France - St Malo to Caen

Paul Smee and Ann French
14 to 22 October 1995

Total distance: 419 miles

Total climb: 2.2 miles (11620 feet)

Average distance per day: 52.3 miles

Average climb per day: 1452.5 feet

Average speed: 10.8 mph

Punctures: Paul 0, Ann 1

Bikes: Ann rides a Raleigh Randonneur, and Paul rides a Dawes Super Galaxy. Both are reasonably standard, though Paul - being a gadget freak - has replaced the saddle, bars, and rear rack. We've got Blackburn style back racks and front low riders. We each carried back and front panniers and a camera bar bag. Sleeping bags, cooking equipment etc, as well as our clothes fitted in the panniers. Paul carried the tent and Ann carried the sleeping mats on the back rack.

About us

Paul Smee is American, 49 years old at the time of our trip. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, raised in Pittsburgh, Pa, and spent 16 years in Boston, Ma, before coming to Bristol to work in the University Computing Service in 1980.

Ann French is a Scot, 50 years old at the time of our trip. She was born in Aberdeen and brought up in Aberdeenshire. After Aberdeen University, she went first to Exeter then got a job in the University of Bristol Computing Service in 1970. She spent 1972-5 in London but returned to Bristol where she has been ever since.

Getting there

We planned the trip as a circle, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo, touring around a bit haphazardly but including a few sights we wanted specifically to see, and ending up in Caen (really Ouistreham) from where we would take the ferry back to Portsmouth.

We wanted to use the train to get from Bristol to Portsmouth and back, so we phoned British Rail to ask. The nice young man on the other end of the phone had to ask someone else about this. When he came back on, he sounded embarrassed as he explained 'Yes, we do carry bicycles on that service. The trains run a couple of hours apart, and each train has room for one bike.' Reservations were recommended, which (in typical BR fashion) would be honoured, at the discretion of the guard, as long as there was room on the train. Not very useful. To make matters worse, we hadn't actually decided which ferry we would be coming back on - we wanted to remain a bit flexible - so we wouldn't be able to reserve the bike places for the return trip.

All in all, that option did not sound very appealing, so in the end we reserved a space in the Portsmouth long-term car park, tossed the bikes on the car, and drove down. We chose the straightforward route - along the M4 then down the A34 - and got stuck in a Friday night traffic jam around Newbury. Since we'd left 40 minutes later than planned, we began to worry about missing the ferry. Fortunately, the car park turned out to be right across the road from the ferry terminal - the outlying branches weren't being used since it was slow season - and we were parked indoors in a locked cell. Very convenient, and one less thing to worry about.

Day 1 Saturday 14 October - St Malo to Mont St Michel

Statistics: 48.8 miles, 10.8 mph, climb 810 feet, 17 feet/mile

The ferry arrived in St Malo at 8 in the morning so we had plenty of time for a shower and breakfast before docking. While we were getting ready to ride the bikes off, the other cycling couple on board introduced themselves to us, and asked if we had any tools with us. They hadn't fastened their bikes to their roof rack properly. On their trip down, her bike had come partially adrift, and been hanging from their roof rack by one of the shifter cables. So, once we'd reached dry land, we stopped and Paul tightened the cable and readjusted her indexed shifting.

Then we all rode into St Malo, where we let them buy us coffee at a tiny bar - in return for the repairs - and we waved our maps at each other and discussed our respective plans. They were planning a stylistically different tour from ours - theirs a long-weekend pootle returning from St Malo on Monday, ours an 8-day tour - so riding together turned out not to be a sensible option. So, we said our goodbyes by the bikes - apparently disturbing a woman living across from the bar who opened her shutters and gave us a very dirty look.

After a short period of getting lost and backtracking, we found the coast road out of St Malo, and headed east. A nice ride, if a bit up-and-down. Along the way we stopped to have a quick peek at (the outside of) an underground house built into the seaside cliff face. Interesting idea, though not really much to see.

We continued along the coast to le Minihic, where we parked the bikes and spent a bit of time scrambling around the dunes, and exploring the WWII bunkers and gun emplacements. Mostly we were looking for a view west along the coast, to see if we could tell whether that would make an interesting tour in the future, but it was too misty to see very far.

