This year, Team Grumpy made a fifth visit to the Duo Normand time trial, and of course Carol and I were keen to make a holiday of it. We stayed in a house south of St Lo. We took our trusty Dawes tandem to explore the surrounding countryside. In the descriptions below, each day has it’s own photo gallery: click on the thumbnail to see the full image; click on the large image to advance to the next in the series.
The report on the Duo Normand itself is in a separate blog entry.
Day 1 Travelling to Normandy 13/9/08
Day 2 Short ride to Marigny Sunday 14/9/08
Day 3 To the beach! Monday 15/9/08
Day 4 Vire valley and Roches de Ham Tuesday 16/9/08
Day 5 St. Sever-Calvados Wednesday 17/9/08
Day 6 L’Abbaye d’Hambye and riding the Duo course Thursday 18/9/08
Day 7 To the beach again Friday 19/9/08
Day 8 Signing on, Marigny Saturday 20/9/08
Day 9 27th Duo Normand, Marigny Sunday 21/9/08
Day 10 Cherriueix, Cancale, St Malo Monday 22/9/08
Day 11 Return home – exploring the Cotentin peninsula Tuesday 23/9/08
We’d got home too late on Friday for any significant packing: it was fortunate that our ferry was not until 15:45. I decided to take two sets of wheels for the TT bike: the H3 clinchers, and the Stinger 90/Corima disc pair, and also the rear Shamal (for going on the roof rack and use on turbo. So I had to first take the cassette and tyre/tube from the Hed Deep rear (in so doing pulled the freehub off) and fit them to the Shamal.
We began packing, then when we were just getting a bit fractious, we went to do some shopping for food to take for the first day or so of the holiday. Oh, and for safety pins, which one needs for the race! Set out about 11.30am. We avoided the M25 route, and decided to travel via the A421, A34, and M27 to Portsmouth. This took a bit under 3h, including a break pause for sandwiches at Chieveley services – they were astonishingly busy, so we didn’t stay long.
Arrived Portsmouth in plenty of time for the ferry, which turned out to be delayed by about half an hour. We queued next to what must have been a dealer in mastiffs (or whatever dog breed they had – they were large and orangey brown) – three big dogs in a 4 x 4 and three more in a trailer. I was amused by the similarity between some of the humans and their dogs! We were just about the last car on the ferry. The trip over was quick – about 2:30, and not very bumpy. The motion was much more pronounced at the bow, forthunately we’d chosen some seats at the rear of the cabin. When we got to the car, I noticed the tyre on the Shaml was flat, presumably yhre repaired tube in it still had a slow leak!
Because we were just about last on the ferry, we were among the first off. In fact the one car in fron of us stopped, presumably to wait for friends, and we led the way out onto the french road system. The route south is pretty much straightforward, down the N13 and the N174 past St Lo. The sun dipped and the skies assumed a diffuse orangey tinge. before long it was too dark to read the map easily. The new St Lo bypass has peculiar road signs that don’t seem to include the road numbers. Fortunately I remembered enough of the local place names, and made the right choice of exit. From there on the route was easy to Moyon, and we found the house with no real problems, despite arriving in pitch darkness!
We chatted to the owner, unloaded everything except the bikes, had a quick coffee, and hit the sack.
We woke to a foggy morning and had a long lie-in. After breakfast, I unloaded the bikes, wheels, etc, then made sure everything was working OK. We made some sandwiches, packed the handlebar bag and saddlebag, and finally set off at about 11.30am, with the intention of riding over to Marigny for a short ride (I always feel a little wary of riding on the right for the first day, and wanted an easy day before dealing with any towns). It was a pretty uneventful ride, noodling about the lovely lanes, with very little traffic. Very few people at all, actually. We stopped for lunch beside a delightful medieval fishpond/millpond [photo] that had been restored as a municipal park. It had some astonishingly noisy ducks that clamoured for bits of our bread roll.
We rolled into Marigny via a road I’d not been on before – past a Champion supermarket (which it might be useful to know about), and up past the main cafe/bar (noticing the firemen and policemen outside). I nearly stopped to photgraph the glamorous firelady clutching a kitten (presumably rescued!). We did a loop round a short section of the course, back to Marigny, then made our way back to Moyon, for an early return to the house.
31.41 miles, approx 3h
The day started overcast and quite cool. Our plan was to make it over to the coast, and ideally a place to eat, and preferably seafood! Just in case we failed to find a restaurant, we took along sandwiches. We tried a different exit from the house, but ended up heading north on the D999 before heading west on the D27. After much stopping and starting when reading maps and trying to pick our way over to the coast, we made it to Hautville-sur-Mer, where we noodled down to the beach.
