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Two Potter Around Northern France

DBK

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After our trip to Corsica earlier this year I felt our next excursion should involve less distance and fewer sheer drops on the side of the road. Corsica was a delight and the scenery stunning but something less demanding will go down nicely over the next couple of months.

And so yesterday we sailed from Portsmouth to Caen, or so the ticket said, neglecting to mention you have to drive the last ten miles to Caen yourself. Perhaps in days past the ferry did go to Caen but this morning the skipper of Brittany Ferries' Mont St Michel took one look at the narrow creek leading inland and dropped us off on the coast at Ouistreham. Fortunately there is a proper port here so we didn't need to get wet, unlike those who arrived here in 1944.

This is the eastern edge of "D Day country", Sword Beach is just to the west of Ouistreham and as we drove towards Caen we saw several signs to places we visited the last time we were around here, such as the Pegasus Bridge museum.

Our destinations today were less impressive, a supermarket then the aire at Dives sur Mer, CC19259.

This is where we are zoomed out.


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And a little closer.

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And closer still...

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This is a nice aire but very popular. We arrived just before ten this morning and there were only two spare spots and no one has left since we arrived but several vans have arrived and left disappointed subsequently. The bays are wider that this photo might suggest with room to put chairs out between vehicles.

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We went on a couple of walks today. There is a broad cycle/path beside the aire which runs both upstream and downstream of the right bank of the Dives river. A pedestrian bridge, not shown on Google maps unless you switch to satellite view lets you cross over to the north side and the broad sandy beach. Here are a few random shots taken of the area. We are going to stay another night here in an effort to force ourselves to slow down. Cold turkey from modern living. :)

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I'll post again tomorrow and try and outline the aims of this trip, other than to have a good potter while enjoying some French wine and no doubt some local seafood. :)
 
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Enjoy, Im looking forward to reading your posts ...

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When you drive to the aire here you only see the modern part of Dives sur Mer but it does have an older quarter where one of the interesting buildings is this market hall dating from the 14th and 15th centuries.

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An information board said it is still largely original.

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A market is held here every Saturday and we will visit it tomorrow. :)

This odd looking building was built as a private house in the 17th century and incorporates a church tower. The cellars are now a wine merchants.

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If you look again at this map I posted yesterday you should see "Port Guillaume" to the top right of the blue blob.

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This is the name given to the modern marina but the original port is just down stream where a small fishing fleet is based.

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There is also a small fish market here.

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I bought 2 litres of mussels for €6 and cooked them for lunch today. I didn't have any white wine but a Provence rosé worked well. We didn't have any cream either but a small pot of Greek yoghurt served in its place. :)

The reason why the marina is called Port Guillaume is because Dives sur Mer is where William (Guillaume) the Conqueror set sail in 1066 to invade England. His birthplace is a little way inland from here and we will visit it next. However, when he sailed from here I think it was only to go a little way up the coast to St Valery sur Somme where his main fleet was assembled. We shall have to visit there too. :)

William founded a new line of English kings but they retained links with France and when Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine she brought with her as her dowry a large chunk of France, including Normandy where we are now. This was seen as an affront to the French and through a series of invasions much of it was reclaimed but then in 1328 Philippe IV of France died leaving no obvious heir. The only contenders were a granddaughter who as a women was considered unacceptable to the French and a grandson. Now a grandson you would think would be qualified to take the throne but his mother was the daughter of Phillipe IV and the Salic Law which prevented a women taking the throne of France was interpretated as also meaning succession could not pass down through the female line. This would probably have been disregarded had the grandson been a normal French noble but the snag was the grandson was Edward III of England and the French certainly didn't want him as their King. Edward, however, didn't take the hint and claimed the throne of France. He adopted the motto ‘Dieu et mon droit’, for God and my right, the right being his claim to the French crown.
The resulting family tiff is now known as the Hundred Years' War. More of which later. :)
 
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There are spring tides at the moment and the salt marsh beside the river shown in a photo above was flooded at high tide this morning.

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If you look very closely on the left, in front of the large building with the red roof, you might see a lot of white dots. They are little egrets and there have been almost none around at other stages of the tide but here they gather at high tide. Either they have been pushed off their usual feeding grounds or the extra high tide today yields a new food source - insects and small mammals living on the marsh perhaps?

Today being Saturday was market day in Dives sur Mer.

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The above was only a corner of it, there were a couple of streets of stalls, most selling the usual stuff like leather belts etc. The food stalls were more interesting and were grouped around and within the medieval hall.

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The aire at Dives has a sign saying stays are limited to two days but no one seems to take any notice but we moved on today anyway. It is a good aire though €6 for water is a bit steep. The only problem is finding a space - we were very lucky to arrive when we did. During our stay few vans moved away but when they did their spot was grabbed almost immediately.

