France: Western Cotentin Peninsula

Day 8  Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Wonderful West 

Whew! For those of you with maps, this will be a fun report since we were on our own today to tour more of the peninsula. We headed into Les Pieux and then south to Carteret.

We drove out to the cape where we could walk along the wall by the lighthouse and see Jersey and Guernesey (the Channel Islands) in the distance. The rising and falling tides here are legendary and it was out when we were there. The beach was easily three to four hundred yards wide, but you could see where the high tide would be. The boats in the harbors were leaning over and on muddy ground waiting for the return of the tide.

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We then went to Lessay to see the abbey that was built in the 11th century. Well, let’s say that we went to the spot where the 11th century abbey was until the Germans put fifteen mines and three bombs inside of it and blew it apart. It has been rebuilt, but the theme of churches and how they fared during WWII carried on throughout the day.

It looks so peaceful now.


Our next stop was Coutances and its huge 13th century cathedral. Large photographs of the aftermath of the war were visible here as they have been in many of the places we have visited on this trip. Unlike Lessay, the cathedral in Coutances was not destroyed during the war, but there wasn’t much left standing around it. Coutances is a lovely, vibrant city.

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On a whim, we decided to head east to St. Lo. We were both familiar with St. Lo from movies and books about the war, but neither of us expected what we saw. It was an ancient walled city with ramparts, and much larger than either of us expected it to be. The cathedral was heavily damaged during the war, but rather than reconstruct it in its previous style, the damaged portions of the building were left as is and a new, cold, modern building was erected to fill in the damaged sections—you now see a hybrid building, partly old and partly new, but with the unmistakable damage of war. It was quite sobering. Jim’s Uncle Mark wrote that he “fired many missions for the infantry around St. Lo being stubbornly defended by the Germans, including a parachute division.”

I think about this church often. It doesn’t let you forget what was lost.

We weren’t out of whims, so we decided next to go to Valognes, which was once considered to be “the Versailles of Normandy.” More pictures of destruction and more signs of an almost completely rebuilt city. They handled their cathedral rebuild differently. It is a very modern building with bits and pieces of the old cathedral mortared into certain parts of the walls. There must not have been much left to salvage.

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We tried to buy glaceed fruit—a local specialty—from the nuns of Valognes’s abbey, but they were on vacation for a week. Hey, everybody needs a break at some point.

The day ended with a walk on the beach near Les Pieux (the beaches here are simply vast) and then a dinner of gallettes.

Sand then smooth rocks



Tomorrow is our final cooking day followed by dinner at the auberge of the baker who cooked our dinner on Wednesday.

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