I packed up the tent and said my au revoirs to my little French friend in the campsite reception. I am not 100% sure that he understood a single word I said, but I was happy that I had tried my best.
I was heading home the next day and so needed to be near Dunkirk for an early ferry. I hate being under pressure for time so for once I knew where I had to be that night in order to be able to sleep comfortably.
I had plenty of time and so decided to swing by the famous Pegasus Bridge in Ranville. It is the on the easternmost section of the D-Day invasion area on the River Orne. Three gliders landed 100 meters away from the bridge and captured it intact; taking the German garrison totally by surprise. By capturing and holding the bridge, it prevented the German forces from reinforcing the landing areas with armour during and after the invasion.
The landing of the gliders so close to the bridge, giving the vital element of surprise, was described as the greatest flying achievement of the Second World War. Just next to the bridge was a small café that was, and still is, owned by the Gondree family. It was said to be the first building liberated on D-Day.
Arlette Gondree (the daughter of the owner on D-Day and who was there as a child herself on D-Day) owns the café today and her daughters run the show. It is a hot bed of memorabilia and a meeting place for veterans. I had to visit this place and take a look but was cautious as the reviews on TripAdvisor were not the best. Apparently the owners were sick of people taking photographs of the family and the memorabilia and were not scared to remind you of the photography ban they have put in place. It’s their café; they can do that if they like, no problem.
I went in with my camera respectfully packed away and my phone in my pocket and politely smiled when I got to the front of the queue ready to place my order. “NO PHOTOS” was barked at me by the most charming lady behind the counter, ‘Urm, yes, I wasn’t going to take any photos, sorry’. Being English, I felt like I had to apologise for doing nothing wrong.
I asked for a coffee and a croissant and was told that it was 3 Euro 75. I handed over a five Euro note as I had left my change in the car and was barked at ‘Do you not have anything smaller?’ Once again, I apologised for turning up in a café having not revised the price list before hand and turning up with the correct change. What was I thinking? She just shrugged her shoulders and began to serve the next person. It turned out that they don’t give change.
I laughed and drank my piss poor coffee and several day old pastry with a smile on my face. I was feeling sniffly and miserable after my run in the rain followed by a day in the rain. I had had enough of France and enough of the War memorabilia. I had been to the museum at the end of the bridge on a previous visit, so I had no interest in going again. As I stood up to leave I left my tray and empty cups on the table and, somehow a spoon from my coffee must have fallen into my bag. In my mind there was no way I was going to leave a €1.25 tip but I was happy to buy a €1.25 commemorative spoon!
I walked back across the bridge and stood at the markers on the grass next to the bridge that were placed where the gliders came to rest. The feeling of being surrounded by history was still there, and I took a while to take it all in before heading back to the car to get away from Normandy. Next to the bridge a mic and PA system had been set up and an event was clearly just about to begin. As I crossed the road I could see that a marching military band was heading over the bridge. I had seen enough. I didn’t hang around and headed home.
Nothing much happened on the rest of the drive. I probably spent around £30 extra on fuel while trying to avoid toll roads that probably would have cost £10. I followed the coast along and drove through some lovely villages but, I must say, I was sick of driving and missing home. Titchy Feet had recommended Honfleurs where she had visited as a child and said it was very pretty. I drove through and it was indeed a lovely looking town. I couldn’t find a parking space near to the shops and so I drove on after three laps of the town’s one way system. I wanted her to be there with me. I was missing her and my kids a lot.
I paid off half the French national debt to get over the Normandy Bridge, which connects Honfleurs to Le Havre. It was 2,143 metres long and felt like it was based on one of my Scalextric tracks in my front room when I used to try and make jumps by putting cassette tapes under the track to cause a lump. As you entered the bridge you couldn’t see the other side, just the peak half way across. It had the feel of a roller coaster where you spend a long while getting to peak but without the thrill of the free wheeling drop at the other side.
I actually made it back up to Dunkirk by early evening and chanced my arm at the ferry terminal. I asked if I could bring my ferry time forward so that I could get to England that night and head home through the night. I was turned away, which was probably best as I was in no mood for driving an all nighter. I found a pitch at a place called Cappelle-Brouck which was about 15 minutes away from the ferry terminal.
I got my tent up and had a wander along the canal with my camera before having a couple of medicinal beers in the campsite bar. The manager of the site was a traveller and a very intelligent and interesting guy. He suggested that I should come back with my family and stay in the site owners’ house that slept 10 people. It sounded amazing and it is in the notebook for future adventures!
Yet again, with no food on offer in the bar, I had to rely on a tin of chicken curry to get me through the night. It was time for bed.