The MGOCNI French Trip 2015 was instigated last year at the Brownlow House day. A group of us were having our lunch and enjoying the sun, and Lawrence was commenting on how well the Galway trip went and wondering where we would be going next year. A suggestion of France was proposed and immediately at least five members expressed interest in going, Desie spoke to Heather who was there and she was very enthusiastic as Thomas and herself are in France every year.
By 11.00 am the following day Heather had emailed Desie with an outline of a suggested route, places to visit, etc., and it had been agreed because of the logistics, type of small French hotels etc that it would have to be limited to 20 people in ten cars and all bookings would have to be made promptly as many hotels are booked over a year in advance.
Over the following weeks and months Heather finalised all the arrangements and kept Desie informed of the details and before we knew it the long winter had passed, spring was in the air and it was time for the ‘get together’ of those that were going to find out more about the trip. It was only then we all realised how much work and detail Heather had put into this trip, explaining what was proposed on a day to day basis and detailing the various places of interest that we were visiting and to our surprise all entry fees to the various places were included in the very realistic overall cost of the trip, everybody was suitably impressed , and we were also given a nineteen page itinerary booklet with maps and details of the various places we were visiting and we each got a complimentary baseball cap as a memento of the trip.
The next few weeks passed quickly and before we knew it the 23rd May had arrived and we were meeting at 7.45 am, Sprucefield, for the drive to Rosslare. When we arrived (tight to the time as usual) there appeared to be a bit of activity around Desie’s MGB and we were informed that the boot had stuck closed with all Reg and Desie’s clothes in the boot, there certainly was a degree of stress in the air – was this the omen of what was to come?
Desie had contacted Alan Caldwell who had come to assist and had drilled a small hole in the chrome surround below the lock to try and ‘pop’ the catch but to no avail, Desie then thought the shipmates at Stena could get the boot open and I just imagined the possible damage to the metal with trying to open the boot. Moffett had appeared with his camera to get some shots of us leaving, and when all else re. the boot had failed we resorted to brute strength forcing our fingers between the boot lid and rear panel and lifting which allowed the boot lid up high enough to pop the catch.
What had happened was the two catch locating securing screws had worked their way out and with a very full boot the lock had misaligned thus jamming itself. A quick run up to Alan Caldwells and with two new screws in place the problem was solved and we were on our way south. Moffett appeared once again on a bridge over the road on our way to Newry getting a more few shots of the cars.
Our first short stop was at Lusks, north of Dublin, for morning coffee, etc., and most car hoods were folded away as the sun had appeared and there the hoods remained until the last day of the trip. It was a very pleasant sunny drive to Rosslare with only a short hold up where a new section of motorway was being constructed and Thomas had a word with the man operating the traffic signals who let us all through together.
We topped up with fuel in Rosslare and Heather had booked tables in the restaurant opposite for those who wanted an early tea, etc., with just two minutes from the restaurant to the boat we all made it in good time and with Heather speaking to the loading staff we were allocated under cover parking with the lorries and bikes thus allowing us to be first off the boat.
The sea was very calm so it was going to be a good crossing and after inspecting our cabins some retired to the lounge for a drink and a chat while others were on deck watching the disembarking etc, the evening passed quickly and by 11.00 pm most of us had retired to our cabins.
The following morning after a light or hearty breakfast as one chose the boat docked about 10.30 am and we were quickly through passport control and on our way to the first hotel – Ferme de le Raconniere in Crepon about 80 miles away and also getting used to driving on the right hand side of the road. I had expressed concern the previous evening about the driving as the last time I drove on the continent was in my late teens and everything seemed so simple at that age. Ray who was sitting beside me and being well accustomed to continental driving gave me words of wisdom, always give way to traffic on your left at roundabouts and always keep the verge or footpath on your right, if it’s not there you are on the wrong side of the road; excellent advice and followed to the letter.
About 1.00 pm we arrived in Crepon and headed to our hotel, driving through the arched entrance into the courtyard oh my goodness! Stunning was the only word to describe this period French hotel. With no time to unpack we were set down to what was described as a ‘light lunch’, the only thing they got wrong was the word ‘light’ – it was fabulous.
Immediately after lunch we were away again to Arromanches a few miles away with a visit to the D Day museum together with a film very enlightening and informative about the Mulberry Harbour and how important this small town was in the war. Today Arromanches is a very vibrant little town with a lot to see but the remnants of the war are still very much in evidence with the many items well preserved.
