Friday 26th May 2017, Villedieu-les-Poêles, Normandy
Today the heat has been suffocating! It is now gone 8pm and the sun is still as bright as ever and the heat unbearable. We found ourselves on a pitch here that had not a drop of shade and poor Modestine has stood there patiently since 4pm while we have sheltered from the very worst of the heat by using the pitches of fellow campers while they are out in town, moving on when they return. Now there is enough shade formed by Modestine for Ian to work outside whilst I am inside with the fan trained on me! It is still 31 degrees inside and 28 out but the patch of shade is still not really sufficient for both of us. If it is as hot tomorrow we may well make for Caen and throw ourselves on Geneviève's mercy. We are though, trying to keep away until she has left for her holiday in Lorraine as we don't want to make her and Marie Françoise feel uncomfortable about leaving us as soon as we arrive.

The morning started bright but comfortable with a lovely freshness to the morning. The traffic was all heading up towards Cap Fréhel and to Mont St. Michel, St. Malo and Dinard. We were fortunate to be taking the opposite direction, towards Avranches and Villedieu. At Avranches we parked and had lunch in Le Clerc - pintarde with rice and carrots. Excellent value and cool in their air conditioned restaurant. Then we parked near the centre and re-explored the town which we have visited before. The streets were hot and airless but Ian still dragged me up onto the top tower of the Norman castle from where we could look across the town and the surrounding countryside to the polderland surrounding the bay of Mont St. Michel.

Norman castle, Avranches

Avranches seen from the Norman castle

Here the conical rock with its castle rose up from the haze across the bay. It looked inviting but experience has shown us just how impossible it is to park out there and it would be madness to attempt the walk across and the climb in such unbelievable heat. There are though, polders all along the side of the bay where cereal crops are grown on reclaimed land. There are the remains of many windmills used for pumping the polders to keep the land drained. Having visited the three main churches of Avranches, not so much from religious fervour but to rest in the cool, dark interior, we gave up searching for the painting we remembered finding in one of the town's churches showing St. Aubert with a hole in his head where he had been prodded by the Archangel Michael who was getting cross at the slowness with which he was constructing the church St. Michael had ordered him to build. It was to Avranches that Henry II of England came to do penance and take responsibility for the murder of St. Thomas à Becket by his knights on the king's behalf.

Eglise Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais. Skull of Bishop Aubert of Avranches

Massacre of the Innocents, Eglise St. Saturnien, Avranches

Driving with the windows open gave a certain amount of breeze so we continued to Villedieu where we got caught up in the traffic and missed our turning. I got cross and blamed Ian who is resigned to everything being his fault. Eventually we turned round and made our way back over the damned traffic calming measures that look like Olympic high jumps all down the main street. Modestine can only jump them in 2nd gear so our progress is slow and annoys all the drivers in conventional vehicles. This time we found the right place but having registered we found our pitch to be the hottest and smallest on the campsite. I've now moaned myself around to where I started! That has been our day. - Yes Mike, I know you keep telling us we should have air conditioning installed but needing it is such a rarity that until we have a day like today it seems an unnecessary expense for a vehicle her size.

Before moving on this morning we revisited the centre of Villedieu-les-Poêles. Here are a few photos that I forgot to write about!


Maison d'Etain for sale, Villedieu-les-Poêles

Main street, Villedieu-les-Poêles


Sunday 28th May, 2017, St. Vaast la Hougue
Over the weekend we have been revisiting places we know in the Cotentin and discovering a few we did not. This has been the long weekend of the Ascension and believe us, it has been terrible! The French, it seems, all want to do exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. We naively thought we would go to Granville which we have not visited for many years. Off shore lie the Îles Chausey, an archipelago of tiny islands and islets belonging to France. Further away are the Channel Islands or Îles Anglo-Normandes as they are known in France. Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Alderney lie slightly further north. The last two are known here as Sercq and Aurigny. Ferry boats leave from Granville for these islands.

We drove confidently in towards Granville but so did everybody else. By the time we realised we were not going to find a parking space anywhere in the town it was impossible to get out. So we spent a good hour crawling through the streets, up above the town and down around the harbour following the one way system through the packed streets trying to escape, to avoid cars reversing out of blocked side roads and pedestrians with children wandering casually around in the roads!

