A day of cycling along the Seine to the Normandy Coast
Jumièges was lovely – a ruined Benedictine Abbey set in delightful surroundings, with a handful of restaurants, hotels and bakeries. We enjoyed an aperitif in a local bar (Abbey beer for the Captain, Crémant for the Stoker) before a simple meal of steak frites. On leaving the (very friendly) restaurant they told us there would be fireworks later. Sadly (but inevitably) we were fast asleep by the time they started.
The day dawned, cloudy and slightly wet, and pleasantly cool. Our muscles felt fine after a night of rest, and we enjoyed a quiet breakfast (with excellent bread) before returning to our room to pack the panniers. As always we checked the room at least three times to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, then we pedalled away.
Straight away we had a short sharp climb out of Jumièges, but we felt strong and it seemed to pass quickly. We passed a group of motorcyclists by the side of the road, preparing for a day out, and waving cheerily in our direction.
Our first port of call was the ferry at Yainville, for our final crossing of the Seine. Everything looked much the same as the previous ferries – flashing red lights and signs warning us not to cycle off the quay. Here, though, as we approached, things began to look a little different. The main difference was the distinct lack of a ferry. It wasn’t on our side of the river, and we certainly couldn’t see it on the opposite bank. Undaunted, the Stoker dismounted to look at the sign. Ouvert Chaque Jours, it proudly announced. We were confused. Perhaps they had detected that we came from “Perfidious Albion” and hidden the ferry? Let’s face it, we couldn’t blame them for feeling rejected at the moment. Reading on, in smaller letters it was revealed that from 2008 onwards chaque jours meant Monday to Saturday only. Today is Sunday.
Not to worry – a quick look at the map revealed that we could cycle north alongside the river to the Pont de Brotonne, a few kilometres away. It would add perhaps 7km to the journey – not too bad in the circumstances. So we headed off on a fast main road, thankfully quiet. After a while we were passed by the same group of motorcyclists we’d spotted earlier – each one greeted us with a different air horn as he passed – clearly a cheerful bunch!
We were following one of the boucles of the Seine – wide meanders, bordered by forests, with occasional stark white chalk cliffs – rather beautiful and generally unspoiled. As we neared the bridge we began to wonder how we would climb up to it – the bridge is a high, elegant suspension bridge. It became apparent that we would have to turn “inland” for a kilometre and then around a hairpin bend before a long, steady climb onto the bridge deck. When we’d achieved that we were rewarded with spectacular views in both directions along the Seine. It was really windy up there too, though, so we were relieved to descend to the rive gauche and rejoin our original planned route.
Our route now took us south towards Bourneville (no dark chocolate being manufactured here, as far as we could tell). We passed through the attractive village before climbing steadily onto a plateau, only around 150 metres high, mainly afforested, with some quiet cycle paths and minor roads. We stayed on top of the plateau for some time – the roads were undulating but made for very pleasant riding.
Normandy’s villages, so far, have been strikingly lovely. Houses either half-timbered, or with flints in the walls, often with thatched roofs. Along the top of the roof-line of each thatched roof would be a line of what appeared to be sedums inter-planted with lilies – something we’ve never seen before. Every town and village seemed to be very well kept indeed.
By now our legs were informing us that it was time to stop for lunch, so we duly descended steeply into Pont-Audemer, quite a large town, chosen earlier as a potential lunch spot because it had at least one restaurant which was open on a Sunday. The restaurant was a pizzeria – to be honest we wouldn’t normally choose pizza for lunch, but on this occasion we deserved it, we thought. The captain scanned the menu for a Pizza Savoyarde – France’s finest contribution to Italian cuisine! It wasn’t there, but he spotted a Pizza Tartiflette – perfect!
Only twenty eight or so kilometres remained, and we set off, refreshed, in the direction of Honfleur. We’d left the plateau behind now, but the roads were undulating all afternoon, through quiet bucolic villages, heading down a green valley towards the estuary of the Seine. The sun came out just as we spotted the slow brown waters of the estuary to our right. Soon after that we saw the high suspension bridge at Honfleur and knew that we were approaching our destination.
The outskirts of Honfleur were uncharacteristically tatty, but we dropped down towards the central harbour area – much more like it. Taking one look at our sweaty, weary faces our host at the hotel joked that she had allocated us a room on the fourth floor! In reality though, it is on the first, above a bustling street leading towards the harbour.
Tomorrow we head to Lion-sur-Mer, via Pegasus Bridge and parts of the Normandy landing beaches. Our country fought proudly alongside others to oppose fascism on those beaches. Food for thought.
Click here to see today’s route.