Mist to Sun, Skirting Mont-Saint-Michel into Avranches

Le Mont-Saint-Michel from afar!

Dave the motorhome’s resting in the cool early September air, high up above the Bay of Mont-Saint-Michel, at a free motorhome aire in Avranches (N48.68674 W1.36816). It’s busy here, all the ‘official’ spaces are full, and the car park adjacent has also filled up with motorhomes; it’s clearly still high season as far as les campingcaristes are concerned!

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A familiar sight across La France, the motorhome aire sign at Avranches.
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Free spaces are at a premium in the aire here in Avranches!

We woke this morning to clouds, the sky grey and even threatening rain. What the blazes? We’ve had so much wonderful weather over the months we’ve been roaming, even a few clouds and 20-odd degrees temperatures count as bad weather. Not to worry though, as the day wore on the sun burned through and we’ve ended the day with a clear blue sky, huzzah!

Packing up the vans, and munching through a pastry-based brekafast (in which Paul was short-changed, finding his Chuasson Au Pommes was apple-less!) I took Charlie out for a walk all of 5 minutes to the beach. Ignoring the no-dogs signs since the locals were too, and as no-one was braving the sunless sands, the wee fella had a good old sniff of the place and a leg stretch. With the pooch processed, we threw the last stuff into the vans and hit the road, planning to meet up here in Avranches. Rose and Paul wanted to see the world famous Mont-Saint-Michel, the incredible church-fortress which stands out in the huge Atlantic bay facing out towards the Channel Isles. We’d already been there a few years ago in our Talbot Express-based panel van, and had gotten wind of the fact the huge car park in front of the island was no more, and it was a €20 per 24 hit to park in the new and distant parking area. As those guys have a car, we could all easily park here for free, and they could nip off down to the island while we did something else.

The draw of the Mont is strong though. Eyeballing the map we could see a slight detour would take us along the coast and past the bay, so we’d at least get a distant view of it. Through small villages and towns, all grey stone and slate, the outline of the Mont had been appropriated by every man and his dog as we drove. According to the Tourist Info stuff here in Avranches, the Mont is the most popular pilgrim site in Western Europe, which seems a stretch, after visiting the inundated Vatican City. One of the tiny towns on the route had decided to tap into the passing traffic with a fabulous converted windmill, behind which a free aire stood. We pulled in, emptied Dave’s tanks and climbed the tower for a view out over the town and the mud flats of the bay.

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Dave from above!
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There are soooo many books and websites of places to park, and they’ve all got their own stickers slapped on the service points.
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The converted moulin (mill). Inside was a set of backlit screens showing what panoramic view you’d get from the top – maybe for folks unable to walk the steps.
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The French LOVE local grub, and word is this part of the country’s known for ‘salt lamb’, which has grown up eating salty stuff from the flats. We dunno if these count as lambs, or if that’s salt flats!
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Cruising through towns which felt like those in Yorkshire, complete with grey skies (sorry Yorkshire, couldn’t help it)
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Eh? What’s the Mont got to do with used cars?
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There were tons of campsites and aires along the coast here, and we waved at tons of motorhomes passing us too.

Finally the greyed-out silhouette of the Mont appeared, like a memory on the horizon. Much closer to the road and miles from the Mont, the new car park popped up. We didn’t know it, but we could have nipped in for 30 mins free of charge to get a look at the island. Maybe other folks didn’t know either, or didn’t fancy the eye-watering €12 car parking charge, as they’d found a great free spot just a short walk away. Rose and Paul found it later on too. Further up the road we used a lay-bye to photo the shades of grey.

Le Mont-Saint-Michel from afar!
Le Mont-Saint-Michel from afar!

