4th July – Wantage to Caen
The advantage of having a massive Land Rover is that you get loaded onto the ferry first. On arrival at Portsmouth we went through customs and straight onto the ferry. After finding our reserved seats we went in search of some breakfast, and the ferry pulled out into the patchy mist of the Solent.
Five hours later the mist had cleared into sunshine, but a great band of cloud bringing rain from the west hung over the Normandy beaches. It was raining fairly heavily when we landed but we were lucky to have a fair crossing with slight seas.
We stopped en route to Caen from Ouistreham to visit Pegasus Bridge. During the battle for Normandy the bridge and the cafe next to it were the first things in France to be liberated from the Germans. The bridge marked the eastern most flank of the beaches invaded by the Allies and had to be taken first to prevent a German counter-attack.
Six horsa gliders were towed across the channel and landed on a narrow strip of grass beside the river. The first glider carrying 30 men landed at 0016hrs on 6th June 1944.
After the first glider landed four more followed: the sixth glider was lost. The men from the gliders successfully took with bridge, which was heavily armed. They then liberated the cafe on the other side of the bridge, which was the first house to be liberated.
We then continued to Caen and found our hotel – Hotel Des Quatrons – which was conveniently located near the centre of Caen. I was generally impressed with the hotel: I had low expectations as it was 2* but it was very clean and well kept – we even had a bath! We strolled into town and found a small pizzeria called Pizza Rustic. It was quiet at first but soon filled. The food was quick and very good with home made pizzas. It didn’t really stop raining until quite late that night – at one point I left the hotel to get something from the car and when I returned I was greeted with ‘wow – have you stood under a shower?!’
5th July – Caen to Saumur
We visited the museum in Caen before we left, which was about WWII with a small section on the Normandy landings. The first section, before and during the war, was massive and had a lot of information but Holly and I went through quite quickly and had to wait a while for mum and dad to finish.
After the museum we drove to Hill 112. This was key position held by the Germans, and taken by the allies so that they would have the advantage of being able to see a long way over very flat countryside. My granddad was involved in the taking of Hill 112: he landed in Normandy on 9th June 1944 and proceeded to head to 112, where they came across some very stubborn Germans who put up a good fight for the hill.
“Shelling and mortaring commenced, varying in pitch from time to time. Bren carriers were blown bodily off the ground, but there were no direct hits. Our mortars, working with those of ‘H’ Company, put down a steady stream of fire. Sergeant Hollands continued to operate the mortars until wounded by shrapnel. Naish, leaning against a bank above his slit trench, was holding the wireless headphones in his hand, the better the hear and approaching shells, when there was an explosion nearby; shrapnel tore through the bakelite, leaving in his hand only the metal band.”
From Hill 112 we drove about 4 hours to Saumur, which sits on an island and banks of a river. Our hotel was on the island, near the bank. We ate at a little traditional restaurant with net curtains and red checked table clothes. The owners were very friendly and went out of their way to ensure we had a good meal.
6th June – Saumur
After breakfast in a little cafe across the bridge, we walked through Saumur, past many little squares and up to the château.
At the château we watched a show that was put on, involving a pirate ship on wheels driving around the set, and some very spirited horses. And a not so spirited horse.
We then went on a tour of the castle, which had some 18th century furniture, but I thought it looked a lot newer than this, which was interesting.
That evening we went to a crepe place for dinner, and then walked around the island.
7th June – Saumur to Royan
On 7th we drove down to Royan, where the next part of our holiday commenced! Read about that in the next blog! :D