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Normandy (Contentin Peninsula)
   
 

 
tour summary

 

This tour consisted of 4 days cycling around the Cherbourg peninsula (or Contentin Peninsula) in Normandy in Early June 2004. The route took us from Portsmouth on the now discontinued P&O party boat to Cherbourg. The tour took a clockwise direction roughly following the coast to Carentan before stopping with friends near Canisy. The return to Cherbourg followed the East coast up to Nez de Jobourg before finishing in Cherbourg. The total route was 240km (ie about 60km per day)

 

 
map

 

contentin peninsula map

 

 
Commentary & Photos

This journey started from Portsmouth. We abandoned the car ini a local side street, loaded the bikes up and went to join the queues of traffic for the P&O crossing to Cherbourg. This particular crossing was ideal - leaving Portsmouth at 7.30 pm and arriving at 9am the following morning. Little did we know but the anticipated quiet crossing turned out to be the area's hen and stag do venue of choice. The boat was packed full of nurses, cowboys, seventies disco divas and blokes with big wigs. There was also the slightly odd combination of French schoolkids returning from a cultural trip the UK - this was one of those rare opportunities for them to witness the cream of British youth at their flamboyant best. It was a lively night.

 

pointe de barfleur
 

The boat docked at 9am and we trundled with the cars, through the abandoned customs post and straight into the centre of Cherbourg - less than a kilometre away. The magic of any French town for the cyclotourist is the ready availability boulangerie's and cafe's. We were spoilt for choice around the small harbour but settled for cafe au lait and pain au chocolat.

 
pointe de barfleur, Gatteville-le-phare

We followed the D116 westwards out of Cherbourg. The initial section was on dual carriageway - normally to be avoided on bicycle - but this section was brand new and yet to open - as smooth as a babies bum. Perfect for cruising along and letting the sea air blow away any cobwebs that had formed during the previous nights festivities. As we left Cherbourg behind us the road turned to single carriageway with local traffic and we made pleasnt progress to the far North East corner of the peninsula - Pointe de Barfleur. At 72 metres high the Gatteville lighthouse used to be the tallest in France. It is set on a wonderful rocky promomotary pushing out into the English Channel - and on a fine day is a great place to sit and relax.

The small town of Barfleur is just along the coast and was our chosen spot to relax and have some lunch. At 30 celsius it was definitely time cool off next to the sea and recharge the batteries with baguette, cheese and fresh cherries

 

 

From Barfleur the route followed the coast southwards to St Vaast-la-Hougue - a place renowned for its oyster beds. South of St Vaast the D14 was a little too busy for liking but we soon turned off to Quineville where we found a small biscuit shop. This baked the most winderful buttery concoctions - a visit is essential if you in the area - especailly if your on your bike.

The D421 follows the dunes soutwards in the direction of Utah beach (this trip was just a week after the 60 year celebrations of the D Day landings) and the whole area was very busy. There were flags for every contry represented in the allied forces flying from virtually every building.

 

barfleur harbour for lunch
 
gatteville, pointe de barfleur
A walk around the dunes and into the german bunkers is sobering experience - only exaggerated when one walks along the beach and see the dominating position of the bunkers and how exposed each of the soldiers landing on the beach must have been. Even on a hot summers the day the damp, cold bunkers are not a place to dwell.
 

 

The D421 road eventually peters out to a lovely little country lane with views over the Banc du Grand Vey. A huge sand bank where the vast tidal range brings the tide in a breathless pace. The local natural reserve make this a great place for bird spotting and the water quality (as reported on boards in France where shellfish are picked and harvested) is excellent for oysters and mussels. We thought that this would be a great place to camp - but the little bar/restaurant was fully booked that night so we decided to continue to Carentin and camp there.

 

barfleur harbour
 
 

That evening in Carentin was extremely lively. The whole town was out in force to celebrate the 60th anniversary of liberation from the Germans. A huge fierwork display over the central harbour was the highlight of the evening.

The following day we headed directly south along beautiful country lanes with hardly a car to bother us. We were heading for the village of Canisy to stay with friends for 5 nights (including watching England get beaten by France in the European Championships). The area around Canisy is not touristy - the best description is tranquiil. The weather was absolutely perfect, the gently rolling countryside was ideal for exploring by bike.

