Our convoy of Land Rovers pauses on a clifftop track west of Arromanches-les-Bains. The sky is cloudless, the sea is deep blue and there's just a single fishing boat making its way across the horizon.
But it was a very different scene here 71 years ago, on June 6, 1944. The D-Day landings were underway and the scene in front of us would have been absolute mayhem and undoubtedly terrifying for those involved.
The sea along a 50-mile stretch of Normandy coastline was crowded with vessels; 1213 battleships with their guns pounding the German coastal defences, 736 ancillary craft, 864 merchant ships and 4126 landing craft packed with Allied soldiers unloading on to the beaches. The defending German infantry were said to have commented that the horizon turned black with the number of boats they could see. Other witnesses said the sea turned red with blood.
To keep the 185,000 brave soldiers from Britain, America, Canada and other allied countries, supplied with ammunition, equipment, food and fuel, the Allies had to build a port as to capture an existing one at Cherbourg or Saint-Malo, was impossible. So Britain's Prime Minister and war leader Winston Churchill had the brainwave of creating massive concrete floating harbours and towing them in sections across the Channel to Normandy. Remnants of these so-called Mulberry harbours are still visible in the sea and on the Arromanches-les-Bains beach below our clifftop viewpoint today.
Day 1: Pegasus Bridge to Arromanches
We're with a group of Land Rover enthusiasts on battlefieldsby4x4's D-Day adventure in Normandy, France. We're driving tracks and trails that were used by the troops 71 years ago, and visiting places of significance to WW2's Battle of Normandy.
Our adventure starts on D-Day minus one, June 5. We meet the rest of the group at what became known as Pegasus Bridge, near Caen.
Where we're standing was a key location to the success of the D-Day landings. Men of the 6th Airborne Division came by parachute and flimsy wooden Horsa gliders, in what was codenamed Operation Deadstick. They landed here to capture two adjacent bridges over the Orne river and Caen canal. Their aim was to stop the Germans from crossing the bridges to attack the landing beaches, and they had to prevent them being demolished: they were the only route eastward the advancing troops could take from the nearby beach, codenamed Sword.
The bridge over the canal was renamed Pegasus, after the shoulder emblem worn by the British airborne forces, and the Orne bridge later became the Horsa after the gliders that facilitated their capture.
Today there's a ceremony taking place in the grounds of the Pegasus Memorial Museum, and the unassuming stars of the show are the D-Day veterans. Many, now in their 80s and 90s, are frail, but they wear their medals with pride.
From the bridge we take the short drive to the village of Ranville, the first French village to be liberated after D-Day, and where many of those who died in Deadstick are buried. Around the edge of Ranville church's graveyard are the 48 bodies of soldiers who were brought here from the battlefield by locals. Among them was Lieutenant Herbert Brotheridge, who was the first casualty of D-Day. There's also an adjacent CWGC cemetery, with 2236 Commonwealth and 323 German graves.
On the road again, we re-cross the bridges and head north-west towards the village of St-Aubin-d'Arquenay where we join a series of tracks. The tracks take us to what the Allies called Ford Hillman, near what became Colleville-Montgomery - named after the commander of the Allied ground forces, the then General Sir Bernard Montgomery. This German stronghold was one of the key initial targets on June 6.
We park at Hillman, climbing to the top to see the view over to the landing beaches that the Germans would have had, before descending into the underground bunkers that had to be captured by the Allies.
We head the Land Rovers west along roads and tracks through wheat and barley fields near Perries-sur-le-Dan, then turn north-west along what was a defensive ridge that was heavily bombed by the RAF on the build-up to D-Day. We continue west on tracks through cornfields flecked with bright red poppies, that emotive symbol of remembrance.
We pass through the village of Basly, which was liberated on June 6 itself, and take more tracks past Fontaine Henry and Villers-le-Sec before turning north towards the sea, along a track that was used by British tanks heading inland.
We drive into Arromanches-les-Bains on the D614. Looking out from the clifftops over the harbour we can see the Mulberry sections; and up here are two of the pontoon bridge sections that connected the harbours to the beach.
Day two: It's D-Day
After a quick drive down to the beach, our first greenlane on this historic day is on top of the cliffs to the east of Arromanches - overlooking what was Gold Beach, one of the two that British forces attacked.
We head out of town on the D205 before turning on to a track that would have been used by troops coming inland after breaking clear of the beaches. We turn on to a grassy greenlane before stopping at Ryes cemetery, west of Bazenville. It contains 652 Commonwealth graves, one Polish and 335 German.
From here we travel by road and track south-west towards Bayeux.
On June 7, Bayeux was the first major town to be liberated, and without serious bombardment. We visit its excellent Battle of Normandy museum before crossing the road for another poignant ceremony of commemoration at the Bayeux cemetery from WW2. It contains 4648 burials, and there's a memorial that commemorates the 1800-plus Commonwealth troops who died in Normandy and have no known grave.
Heading out east from Bayeux, we drive a number of greenlanes. On one track we look across to a tarmac road in the distance and a time-travel moment: a solitary WW2 Jeep is trundling along, the occupants decked out in American GI uniform.
We take more tracks around St-Gabriel-Brecy and Coulombs, an area that saw a number of tank battles.
Next we're on to a mixture of roads and greenlanes towards Tilly-sur-Seulles, spotting a section of WW2 tank track that's lying by the side of a lane that runs out of the town. From here we continue east to the cemetery at Fontenay-le-Pesnel, which is located alongside a track off the D139. It contains 460 Commonwealth and 59 German graves.
Then we turn back toward Bayeux and then north to Arromanches, for an evening of D-Day celebrations.
Day 3: German beaches and the American beaches
We're heading west from what was Gold beach, one of the British landing sectors, towards Omaha, which was an American zone.
From Tracy sur Mer we turn on to the track I mentioned at the start of this story, which looks out over the Mulberry harbours off the beach at Arromanches. It's hard to imagine how terrifying it would have been for the Allied soldiers advancing across the beaches in a hail of enemy shells and bullets.
At Longues-sur-Mer we stop to visit some of the German gun battery emplacements that still exist. These giant 152mm guns were exchanging fire with Allied destroyers six miles off the coast.
We continue west on tracks and tarmac to the Normandy American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. The endless rows of white crosses here show the terrible losses suffered by American troops in the Normandy landings on what was codenamed Omaha beach just below, and Utah beach further west. There are 9387 burials here, and there's a memorial to the 1557 who have no known grave.
Further along the coast we park and walk down to Pointe-du-Hoc, which was the location for an incredibly daring and crucial raid by the Americans. A squad of brave men crossed the beach and scaled a 30m (100ft) cliff with ladders, grapples and ropes to capture what was a vital observation post and gun battery.
Our journey continues through Grandcamp-Maisy, then south on the D199 to the German cemetery at La Cambe, containing more than 21,000 graves.
Day 4: The Museum
We've finished the greenlaning part of the adventure, but there's still time to visit the D-Day Museum in Arromanches.
This has been another fascinating, informative, occasionally moving journey to places that are peaceful today but 71 years ago saw some incredibly violent activity.