After a few practice sessions of cycle in a group and instruction on road safety when cycling in France and considerable planning, the Scout troop were nearing the date for the expedition to take place. With the final kit list and packing instructions issued, bikes serviced and checked over, and finally the itinerary for the expedition issued the Scout Troop were ready for the off and they could not wait to get started, the excitement was getting intense.
The Scouts and Scouters delivered their bikes to Skip’s house complete with all their carefully packed kit. The bikes were given a final once over check by the Scouters and then loaded in the van and other vehicle ready for an early start the next morning to the port at Portsmouth to catch the ferry to the port of Caen in Normandy, France.
The Scouts and Scouters arrived promptly at Goring Railway Station at 05h00 for an early start to the port of Portsmouth ready to catch the ferry at 08h15. Scouts were instructed to bring two small packed lunches (breakfast and midday lunch) in disposable bags and drink bottles. Scouts to wear their full Scout uniform apart from hats that are to be attached to the top of their bike pannier bags once we arrive at Portsmouth. After an easy trip down we arrived at Portsmouth with an hour before the ferry was due to leave. We unloaded the bikes and kit, kitted up the bikes that were then inspected by the Scouters, and then it started to pour with rain just as we were cycling across to the passport and custom control terminal that was all outdoors, no cover, with our rain gear packed there was no time to stop and get this out, so we did get a little wet, not a good start. Once on the ferry with bikes stowed and secured we soon dried out in the rather luxurious lounge and of course soon started on our packed breakfast. The crossing was reasonable smooth so we could all relax ready for the cycling once we arrived in Caen. However, Stitchy will not make a good sailor, shortly after leaving he became sea sick and could only find comfort by stretching out on the floor despite having taken sea sickness travel tablets.
At 15h30 we arrived in the port of Caen, and were the first to be allowed off the ferry, so we landed on French soil at 16h00 to bright sunny weather, until we reached customs control when it started to rain again, but luckily only a short shower that we soon dried out from. Cycling off along well designated cycle routes through Caen, along the side of the river estuary, until we reached ‘Pegasus Bridge’, the famous but now rebuilt bridge were so many soldiers lost their lives trying to capture.
Caen was also the scene of great fighting during the last
World War, it was almost totally destroyed but has been rebuilt
and from what we saw kept it character and charm. After 8 miles of
great cycling, it was good to be on the bikes at last, we arrived
at the first camp site at Bavent (Le Prieure) at approximately
18h00 and the daylight was beginning to fade, when to our absolute
shock the owner stated that they were full and could take no more,
despite Stitchy having booked the site and received confirmation,
after some considerable discussions the site owner finally
relented and agreed that we could camp on the grassed lawn at the
front of the site, a little cramped for all of our tents but at
least we soon were able to settle in, cook up some food, and have
a good night’s sleep.
Up early after a little overnight rain, so tents were wet that we left up as long as we could to dry out a little. Showered and washed. Breakfast prepared and eaten. Kit packed and loaded on bikes, and finally tents taken down and loaded. Bikes inspected by Scouters to ensure that they were packed safely, then pay the campsite owner and we were ready for the off again. Because we needed to reach Belleme with two days, Belleme being twinned with our village of Goring (and Streatley), in order to complete the large circular Tour-de-France that had been set, it meant that the second day we had to cycle 43 miles over ascending countryside rising 2014 feet (who said France is flat!). So with an earlish start at 09h00 we were off on the second leg of our expedition.
Following minor roads wherever possible we cycled through many small villages but unfortunately either they did not have shops or the shops were closed on Sundays so we could not purchase our lunch. Hungry we finally reached Troam, a beautiful town so very clean, free from any litter, and most important a patisserie that was open, along with a fruit shop and chemist, at last ‘food’. After a short break it was on again to the town of Argences that we reached a few hours later and ready for more food. But again being rather late on a Sunday, there were very few shops open, but a small cafe was spotted and we ordered up a hot meal fearing that it might be too late for a hot meal before reaching the next camp site and also where were we to get food to cook.
Then off again with all haste to reach our next arranged and booked camp site at Gace, and hopefully we will not have had the problem of the previous night’s camp site. We arrived at Gace (Le Pressor camp site) again late in the evening because of the distance travelled in that day, and on arrival we found no manager on site but plenty of camping areas, so we found a site to pitch our tents, good facilities at the site. The Scouts had some free time while Skip went off in search of supplies, luckily reaching the town’s shops as they were closing. With supplies purchase supper was prepared with darkness closing in fast, and the regular quarter of an hour church bell sounding, it was down with the supper, a wash or shower, and then into bed and hopefully the bells will stop, I think we were all too tired to hear them anyway.
