Day 12 |
Jul 13, 2010

Honfleur – Bayeux/Normandy Beaches 

By Chris Harbard, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: N 49º 25', E 00º 14'
Weather: Overcast with drizzle
Air Temperature: 14ºC 57ºF

After breakfast I joined the group heading for Bayeux to see the legendary tapestry. The coach drive took just over an hour through the fabulous French countryside. Leaving Honfleur, we saw the huge suspension bridge over the mouth of the River Seine, the same river that flows through Paris more than 200km away. The journey was swift as most of it was on the péage motorway, the system of tollroads that are found throughout France.

We drove through agricultural countryside, from pastures with cows, mainly for milk and cheese, a wide range of crops, including the bright yellow oilseed rape, and orchards. The latter are apples that are used to make the cider and calvados (apple brandy) for which the Normandy region is famous. Medieval-looking farm buildings dotted the landscape and in every town was a beautiful church spire. On one ploughed field was a small group of White Storks and several Common Buzzards were also seen. We by-passed the city of Caen, where William the Conqueror is buried, and soon found ourselves on a smaller country road just outside Bayeux.

The Bayeux Tapestry is from the 11th century, and is only 20 inches high but nearly 200 feet long. Its colour looks as fresh as the day it was made and we had been treated to details of its background on the journey by our guide Cecile and our onboard historian Imogen Corrigan. As an Englishman, this was something I had always wanted to see and it far exceeded expectations. The depiction of the accession of Harold to the throne of England, his relationship with William, Duke of Normandy, and the subsequent battle of Hastings in 1066 was simple extraordinary. So much detail and so totally fascinating. After a quick look at the cathedral in Bayeux it was back to the coach to head for tales of a very different battle.

We arrived at Arromanches for lunch, the site of one of the many incredible tales of the Second World War, as it was where the Mulberry harbours were set up as part of the D-Day landings in 1944. After lunch we headed for the Pointe du Hoc where a huge naval bombardment took place on 6 June 1944, followed by the landing of a Ranger Battalion that fought its way to the top of the beach. The whole story was brought to life by our other historian, Gordon Corrigan and we were treated to an unexpected fly-over by a more modern plane than the ones used on the day. After this we headed to Omaha beach, one of the two American beaches on D-Day. Here again Gordon described the how events unfolded on the day, with its horrific loss of life on both sides. Finally we visited the American Cemetery, which overlooks Omaha beach, the last resting place of more than 1,500 American soldiers who died. A wreath was placed at the monument and we all spent a minute's silence in quiet contemplation. Walking around the cemetery is a sobering experience, a memorial to man's inhumanity to man.

The drive back to Honfleur flashed by and we were soon back at the ship. Before dinner our photographer, Ray Stranagan, showed his specially prepared DVD of the voyage, filled with fabulous images of the trip, which started in Portugal so many days ago. A wonderful end to a most fabulous voyage.