You know how it is. Your in your local pub with a couple of your mates and after a few (to many) beers you decide it would be cool to do a big bike trip. Well that was a while ago now and and what with the summer finally turned up its time to put our drunken plan into action. France here we come!




There are 3 of us going myself (Andy), Ben and Will. Are bikes are a bike of a miss mash with Will having a old 1980’s touring bike given to him by his dad, Ben has a flat bar Ridgeback day 0 from the early 2000’s and I have a 2011 Surly Pacer. We have been doing a fair bit of training with regular 30-40 mile rides a couple of times a week after work and 60-80 mile rides at the weekend. We actually completed our first century a couple of weeks before leaving, to celebrate Ben’s birthday.

Anyway, the stage was set, the 420 mile route was planned, maps were sorted and the ferry from good old Pompey was booked. Only issue being that we were all going on a bender to the Whitstable Oyster Festival for the two days leading up to our ship sailed. But then seeing how the plan was originally cooked up in a pub we might as well keep the spirit alive and get our party on before leaving. It was to be a holiday after all.

We rocked up to the ferry port just before midnight on the Sunday, after I had to go back and pick up my bank card which I had left at home by mistake (Oops). We had a quick pint to celebrate the start of the trip before getting a few hours sleep in our cabin.

After getting a polite wake up call by the captain we hopped off the ferry in Caen (Ouistreham) France, wized through customs and off we went on a nice flat cycle path heading south towards Caen.

Le Tour de Normandie – Day 1

Day 1 was set to be the longest day of the trip in terms of distance, with around 102 miles from start to finish. The thinking was that if we start big and then drop down it will match our overall drop in speed over the same time.

We stopped for some breakfast in one of the first towns we went through. In which the only place to get a coffee was a bookies and no they wouldn’t take a bet on us all finishing the trip in one piece. They did however point us in the direction of a bakery where we could get the second half of our breakfast so we let ’em off 🙂

We were soon on the road again and heading through Normandy’s famous cider region.

After Heading East for a bit, and taking only one wrong turn, we ended up in Cambremer. This is where we learnt an important lesson about the French… they don’t like to open up thier shops! This is cool as they are all very chilled out, but not so good if your hungry or want a cold drink. Needless to say nothing in Cambremer was open despite all the signs on the shops saying they should have opened over an hour ago.

Form here we headed north back to the coast and a place called Deauville. The roads were supper smooth, not like the crap we have back home and they even have proper separate from the road cycle paths when needed. Love it!

Deauville turned out to be really busy and after not seeing any cars in hours came as quite a shock.

Its one saving grace was the beach. We chilled out here for probably too long. Ben took advantage of the beach shower to cool down as the temperature was well into the 30’s by this point.

As Honfleur was half way for the day we had decided to stop there for lunch and had to pushed on.

After a hilly section of the coastline we made it hungry and tired to the very posh and ever so nice Honfleur. Where we opted to go to the first English speaking restaurant (I know, I know).

Not for the last time on this trip I regretted taking clipless peddles after having to negotiate a set of narrow spiral highly polished wooden stairs to go to the loo after lunch.

The last leg of the day was 50 miles straight south to Camembert. Despite the truly amazing state of the roads we were riding Ben managed to hit the only pothole within 100 miles and picked up the first flat of the trip. Although it did give us a chance to rest in the shade under a bridge for a bit while he fixed it.

It doesn’t look so bad in this photo, but it was actually a pretty big hole (honest).

The town of Lisieux, 75 miles into the day, was nothing to write home about. Except for the fact it had a whitewater slalom course running through the middle of it.

Later on along this road I felt some play in my right shoe. I incorrectly thought in might be the spring in my peddles and didn’t bother to check it out as we were making good time. A few moments later there was a ping and the sound of something small and mettle hitting the road. I stopped, went to unclip my feet only to find my right shoe wouldn’t unclip, but I did somehow manage to keep my balance and not end up on in pile the ground. Turned out my right shoe had lost 2 of the 3 bolts holding the cleat in place and it just pivoted on the one remaining bolt. After a few minuets of searching Ben found 1 bolt and washed and I bodged it back together so we could continue.

We finally made it to Camembert, all be it completely shattered. I stopped the guys to get a photo only to find that out they were not in the mood! Especially when in my hast I had stopped us a couple of km to early (my bad)!

