1975: France – August 23, Lez-Eaux

Chateau Lez-Eaux by G Hague and M Hague

Fine sunny day fortunately, so we went ahead with the plans for a lazy time on the beach. Did some washing, breakfasted outside and then went to Jullouville to do our shopping. As we got out of the car, delicious whiffs of baking bread greeted us, and the smells continued to the gorgeous patisserie where there were some super cakes and tarts, so we each chose a tart – 2 plum, a peach, a pineapple, and a pear.

Lovely food shops in Jullouville, clean, beautiful fish/meat/charcuterie/cakes and a great variety available. Bought pâté, pork, peaches, tomatoes and then continued on to Carolles to the beach.

Spent a nice lazy day here, though it did get a bit chilly in the afternoon when it clouded over. Children didn’t go in the water as it was too cold but played various games instead. Large numbers of people trotting out the the wet sands with enormous codding nets. As we ate our lunch a young gendarme in T-shirt and shorts came and told it was forbidden to eat on the beach. This was news to us – no sign telling one about it anywhere, but it did explain why we had never seen anyone eating on the beach. As we had nearly finished it didn’t matter too much.

Came home at 6.00ish and ate a large tea of hors d’oeuvres, beef stew, rice, courgettes, and then the tarts which were every bit as delicious as they looked, and the whole meal went down very well.

Children spent the evening playing table tennis while we chatted to a couple who are on the way to the Dordogne with their caravan. Eventually went to bed about about 11pm feeling rested and cheerful.

The little garden house at Lez-Eaux by Gareth Hague and Mary Hague

1975: France, Aug 22 – Lez-Eaux

Weather cool and bright, a fair wind and clouds blowing briskly. After breakfast set off for Coutances which we reached at about 10.15 and did some shopping – super food shops there and quite difficult to make a choice. Bought some cooked veal and cooked pork and a quiche lorraine at a charcuterie, then went on to the abbey. This was really beautiful, pale stone, Gothic, very light and airy with an octagonal tower and some lovely glass. None of the nasty oppressive darkness you often get, and the whole atmosphere was just right. Somehow it had escaped the bombing, though they obviously lost some glass.

Afterwards bought stamps and some Normandy stickers and located the fish market – an oval building full of delicious smells and equally delicious fish. Bought 15 fresh sardines and some prawns, much of the food quality fish is a terrifying price. Also got a kilo of peaches. We liked Coutances – it is a very attractive little hill top town, dominated by the great abbey.

Drove on to Lessay, a small place with a Romanesque Abbey, very plain and solid in pale golden stone, with great square pillars and windows of pale modern glass in interlacing patterns. The children thought it too plain but thought it was lovely. Did some more shopping and then drove on to Carteret, a little port where the boats for Jersey leave. Bought some frites and then parked ourselves on an enormous golden beach overlooking Jersey which must have been about 5 miles off. Only drawback was the strong wind which blew a lot of sand about. The cooked meats were delicious, and the quiche, and we managed to open our bottle of wine by pushing the cork in (not having our corkscrew!). Finished up with juicy peaches. Gareth collected some shells including some little cowries.

Went on to Cherbourg and finally located the museum up on the Fort du Roule overlooking the town. This was a German defence, captured by the Americans and now full of interesting exhibits. Lots of maps showing the D-Day landings and German retreat, and a great many guns, flags, uniforms, photos, etc. All of us found it fascinating, there was so much to look at. Down in the French room there was an urn of ashes from the concentration camps, a very sobering reminder; children were quite subdued.

Down the hairpin bends and on to Barfleur, a fishing village on the east of the peninsula and very pretty. Then on down the sandy coast to St Vaast la Hougue, another oyster centre, and on to Utah Beach. This is an immense beach with sand dunes backing it, and the museum is at the southern end in a former German blockhouse. Around it are tanks, guns, landing craft, etc. ecstasy from the boys! Fortunately the museum was open till 7pm (it was then 6.0) so in we went. Again lots of maps, guns, photos telling the story – over 800,000 men were landed here as it went on being the main arrival and departure point after the first landings, and was used a great deal in connection with Cherbourg. Saw a film with narration by a German soldier who had been on duty in the blockhouse, and an American who had been amongst the first to land. The went up into the actual blockhouse and saw several dioramas of the landings – it must have been a tremendous operation, with the sand, the flooded marshes behind, and the vast numbers involved. Saw the war memorial, and then drove on along the Liberation route to Carentan. From here we went home via Coutances.

