Reflecting at Pointe Du Hoc and Omaha Beach

It was time for us all to turn round and trundle back up towards Calais.

On the way we took in Omaha beach, Pont du Hoc and the American Cemetery.

We can often get grumpy (that’s probably not the right word, narked?) in the UK about the American help that we got, I don’t think we like to admit that the Americans made such a difference to the victory  ;)  We especially don’t like Hollywood changing the stories, and as the years have gone by it’s kind of a well known view that the Americans think they won the war and we don’t like that!  Seeing the areas that they arrived and the huge job they had brings it all in to perspective though.  How can you ever have any feeling other than gratefulness when you see the huge loss of life, the huge undertaking and just the whole thing through your own eyes?

Pointe Du Hoc

Memorial at Pointe Du Hoc

American Cemetary in Normandy

Visiting Normandy reaffirmed my reasons for travelling with my kids.  We all enjoy history, but there is a huge difference to learning about something in a book, or on a tv programme than seeing it in real life.  When we ever talk about Normandy or watch a film about it (which we have done lots since we came back) we can relate to it much more, it’s not a random beach name, it’s somewhere we have walked and seen.  It’s not just a nation helping out and a number of people killed, it’s the field with thousands of crosses in it with individuals named.

I think I’ll be reflecting on this trip for some time to come.

More rain and the best beach so far!

When we arrived in Normandy I kept seeing lots of joke souvenirs about the weather.  Mugs and t-shirts with people in rain jackets and umbrellas with witty french sayings that I can’t quite remember.  After about a week in Normandy I understood.  It rained a lot!

It might not seem apparent from the pics I’ve posted, but we had to dodge the rain so many times!  That is one of the best things about motorhome travel though, you can stay inside in comfort waiting for that break in the rain.  Some days it doesn’t come though and you just have to go out and brave the elements!

We headed over to the west side of Normandy, away from the D-day beaches to explore round there.  Our first stop there was a wash out, completely, but the second stop was just perfect.  The worst thing about it was that you could only stay for 24 hours.  I could see why.

It was a village called Sciotot and the beach was a surfing beach.

When we travelled in 2013 with the van I expected to find my perfect beach.  I like nature, I like to walk for ages along it, I like to hear the waves, I hate over commercialised beaches.  I had to be able to imagine myself walking a dog there with hardly anyone else around.  We didn’t really find anything that felt right really and I was surprised at that.

This one really hit the spot though.

It felt like we’d hit upon a gorgeous secluded beach in Cornwall, it just reminded me of that kind of place, but with some french characteristics!  There was hardly anything there except a huge expanse of sand.  It was just stunning.

It was rainy when we arrived, but it cleared later on and it was just perfect for walking along, climbing over rocks and listening to those waves crash.

High tide and sunset seemed to coincide so spent ages there trying to get good shots on our camera while the kids threw stones (kept them quiet for *ever*!) .  James tried to take a selfie with the sunset, but the sun wasn’t right and he got me instead!!  ;)

Just beautiful.  I probably shouldn’t have told you where it was ;)

 

History in Bucket Loads!

After our first visit to the landing beaches of D-Day we were excited to be  getting to what we’d come to France for this time – the history.

We managed to get ourselves a bit lost on leaving Ouistreham which meant we were heading away from the coast and as such missed seeing Juno beach.  Sometimes in order to not get ourselves too stressed we don’t go crazy trying to get back to the original route and so we just headed for our next stop which was Arromanches.

Arromanches is where a harbour was built on D-day and it allowed us to bring vehicles ashore to help with the push of forces.  What I didn’t know and what was a shock to me when we arrived was that there are still remains of that harbour there to this day.  When the tide is out you can walk up to some parts of it.  It was a bit eerie, but it definitely reminded you of the past there and was a stark contrast to the beach we’d seen previously.

There were loads of relics around the small town too that kept Marcus and James busy by posing against and trying to identify ;)

 

Normandy is littered with museums and we just couldn’t do them all on our budget but we decided the Arromanches museum would be a good one and the weather wasn’t so great that day.  I have to say, so much to learn in these places and the people running them are super friendly.  I wish we could have afforded to see more museums.  But I guess maybe we’d have suffered from too much war info ;)

There was a fab view from the top of the village and it hit me there how much of a huge undertaking D-Day was.  I’d never quite realised it before.

