West to the beaches
Off the ferry, we used the motorway to get clear of Calais and its associated day trip holidaymakers, coming off at Boulogne and then sticking to D roads, following roads we knew to Abbeyville before heading coastward on the D940 to Le Treport. Finally, we joined the D925, not-quite-coast road which took us to Le Havre via Dieppe, Fecamp and all the smaller villages in between.
This gave great views as it opened up along the coast, despite usually being a couple of clicks from the sea, and was ideal for the speeds we were content to ride at. Although my bike is fitted with a Garmin Zumo 660, I have never really bothered to work all the options out so we were programming in the next town and then working out how to bypass it when we got there.
Maybe not the most practical method, but a lot of fun trying to guess directions and road signs, and feeling really cocky when we emerged on the other side. Or not so cocky when we found ourselves in a town centre dead end.
After crossing the Seine via the older, but no less spectacular, bridge at the Pont De Tancarville, we meandered back towards the coast again in the general direction of Deauville. Although it was quite busy, here we stayed away from the coast road, missing most of the main crowds. We stopped for lunch at one of the many cafes and parked on the pavement, which bothered no one.
After lunch we continued along the D513 to Cabourg before heading inland to the first bridge across the river at Benouville. This is none other than Pegasus Bridge, well known to anyone with the slightest interest in the Second World War, as it was the first place to be liberated on June 6, 1944.
The original cafe is still there and open although the actual bridge was replaced a number of years ago and now resides in grounds of the nearby museum. There’s a lot to see in the museum and cafe, and you can marvel at the skill of the glider pilots who landed here in the dark, bang on target – the closest glider was just 50m from the bridge.
This really is D-Day country, and as we followed the coast road to Arromanches, with glimpses of the sea, we passed some of the many memorials that dot this part of France. We’d booked a B&B in Arromanches run by expats Adrian and Karen, and if you really want to play it safe, one of the bars in town is done up like an English pub.
As this was a quick trip, we had to head straight back to Calais next day but decided to take a more inland route once past Caen, following the D675 across to Rouen, stopping a couple of times at small cafes for a drink and a baguette. This D-road is a traditional French route, passing through many small towns and villages and with hardly any traffic, most of which tends to use the A13 autoroute. It’s a good compromise between making progress and enjoying the ride.
We bypassed Rouen, (not sure how exactly), and popped out the other side following the D928 up to Abbeville. Again, a parallel autoroute was taking the brunt of the traffic, and we stayed on this one to Abbeville, then back onto the coast road up to Calais via Le Touquet and Boulogne, arriving in time for a quick drink before our 6 o’clock ferry.
If you haven’t ridden abroad before, give it a go. In our experience, you don’t need to embark on a major tour or a ride of huge distances to experience something new.
The D-Day Experience
All right, the 70th anniversary has been and gone, but the D-Day landing sites still make for a fascinating experience. We all know the story, but there’s no substitute for seeing the beaches, the towns and surrounding countryside to get a sense of the scale of Europe’s biggest ever invasion and appreciate the human cost.
There are countless sights, but highlights are probably Bayeux Museum, which has lots of D-Day material, the Memorial de Caen which tells the whole story and more recently the Arromanches 360 cinema, which shows high definition archive footage of the landings and subsequent Battle of Normandy.
Outside the museums, look for remains of the famous Mulberry harbours or just walk along the beaches at low tide and have a think about it all.