The tide was miles out (literally), which put paid to Carol’s paddling idea. Just by the beach was a small restaurant, where we stopped for moules mariniere and frites. Here we read about how the mussels were propagated on wooden poles in the sand, the bouchots. During this holiday, we were to become very familiar with bouchots, though this was the only occasion we could actually see them – on other visits to the beach, the tide was generally in. After lunch, the sun had come out, and we sat by a concrete ramp down to the beach and watched the work on the mussel posts, which went as far as we could see. The beach was sandy and very long – apparently the length of the tide is one reason why these mussel beds are so successful.
Our planned return route was to ride down the D20 to Brehal then return most of the way on the D13. We made a slightly wrong turn on a road labelled D13E, but finally made our way onto the D13, which turned out to be a bit busy, and dead straight (and therefore a bit boring). Eventually, we turned left up the D58 at Hambye, and returned via Soulles and the D27.
Back in Moyon, we stopped at the shop and bought a box of 6 absolutely tiny bottles of Leffe and some chocolate buscuits.
57.56 miles, 4:35:29
The day began quite heavily overcast and quite chilly. Today’s plan was to go for a gentle noodle round the Vire valley, and go and look at the Roches de Ham. First, however, we made an expedition to Tessy sur Vire to buy some food. However, all we could find was a small local supermarket. We bought what we could, then returned to the house.
We set off at about 11.30, and found it still rather chilly. The lanes are pretty much as the others we cycled on over the last couple of das – the difference being that because the roads were going up and down short climbs, we were frequently rewarded with rather nice views. We rode over to Troisgots, where we stopped at a viewing platform – we had hoped to figure out where Chapelle-sur-Vire was (but it was hidden by trees). On again and down the hill to Chapelle-sur-Vire, where we walked round and into the church itself. It wasn’t terribly exciting, except for its location. Just down the road was a small restaurant, but it seems rather upmarket for a couple of cyclists!
We carried on, winding our way up and down lanes, wondering just where thes Roches de Ham actually were. We did see a candidate rock, but it was more of a quarry! Eventually, we started seeing tourist signs pointing us to the rocks, and some way after, we reached a field with parking for the Roches de Ham. Here we left the bike while we andered down a short path. This led to a viewing spot, with a small cafe – here we stopped for a coffee and a galette complet (buckwheat pancake with ham, eggs and cheese). By this time (and here we have a pattern?) the clouds had opened a bit, and it warmed up.
Taking off outer layers, we cycled on, to Conde-sur-Vire. Here, we nearly found a Champion supermarket, but I misread the sign – it was probably over towards Torigni-sur-Vire. We did a loop round the outskirts of Conde-sur-Vire, then exited on the D53, returning to the house via the D28 and D27.
On the way back, we stopped at the Moyon chocolate factory – bought a small packet of chocolate to try, and we decided to pop back later in the trip to get some as presents!
19.8 miles, 1:58
The day dawned cear and bright, if a little autumnal in temperature. After breakfast, we had no plans other than to investigate the Hyper-Champion supermarket near Torigni. This proved something of a formidable exercise in navigation – the towns round here have pretty “wobbly notions” of signposting, at least to us. Anyway, the supermarket was huge and we bought further supplies for when Gerry & co were to arrive later on.
Upon returning to the house, we had a bite to eat, then discussed where to ride to, as the sunshine was out and the temperature rising. We settled on a ride over to St Sever-Calvados and the forest behind it.
This route took us out to Fervaches, then down the D28 to Tessy-sur-Vire, Margueray, the D58 to Montbray and the D77 to Courson and St Sever. It turned out to be quite an arduous ride: many long steady climbs, with quick descents down the other side. Courson in particular was quite attractive, with a pleasant village square. Upon arriving at St Sever, it wasn’t clear what route to take: we trundled up the D81 into the woods, and stopped at a convenient point for our sandwiches, before retracing our route back to the house.
On returning, we tidied up a bit, and sat in the garden with a beer to await Gerry & Co, expected about 7pm – this was the first afternoon it was warm enough to sit in the garden! Gerry an co arrived some time after 7pm, we all sat, chatted, ate dinner, drank Leffe, went to bed!
37.22 miles, 3:17:06
Today began clear and sunny, and while it was cool to start with, it warmed up nicely during the day. Today Gerry and I planned to ride the Duo course, we thought during late afternoon. First, Carol and I set out for a brief tandem ride, intending to just noodle about the Normandy lanes in the sunshine. I had decided to see what Cerisy-la-Salle looked like, so we meandered over on the D29 via Moyon, La Haye Bellefond and Notre Dame de Cenilly. The last place was very charming, more so than Cerisy, which lies on top of a pretty steep hill.
