D Day tour the journey home

Pan at Bayeux medieval festival Calvados France
Pan at Bayeux medieval festival Calvados France

With Sammy in charge of the timetable of timing no dared be late for the coach so everyone was up for breakfast in good time. I made a cheese sandwich for the journey with continental breakfast fayre, and then headed across the road to take some final photos. When the coach was almost ready I dipped back to the hotel to make a coffee for the journey. We pulled way at 07:31 just one minute past the strict departure time that Sammy had set.

Slim building Caen France

The weather remained sunny with fluffy clouds and I sat back watched the French landscape pass by while catching up on the Archers. As you travel from west the east the landscape changes from flat plain, with arable fields, to rolling hills with a bit more pasture. At about 10:20 we stopped at Aire de La Baie du Somme, by which time, we had done most of the journey by then. There is a nature reserve near by and a tower for taking in the view. We only had 20 minutes so I shot up the tower to get the panorama, then grabbed a custard tart slice a specialty of the area, it was scrum.

As we approached Boulogne sur mer the landscape became less agricultural and more forested. Passing to the north of Calais we left the motorway and stopped off at Pidou Wine Market for some essential supplies, and some Belgium frites at the Chicken and chip shop. We were told that getting through immigration would take one and a half hours which seems excessive! It actually took about 10 minutes if that. We all got off the bus and went into an airport style queue, which kept moving. I asked if they would let me in with a driving licence but although they hinted that it was possible they just demanded my passport. The swift immigration checks meant more time sat on the tarmac waiting for the 14:20 boat. Whilst we waited I watched a boat on another jetty leave, it had to swing the back out then spin round in the small (by comparison) area of water adjacent to the jetty. I’m Jessing they have now propellers to help move the from end round.

Normand landscape France

We found a quiet corner of the boat which was a coffee lounge that did not sell coffee, probably the reason why it was quiet. The boat span round and avoided another incoming vessel and we were off destination the famous white cliffs of Dover. Our quiet corner became noisy when an entire school descended on the area, we decided to sit it out. When we docked we found out we were eight near a lift so the trip down the stairs was avoided. We had a brief stop at the Thurrock hub, and were soon on our way round the M25, where the traffic was quite heavy at times, but considering it was bang in the middle of the rush hour, so to be expected.

We were home earlier than expected at 18:30, we unpacked watched the Tour de France highlights then the first episode of Band if Brothers!

D Day landings the British angle

French Church and Cemetery Ranville France

Another early start today we are going to do the English parts of the D day landings the beaches to the east of Utah and Omaha. We had to meet up outside the hotel as a market had been built on the car park where the coach would normally park. It gave us an opportunity to forage for some food for lunch. I went with John up to a boulangerie we grabbed 2 cheese sandwiches, but I went for a baguette and then went into the market for some flat Peaches and a small Camembert which was washed in Calvados.

Unfortunately the weather was rather inclement we expected rain until lunchtime ish. We had quite a few targets for the day and our first mission was the Pegasus bridge at Ranville but first we were going to visit a British Cemetery which a couple on the bus had a connection with, I believe a close relative was buried there. It started to rain when we got there we had a look at the cemetery and then at the church cemetery nearby which had some English graves.  By the time we got back on the coach it was absolutely pissing it down with rain, the poncho came in handy.

Vintage tractors Normandy France

The Pegasus bridge museum is well worth a visit with plenty of artefacts relating to the capture of the famous bridge. It really was chucking it down during our visit sort the museum visit was good timing. After a 15 minute stroll in the museum a film was arranged for us which was introduced by Prince Charles himself ( not in person of course). After that there was an opportunity to walk outside and see the bridge it self had been moved to the museum after being replaced back in the 1993. The museum purchased the bridge for 1 franc but never paid it over but it did cost half a million Euros to have it move from where it was to museum around 2001.

We boarded the Coach and went to Ouistreham where we went to a monument where there is a view of the sword beach. The British paratroopers landed on Sword Street it’s fairly flat and pictures. They landed an hour later than the Americans because of restrictions due to the tide times. Another stop another walk on a Rainy beach this time to look at the few more memorials. Back of the coach I had half my burger and a quarter of the Camembert which had slight taste of Calvados.

