Cycling in Lower Normandy
by Peter Richards
One man's slightly saddle-sore account of pedalling the byways of Normandy, from the D-Day beaches to Saint-Lô – the 'Capital of Ruins'...
Photo: P Richards
A couple of years ago I decided to embark on my first Anglo-French cycling weekend. It was with no little trepidation that I wheeled my road bike onto the evening ferry from Portsmouth. We set sail around midnight for the French coast and were due to land at the crack of daylight. I should not have worried overly as there were plenty of other road warriors all ready to be set loose on the Norman roads. Basically you ride – or rather wheel - on and off leaving your trusty companion in good company while you search out your cabin or the bar. A few hours later my wheels touched French soil in Ouistreham near Caen and off I went along the beautiful coastal road toward the historic D-Day landing beaches. To my right was the grey English Channel and to my left the rolling hills and fields of Normandy. The road at 6 o’clock in the morning was empty and the first thing I noticed was the quality of the tarmac which is smooth and largely unblemished unlike our dreadfully pitted B-roads at home. Travelling relatively quickly, and gently ascending, I passed through the sleepy sea-side towns of Lion-sur-Mer, Luc-sur-Mer and Courseulle-sur-Mer, stopping for a moment at the moving memorial to the Canadian soldiers who gave their lives on Juno beach on June 6, 1944. The peace and quiet at that time of the morning added a little more poignancy to my reflexions and I cycled on along the coast through small communities slowly coming to life and greeting the day.
After about 30 minutes I zipped up a short poplar-lined incline to the summit over looking Arromanches-les-Bains where the remains of the floating Mulberry Harbour can still be seen. Surely there can be no finer advertisement for British engineering! There is a permanent exhibition on the summit – sadly closed at that time of the day (7.00 am) – so I cycled on. Not to the beaches of Utah and Gold but toward the stunning cathedral town of Bayeux which I reached via several winding rustic roads. The town itself is well worth a pit-stop and the cathedral is a wonderful example of gothic medieval architecture – although the cobble tracks might take a little navigating in the wet. I then took the direct route straight through town and emerged the other side to pick up a big road without too much traffic and push on toward Saint-Lô.These are lovely, big (quietish) roads which are a pleasure to cycle. The traffic is sparse and interestingly enough on a Sunday there is a lorry ban with the remaining drivers highly respectful of the cyclists who share their highways. I made steady progress through the village of Noron-la-Poterie which has wall-to-wall retail ‘pottery’ outlets where everything from garden ornaments to pottery Buddhas are displayed – seemingly without any buyers. At the top of a fairly long hill I made the decision to stay on the main road (rather than detour through the nearby Cerisy-la-Forêt) and travel straight and true to the Saint-Lô – the second largest town in the region dominated by its medieval city walls.
Forty-five minutes later I reached journey’s end – my house in Dangy that sits on a biggish hill a little bit down track from Saint-Lô. I had travelled 70 miles in about four and a half hours along quiet costal roads and larger inland highways. It had been a beautiful run with very little up-hill grinding and through a changing variety of landscapes. I eschewed a number of refuelling opportunities en-route and the good thing about making such an early start is that I arrived in good time for lunch. I would recommend this run to anyone looking to start their French cycling adventure and it is perfect for the intermediate cyclist who wants a gentle introduction to la Normandie en vélo. I have now done this route a few times and it provides the perfect jump off point to the rest of France.
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