4. Jun, 2022


SATURDAY 4-06-22

We enjoyed a nice hot shower this morning as we're not too sure what facilities lie ahead for us. We had enjoyed two nights free accommodation in their car park and they threw in the use of a dump station as well. That's what looking after motorhomers looks like, one thing's for sure, we'll never get the same service in the UK. That's why we deliberately bought a left-hand-drive vehicle, as we intended to spend most of our travelling days on this side of the Channel.

As we set off for Mont Saint-Michel via the local supermarket I remembered that about thirty miles east of FougĐÉres is the setting for 'Escape to the Chateau' which is a Channel 4 reality television series which follows the story of couple Dick Strawbridge and his wife, Angel Adoree along with their family as they buy and renovate the 19th-century Château de la Motte-Husson in Martigné-sur-Mayenne, France, while simultaneously raising two young children. I used to watch the series but it went a bit stale, plus they now get involved in advising other Chateau buyers who intend to renovate theirs. If you want to drop by to say hello, their driveway is at N48.214117° W0.670195°. I'm sure they'd be delighted to pose for selfie's and autographs......or maybe not. I much preferred Dick in the series he did with his grown up son James, from his first marriage called 'Two Hungry Sailors'. During the series, Dick and James travel round the coastline of South-West Cornwall on their boat, the Morwenna, visiting local food producers, inviting them onto their boat at the end of each show for a competition to see who cooks the best dish.

So where were we? .........

It wasn't a long journey to Mont Saint-Michel. Our destination was Camping du Mont Saint-Michel (N48.614595° w1.509330°). Unfortunately we came up against a barrier within spitting distance of the site. At the barrier, were not one, but two ticket machines. It seems that somehow we had to get a reference number out of the first machine to feed in to the second machine. Why we had to pay to go through I have no idea. Well in the end we didn't, because The Chef unusually, couldn't master the machines and as the queue behind us was getting longer I told her to forget it, and to ask the cars behind us to back up so that we could clear the entrance to the barrier. She told me she didn't think they could, to which I replied "They either move back or they get spend the afternoon parked behind me at this barrier". They moved, then so could we. The only option we had was to park up in the motorhome parking area (N48.608404° W1.508091°) for a fee of €19.60 for twenty-four hours - just for a parking space.

Once we'd settled in we decided to go for a walk because thunderstorms were forecast from 16:00 and we didn't want to get wet, so we skipped lunch and set out.

So a bit about Mont Saint-Michel:

Now a rocky tidal island, the Mont occupied dry land in prehistoric times. As sea levels rose, erosion reshaped the coastal landscape, and several outcrops of granite emerged in the bay, having resisted the wear and tear of the ocean better than the surrounding rocks. The Mont has a circumference of about 960 m (3,150 ft) and its highest point is 92 m (302 ft) above sea level.

The tides vary greatly, at roughly 14 metres (46 ft) between highest and lowest water marks. Popularly nicknamed "St. Michael in peril of the sea" by medieval pilgrims making their way across the flats, the mount can still pose dangers for visitors who avoid the causeway and attempt the hazardous walk across the sands from the neighbouring coast.

Before the construction of the first monastic establishment in the 8th century, the island was called Mont Tombe (Latin: tumba). According to a legend, the archangel Michael appeared in 708 to the bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet.

Unable to defend his kingdom against the assaults of the Vikings, the king of the Franks agreed to grant the Cotentin peninsula and the Avranchin, including Mont Saint-Michel traditionally linked to the city of Avranches, to the Bretons in the Treaty of Compiègne (867). This marked the beginning of a brief period of Breton possession of the Mont. In fact, these lands and Mont Saint-Michel were never really included in the duchy of Brittany and remained independent bishoprics from the newly created Breton archbishopric of Dol. When Rollo confirmed Franco as archbishop of Rouen, these traditional dependences of the Rouen archbishopric were retained in it.

The mount gained strategic significance again in 933 when William I Longsword annexed the Cotentin Peninsula from the weakened Duchy of Brittany. This made the mount definitively part of Normandy, and is depicted in the Bayeux, which commemorates the 1066 Norman conquest of England. Harold Godwinson is pictured on the tapestry rescuing two Norman knights from the quicksand in the tidal flats during a battle with ConanII, Duke of Brittany. Norman ducal patronage financed the spectacular Norman architecture of the abbey in subsequent centuries.

In 1067 the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to William the Conqueror in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the southwestern coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.