As we pulled off heading east a young couple of hitch-hikers, both leaping about and showing far more enthusiasm than the average thumbers had us doing a U turn to pick them up. Only the second set of hitch hikers in 2 years to make it into Dave (the first was a totally bushed French couple in Morocco), we asked where they were heading. ‘Boulogne’ came the reply. Only thing was, we mis-heard, they weren’t heading for the Channel Port, they were heading for their home town in Poland, after hitching all the way to Barcelona, wow, Polish folks know how to have an adventure on a seriously thin budget. We dropped them off only 10 or 15km later, near to a fast road and hoping they’d get a decent lift from a long distance lorry or some such as they need to be home in 3 days.

Into Avranche satnav directed us up a ‘you gotta be joking’ tight and high road to the aire. Ignoring the thing and giving it the evil eye, we drove around the corned to an easy entrance way and pulled into one of the last official spots. Paul and Rose got the last one and everyone since then has baggsied unofficial car parking places. After a spot of mix-it-up lunch, they set off in the car for the Mont and we walked Avranches.

The town here sits at the Western edge of the Cherbourg peninsula, and was famously liberated a couple of months after D-Day in WW2 by General Patton. He’d later push on into Germany and would die in 1945 following a car crash. A monument called Patton Square stands to him behind huge Stars and Stripes flags, oddly named as it’s on a roundabout.

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As the sun beat down we walked the town, a pleasant place to be. It must have taken a beating in the war, but sections of medieval-looking street still stand, overshadowed by a gargoyle-clad cathedral which sports the most enormous clam shells as holy water holders.

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So the story goes, the chap charged with building Mont-Saint-Michel didn’t knock the place up fast enough so an archangel poked a hole in his skull, to, erm, speed him up?
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The last time we saw this sculpture it was the real thing (this one’s a copy), in St Peter’s Basilica.

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We’re in Normandy now, the sky resting on steep slate roofs.

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Avranches was the start of a Tour de France stage this year.
Avranches was the start of a Tour de France stage this year.

Avranches also holds the claim to fame as the place where a King of England (and Duke of Normandy) once apologised for killing the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett. This is reputed to be the spot where he asked for forgiveness, not sure who from though!

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Back in Dave we met up again with Rose and Paul and have spent the afternoon and evening sharing stories of the past and dreams of the future, which included a line of conversation I’ll never forget. Talking about their future travel plans in Oz, they were thinking through the options aloud: “yeah, we’ll need something off the ground ’cause of the crocs”. Awesome. Come a lull in the conversation, a decision was made we should have an early night. “Hmmm, what time is it?”, “Half eleven”, “Not that early then!”.

The plan for tomorrow is to head for Honfleur, a place we’ve been to or near a few times, always meaning to go see but never making it. Bring it on.

Cheers, Jay

P.S. A heartfelt ‘thanks’ to everyone who’s dropped us an email or left a comment on the blog the past few days to say thanks for us writing all this stuff. Several of you have told us you’ve been inspired to head off yourselves as a result of what we’ve written, which is exactly what we hoped we might achieve. We’re proud of ourselves for committing to write down what we’ve done, and more proud of any of you who takes the leap, to kick off your own travels, to see the world your way. Go, go, go.

 

 

Seven years later we visit Honfleur and a film festival
Another chilled out day in Rotheneuf, France
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4 Comments

  1. Well done
    I’ve loved reading your journal
    Looking forward to your next adventure whenever and wherever and our own to start next year I hope
    Good luck with your job search
    Paul

    Paul

  2. Best wishes from us too. We only ‘joined’ you part way through this year but have found your blog informative, interesting and funny. Having kept our own small blog I can really appreciate the time involved in researching the places, sorting the photos, grappling with the wi-fi and am in awe of the commitment you have put into your great blog over the past 2 years. Good luck in the job searches……

  3. Hee hee I’m another one. After 40 years of living in southern Africa I have just renewed my Brit passport and am making plans to sell up here and return to see some of GB and Europe. Not in a small way because of your experiences and the glorious photos that you have posted, thank you for the inspiration.

  4. We have followed you too every night with admiration of what you are doing. We have now got our own Dave and are trying to pluck up courage to get off the hamster wheel. What stops us going is the coming back! So looking forward to seeing how you manage! We have enjoyed sharing your adventure.

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