I set off nice and early, convinced that if I got myself on the road, I wouldn’t spend all day in the car and would be able to walk the Normandy beaches that evening and enjoy a nice meal for a change.
Just out of the hotel car park, I had to stop pretty much immediately to take a photo of the beautiful church that I had missed in the dark the previous evening; then I was off! I tried to avoid the motorways. If I told you that it was see the beautiful villages and see French life you wouldn’t believe me, so I’ll be honest and admit that I just wanted to avoid paying for the roads.
I quickly worked out that the French road system is brilliant if you want to head north/south or east/west but if you are driving diagonally across the country then you are in a pickle. One village blended into another as I drove and drove and drove. I was a spectator to French village life, which seemed to involve cycling to the bread shop for a baton and then heading home to close your shutters and sit in the house all day. There seemed to be very little social activity and the streets always seemed to be empty.
With so much time on my hands my mind began to wander and I got a little philosophical. My journey had become like the journey through life. At each junction, I could turn any direction that I wanted and I would never know what I had missed out on around the next corner by plotting the route that I had. I couldn’t go back, time didn’t permit, so I had to make sure that I picked the best route I could to make it as enjoyable as possible and not look back and worry about what I had missed. Just think about what was to come.
After that, for me, deep thought I was happy to come crashing back down to earth as I passed a sign for Camping Du Coq at a place called Au Bourg. Then I passed a huge silver Coq statue and had to stop to take photographs and laugh at my own coq jokes. Normal service was resumed.
I passed through the lovely town of Autun, cutting over west to east towards the equally lovely Bourges before heading north towards the Normandy coast. As time ticked on and I became sick of driving the day continued to blur at the edges with so much driving. I was beginning to regret not paying the tolls and no doubt would have arrived by now, as night began to fall.
Heading towards Caen, inland but on the eastern end of the D-Day beaches (so the area where the English forces were more prevalent), I started to recognise some of the place names on the sign posts and my excitement levels started to pick up again. I arrived at the beaches at Luc-Sur-Mer, convinced that I would be able to find a campsite but aware that they may be busy. It must have been around 7pm by the time I arrived in Caen and I spent maybe an hour driving up and down the coast following signs to campsites that all seemed to be closed for the evening. I would guess that I followed signs to 5 different sites and I didn’t speak to a soul at any of them.
Disappointed, I began to look for hotels as it had just started to drizzle and my mood was sour. Eventually I ended up at Lion Sur Mer, after driving through many little seaside places that looked to have been abandoned, and asked a hotel if they had any vacancies. I was so relieved when the chap said that they did and handed me the key to my room. I took up my bags and opened the window and realised that my room looked out over around 100 meters of footpath and then the English Channel. I would be waking up on the anniversary of D-Day and the first thing that I would see when I woke up would be the very water on which the boats would have been on so many years ago. All of a sudden, the long drive and fuss to find a bed for the night didn’t seem to matter.
The fact that my room looked like it hadn’t been painted or redecorated since 1944 didn’t matter to me. I was buzzing and decided that at half eight at night I had done maybe 2,000 steps and that wasn’t good enough. I jumped into my running gear and decided to go for a run along the D-Day beaches. I must have got about 20 yards from the hotel when the gentle drizzle that had been hanging in the air progressed into a full on blizzard. I ran just short of 5km wearing a waterproof jacket and by the time I got back in the room there wasn’t a single centimetre of my clothing that wasn’t wringing wet.
Showered and dried, I wandered down into reception to see if I could get some food. It was about half nine and I was told that there was no food being served and that the bar was shut. I assumed that I wasn’t the only one that was in the area to commemorate D-Day and I was stunned at the lack of foresight. When I asked why the bar wasn’t open they said that they had been very busy serving evening meals and were too tired to stay open. My mind blown, I went out on the hunt for food.
I knew from the hotel/campsite search in the surrounding villages and town that there were no shops or takeaways open so I knew I had a task on my hands. I did pass one kebab shop that looked open but by the time I had parked and walked back down the road the lights were off and my opportunity was missed. I ended up in Ouistreham and picked up a McDonalds but, as it was closing I had to take it away. It was black dark and still lashing down so I headed back to my hotel to eat in my bed.
By the time I got back my chips were freezing, the burger was like a leather belt and the coke in my ice had melted so I ended up with watered down Coke Zero. I watched the end of the only English language TV that I could find, the wartime classic ‘A Bridge Too Far’, and drifted off to sleep listening to the sea lap up against the shore. This was so far from being perfect, yet perfect, all at the same time