Cooked the fresh sardines in butter, parsley and lemon juice, had a bottle of white wine and a tomato salad with them and enjoyed the result very much. Another late meal of course, but enjoyed all the more when we got it! Went to bed fairly exhausted after a very interesting day.

1975: France – Aug 21, Lez-Eaux

Dreadful thunderstorm during the night, about 3am. Worried about Sarah and Gareth in the little tent so David went out (in his swimming trunks!) to check, only to find Sarah perfectly cheerful and all well. Rain was torrential, like hurling buckets of water, and we were very pleased the little tent stood up to it so well.

After breakfast, wrote up holiday books and then went to Avranches. Visited the Jardin des Plantes, a very French botanical garden where the flowers were arranged in small beds as much for the effect of the pattern as anything – a lovely butterfly made from small coloured leaf plants for instance. Attractive children’s playground with slide, thatched house and paddling pool. Superb views of the Mont St Michel and the winding river mouth through the sands.

Drove on to Pontaubault for lunch and looked first at the Hotel des 13 Assiettes. Their 14Fr menu was very dull – the pièce de résistence was the 13 assiettes for 90Fr, imagine eating 13 courses! Anyway, we drove on the Relais Routiers le Mouton Blanc. Here the menu was a lot better, so in we went, the place was crammed so we went to an extension and that was soon full too. Ate pâté, oufs mayonnaise or jambon, followed by boeuf bourguignon or steak and chips which went down very well with Andrew! Finished up with ice cream and coffee, it was all very nice and very reasonable.

Continued to Mont St Michel and parked the car at the roadside. Walked along the causeway admiring the splendid view, the abbey perched on the top and the village clustered round the eastern edge. Entered through the gateway, and wham! commercialisation hit us. The place was crammed with tourists, shopkeepers and restaurants. The loos were 50 centimes each person (and they hoped for a tip which, needless to say, they didn’t get). Fought or way up the little street, lined with souvenir shops containing mostly revolting wares. Saw the famous restaurant Mère Poulard – the omelette queen. There the cheap menu was 50Fr, with omelettes as part of the menu of course. We saw the kitchens with people beating eggs like fury in copper bowls with wire whisks. Pressed on up the street to the abbey – 5Fr each to go in, so we decided not to. Saw various parts which were open, so we could get quite a good idea of the rest. It is very depressing, though not unexpected, so see such rampant commercialisation which has been going on for centuries!

Having seen most of what we wanted, we left the Mont – I think really it is most beautiful from a distance where you don’t see the ugly side. Wind very powerful as we walked along the causeway and the car parks which were below high tide levels were due to be flooded at 18:00 hrs – I bet there’s a rush to get away.

Went on to visit the Abbey de la Lucerne near Sartilly, and now we were in a different world, surrounded by fields and woods, green and peaceful, and reminiscent of fountains. The church is gradually being restored, and some bits of the abbey still remain including an enormous circular dove cote, now roofless but very impressive still.

Returned to the camp site and had a scrambled egg tea, the children played table tennis and we read and wrote some postcards. Weather quite a lot cooler tonight and nip in the air.

NB Cooked the remains of Andrew’s steak with onions and it went down very well.

1975: Aug 20 – Lez-Eaux, France

A fine night, for a change, and pleasantly sunny so we breakfasted outside. After writing up the holiday books and after I’d done a load of washing, we set out to spend a day on the beach.

Drove down the back lanes to Carolles, where we did our shopping for lunch – 2 kinds of pâté at the butchers, and noted the location of the Relais Routiers which served moules marinières at any time, a fact which we stored in our memories.

Arrived at the beach and settled ourselves with all the impediments – lunch bag, clothes bag, books, lotions etc. Tide was well out, and a large expanse of sand and rocks stretched away to the green sea. Quite a lot of people about, sitting under their umbrellas. Children took the boat down to the sea and the surf board and spend some time out there.

Ate our lunch – pâté was delicious – and had the fizzy cider which was very pleasant. After lunch the children went down to the rocks and spent a considerable time collecting shrimps, little fish and crabs in a pool they had made. The water was very warm in these pools, too warm for some of the creatures I should think. Went to the sea for a bathe, it was lovely, and Gareth consented to get in the water and bounce up and down as the waves came in. He still doesn’t like the water much though, and is very careful about what he is prepared to risk.

We came out, Andrew and Sarah stayed in, and had a super time surfing, swimming out to the raft and diving in, and diving into the waves. I should think they spent half the day in the water, it’s a wonder their skins weren’t shrivelled and horrible. Lots of groups of children about from colonies de vacances, they make an enclosed area in the sea for them with enormous lines of floats – we couldn’t understand what these things were for ages!

