Monthly Archives: August 2014

#LeGrandTour2014 – Non, Je ne regret rein – Day 17

Day 17: Le Return! We spent one night at Camping Municipal Les Ajoncs at Audresselles, just below Cap Gris Nez. Cost per night €14 including EHU and access to all the campsite facilities….a bargain and only 20 mins from the Euro Tunnel terminal. Next stop was the pre-tunnel booze run. We located a “Majestic” near to the terminal and spent 45mins buying booze, as only the brits can…no finesse, no culture, all based on price! Job Done.

We then moved into the tunnel terminal, again the process for the uninitiated is very simple and very slick. The crucial bit was getting the Mutts through Pet Passport Control, which was completed quickly and without fuss. The Tunnel is definitely our preferred method of travel between Blighty and mainland Europe, its simple, slick and hassle-free. The driving on and off the train is a doddle, much easier than getting on and off a ferry. They also offered us the opportunity to travel on a slot an hour earlier after we checked in….happy days. 40 mins after driving onto the carriage, we were disembarking at Ashford, ready to face the delights of the British transport network.

Before embarking at Calais, the “Other Half” in a rare moment of generosity offered to drive the journey from Ashford – North Wales! Foolish girl….I of course readily accepted, having half a clue of what she was going to face. All was tickety-boo as we thundered up the M20, heading towards the London Orbital.

As we hit the M25, the satnav piped up “90 Min Delay in 6 mile”…..Surely not?, there must be some mistake my dear, nothing on the traffic bulletins…the problems are at Dartford, not on the clockwise route?…So thats how we spent the next 2 hours, stop/starting along Britain’s biggest white elephant. After 16 days of hassle free motoring in France, this was a reality check. Its also what faces foreign visitors to our shores. Not a great advertisement for our tourism industry. I honestly don’t see how we as a country can be investing in HS2, when the real issue is the lack of capacity on the existing road system and high prices on the current rail network. Other than a couple of broken down cars we didn’t actually see what was causing the problems. 

So glad I wasn’t driving, instead I had full access to the music controls, sweets, internet and a comfy chair with arms….zzzzzzzzzzzz

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Commander Land Operations(UK) takes control

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The final picture of #LeGrandTour2014. Gridlock on the M25!

So lets summarise the last few weeks.

Distance Travelled = 1300miles

Nights in Van = 20

Nights spent off hook-up = 2

Gas used = Less than 1 6kg cylinder. 

Arguments = 5 (All Map/”Where are We” related)

Inter-Famila Murders Committed = 0

Overall this has been a brilliant trip. We’ve spent nearly 3 straight weeks living in a metal box and haven’t committed murder. We’ve been introduced to the joys of touring in mainland Europe and we got to have a good look at Northern France. The country is so easy to travel through, it’s a motorists dream and the fuels much cheaper (€1.27 for a litre of diesel). The French were generally friendly and warm-hearted, the language difficulties can always be overcome, but they do appreciate the salutations in their language…A “Bonjour” and “Merci” go a long way . They have a lifestyle that we as a nation can only envy, try getting any service between noon and 1400hrs…not a chance, the country closes for lunch.

On future mainland travels we will try and visit other areas of this vast country, we loved it.

A big thanks to all who have responded to the blog, its quite nice to know that someone somewhere is reading your work. If anyone wants beginners advice to touring France…just shout!

Next stop….Elan Valley…Thursday

C’est tout

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#LeGrandTour2014 – Bayeux & Beyond: Days 12-16

For anyone with no interest in any military history….feel free to pass on through…Bye, catch you on the next instalment!

Day 12: We sallied forth to the city of Bayeux. A great place to spend a few days. The city is small, historical and generally a nice place to be around. We stayed on the municipal campsite which is called:  Camping Bayeux Bords de L’aure. The site is safe, secure and only a ten minute pleasant walk along the the river bank into the city centre. At €18pn with full EHU and facilities, it’s a great way to blag yourselves a city break on the cheap. We saw tenters, caravanners and motorhomers making use of the site. We even spotted a Landrover rig, which drew admiring glances from passers by…everyone loves a landy.