Worse was still to come though…our B&B was only a few km away but not having an OS map we had no idea if there were any hill. Turns out there was! Probably one of the steepest hills I have ridden, had to be 17%-20%. Will and his 30 year Old 10 speed bike had had enough and even Mr king of the mountains Ben struggled and was off the bike briefly! I on the other hand was to worried that the big hill was in fact a wrong turn and was thinking how best to tell the others this. I decided not to bother and see where it lead to. Turns out it was the right road after all and we rolled into the B&B way to late to use the pool 🙁

The guys running the place were great though and had already said they would drive us into town if needed to get some dinner. Despite it being late in the day they did just that, after sorting us out with a booking at one of their favorite restaurants. We all opted for the special as we were to tired to think about having anything else. It was to be the first rather odd burger of the trip, open, not much meat  and not enough tommy source for some people, but it still went down a treat, as did the started of melted Camembert and ham (yummy)!

The boys from the B&B picked us up when we had finished and took us home. We had thought of getting an early start, but thought better of it and asked for breakfast at 10!

Le Tour de Normandie – Day 2

Day 2 was always going to be a long one. We didn’t get down for breakfast until 10:00, but when we did it was well worth it! It was the best breakfast I think we had ever had and consisted of everything from fruit, yogurt, pastries, croissants, cereal, liters of different juices etc. I could have easily stayed there a good few hours and polished it all off, but with time already getting away from us and the sun getting higher and hotter we set off.

The first leg was just under 30 miles heading South West to a town called Carrouges. Due to the late start and the general lack of planning in terms of times when shops and restaurants open and close in France we turned up hungry to this lovely sleepy old town to find all the shops shut! But luckily a Pizzeria was still open, although when in my best French I inquired about a table for 3 the manager looked disappointingly at a clock and moaned a bit about us being too late, but in the end agreed to let us stay.

This turned out to be a fantastic restaurant with very friendly staff and locals. There were even a couple of cowboys in from the fields when we arrived.

By the time we got back on the bikes the sun was high in the clear sky and we would spend the rest of the day, some 60+ miles biking directly into it!

The road to Domfront is very straight with rolling hills and passes through Forêt d’Écouves. This started out fine, but as time passed it began to become a bit like groundhog day, with no turns and rolling hill after rolling hill along the seemingly endless road.

The heat was really taking its tole and we had all run out of water by the time we started climbing towards the town.

Desperate for water in the 40+ degree heat we spied a tap some locals were drinking from. We pulled over and parked up in some very convenient little sun shelters while we drank, washed and rested for a bit. For me Domfront was summed up by that tap and I will always love the place for it!

In case you were in any doubt, yes some of the French toilets are still the old ‘hole in the ground’ style.

After taking a wrong turn we headed out of Domfront West towards Cimetière militaire américain de Saint-James

We pushed on along the fantastic French roads and eventually made it to our next B&B at about 21:00. This time we were in a traditional French farm house Ferme de la Gautraie run by a lovely old farmers wife. As it was in the middle of nowhere we had paid an extra €20 each for an evening meal. This turned out to be the best €20 we spent on the trip and consisted of a huge 5 course home cooked meal! It started with sparkling cider and consisted of stakes, paste, salad, veg, cheese, bread, red wine, pudding. Food was defiantly becoming a theme of this holiday!

On a side note this B&B also had the best shower ever! it had about 8 heads and was like walking into a spaceship. It even had a seat, perfect for the weary cyclist and much appreciated after the long hot day in the saddle.

Le Tour de Normandie – Day 3

After the 95 mile average for the first 2 days, day 3 was planned as a bit of a rest day as it was only due to covered around 65 miles.

We started early and spent the first 15 miles heading north along more butter smooth roads with cornfields as far as you could see.

Our aim was to get to the famous Mont Saint-Michel before the crowds and before to long we could see it in the distance.

After locking the bikes up we went for a bit of an explore, but before long found ourselves in a restaurant eating (again) and polishing of a couple of bottles of local cider!

We pushed on heading East towards le piquenot where we crossed over the Sélune river and turned North again towards Avranches.

After the issue with my cleats falling off on the first day I spied a decent looking bike shop as we flew down the main road in Avranches. We pulled in and I picked up a new set of cleats and Ben picked up a new tube.

Out side of Avranches we decided to take the straightest road of the trip so far and go direct to Granville. This turned out to be a very fast road, both for us and the many many cars using it. This was one of the worst ideas we had on the trip and all 3 of us were very glad to get into Granville itself. In the town we stopped for food at a Subway and took full advantage of the bottomless drinks and ice machine, filling all our bottles up before we left.