And one must not forget the local tipple - there is cider aplenty, sweet to dry, scrumpy to refined fizzy stuff - combined with crepes it's a meal to grace anyone'e table - as long as they don't have bad memories of cider binges in the local park when they were 14.

 

 

 

 

 
An ideal day trip from Canisy was to Mont St Michel - well worth the visit if when you've been there before. The guided walk across the sands and river from Genets is certainly the best approach. It starts from the small car park and crosses the open sands towards Mt Saint Michel. The route crosses a couple of small rivers and is undertaken in bear feet. Care should be taken on the route as the window of opportunity of walking to Mt Saint Michel and back again needs to fitted between the ebb and flood tides. This leaves just 1 hour a Mt Saint Michel - so if you want a good look around it's bet to get picked up from Mt Saint Michel.
 
barry on his old steed
Kev is the bicycle repair man, don't forget to do the wheel up
 

One of the cycle trips we made went from Canisy to the Vallee de la Vire. Once again the gentle back roads were devoid of traffic making for extremely sociable cycling - despite the heat. Some of friends had some minor mechnical problems when Kev forgot to tighten the rear wheel of his wifes bike. This led to very slow progreess for his wife Ann as the wheel dragged against the frame. After about 10 miles of slow progress the mistake was noticed - and bicycle repair man Kev raced to his unimpressed wifes assistance.

 

 
 
Isa and Jude
 

Lunch was taken under a tree in next to the river Vire. A quieter more sedate spot would be very difficult to find. The relaxing atmosphere was then broken by competietive yoga contortions amongst the girls - the ringleader being Ann and her strange monkey type rubber man impression - a particular virulent disease to which men appear to be immune as the photo below shows.

 
 

 

The route from Canisy once again followed idyllic country lanes. A route following an old railway line provided a stretch of traffic free riding before lunch at Lessay. At the small town of Periers we had picked up some provisions for lunch - it was market day and the small square was busy with people - and there was an abundnace of fresh bread, cheese and fruit and vegeables galore.

 

 
 
Abbaye Lessay
 

The route up the coast from Lessay proved to be a little to busy. It's always a compromise cycling alongside the sea - great views, sea air, plenty of opportunity to stop but always too much traffic.

The views from the coastline provide vistas over the bay out towards the channel islands - especially Jersey. The beaches were long and the sea seemed even further away, but the shoreline was dotted with locals out to catch crabs and shellfish.

Our route knitted it's way along the coast trying to find the quietest, least busy lanes such that we crossed the main road frequent times. Not the quickets route but be for the most picturesque.

 
 

Our stop that evening was in the charming little port / beach resort of Barneville Carteret. A campsite near the centre of town and beautiful blue skies made the town fell far more meditaranean than Norman. We had a good tour of the town including up to the lighthouse (as if we hadn't cycled far enough that day) and the views across to the Channel Islands and up the coast northwards to Nez de Joberg were outstanding.

We took our meal in a small Creperie near the harbour - excellent crepes - plenty of cider and a goods night's rest.

 

 
 
Vauville, Anse de Vauville, it's raining
Oh dear - the 8 days of fantastic weather couldn't last - we were so near to completing 9 days cycling without even a passing thought to wet weather gear. It strted of grey and drab, we stopped for breakfast and as soon as we had the crusty baguette in our hands the heavens opened. Sheltering in a phone box we tried to book an earlier ferry but to no avail. So we set off into the rain. The weather turned out to more showery and it was exciting watching each dark low cloud racing across the sea to engulf us.
 

 

The route along the coast to Nez de Joberg was varied and full of great views and points of interest including the famous nuclear reprocessing carbuncle on the headland of Nez de Joberg, nestled in a small hollow all thats visible are the innumerable chimneys and towers that suggest something is trying to climb out of the earth. The cycle through the dunes at Vauville was interrupted briefly when the road was closed to install a one way road system for the local minature aeroplane club and we were sent a lovely diversion right alongside the sea.

With the weather improving we climbed th headland and dropped down through Beaumont to the North Coast and followed the winding coast road back to Cherbourg. In Cherbourg the detour on to the sea harbour wall is well worth effort.

 

 
For more information or questions please contact us at isaetterry@mac.com