Eventually we packed up and left to go up to the Relais Routier. Here we had steak and chips (Andrew and Sarah) and moules marinières (rest of us) plus cider, and it was all very tasty, and we were certainly ready for it. Arrived back at the camp site at about 7pm and the children went off to play table tennis. Had a bacon tea at about 8pm and then David and I read until about 10.30, the children having gone at about 8.30.

NB Mussels are raised on vertical poles which are planted out in the bay at regular intervals.

Sarah’s note: if I tried to get my kids to bed at 8.30 today they would just laugh hilariously.

1975: 19 Aug, Lez-Eaux, France

Poured with rain during the night and was still wet at breakfast time, so decided it perhaps wasn’t a very good day for sitting on the beach all day. Planned a trip to St. Malo instead, and set off for Avranches where we stopped for a walk around. Quite nice hill-top town with lots of flowers about, and a deafening noise from building workers re-building a shop. Found a camping shop and got a bung for the beat there, so the children can now use the boat. Also found a good bookshop and looked at lots of fascinating books including one about cats in French, so we naturally looked up ‘Siamois’ and ‘Burmese brun’.

Drove on into Brittany, through fields of maize and pasture with increasing numbers of fields of broccoli, cabbage and onions as we went west. Took the road down to the coast, past people selling garlic and passed lots of stalls selling moules and other shellfish including clams. Several disused granite windmills along the coast which was a very shallow bay with lots of fishing nets out in it.

Stopped at Cancale for our lunch which we ate on a seat overlooking the harbour. Air very mild, and delightful view right across the bay beautiful. Had tinned salmon and rosé wine, very nice. Walked around after and saw the oyster beds with little stalls selling lots of varieties of oyster – some round, some long, some enormous, called ‘horses feet’ and 3Fr50 each! Srah bought one oyster at 1Fr and ate it, but I don’t think she really liked it, but of course she wouldn’t admit it. Every restaurant in Cancale was crammed with lunch eaters, looked enviously at the piles of moules marinières, oysters, fish, steak, bottles of wine, etc. Prices were horrifying needless to say!

Drove on to the Pinte du Groin past some lovely bays with emerald water, sandy beaches and pine trees. Stopped at the Pointe – a rocky headland with islands and crashing surf on the rocks. Really lovely view towards the Isles Chausey and across to the west, and the air was gorgeous.

On the way to St Malo passed some more lovely bays and stopped at one for a bathe as we were all feeling hot and sticky. Very powerful waves crashing in, beautifully refreshing. Sarah and Andrew had the surf board and the boat, and had a very good time. The beach was sandy, but quite coarse gritty sand, and shelved quite steeply.

Finally drove on to St Malo which has lots of nice beaches but the most revolting traffic in which we were stuck for hours. Found a space eventually and got out and walked around the town which is mostly re-built – it obviously was of tremendous importance during the was. Very narrow streets and pavements, several souvenir shops but also some very good antique shops including one full of telescopes, and ships’ bits and pieces. Bought a large box of chips which were delicious, to keep us going, but couldn’t see a fish shop anywhere. Sat by the harbour and looked at the ships and bought 2 very nice ink sketches from a young man who was working there.

Eventually got out of the town, into more traffic and found the road to the hypermarket. Parked and went in – terrific variety of shops there. The food section was quite interesting but had very little fish and what it had was very expensive, so we chose 5 pork chops instead and 2 charentais melons and lots of wine which was very cheap.

Drove home through the little granite towns and villages, past the bay which was now covered with water as the tide was in, and got back to the camp site at 8.30pm. Swiftly prepared dinner and by 9.0 were sitting outside eating pork chops and salad followed by melon, and accompanied by mousses. It was quite dark and we had the lamp on the table, the children enjoyed this high life very much! Something of an effort to get up and wash the dishes at 10.0 but we staggered through it somehow and fell into bed.

1975: 18 Aug, Lez-Eaux, France

During the night, it rained quite heavily; it had certainly been very cloudy in the evening. Sarah and Gareth slept in the little tent and Andrew had his half of the trailer all to himself which pleased him very much. Sarah awoke us all at about 7am all bright and cheerful and we eventually had breakfast at 8.0ish – croissants, French bread, raisin bran and Wonderloaf according to taste… Afterwards the holiday books were written up, with a certain amount of grumbling.

Went into Granville and parked at a meter, then walked along the narrow little street to the beach by the casino. Sandy beach with rocks, and lots of young, pearly oyster shells about which we collected.When we couldn’t hold any more shells, decided we’d better get back to the car with them. Shops seemed quite expensive in Granville, but they were mostly shut anyway as it was Monday.

