2016-07-24 (Day 38) Roumare – Honfleur

Today’s photo shows the view of one of the cable stay support towers on the Pont de Normandie. The Pont de Normandie was the longest cable stay bridge in the world when it opened in 1998 and is probably the only motorway bridge in the world with a cycle lane. With it being a Sunday evening, traffic was light and there was hardly any wind so it was the perfect opportunity to cross the bridge. There are probably only about a dozen bridges in the world longer than the Pont de Normandie and most of them are in remote locations. So with a span length of 864m, this bridge is probably the longest I will ever cycle across.

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Camping les Nenuphares in Roumare. I had washed some clothes the day before but they were very slow in drying so it was near mid-day before I got away from Camping les Nenuphares.

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Total cycled today 105 km. Total cycled so far – 1715 km. You can see from the map above that I had to make a 20 km de-tour into Le Harve so as to reach the Pont de Normandie. While cyclists are allowed on the bridge, they are not allowed on the motorway approaching the bridge. There is a road along the estuary but this is restricted to authorized personnel. There is a swing bridge called the Pont Rouge or Red Bridge on the outskirts of Le Havre but this was closed for repairs. So what should have been a 70 km cycle today ended up with me traveling over 100 km.

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Exercise park and kennels for dogs near Saint Paer. I remember on the 2015 Tour de Travoy coming across a poster for a theme park for dogs at Parc Chausson in the foothills of the Pyrenees. In that park, dogs could run round chasing hares but the park here at Saint Paer is much smaller. But there are plenty of hoops and other obstacles to keep the animals occupied.

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The Pont de Brotonne crosses the Seine at Retival. This was the first of 3 huge bridges across the Seine I would come across today. The Pont de Brotonne opened in 1977 and was one of the first major cable stay bridges built anywhere in the world. Its main span is 320m and it crosses the river about 50 m above the Seine. It was a toll bridge up until 2005 when tolls were abolished and the crossing became free.

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Sign for the Victor Hugo museum in Villequier.  Victor Hugo wrote “Les Miserables” and “The  Hunchback of Notre Dame” but perhaps the saddest event in Hugo’s life happened here at Villequier. On 4 September 1843, Hugo’s oldest and favourite daughter, Léopoldine, died at age 19 drowned in the Seine at Villequier, pulled down by her heavy skirt, when a boat overturned. Her young husband also died trying to save her. The death left her father devastated. He wrote many poems afterwards about his daughter’s life and death, and at least one biographer claims he never completely recovered from it.

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Billy goat in field near Saint Arnoult. I don’t think I have ever seen as big a goat. In Ireland in Killorglin in County Kerry, they have a festival every year called the Puck Fair in which a wild mountain goat is put in a basket and then hoisted above the town. The fair lasts for 3 days between 10th-12th of August and is reputed to be the oldest festival in Ireland having been held annually since 1603. The locals normally try and catch the biggest wild goat in the local area, who is then crowned “King Puck” but I don’t think they have ever had a goat as big as this beast I came across today.

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Sign for Quillebeuf sur Seine. Quillebeuf is only a small port on the Seine but it has played a significant part in Irish history. For, it was here in 1607, that Hugh O’Neill and his entourage set foot in Europe for the first time after fleeing from Ulster in what is known as the Flight of the Earls. The exodus of Hugh O’Neill along with a dozen other chieftains and their families from Ulster led to more Protestant settlers moving to the north of Ireland in what is known as the Plantation of Ulster. The 17th Century Plantation of Ulster would in turn lead to the Partition of Ireland 300 years later in 1921 and the creation of Northern Ireland.So the Flight of the Earls is probably the most pivotal event in Irish history the last 500 years. Hugh had been summoned to London and fearing he would be arrested, decided to flee to Spain. On September 14th 1607, Hugh and about 90 others set sail from Rathmullan in Donegal. They had hoped to sail to La Coruna in Spain but strong gales in the Atlantic blew their boat up the English Channel. After being advised it was safe to land, they decided to disembark here at Quillebeuf on October 4th 1607, 3 weeks after leaving Donegal.

After landing in Quillebeuf, Hugh O’Neill and his entourage made their way to Flanders. At that time, Flanders in the north of France and present day Belgium was known as Spanish Netherlands and was occupied by Spain. Hugh O’Neill hoped to convince the Spanish king, Phillip III, to invade Ireland and restore Catholic rule to the country. But Phillip had signed a peace treaty with England 3 years earlier and had no intention of breaking the treaty especially because his fleet had been destroyed by the Dutch at the Battle of Gibraltar in April of 1607. Phillip didn’t want Hugh making his way to Spain in case his presence would prompt the English to break the treaty so instructed Hugh to travel to Rome, which at that time was controlled by the Pope. Hugh O’Neill and his entourage spent the winter at Louvain near Brussels before making their way to Rome in 1608. Hugh would spend the next 8 years in Rome unsuccessfully trying to convince Spain to invade Ireland until he himself died in 1616.

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Pont de Tancarville. The Pont de Tancarville suspension bridge has a main span of 608m and was completed in 1959 at a cost of 9 billion francs. In the 1990’s, it was realized that the cables had corroded and the shoulders were crumbling . Between 1996 and 1999. both the cables and shoulders were successfully replaced.

Pont de Tancarville. The Pont de Tancarville with it’s sandy colored girders is probably the nearest equivalent in Europe to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.

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Sign at Route de l’Estuaire. I had hoped to make my way along the Route de l’Estuaire to the Pont de Normandie but after reading this sign was forced to go a different route. The sign says “From 18th  June 2009, traffic is forbidden without authorization from the local prefect”. I had never come across such a sign anywhere else in France and wasn’t sure if it applied to cyclists or to just motor vehicles. I could have chanced it but when I looked at my map I realized I could cross the Pont Rouge near Le Havre and get to the Pont de Normandie bridge that way. It would mean a 5 km detour but it was a small price to pay to avoid being stopped or even arrested by the French police for cycling on an unauthorized road.