Then, it was time to look for morning coffee. We continued along to Pointe du Grouin, but the whole town seemed to be closed. We went on to Cancale, for shopping and coffee. There were lots of church bells, but we never did find out what they were celebrating. (Our arrival, maybe?) They did serve the useful function of drowning out the drumming of the little boy belonging to the café.

After coffee, it was down to the D155, and turn east, still along the coast. We followed major(-ish) roads to le Vivier sur Mer, but everything along the way was closed - shops, bars, campsites, …

[Paul] - At this point, I began fantasising that, maybe, all the French people had been vapourised or abducted by space aliens. The few 'people' we saw wandering about were obviously disguised members of the extraterrestrial invasion force, investigating. The Cancale bells, then, would have been a warning to them that there were humans (us) in the area, and that they should take care to maintain their disguises. (This theme was to recur.)

At Vivier we turned left onto a smaller road, and at Cherrueix took another left that may have been a Grand Routier path - a sort of glorified footpath - and ended up doing a bit of minor-road cross-country. The road layout on the ground looked nothing at all like the layout on the map, but in the end we came out OK, arriving at a nice campsite about 1-1/2 miles south of Mont St Michel itself.

This last part of the ride involved miles of dead straight roads through dead flat corn (maize) fields. [Paul - At one point, I realised that I'd been watching one tree, off in the distance, for 15 minutes as it approached.] There were also several fields of something that looked sort of lettuce-like, each one wearing a white plastic mushroom-shaped 'hat', presumably to protect it from the direct sun. [Paul - Or perhaps these were the young space aliens? The lettuce that ate Paris?]

After we'd set up the tent, we rode the unloaded bikes out to Mont St Michel itself, where we had a couple of hours wandering around. Unfortunately the monastery bit closed just as we approached it, but the rest was very interesting. We had a 'galette Bretonne' to munch on - seems to be some sort of shortbread made with maize flour.

[Paul] - Mont St Michel is incredibly touristy, but I finally decided (in a philosophical moment) that it is probably appropriate. It has been a pilgrimage site for centuries. I suspect that the inside is probably much as it always has been, once you make allowances for modernisation. E.g. now it is postcards, baseball caps, and plastic St Michel's swords, where a few hundred years ago it would have been genuine saints' knuckle bones, dragon scales, and fragments of Ye One True Crosse, but probably conceptually much the same. It was worth a wander. (Wear footwear that you can climb stone stairs in.)

After the wander through Mont St Michel, it was back to the tent to fix dinner (beans and sausages), and then out to a bar across the road for a (very expensive) beer. The campsite had an impressive view of Mont Michel lit up in the night. There was only one other tent in the campsite despite the warm weather.

Day 2 Sunday 15 October Mont St Michel to Ferté-Macé

Statistics: 65.6 miles, 10.3 mph, climb 3410 feet, 52.0 feet/mile

We woke up to the sound of driving rain pitter-pattering on the tent. We got up and discovered it was more like 'falling mist' - water always sounds worse from inside. We packed everything slightly damp, and went around to the campsite bar for breakfast.

Then it was off to Isigny-le-Buat for coffee and grocery shopping. The coffee stop was at a long, skinny Tabac (tobacco shop) with a bar that must have been added as an afterthought. There were a number of bikes parked outside, and when we went in it looked like the local cycling club (all older men) had taken over the rear half of the place.

They mostly left about the same time we did (and we had a few smiles and waves), but not as a group - in ones and twos they leisurely coasted down the various streets of the town. We got the impression - no telling if it is right or not - that their 'Sunday ride' probably consists of getting dressed up in their club gear, zipping around to the local bar, chatting for a few hours over coffee and pastis (anisette liquor), and then getting home in time for their family dinner.

Sunday morning is also, it appears, when all the men in France (except the cyclists) go hunting, and as we rode the countryside stretches of this morning's ride we could see men walking the fields with a gun under their arm and a dog by their side. The interesting thing was that, in these stretches, the roads tended to be low - sunken down below the level of the fields. That, in conjunction with a slight mist, made all of these people appear to be walking right along the horizon. A large number of different-sized - due to distance - silhouettes standing right on the edge of the world; a bit like a child's drawing, or the illustrations in "The Little Prince".