We'd driven quite a way to reach Granville and we knew it as a very pleasant town where we have stayed when we were both still working and driving our old Volvo. The weather was incredibly hot and airless, the worst day this trip. Somehow, we eventually found our way out. We had not seen a single unoccupied parking space anywhere and people were double parked on the narrow streets waiting for a space to become free.

Several kilometres outside we turned down to the sea where we parked under a tree beside the airfield. This isn't anything more than a flying club amongst the dunes. Young people were taking their first parachute jumps while others were flying ULMs – ultralight single-seater aircraft. Others were learning to fly small planes, heading out to sea and disappearing into the clouds somewhere over Jersey.

We considered walking back along the deserted, empty beach into Granville but with such heat it would be unwise and it must have been several kilometres even along the shoreline. So we gave up and headed northwards up the west side of the Cotentin in the direction of Cherbourg. We stopped on the edge of Barneville- Carteret for the night. School half-term coincides with everything else that is happening in France this week and there were dozens of school children running wild around the site having a grand time. Unfortunately by the time we'd settled Modestine on her pitch I had a bad headache and we were both exhausted from the heat and hay-fever. All we wanted was a cold drink and some sleep. It was still daylight when I went to bed and I knew nothing until 8am this morning.

We woke to a cool day with a grey sky and a temperature of 17 degrees! Joy! Energy levels rocketed and by 9.30 we'd driven in to Carteret, parked, walked down to the gare maritime and found the only place open for breakfast. Actually the hotel in question told us they were doing breakfasts for guests only but they agreed to do us coffee with a length of baguette, butter and jam each.

Carteret is a lovely place with interesting things happening on the water and lovely walks - out along the jetty to watch the departure of the catamaran, appropriately named the "Victor Hugo" to Guernsey, or up on to the dunes to the lighthouse with splendid views out to sea with the dark shape of the Channel Islands on the horizon. We recalled standing on the cliffs of Jersey and looking across towards where we now stood, wondering at the golden sand that stretches for mile after mile along the coast here.

Carteret, Cotentin, Normandy

Catamaran ferry leaving Carteret for Guernsey

Cliffs above Carteret

A sailing ship raced out to sea, bent so far over by the force of the wind that the main sail looked like capsizing into the sea and all the crew leaned heavily on the topmost side struggling to right their boat. Sooner them than us!

Lighthouse and transmitter, Carteret, Cotentin, Normandy

From the lighthouse we slithered down through the sandy dunes, almost carried by the warm avalanche of fine white sand. On the beach we were alone with miles of sand for Ian to block streams, build dams and unleash the power of little rock pools to divert the naturally forming rivers through the sand as the tide receded. The sand was though, absolutely alive with sand fleas! In rock pools they behaved like very tiny shrimps but on the sand they leaped about too quickly to see them properly and disappeared into the sand in a flash. They seemed harmless but it would be impossible to sit on the beach. There must have been millions of them on the vast empty stretch of sand!

Miles of sandy beach at Carteret, Cotentin

The morning passed very quickly. During the afternoon we drove to Briquebec where we found the remains of the castle. Inside, the 12th century Grande Salle had been turned into an hotel, rather like the Spanish Paradors. The rest of the castle, was sufficiently substantial for us to appreciate what a massive defensive complex it was for a small French town. The oldest part, the motte, dated from the 11th century while other parts had been constructed during the 13th to 15th centuries.

Vestiges of the chateau, Briquebec, Cotentin

Chateau, Donjon, 14th century, Briquebec, Cotentin

In the centre of the ruined castle stands a pyramid of concrete erected in the year 2000 as a memory capsule of the 20th century made from the sand of Utah beach. Within it are 2000 items from the Battle of Normandy. The pyramid has been designed so that gradually the cement will erode, revealing the items within - bullets, rifle butts, bits of the engine of a tank, old water bottles, military buttons, army helmets etc. The idea is that it will gradually reveal to young people of today, the price paid for their freedom. As the objects are revealed it is hoped they will be handed in to the museum to be put on display.

Château, Pyramide de Mémoire, Briquebec, Cotentin

Château, Grande Salle, 12th century, hotel formed from the castle remains, Briquebec, Cotentin

Château, Tour de l'Horloge, 15th century, Briquebec, Cotentin

General Jean le Marois 1776-1836, one of Napoléon's generals. Briquebec, Cotentin

In Valognes, a town we had never before visited, we found a car boot sale in full swing with the entire town gathered to buy or sell their junk collection. There really was nothing we fancied, which was just as well as ridiculously high prices were being asked for it.

