Bayeux- Honfleur – Etretat – Le Touret Memorial – Paris – Arundel – Oxford – Blenheim Palace – The Cotswolds – Baddesley Clinton….phew!
NORMANDY : BAYEUX TAPESTRY
Off the ferry at Caen at 7am and an easy half hour drive to Bayeux.It was a lovely morning, the roads were quiet and by 8am we were parking in this lovely old French town. We strolled through the silent streets, past a pretty river with weeping willows coming into bloom. There was an old mill decorated with boxes of red geraniums and a real sense of spring in the air. Found the only café which was open, for a welcome coffee and a croissant. Oh it was SO good to be in France – Chris is fluent in the language and is often complimented on his accent, so that makes him feel very relaxed in the country. It does however, make me very lazy and I hardly use the minimal, tortuous French I have. (Just as well, because I get so nervous when faced with having to make myself understood, I manage to strangle even the simplest phrases.)
The George V1 Café was highly unusual, with its celebration of all things British Royal Family; there were photos of little Prince George everywhere. The brightly coloured plastic furniture put me off initially, I find it so uncomfortable and unappealing, but the place was well frequented by locals and turned out to be a good choice.
Just before 10am, we got ourselves up to the Bayeaux Tapestry Museum just before opening time, as we’d read it got very busy. No problem today though – we had the place to ourselves apart from one other couple. This meant that, instead of having to quickly walk along the whole thing in a regimented way (and only once making it impossible to really appreciate it and take it all in!) we were able to stand at each section for as long as we liked, examining the scenes and details. It is absolutely exquisite and I was bowled over by it! It’s a superb work of art.
The tapestry, 230 feet long and created using wool thread on linen, tells the story of the conquest of England by William, Duke of Normandy in 1066. There are scenes of murder, violent injury, rape, all rendered in detail.
It was a gorgeous late morning when we finally emerged from the darkness which protects the tapestry. A final wander round the attractive town ; another coffee in a very picturesque café but which didn’t offer coffee up to the standard of the more modern place, proving that appearances can be deceptive!
The American Cemetery, Omaha Beach/Arromanches
It was a short, winding drive via small rural roads to our next stop. A short walk through the still-closed visitor centre and suddenly we were faced with the deeply moving sight of over 9,388 white crosses marking the graves of the soldiers who died during the Allied Landings and the invasion of Normandy in 1944.It was immaculately kept and beautifully landscaped with the turquoise shallow sea shimmering beyond the pines. We spent a long time just strolling the site, looking at the names and ages of these men (some barely out of boyhood) who made the ultimate sacrifice, so that we might today, live freely from totalitarian rule.40 pairs of brothers are buried here, including two brothers who inspired the Spielberg film ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Heart-breaking, the whole place, very sobering – we were both moved to tears. The Memorial itself was stunning with the Wall of the Missing recording the names of 1557 men whose bodies have never been found.
Rendered silent by the whole experience, we drove on to Arromanches and Gold Beach, the scene of British troop landings. It was a pleasant small town and British flags were on display everywhere in the shops and streets as part of the upcoming WW2 commemorations. There was a huge sense of gratefulness and thanks to Britain for freeing the town and France from Nazi occupation and rule.
It was a sunny, wind-whipped day, as captured so often by Boudin in his exquisite paintings of this area. We wandered along the seafront, a huge swell breaking on the pebbly shore. Then a walk up to the Falaises for a view over the town and the remains of the Mulberry harbours, temporary structures visible out at sea which allowed the troops to land. We passed a Sherman tank on display and German defences were visible too.
I have always been fascinated by the two World Wars and have read quite a bit over the years about them. With two adult sons of my own, I often think how unimaginably awful it must have been for parents to see their boys going off to war. Our year of Covid has brought difficulties which at least for most people in the country, can’t compare.
I was keen to visit the town’s D – Day Museum but once again, our timing was out (hmm… this was becoming a feature of this trip!) as just as we arrived, it was closing for a 2 hour lunch break. I have to say, there was nothing on the website that suggested that lengthy closure, but it may have been due to it being early March.
We were both feeling a bit hungry now so made our way to the centre of town as the hotels at the seafront were closed. Found an ok café but just had tea (never great in France) and a decent toasted cheese and ham croissant for lunch.
Honfleur! This must be one of the loveliest, most unspoiled towns in all the many we have enjoyed in France.
After a 75 min drive to get there, it took us a bit of time to work out where our apartment was; made various phone calls to the owner who gave us more detailed directions. After a short drive down the tiniest of little lanes, it ended at a pretty river where we parked. A short walk and we were at the garden gate of our house for the next 2 nights.
