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NORMANDY I CYCLE TOURS


Petit Tour de Manche: A Bit Like Devon?


What has Stephen Dyster got in common with Winston Churchill, Bernard Montgomery and Dwight Eisenhower? Very little, but they all found the Bocage a little tougher than they imagined.


grumbled, but were unlikely to mutiny. For the family cycling through the Bocage, there might be more than the odd grumble and mutiny may bubble close to the surface.


A


MARSH AND WOOD, WOOD AND MARSH


Some of the preparation for the days after D-Day was done in Devon. Slapton Sands was regarded as similar country to the Marais Carentan. Covering a broad area around Carentan on the Cotentin Peninsula, we covered it on our last day. Easy going until the hills raised their heads again a little short of Cherbourg. The marsh around Carentan was flooded in 1944 to hinder Allied progress inland.


Once the Allies had broken out of the watery trap, they swung south. Here they found the Bocage. Patches of woodland,


18 www.cyclingworldmag.com


t least the wartime three had staffs of officers who should have known better. Their “followers” might have


rolling hills and sunken lanes characterise this area. Much preparation for liberating this was done in Norfolk. For some reason, I too had it in my head that this would be like the Breckland around Thetford and Swaffham. The Allies had the marsh first and the Bocage second, heading in the opposite direction, north, we took on the Bocage first. Though the voies vertes offered good gradients through the Bocage, this was not Norfolk. It was much more like Devon; deep sunken lanes, steep hills and deep valleys. We had three days to get from Romagny, near Mortain, to Cherbourg. As a family, we all agreed that, were we to do this route again, unless we were much fitter we would take twice that. There is much to see on and off the route of the Tour de Manche.


A RITUAL AND AN OMEN When an August morning dawns with a chill in the air and the woods on the far side of the valley are seen across a sea of mist, one knows that the weather is right for a ride.


Despite all this, we left Les Closeaux Phil with reluctance; such a friendly, happy, interesting place to stay. Waving good bye to Phil and Lydie, we rejoined the voie verte immediately after crossing the main road. This voie verte runs for miles northwards into the heart of the Bocage. Indeed, until this railway line was built, the area north of Mortain was generally regarded as an impenetrable and backward hinterland incapable of economic development. From this, alone we should have guessed that there was more to this area than met the eye.


Stopping to check that I have remembered my wallet a short distance after leaving last night’s accommodation is something of a ritual. Whilst we did this, we decided to divert into Mortain. This would allow us to stock up in the town and visit the waterfalls on the River Cance. Mortain was reached by a speeding descent and an immediate gut-busting climb. Not helped by a leisurely and generous breakfast, it dawned on us that there were


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