In 1872, the highly decorated French architect of historic monuments, Édouard Corrover, was responsible for assessing the condition of the Mont. It took him about two years to convince his minister to classify Mont Saint-Michel a historic monument, and it was officially declared as such in 1874. From then on, this highly qualified and educated architect and member of the Academy of Fine Arts devoted himself entirely to the restoration of "la Merveille". Under his direction, gigantic works were undertaken, starting with the most urgent and devoted fifteen years of his life to this work. He wrote four works on the building and his name remains forever attached to the "resurrection" of Mont Saint-Michel.

During the occupation of France in WWII, German soldiers occupied Mont Saint-Michel, where they used St. Auburn church as a lookout post. The island was a major attraction for German tourists and soldiers with around 325,000 German tourists from July 18, 1940, to the end of the occupation of France. After the initial D-Day invasion by the allies, many exhausted German soldiers retreated to strongholds like Mont Saint-Michel. On August 1, 1944, Allied troops entered the Mont Saint-Michel. They were accompanied by two British reporters, and crowds of jubilant French locals.

Since 24 June 2001, following the appeal addressed to them in 2000 by Bishop Jacques Fihey, Bishop of Coutances and Avranches, a community of monks and nuns of the  Monastic Fraternities of Jerusalem, sent from the mother-house of St-Gervais-etSt-Protais in Paris, have been living as a community on Mont Saint-Michel. They replaced the Benedictine monks who returned to the Mount in 1966. They are tenants of the centre for national monuments and are not involved in the management of the abbey.

The community has seven sisters and four brothers. They live the mission that the Church has entrusted to them in their own charism of being "in the heart of the world" to be "in the heart of God". Their life revolves around prayer, work and fraternal life. The community meets four times a day to recite the liturgical office in the abbey itself (or in the crypt of Notre-Dame des Trente Cierges in winter). In this way, the building keeps its original purpose as a place of prayer and singing the glory of God. The presence of the community attracts many visitors and pilgrims who come to join in the various liturgical celebrations.

In 2012, the community undertook the renovation of a house on the Mount, the Logis Saint-Abraham, which is used as a guest house for pilgrims on retreat.

We hadn't actually intended to walk all the way over to the Mount, but we were making good progress, the sun was shining, and tomorrow would probably be wet, so why not?

I have to say for us tourists the Mont Saint-Michel experience is vastly superior to that of St Michael's Mount in Cornwall. Here, free shuttle buses are laid on to take you all the way from the car parks over to the Mount. The vehicles are designed to be driven from both ends, thus avoiding the need for the driver to turn round over on the Mount. Plus, for those who want to spend their money, there is a horse and carriage service to get over there as well.

To rub salt in to the wounds, the walkway passed the back of the campsite we were attempting to reach, and it looked very nice indeed. We estimated afterwards that from our parking space to the Mount was a distance of two miles each way.

Once we were over there we decided to treat ourselves to an ice cream before returning. We hadn't planned to tour the whole Mount complex because The Chef felt she's had enough of climbing steep hills over the past two days, which was fair enough.

We joined the back of the slow moving queue, and not long afterwards a group of four or five Middle Eastern-looking young gentlemen squeezed to the side of the front of the queue to look at what was available, and then they just waited there. I knew what their game was and I watched them like a hawk. As soon as the customer at the front had been served, these individuals attempted to make their purchase. I gave the Chinese couple in front of us a split second to register their objection, which they didn't and so I did it for them. They got told very firmly to join the back of the queue and I gestured to the guy behind the counter not to serve them. They apologised, and rather than join the back of the queue like everybody else they left. I think I made a few new friends in the French people who were behind us in the queue.

Then it was the long walk back, though I have to say none of it was a chore. We had enjoyed our walk about and were pleased that we went for it rather than wait until after lunch, and then maybe have got wet.

It was The Chef earlier today who twigged that it was the anniversary of the D-Day landings in a couple of days. Oh dear, I hadn't bargained on that one. Her calculations were confirmed later in the afternoon when a couple of WWII jeeps and some motorbikes came in to the parking area. Having spoken to them it appears that one chap on a motorbike and sidecar was from England who came over on his own and the rest were a group from Ireland. Therefore I'll call them 'Murphy's Marauders'. They had popped along from the Normandy beaches for a look at the Mount before making their way back early this evening.

After resting in our folding chairs on the piece of grass in front of our parking space it was almost time for The Chef's fine dining offering.

I have no idea what we are doing tomorrow. The plan was to have gone to the campsite and stayed two nights to clear the weekend, relax and get stuff charged up and enjoy a lovely hot shower without having to worry about how much water we were using. But that's out the window. I don't think we'll stay here. We've done the Mount and there's nothing else here for us, so we either go back down the road to a rather nice aire we passed on the way here which had lots of grass, or we make our way to the Normandy beaches, in the hope we get to see something before the weekend soldiers take the place over.

If our access to the beaches is severely restricted we'll be home sooner than we planned.