At the risk of complaining now about TWO lots of accommodation, I admit I was a bit disappointed in how untidy and scruffy the garden and terrace was and this ‘look’ continued inside the house itself. I really like simple places, but wasn’t so keen on the apartment’s rustic hippy look. However, it was ultra quiet and it worked ok for our 2 nights. (Hmmm. it came back to me that, unusually, it was actually Chris who had booked most of our accommodation this trip and he never takes the time to really research places to death, as I do!)
Never mind, it was a glorious afternoon and we set off to walk back into the old port area itself, 10 mins away. I was really bowled over by Honfleur – it had caught our imagination after looking at some of the gorgeous Impressionist paintings of the town by Monet and Boudin. If anything, the place was far lovelier.
Wandering round the port and the back streets, felt like stepping back into the Middle Ages. There were stunning 1th century half-timbered buildings lining the harbour or – as it’s known – the Vieux Bassin. Heading away from the sea, we came across the magnificent 15th century St Catherine’s Church, the largest wooden church in France.
Quite a few of the many restaurants really appealed for dinner tonight but our hostess had recommended L’Homme des Bois and it looked very charming. We were lucky to get booked for 8pm, much later than I like as I’m usually starving by 6pm as I never have much for lunch.(Makes me a cheap night out as barely one glass of wine and I’m fleein’.)
Got showered and spruced up a bit and back out for the walk into town for dinner. Food was excellent – duck foie gras to start, lamb shank and creamy mash for me and sliced chargrilled steak for Chris. Lovely atmosphere inside. Not cheap but a great experience all in.
A later start this morning, enjoying some croissants for breakfast and some muesli and yoghurt.
It was less than an hour’s drive to Etretat and I was SO excited about seeing this white chalk coastline made famous by Monet. It was another sunny, very windy day – in fact it was gale force by the time we reached the cliffs. The coast is very similar to the White Cliffs of Dover, same geology. The town was very pleasant and after a stroll along the blustery sea front, we made our way up the coastal path to the cliff tops. It was blowing a hoolie! One photo I have of Chris, his scarf is actually horizontal. It was a beautiful coastline though, very impressive. There was a narrow little bridge to cross – the buffeting was incredible – above big drops to the sea. Quite a place. The colour of the sea was almost glacial green and further out, whipped into white horses.
Return to Honfleur
We loved this town so much we headed back there early afternoon and enjoyed another explore of the lovely old streets, then coffee and a drink at the port. Picked up supermarket supplies for dinner in tonight – the usual Parma ham, Emmental and Conte cheeses, tomatoes, nice bread , pickles and olives. Predictable but somehow we don’t get fed up with it and it’s so easy. Not much washing up either!
LE TOURET MEMORIAL – PAS de CALAIS
Today was going to be a LONG day with a 3.5hr drive to the Memorial, then back to Arras to leave the car, before catching the train to Paris for an overnight stay.
My two great uncles, Murdo and John Maclellan of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides, lost their lives during the 1st World War. Both were pipers in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. I really wanted to visit the beautiful memorial where Murdo’s name is inscribed, as his body was never found in the carnage. He died, 19 years old, as part of the fighting in 1915 around Aubers Ridge. I can’t imagine the pain my Great Grandparents must have felt at his loss and – three years later – the loss of his brother.
It took a bit of driving around beyond Bethune using a map I’d downloaded, but we finally found Le Touret. Happy that we knew where it was, we found a bar in a tiny village, well frequented by local men even mid-morning and had a coffee to relax a bit and recover. It had been a tiring drive.
Then onto the Memorial itself, a superb site. I had a plan showing where Great Uncle Murdo’s name was inscribed. The whole place was somewhere to just take in quietly, a very peaceful place in soft, flat countryside. Very glad to have finally visited the area where he died, so far from home and to feel that finally, someone from the family paid their respects in that sense. It would have been impossible for my great grandparents, crofters, to have had the means to visit and travel outwith Scotland just wasn’t something my parents ever contemplated. So the visit, I felt, was also on behalf of my mum and grandmother (Murdo’s sister.)
I had read up on the battle of Aubers Ridge though Murdo died on the 15 May, some 6 days after that disastrous attack. We found the ‘cinder track’ referred to in reports and which the Cameron Highlanders would have made their way along during attacks against the German defences. The track made its way through farmland and there were what looked like the remains of trenches or bunkers, now used for storage. It must have been absolute hell.
Even now, though I never knew my Great Uncles I find myself deeply upset at the sight of their names on the list of war dead; the blood connection stays strong through the ages.