Views of the Mulbery Harbour and Arromanche Beach

Bernniers sur mer was the next up where they were monuments to allied troops. The locals were out on the village football pitch showing off vintage tractors which they use around here to pull boats in and out of the water on the beach. The locals had very broad Normandy accents. On the way to Arromanches we stopped off to watch a a 360 film at another monument on a rise just outside the town. The place was heaving with children, waiting to see the film too. There was a count down clock on the viewing hall entrance we had s 20 minute wait but at about 9 minutes the doors opened and everyone rushed in only to realise the clock was the country down to the start of the film! The film was good but slightly bias, possibly unintentionally due to the fact they used the US Archive. We were rushed onto the bus to go to Arromanches.

The war cemetery at Bayeau was next, the Nick the guide showed us a couple of interesting individual graves, one who got a VC then a couple connected where a whole Lancaster crew were remembered. I am not sure what the stones are made of but they are very smooth and tactile to the touch. Once again we were late getting back to the bus ( I wasn’t) I had a chat with Sammy the drive he was a bit wound up and about to conduct a mutiny. He said he would take control of timings for the rest of the day.

Bayeux war cementery

Bayeau was heaving with medieval stuff, stalls all over the place selling weapons, honey, traditional food, and leather goods. Performers were entertaining and street entertainers were performing in the streets. There was a medieval festival weekend. They had had to put straw down because of the rain we had in the morning. Sammy’s plan did not work because the usual crew were late for the bus, he was not impressed and neither were we.

It took less than half an hour to get back to the hotel, when we arrived Sammy took control of things and made it clear that tomorrow morning it was a 07:30 start. He even offered to carry people suitcases down from their rooms if they couldn’t manage them. We agreed to meet up at 19:30 for some dinner.

We wandered up to the old town and chose an Italian. I had knocci with squid and octopus which was great, Helen had a pizza and John had pasta Neptune. Back at the hotel a medical student brass band was entertaining the neighbourhood, we listened for a while then went to the hotel bar for a glass of wine and then to bed. Another long day.

French Stork a life list bird

German war cementery La Cambe France

The air-conditioning in the room meant that we got a very good nights sleep although Helen was up in the night reading at one point. We had an early start  8 clock UK time so we were at breakfast for 07:00. Breakfast was a continental affair the usual cheese ham other meats bread croissants fruit compote etc. Interestingly there was a boil your own egg device, basically a toaster size machine with water in it you put your egg in a basket which you then put into the bath of water returning to get your eggs after a time depending on your preference.

I had a chance to have a wander around the local block and take some photos before the coach left. I tried a new technique for taking Panorama photos which involves taking two slightly tilted up and two slightly tilted down photos so the whole 360 is covered by 4 photos. Whilst out taking photos I could see that there was storm clouds gathering in close and was delighted to see a few lightning strikes.

The coach took less than an hour to get to the German cemetery at La Cambe we had about 25 minutes  to have a look around. It is quite an interesting site layout very different from the allied cemeteries that I’ve seen, there are plaques in rows on the grass but each group of plaques, maybe about 40 or 50, has five stone crosses in the middle of them. At the centre of the site there is a large mound which has a kind of sculpture or statue on top from there you can take in the whole of the site.

Tank at Airbourne Museum Sainte Mere Eglise

The first town liberated in France during the D-Day Landings was St Mere Eglise we parked up and wondered into the town to have a look at the church with a mannequin of a parachutist tied to the church tower, the story of which is a scene in the filmed The Longest Day. There is a museum associated with the American second airborne division but we went down to the High Street first to have a coffee and buy some baguettes for lunch from a great proper French bakery and patisserie.

The museum is very well done there are three main buildings the first contains one of the gliders used for the D day landings and there are plenty of display cabinets around too showing American and German things from the war. The second building contains an American air plane that was used to tow the gliders across the channel and again contains more artefacts from the war. The third is a multimedia experience which as you walk through the sound effects ate very realistic and it is dark. this films have to walk over a glass floor can be a bit of putting specially when it’s dark, however it’s all very well done. At the end of the multimedia experience there’s a big open space with memories and things from the war photographs of Ronald Reagan who has links to the museum. They are also building a new building called the Reagan meeting house or something like that in the grounds.