While some of the group decided to stay a little longer in the town others travelled the several miles to Longues sur Mer to visit four German gun emplacements there certainly was no shortage of concrete in the making of these bunkers and some of the guns were still intact.
With a short drive back to the hotel there was time to get booked in and shower before our evening meal, and after the lunch we got the meal was everything we expected.
The following day we were off on the short drive to Bayeux to visit the Bayeux tapestry museum, certainly impressive, all 70 metres of it and 1000 years old. After the tapestry visit most did their own thing by visiting the cathedral with its gothic architecture, maybe having a bite to eat or just strolling about the town. We headed to a sandy beach where I went for a swim, the water was lovely and warm although Linda didn’t believe me. We all met back in time for dinner.
The following day (Tuesday), we travelled approximately 20 miles to Benouville where the Pegasus Bridge is situated over the Caen canal and a visit to the adjacent museum where the original bridge is displayed. This was really an excellent museum, featuring both indoor and outdoor exhibits with everything explained in great detail especially in the film that was shown and while not everybody may be into museums, this is one worth seeing with the true story it tells.
Across the road and beside the replica but wider Pegasus bridge to suit modern traffic are the marked locations of the glider landing spots when the 6th British Airborne Division took the Bridge on the night of the 5th June 1944. On the other side of the Caen Canal is the cafe Gondree the first liberated building in France; today a busy tourist attraction.
While there we were treated to the opening of the Pegasus road bridge to allow two yachts up the canal, one being a period craft, named ‘Overlord’, the name given to the D Day invasion.
About a mile from Pegasus Bridge is Ranville war cemetery where over 2000 British soldiers are buried including those from the Royal Ulster Rifles. Most of the soldiers were under 25 years of age and to read some of the inscriptions on the headstones really brought it home to you. The cemetery was immaculately kept with lovely flowers straight borders and weed free grass.
Our evening meal in the hotel was for 7.30 pm and we arrived back in time for a shower and pre meal drink and chat. After dinner many retired to the quaint bar area with its vaulted ceilings, leather seating and large open fireplace where Sandra was prompted to entertain us and other guests with her amazing piano skills. Desie and Pat took to the floor with their own version of ‘Strictly come dancing’ appreciated by everyone! Reg tinkled the ivory keys and broke into song- what undiscovered talent! An impromptu evening to remember and thoroughly enjoyed by all! Sadly time to pack for an early start the following morning to Le Mans.
After breakfast we had a photo shoot of the cars in front of the hotel before bidding farewell and leaving at 9 am for the 120 mile trip to Le Mans and our guided tour of the car museum. An added surprise was the five car line up of Bentleys in the car park, all British racing green the genuine articles period Bentleys you just couldn’t put a price on. The museum contained many interesting and priceless cars including those which raced at Le Mans.
After a snack lunch and the Le Mans visit we still had 80 miles to go to our hotel adjacent to the Loire river and just past the picturesque town of Amboise and we arrived there shortly after 6pm with just enough time to prepare for dinner at 7.30 pm.
On Thursday morning after breakfast we left our hotel about 10.00 am for a scenic ten mile drive to Chateau de Nitray, a period property with its own vineyards and wine making facilities. After a conducted tour of various aspects of the chateau grounds and wine making equipment we got ourselves seated for the tasting of various wines produced on the premises. I rather liked the sparkling wine and there was a laugh when I helped myself to the half bottle still on the table topping up my glass, it was a shame to let this go to waste. Derek later presented me with a full bottle of the stuff so there was no driving home, Linda had to experience driving the MGB on the RH side of the road.
After the wine tasting a full sit down lunch was provided and, yes you guessed it, with more wine and this time a different selection. There was also the opportunity to purchase any of their wines you liked, and most availed of this, certainly the cars left the lovely sunny courtyard a little lower on the springs, and mine wasn’t the only car that had a different driver. It was a great and different day and with smiles on our faces we headed back to our hotel where most people relaxed in the garden enjoying the sun and of course sampling some of the day’s purchases before evening dinner.
Friday was portrayed on the itinerary as a free day and after the day before for some it was a good idea, most of us headed to the lovely nearby town of Amboise sitting on the banks of the Loire and to the local market where very fresh local produce was on sale giving us an opportunity to purchase for our picnic the following day, but as with many things there is always a twist, we are of course members of the MGOC (NI) and fruit, croissants, etc., were not on everyone’s mind.