A Brits Land Rover set up. Very impressive.

The city itself is dominated by the impressive cathedral, which is a useful marker, when you’re walking into the city. The centre is a maze of small narrow streets, dotted with restaurants and small bars. 

Day 13: Random Incident Alert!  Today I drank water from the dogs water bottle that was cunningly concealed alongside all the other water bottles in the van fridge!. When I asked the “Other Half” why the dogs water was in the fridge?…she replied “Oh the wee pet loves his water chilled”…Oh Jeez! But then to add insult to the tape worms I was probably now carrying, I looked down and noticed that she was wearing my Bridgedale Socks…She swears I told her she could have them….The trouble is my memory’s so poor, she knows she will get away with her brazen criminality…Note to self…write it all down…if you can remember to!

The bottle of tape worms and the stolen socks!

Day 14: The Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. We walked to the nearby vets surgery to get the Mutts wormed prior too his trip back through the Tunnel later in the week. We then continued into the city centre and walked a short distance beyond to the War Cemetery.

This is the largest WW2 cemetery in France and it includes friend and foe. Over 4000 souls lie here, including in excess of 600 men who died on D-Day 6th June 1944. I found it an overwhelming experience, which surprised me…..trooping around military cemeteries was part of my past service life.  Later I analysed my feelings and concluded that unlike the Dunkirk men 4yrs before who were mainly older regular servicemen, if these men had survived I would have gone to school with their kids. My Dad would have propped up the bar with them in the 1960’s/70’s etc. They were my parents friends, friends of friends and wartime comrades. Indeed I joined the army in 1977, the year that WO2 Bill Street BEM left my battalion. He had fought with the men lying here as an 18yr old with 4 RWF, many of my slightly older mates had served directly under Bill, so the connections I suppose are a lot tighter

We will remember them.

The Bayeux Memorial. On the side of each pillar is inscribed all of then with “No Known Grave.”

My own regiments missing men. More on these below.

After, we went back into the city centre and enjoyed lunch at a street cafe, with Mutts once again under the table, he really is getting used to the routine. The meal was good, but as typical brits, we weren’t overly impressed with the size of the coffee cups and nibbles…I know; Philistines!

The “Other Half” smiling, before she clocked the size of the coffee cups and treats!

The Gulliver wine glass, amongst the tiny-world coffee cups and treats!

Later The Mutts happily posed for a family shot.

Day 15: Evrecy and Le Crotoy  We left Bayeux and drove directly to Evrecy just south of Caen. My own regiment landed at Normandy on the 24th June 1944. One of their most bloody engagements would occur within 3 weeks centred around the village of Evrecy. We deployed 3 battalions, all of them TA units with virtually no operational experience. The task to take the high ground of Hill 113 was virtually impossible to achieve in this wide open country, dominated by the enemy anti-tank weapons and unobstructed fields of fire. Between 15th-17th July 1944 over 120 of the men had died, with 100’s more injured and maimed. 

The Evrecy Memorial to the Men of 4th 6th and 7th RWF

We spent that night at an Aire at Le Crotoy, north of Le Havre, after putting a couple of 100kms on the clock, as we start the trundle back towards Calais. The site was fine, basically a car park for motorhomes in sand dunes behind a long expanse of beach. Cost €5 pn. There are actually two aires in the resort, I wanted the “picturesque one”, however the “Other Half” decided unilaterally to navigate to the other “non-picturesque” one, which she claimed was fine(which it was in fairness, but I won’t tell her that) This morning when Papa Lazarou and his travelling circus pitched up next to us,…I kid you not, A Full Circus! I struggled not to wear that smug look of “Oh I told you so…”

Day 16: We are now a few kilometres south of Calais on a coastal campsite at Camping Municipal Les Ajoncs at Audresselles, just below Cap Gris Nez. 

