Trip to Normandy.
Words and Photos By Ian Vessey
A couple of months ago, Julian received an email from Chris Evans of Sport-Adventure, offering places on the November Normandy trip, which had become available due to cancellations. It didn't take much thinking about to decide to go:
November - dull and boring, nothing much to do but go to work. Or: Go trail riding in France! Not much to decide really!
So that was it, ferries booked and cheques sent off to Sport-Adventure.
The theory with this trip is that we could leave the van at Portsmouth in the car park, and just take the bikes over on the ferry with a rucksack full of gear. After we'd been in the ferry bar for half an hour, it quickly became apparent while talking to some of the other guys going on the same trip, that it would have been just as cheap to leave the bikes in the van and bring the van! Never mind. Several pints of Stella soon helped us to forget about that!
Chris met us at Le Havre in the morning and led us in convoy to a little cafe at Honfleur, where there was a car park where vans could be left for the duration. At least we saved ourselves the cost of the toll on the Pont de Normandy as bikes are free! 5 Euros!
There were 15 riders, plus Chris, Dominic and Yasmin in the van with the luggage, and it was about 10 am by the time people had sorted themselves out and we made a start on the first day's riding. Chris provides a very good and accurate roadbook to follow, and this one led us away from the coast, through pleasant leafy lanes and tracks towards the town of Gace where we were based for two nights.
Lunch was at a restaurant 'somewhere' where we could have chicken. Or chicken. It was very nice chicken.
The day was cool, overcast and uneventful, but very pleasant and relaxing. The Normandy trip is certainly the least technical of the rides that Chris does, consisting of terrain very much like that that can be found in and around the Wye valley area, just lots more of it.
The hotel at Gace is described by Chris as 'charming' which it certainly is. It could also be described as 'quaint' or 'full of character' with the most incredible staircase (which wobbled slightly!). It is also run by very friendly owners who made us all most welcome (as long as we took our boots off!) and who did the most fantastic food.
In hindsight, a 5 o'clock start in the bar was probably a mistake. When followed by several glasses of wine with the meal, a slightly fuzzy head in the morning was inevitable.
This soon cleared in the fresh morning air, and the first lane was only a kilometre or so out of the town. The second day was much like the first, and no less enjoyable. There may have been 15 in the group, but we were quickly spread out with me and Julian riding as a pair. Julian navigated in front for most of the time, with the occasional correction from me!
Lunch was at another restaurant 'somewhere' where we could have chicken. Or chicken. Very nice chicken, a bit different to yesterdays chicken.
By 4pm, day two was over and the bikes returned to the lockup at the back of the hotel. We managed to keep away from the beer until 7pm which was much more sensible!
On the morning of the third day, the temperature outside had noticeably dropped. There were even reports from home of snow in the UK. All our kit was packed up and bunged back in the van for the trip back to Le Havre. When Julian retrieved the 525 (which he had borrowed from Mike Allen - thanks Mike!) from the lockup, he noticed the trip meter was misbehaving. Constantly counting backwards! This was fixed by disconnecting the remote switch on the handlebar. Our first mechanical breakdown! It also meant that I had to go in front and navigate that day. This I managed OK except for one moment when I had complete brain failure. This occurred after a short stop where we had caught up with Chris who was 'opening'. I then completely misread a note about the lunch stop, couldn't find it (it wasn't there) and forgot to reset the trip to zero. Julian sorted me out and we continued for the rest of the day without mishap.
Eventually we arrived at the lunch stop where it was supposed to be in a football club car park. Lunch was large baguette type sandwiches, pickles, chocolate and crisps, provided at great expense from Chris' own pocket (as he pointed out!).
Some of the lanes this day were a bit muddier and certainly more overgrown than the previous two days, my waterproof over jacket has several large rips in it now!
By 4pm we were back at Honfleur, where we put the bikes through a jet wash before riding back to Le Havre. Chris, Dominic and Yasmina bade us farewell at the Ibis Hotel where we had our last meal together, and we joined the ferry at 11pm for a quiet and uneventful journey home.
Overall, this is an excellent 3 day trip. Each day covers about 140kms of easy riding, which is probably enough for most people, especially if ridden as it should be at a nice gentle pace. Most of the lanes are fairly short, up to a kilometre or so, connected by equally short links mostly on singletrack backroads, which combine to make the navigation a very important and enjoyable part of the experience. And the hotel is warm, friendly and relaxing with a delightfully eccentric continental charm.