A visit to the D-Day beaches.
Never ones for lying around on beaches, we thought we would have an altogether different beach experience this summer. Jo’s father, Geoff Bulless, was one of many brave lads bobbing around off the Normandy coastline on June 6th, 1944 and Jo had long harboured the desire to stand on Juno Beach and get a feeling of what it must have been like for him, a mere twenty years old and poised to take part in the biggest invasion ever undertaken.
We had just six days to squeeze as much in as possible so efficient planning was vital, much as it had been 70 years ago. We decided to cross the channel using the same route they had, choosing Brittany Ferries sailing from Portsmouth to Caen. This had the great advantage of landing us a grenades throw from the beaches and avoided the long slog south from Calais. The next important decision was where to camp. The web site, ukcampsite extends its reviews to campsites in France and beyond. We needed somewhere central to all the relevant beaches, yet away from the crowds that may fill the coastal sites. There were a few options, but the best appeared to be Camping Des Trois Rivieres in Creully, about 10 km inland and from a virtual drive around on Google Streetview, it looked delightful!
Next job was to prepare the Carawagon. This is the thick end of a days work and not to be taken lightly; flush out and refill the fresh water tank, stock up the food and clothes cupboards, fill the fridge and check that all the gizmo’s are working. With the Land Rover packed and ready to roll the final job was to load our little Honda C90 onto the small trailer and head for Portsmouth. The combo of Carawagon and small motorbike have liberated us from having to pack up camp every time we want to go anywhere. The Carawagon stays put and we potter around on the Honda. Perfect!
Caen was easily negotiated and the campsite was just half an hours drive away so we arrived by mid morning and had the pick of the pitches. Having so much choice meant we could give a lot of thought to exactly where to go - how far from the showers? shade of a tree, or sunshine? the sacrifice of a slight slope to gain a view? The shade issue was more than just a desire to keep the rig cool. The fridge runs very efficiently from solar panels on the roof and with too much shade, the beers may not be chilled. Too much sun and the fridge has to work harder in the hot Land Rover interior, but with a white towel over it this has worked okay in the past. Also, unusually, we were intending to stay put for five nights so having a good pitch assumed a new importance.
After a great deal of deliberation we chose Pitch 23 which offered a good compromise. Shade in the morning, sun all afternoon and a good view. All we had to do was put everything up on the ever expanding Carawagon micro village. To gain more space we bought an OzTent last year that attaches to the near side of the Land Rover. With the ad line ‘a 30 second erection’, who could resist? What the ad neglects to tell you is that if you succumb to the whole package with additional ground sheet, side panels and a flysheet it actually takes the best part of 30 minutes to get it all spot on. Then there is the original 1970 Carawagon awning to attach to the rear, the Honda to unload, etc. etc. An hour later we were ready for our 5 nights of Landy Glamping!
Juno Beach is now a popular French holiday destination and was dotted with families enjoying the weather and playing all the usual beach games, but behind the beach lurk many reminders of how different this scene would have looked on D-Day. The remains of concrete gun emplacements are there for all to see and have become part of the Juno Beach Museum. The guide explained that the land had changed shape over the last 70 years and described the view Jo’s Dad would have had from his little gunboat out at sea where he was instructed to try and immobilise one of these very posts.
We both found it incredibly moving imagining what it must have felt like to be just twenty years of age and facing the real life scenes depicted so well in Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day. Whilst never wishing to glorify war, we should never forget what these brave and innocent lads gave in the pursuit of our freedom. God bless them all.
Toby and Jo travelled with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Caen saving a 450 mile toll road return journey from Calais and camped at Camping Des Trois Rivieres in Creully for just € 62.50 (£53.50) for 5 nights.
The Carawagon liberates Pegasus Bridge to gain access to the Cotenin Peninsula!
Toby and Jo’s Carawagon demonstrating the new OzTent ‘West Wing’ and original 1970 Carawagon awning.
Toby Savage August 2013