Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

Norman Conquest

Last weekend was a return visit to Bike Normandy, a B&B near Falaise run by British biker couple John and Jen. They offer guided rides on beautiful roads, four-course dinners, home-made cider and Calvados, and a Bernese Mountain Dog named Della. Very much my sort of establishment.


Having spent the previous night with galahadwarhorse and the world's most demanding hamster, Howard and I left the grey of early-morning Portsmouth to emerge three and a quarter hours later into the lunchtime heat of Le Havre, where we met up with John, Jen and our seven fellow-travellers.

Few of the group knew each other before the weekend, but once you've ridden even a short distance with someone you've got so much shared experience you're never short of things to talk about.

The lineup: two couples on Triumph Sprint STs (dad, mum, son and daughter-in-law), a sister and brother on a Fazer and a Kawasaki Versys, a woman on a Street Triple and her first bike trip abroad, Howard's Fireblade and my Vespa. The fact that nobody had any complaints about route or pace proves what skilled guides John and Jen are (and what nice, considerate riders we all were).

After a safety briefing on the vagaries of French road signs and the marker system, we had a short yet scenic ride to our lunch stop as we got used to each other and riding on the right. Lunch was at Pont Audemer, twin town to Ringwood but about fifty zillion times nicer.

The afternoon was oppressively hot, so that I was suffering even in my mesh jacket, at 90km/h, on my windscreenless scooter. We stopped for Oranginas, and as we set off for the last leg home the rain began. It wasn't too heavy, however, and it produced a beautiful smell from the pine woods we rode through.

Once back at Bike Normandy, the guests showered, changed and sat around in the garden waiting for dinner to turn up, while the hosts slaved over duck with lentils, sauté potatoes and red cabbage. I don't know how they do it.


In the morning, Howard pointed out a black cluster of bats dozing behind the shutters outside our room. I was fascinated by this close encounter with wild critters and spent a long time gazing at the little ears and wings sticking out from the mass.

Breakfast was fresh bread and a selection of home-made jams, heavy on the blackberries but also featuring quince and elderflower. I could have lingered for a long time, but we needed to hit the road around ten to fit in a full day's riding.

We had a short break to peep through the gates of the Château d'O, then it was off to 'The Racetrack' - this being Bike Normandy's nickname for a particular stretch of well-maintained, smooth tarmac with flowing curves on which every biker can feel like Rossi.

(Such is my sense of direction that I was quite surprised, afterwards, to learn we had gone round it twice.)

I like a good corner as much as anyone, but for me the best thing about motorcycle holidays is looking at the scenery. So I enjoyed the ride to lunch, which took us past rivers and ruins and over level crossings, reminding me how fond my dad was of the signs that say 'UN TRAIN PEUT EN CACHER UN AUTRE'.

(Speaking of signs, we spotted a worrying one at the lunch stop - see below.)

On my 200cc beastie I could keep up reasonably well in the bends (ha!) but was left behind on the open straights. Pretty soon I was on my own at the rear of the group, with just the reassuring presence of Jen as back marker to keep me company. I noodled along happily with no pressure to hurry...until the point when I got so fed up with the enormous lorry I'd been trailing for miles that I felt compelled to overtake it on a solid white line.

Dinner was chicken stuffed with Boursin in a cream sauce. I was actually relieved to see that the accompaniment was cous cous, which I dislike, as this enabled me to leave more room for the cheese course...

Before bed Howard and I descended to the basement, where he beat me at pool and I beat him at the game of table football I challenged him to on our 2005 visit and never got round to.


Our last day! I was sad to leave, and especially to leave Della. She was probably sorry to see me go too; although she got plentiful fuss and admiration from everybody, I was the only one prepared to chase her round the garden until we both fell over.

After a photo opportunity at Falaise Castle, Sunday's ride took us through the bocage, familiar from The Discovery of France which I recommend highly to everyone.

It was on this stretch that one of our number came a cropper on a deceptive bend, sliding with her bike down a grassy bank and into a field. Neither she nor the bike was damaged, and the instant the accident happened a van full of muscular French youths appeared from nowhere to help out, but it was an alarming sight for me to come round a corner and find.

I was quite freaked out and took things easy until lunch. A pity, as the roads of the Suisse Normande - Normandy's Switzerland - are gentle, pottering and pretty, just what I like.

We lunched at a restaurant I remembered from my previous visit, by the river at Clécy. (I opted for saucisse frites and a glass of pink fizzy stuff, causing one of my companions to ask if my meal came with a free toy.)

Then it was the traditional rush to get to the ferry on time, with a few last country roads thrown in among the unpleasant dual carriageway flogging. We made it with half an hour to spare and relaxed for a few hours before goodbyes and our separate rides home.

Lovely people, lovely riding, lovely food and drink. Lovely, lovely France!

Tags: bikes, france, hols, scooters
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