We headed out of town on the D17, a rolling-to-hilly stretch, and entered the Parc Nationale where we expected to find picnic tables. None appeared so we stopped for lunch at the side of the road just outside Barenton - bread, cheese, and apples bought earlier. Then it was on to Domfront, a medieval town on top of a steep hill on the D907. At the start of the downhill out of town, Ann's back wheel punctured. Paul, for once, had given in to Ann's dislike of being followed down hills, and so had zipped down first; he was not pleased to have to ride halfway back up to find out what had happened. After fixing the puncture, we continued on the D208 to the campsite at Champsecret.

Except, horrors, the campsite was closed for the season. A problem with touring in October in France, it appears, as well as in Britain. Panic. We set off generally northeast (and uphill) until we hit the Route Forestière, which gave us a long, straight run, mostly downhill, through woods to the D908. (A very beautiful stretch, though we were too concerned about finding a place to stay to properly appreciate it.)

Along the D908 to la Ferté-Macé, where an exhaustive search revealed that both the hotels were also closed, fermé, ... We finally found an open hotel about a mile out of town, just as it was beginning to get dark. We were the only patrons. They let us store our bikes in a locked hallway leading to the (summer-only) conservatory. The dining room was completely set for dinner - table linen, plates, glasses, cutlery on every table - but again we were the only customers. We had a very nice meal, though. Surprised us as we'd assumed that they would probably have been cutting down their food stocks for the off-season, but in fact everything on the menu seemed to be available.

Day 3 Monday 16 October Ferté-Macé to Francheville

Statistics: 70.1 miles, 10.9 mph, climb 2350 feet, 33.5 feet/mile

The morning was cold and misty, and it looked like there might have been frost overnight. After several false starts, we finally found the right road out of Ferté-Macé, and headed along the main road to Rânes and through Vieux-Pont. [Paul - I say that's "View Point", but Ann insists it's "Old Bridge".] We stopped for a few minutes there to check the campsite against the book from the French Tourist Information Office, just to see how theory and reality agree (pretty good) and then carried on to Boucé. The shops were closed except for the Post Office and the café where we stopped for coffee. This first part of the day was hilly, but it eased off to gentle undulations as the day went on.

From Boucé we headed vaguely east to Mortrée, where we stopped for a look in at the Château D'O. This was (of course) closed, and we didn't feel we wanted to wait the couple of hours until opening time, but there was a good view of the chateau through the front gate. Very fairytale. Then it was on to le Merlerault looking for a cafe or a shop, but without success. In the end, we ended up eating bread and apples while sitting in the courtyard of the Mairie (town hall, sort of) then having chocolate in a bar.

We decided to make a mad dash eastwards on a roller-coaster road, past l'Aigle, to a campsite in Francheville. Made it, but it was cold and damp riding towards the end. The last 20 miles were mostly downhill. This site had the (now rare) continental stand-up toilets - basically, a square of porcelain on the floor, funnelling into a hole in the centre, and with two small foot platforms at the corners away from the wall. Then you aim at, or squat over, the hole in a manner appropriate to your sex and what you're trying to accomplish - trying to make sure that your clothing is out of the way, and that nothing falls into the hole. Nothing that you want to keep, anyway. Oh, make sure to step off the foot platforms before flushing one of these.

There was at least one family living at the site on a seemingly permanent basis (apart from the warden) with several noisy kids. The washing-up after dinner (canned choucroute garni - think sauerkraut and meat chunks) was made very unpleasant by the kids playing "washing the floor" - or rather throwing water around and shouting very loudly.

Then we had a walk into the dead, but cute, little village. Turned out that there is an abattoir within (night-time) hearing distance, so we went to sleep to the sound of things being done to cows. Sigh.

Still, this longish day put us a day ahead of our (very notional, anyway) schedule, allowing some flexibility later.

