport checks were in force and all of the other cyclists were held up too.
I met an Australian guy in the ferry queue back in Portsmouth who was doing a solo cycle tour down to Nantes and we decided to cycle together in the morning. Dave was an older chap who had completed many tough cycling challenges but was over in Europe to visit family and wanted to do a more leisurely cycle tour through France.
Juno Beach, Omaha Beach and War Memorials...
We went our separate ways at the Canadian Memorial Museum at Juno Beach near the town of Courseulles-Sur-Mer. This is a fairly new and important addition to the Normandy Coast and was built to remember the 14,000 Canadians that fought in the 1944 invasion alongside the 140,000 other troops from the British, American and other Allied powers.