The tents were reasonably dry this morning, not so heavy to carry. So it was breakfast, wash, pack, load bikes and again prepare for the off, with 35 miles to go before we reach Belleme with again quite an ascent of 3215 feet overall. The going was tough today after the long ride yesterday, some of the younger Scouts were flagging a bit, but we all persevered on the route taking us through the small villages of St. Gauburge-St. Colombe; then to Moulins-le-Marche; to Tourouvre and finally through the Forest of Belleme. At last we saw a signboard to Belleme. We arrived in Belleme later than planned, although we did find time to stop and have a photograph taken at the twinning entrance sign to the village of Belleme reading that Belleme was twinned with Goring-on-Thames, and later we found the road named ‘Rue de Goring-on-Thames that was very close to our camp site in Belleme(Quartier le Val).
We reached Belleme just before 08h00, just
as the supermarket was closing, luckily we were met by Jean-Pierre
from the Belleme Twinning Association, who made us very welcomed
and asked the supermarket to remain open a little longer for us in
order to gather up some supplies. We were allocated a camp site,
so with tents up and bed and kit set out for the night, it was
time to prepare supper. Tomorrow we were intending to have a rest
from cycling by going by mini-bus to Paris for the day. So a wash
or shower then off to bed, it was getting very late.
We needed to be up early this morning because the two mini-buses kindly organised by Jean-Pierre were due to collect us at 08h00 for the day trip exploring Paris. So it was up early, tidy tents, prepare the breakfast, wash and change into our uniforms ready for the mini-buses. After the two hour or so mini-bus trip to Paris we were given a guided tour of many of the tourist sites in Paris, visiting the Louvre; the Arc de Triomphe; the Effel Tower, the River Seine; and a Cathedral in the artist quarter were was a very big open air artist market. Whilst sat on the steps of the Cathedral a local artist drew a caricature picture of the total group of Scouts on the expedition that she claimed would only take 15 minutes, she was not far out and she seemed to catch the characters of each Scout to the amusement of passersby. The mini-bus drivers tour guidance and Jean-Pierre organisation provided the Scouts with a very interesting day out in beautiful sunny conditions.
Stitchy and Dominic decided that the Scout hat should be substituted with the beret (has’nt Scouting made that bad mistake before, now made worse with no head gear, God save us from these stupid changes and keep the proper head gear - the Scout Hat), oh! Sorry the French beret.
With backsides rested from saddle sores and facing the longish trip back to Belleme, it was not long before snoring could be heard on the mini-buses. The mini-bus drivers stopped on route back to allow us to pick up supplies at a supermarket because the Belleme shops would be closed by the time we arrived back at the camp site. Back at camp it was change out of uniform, prepare beds for the night, prepare supper, shower and wash, short free time and then bed ready for the next day’s cycling, the start of the return journey.
We were up, breakfasted, washed, kit stowed on our bikes, bikes checked by Scouters and ready to leave. Paid the camping fee and said farewell and very many thanks to Jean-Pierre for hosting our Scout Troop. Our only regret was that we did not have more time to spend in Belleme to get to know the village, but maybe next time. So off we set to the next camp site at the Sees (Le Clos Normand) that meant cycling a further 25 miles that seemed easy compared with the distance we had cycled over the last few days (that had turned out to have been slightly greater distances than we originally planned) again ascending so 1425 feet during this leg of the expedition.
Again cycling through the small villages of Bieves; onto Le Mele-sur-Sarthe; to Essay and onto Sees, where we arrived in good time for a change, so with tents pitched, kit unpacked there was plenty of spare time. Whilst the Scouters collected supplies from the supermarket that was just across the road from the camp site, the Scout played football, used the adventure play area and general entertained themselves. Then we held a short hike into the town of Sees, a beautiful old town with a very interesting church/cathedral that we explored, at night time the church roof and tower was lit with blue lighting that made a very interesting feature for the town. So back to camp for a luxurious supper prepared and served in a large marquee equipped with tables and chairs that campers could use whilst staying at the camp site. After supper as the evening closed in it was again time for a shower or wash and prepare for bed.
Day six of the annual cycle/camp expedition had arrived, the Scouts cycling muscles had strengthened and cycling seemed a lot easier, with 28 miles to cycle today ascending a further 1412 feet to reach the next camp site at Falaise (Camping Municipal de Falaise). Cycling through the small villages and towns of Mortree; to Argentan; onto Pierrefitte; before reaching Falaise. The weather was not kind to us today, or at least during the first part of the route, with very heavy downpours and even hailstones, forcing us to have to take shelter in hedgerows, so bad at times that visibility was so very poor, and obviously cycling in our rain gear that slowed us down rather.
En route we realised the extent of the terrible devastation that occurred in this area during the last World War, where some of the most horrendous fighting took place, with big loss of lives, there were signposts pointing to the many British War cemeteries and other nations’ cemeteries. We also discovered that Falaise is famous as the birthplace of William of Normandy (William the Conqueror), whose very dramatic and powerful statute dominates the town square, directly behind the statue stands his castle standing on the top of a large cliff/hill.
