Apologies for the extended radio silence – it seems that the Cotentin Peninsula (the sticky-out bit with Cherbourg at the top) is in a dead zone as far as Vodafone are concerned so we’ve been stuck for internet these last 48hrs. As promised a couple of blog posts ago, lunch today was a baguette with the ripest smelliest French cheese I could find. It wasn’t the full Roquefort but it came close; a stinky Auvergne Bleu which makes the eyes water as you open the fridge! We bought it a couple of days ago as we left Merville-Franceville-Plage on a mega-shop at the local Carrefour. I’d forgotten just how much fun it is to trail round a large French supermarket wondering what half the goods are. With the exchange rate as poor as it is, it’s not a cheap experience either – £8.50 for a cooked chicken, and £1.49 for a head of broccoli which costs 37p at ASDA – and Gill’s just reminded me my breakfast bananas cost £1.47 here rather than 44p at home eek!
With all the food and drink packed away we set off in a westerly direction for Utah Beach, one of the five beaches used in the Normandy landings in 1944. Our book of Aires said that there’s a big lay-by outside the museum where motorhomes can park up for the night. We pulled in, and as it was late afternoon we decided to tackle the museum the following day, just restricting ourselves to a walk on the beach and a look at the memorials on the dunes. On the way back to Vince we spotted a new sign saying no motorhome parking between 9pm and 8am d’oh! Out came the Aires book again and we drove for half an hour along the narrowest and muddiest of roads to Sainte-Mère-Église where there was a big open-air market area, with space allocated to motorhomes just at the edge of the village.
In the event we were glad we had to move as Sainte-Mère-Église was one of the first villages to be liberated by the Allied forces and tributes, memorials and US flags were everywhere. One slightly tacky note we felt, was a dummy paratrooper dangling by his ‘chute on the church steeple – a step too far I think. The church itself was a revelation. Though small and not elaborately decorated, a closer look at the stained glass windows revealed that they were not made up of images from the bible, but were tributes to the sacrifices made by the town’s liberators; the paratroops, sailors, infantry and airmen who gave so much.
We wanted to be back at the Utah Beach museum first thing so we ate, and had an early-ish night. That’s a very short sentence because Gill has told me not to be a prima-donna and bang on about how tricky it is to cook a couple of steaks, steamed broccoli, and mushrooms in a white-wine and basil sauce in a van. You’ve probably guessed it was my turn to cook, haven’t you…
Leaving Sainte-Mère-Église on Tuesday morning was a bit of a ‘mare. Not only was it still dark at 7.30am, but we also had thick fog. Not knowing the roads didn’t help, nor did UK spec headlights dipping to the left! It was a relief when the parking spot by the museum loomed out of the fog at last and we switched the engine off, the heating on, and got breakfast on the go. We’ve seen a lot of er…. loose French interpretation of parking restrictions but we were surprised to see that they had honoured the no overnight parking rule. There wasn’t a soul around, so standing by Vince in the foggy atmosphere with the waves breaking almost soundlessly on the dunes behind us, it was easy to imagine the calm before the allied bombardment shattered the silence on 6 June 1944.
The museum at Utah Beach kept us fascinated until the mid-afternoon. We went to the Omaha Beach memorial a few years ago, and found that experience very personal, and very distressing. It focused on the lives of a number of individual soldiers, showing photos of their homes and their families and describing the different paths they took which culminated with them stepping ashore on D-Day into massive resistance from the German forces. Their timelines continue right through the museum and out into the sunshine – to each of their immaculately maintained plots in the US Military Cemetery. Utah Beach museum has a much more positive focus. While still respecting the extraordinary sacrifices made by the allied forces, the focus is much more on the liberation of the French people and the incredible logistics and planning required to land so many men and so much equipment on the beaches of Normandy. I thoroughly recommend a visit to either, or both locations if you ever come this way.
We had a quiet and thoughtful drive from there, up the coast and round the point to the very tip of the Cotentin Peninsula, at Cap Hague. There is a basic aire there with no services – what we in the UK would call ‘a field’. Free of charge – yay, that’s two days with no accommodation cost – the view was amazing. We could see across a second field to the rocky shore, and beyond to a lighthouse standing proudly in the bay. The sun was out, as were our folding chairs, the wine and the books! This lasted until the early evening when the fog decided to make another autumn appearance so we retreated inside Vince for our evening meal and our weekly Holby fix!
It was lovely to look through Vince’s front window before bed, and see the beam of light from the lighthouse sweeping through the fog, keeping the French & British mariners safe.