There was this good quality hat stall with Jackie and Derek the first to purchase genuine French berets and these were followed by many more, the photographs tell all, also later in the day many of the French beret wearers gained black moustaches courtesy of Sandra’s makeup and this is how we sat down to dinner giving the hotel staff quite a laugh.
After the market visit and it being a ‘free’ day we all did our own thing, visiting the superb Chateau Royale which dominates the town, visiting the Leonardo de Vinci Museum, having lunch/coffee in the many restaurants or just relaxing on the sandy banks of the Loire in the lovely sunshine.
Saturday we had an early start as we were covering about 180 miles to Mont St Michel and our one night hotel stop. Again a lovely day and we stopped about half way in a little village for our picnic purchased at the market on the previous day and we arrived at Mont St Michel about 2.30 pm. This is a very popular place to visit and I can just imagine what it would be like in high season, there is excellent parking and a shuttle bus to take you to the island directly from the car park. Yes it’s very touristy but well worth a visit and be prepared to climb the many hundreds of steps if you wish to go to the top of the building.
We were there as the tide was just starting to come in and they say it comes in at the rate of a galloping horse which is right, an amazing sight to see how quickly the sand was covered. From Mont St Michel it was only a ten mile drive to our hotel and sadly our last night in France. After a very enjoyable dinner it was time to put our car hoods up as our weather guru Alan Espey had predicted rain for the following day and sure enough we woke up to rain on Sunday morning , the first wet day of the holiday.
We only had an 80 mile drive from our hotel in Avranches to Cherbourg with the light rain causing us no problems. Heather had booked an up market French restaurant overlooking the marina for our last meal in France and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Being only a few minutes from the ferry we were able to arrive in good time and again as arranged under cover parking. The weather forecast was for a slightly windy night and most of the group retired before 11.00 pm, as it was the crossing wasn’t too bad.
Monday 1st June took in the drive from Rosslare to Hillsborough with a short stop at Lusks north of Dublin, we pulled into the layby just before Hillsborough roundabout and said our farewells.
It was very sad that the holiday had come to an end it certainly didn’t seem like ten days had passed since we left Sprucefield on our outward journey. This was a first for the MGOCNI travelling abroad, and what a success and what a great group of people to share it with.
I know Linda and I are speaking for everybody when we express a very big thank you to Heather for her very hard work in organising this superb trip, also Thomas for his behind the scenes input. We will never know how many weeks and months went into this, but the attention to detail was very obvious to all and we felt privileged to be part of the group.
And now for the technical bits…
- Our car, a 1972 B with overdrive, travelled 1193 miles door to door and consumed 148.75 litres of petrol (32.72 gallons) returning 36.46 MPG and this was a mixture of town, country and motorway driving with an approximate maximum speed of 70MPH.
- As a group we travelled approximately 12,000 miles and apart from Desie’s boot lock which was rectified before we left, between us we had a slow puncture, one faulty hydraulic brake light switch and one with high resistance across the terminals thus making the brake lights dim and also a sticking starter solenoid that manifested itself occasionally on several very warm days.
- Nobody got lost or left behind, there were no breakdowns and no accidents which was the main thing, we had three car to car radios with us and these proved invaluable during certain parts of our trip, we were known as MG1, 2 and 3 with the latter being the last car.
- Talking on the radios was kept to a minimum and normally very correct as Thomas and Heather MG1 are sea farers relying on ship to shore radios for communication when yachting.
None of the rest of the group were aware what went on between us but I feel I have to share one different conversation with you. Linda MG3 was very good with the radio always keeping the lead car informed of what was happening at the rear as ten cars could be spread over half a mile, however on one occasion after a lengthy section through many villages with countless roundabouts, traffic lights, concealed turns, etc., the conversation went something like this…
“MG1 to MG3 we are now on a clear section of the road, has everybody managed to stay with us?
MG3 to MG1, all the little ducks in a row, we have got your back door, that’s a big 10/4″
Reg and Desie then called in MG2 to MG3 with a ‘quack quack’ and a lot of laughter.
How did MG1 take it? Not sure!
Heather took a video diary of the trip and we never knew when we would be caught on camera, I believe this would be well worth seeing not only for the group but for all club members who may consider a similar holiday or just to have a laugh at our expense.
As a group we would like to thank Alan Caldwell who helped with Desie’s boot lock on the day of departure and also for providing a kit of spares to take with us which I am glad to say was not required.
Noel, MG Owners’ Club Northern Ireland