Cerisy does have a good looking chateau with interesting gardens, mostly closed as it is cultural centre (presumably hosts conferences?). At this point, a vague plan to go and see the ruined abbey at Hambye crystallised, and we set out via Ouville, Roncey and St Martain de Cenilly. One village had a fun fair setting up, another seemed to feature antique motorcycles in the shop windows. At Hambye we paused to contemplate the map and the peculiarities of the french road signage, before setting off (in the correct direction, it turned out) to the ruined abbey.
L’Abbaye d’Hambye lies two or three miles from Hambye, set amongst trees, and within a farm. Unfortunately we arrived during the 2h lunchtime closure. However, it was a pretty sight, nestled among trees, and it was a nice backdrop for out sandwiches. We tootled back up the hill to Hambye, where we stopped for a coffee, before heading back on the D13. As on a previous day, the D13 turned out to be pretty tedious, and we returned to the house on more minor roads, just to the north.
We were back in the house for enough time for a coffee, before Gerry & co returned from the zoo. Over more tea and coffee, we decided to first go shopping at the supermarket, then Gerry and I would drive over to Marigny to ride the course on our time trial bikes. By the time we’d got back from the supermarket, changed, loaded the car and driven over to Marigny, we only started that ride at about 6:45pm – and it was in failing light that we rode. The first half of the course is very familiar to us, but it never ceases to surprise me how little I remember of the hilly section that returns us to Marigny! We didn’t have time to ride the final hairpin leg. Back to the house for a rather late dinner, some Leffe, and to bed.Photo Gallery (four images)
tandem – 37.75 miles, 3:29:15; solo – 26.30 miles, 1:16:50
This morning it was slighly misty, which soon cleared. We drove over to Marigny with the tandem, and set out at about 10am, heading for the coast once again. We exited Marigny on the D53, which we followed almost all the whole way to the coast. To begin with, the road had lots of short steep climbs – this formed part of the Duo Normand course, and I was able to show Carol the dreaded “ghoul corner”.
As we made our way towards the coast, the riding got easier. Once past the D2 junction, we absolutely roared along, trying to reach the castle near Pirou before it closed for its 2h lunch break! We succeeded, arriving at 11.40am, and the ticket man only charged us 5 euros as we only had 20 minutes (adults were 5 euros each)! This castle was apparently covered in ivy until quite recently, and is partly inhabited. It is one of the best castles I’ve ever visited, having a wide moat completely encircling it. Many of the rooms had lovely tiled floors. Outside were a series of outbuildings, containing a cider press, a chapel (with a splendid barrel vaulted ceiling), and a modern tapestry in the style of the Bayeux tapestry, showing the Norman invasion of Sicily. We went slightly mad with photographing the castle (see separate gallery).
We left the castle on the dot of noon, to ride down to Pirou-Plage to find some lunch, maybe more moules and frites. In the event we spotted the Restaurant de la Mer, which we entered with some glee. The dining room had splendid views across the beach – the tide had been in when we arrived, and during the course of our meal it receded by quite huge amount, indicative of the shallow sands on which oysters and mussels are grown. Our meals were fabulous – we both started small samples of seafood (oysters, whelks, crevettes), then Carol had a pork dish with a ginger sauce, while I had dorade fillets with a wonderful szechuan pepper sauce. Our desserts were of an equally high standard.
While we were in the restaurant, another cyclist came in, ant the end of our meal he came over for a chat – he was english and was over to watch the Duo. Last year he rode it with his son, apparently in an inappropriate category. He did say that the 2007 race was in perfect conditions. He also knows some guys who’ve ridden the Duo on solos, solo trikes, a tandem, and a tandem trike – I suspect Gerry and I chatted to these guys when we were over for the 2006 Duo.
By the time we went for lunch, the sun had got behind some clouds, but when we left the restuarant, the sun re-emerged. We decided to retrace our route back along the D53 as far as the turn-off to Feugeres. We rode round the Duo course the wrong way round, pausing at the big cider press in Feugeres. We saw quite a few cyclists, many apparently British, and also a couple of guys on hand-cranked cycles.
Carrying on, we returned on the hairpin section of the Duo course, then looped round the square in Marigny (attracting a few cheers from the Bar Sportif). We quickly loaded the tandem on the roof rack, and drove back to Moyon.