Our camp site in Falaise was situated just below the castle with excellent views up to the castle. The camp site had an amusing feature, the traditional footprint toilets with grab rails to support oneself, once you pulled the flush rope the whole floor washed down, so you had to jump for your life to avoid getting your shoes and socks drenched, found very amusing by the Scouts.
The Scouts were given free time whilst the Scouters cycled to the nearest open supermarket some 3 to 4 miles from the campsite for supplies.
It was decided that this evening we would have a barbeque with salad and crusty French bread, this was quite a treat and greatly appreciated. Once we had finished the evening meal, it then started to rain yet again, so a quick clear up and into our tents for the night. During the night it rained very heavily making for heavy soaking wet tents to be packed and carried the next day.
The last of the last long cycle ride back to the camp site near Caen, a distance of 31 miles and again ascending some 430 feet over the route to be taken today. We adventurers this is the last full day of cycling, the rain had stopped or almost stopped, the tents were soaked, the camp site was soaked, but hooray!!!, but we were dry and it looked as if the sun was going to be with us today, hopefully. So as we were up, breakfasted, wash, and bikes packed and checked, camp fees paid, it was decided that we would spend a short while in Falaise with a visit to the William the Conqueror’s (Duke of Normandy) castle. After which it was time to mount our bikes and head back towards the port at Caen, and staying one more night just outside of Caen at Ranville (Camping des Capucines).
Cycle had become second nature to walking now, for our saddle sore free hardened Scouts. One of the younger Scouts had moaned on the second day that she was not enjoying this and would not come again, when asked today, she said that she had, had a great time and cannot wait for the next cycle/camp expedition. Of course it is tough the first couple of days, particularly with the distances that we travelled with our fully kitted bikes and very young Scouts, but it just proves that real Scouts adopt the attitude ‘that when the going gets tough, then real Scouts get going’ and achieve their objectives.
So the last day of long distance cycling was now underway, the sun was shining and we were blessed with a comfortable temperature for cycling. Cycling from Falaise we cycled through the small villages and towns of St. Sylvain; onto Secqueville; to Frenouville; to Cuverville; to Escoville; and finally reaching our last night camp site was located at Ranville (Camping des Capucines). On arrival and during the last part of the route taken we found that there were no shops open for us to purchase provisions, so after finding our camp site, pitching our tents and preparing our kit for the night, we washed and put on our uniforms and cycled the two mile to the Pegasus Bridge where we had noticed two restaurants when we passed their on the first day, one restaurant was still open so we all enjoyed a sit down meal and a good fill, before having to cycle back up hill to our camp site, by then it was dark, so it was straight to bed, particularly as we had to be up at 06h00. in order to pack our kit, take down the tents, wash and change and then to cycle to the port at Caen to catch the ferry at 08h30
Of course it absolutely poured over night, to provide us with again heavy wet tents to take down and pack and carry on our bikes. Everyone was up at 06h00 except Chippy who for some reason at every camping stop had to be awakened from his loud snoring every morning, the last morning we thought that he would never wake, but alas he did. So with the very heavy rain stopping around 04h00, everyone was out of their tents at 06h00, except Chippy of course, all being very quiet so as not to disturb the other campers on the site. Kit was soon packed and loaded, bikes checked, no time for breakfast apart from a couple of biscuits, wash and change into full uniform, the camp fee had already been paid the evening before, so we were ready for the off, and cycling the 4 miles to the port at Caen, all downhill (no ascents, hooray!), via Pegasus Bridge, and following the same cycle track that we came along on the first day, it was very exhilarating cycling on the flat at this early hour of the morning, so we arrived at the port in good time. Passing through Passport Control we were positioned at the front of the queuing traffic and allowed to be first to board the ferry. With bikes and kit stowed, and secured on the car deck we quickly proceeded to the lounges to find a group of loungers altogether to accommodate us all, being first on this was not a problem. Once at sea the Scouts were given an allowance to purchase their breakfast. After which it was a case of dropping of to sleep in a multitude of different and hilarious poses ~ some with their under their coats, some flat out, some screwed up in a ball, and some with their mouths wide open and snoring I dare say, but it had been a energetic week but we all felt far fitter for it
So very well done all Scouts and Scouters taking part - see you all on next year’s cycle/camp expedition.
On arriving back in Portsmouth 13h15 noon, we retrieved our bikes and kit, disembarked, and once out of the port we were met by some parents assisting with transport, we collected the van and car left in the port carpark, all the bikes and kit was loaded in and on the vehicles and then it was homeward bound, arriving back at Goring Railway Station to meet up with the other parents at 15h30.
What a great time we had.