Utah Beach France

We left St Mere Eglise and headed to Utah beach on the way we stopped off at a German battery which was quite interesting. In the distance you could see the sea and a row of houses which I believe are familiar from war footage I’ve seen from films of the war. On the way to Utah beach we went down small country lanes and the tour guide Nick pointed out three storks nesting in a farmhouse I’ve never seen a stork before so that makes it a life list bird. As if we haven’t seen enough concrete there was still time to stop off and view some bunkers by the sea on the west end of Utah beach. There is quite a lot to see at Utah beach apparently a young lad injured by friendly american fire, was shipped to England for medical attention, to be returned later and settled near by eventually becoming mayor of a local town. He decided to spend time to promote the idea of a museum and memorial at Utah, eventually seeing it built in 1969.

Next up would be La Pointe Hoc which is a out crop between Omaha and Utah beach. Due to being quite strategic the American Rangers were sent to take the cliff and point. As it happened the guns they after there were in land and taken by the Canadians. However it was still a very heroic episode. The site is a field covered in bomb holes, some concrete bunkers and gun emplacements. We were told we had half an hour to do this but we stuck with the tour guide and it was at least 50 minutes.

Next stop was Omaha beach where the american national guard came under intense fire from the Germans. My fellow travellers were told off by the Life Guards for standing in the way of the tractors that pull the boats out of the water. By that time I had gone to another part of the beach and then went back to the road. Feeling a bit peckish I went over the road to a cafe stroke camera caravan selling ice creams are there when I got there I realised they were selling chips so I spent €4 on a plastic tray of chips.

Pointe Du Hoc France

There was some confusion when we got to get back in the coach because the driver had turned around while we were down on the beach but the tour guide had decided that he wanted to go the way we had come into the town, so the driver then had to reverse round a junction pull back out to pick us up then he realise that there was no room for cars to go round so he beeped and we will all had to get on the coach quickly while the French drivers around were beeping their horns.

We made our way through some country lanes to the American War cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. Agreement was that we could go with the tour guide or make your own way round there but we must be back of the Coach bye 10 to 6. I followed the tour guide for a bit and then broke off to take some photographs in a field because they were nice views of the shoreline with wildflowers in view.

American War cementery Colleville-sur-Mer

I then took a wrong turning and ended up on a path which looked around went up a hill and then Morris put me back where I started which wasted a bit of time. I have had it all up to the cemetery itself where there are Monuments and lots of white crosses and star David headstones. I must say the Americans do cemeteries very well the grass was cut to a uniform length was very lush obviously watered often and all the edges perfectly trimmed. Later in the bus with debated how they might trim around all the headstones in the grass we couldn’t decide between them having to lift the headstones every time they cut the grass or have some sleeve they put round the headstones when they strim them.

The American Cemetery was our last stop after everyone got back to the couch at about 18:10 we eventually were en route back to Caen. As we got towards the city there was another unexpected stop as we needed to fill up with petrol. we eventually got back to the hotel at about 7:25 so we agreed to meet up reception at 8 o’clock gun get something to eat, in the old town. It had been a very long day.

We walked up town about 08:00 and found an area with kids of food establishments. We picked an Italian. They did a special disk where grappa was flambéed in a half of parmesan the mushroom and cream pasta added, all done in front of you by the chef. We were tired when we got back and hoped tomorrow was going to be a bit less relentless.

Coach trip to Caen D Day landings day 1

Motts Coach

Up at 05:30 with plenty of time to get ready for the 7 o’clock pick up from the Bell Inn. John pick us up at 6:45 and we were at the bus stop in good time for the coach which was 10 minutes early. The driver explained that the coach we were on was the coach that was going all the way to France but that some of the people that we would pick up would be dropped off at the Hub in Thurrock. That would save unloading and loading the luggage.

We stopped first in Tring, then Berkhamsted followed by Hemel Hempstead. In Berkhamsted I noticed a an estate agents called Proffitt and Holt interestingly the name Proffitt was spelt with 2 F’s and 2T’s I guess if they had been accountants the correct spelling would have saved money on signage.

At 08:40 we arrived at Hemel Hempstead and some passengers were delivered in a mini bus. Then we were on the the M1 and M25 to Thurrock where we stopped for about an hour while other coaches got to the hub. We took the opportunity when we got back on the bus, at Thurrock we managed to bag a set of four seats around a table as they were not reserved for anyone. Lucky for us the drver said help yourself and do it quick before someone else had the same idea.

