Normandy redux

26th September 2003

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel

We went expecting sun, sand, blue skies, and a heat haze over winding country roads... We also had thick choking fog, minimal visibility and soaking wet roads. Normandy in September exhibited a real ‘three season’ environment, which was endured - no mastered! - by eleven intrepid travellers braving all on their mighty chromed steeds.

This was the follow-on from last year’s successful Normandy landing but due to the unforgiving schedules of television programming we were eleven in number instead of the planned twelve - Conor McAnally, you were sorely missed (at least with Nick Pages’s choice of restaurants we could have divided the bill by 12 instead of 11!).

We met up on Thursday night at Portsmouth, in time to catch the late boat. The plan mentioned 9pm but I managed to get there at 7pm and had quite a wait before the reassuring distant rumble indicated the arrival of friends and fellow H.O.G. members. At least it put an end to an increasingly incomprehensible conversation with some sports bike riders who were off to Le Mans to play with their knee sliders (I think!).

John Warr

The travelling band was elite, but not elitist; Chelsea & Fulham’s finest protagonists, intent on burning rubber as well as money. Road Captain Peter ‘Scottie’ Scott and all three road marshals were present, so we expected to make good progress throughout the weekend. John Warr was there in person to control the exuberance of his assistant chapter directors, Nick ‘The Cigar’ Page and Colin Houliston. Scottie managed to find himself a jobs-worth between check-in and embarkation, when, in a brief moment of inattention, he imagined himself back in Milwaukee and rode ‘sans casque’. Unfortunately I was not present to witness the bottom-feeder threatening to call the police unless Scottie immediately donned his ‘protectif’, so I could not respond with “Yes, what do you want?” Scottie was using Nick’s T-Sport, as his own is still making its way back from the USA, so he had the joy of a weekend on a bike that (a) handles, (b) has ground clearance, and (c) makes absolutely no noise whatsoever! He still looked COOL though.

So on we got, and the deck chappies tied everything down, and the bar chappies served drinks, and the food chappies served food, and the shop chappies sold us things, and then we ate a meal. (ed. what's with all the chappies?) And, verily the food was fine, and the wine was flavoursome, and the liqueurs were welcoming; and then we all went off to sleep anticipating a fine day tomorrow, looking forward to that Autumnal sunshine.

Off the ferry into the fog. Oh, how we laughed. Visibility was down to 50 metres in places, and it was cold and we soon got pretty wet. The priority was getting to Caen and dropping off the bags and having breakfast, so straight down the motorway, over the Pont de Normandie (almost invisible in the fog).

Fortunately the hotel was easy to find (even for those of us who got left behind in the fog) and they were still serving breakfast. The rooms were soon ready, so luggage deposited and the inner person satisfied we set off for the day’s run to Mont St. Michel. Colin was leading the way and had sorted out some excellent swoopy country roads.

Chelsea & Fulham H.O.G.

Mont Saint-Michel

Provided the journey is good enough, it can make up for a disappointing destination, and so it proved with an outburst of terrible tourist tat within the setting of a Disney castle. 15 minutes of that was enough, but on leaving we discovered a puncture in the rear wheel of David Phillips’ Road King. Leaving those with pretensions to mechanical aptitude to scratch heads and formulate strategies, the rest of us had lunch. A number of phone calls later, and a visit to the Honda dealer in Granville in search of a tyre (pleasant, but unable to help) the Chapter made its way back to Caen in small groups - JW and the Phillips brothers with patched up tyre via the slow southern route, Scottie, Colin, Steve ‘Smiley’ Beauchamp and I via the motorway, and the others by whatever route they used.

The motorway crew discovered an immediate snag - it was shut! Something unpleasant and probably gory had just occurred and the Gendarmerie were still setting up diversions, donning fluorescent jackets etc. and all the traffic was diverted onto a two lane blacktop which was already solid for miles. Oh, how we laughed AGAIN! Scottie then gave us the ‘extended and progressive filtering lesson’ which included the ‘spot the unsignalled left turn’ and ‘Brakes Brakes Brakes Oh S*)t’ lessons, as well as the dangerously advanced ‘smiling at young lady Gendarmes’ module. Eventually we got back onto the motorway and rocketed back to Caen at steady 75 to 85 mph; formation flying at its finest.

Once back in Caen we all met up at our ‘local’, the pavement café next to the hotel. After a much needed couple or three of beers, ablutions occurred and then it was off to find food. At Andy Reynold’s recommendation, we went for local colour - 11 of us squeezed around a table which would have been challenging for eight and were fed on giant boiled pigs knuckle. The laughter was by now uncontrollable.

As soon as we reasonably could, we escaped back to the bar and remained there until Monsieur made some feeble excuse about having a home to go to and having to get up in the morning. Ah, sweet dreams.