Day 4 Tuesday 17 October Francheville to St Marcel

Statistics: 56.3 miles, 11.6 mph, climb 1110 feet, 19.7 feet/mile

We headed out of Francheville in a heavy mist, heading for Breteuil - a cute little town with a very impressive town hall. We stopped there for breakfast, and a bit of shopping. One of the things we needed was a pair of little 386 button cells (batteries). Our French is enough for normal eat/drink/sleep situations, and ski maintenance, but otherwise fairly limited, and the lady in the camera shop didn't speak much English, but after a period of (fairly inventive) miming, we managed to complete the transaction.

Then we pedalled over miles of flat farming land with lots of tiny villages with half-timbered houses (US readers can think of the fake 'Elizabethan' or 'Mock Tudor' style houses which were so popular in the 50s and 60s - but these are the real thing), as well as some very fancy new houses. Some of the old churches had new spires, presumably replaced after the war.

We arrived at Prey with coffee in mind, but we couldn't find a shop or cafe, or much of anything else, come to that (other than a dog breeder specialising in English breeds). We rode aimlessly around the small villages of St Luc, Trinité, and le Val-David with similarly unsuccessful results. In the process, though, we managed to get completely lost. There's been a lot of new building in the area (which we suspected had probably become a suburban 'bedroom community' for nearby Évreux), with the result that the world didn't look anything at all like the map. Again. It took some time to finally get back to a road we could identify, including a great deal of "I'm pretty sure we've been at this intersection before; what did we do last time, so we can try something else".

Up to this point, today's riding was pretty squiggly, but dead flat. Finally, near Caillouët, we found a hill. Not much of a hill, but it did double our climb so far today. Finally there was a long coast down into Pacy, where we stopped at a baker's, and then at a bar for lunch.

There is a major ridge between Pacy, in the Eure valley, and Vernon, in the Seine valley, our planned stopping place for the day, so after lunch was a long slog up the hill, a few flat miles along the top, and then a monster coast down into the town. [Paul - In the course of this impressive downhill, I went around a turn at a speed significantly over the speed limit, to find a police car parked on the outside of the bend. Fortunately, he didn't seem to care.]

It was still early afternoon, too early to stop, so we zipped on through the town, over the bridge, and south along the Seine to Giverney - a planned stop, though our plan had been to go there tomorrow - to visit the Claude Monet house and garden.

The house was interesting, though living there would drive you crazy. It's been decorated in bold primary colours, with an unbearably yellow dining room, and a painfully dark blue kitchen. The walls are covered with an assortment of Monet's Japanese-art collection (he seems to have liked that) and reproductions of some of his paintings. There are no real Monet paintings there, though.

The garden was amazing, with far too many flowers out for the time of year. It also includes his water garden, whose water-lilies feature in a large number of his paintings (though only a couple were out at that time). The garden was full of tourists, including a great many with American accents, and we overheard a number of 'gosh, we passed them bicycling...' type comments. We had a nice but overpriced cup of tea (15 francs each) at the Ferme tea-room. (That's 'ferme' 'farm', not 'fermé' 'closed'.) Then we headed back to Vernon to find the campsite.

The campsite at Vernon is reputed to be hard to find, not least because it isn't actually in Vernon; it's in St Marcel, next door. However, we knew that, thanks to the Rough Guide, so we had an edge. We headed towards St Marcel, and simultaneously found the shopping centre (with a huge hypermarche - think supermarket, only more so - Formule 1 motel, restaurant, and lots of other shops) and a roadsign pointing to the campsite.

We stopped at the hypermarche to buy tinned boeuf bourguignon for dinner, and then started following the camping signs. The site turned out to be right back up at the top of the ridge we'd zipped down earlier, overlooking Vernon. What a climb. We arrived dripping sweat at the site, where there was an ambulance parked in the drive - apparently just a social call. [Paul - I attempted an 'is that for me, I'm dead?' joke in French. Much to my amazement, it seemed to be understood, and seen as funny; either that, or my French is even worse than I think.] We pitched the tent right on the brow of the hill, with a beautiful view of Vernon and the Seine valley spread out below us.

