Exploring the Normandy D-Day landing beaches by motorhome is something I have wanted to do for several years and when we eventually bought our motorhome I was excited about using it in this very historical area.
It was surprisingly busy at the Bayeaux campsite when we arrived on a late Sunday afternoon in September, without booking. All they could offer was a pitch without electricity, but that was fine. We had driven for about 4 hours from our previous overnight stop at Bourges.
Bayeux and the tapestry ( a brief history lesson!)
Bayeux was the first city to be liberated by the allies. The city was relatively undamaged by bombing because the Germans had fled before the assault started. Of course, Bayeux is also famous for its tapestry which tells the story of another famous battle that took place 1,000 years earlier near Hastings, England. William the Conqueror was the Duke of Normandy and the tapestry tells the story of how King Harold of England took the crown of England for himself, against the wishes of King Edward the Confessor. Edward wanted William to be the next king of England so William invaded England and, of course, Harold got an arrow in the eye! Visiting the Bayeux tapestry was fascinating and well worth a visit.
Where to stay in Bayeux
We stayed at the municipal campsite in Bayeux, which is located on the north side of the town on the D613. It took us about 25 minutes to walk in to the centre of Bayeux. This campsite has a new toilet and shower block, although quite a few pitches don’t have access to an electrical hookup so check this if you book.
The Battle of Normandy Museum
€12 gets you entrance to 2 museums in Bayeux, which I think is great value. The museum is a chronological presentation of the main events from 6th June 1944, enriched with equipment and objects from the period. There is a lot of information to take in and you would need to spend several hours there to read and look at everything.
Visiting Arromanches and Mulberry Harbour
There is a good motorhome parking area at the Cinema 360, which is a short distance from the town. After watching the 360° film about D-Day we walked down the steep hill and on the way stopped to admire an old US tank. It was here that Anne tripped on the uneven payment and fell heavily on her knee. This needed a hospital visit 2 days later as she was in considerable pain! Nothing broken thank goodness.
There are several sections of artificial Mulberry harbour scattered around Arromanches and, of course, you can easily see sections of it in the sea, even after 74 years. More information about the artificial Mulberry harbours here.
Visiting the Longues-sur-Mer gun battery on the D-day landing beaches
You can find this incredible line of 4, relatively intact, guns on the cliff top if you follow the D514 west from Arromanches. There is plenty of space to park a motorhome next to the tourism office and you can also park overnight in the car park or close to the cliff tops 200 metres away.
On the night before D-Day the gun battery had 1,500 tonnes of bombs dropped on it but the guns still managed to fire 170 shells at ships off-shore but the guns were eventually silenced. The guns today are still in good condition and the concrete bunkers are still intact.
Omaha Beach and sad reminders of that fateful historic day
On Tuesday, 6th June 1944 US troops stormed the heavily defended area of Omaha Beach and over 2,400 men lost their lives. It was the bloodiest of the D-Day landing beaches.
I found it an emotional experience walking on the beach at Omaha. It was impossible to imagine the horror that took place over 70 years ago, but there were several small groups of Americans having guided tours with expert guides who were trying hard to bring that fateful day to life. I overheard several guides going into incredible detail about the battle and the tourists were listening intently.
The one thing that made me realise how terrible that day was for the brave men who stormed Omaha Beach was when I looked down at the pebbles on the beach and noticed many had bullet holes through them. I thought about taking one of these pebbles home with me but quickly decided against it. These thousands of pebbles with bullet holes need to stay on Omaha Beach as a reminder of the horror of war.
The D-Day Experience Museum and Dead Man’s Corner
The battle of Carentan, shortly after D-Day, was a fierce battle that lasted 6 days. The US forces were commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert G. Cole, who was awarded the Medal of Honour for leading a bayonet charge during the ferocious battle. It’s near Carentan that you will find a fairly new museum called The D-Day Experience. The museum has a fantastic collection of D-Day memorabilia as well as a simulator ride on-board a genuine C-47 D-Day aircraft. In fact this very aircraft was bought by Steven Spielberg and used in the filming of Band of Brothers. Prior to boarding the C-47 we were given a briefing where it was explained that we were to be dropped by parachute over Normandy. During the flight the aircraft was hit by anti aircraft fire and we had to crash land. It was all very realistic and an uncomfortable ride.
There are two museums as part of the D-Day Experience. The other museum is called Dead Man’s Corner and it’s housed in the actual house used by German paratroopers as their headquarters during the Carentan battle. It’s known as Dead Mans Corner because the Germans destroyed a US tank at the nearby road junction and killed the tank commander who could not be retrieved by US forces for 3 days. The museum contains authentic artifacts that were recovered from the area after the battle for Normandy.
I can highly recommend touring Normandy in a motorhome, especially if you are interested in World War 2 history. There are plenty of places to park a motorhome and stay overnight, either on a campsite or French Aire.