As we come up to the 75th anniversary of D-Day, our thoughts often drift toward that beautiful area of France where the seismic and impactful events took place. Cycling along the coastal road to where the landings were made, I find it difficult to imagine the scenes from that summer in 1944.
Last year I took a breather from a ride, at the beach in Arromanches and watched the kite surfers weaving in and out of the now derelict remains of the Mulberry Harbour. Yet ¾ of a century beforehand young men of a similar age to those now enjoying their water-sports were staggering ashore, not knowing whether they would make it through the day.
On June 6, 1944 – 150,000 British, Commonwealth and American troops waded ashore at dawn and confronted the German guns. So began the devastation on both sides that served as the beginning of the end. Within the month one million Allied troops had landed in France via these beaches. By which time, many dramatic battles had either been fought or were now raging in the fields, farms and rural towns behind the coast.
These beaches are now a picture of tranquillity and seem to go on forever in a seamless, sandy coast-line. To cycle the coastal road here is a real treat, further enhanced by turning inland and taking in country lanes, rustic villages, remote dairy farms and orchards. The experience is always enhanced by good dinners, strategic lunch stops and for those of a sensitive disposition – nice, smooth roads.
This is very rewarding cycling country. There is simply loads to absorb and marvellous roads to enjoy. It is both a place of memory and now one of leisure. I find the beaches and their story unbelievably inspiring and feel blessed to have been born in a time when I can remember the sacrifice and stories of the young men of 1944.
This and a whole lot more from the relative comfort of my bicycle saddle! The D-Day route is divided into five different landing beaches each with its own story to tell. A good place to start is from Pegasus Bridge which is, in itself, tells a remarkable story of bravery and courage.
From there, a 20-minute cycle to Riva Bella will take you to Sword Beach. The coastal road will then take you to Juno and Gold Beaches to the cliff tops of Arromanches-les-bains under which engineers battled to create the floating harbour that supplied the troops during the landings. The road goes on to take in Omaha Beach and then onto Grandcamp Massey – a beautiful little fishing village that was once the scene of a greater drama than anything that can be envisaged today. Utah Beach can be accessed by coming inland and then back out again toward the sea. To fully appreciate these places cyclists should ideally stop for a while just to take it all in.
The whole area is one of great poignancy and remembrance set against a stunning back-drop of incredible natural beauty under (hopefully) the famously blue skies of Normandy.