A 40 min drive and we were in the busy city of Arras where we left the car in an underground car park beside the station and got our return tickets to Paris. It was less than an hour into the Gare du Nord where we emerged with our little overnight backpack, ready to wander a city we know and love
It was late afternoon and our apartment was in St Germaine du Pres, the Left Bank, an area we often stay. Third time unlucky with accommodation! There were no reviews of it, which I would usually run a mile from but Chris had gone for it. We ended up making a formal complaint to Airbnb and they were very good, giving us a refund for mouldy food left in a very grubby fridge; mould in the shower too which was very poorly maintained. Neither of us liked the place much, but it had to do!
Strolled out for a coffee and a drink in nearby Les Deux Magots, a famous watering hole and very expensive but worth it for the ambience and looking onto the lovely Abbey of St Germain itself. Then down to the Seine and Notre Dame.Oh it was so good to be in Paris!
We ate in the apartment, using the excellent Monoprix supermarket nearby. I also managed to get some pistachio and chocolate macaroons out of Pierre Herme’s amazing bakery, just a stroll away. They were fabulous.
We headed out again that night, though we were pretty tired, hopping on the Metro with one purpose in mind – to see the Eiffel Tower all lit up.Spent ages just walking nearby and admiring it, illuminated by 20,000 fairy lights. It’s one of the most romantic architectural sights of the world, in my view. I was in tears the first time I saw it sparkling like that, though I think you need to be in love to respond so strongly. I must still be, because once more, I was wiping away the tears. But I am also an incurable romantic so that must play a part too.It felt good to be alive, witnessing that grand sight.
THE MUSEE D’ORSAY
Next day, we had a very Continental breakfast of bread and cheeses and fruit before packing up and getting on our way.
First stop, macaroons again! Laduree this time, gorgeous shop, never can resist it.
Then onto the excellent Musee D’Orsay where we arrived before opening and only had to queue for 20 mins. I went straight to the Van Goghs (my favourite) and the Impressionists. Stunning stuff. The ‘ Woman with Parasol’ on the cliffs at Pourville always reminds me of the opening scene in Ryan’s Daughter, where Sarah Miles watches her pretty little umbrella get swept by the wind over the Cliffs of Moher.
A stop at a nearby café, then a stroll along the Seine to one of our favourite squares or Places – Place Dauphine.
Created in 1607,it’s a gorgeous, quiet, elegant tree filled square (actually a triangle) where on a past visit, we enjoyed a good lunch at Restaurant Paul.
The buildings are so elegant along the Seine, particularly the Conciergerie, the ancient prison of Revolutionary times which looks so forbidding with its witch’s hat towers.
But we really had to get back to Arras so off again to the Gard du Nord and back to where we’d left our trusty car. It’s ridiculous but I always give the car a wee pat if we’ve left her for long. Nuts.
It was a 2hr 30 drive to Dieppe where we had the 6pm ferry to catch to Newhaven, landing us back in England around 9pm.Unfortunately bad weather meant she was running very late so it was nearly 11pm before we finally got in. Had a quite good beef stew on board as I was starving.
Years ago, at the cinema, they used to run an advert showing hot dogs, which always looked brilliant and the tag line was ‘ go on – an hour from now, you’ll wish you’d had one.‘ But one time, some wag shouted out ‘aye, an hour from now and ye’ll wish ye hadnae had one!’ That’s exactly how I felt after that dinner because it was a bumpy crossing and that’s putting it mildly!
Got to our B&B quite easily now we were back on UK SatNav, and had a nice welcome from our hosts, despite the very late arrival.
Good cooked breakfast at our hosts then off for a drive through the South Downs for 45 mins to Arundel, an attractive market town with a grand castle. Unfortunately it was shut the day we arrived (story of the trip!) Parked in town quite easily and wandered up the High St past the castle to the top of the hill where there was a lovely old church, always something we are drawn in to explore. Ah well, maybe next time we’ll see the castle.
Stopped at a nice cosy café at the bottom of the street, lined with pretty houses and got a good warm scone and tea; excellent carrot cake for Chris. Nice to get that kind of thing now we were back in the UK!
Oh I so wanted to see this beautiful city and it didn’t disappoint. Gorgeous buildings, the University area was outstanding. Spent ages just wandering around the different colleges of honey coloured stone. We took a tour of the Bodlean Library and adjacent buildings, absolutely wonderful. Our group met in the Divinity School where we listened to a short talk – this magnificent hall was built in the early part of the 15th century – 1424! More recently, it’s been featured in the Harry potter films. Then on to Duke Humfrey’s Library, built in 1610 a truly fabulous space and the tour’s highlight.