[Paul] Meanwhile, I continued to develop my space alien theory. We passed through several towns named Martainville today, and spotted numerous 'Terraine A Batir' signs. These are, of course, misspelled to confuse us Earthlings, but the towns are obviously Martian Villes, and the other signs refer to 'Terran Abattoirs' - places where Earthlings are processed for food. H. G. Wells was right. We also passed a sign saying that Orgeville was 6.5 kilometers away, followed by one 2km farther along which said it was only 2km away. The missing 2.5km is obviously a space warp, hiding their landing area.

The showers were very good - nice, hot water and a sunken bit so stuff left outside doesn't get wet - but the time switch for the light didn't last long enough, so whoever wasn't showering had to dash over to the shower block every now and again to push the light switch again. After showers and dinner we went for a walk down the hill. Only saw one other person even though it was a warm evening.

Day 5 Wednesday 18 October St Marcel to Pont-de-l'Arche

Statistics: 42.4 miles, 10.2 mph, climb 880 feet, 20.8 feet/mile

We had breakfast - almond croissants - sitting in front of the tent, and admiring the great view, then packed up and hit the road. We didn't want to go back down the way we'd come up. That had been a narrow road which was being dug up for something - new gas, water, or sewer pipes by the look of it - so we squiggled basically southwards along the ridge at campsite level. We came back out at the top of the wonderful long coast down into Vernon again. We belted down that (yet again - maybe a bit more under control this morning, in case there was a less-laidback policeman there today). We crossed the bridge over the Seine (yet again - stopping this time to take a few pictures), but at the other end of the bridge we turned left, north, this time, rather than south.

We twiddled up the Seine valley - sometimes with the river in sight, and sometimes through trees - to the small town of Port-Mort, where we stopped at a bakery. [Paul - I asked Ann to get me 2 pain au chocolat (chocolate-filled croissants, roughly speaking), because they are always just too small to make do with one. Except here. This bakery makes them double-sized, so I ended up with two large goodies to munch through; what a treat. "Refuelling for the upcoming hill", that's my excuse.]

We also stopped for a few exterior pictures of the (dead) Château Neuf, which had an interesting tree-lined grass avenue running up the hill across the road from it. [Paul - Sudden etymological curiosity strikes. Could "château" be derived from "chat eau", i.e. "cat water"? Doubt it. Surprising the things your mind gets up to when you're cycling.]

Just past the château we left the level river banks, to avoid a major road in another mile, and climbed through the Forêt d'Andelys - a beautiful lane through the forest - to yet another "flat place on hilltop". An awful lot of Normandy seems to be made up of extensive but high flatlands, with the rivers making deep "reverse hill" valleys between them.

Just before reaching les Andelys, we turned left down an incredibly steep track, to check out the ruins of Château Gaillard, a 12th century castle which was destroyed in the 17th century. We had to park the bikes by the road and scramble up a dirt hill to get to the ruins. Very impressive, but - wouldn't you know - the main keep (remains of) is closed on Wednesday mornings. Still, there was a lot of ruin left to explore, and we spent some time wandering around, and admiring the view of les Andelys in the valley which it commanded. Then it was down to les Andelys for lunch. Les Andelys consists largely of half-timbered houses so we looked around a bit and took some pictures.

We left pootling downstream along the Seine valley, with the river to our left, to Andé, where we crossed so as to have the river to our right. What a change. This part of the riverside - the west bank, north of Andé - is designated a "recreational area", and we were hoping to find a campsite. We did find one, at Poses, but there was no obvious source of food nearby so we carried on.

A bit farther on, we found an interesting little shop, a sort of combination of village shop, tabac, bar, and cafe, where we bought some tinned food for dinner, and had cups of hot chocolate. The lady there was bemused by our 'velos' and the loads thereon, and we had a short chat, obviously seriously limited by the language difference again.

Finally, it was on to Pont-de-l'Arche, where the municipal campsite was open, right down next to the river. The opposite river bank was (or seemed to be) a wildlife refuge, and there were swans and ducks swimming in the river and assorted other birds hanging about. Very peaceful. We had our tinned cassoulet for dinner, despite knowing that only a couple of miles away there was a McDonalds. We strolled round the town after dinner but again everything was either closed or closing. There was one open restaurant with no customers and one other person walking their dog.