We went in search of the older town and discovered a splendid area of old houses and cottages as well as huge mansions that had fallen into gentle decay and a hôtel particulier with its lovely gardens open to the public for the day. Ian was particularly delighted to discover that the pretty brook winding through the old town had several mediaeval toilets overhanging it from the properties that backed on to it! The brook cannot have been anywhere near as charming back in those days!

Mediaeval privy overhanging the stream, Valognes

Pretty stream, formerly the town's sewage conduit, complete with privies, Valognes

Residential street with 18th century houses, Valognes

Hôtel de Beaumont, 18th century private residence, Valognes

Hôtel de Beaumont, gardens, Valognes

We had wondered about returning to Caen tonight. Geneviève is away but has left the key for us so we can return whenever we wish. However, now the weather is cooler and the dreadful holiday weekend is over we are feeling much better. So we continued up to St. Vaast where we are now camped on the edge of the little town. When we booked in we were informed that we'd stayed here before, back in 2007. It is beginning to be a regular occurrence! That would presumably be the time we found a lovely little ruined cottage near the port here, overlooking the rocky beach and mussel beds with a view of the sea and the Vauban fort on the little offshore island of Tatihou. We both loved it and in those days were dreaming of perhaps moving to live in France. It is still the one we have liked above any others we have seen anywhere in Europe. It has now been completely restored but its charm remains. We have no regrets that we didn't buy it however. Our lives are firmly settled in Exeter with Kate, Matt and two of our four grandchildren. Our other grandchildren and their parents Neil and Jeev live near Hull so our roots are deeply sunk into British soil.

This evening we went for a stroll around the town, to look at "our" cottage next to the seamen's chapel, out along the jetty to the harbour light, around the marina crowded with little yachts, back through the town with its little streets of stone cottages, its oyster bars, restaurants, and tourist shops. It has been a lovely day and more than compensates for the horrors of yesterday with its burning heat and endless driving on crowded roads.

Tatihou from the jetty at low tide, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Cotentin

Tatihou ferry when tide is in, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Cotentin

Harbour, Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, Cotentin

Monday 29th May 2017​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
During last night the hot, heavy, humid weather broke. For days we'd been waiting and suddenly there was a crash of thunder that vibrated until it was drowned out by the next crash. From then on, for the next couple of hours at least it was mayhem! Ian found himself isolated in the sanitaires when the rain started in earnest, unable to return through the deluge. With the constant lightening flashing several times a second it was bright as day and the rain was so violent his path back was completely flooded. Eventually, with the storm showing no sign of abating he undressed, packed his dry clothes into his bag and ran back across the campsite leaping through the rapidly accumulating water to Modestine. People looking out from their cosy camping cars, fascinated by the storm, were treated to the rare spectacle of a naked Englishman streaking through the storm in his underpants! Once inside we put his sandals into a bucket, wrapped him in the towel and warmed up with hot tea as we watched the storm outside. It went on and on. Eventually there was a crash followed by a rumbling groan that sounded like the death throes of Poseidon out at sea and then silence! A couple more flashes of lightening and the storm moved on to wreak its havoc across the Channel in South East England. It had started earlier back in Spain, angered perhaps by our recent rapid departure.

This morning the camp site looked rather battered. There was flooding around the swimming pool and the pitches were muddy but not waterlogged, thanks to the sandy soil. We took a wet stroll around the fishing port and a coffee in the PMU. The PMU was crowded with regulars discussing politics. It is this atmosphere that draws us to these betting shop/cafes. Almost all Frenchmen have their forceful views on politics and as soon as we entered the discussion turned to BREXIT. We kept quiet in our corner with our coffees listening to the conversation. Eventually one of the fishermen turned to us and said, "You ask us for everything but you will get nothing! Nothing!" His nodding companions agreed with "bah oui" as they swallowed down their first petit verre of the day. We didn't feel awkward. It was a statement of fact as we will all eventually discover. We assured them it was nothing to do with us and we'd voted to remain.

We bought warm bread at the bakery and left St. Vaast behind, following the coast round to the American sector of the Normandy Landing Beaches of June 1944.