Pre-Tunnel Booze Run tomorrow!

C’est tout!

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#LeGrandeTour2014 – Entente Cordial, at last! Days 6-11

So we’ve made it to Day 11 without killing each other….who’d have thought it? Peace reigns, even the dogs happy. Which reminds me, my vastly intellectually superior eldest daughter tells me there’s not enough “Moot Moot” shots in my blogs!  So, just for her……

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Mutts doing his “Chip Van” run…

Day 6-8: Courseulles-Sur-Mer. The evening before we left, we had a “stop n chat” with a Dutch couple who were out walking their Borzoi, which is a Russian Wolfhound….Yep, hunts wolves! Imagine that for a job? It was huge, with ears that pointed forward at any noise. The dog looks a little like a Greyhound, but with longer legs, more bulk and a thick coat. I’d never seen one before, it was very quiet and quite jumpy. This type of dog needs an experienced handler, its wasn’t aggressive at all, but the potential for “small animal carnage” on the beaches of Normandy was clearly there. I was gobsmacked when the owner told me it was 10 months old!  Mutts wasn’t impressed and clearly did not want to be within any sort of running distance of it!

The Borzoi

The Borzoi

Great to see one, until that point I’d never heard of them. Bizarrely half an hour later, a friend sent me an unrelated email showing Maj Hubert Pritchard RWF (of the Les Loges incident 16 Aug 1944), sat with family members including Agatha Christie….The dogs of choice in the picture? 2 x Borzoi….coincidence or what? We stayed another night at Courseulles-Sur-Mer before packing up the Chucklebus and heading west along the coast.

Day 9: We were travelling to the Contentin Regional Parc, which includes the tidal wetlands that separate Omaha Beach in the east from Utah Beach in the west. This is the area highlighted in the film “The Longest Day”, where the American GI ends up hanging by his parachute from the church steeple at St-Mere Eglise.

On the journey we stop off at a few points. Firstly at the memorial to The Green Howards. An inspiring sculpture on the side of the road at Crepon:

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The Memorial to the men of the 6th & 7th Bn’s The Green Howards

IMG_0455   On the 6th June, a Green Howard, a typically British looking Tommy with crooked teeth and a dodgy haircut, fought with such bravery and displayed an almost suicidal disregard for his own life that he was awarded the only VC for D-Day. His name was Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis.

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CSM Stan Hollis VC

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The Citation for Stan Hollis VC

I served alongside men from the Green Howards in 1990’s. In fact we lived on a road named in his honour. Even then, some 50 yrs later he was still revered by the men of his regiment.

After departing Crepon, we drove through Arromanche, stropping to take a walk along Omaha Beach, the scene of the American landings. Today a lovely stretch of golden sand. IMG_0459 We then moved on along the coast to Pont D’hoc. The location of the famous raid by the US Rangers against the German gun battery perched on the rock face, that posed such a threat to the allied invasion fleet. The US attackers had to scale a sheer rock face and used rocket propelled grappling hooks, fired from the assault craft. On reaching the top they found the guns had been removed and hidden in nearby undergrowth. They destroyed them, then spent the next 48hrs fighting off determined German counter attacks, until relieving forces linked up with them.  

What I liked about this US memorial, is that unlike Saving Private Ryan and to some extent Band of Brothers, the memorial planners acknowledged the help the Rangers received from the British and the French. The Landing Craft Group for this task, were led by the British Naval officer who had commanded the landing craft at Dieppe, so knew all about operating under enemy fire. The Rangers were taught their rock climbing skills by Col Tom Trevor of The Royal Marine Commandos, indeed he accompanied the Rangers in the assault and was wounded. They also have a small info board about the local resistance who were part of the team.

