We left Versailles bemoaning the way our poor timing on this trip has had us seeing so many great sights wrapped in tarps, covered with scaffolding or just plain closed because it was ‘off’ season. Nonetheless the many fantastic things we had seen far outweighed the negatives and we decided we are indeed so very lucky to be able to travel as we have.
Heading for the West Coast
The next fantastic stop on our way to the Normandy/Western Front coast was the tidal island and community of Mont St Michel. But first driving through the French countryside provided many picturesque scenes. One such villa we guessed was an equestrian centre or horse breeding centre. Just a few metres past it there was a long straight section of road with what looked like a steeplechase track of hedges and jumps along the shoulder of the road.
In the Distance
It wasn’t too much time later and we got our first glimpse of Mont St Michel off in the distance. Wow! What an impressive sight. We were still kilometres from the island but the Abbey stood out proud high above the surrounding coastal plains. We were getting excited about visiting the island while we had daylight. The two hot links above are worth reading to find out more about MSM and the Abbey.
After parking the car we caught the trolley bus which is a strange vehicle. It has two motors and two fronts so they don’t have to reverse the bus. The driver just changes ends and drives forward again. We drove past the shops and information centre (and the painted cows) and headed straight for the island. As you get closer the enormity of the structure really hits you. It is huge.
On entering through the stone gateway you are offered a maze of medieval streets and lanes. MSM has a community of about 30 on the island which includes less than a dozen Monks and Nuns. There are some wonderful souvenier shops, restaurants and hotels (yes you can stay on the island) and of course several chapels compliment the main abbey.
Our Warm B&B
Pretty soon it was dark and we returned to our B&B which a homely house just a few kilometres from the island. Most of the B&B’s we’ve stayed at have been a bit impersonal but this one was a house of memories and genuine warmth. Our room was fully self-contained and comfortable so we were a bit sad to leave straight after breakfast in the morning. Once packed we headed north up the coast to the sites of the D-Day landings starting with Utah Beach.
On the 6th of June 1944 the D-Day landings codenamed Operation Overlord began. We reached Utah Beach after just a couple of hours driving. Utah Beach is the most western beach of the five used for landings. The other four were Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beach. The Allies were predominately US, Canadian and British (with a few others sprinkled throughout) and their advance from these positions was a major factor in ending the war.
We’ll Fight Them on the Beaches
It was here at Utah Beach that we took most of our photos as it has the largest array of tributes and memorabilia. When we arrived it was low tide which highlighted one of the big issues the Allies had to contend with. Many of the Higgins boats became sitting ducks when they got stuck on the sand banks at low tide. Back behind the dunes there is a museum and many artefacts to see.
There is also a great café opposite the museum where we had a drink break. The café has been decorated in 1940’s style with several mannequins in uniform and WWII equipment on display. But the most touching thing about the café is the signatures and messages written on just about every square centimetre of space from veteran’s family members or from veterans of the landings themselves. I spent ages reading as many as I could and the stories they told were positively overwhelming.
That was about it for the D-Day beaches. We had to move on and get to Dunkirk our next stopover. So watch for the next blog when we check out the battlefields of the Western Front.
Bye for now
Garry & Shane.