Today was better. Much better.
Having had a decent night’s sleep, we Had a real cycling breakfast of bread, cake, croissants and pain au chocolate, with coffee and orange juice.
Jean-Pierre also helped me check out the maps. The cycle route from Mont St Michel to Mortain (which goes all the way to the landing beaches) passed straight though the village we were staying in. However, we were aware that it took quite a circuitous route to get to the ‘voire verte’, the former train line which ran from just outside Ducey all the way to Mortain. Jean-Pierre helped us with a route on the roads which cut off this route and roll us straight to Ducey.
We had a photo outside the farmhouse and prepared to leave. As we had a fairly steep climb up to the village, Louise had suggested that we push until we got to the top. However, Jean-Pierre and his wife followed us out to the roadside to see us off; the pressure was on. They assisted with a mighty push and we were off and running.
Having made it to Ducey, we found it was market day and decided to stock up with bread, ham, cheese and fruit for the day ahead. We had parked Claud at the top of the road and we returned to him attracting some attention. Some guy taking a photo of him, someone else offering to take a photo of us with him and a couple of dear old ladies who wanted to know what we were up to and where we were off to.
From here we joined the voire verte (former railway line) to Mortain. A well marked, nice quiet route through pleasant countryside, although one which was climbing constantly.
We passed few cyclists one route. One, on a road bike, waved as he travelled in the opposite direction. About half an hour later he caught up with us with Louise’s glasses and pouch in his hand. They had fallen out of her pocket and, as the pouch had ‘Debenhams’ on it, he worked out it was us! Nice guy, from Wales, doing a 60k recovery ride after 200k the day before. Ulp.
Learning the lessons from yesterday, we had a number of rest stops and made time for a picnic on the way’
As we got closer to Mortain we did get tired. The cyclist from Wales had encouraged us to stick to the cycle path slightly past Mortain as otherwise there was a big hill to climb. We managed to ignore this (good) advice, thinking taking the road into Mortain would be faster. Nope. We were faced with a horrendous climb which involved pushing most of the way.
In August 1944, the advancing American Army was subject to a counterattack at Mortain. The 30th Infantry Division, who had taken Hill 314 high above the town found themselves surrounded by the German Army. Not only did they hold out for 6 days until relieved, they were able to continually spot for allied artillery from the high position causing havoc with attempts to dislodge them. 950 men went up that hill and, when it was over, only 360 were still fit to fight.
I had wanted to visit Hill 314 and we decided to go straight up there. Having quickly realised that the hill was far too steep to cycle, we asked a lady sitting outside her house if we could leave Claud in her garden while we walked up. ‘No’ she said, opening the garage door, ‘put your bike In the garage and pick it up when you come back down’.
We both felt moved to be visiting the site of Hill 314 and the monument to those who fought there. The monument contains three words VALOUR, SACRIFICE, COURAGE. To see the remnants of fox holes, shell craters and watch towers was incredible; I had read so much about the place and now we were here; there are no words really.
The only thing we found incredible, as well insensitive, was the fact that there is a ‘trim-trail’ installed around the hill. Only the French.
Mortain was decimated during August 1944, as the photo of our hotel shows. Fortunately, the hotel is somewhat improved now and after a good meal it was early to bed, to rest those tired limbs.
Today was tough; our Garmin told us it was the longest ride we had done together and the highest we had climbed. But we coped better because we approached the ride more thoughtfully; more time, more stops, more food on the way.
We have a long ride tomorrow and it is set to rain all day. Louise keeps checking different weather sites to find one which says it is not going to rain, but to no avail. We will take a view in the morning; ride (and test our gear out!) or seek someone to transport us and all our stuff to our next stop.
It’s an adventure after all………