The last 20 miles flew by and we were soon on the outskirts of Coutances, our home for the evenng. It had by now become a bit of a joke that every day ended on a hill and today was no exception as Coutances is situated at the top of one and our B&B was right in the center.

The B&B was called Le Refuge and was a lovely old house with an out building for the bikes with a 2 person room above. Although they don’t normally take more that 2 people they had agreed for us to also have their daughter old room as well as she had moved out. We got changed and headed into town for dinner. We quickly found the one open restraint and ordered burgers, chips and 3 large bottles of cider. The waiter basically said no and tried to insist that we didn’t want 3 bottles, but rather one bottle to share between the 3 of us. We explained that it was not our bad French and we did indeed want a bottle each. The setting was very picturesque with the restaurant situated at the opposite end of the town square to the famous cathedral. After finishing of the food and drink we headed back to the B&B picking up some more cider and sweets on the way back!

Le Tour de Normandie – Day 4

We woke up to another prefect riding day with no wind and a fair bit cooler then the first few days. We had breakfast and I was complemented by the owner of the B&B on my written French, thanks Google translate I owe you one! After breakfast we found we still had a bottle of sparkling cider left over from the night before and not being able to take it with us and not wanting to wast it we downed it before leaving. Breakfast cider, its the future, honest 😉

Yummy!

The mornings riding was great and we were all feeling good in ourselves and were making good time.

We stopped for a spot of sightseeing when see spied a monument at the side of the road.
However, whilst at the top of the monument a couple of French MAMIL’s whizzed by and our competitive spirit kicked in. We jumped back on the bikes and gave chase.

After a lunch consisting of more Jambon and a couple of pints we continued on the back roads through Le Vast and towards Barfleur. This was after making the wise choice to bypass Cherbourg altogether. Everything was clicking now and we were lined up one behind the other like pro’s. Despite this being the 4th day we were now going faster then ever, each taking our turn on the front. By the time we made it to Barfleur we were spent! Ben popped into the pharmacy for some much needed pain killers for his ankle while I called the hotel to let them know we would be a bit late. Only issue was they didn’t speak any English and in the heat and exhaustion I started speaking Spanish of all things. This lead to Will collapsing with laughter in the street and me having to just hang up the phone, but not before gaining my holiday nickname of Senior Dickson

Barfleur

After an ice cold beer we continued at speed down to Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue where we found our hotel waiting for us a mile down the road in Quettehou.

We were staying at a odd little place called Hôtel La Demeure du Perron where seemingly no one spoke any English. At least this was the case until we lent our bikes up in the wrong place, at which point the guy working there told us in no uncertain terms (and in perfect English) not to put them there. He did however open up a shed for us and we left them in there for the night.

We walked into town for dinner and got a table at the La Chaumiere. This was a bit well-to-do for us, but the food was nice if the room itself was a bit hot. When it came to ordering the waiter brought over the menu board and asked us to choose. At this point everyone in the restaurant fell silent to listen to just how badly our pronunciation was. By the end of the meal they seemed not to want us to leave so it wasn’t until we walk out to get some fresh air that the waiter finally took our payment.

Our room @ Hôtel La Demeure du Perron

We were woken up at sunrise with the clap of thunder in the distance shortly followed by heavy rain on the rooms skylights. All in all it didn’t bode well for the day to come.

Luckily by the time we had finished breakfast the rain had stopped and the sun was coming up. We picked up where we had left off the day before going faster and faster as we got back into a comfortably rhythm. After a clear and fresh morning heading south we made it to Carentan where we stopped at a Carrefour for some food, inducing some ‘Cavendish’ bananas!

Bayeux

We continued on now heading west following the D’Day beaches along the cost towards Bayeux. Will took a tumble while we were on the straightest road of the day after we got lazy and started overlapping wheels as we went along chatted. It was nothing serious, but left him minus some bar tape. On arrival at Bayeux we picked up our second Subway of the trip and again took full advantage of the bottomless drinks and ice.

Normandy Cyclist

After lunch the speed remained high, due mainly to the increase in beer stops. We could feel the end was close now. The roads were getting busier and the condition of them had deteriorated to something similar to that found back home.

Canadian couple touring from London to Istanbul on a recumbent tandem! Legends!

Finally we made it back to the port in Caen where we spent the last of our Euros on the coldest beers of the trip, they actually had ice on the outside of the cans, and a few cheap cigars to celebrate a job well done!

Will
Andy
Ben

Overall this was a fantastic trip and I cannot recommend enough cycling in Normandy! Good work boys can’t wait until the next one 🙂