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Unbelievably, the Pont Rouge was shut for repairs. I was raging when I saw this sign. I couldn’t even chance crossing the bridge as the Pont Rouge was sitting in the swing-open position. I had no choice but to follow the 10 km long deviation into the center of Le Havre. The deviation signs were for cars and kept directing traffic onto the motorway through Le Havre. I got lost loads of times before eventually making my way to Le Havre harbour. It was now near 7 and i still had about 10 km to cycle to reach the Pont de Normandie. If only I had taken the Route de l’Estuaire, I would have been at the campsite in Honfleur 2 hours earlier.

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Pont de Normandie in the distance. This was the third bridge I had come across on this year’s Tour de Travoy that had been designed by Michel Virlogeux. The other two were at Seyssel in the Rhone Alpes and Chalons sur Saone in Burgundy. However, the Pont de Normandie is much bigger than both those cable stay bridges. The bridge took 7 years to build and cost about €400 million. When the bridge was opened in January 1995, it was both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. This record was lost in 1999 to the Tatara Bridge in Japan.. The cable-stayed design was chosen because it was both cheaper and more resistant to high winds than a suspension bridge. However, shortly after opening, the longest cables exhibited excessive vibrations, so several damping systems were quickly retrofitted.

Approaching the Pont de Normandie. The toll to cross the Pont de Normandie varies from €5 for a car to €13 for a truck. Fortunately, with it being a Sunday evening there were hardly any trucks crossing the bridge though there were a few big campervans. For pedestrians and cyclists, there is no toll and there is a clearly marked footpath and seperate cycle path around the toll booths for both to use. There is no toll for motorbikes but I assume they just pull up behind the cars and are then waved through.

View of the Seine from the Pont de Normandie. The centre of the bridge is about 50 m above the Seine and the view is incredible. You can see for about 10 km to the far end of both Honfleur and Le Havre. The cycle path is only about 0.5m wide along the length of the bridge and had it been windy, the crossing would have been very dangerous. But as there was only a slight breeze and with the traffic being light, it was relatively safe. Other cyclists have described the climb to the centre of the bridge as steep but having been to the Alps, I found the  the climb even with the load on Travoy relatively easy. Once over the other side, cyclists are forbidden to stay on the A29 and instead have to turn off to the right and take a cycle path which leads into the suburbs of Honfleur.

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Medieval port town of Honfleur. The small town of Honfleur is one of the most visited towns in France as it has remained virtually unchanged for the last 500 years.This photo shows the famous Honfleur carousel which has been here since 1900. The carousel is decorated with famous landmarks from throughout France including the Eiffel Tower and Mont Saint Michel. The carousel is open from March to November and plays organ music as you ride around on one of the horses.

Samuel de Champlain set sail in 1608 from Honfleur. The capital of Canada Quebec was founded by French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, who set out from Honfleur in 1608 with 3 ships. The reason why so many Canadian people speak French is due to Samuel de Camplain who was governor of the French colony in Canada for over 30 years.

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Atlantic slave trade in the 17th and 18th Centuries. However, the source of Honfleur’s wealth in the 17th and 18th Centuries was little to do with Canada and more a result of the Atlantic slave trade. Honfleur was the leading French port in shipping slaves from Africa to the New World. Ships would leave Honfleur with muskets and other manufactured goods, trade these for slaves in Africa, transport the slaves across the Atlantic and then trade the slaves for sugar being grown at sugar plantations in the Caribbean. So lucrative was the sugar trade that in 1763, France traded all their territory in Canada to Britain in return for 3 small islands in the Caribbean where they could grow more sugar. Canada was dismissed as “a few acres of snow” and that is why Canada is now a Commonwealth country eventhough half it’s population speak French.

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Bumblebee from Transformer’s parked up on the quay in Honfleur. This car has a French number-plate so is unlikely to be the Camaro used by Michael Bay in the Transformer movies but it certainly looks like Bumblebee. The Tour d France was ending this evening in Paris and I tweeted that if Chris Froome wanted a car to go with his yellow jersey, then here in Honfleur was the perfect car. I know Dave Brailsford, the Team Sky boss, drives a white Bentley Continental but I have no idea what car Froome has. Unlike footballers, cyclists rarely post their motors on social media apart from Peter Sagan, who has a garage full of American muscle cars.

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Old lighthouse in Honfleur. I was surprised to learn that this tower was once a lighthouse as it is located about 300 m from the sea. However, 100 years ago, this road was the coastline but in the intervening years, the harbour has silted up and a park has now been created in land reclaimed from the sea. But you can still see the lighthouse’s previous location in paintings and old photos from 120 years ago.

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Painting of Honfleur lighthouse in 1886 by Georges Seurat. In 1886, the Honfleur lighthouse was right at the edge of the sea as can be seen in this famous painting by the Impressionist artist, Georges Seurat. Seurat was a talented painter who died from meningitis in 1891 at the young age of 31 so this painting is one of only a few he managed to complete in his lifetime.

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Camping du Phare in Honfleur. On the outskirts of Honfleur, I had passed a huge Carrefour carpark with about 50 campervans so I was worried that the campsite might be full and I would have to maybe cycle another 10 km to the next nearest campsite. The campsite was very busy but I spotted an empty pitch near the entrance and dived into it. Normally, when I arrive at a campsite I will try and have a good look to get the pitch with the most shade but not here at Camping du Phare, the first empty pitch I spotted I claimed it. The campsite was noisy but I didn’t mind as after such a long day and 3 different detours, I was just glad to get some rest.

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