Had we not been half asleep I imagine arriving in Calais would have been rather exciting, despite the wasteland-esque landscape it was the first step on our journey and one big giant leap toward freedom on the open road.
As it was, having driven till 3am the previous night and Joe having being ill, we could only just about concentrate on driving on the right side of the road!
However amongst the wasteland, we did notice something in the bushes. Slums. Amazing amounts of men women and children had settled in a shanti hut style village spanning out a vast amount around the docks of Calais. Immigrants. Here we were, leaving the country they so desperately seek, there should never be such divisions between human beings. It was a sad and desolate sight.
Leaving Calais we took the ….. south in search of sun and diesel.
Sun being as scarce as the latter, we drifted in and out of sleepy towns looking for means of topping up our tank, the first station we tried didn’t except our travel MasterCard, neither did the second. Eventually we found one that accepted our English credit card and bought only 20euros worth of fuel cringing and cursing at thought of the charges and ridiculous conversion rates we would be incurring with every litre of diesel. We later found that the charge was minimal, 63p.
Around the corner we found a manned station (most stations in France are an un manned – card only sort of deal) so we were able to top up fuel using cash! Sighs of relief.
Soon after, we were on a motorway south, this didn’t last for long when we realised we were on a toll road. We shot off and headed south on the beautiful D roads that lead in and out of the pretty villages of Normandy.
After a few hours we decided to call it a night when we saw a sign to a forest, we found a beautiful spot and despite ‘calling it a night’ we couldn’t help but jump on the bikes and explore.
The forest floor was carpeted with bluebells and wild flowers, mossy covered old oaks and a smell of warm wood and evening sunshine filled the air.
And that, my friends was our first night on the road.
Our experience of France so far has been both pleasant and tiring. Beautifully kept state forests ensure there is always somewhere to stay the night, or two, the roads definitely the D roads) are as if they were laid down yesterday ensuring a smooth ride south (and no clattering clutter in the back). Finding amenities is easy with the convenience of super duper hyper Marché in almost every town, here you can find everything. At home we think Tesco has it covered right? French supermarkets are like little towns; there are laundrettes, post offices, Burger restaurants, bike shops, shoe shops, camping gear and even bars with free Wi-Fi; a god send.
Following our first night in the forest we headed to Dieppe arriving there at around 10.30am.
The town has plenty of free parking for cars and a paid area for camper vans. Though we managed to get a spot alongside the beach for free. Dieppe is a popular seaside town, but not in the English sense. It has a relaxed and sophisticated feel, busy even on a Sunday when almost all shops are closed.
Bars flowed out on to the streets in the typical European fashion, beautiful gothic buildings acting as their backdrop.
We hopped on our bikes and headed down the promenade soaking up the scenery, a vast pebbled beach to our right, a stunning château to our left. Feeling peckish we ditched the bikes and headed to the ocean in search of some seashore food. Success. Mussels in there thousands clung to the rocks. We collected a bag full and headed back toward the town in an effort to find garlic, wine and bread, and an effort it was.
We left Dieppe having found our essentials and headed further south, a couple of hours later pulling into a pretty layby and feasted on our mussels with champagne and an artisan baked baguette. We decided, after a bottle of champagne to remain there for the rest of the night.
The next day we drove further south eventually arriving in the centre of Caen, this was a disaster.
A busy city in rush hour and large campervans carrying people suffering fatigue do not mix well.
After a confusing drive around the city that seemed to last forever we somehow managed to escape and headed straight for the coast, a pretty road took us on an amazing tour or the D-day landing beaches. It was haunting to see the remnants of the artificial world war harbour out in the ocean, it was difficult to imagine the chaos of D-day in such a sedate stretch of coast.
We eventually arrive in Arromanches where we stayed the night in a special ‘campervan’ car park where there was a waste grey water area and a water tap to top up reserves.
We set out the next morning to explore the little town which sat above Juno beach, remembered for the slaughter of the Canadians on D-day. The town was full of World War 2 memorabilia, museums and Canadian tourists in the hundreds.
After a brief exploration we headed to Bayeux.
Bayeux is a beautiful historical town; cobbled pedestrianized streets take you on a tour of its grace. Bars and restaurants in abundance separated by a sleepy river, winding alleys leading away from the centre take you to the famous cathedral.
Again we managed to find free parking and headed down the gentle slope into the Centre Ville, after a few hours wondering and having visited the cathedral we suddenly found ourselves thirsty for a beer but prices, as have been so far were extortionate so we opted for a bottle of local Bayeux produced Cidre instead, famous in Normandy, and headed back to the camper.
