The Bocage - the beauty and the beast
There is something quite spectacular happening in the ‘Bocage’ in Normandy around this time of year. For the uninitiated the region that centres on St-Lô, just south of the Cotentin, is known as the Bocage; the word describes a type of cultivated countryside, very common in western France, where fields are cut by tight hedgerows rooted into walls of compacted earth well over a metre high. As we cycle through the area, it is awash with every imaginable shade of yellow signalling that ‘Printemps’ has arrived. The pale buttery pastels of the primroses, the deep yellows of the gorse and even the golden dandy-lions all combine to give our blessed riders a visage of rolling ‘Jaunes’ that covers mile after mile of road-side and of course, the bocage.
For students of history, the bocage was an effective form of farm smallholding in pre-industrial days. During the battle for Normandy, it also proved to be a perfect system of the anti-tank barricade – a difficult natural barrier that had to be overcome. When the Allied troops tried to advance through the region in 1944, it was almost impenetrable and bore no resemblance to the East Anglian plains on which they had trained. An enterprising American soldier suggested that a huge saw be attached to the front of a tank and the bocage was literally sawn through – problem solved.
Today the area is completely removed from the chaos of World War Two and is a picture of rural tranquillity as we ride on toward the D-Day beaches. The roads here are comparatively traffic free and beautifully maintained – without a single pothole to be found in the hundreds of miles we cycled. The weather was a tepid 20 degrees as we gobbled up the roads traversing the peninsula – coast to coast – with a cooling breeze to waft us on our journey. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, but this part of the world is truly jaw-dropping and the sights, sounds, and now spring smells in this part of the world are like no other.