The traffic on the M2 was flowing well, we wondered whether we would be going on the M20 as operation stack was still in force despite the French strikes finishing the day before. We arrived at the Dover docks without any problems but the stack operation was clearly visible as all the lorries were queued up all the way out of Dover. For us there is a separate queue for the coaches and cars so after stopping to drop off some passengers we were straight into the queue and onto the tarmac waiting for a boat.

P and O ferry Dover

It looked like we might not get the next boat as we were directed to an empty car park however the driver went and had a word with the person taking the tickets and negotiated us on to the next very full crossing. We only had to wait for 20 minutes before Driving up the ramp to the boat. It makes you realise how big these boots are when you find out that you are on deck five. We had to climb 5 flights of stairs before we go to the lounge area.

The passage was rather routine with loads of school children running around the decks it was a bit tedious. Helen found the smoking zone at the back of the boat and was happy there until I persuaded her back inside and out of the strong wind. John found a quiet cafe on an upper deck where we were able to watch our approach to the Calais Port in peace. Getting back to the coach was quite difficult because the stairs were full with everyone rushing to get back to their vehicles, however because we’re on the top floor we were able to get in the lift with the lorry drivers who clearly knew what they were up to.

Moorings at Caen France

I chatted to the tour guide who told me that the journey to Caen would take about 4 hours however we would stop about an hour and a half before we arrive for a break. That would mean that we would be at our destination at about 07:00 to 07:30 which was just in time for dinner.

There were no hold ups on the French motorway we stopped about an hour and a half away from Caen for a break and leg stretching opportunity. We looked around the shop Helen had a fag and we got back on the Coach and headed on to Caen.

The final leg of the journey seemed to take an age eventually we turned in to the port area of Caen which is where the Ibis hotel situated. The hotel had air conditioning which was a bonus we quickly hotels we quickly checked in our room then met up in reception to go for something to eat. We found a pizza restaurant very close to the hotel John and I had pasta and Helen had a pizza. Everyone enjoyed the food except Helen thought the pizza was a bit bland. By the time we had finished our meal we were happy enough to just returned to the hotel and go to bed because we had an early start. We needed to be in the Coach by 8 o’clock in the morning which in English time is 7 o’clock so it meant another 6 o’clock start.

The bells the bells

The Bells The Bells

With the weather not at its best I started the day off tinkering with my computer. I had taken delivery of a current cost electricity monitor which is capable of sending the readings down its serial port using a specialist cable that converts the serial signal to USB.
The monitor in question is the CC128 which believe was given out by EON to its customers a few years back. I eventually got it working with the help of Google and my basic scripting skills.

After some lunch I made Helen a sandwich and headed down to the village church to deliver a marmite sandwich to Helen who was manning (or is that womanning) the bric a brac stall.

The pulling room

I had a quick look around then headed home to catch the Tour de France on ITV4. Helen then phoned to let me know that they were doing trips up the church tower, Le Tour would have to wait I have lived in the village for quite some years but never been up the church tower. I grabbed my camera bag and quickly cycled round.
When I got there I was slightly disappointed to find that it was only as far as the bells that was open, and that my hope of pictures from the top of the tower PhD the village was not going to be,I was however going to make the most of the opportunity to have a go at going one of the church bells.

The steps/ladder up was a bit of a challenge especially with a rucksack on my back. The first and longest ladder leads to the room where the actual pulling off ropes happen to make the bells ring.the next shorter ladder leads to another room which is empty apart from from the bell ropes running from floor to ceiling. The final and even smaller ladder lead to the bells themselves.

I had think there was a total of 8 bells each attached to a large wheel made of wood.the guide explained how they were makeof mahogany rather than the traditional wood. Then we were treated to the deafening sound of a bell being rang at close quarters, very loud! I quickly grabbed some photos and headed back down the ladder to have a go at bell ringing.

A different angle

A patient gentleman explained how it all worked then pulled the Sally while it took care of the easy end of the rope, I guess that that they only let you go solo after a few lessons. It didn’t seem that difficult, but then I was not having to synchronise with seven other bell ringers. After that a had a chat with some of the other ringers and they showed me the computer program they used to show them the right bells to ring when and also stopped the scripts for them to follow. The bells had magnetic sensors to help them get their timing correct.

Back down to earth I hung around for the raffle draw, then headed home. We had fish and chips for tea and went to bed early I was off to London in the morning early to have a go on the dangleway, and take a look round a Royal Navy boat parked up on the Thames.