1066 to 1944

Caen, 29 May 2017

This morning we revisited the tranquil harbour of the little granite port of Barfleur where we watched the crab fishers in a boat moored by the quay sorting their catch and looked across the rock to a monument commemorating a day in 1066 when the little port was at the centre of world events, sending part of the fleet that carried William the Conqueror's soldiers across the Channel to Hastings.

Harbour, Barfleur, France.

Monument to 1066, Barfleur, France.

Crab fishers in the harbour, Barfleur, France.

On our way to Caen we stopped in Carentan, a town we had never visited before. It was an omission that proved not to have been critical. Pleasant as it is, the little place has little to cause the tourist to stop although it does have a handsome brick built Renaissance style hotel de ville and some medieval arcades housing among other businesses the inevitable pizzeria.

Town hall, Carentan, France.

Arcades, Carentan, France.

More enjoyable was a visit to our lost domain in the depths of the Calvados countryside south of Bayeux where we drove through the pillared gateway and up the drive, stopping by the fishpond in front of the house to see if Liz was in. She was, still coping almost singlehanded with the massive park, its avenues, labyrinth, medieval motte, and elaborate topiary. We were treated to tea and a tour of the grounds and went on our way filled with admiration at what she manages to achieve.

Topiary. Saint-Martin. France.

Caen, 3 June 2017

Our days in Caen with Geneviève assumed their familiar routine with visits to the town to see what was new, to stroll through the lively markets, admire exhibitions and make excursions to meet up with library friends.

We visited the Caves de Rosel to acquire wine for our visit to Bénédicte and friends in Bayeux and to see what we might bring back with us. We purchased some Modestine wine but drew the line at the 1899 vintage, a snip at £8,500 Euros a bottle, that was displayed under lock and key in the extensive cellars.

Caves de Rosel. Rosel. France.

The market in the Place Saint-Sauveur had to make room for an elaborate garden installed for the season by the parks department. It was on a nautical theme, with a layout simulating waves and even a lighthouse.

Garden in the Place Saint Sauveur, Caen, France.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts had its usual special exhibition, this time in cooperation with the museum in Geneva on the Dutch masters. Ian was interested to see early examples of identifiable topographical views, not much earlier than the first ones recorded for Devon, but more accomplished. The interiors of Teniers and others intrigued us by their use of symbolism and imagery to convey additional layers of meaning, for example the painting of the five senses. The portraits too manage to convey so much character. They are infinitely more interesting than the endless rows of religious paintings and the abstractions of modern art.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Both, Jan Dircksz. Paysages des environs de Rome. 1641/1652.Caen. France.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Roghman, Roelant. Paysages du Tyrol. 1650/83. Etching. Caen, France.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Verhout, Constantin. Anatomiste. 1660? Oil. Caen, France.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Teniers, David [2]. Alchemist. 1639? Oil. Caen, France.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Teniers, David [2]. Five senses. 1645. Oil. Caen, France.

Musée des Beaux Arts. Ravesteyn, Jan van. Pieter van Veen, his son Cornelis and his clerk Hendrik Borsman. 1620. Oil (Geneva) Caen, France.

We also visited the new library in Caen today, but our account of this has a blog to itself.

Caen, 4 June 2017

For our weekend excursion we decided to avoid the coast this time and visit the historic little town of Creully, where Ian had many years ago attended a conference on werewolves in an eerie vaulted room in the château.

Château, Creully, France.

The chateau and its attractive grounds were open and on the days leading up to the D-Day commemoration we had an unexpected bonus - the museum of radio in one of the towers of the castle was open.

Château, tower where the BBC transmitter was set up, Creully, France.

On 6 June, the same day as D-Day the BBC set up a studio in one of the towers, which continued to operate until 21 July. It was in direct communication with the BBC in London and was able to transmit information on the Battle of Normandy as events unfolded. The studio was well located in one of the first villages to be liberated and in sight of Montgomery's headquarters in the château de Creullet.

View of Montgomery's headquarters in the château de Creullet from a window in the BBC studio, Creully, France.

At first it was in a tent but war correspondent Frank Gillard described the move into "a room centuries old with a vaulted roof, narrow slit windows and a worn stone floor. At one end of the bench are amplifiers. At the other end are the gramophone turntables; in the middle is our microphone, lashed with string to a makeshift stand. Behind the microphone is a radio receiver tuned in to London." Gillard used Midget recorders when out in the field to record his reports. The Midget had been developed by BBC engineers and weighed 35 pounds. It used aluminium discs coated with shellac and correspondents were able to record just under two minutes on each side, but had no playback facility.

Château, contemporary equipment in the BBC studio room, Creully, France.
The technology, then state of the art, filled us with admiration for the BBC war correspondents, especially when compared to the equipment available to correspondents such as Kate Adie who report in the same tradition from war hotspots today. But in the museum we found similar tachnology still being used, with short-wave radio hams busily transmitting around the globe. We did not realise that such technology survived in the digital age, but the enthusiasts underlined its importance - what if the internet were sabotaged or otherwise unavailable? Then the radio hams would come into their own. And so it has proved since our return home when a young girl suffered a serious epileptic fit on Exmoor, out of the range of mobile phone contact, and was rescued through the teamwork of Westcountry radio hams.

Radio museum in the château, Creully, France.

Our next stop was the village of Brécy for a contrasting medieval site, the Prieuré Saint Gabriel, which was founded in 1058 by the lord of Creully on behalf of the Fécamp Benedictine Abbey. The only part of the 12th century Romanesque church remaining is the choir as the nave was destroyed in 1750.

Priory church, Prieuré Saint Gabriel, Brécy, France.

This peaceful site was reached by British troops at five o'clock in the afternoon of D-Day, 6 June 1944. Their arrival is commemorated by a plaque above the archway they passed through.

Prieuré Saint Gabriel, Brécy.France.

The priory buildings are set among beautiful grounds and the whole complex has the feel of a place like Dartington or Bicton in Devon. The parallel with these places is heightened by the fact that since 1929 it has housed a horticultural college. Along the wall of the range of buildings besid the entrance gate was a series of photographs giving an account of activities over the past years.

Gardens, Prieuré Saint Gabriel, Brecy, France.

Caen, 5 June 2017

On the day before we left for home we had our lunch appointment at Bénédicte's lovely old house in Bayeux. Besides Marie-Francoise and Gaston, Bénédicte's son Thibaut was there, helping to keep the secluded little walled garden in order. Conversation was lively, catching up on news, lamenting the folly of Brexit in the first town to be liberated by British troops and also discussing the new library in Caen. After our meal we strolled round the historic old town, which was spared the damage that was inflicted on Caen and so many other towns in Normandy in 1944, and looked nostalgically through the gates of the Hôtel de Castilly where we had stayed in an attic apartment for several weeks back in 2008.

Friends reunited, Bayeux, France.

Place Charles de Gaulle, Bayeux, France.

Hôtel de Castilly, Bayeux, France.

Exeter, 7 June 2017
We left Ouistreham in the early morning of D-Day, as towns along the coast were preparing for the commemorations of the Normandy landings 73 years ago. It was the end of a two month journey where we had explored few new areas but had discovered much that was new in some of our favourite haunts. All in all it had been an enjoyable journey, although the driving had often been tiring. Eye problems have meant that much of this account has been written up after our return, this last blog just before we are due to go off on our next round of travels. Thank you for sticking with us, it's like having a band of fellow travellers with us in Modestine.