At lunch time, we looked for the Relais in Granville and were somewhat horrified at its 18Fr lunch so we drive on to Sartilly to the Vieux Logis. Here the menu was 16Fr so we went in and ordered 4 assiettes. David, Sarah, Gareth and I all began with moules marinière which were absolutely delicious and mountains of them. Andrew had tomatoes vinaigrette, delicately shunning the mussels. Then we all had steak, sauté potatoes and salad, again delicious and bien cuit. We drank a red wine called Excellence, and they had an Anjou rosé. To finish up we all had a peach except for David who had a coffee ice-cream. It was all very delicious and the place was full of French people, including lorry drivers of course.

The weather by now was being very nice and sunny, we went to the nearest beach which was Carolles, and was big and sandy with a rocky headland at the southern end. There were lots of people about, all French, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon there. The children and David went into the sea which was quite warm, and Sarah enjoyed herself on the surfboard. Andrew swam out to the raft. Later, when the tide came in they all made seaweed castles, there were immense quantities of seaweed being washed in.

It was interesting to see the differences between the French and English approach to the seaside resort. No deck chairs for sale – most people sat on the sand. Volley ball nets were set up and free to all. Very little in the way of candy floss etc. though there were some men selling ice-cream walking up and down the beach. Certainly very little of the ultra-chic beach outfits which the Daily Telegraph had assured us would make us all feel very dowdy when we got the French beaches.

Reluctantly left at about 6.0 as the clouds began to move in – the Iles Chausey were totally obscured after being brilliantly clear. When we got back to the camp we had a bacon and egg tea, with fresh fruit, and the children played table tennis afterwards with David. Retired quite early, feeling ruined after a busy day.

1975: France – Aug 17, Hornchurch to Lez-Eaux, Cotentin

Awakened at a dreadful hour 5.45am (I think!) and dressed, packed ice-box and picnic bag, got into the car and drove off more asleep than awake except for Sarah who was revoltingly lively.

Drove to Southampton along quite peaceful roads and breakfasted at the service station on the M3 which was very nice, lots of choice of cereals, hot food etc. Filled petrol tank at Southampton and drove to docks where we then sat for hours – our line was the last one on, and we got very cross watching everyone else sail on and get places to sit.

Our boat was the Vikint Venturer, a large ship with terrific capacity for cars etc. and we had to go ‘upstairs’. Then got seats in the restaurant part and ate our bacon sandwiches and drank our orange juice, and looked around. Weather misty and drizzling, sea calm.

Boat sailed at 10.30am and for at least 1 1/2 hours we were sailing past the Isle of Wight. Good view of Alum Bay and the Needles, lots of sailing boats out and some very fast power boats zipping around. Went to the duty free shops and stocked up with gin, Martini, sherry, and cigarettes and tobacco for Grandad’s birthday – it was a little supermarket in fact, not a shop, and very well stocked. Price far too high really, but they have one over a barrel in these situations. Large numbers of people on board, lots of whom were sitting on the floor which seemed a scandalous state of affairs.

Arrived at Cherbourg at 3.30pm-ish and were promptly off the boat, driving through the back streets of picturesque Cherbourg… Followed some amazing straight roads to Valognes, Coutances and finally Granville. Streets of Granville seething with traffic, crowds everywhere. To add to the fun, we had no idea where the site was, and there were remarkably few sites about anyway. Drove desperately round narrow, jammed streets, time was getting on and we were getting worried. Finally stopped at the Syndicat d’Initiatif and got directions (and the impression that it was not the first time they’d been asked that question!).

Found the site, drove in, went to the office and discovered the site was full…! What a gruesome moment, after all that searching. Said hopefully that we were hoping to stay 6-7 nights. Mme said dubiously that peut-être… they had been let down by people who said they were staying and then went after a day or two… we assured her we weren’t intending going;.. so she decided we could stay, thank heaven, despite the fact that they were really ‘complet’. Heaved a great sigh of relief and followed young Nicolas on his bicycle to a very nice spacious pitch where we thankfully pitched our tent and the little tent, opened some tins and had a tasty supper of Cup-a-Soup, Chunky Chicken and rice, and fresh fruit, and the remains of Gareth’s birthday cake.

The site is very pleasant, not a bit crowded, and surrounded by peaceful fields and woods. There is a lake with water lilies in which one can fish, a games room, television room, showers, hot water and English loos as well as French (relief! relief!) and a farm selling fresh milk and eggs.

After the washing, retired to bed for a fairly early night, feeling very relieved to be here and encamped.