Our group of 10 set sail from Portsmouth on a clear British Thursday night for the brief 6-hour voyage to Ouistreham on the other side of the English Channel or La Manche as it is more properly known in France. Probably the most stressful part of the journey is actually getting through the traffic of motorbikes, cars and heavy goods vehicles and up the boarding ramp to the ship. However once through the late evening rush hour we boarded and made our way to the bar. A little word of caution here: Brittany Ferries are not the most bike friendly organisation in the world and cyclists are often treated as ‘second class’ citizens – just brace yourself. Ferry bars at night never change with a rush of thirsty Brits clogging up every space in the nearby vicinity. As we had an early start the next day on two wheels most of us eschewed the opportunity of more than one beer and went below to the small but adequate cabins below.
Next day, bright and breezy, we were off and down the gangplank toward our waiting safety vehicle where we unloaded our spare kit and made the short journey down to Pegasus Bridge for a few moments of thought and thanks to a selfless sacrifice of a previous generation. From there we made our way along the coast road toward Arromanche for a little breakfast. Now 'le petite dejeuner' is probably the same throughout all of Normandy and once you have worked out the vagaries of the egg timer (it's all colour coded these days) you are literally cooking on gas. After our first refuelling stop we pushed onto the ancient city of Bayeux. This place never fails to impress me with its cobble streets, flying buttresses and chintzy little shops. If you have time the Cathedral is well worth a visit and is simply packed with stories and legend. We pushed on through toward the Forret de Cerisys, a 2000+ hectare beech forest along the quiet, flat and smooth Norman roads ending up for a little lunch amongst the medieval ramparts of St. Lo – the City of Ruins. A brief 90-minute run and we were at our first stop for the night – the beautiful Chateau du Roc in quiet Hebecrevon – a 16th century castle, which is now a hotel. The owner was kind enough to empty her husband’s fridge for our thirsty peloton before we settled down to a sumptuous dinner. I was unconscious before my head hit the pillow and we had only done 60 odd miles.
The next day we bid our fond farewell to the place and made our way towards Mont St. Michel via the neat little seaside town of Granville on the other side of the Normandy peninsula. It’s a popular town particularly with Parisian weekenders – and rightly so – and we descended from the heady uplands into the centre which is a nice, fast run down into town. Although Saturday is market day we managed to find a good spot for lunch - refuelling on some fine local delicacies. We still had a way to go to our ‘digs’ in Ardevon, close to Mont St.Michel so we cycled off and left town where we had a beautiful trip through numerous tidy seaside towns along an undulating coastal path in the afternoon sunshine. Julloville, Carolles, St-Jean-le-Thomas – all pretty towns that belied some of the testy little inclines that separated them. Then after an hour or so we were on top of the cliffs where we were rewarded with the inspiring sight of 'Le Mont' in the far away distance at low tide. It was enough to motivate any tired legs into giving a little bit more as we bridged the estuary toward Avranches. Now the thing about Avranches is that it is built on a big hill so unless you have divined a trip around it you will have to go up and over. Another 15-miles and we had reached our destination – and only 70 miles for the day’s trip. That night we were treated to a wonderful meal at the Auberge de Baie with the ancient citadel on the distant horizon.
Sadly the next day the weather took a slight turn and the spring sunshine was replaced by a few clouds. Undaunted, we went back through Avranches and up onto some very quiet roads towards Gavray managing a little late lunch in this quiet, little market town. A quick sprint through the fields and villages of very rural Normandy (there really never seems to be anyone out at any time of day) and we were in front of a roaring fire in picturesque Dangy where we later dispersed to stay in a variety of gites and guest houses. Saving the best hospitality until last, we were royally entertained by near neighbours at Chez Hilyer with quite possibly the best beef bourguignon in town.
The next day tired and well fed we made the dash back to Ouistreham and our last 'moules-frites' of the tour before embarking back to Blighty. So in all we did about 260 miles in 4 days with some great company and lots of laughs along the way. If anyone tells you that Normandy is flat they are fibbing. It is a little hilly in places but the French roads probably do not have a single pothole and most are as smooth as a baby’s bum. The cycling will suit intermediates who don’t mind the odd hill climb. It’s great cycling country and if you are lucky with the weather and pit stops it will be truly memorable.
If you are interested in coming on one of our next La Manche Vintage rides just click here to find out more or just get in touch.