Cotentin, West of Normandy

01/11/2016 11:26

At bird's eye view, would seem a huge breakwater, and there’s something about this. Contains Atlantic waters fury before becoming the marine currents that runs throughout the Channel. It is an extension of the Armorican Massif and has seen since the Roman legions to American paratroopers.

Flavius ​​Valerius Constantius, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great's father, gave the name to the peninsula and to the city of Coutances. Obviously both deformed with time. The peninsula is split by the Marshes of Cotentin and Bessin, which once made the area impassable and virtually transformed the northern coast on an island.

In the south, from the viewpoints of Pointe du Roc in the haute ville, the upper town of Granville is already too far away from Mont Saint Michel silhouette, Normandy first mandatory stop upon entering the department of La Manche. Neither closer Chausey Islands are clearly visible. The fifteenth century wall still surrounds the old city and still the Great Porte easy access. As in Saint-Malo, Dunkerque or Dieppe, during the reign of Louis XIV was granted letters of marque. Here, about seventy and eighty of their ships were armed. Granville ended up becoming resort village to health asthma and was also visited by Stendhal, Michelet and Victor Hugo.

Regnéville-sur-Mer retains the interesting ruins of the medieval castle, of which there are but few walls that seem to defy gravity. Was linked to Charles II of Navarre, Charles le Mauvais and was occupied long time by the British. The church of Notre-Dame, from the twelfth century, has a distinctive and voluminous bell. The port had been active with lime trade and cod fishing fleet that used to sail to Newfoundland fishing grounds.

Apparently, jazz comes from the apple trees in Coutances. That’s the name of the festival that, since 1982, is annually held in the spring: Jazz sous les pommiers. Coutances is also recognized for its thirteenth-century Gothic cathedral. Notre-Dame was built on the promontory overlooking the city and it is said their towers are visible from the very island of Jersey, twenty five miles away. During the Second World War suffered one of the most challenging aspects of human nature, was virtually destroyed during a bombing which killed more than three hundred people. Its main axis is formed by the streets of Saint Nicolas, Tancrède and Geoffrey Montbray, linking Notre Dame with the church of Saint Pierre.

Going north are the two spa villas Barneville-Carteret, united in a single municipality since 1965. From Barneville there is a good sight over Carteret Port from where ferries leave for the Channel Islands: Jersey and Guernsey. The first one is particularly clearly seen from the viewpoint of Saint Jean de la Riviere. If visibility is optimal it’s also seen Château de Montorgueil in Gorey. Between Jersey and the Normandy coast highlighted in deep blue emerge Ecrehou islets. Carteret has a beautiful large sandy beach topped by a row of beach huts and topped with the lighthouse.

At the northwest Cotentin ends at Cape La Hague. A Peninsula at the end of a peninsula overlooking the Nez de Jobourg, one of the highest cliffs in Europe. Nearby there are three large caves, the Grotte du Lion, that of the Petite Eglise and the Grande Eglise, where smugglers used to hide their goods. Near, Goury lighthouse marks the tidal currents of raz Blanchard. A cross reminds the twenty four u-boat Vendémieire sailors, drowned in the shipwreck in June 1912 between the Cape and the Island of Alderney. The wreck lies 174 feet deep. Before arriving to Cherbourg there are several charming small towns: Omonville le petite, Omnoville-la-Rogue, Greville-Hague in whose landscapes inspired local painter Jean-François Millet: L'Eglise de Gréville, Le Rocher du Castel Vendon... In September 1898, a statue was dedicated to him. Except the bust now preserved by his birthplace, the rest was melted to make weapons during World War II. A new statue was restored in 1998. In Naqueville there is a nice century castle covered with two round towers guarding the door, from the same period dates the Dur-Écu mansion. In Querqueville the chapel of Saint Germain was one of the few who escaped the destruction of Viking raids.

Even in the northern coast of Cotentin and leaving behind Cherbourg, on the tip of Barfleur, Gatteville has two lighthouses located next to each other, the second, a slender tower of 32 meters high was commissioned in April 1835 replacing the former, built of granite in 1774, when it became obsolete. Its beam intersects the Isle of Wight Lighthouse, on the other shore of the Channel. La chapelle de Bonsecurs, an ancient XI century temple is also known as marine chapel on the same square where an ancient Roman bell tower stands on the parish church of Saint Pierre, which is reached after climbing ninety three steps.

If we must believe Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, King Arthur sailed from the port of Barfleur to Britain to fight the Romans. With a bit more certainty, also set sail from this port in 1066 William the Conqueror, shortly before winning the Battle of Hastings that would make him king of England. The Bay of Saint Vaast la Hougue is the oldest oyster farm in Norman basin, the population was protected by two fortifications built the same year, 1694, on the island of Tatihou by Benjamin Combes, disciple of the famous military architect Sébastien le Preste de Vauban. Tatihou can be reached by a small amphibious vehicle and is accessible on foot at low tide. Formerly hosted a quarantine hospital. During the Great War were confined Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war and in times of the Spanish Civil War Republican women and children took shelter. A polychrome statue represents the Bishop of Arras in the sixth century, Saint Vaast, in the chapel of seafarers. Carentan is the capital of the marsh, located in the heart of the Parc Naturel Régional des Marais du Cotentin et du Bessin, has unique arcades at the Place de la République which probably formed part of a covered market. The sixteenth century town hall had been before becoming consistory, monastery and barracks. Around the cathedral are some beautiful narrow cobbled streets.

Sainte Mère Église is famous for being the landing field for fifteen thousand U.S. paratroopers in the night of June 5, 1944, the eve of the landing. The 82nd Airborne Division liberated the population at four-thirty in the morning. In the steeple of the church of Notre Dame de l'Assomption hung, most recently, a dummy representing John Steele, the paratrooper who spent a couple of hours trying to wriggle out of his parachute there. Others landed on the tops of the chestnut and lime trees lining the road to Carentan.

Cotentin practically ends in a beach also famous for having been part of the landing operation. The five kilometres that stretch between Sainte Marie du Mont and Quinéville received the 32,000 men of the 4th U.S. Infantry Division. His code name was Utah beach.

© J.L.Nicolas


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