We drove first to Caen and then headed south east to Falaise.

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As we drove from Caen we saw a sign for a WW2 cemetery and as we passed it I glimpsed a red and white flag. The flag was hanging limply but I had a suspicion of what it was and my suspicion was confirmed when we passed a second cemetery which this time had a sign saying it was a Polish war cemetery.

I mentioned earlier this is "D Day country" because we are directly inland from the invasion beaches. As the Allied forces advanced the German forces held out in the area just south of Falaise and the subsequent engagement is sometimes called the Battle of the Falaise Pocket. The German forces were under orders from Hitler not to retreat so they attempted counter offences but eventually the Allies encircled them, the Germans ran out of fuel and the battle for Normandy was effectively won. Paris was liberated a few days later.

The map on this link shows why the Polish dead are buried here. They were on the left flank of the Allied advance and came, with the Canadians, directly towards Falaise. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falaise_Pocket

But we are mainly here because of an earlier conflict, very much earlier, from 1066. :)

We are staying on the municipal campsite at Falaise, CC22068 and ACSI. The ACSI rate is just €14 a night including electricity and a free dog and it is very good value. The loo block is only about a year old and spotlessly clean, the flower beds have had a make over, there is a state of the art MH service point plus a new row of hard standings for MH.

Being still traditional campers at heart we are on a grass pitch. :)

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The big castle is hard to miss. It is where William the Conquerer was brought up. We will visit it tomorrow but we had a poke around the town and the outskirts of the castle this afternoon. First stop was the tourist office where a couple of books caught my attention.

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The English version on the right describes him as "Born out of wedlock in Falaise". The French version on the left is more direct. :)

The town square has the inevitable statue of William.

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More unexpected was this Sherman tank.

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It was only installed this year and is covered in artwork by a French artist called Jef Aerosol who is a sort of Gallic Banksy from what I could work out.

The faces are all taken from old photographs. The one on the right here is the famous thousand yard stare from Vietnam I think.

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The writing is the word "Peace" written in many languages. The work is done using stencils, at least two for each face, one for the black and one for the white. The tank stands in front of a museum to the civilians under German occupation which we will visit tomorrow if it is open.

Finally a glimpse of the castle. The rectangular keep was built by William's son and is based on the keeps the Normans built in England to intimidate the locals. It is apparently a rare example of Anglo-Norman architecture in France. We will explore inside it tomorrow. :)
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We visited the castle today, €8.50 each and no discount for wrinklies. :)

Just outside the entrance is the statue of William, which is easier to photograph in the morning due to the sun angle.

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Of course no one knows what he looked like though his depiction on the Bayeux Tapestry shows him clean shaven. (not my picture).

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But the needling nuns may not have seen him either. :)

The front of the castle has a wierd structure on the front of it. When we got closer we could see it was made of concrete. Its function didn't become obvious until the very end of our visit.

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The first room you enter after going through the ticket office has a disconcerting feature - a glass floor!

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They have created a sort of flagstone effect but the gaps in between are glass, through which you can see the room below. Looking above the floor you might also observe there isn't much in this first room and what there is, including the floor itself, isn't original.

This is where the tablet you are given comes into play. On the screen is shown an impression of what the room might have looked like in the 12th century. Here is my attempt to record what it showed in another room.



It does a lot more too, one feature is highlighting points of interest and when you place the centre of the screen over them a caption pops up with additional information. There's even a treasure hunt, I assume for kids or perhaps adults after a liquid lunch. It was too early for us. :(

Few of the rooms had any furniture but they had added a few bits in this bedroom.

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The tower is interesting but the spiral staircase sections were steep. The stairs you can see in the photo below are the easy ones. :)

This is a larder near the base.

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Access to a lower store and an area ice could be stored was originally made through a trapdoor in the middle of the floor.

Finding your way between the rooms was easy. The route to take through the castle is well signposted, just follow the numbers 1, 2, 3, etc. :)

The top of the tower has a vaulted roof.

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The tower had its own well and the shaft runs up the entire height of the tower with each floor having access to it. Here is a view looking down. It is very deep!

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It was only as we reached the end of the tour I realised we were walking through the concrete bit on the front of the castle. The castle has been heavily restored in places but I think some parts were beyond restoration. I suspect much of the front of the castle was collapsed, certainly the roof of the keep was completely modern. You can see the underside of part of it in the bedroom shot above. My guess is the concrete structure plays a big part in supporting floors and the roof, as well as allowing access between different parts of the castle.

Later this afternoon we took a stroll around the castle.