Day 6 Thursday 19 October Pont-de-l'Arche to Honfleur

Statistics: 61 miles, 10.8 mph, climb 1690 feet, 27.7 feet/mile

Up early and went to a nearby baker for breakfast to have in the tent. Then we followed the main roads north, along the Seine, to Rouen; not a very pleasant sort of riding, but we didn't see a reasonable alternative. We stopped in Rouen for a snack, and to see a few sights - including the cathedral (impressive, with a surprising lack of homeless people in the area outside), the 'Gros Horloge' (a strange and ornate 1-handed clock that had been moved to a lower position in 1529, by popular demand, so that people could read it better), and the Jeanne d'Arc chapel allegedly built on the site where Jeanne d'Arc was burned at the stake (modern, weird, beautiful, part church and part market, possibly modelled on either waves or a dinosaur - the architect claims it is symbolic of flames, but what would he know?).

Then we stopped at a huge hypermarche south of the river for a look around, and for lunch. Amazingly, all the shops were open over lunchtime. Paul bought a Petzl headband torch (flashlight, well, sort of) so he can cook in the dark better.

We bought sandwiches from a sandwich stall. Behind the glass counter was a mind-boggling array of baguettes - half French loaves - filled with all sorts of interesting and wonderful-looking goodies. Each was just crying out to be bought and eaten, and it took a while to make a decision. In one corner of this impressive display, though, was a sad little pile of triangular slices of bread with GOK what in between, looking like they were incredibly embarrassed to find themselves in the midst of such finery. No-one had told them this was a dress-up affair, and they were hoping that if they hid in the corner, no-one would notice. They were labelled 'sandwiches Anglaise' - 'English sandwiches'. Too true, sigh.

After lunch it was along the river to Moulineaux - with one wrong turn that left us trying to find the way out of the car park of a large American-style shopping mall. Very disorientating, couldn't work out what country we were in. Then we picked up the N175 towards Honfleur. This part of the ride was typical Normandy. A long, long climb, then ages on the flat top. Then a drop down into the Risle valley, a bit of flat, and a long, long climb followed by ages on the flat top.

Finally came the drop into Honfleur, where we arrived after dark. On the way in, we could see the new bridge into Le Havre - the Pont de Normandie - lit up in the distance; very dramatic and impressive. The campsite in town was closed for the season, so we took a room in the Hotel de la Tour. They let us put our bikes in a small corridor behind the kitchen - used as a storeroom. Went out to a fancy restaurant (terrine, saumon, fromage - including the local Pont l'Eveque, Poire Charlotte, and an introduction to Pommeau - a local liqueur made by fortifying (hard) cider with Calvados (apple brandy)). After dinner, on to a bar, and then back to the room where we rinsed out our cycling gear.

Day 7 Friday 20 October Tourist day in Honfleur

Statistics: none

Today was a planned tourist day in Honfleur. It's a very attractive little town, though there is some fear (or, probably, hope, if you're a shop-owner there) that the new bridge to Le Havre will enable turning it into a grade-A seaside tourist trap. We spent the day wandering around and admiring the sights, and making lots of snack stops. There was a short downpour during one coffee stop - the only real rain of the trip - so we stayed in the bar and wrote postcards until it stopped.

(It's one of the beauties of French bars and cafes, that you can order a drink or a coffee, and sit over it for hours, reading, writing, or just watching the world go by, without people hassling you to hurry up and get out so they can have the table back. Indeed, quite the contrary, it is sometimes difficult to find someone you can pay, when you want to leave - almost as if you're not allowed to leave until you've sat there long enough. Greek tavernas are a bit like that as well.)

Admired the old harbour and the old town. Very scenic. As you sit out in front of the bars at the old harbour, you can look over to the hillside opposite, which includes a long row of terraced ('joined together') old houses. Unusually, though, these are tiny in ground footage - probably only one room wide - and 6 or 7 stories high, and decorated in a way which makes it clear that each column of windows is a separate house. Very strange.