We drove south once again quickly arriving in a luscious forest, Foret de Cerisy
We found a fantastic private spot and settled in for the evening. We went for walks, made adjustments to our bikes, looked for mushrooms cooked and relaxed.
Later on in the night, we realised we were not alone and had in fact been watched for sometime, a man sitting in the dark had parked his car very close to us facing the side of the camper in a prime position to see through our windows.
Deep in the forest of the dead of night, the mind quickly races to ridiculous conclusions and at one point we actually thought he was hunting us, for what we had no logical idea but for a while it was real.
After some rather odd exchanges between us and the man, torch shining/ducking and such we looked out to find he had gone.
Or so we thought.
We relaxed and went about our evening, tidying and changing for bed etc when we realised the man hadn’t left but in fact had re positioned his car so that he could look in though the front screen in full view of us, we had forgotten to close our cabin curtains and so were perfectly visible to the outside world.
We wondered how long he had been watching us so closely and began to panic once more, switching off all the lights so he could observe us no longer, eventually he left and we could relax and laugh it off in dream world.
We spent most of the next day in the forest, updating scap books, another bike ride and general relaxing until around 3ish when we left for Grandville.
This was a long and tiring drive, it was very pretty though we spent the majority of the journey lost, it was at this point we came to the realisation, we need a batter map.
On the plus side, Granville was a picturesque and perfect stop off on our journey south, there was a special and free campervan car park but we opted for a cliff top overlooking the ocean just outside the town instead. We had an early night and fell asleep to the sound of a fierce wind and waves smashing against the cliff on which we rested.
By morning the wind had disappeared, the sunshine was out and the sea seemed calm. We headed back into the town where we parked easily for free and explored the area. We enjoyed a cold Kronenburg with the addition of free wifi at an outside bar in the centre of the town, Le Pirate. After more wondering we headed back to the camper for some lunch, toasted Brie baguettes and apples; a seriously cheap meal here in the north of France.
After a little more wondering we set our sights on St Mont Michelle and left in the early evening. We arrived just in time for sunset and a stunning silhouette view of St Michelle, It looks like a depiction from a fairy tale with is towering turrets and high castle walls reaching around the entire island.
We briefly drove around the town looking for somewhere to stay before a friendly French camper pulled up next to us and told us where we could stay in a pretty area for free. We took his advice and headed for La Greve, just outside the centre. That night we enjoyed a cordon bleu in the camper. It was delicious.
The next day we awoke rather late to rainfall and decided to visit the St Michel the following day. Today we would explore Alligator Bay instead! We saw a huge variety of turtle, tortoise, snakes and lizards, and of course Alligators. After popping to a super marché in Avranches we once again settled in at La Greve arriving at the same spot just before sunset.
We whipped out the bikes and went for a very scenic ride across the bay stopping to look at birds of prey, lambs and shells. Later that night we dined on what I can only describe as giant mushroom vol-au-vents with veg. They were tasty indeed.
We woke up fairly early today and headed straight for the St Michel parking area at the cost of a hideous 20.80 euros, a free bus is included and lucky for us being under 26 and EU citizens we were eligible for free tickets inside the actual abbey. We boarded a crowded shuttle and were whisked along the causeway to the foot of the island. Once there we realised there is no formal entry to the island itself and you are free to walk up the hill to the abbey or other museums along the way. The main street, like the shuttle, was very crowded, we made our way up it passing many shops, cafes, creperies and bars before we arrived at the queue for the abbey itself. The queue took about fifteen minutes but was well worth it (especially as entry was free). An audio guide is available but, still being close to tears about the 20 euro car park fee, we chose not to pay 12 euros for two guides. The free leaflet is adequate and describes the many rooms of the abbey and their history.
In the chapel itself something religious was happening (singing and that) which was entertaining to watch. We spent about an hour and a half looking around before walking back down the hill and having lunch on a rock along with many others. An old French man was eating a de-constructed cheese sandwich. Instead of making the sandwich by combining cheese and bread, he was simply biting the cheese and then biting the bread. Lazy or genius? You decide. We had opted to put our Brie into the baguette before eating it. We also had crisps and apples. After lunch we headed back to the car park. We decided to walk rather than to cram onto the shuttle again. It took about half an hour.
After paying the car park fee we drove on, continuing south and spent the night in a large forest near the town of Blain. We went for an evening bike ride around the forest looking for the elusive deer and boar before showering and eating.