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The MHs you can see on the right are on the free aire. Just beyond the aire are a series of boards giving information about D Day and the liberation of Falaise by the Canadians.

There is additional space on the other side of the castle reached by driving round to the left, on the road below the walls. Coordinates: 48.8941080, -0.2050324. It isn't visible on Google maps due to shadow but there is a deep lay-by used by a few vehicles.

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I mentioned in an earlier post large chunks of the town wall still survives. I wonder if the owners of this house with a turret at the bottom of the garden have something like a covenant in their deeds that requires them to man the turret in time of invasion? It may be very specific. Two crossbows and a man-at-arms! :)

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This church was badly damaged in the War but was rebuilt. There seemed to be evidence of bullet or shrapnel damage on some of the upper stonework.

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It has a name almost as long as itself, the Église Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais de Falaise. :)
 
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Historical correction: In my first post I mention William sailing from Dives sur Mer to Valery sur Somme where his fleet assembled. I learned today his fleet assembled at Dives then sailed to Valery to await better weather as this was closer to England. As things turned out William only waited until he heard Harald had gone north to tackle the Vikings, leaving the south undefended, before setting sail. :)

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Just a short update tonight as we haven’t done much, other than laundry and shopping and a bit of driving. :)

I did take Charlie for a walk first thing and we headed for one of the town gates I'd missed when I first looked at the map.

This is the Porte des Cordeliers.

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According to a notice board this was the main entry into the town. The "Cordeliers" in the name comes from a nearby Franciscan monestry and refers to the cord they wore around their waist.

Here is the view from inside the walls.

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The house above the gate looked a bit run down. Something similar in the UK would be worth a small fortune. :)

So after the laundry, €6.50 for a jeton for both the washer and drier was very reasonable, as was this site. It's one of the best we've found at any price and given the price here is €14 a night including electricity with the ACSI card it is very good value.

We drove too far today, it took us over two hours which isn't my definition of "pottering". I should have split the journey somewhere but this excessive driving brought us to the village of Giverny and Monet's Garden.

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The gardens are near the Seine but not on her banks.

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We are staying in the part of the car park set aside for MHs. It is free and unexpectedly busy.

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I've bought tickets on line (about €21 for the two of us) and we will have a wander around the gardens tomorrow. :)
 
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Excellent account of your travels Mr DBK,and I like your historical summaries. If only my history teacher had kept it that simple,I might have paid more attention.
We will be doing some of where you’ve been next May,so it’s useful to have a few ideas,but you are now between two places I shall avoid.......... Rouen and Paris!
Have a great trip.
 
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You’ve just passed it now but Les Andelys is lovely and Chateau Gaillard gives glorious views along the Seine. We’ve visited many times as we have friends there, it used to be a bit rough and ready but is being gentrified a bit and some of the River cruise boats stop there. Worth a stop before it’s too fancy.
 
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I know I'm sad but I'm not here for the gardens (I have been there previously). This is much much more interesting :D2
It does indeed look interesting.

Couldn't help laughing at the website though. Your link clearly is to the English version but the only English you find is the article title and the links on the page, the whole of the text is in French.:LOL:

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Always wanted to visit Monet’s garden. Good on you for slowing down - we rushed too much on our France trip.
 
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We shuffled around Monet's garden and through his house this morning. And "shuffled" is the right word as we did it in company with a great many other people. :)

I had bought tickets online the previous day and these come as a PDF you display on your phone or tablet. The barcode on the document was scanned as we arrived and we went straight in with no delay. A slick system.

There are two gardens, an upper one by the house and the lower water garden with the famous Japanese Bridge reached through an underpass below the road which crosses the property. You can find lots about the gardens online but this page would be a good starting point if you want some of the history.

The upper garden is densly planted with numerous flowers and was very hard to photograph from ground level - this is where a drone would come in handy but I wouldn't recommend flying one here. Security was very tight with patrols of armed soldiers walking around the area outside the gardens and several sinister looking people in dark suits with close cropped hair at strategic positions inside the gardens and house.

This is probably the best shot I took of the flower garden, a row of arches planted with roses. The spaces either side were more or less solid vegetation with narrow paths running through it.

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This is the house.

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There were quite a few Japanese prints on the walls showing Monet's interest in the subject plus some Impressionist paintings from artists Monet knew, if I understood correctly but whether they are the originals or copies I don't know.

The water garden was easier to photograph.

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There are several paths around the garden but don't expect to make progress quickly. This is "selfie central"! :) The water lilies had flowers but only a few in the sun were beginning to open. I suspect they do not open fully until the afternoon.

We met up with Taran_Las when we got back to the van and had a pleasant chat. He is heading a bit further south in search of warmth. :) We, foolishly, headed west and north and the day became cloudy and dull.

