France 163 Arromanches /the 360 degree cinema is closed/the Mulberry Harbour and the creperie/A bit windy on the clifftop/The travellers are still looking for a Christmas stop

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Europe » France » Lower Normandy » Arromanches-les-Bains
January 1st 2020
Published: January 2nd 2020
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Arromanches - a name that surely conjures up something in your mind. A name that you find yourselves using in the same sentences as Mulberry Harbours , D Day landings. The Menin Gate , Galipoli and Tobruk. Different wars but sometimes names are burned intd o your psyche.

We drove a few miles from our large empty aire/car park to yet another large and empty car park/aire . There were a handful of cars parked and a couple of vans. In the summer no doubt it would be heaving. It is another free one - thankyou Arromanches. It is high above the town and fairly blustery on the headland . It ticks a few boxes . It is within walking distance of a town. There would be shops, cafes and things to see . We could see the sea. It was rather stormy. We could see the remains of the Mulberry Harbours. Downside the wind was doing its usual trick. Blowing a gale. The car park was exposed. No shelter from the wind . The 360 degree cinema was closed . An observation table or as the French call them an Orientation table was drawing the few people from their cars. We had called at the local Super U and filled up with what we needed for the next few days so this might be our Christmas spot .

We coated up against the wind and headed for the town. It did look lovely below us . All along our route into town were items left behind from the landings. A Jeep, a section of the Mulberry Harbour . Both cared for and looked after. Storyboards telling the tale of the heroics of the soldiers on the beaches below . A figure of Mary looked down on the town.

The town was relatively deserted. We had it virtually to ourselves . In some of the shop windows we said the words Thankyou writ large and the date 1944. In others a cardboard figure of a soldier. Across the streets the plastic banners shouted out Joyeux Noel or Joyeux Fetes. Nothing much though was open. The museum on the harbour had closed for Christmas. Around it we saw an anchor used to weigh down the temporary harbour . Sections of the harbour itself and we could see the remnants of what was left out to sea. The elements eroded the metal season on season . Still though after all this time it was possible to see the sections and stand in amazement at how it was achieved and how much was left . It went out to sea for about a mile . It was built specifically for D Day as Arromanche has no natural harbour . Its purpose was to ease up and speed up the unloading process so that Allied troops were supplied as they advanced across France after breaking out from Normandy. The success could only be maintained if the troops were supplied correctly and more men could be landed as reinforcements. It was and is considered to be one of the greatest engineering feats of World War 2. And we were standing looking at bits of it.

Winston Churchill had said that he needed piers for use on the beaches which must float up and down with the tide . The Harbour was actually two which were towed across the English Channel and put together off the coast of Normandy . One was at Omaha Beach and the other here at Gold Beach. They fitted together like a large jigsaw puzzle and were capable of moving 7000 tons of vehicles and good each and every day. 75 years later we were in awe of the concept and the fact that it worked . The facts just kept coming 144,000 tons of concrete was used in the construction , 85 ,000 tons of ballast . The figures just kept coming. Each of the two harbours was made up of 6 miles of flexible steel roadways that floated on the seabed.

We walked into the Irish Bar which was slowly filling up with diners. A sociable place with views to the harbour . It was warm and cosy inside . We drank hot chocolate to warm us up before ordered a crepe with lemon for me and a galette for Glenn with ham and cheese. We finished off with two espressos before we heads slowly back up the hill to our home on wheels . We were still toying with staying or moving on. If we stayed we would likely have a blustery blowy Christmas Day. if we left we were heading closer to Calais and home. We still had that mission on our hands of finding the LPG. We stopped at the Peace Garden on the clifftop. This is a new addition to the Arromanches memorial site. Let me take you back to the Chelsea Flower Show of 2019 . The shores of Normandy where many young men perished was recreated on the laws of the Royal Hospital Chelsea for last year Flower Show. Ghostly figures of soldiers were made out of stell washers. They emerged from the sea as if they were landing in the teeth of enemy fire . Some crouched , some in the act of running with their guns at the ready. It aimed to capture the terror of the young men landing on this very beach. A hail of bullets waiting for them. After Chelsea it found another life as it was offered to Arromances as a permanent memorial to the brave men. The town accepted the offer and it was recreated on the clifftop.

Standing in front of the Peace Garden it was hard not to be moved. For me it was not the etheral quality of the soldiers that moved me as they waded out of the sea of slate but the figure of the old man looking out to the beaches. The veteran with his medals looked out at the men. His mind full of thoughts of his role and how he as a young man fought and survived tempered with memories of friends and colleagues who did not survive the battle for that beach. It was probably the most moving of all the memorials we saw. We saw many but missed a great deal. This modern interpretation was simple.

Having walked back to Gabby we put the kettle on and pondered on if this was a good place for Christmas Day. Given the howling wind and the fact that we would get no respite we decided to move on again. We picked up LPG. A simple task in the end. We just needed to put the French adapter on and fill away. 12 euros later and we could use as much heating as we wanted .

We sourced out another aire . A simple one of six spaces. Camper Contact told us it could get busy, that there were no facilities , it was on the edge of the small town with dunes behind and then the sea. Arriving there was just us and one more . The village was tiny and long walk away. We had no view of river nor sea. The dunes behind afforded shelter from the wind but they also spoiled our view of any sea . It didnt feel a place to spend Christmas Day . So it was that we started Gabbys engine up and moved on again.


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