Day 16: Channel History

D-Day Landing Beaches, France

The Bayeux YHA turned out to be worth all that hassle and more. It was a massive, grand old home with stone staircases, a courtyard for Ron complete with a red telephone box, a whole dorm room to myself and, as I found out this morning, a jaw-dropping spread for breakfast consisting of cereals, croissants, jam, cheese, meats, toast, filter coffee and fresh orange juice, all laid out beautifully on a regal dining table. Posh bed and breakfast for twelve quid? Yes, thank-you very much! Knowing a good thing when I saw it, I made the hostel my base for a second night.
I wandered into town to take a peek at a well-known strip of cloth called the Bayeux Tapestry (although it’s technically an embroidery, fact fans). I rocked up there at 9:30am, which as luck would have it was the exact time it opened. I was the first person in through the doors, and I perused the excellent museum alone to whet my appetite for the main event.
The museum admirably admitted the consensus among historians was that the Tapestry was made in Winchester, England, and not in France by Queen Mathilda (Bill the Conker’s wife) as was once thought, although I noted it did go on to state that one (maverick) historian maintained it was of French origin. It was generally thought to have been commissioned as a work of propaganda (depicting William as a noble leader and Harold as a traitorous bastard) to spin the notion of French rule to the typically illiterate English population, whom William had just, er, Conquered.
It had dawned on me that no other tourists had joined me yet, so I proceeded excitedly through to the darkened L-shaped corridor which held the backlit ninety metre Tapestry. And there it was: a thousand-year-old masterpiece, and I had it all to myself.
The audio guide led me through the scenes in front of my eyes (rather too quickly, I thought, but I imagine the thinking was to keep the tourist masses moving through swiftly during the high season) and helped it to come to life. I couldn’t quite get over that this was the real deal – that this piece of fabric in front of me was hand-crafted by a team of skilled workers at a time when the Earth was still considered to be the centre of the Universe and studded leather garments were perfectly acceptable attire to wear down the local market.
I left the museum feeling a very privileged individual indeed, mounting up and cycling northward out of Bayeux for the second part of my grand day of history, this time more recent – and personal. I headed to Arromanches on the coast, just west of the British and Canadian D-Day landing beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword, a stretch of coastline from which a more spritely version of my grandfather had disembarked on 9th June 1944 as a member of the Yorks & Lancaster Regiment, the “Hallamshires”.
View Photo As I sighted the Channel I saw the remains of the Mulberry Harbour out at sea, the artificial floating harbour and stroke of engineering genius constructed in the UK, tested mid-Channel and used on the landing beaches to unload the vital heavy equipment and vehicles. The View Photo remains were rusting but still defiantly resisting the elements more than sixty years on, not unlike my grandfather.
I browsed the various monuments and plaques dedicated to the engineers who constructed the Mulberry Harbour before pedalling further along the coast to take a look at Gold Beach. It was impossible to relate the events then with the empty stretch of golden sand I saw now.
With the light failing, I turned back for Bayeux via a cross-country route, lost in my thoughts reflecting on the sights I had seen, and eager to retrace more of my grandfather’s footsteps tomorrow.

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