The Radcliffe Camera, another working library, wasn’t open (surprise, surprise!) but we made a dash for St Mary’s Church tower which gave an astonishing view over the buildings of the university and the city. It really was an outstanding vista of gorgeous urban architecture.
TOOT BALDON VILLAGE
Had a stroll along Oxford’s busy streets then picked up the car and made for our stunning accommodation in a tiny village about a 20 min drive away in tiny Toot Baldon, a gorgeous cluster of old buildings of home stone and wooden beams. We stayed in a barn conversion which was a real wow, and beside the owner’s own home. Would have loved to have had longer here. Immaculate and gorgeous – very happy with this place!
We had thought about going out to the local pub for food but our place was so nice we wanted to enjoy it.Luckily we had stocked up again with cooked chicken and potato salad and spicy chicken wings which I love.Bottle of fizz too to celebrate.
OXFORD AND THE ASHMOLEAN MUSEUM
Had some nice breakfast stuff left by the owners then set off for the park and ride as we wanted to see more of oxford and visit the Ashmolean. I’ve aways loved that name!
This worked very well, with just a 15 min bus journey into Oxford and avoiding the need to try to park again. Nice sunny day again and the Ashmolean (founded1683!) was fantastic. We used a list of its finest treasures which I found online and made our way through them. I find this very useful as a way of navigating somewhere packed with fascinating things. Another place to re-visit, impossible to see it all in one go. The Alfred Jewel was magnificent but so much else was too.
This was our next stop – the grandiose home and huge Estate where Winston Churchill was born and grew up. It was quite a sight and yet the interior was almost TOO grand, too museum like, for it to appeal to me.But great to see and it was so quiet too.
The great man himself – the grounds were lovely and we spent quite a bit of time wandering through the lawns and past lakes.Gorgeous place.
A short drive and we were in this favourite area of mine, full of the most gorgeous old honey stone villages and tidy, characterful small towns.Yes it gets very busy but it was blissfully quiet in March. I was keen to show Chris the village in the photo below – Lower Slaughter – with its weeping willows and crystal clear River Eye running past what must be eye wateringly expensive old houses.Just delightful, the whole place.
Four miles drive later and we were parked in Stow on the Wold, a beautiful old market town, where Chris was ready for a drink and I felt a pot of tea coming on.The 17th century Porch House is believed to be England’s oldest pub – part of the building has been dated to the 9th century, though the buildings itself as it is now, opened in 800 years later! It was all vaulted ceilings, exposed beams and oak floors inside, really lovely.
We checked out various pubs and restaurants for dinner later and finally booked The Fox at Oddington, a few miles outside the town. I drove to our accommodation in the tiny, gorgeous wee hamlet of Adlestrop.Carol and her husband, both elderly (though I couldn’t believe Carol’s age) were so welcoming and their cottage was a little dream house.Our en suite room was beautiful, very tasteful and charming. Loved the whole place, utterly quiet and peaceful.
After a shower and a change, we headed out for the short drive to The Fox and another excellent meal. We shared two starters:
Warm fig, goats’ cheese, prosciutto and honey; twice baked cheese souffle.
Then Rib Eye steak for Chris and 8 hour braised Ox Cheek for me.
Couldn’t resist a pud, they sounded so good – Apple Crumble , which I can never resist and Sticky Toffee Pudding for Chris. Excellent all round. We’ll be back!
Next morning, a beautiful breakfast tray was brought to our room, with fresh flowers and served in lovely china. Good tea and freshly baked croissants – perfect.
We had chatted to Carol quite a bit the night before and she was one of these people I liked immensely right away and would have loved to get to know better. Said our goodbyes and had a stroll round the village, past the church, admiring the pink magnolia’s coming into bloom – it only took minutes, the village was so small. What a beautiful place though, a word I know I overuse but – no other word for it!
BADDESLEY CLINTON – NATIONAL TRUST
One final stop before we made the big push home and this stunning 500 year old house and estate had caught my eye.It was just south of Birmingham and took us an hour to get to but was on our way north and not too far off the motorway.It was a brilliant choice set in its own moat, and with a fascinating history and very lovely interior.
I was particularly interested in this original penned letter by Georgiana, Lady Chatterton because the sentiments rang a very loud bell with me and I’m sure also with those of us who feel a need to write about our travels; I’m not sure I am hoping for fame as such but perhaps simply to leave a record of sorts for future generations of family, about how life was once lived and experienced. Anyway, it touched a chord.
A great trip, just whetting our appetite to do more like it.So much more to explore in our neighbour, England – full of riches and grand country homes as well as the most gorgeous villages and towns and gardens. Like Arnie, we will, God willing, be back!