Our first stop was to the free service point at Gaillon (CC67202) a shortish hop from Monet's aire, which has no services. There might be a joke to made about the services being Impressionist but if there is I can't think of it! :) Perhaps they should draw a blurred image of a service point on a wall?

From the actual real service point we drove to the free aire at Baulie beside the Seine (CC71123) which gets good reviews but we didn't linger. It just felt somewhat drab. We've been on some good aires beside rivers but this one didn't appeal. I can't explain it, there were no other MHs there and it was grey overhead which might have contributed to the negative impression we both had.

So we moved on, crossing the Seine on a Bac (ferry) like this one.

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The signs gave it a 3.5t weight limit and 3m height restriction which we complied with but there was also a sign saying no MHs but we ignored this as we are a van. :) They let us on anyway. :) And the charge for this experience? Zero, the ferry is free, here at least the ferryman does not need paying.

So we drove on to another free aire at Jumièges (CC3447) by which time the sun had appeared and things looked much more cheerful.

This is where we are.

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Closer up. The ferry we used was at Le Mesnil sous Jumièges.

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There's a ruined abbey here which was once one of the most important in Normandy but is now a ruin. It didn't do well in the French Revolution.

It is open to the public but tickets were €7.50 for each of us and a prominent sign said no Charlies allowed so we gave it a miss, but I did take a couple of sneaky (free) shots through the fence. :)

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I've no idea why the two towers are different. Any help from church experts welcome. :) I guess each has a different function, one no doubt being the bell tower. Or was it two different contractors? Each with their own vision of the perfect tower - either round or square. :)

So having avoided a €15 ticket fee we hunted out (and found) a geocache beside the Seine. I can't find it in me to describe it as a pretty river, but it is big and despite a smooth surface the current flows along at a cracking pace. It must be deep here with no big boulders on the bed.

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I've failed so far in not describing this countryside we've been driving through for the last couple of days. It is flat but not billiard table flat. The fields are usually huge and are currently being tilled and seeds planted for next year. There are lots of timber framed houses, some thatched. This farm house is not untypical though most are two stories.

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To sum up, this is an interesting region. It isn't spectacular but there is lots of history here. And a lot of fruit. :) Jumièges is on the Route des Fruités, a 62km route through this fruit growing region.


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The good news is the sun appeared this evening and Mrs DBK and I celebrated her birthday with a bottle of Lidl's fizz while we watched the sun set. Hopefully this wasn't an omen. :)

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Great pics once again!
The Seine is not a particularly beautiful river,is it? The thing I remember most about it is the huge ships that use it,and enjoying watching them navigate those bends.

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Outstanding posts, as always, and of particular interest because we'll be heading that way in a couple of weeks.

I wish you fair skies and hope you continue to enjoy your travels. :)
 
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A gentle drive of about an hour today has brought us to the aire at St Romain de Colbosc, CC24660. To get here we used another ferry across the Seine and as we were crossing Mrs DBK wondered out loud what would happen if the engines failed? The current really is strong and the puny little anchor we could see wouldn't do much. Perhaps they have a tug on standby some distance downstream? :)

But the engines held and we crossed safely. A vehicle in the queue on the other bank may not have been so lucky. It was a low-profile motorhome. When the deckhand spotted it she didn't look happy, gesturing to the captain with arms outstretched like a fisherman describing the one which got away and then held her hand above her head to indicate height. We didn't wait to see the outcome but drove north, soon crossing the river again but this time on a bridge. The Pont de Brotonne is like a smaller version of the Millau Viaduct with a single span of cable running down the middle of the bridge. It started to rain gently soon afterwards and it was still raining when we arrived at the aire where against all odds we found a single space empty which I drove straight into. :) The reviews of this place frequently mention it being full because it isn't only free, the water and electricity (every pitch has an EHU) is also free so it is something of a MH magnet.

This is where we now are.

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And the aire. (taken after the rain stopped)

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There are supposed to be only 13 pitches but a few more have squeezed in, you can just see the end of a blue van on the left and opposite it a white MH which are both "parallel parking" in spaces between pitches. :) Off to the left in the turning area at the end of the aire is a large German registered Merc truck. It looks a bit weird, like a prison van and is painted glossy olive green.

We walked into St Romain de Colbosc this afternoon, it takes about fifteen minutes. It's all fairly modern but I haven't seen a high street with three greengrocers for a while. They must be a healthy lot here and well groomed too. Every other establishment seemed to be a hairdressers.

We will go north towards the coast tomorrow and stay near Étretat where there is another garden to visit and an elephant dipping it's trunk in the sea. :)

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