54.20 miles. 4:19:09
No cycling today! We drove over to Coutances, which was a bit unexciting. It does have a splendid Jardin des Plantes, which we walked round, and a slightly strange cathedral. We had coffee in the square in front of the cathedral, and lunch in a small restaurant (Salad Coutancaise for me, Tuna salad for Carol, crepes for dessert). My salad had the famous andouilles, which get slandered by the Rough Guide, though I found them very tasty. After lunch, we set off for Marigny to mee Gerry
We quickly found Gerry at about 1.30pm, but due to the usual delays, we did’t get finally signed on till after 3.30: Gerry then went off to collect Anna and Izzy from the zoo, we went back to the house via the Champion supermarket at Marigny. Marigny was full of british cyclists talking the usual bollocks that groups of cyclists talk about!
We woke to a fine, slightly misty day – rather cold. We had loaded the cars up the previous evening, so we were quickly off at about 8am, slighlty disconcerted by diversions around Moyon, but comforted that at least we weren’t going to be starting this early, this cold. En route to Marigny, we picked up a small convoy of cars all eading to the Duo Normand, though ultimately, we took a slightly different route and arrived before them. We parked in the usual spot just at the other end of the park from the action, and took a saunter round. Returning to the car, we got the tyres pumped up, and set the bikes up on the turbos for warming up. Annoyingly, itturned out my overshoes had split a seam – Gerry kindly lent me a spare of silver Nike overshoes (and a pair of Nike mitts) – so we were dressed alike. We warmed up for about 45 minutes, which was good, as it was still a little chilly. One quick ride up and down to road to make sure everything was working OK, and we went down to the start ramp. At this point butterflies went into serious overdrive, as I think shows in the official photographs!
See the separate blog entry for the 27th Duo Normand, including short movies of Team Grumpy in action!
A day off the bike! We had planned to visit St Malo and Cancale today – and set off via the D999 and N175. Just after the Mont St Michel junction, we left the main autoroute for the coast road, taking us across some pleasant countryside and small villages (unfortunately behind tractors at times). We stopped for a while in Cherriueix, a small town right by the sea, with splendid sands, though rather cold in the morning wind. It had much of the looks of a classic out of season seaside town. At one end was a set of three windmills, one still with the sails in place. The road onwards toward Cancale was lined with more of these windmills, many of which had been imgiatively converted into houses. There were many, many places selling moules and huitres.
We rolled into a car park above Cancale just a bit before 12 noon, and walked down to the harbour. Cancale is particularly pretty, and the seafront street is lined with seafood resturants, one of which we visited for lunch in the form of a plateaux de fruits de mer for two, a vast pile of seafood including a crab, a dozen oysters, langoustines, crevettes, brown shrimp, whelks, clams and winkles all on top of a bed of seaweed! Carol was a little self-conscious of the amout of debris and mess we created while eating this lot, but in fact we weren’t much worse than our fellow diners, at least once they got onto he more awkward to deal with stuff!
After eating that lot – and watching the main oyster shucker in action with a monstrous lever device – we could not face dessert, and restrained ourselves to a coffee. Unfortunately, my coffee came with sugar cubes in a Le Craps wrapper! Hoping this wasn’t going to foreshadow problems tomorrw (it didn’t!), we moseyed on.
I was not so keen on St Malo. We parked pretty close to the citadelle, and spent some time exploring it, walking on the battlements and down to the beach. I thought it rather a tourist trap. We stopped for a crepe in a cake/coffee/creperie place called Timothy’s, which featured the most huge cakes I have ever seen! Driving home was “interesting” as we had to negotiate St Malo and the usual idiosyncratic signage at rush hour.
For our final day (and our return home), we set out at about 9.30am and stopped first at the Moyon chocolate factory for some presents. Then onwards past St Lo to Utah beach, where we wandered in a strong wind on the beach, watching the horses being exercised, and being very moved by the monuments to those who died in the D-Day landings.
From Utah beach, we drove north up the coast, stopping at St Vaast la Hougue, whose harbour is flanked by two old lighthouses. There’s also a large boatyard and chandler, and a lovely little chapel with memorials to fishermen lost at sea. Our next stop was Barfleur, a tiny fishing port (apparently the biggest port in Normandy 900 years ago, which probably tells you about Norman naval power in those days), where we stopped for moules and frites (mariniere for Carol, normande for me). On from Barfleur, we stopped to look at the tall lighthouse at Pointe de Barfleur, before driving along the north coast to Cherbourg. Along this bit of coast, we stopped at two forts, one a remnant of the German WW2 Atlantic Wall fortifications (bits of which can be seen all along the coast) and one an old Napoleonic fortification now used as a bed and breakfast.
From there, we drove into Cherbourg, keeping an eye open for a supermarket for last minute shopping, but to no avail. We arrived stupidly early for the ferry back to blighty…