Due to other commitments I was dropped off at the ferry port in Portsmouth rather than joining the others in riding over. We were booked on the overnight ferry to St Malo. After a short wait the other 8 riders (Dave D, Sean W, Simon T, Jim S, Keith M, Mark C, Dick S and Bill I) wheeled their way to the port. I cannot comment on how their ride out was but I did hear that Sean found out his brakes were working at very sub-optimal levels at the bottom of the descent of Portsdown Hill, as good a time as any to find out!

Once aboard the ferry the bar was duly found followed by the restaurant and then the bar again to be entertained by the slowest magician act in history (and worst) and a female singer who would have made a more entertaining act if she hadn’t bothered opening her mouth. It was clear from the start I was in the company of some serious drinkers but with apparent varying abilities in successfully riding home bladdered with mentions of close encounters of the ditch kind.


Day 1: St Malo to Coutances.

Friday morning came with a buzzing alarm from the tannoy at some ungodly hour. A full English breakfast swiftly followed ready for the assault ahead. At this point I will mention that I was expecting daily mileages of 80, 80 and 110 miles, however I had evidently not converted English miles into Davenport miles.

We left the ferry around 07:15 into cool morning air but with the promise of sunshine and temperatures in the high teens. The plan was to ride to Caen via the coast roads as much as possible. We rolled out of St Malo heading north to find the coast road. The roads were gently undulating but were very smooth and the drivers were overwhelmingly much more considerate of cyclists, I had not realised that cyclists tend to get right of way on roundabouts which felt very alien to me (but welcome). We quickly fell into a rhythm and the miles rolled by with sea views and pretty villages. The first stop of the day came after about 30 miles in the little village of Saint-Broladre where we found a patisserie and a bar for coffee. Two coffees and the most sugary pastry I have ever tasted later and we were ready for the off. At this point Sean realised he had a slow puncture and so we waited while he changed his tube. We then set off again, and we had almost gone a mile when a sound like a shot gun being fired was heard and Sean needed another stop after blowing the tube he had just replaced. The new tube was installed and tyre replaced (not by Sean this time!) and we were off again. Amazingly that was the last puncture of the trip.

For most of the day the magnificent sight of Mont St Michel was visible in the bay. Lunch was had in Avranches (54 miles), a beautiful town where the TDF time trial started from. The road turned steeply upwards towards the town and so lunch had been well earned. Lunch consisted of baguettes, cake and Orangina, a formula that was to be repeated over the next two days. Dick at this point showed that it did not matter what he actually ordered as he would have whatever baguette found its way into his hand first as I wondered how my tuna baguette had miraculously morphed into a jambon one.

The afternoon saw the route hug the coastline northwards before heading slightly inland for Coutances after the afternoon coffee stop in Granville. This coffee stop came at 75 miles and I was starting to flag. 80 Davenport miles had already been translated to 90 English miles but by the time we reached the hotel in Coutances the final mileage for the day topped 95 miles. The last few miles of which seemed to go on forever as again the road turned uphill and we found ourselves going through Coutances, out the other side and into a trading estate where the Ibis Budget hotel was finally found (Bill was suffering and took the last roundabout English style to save a few yards of effort!). The hotel itself was clean and fairly comfortable. The receptionist opened up a spare room for us to put our bikes in for the night, something I cannot imagine happening in the UK.

I should mention here that Bill is a vegetarian. We had two choices for tea, a pizza restaurant which was a few minutes walk away, or a steak house right next to the hotel. Having a vegetarian in our midst made the decision easy, the steak house won. Bill eventually found something he could eat, chicken salad sans poulet.

Mileage: 95.5 miles, Ave speed: 14.8 mph, Metres climbed: 1323.


Day 2: Coutances to Cherbourg.

Day 2 would prove to be our shortest day but with the biggest hills. The road out of Coutances again went up at first but we were soon on open roads which appeared flat but on seeing the profile were actually slightly downhill and so the first 30 miles went by in a flash. The first stop came in the small coastal town of Portbail overlooking a causeway towards the coast. The sun was shining and the coffee strong. I went to the patisserie on my own and as my French is very poor I played safe and ordered the one thing I was confident in pronouncing, tarte aux pommes, although pointing and thumbs up gestures appeared to do the trick just as well.

After this stop the profile became a bit up and down with very little flat. We had decided that morning to cut the route short due to knowing the third day was going to be very long and so we cut out going to the tip of the North West coast which would have extended the ride by about 15 miles. After about 50 miles we stopped for lunch, however the name of the town escapes me. We had lunch at the foot of the local war memorial and we were surprised at how few names it contained, especially from WW1 where there were only about 6 names.

The ride to Cherbourg after lunch undulated until we hit the coast just outside Cherbourg and the cycle path that brought us all the way in to the port area. Here a bar was found for a quick pint (well 550 mls so you get short changed in France!) and Keith downed his pint before having a snooze in the sunshine. We were going to leave without him but he unfortunately woke up just in time.