Saturday dawned again cold and foggy; first appointment was at the Caen Harley dealers to get the tyre replaced. All foreign Harley dealers have silly names, and it was to ‘Asphalt Spirit’ that we were led. With their in-house chapter clubhouse! The sun was out soon enough and we soaked up the rays and looked cool between buying tee shirts and drinking coffee until the Road King was eventually declared fit and we could get on with the day. The plan was for sun, sea and Calvados. Irresistible! After several circuits of the hypermarket car-park we set off towards the coastal resorts along an increasingly congested road. There were no safe overtaking opportunities with a string of eleven bikes, although that did not stop the elderly driver of a silver Renault attempting to overtake the pack, failing and forcing his way back in. He eventually ran into Smiley’s rear number plate but fortunately did not cause any damage, other than to the entente cordiale. The ‘special relationship’ was further tried by a surly lunch waiter at a pavement café in ‘trés snob’ Deauville, who despite taking many of our Euros could not be pleasant. Mind you, the view was improved by the young lady disrobing and re-robing in a Renault 5 opposite, not that we watched, of course.

Escape from Deauville led us to the Calvados factory of Père Magloire at Pont l’Evêque. To qualify for the tasting and the shop necessitated enduring the factory tour, which commenced with a fetishist video, apparently about apple blossom, during which several members of the party (JW) disgraced themselves with unseemly giggling. We then patiently endured a blow by blow account of how Calvados is produced before being allowed to try and buy - and depart in search of some windy country roads. These were duly found and much enjoyment was had by all until we stopped for beer prior to dropping in on Andy Reynold’s 40th birthday party at his little Norman pied-à-terre.

Andy Reynolds

NICE TIE - birthday boy!

His barbecue was in full swing and he was just about to serve up to his proper guests, so hunger pangs drove us back to Caen at a good speed. Rendezvousing at the café which had now become firmly established as our local, we progressed to the best fish restaurant in Caen where we got well fed up and agreeably drunk until the wee small hours.

Sunday was the day I had promised to lead, so it was with some trepidation that I waited for people to finish checking out and loading their bikes. Everyone was in fact on time so at almost exactly the promised 10.30am we were off. The outline plan involved eating lunch in St. Mere Eglise so I had booked a restaurant there for 1pm (with the help of the receptionists, my French is not that good!) and this gave us two milestones for the day, the other being check-in time at the ferry of 5.45pm (French time). First stop was of course petrol, achieved with some aplomb. (Spot the pun?) I then could not find my way out of Caen - eventually ‘The Cigar’ (oh, the shame) spotted the correct road sign and we were off along the N13 to Bayeux, a beautiful town which we did not have time to visit on this occasion. From Bayeux it was straight up to the coast to Arromanches, site of one of the Mulberry harbours built shortly after D-Day, and of which large chunks are still visible just off shore. We had a half-hour coffee and museum stop and had group photos taken on an anti-aircraft gun with the C&F banner.

From there it was off along one of my all-time personal favourite biking roads, the N514 to Grand-Camp Maisy. This is a combination of small picturesque villages (50 km/h limit) linked with flat-out blasts with many exciting s-bends, frequently totally blind. Add in a soupçon of Belgian registered camper vans as well as local traffic and stir - great fun. We then dropped down onto the N13 and flew up to St Mere Eglise, arriving at the correct restaurant just after 1pm, for a meal which was more Captain Birdseye than Michelin star, but quite acceptable.

After lunch, and with one eye always on the time, we went into St Mere Eglise and parked on the town square right outside the church and immediately below the dummy parachutist suspended from the steeple, in remembrance of Private Steele who landed there at 12.30am on the morning of D-Day. It was tacky but affecting. Scottie made a friend for life on meeting a member of the local HOG chapter and promising the exchange of chapter badges. From there it was down to Utah beach, where those assembled took the air and examined the view over the sands in front of Blockhouse W5 which has now been built into a museum. Around 24,000 men came ashore here on D-Day with less than 200 casualties, so this was the least bloody of all the landing beaches, and quite a few of the German defenders survived as well to be made prisoner. There were some tanks and landing craft on display for those with Private Ryan inclinations.

Not much left to relate really - a tremendous blast back up the minor roads via Quettehou and Barfleur (beautiful old fishing town, ideal spot for a beer/coffee stop) and into Cherbourg in time to wait for the ferry.


Unfortunately the later boat had broken down with irreparable engine trouble so we waited around in case any of those passengers turned up. And on our arrival in the UK, we were greeted with - more fog!

Overall, a really good weekend. Great roads, excellent food, top company. Minimum mechanical mayhem. Eleven Harleys at full chat, being ridden as their makers intended, chrome glinting in the unrelenting sun, riders becoming as one with the countryside flashing past. Oh gosh, I enjoyed myself.

See you next year

Michael Howers - C&F Road Captain