The next day we made it to Utah beach but the weather was absolutely atrocious there and we didn’t hang around long.  We also found that many of the overnight spots weren’t there any more or the rules had changed, which was a shame, but also slightly infuriating!  I like to know we have a spot for the night!  I guess with the 70th anniversary coming that maybe they decided it all needed to change so they weren’t overrun with motorhomes!

One place we really wanted to see was Sainte-Mère-Église which is where a parachutist from the Airborne division got caught on the church and had to hang there for quite a while pretending that he was dead.  The church still has a pretend person hanging from the top ;)  We’d heard that the museum there was pretty good too.

You can just see the model parachutist hanging from right hand side.

 

The airborne museum has lots of great information, but I loved watching the film in it of how the town was liberated by the US soldiers.  I love to hear the stories of how things happen rather than just look at the artefacts.  I’d never really thought much about the French who were left waiting to be freed and how they were so surprised that those who eventually came to this spot had american accents!

 

Jinxing the weather

I woke to lovely sunshine for our first full day in France.  I wore a dress.  This may be the reason why we struggled for good weather for the rest of the trip!

We were tempted by a lovely looking Aire (motorhome stop) that was on the front cover of our Aire guide book and headed there.  It looked right out to sea and was extremely pretty.  It was a good 3 hour drive to get there, lots of non motorway roads which is how we tend to do it since we don’t want to pay the tolls on the motorways and Gloria likes to just sit and trundle along anyway.  It did make me realise quite how far away Normandy was from Calais!

We arrived at St Valery en Caux and managed to get one of the last spots.  Phew!  It always worries me that we’ll get somewhere and there be no spots, but I should relax more!

It reminded me a lot of some of the scenery we saw in Dorset last year with big towering cliffs.  It was a lovely little village with lots of boats that we daydreamed about having one day!

It was an even longer drive the day after as we wanted to get to the first of the landing beaches.   Sword beach is near the town of Ouistreham and it must have taken us at least 5 hours of driving that day.  Seemed to take forever!

Sword beach was a huge flat beach and we just enjoyed a whole load of people watching there.  Lots of people were doing land surfing and it was really fun to watch them all, especially some that just couldn’t get the hang of it at all!

There wasn’t a huge amount there to remind you of the past.  I wondered if all the beaches would be like this.  It’s good to see that life goes on and that it’s just another seaside town now, but I have to say that it wasn’t what we were expecting.

We enjoyed the last of the nice day with ice creams after a wander round the town.  We just got caught in the rain on the way back which was the start of the most amazing thunderstorm I’d seen.  Always a bit scary in a van, never know if it will be ok!

Oooh hello again France!

When we planned touring France in our camper van last year we had grand ideas of exploring Normandy and the D-Day landing sites.  As you know, Marcus is our war nut and he was very excited at the prospect of going there.  Of course, ideas change and we ended up hot footing it down to Toulouse which meant Normandy was relegated to ‘next time’ status.

Next time ended up being at Easter!  We knew we planned to sell Gloria to pay for our next adventures (hoping her new owners will discover her soon and be perfect for her!) so I really wanted to do one last ‘proper’ trip in her to say our goodbyes and to test her again after a winter being static.

And test her we did.  A long drive to Dover, having woken at stupid o’clock, to get there about lunch time.  She drove like a dream.  Not a single issue.  I was super excited to be able to wave at other motorhome drivers on the road, but we never saw many.

In Dover we could rest the van for an hour or so before getting her on the ferry.  Dover is so noisy, and so industrial around the docks, but you just have to love the white cliffs in the background.  really feels like you’re leaving the country (or arriving as the case may be!)

We hadn’t planned on going far once we were in France and actually stayed just near Dunkirk in the same spot we overnighted the year before, after going to the obligatory supermarket shop once in France and stocking up on baguettes, cheese and cheap wine!  We had a wonderful walk on the beach being silly and just enjoyed being together as a family and each others company.  James took some sunset shots and life just felt good.

It had been about 7 month since we’d travelled like that and it felt like yesterday.  We slept so well that night.  I couldn’t believe it was our last trip like this.