The hotel for the night was again out of town and it involved a long steep climb of around a mile. The hotel itself was very comfortable with proper beds (the previous one had a bunk bed) and a separate shower room. This hotel had an onsite bar and restaurant where we availed ourselves of the “plat de jour” which we knew was lamb of some sort (apart from Bill obviously) which unfortunately turned out to be fairly disappointing. However there was plenty of wine to keep the spirits up! Dave announced he did not do puddings but at the end of the meal when dessert was offered Dave was the first to accept. Dessert consisted of a help yourself buffet and so Dave did, three times! Sean and Jim opted for what they thought was Irish coffee but turned out to be a normal coffee with some desserts on the plate,

Mileage: 72 miles, Ave speed: 14.6 mph, Metres climbed: 1095


Day 3: Cherbourg to Ouistreham (Caen).

The mist had arrived the previous evening and it was still there in the morning making the roads wet and slippery. Once we had all helped ourselves to the croissants and pain au chocolat (and making up sneaky ham and cheese rolls for later) we rolled out cautiously as we had to descend the long steep hill back into town. We were all gentleman and let Sean and his dodgy brakes go first. The hill was taken carefully; unfortunately our undoing was a railway line in town which intersected the road at 45 degrees. Dave went down first followed by Seam and Bill. Being at the back I managed to stop before the rails and carefully walk over. Luckily there were no injuries and apart from a bent rack the bikes were unscathed. When we set off again a slight navigational error ensued and several in the group started riding up the slip road to a motorway (N13) before the no cycling sign was spotted. After quickly checking the map we decided on using the cycle path out of town and this proved a good move. As the morning wore on the sun made its presence known and the day turned out to be the warmest of the weekend.

The terrain was noticeably flatter today and so progress was fairly rapid. The route hugged the coast at many points and there were many reminders that this area was the epicentre of the D-Day landings with many towns and villages flying British, Canadian and American flags alongside the tricolour. We passed all five of the D-Day beaches starting with Utah beach (American) where we stopped for a photo by a tank monument. Lunch came after 58 miles in the town of Carentan which saw a lot of action in the war (and is a central part of the early Call of Duty games, misspent youth in my case). The town was very quiet being a Sunday and it took a few attempts to find a shop that would make up baguettes but we found one eventually. The shop assistant was very patient while we ordered in broken French (out of 9 people no one could actually speak French anywhere near fluently) and miss-counting of raised hands. Lunch was had in a square next to a modern water feature surrounded by typically French grand buildings.

The afternoon saw two more beaches ridden past (Omaha, American and Gold, British). The only significant climbs of the day came either side of our afternoon stop at Arromanches. Arromanches is on the coast and is where the Mulberry harbour was pieced together, a fair bit of which is still in location, left in memory of the fallen. It is very hard to imagine what the area would have been like 69 years ago when D-Day was in progress as it is such a peaceful, beautiful area now. It was here that the best tea of the trip was found, however as I long ago had abandoned the idea of a French cafe serving decent tea I was on the grand creme’s.

After our break we climbed out of the town to the top of the cliffs and stopped for a moment to look out on the sea view of the Mulberry harbour and the beaches before pressing on with our ride to the ferry. The terrain now was almost pancake flat and with only 20 miles to go the gas was turned up and I felt like I was time trialing at times, especially the last 10 miles where I was hanging on at the back. The last 6 or so miles are very deceptive as you pass through various town-sur-mers on the way to Ouistreham. The last two beaches went past in a blur (Juno, Canadian and Sword, British) with the by now familiar flag poles marking the main landing areas.

Once in Ouistreham Dave went on the search of a shower but with no success and so we took it in turns to wash and change in the restrooms at the ferry terminal between trips to the bar. Tea was at a restaurant recommended by Dave where more beer and wine flowed (as well as fish and chips). We then walked back to the ferry port to pick up our bikes which we locked up next to the customs point. We then cycled to the ferry which was on the whole successful although Dick managed to have an argument with the concrete and came off worse. With bikes loaded we headed up to, surprise surprise, the bar. Here Dave decided we should all go on to cocktails and I stupidly agreed. The rest of the evening is a little hazy if I’m honest and with the warning “what happens on tour stays on the tour” I will just leave it there and skip the dwarf incidents.

Mileage: 112.5 miles, Ave speed: 15.6 mph, Metres climbed: 886

Total for France: 280 miles with 3304 metres of climbing.

Overall the trip was very enjoyable. Although I have ridden plenty of long rides I have never before done three in a row and I was a little nervous that I would crack on the third day but it all went without too much of a problem. The roads in France are mainly smooth, drivers (on the whole) respect cyclists and the towns and villages were noticeably cleaner than in the UK. I would certainly do this trip again although if the weather had been against us it would have been far more difficult.