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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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