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The enemy’s view

 

View from the top of the gun position on Pont D’Hoc, looking east towards Arromanche

Not my favourite US General, but wise words never the less. From a stone at the memorial site to the US Rangers.

After we’d finished at Pont D’Hoc we continued heading west towards Carantan. Eventually ending up at a campsite in the small village of Le Grand Veys.

Located on the seawall overlooking the wetlands of the Contentin Regional Park, its an ideal place to spend a few days.

Day10: The Mutts has discovered what he was put on this earth for, retrieving wildfowl (or his dayglo plastic hoop) from the reed beds, to say he loves this type of activity is probably an understatement! He’s not yet failed to retrieve since we’ve been here. His body responses are very noticeable as he works in the marsh. When he finds his toy, he almost punches it with his snout. Great to watch:

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D-Day is never far away though, many of the little lanes and winding roads are named after US Servicemen who lost their lives during D-Day and the subsequent weeks.

Our next move will be to Bayeux on Sunday, where we plan to stay for a couple of nights, assuming we can find a pitch.

C’est tout

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#LeGrandeTour2014 – Days 2-6 (The Pains of Entente)

Remember the stoneage characters in Wacky Races..always beating each other with clubs as they trundled along, did you know it’s based on a couple navigating Northern France for the first time?….FACT!

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Coming from ordered lives, to suddenly not having any real plans was an initial eye-opener, especially as we had no idea where all the places on the road signs fitted into the overall map of France. So after a “tense” couple of days on the driving bits, we’re finally getting to grips with the teamwork issues. I’ve learned the art of deep meditation and the importance of breathing, the other half has learnt how to open a map and what all the funny squiggly bits mean. The Mutts hasn’t learnt anything, other than he now gets fed an hour later in France!

All is good in Le Chez Chucklebus!

Day 2: Stella Plage. The reason we visited this location was because an elderly friend of ours; Ted Jones MM stepped ashore here in June 1940, whilst taking part in the first ever commando-style raid against the Germans on the French Coast; Operation Collar (covered elsewhere in this blog site).

Stella Plage is located a few kilometres south of Etaples, a typical stretch of beach on the Opal Coast, we stayed on an Aire which was free. No facilities, basically a car park behind the sand dunes. No internet, electric or water..zilch….our first time without the umbilical cord of hook up.  Thankfully the fridge worked well on gas, so we survived, and are now confident in our ability to spend the odd night away from the grid!

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The Aire behind Stella Plage

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Teds View: The left of arc.

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Teds View: The axis:

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Teds View: The right of arc.

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To Mutts, its just a beach!

Day 3/4: Le Hetre. Up like larks and pushed further south along the coast. No real idea where we were heading for, but chanced upon a rundown campsite at Le Hetre, which is just west of Cany-Barville in Picardy.

It had everything we needed, except a 3G signal….so another day without blogging….I was sweating now as I was two days without internet…..a family record! The site was actually quite nice, it was quiet, the showers were hot and it had electric..whoop whoop. Certainly a good place to catch up on some van admin. Be warned, the showers wouldn’t be a lot of fun if the temp dropped, they are located in a old converted cattle shed with a tin roof….all very austere…visions of a briskly managed 1950’s adventure camp for young men… Every morning a quick naked run around the lake, a cold shower followed by a sound thrashing off the monks! You get the picture….but in the summer, as the Other Half says in her newly invented language…SpanFran.. “Non problemo Monsieur”

Whilst there we picked up a local IGN 1:25000 map and did a couple of local forest walks down to the coast. Visiting St-Pierre-en Port and Les Grande Dalles, a small cove backed up by sheer chalk cliffs:

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Les Grande Dalles

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This was our only map initially! At Ancretteville

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Ancretteville

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The village roads are dotted with Calvary Crosses

Day 5: Les Loges/Lion Sur Mer. We moved inland 40kms south of Caen. Heading to a small village called Les Loges Saulces, in the department of Calvados. This was our first outing on the Toll(peage) Motorways. It was a Sunday, which in France is still how God decreed it, no shops or traffic! The drive over Pont-De Normandie was pretty impressive, 2 x consecutive bridges, with the second looming up in front of you like the ramp on a aircraft carrier….or a potentially life threatening big dipper!!