We also visited the wooden church of Ste-Catherine with its separate belfry - made by boat builders, and a pet subject for Monet and other artists. The church was built during the One Hundred Years War (1337-1453, intermittently), and all stone was reserved for military uses, which explains the strange construction. Finally we visited the Musée Eugène Boudin, dedicated to the local artist known as the father of French Impressionism. Interesting with a few excellent impressionist paintings, but probably not a must-see.

Dinner was at a second fancy restaurant. Foie gras grilled with apples, fish in creme safran sauce, fromage, chocolate pave, and of course more pommeau.

Day 8 Saturday 21 October Honfleur to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer

Statistics: 54.1 miles, 11.1 mph, climb 1270 feet, 23.5 feet/mile

A cold but clear day of mostly uneventful, flattish riding. We started the day by heading east out of Honfleur to the large E LeClerc store - looking for an accessory for our waffle iron, bought on a skiing trip to France a few years ago. No luck, but since we were now out in this direction we went on to the Pont de Normandie visitors' view point to have a look at the bridge - very impressive.

Then we retraced our route to Honfleur, and on through along the coast. [Paul - Though I did lose Ann in the market square at Honfleur for a bit. She was ahead of me, I looked away for just a second, and she was gone; reappearing a bit later on the other side of the harbour. My theory is that the space aliens abducted her during my split second of inattention, and then accidentally put her back in the wrong place. She claims it was just me not paying attention again, but then they would hypnotise her into believing that, wouldn't they? More proof, if more were needed.]

The ride along the coast was mostly undulating until we reached Dives, although there was one serious hill between Villers-sur-Mer and Houlgate. We reached Dives(-sur-Mer) too late for the Saturday market, but we stopped for lunch, and to admire the large (and old) wooden market hall. A ferocious cleaning truck hoovered the square after the market traders had all packed up.

After Dives, the terrain changed to being nearly dead flat, and we zipped along with mostly helpful winds. We stopped in Bénouville just past the Pegasus Bridge for coffee, at 'the first house liberated by the Allies in 1944', and watched some people sailing a small radio-controlled boat around in the canal. Then carried on to check out the layout of Ouistreham, which is where the Caen ferry terminal actually is - Caen itself is miles farther inland along the parallel river and canal - so that we'd be able to find the ferry tomorrow.

Ann went in to buy our tickets for the return journey. The woman at the ticket counter asked why we hadn't bought a return (round-trip) ticket before we came over, since that is a lot cheaper than two single (one-way) tickets. Ann explained that it was because we hadn't been sure which ferry we would want to take back, on which day.

The ticket lady said that wouldn't have been a problem, as you can buy an open-ended return ticket. Then she had a flash of inspiration, and asked Ann if we had the original confirmation form for our reservations coming to France. Ann had brought that. It contained our docket number - the number used by their accounting system to identify our purchase of that journey. With the docket number, the ticket lady was able to retroactively convert our single tickets to open-ended returns, and she charged us only the difference in price. Then she validated the tickets for tomorrow's trip, and we were off. Don't know if that is standard policy or not, being helpful to the customers, but it gave us warm and fuzzy feelings about Brittany Ferries.

Finally we carried on to Bernières to check out one campsite, and then back to St-Aubin-sur-Mer to stay the night. This was a 4-star site, but mostly shut down for the season. It looks like it could be fun in the summer.

The entire coast from Ouistreham to Bernières is one long Weston-super-Mare, standard slightly tacky seaside resort, unremittingly. All the little towns have run together. There are WWII monuments at regular intervals, often in the form of old ordnance - tanks, artillery, ... Surfers and sand-sailers abound, and there were a lot of cycle tourists as well.

Day 9 Sunday 22 October Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer to Ouistreham

Statistics: 20.3 miles, 10.3 mph, climb 100 feet, 4.9 feet/mile

Quick stop in the morning to check out a small aquarium and to have coffee and croissants, and then back along the way we'd come yesterday, to Ouistreham.

We sat on the beach at Ouistreham, eating ice-cream (and stuff) and watching the sand-sailers, until the ferry came in. Owing to the sightlines, it actually looks like it is sailing right up onto the beach, but in fact it comes in at a small inlet. Then, on to the ferry, and back to Portsmouth for the trip home.