Adam Lee Potter: Cycling from Moreton to Marseille


- Credit: Archant

We have long had a love-hate relationship with France: we love their food, they hate ours. As Voltaire said: “England has 42 religions and only two sauces.”

And it was perhaps brave - after an evidently bruising breakfast of Marmite - to take our visiting French friends to the Square and Compass.

“What,” asked Agnes and Thomas, earnestly, “is a pasty?”

My French is borderline schoolboy. I say “c’est bon” a lot and loudly, peppered with the occasional, meaningless “donc” for added authenticity.

Trying to describe Dorset’s finest pasties put my limited vocabulary sorely to the test.

Clumsily, I opted for: “C’est une populaire tarte anglaise, avec viande ou legumes.”

They seemed to get it. “Ah,” said Agnes, eyes widening: “Un prolétaire torte”.

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There can be no neater summation of the gulf between our two cuisines. Is there any foodstuff or ingredient that doesn’t sound grander in French?

To be fair, our chums took to pasties with relish though, annoyingly, Voltaire was proved right: we did indeed have just two sauces, red or brown. And it was all, as ever, utterly delicious.

The Square and Compass is, of course, a rite of passage. I cannot imagine jogging along with anyone who doesn’t get it: the life-affirming joy of a wet scramble down to Dancing Ledge followed by a scalding, hot pasty and a muddy pint of Eve’s Idea.

Our friends’ UK visit was the coda to my little French odyssey: a petit, 10-day Tour de France, from Moreton to Marseille by bicycle.

I’ve cycled this route now five or six times: my inaugural trip was nearly 30 years ago. And though my kit has improved - no more rugby socks, Dr. Martens and fat tyres - little else has.

Today’s France is happily, largely indistinguishable from that of 1989. The climb into the aptly-named village of La Chaise-Dieu is still a pig. The 20-kilometre swoop down from Col de la Chavade into Aubenas is still a 70kph delight.

I even insist on the exact same diet: baguette, Camembert, tomatoes, peaches, Snickers and Yop for breakfast, lunch and supper.

And a UK Mamil (middle-aged man in Lycra) remains an irresistible target to a French Vomit (very old man in tights).

I had an especially taxing encounter with one sprightly fellow who flashed past me as I clomped into Orange.

He was in his 50s, the colour of burned leather, sporting a gleaming old Peugeot.

It’s like an illness with me, some glandular, childish throwback, but I cannot resist a race.

For 10 hilly miles, we were neck and neck, breathing hard.

As the city walls hove into view, I thought I’d met my Brexit. But no. At a mini roundabout on the home straight, my Gallic rival suddenly braked and clambered off.

I peered over my shoulder to see him bent double, being sick into a roadside planter. Just enough time for me to sprint round the corner, throw my own bike down, and cough up some Yop.

Still, a win’s a win!


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