Our reason for visiting Le Loges was to hook up with a former army colleague and his partner, who own a beautiful house in that village that has a very recent history with my old regiment. On the 16th August 1944, four men from the 6th Bn RWF were ambushed by the retreating german army in the village. A local girl dragged the four badly wounded men into the house, where over the next few hours they died from their injuries. One of the men, Major Pritchard was married to the only child of Agatha Christie. The other two named men William Lewis and William Jones, both aged 19, came from Presteigne and Anglesey respectively. The 4th man is yet to be identified.

All four men were buried in the local churchyard, where they have lay for the last 70yrs, lovingly cared for by the villagers. My former colleague is now fully intwined into this story, ensuring that the spot in his “Grand Salon” actually the manse,  located inside the house where they died is forever a small part of The Royal Welch Fusiliers.

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Their resting place for 70yrs

 

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Shoulder to Shoulder

After that we motored north to the Normandy coast with the intention of following the line of invasion beaches. We stayed overnight on the not aptly named Oasis Campsite in Lion Sur Mer. We were pitched next to the French equivalent of the family from hell,  complete with humungously huge dog wearing a Hannibal Lector style muzzle!! Sacre Bleu!

That aside, it was great to see the beach where so many of my fathers generation had stepped. I spared a thought for the men I knew from my childhood days and indeed from my adult life in the army, whose lives had been shaped by those days in June 1944.

Sword Beach

As you walk along the promenade it’s easy to forget the history of the place, but then you spot the older sea facing buildings and a closer look reveals the tell tale splatt marks in the brick work from the British .303 rifle rounds. Mainly around the edge of the window casements. I can’t forget that iconic footage of a few short seconds of film shot within a landing craft as it beached, with the guys jumping off…possibly Canadians, one guy lugging a ladder, you can see the enemy rifle rounds slashing in the sea…A very special generation.

An exhibition of French School kids art

Lion-Sur-Mer

Day 6/7/8: Courseulles Sur Mer: The next day we were up early and on the road, I noted that the La Francais Famillie  from Hell….were still fast asleep….Probably BECAUSE THEY WERE UP TILL 1AM, B@£$%tards!!

We continued west along the coast , passing Sword Beach and moving along to Juno, which was controlled by the Canadian Division. 15000 Cannuks landed here, along with 9000 Brits. Some of the fortifications they faced along the old sea wall are still in situ. Sobering stuff, you can only admire these men. Again, every 100 metres or so, you can spot old buildings with the ravages of war etched into them.

Part of the old sea wall overlooking Sword/Juno. The pillar box shows all the signs of war on its facing brick. Only a short distance from the coastline as well.

We’ve struck lucky and found space on a busy, but well organised campsite called Le Champ de Course at Courseulles-Sur-Mer , only 50metres from a quiet part of Juno Beach.

Juno Beach

The water inlet from Juno Beach at Coursulles-Sur-Mer

We are staying here for three days before we move on.  Last night we had a restaurant meal, which made a nuclear sized hole in the daily budget, but was well satisfying. Crucially Muttley  joined us, and spent 2 hours hunkered down underneath the table as the Chucklebus Crew fine dined above. To be fair, the  Other Half did secretly prepare a doggy bag, mid meal….I think that’s a crime that is still punishable by death in France!

A small nuclear explosion!

In the next few days we are expecting the remnants of Hurricane Bertha to hit the French coastal areas, happy days!  so we we’ll be looking for somewhere to ride that one out. Thinking of heading to Bayeaux, which is less than an hours drive from our current location.

Meanwhile the Other Half is catching the rays whilst she can.

C’est la tout

 

 

 

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