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Discovering the food links between France and Sussex

PUBLISHED: 10:47 12 June 2019

Pete Woodward pits croissants against bacon butties in his pre-Brexit European jaunt (Photo by Pete Woodward)

Pete Woodward pits croissants against bacon butties in his pre-Brexit European jaunt (Photo by Pete Woodward)

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As Brexit hung in the balance Pete Woodward took a pedal-powered round trip across the Channel to explore the foodie links between France and Sussex

With Brexit day looming large at the time of writing and threats of tariffs, queues and shortages to look forward to, I decided to celebrate Sussex's link to the continent while it still exists.

Plying the four-hour route between Newhaven and Dieppe, the DFDS service follows the pre-Brexit business model involving a ferry company operating real, physical ships between Sussex and France. Loading up the bike with camping gear, I headed to the coast for a Channel-hopping ride and some Brexit investigation work of my own.

Enjoying riding through a warm spring evening, I finalised my plan to compare the gastronomic offerings of Sussex with those on the continent from the unique perspective of two wheels. Shadows spread across the rolling hills of the Weald.

As I rolled through East Dean and out to Birling Gap, the sunset hit a peak and the famous white cliffs shone pink. Eating fish and chips from the paper, I gazed out across the Channel as the colours deepened and the stars appeared.

An early start followed an explosion of bird song in the gorse surrounding my tent and I pushed hard on the pedals to warm up in the chilly air. The sea fronts of Eastbourne and Hastings were sleepy and a stiff south easterly breeze carried a fine salty spray from the choppy waters of the Channel. Sustrans has developed a long-distance cycling route taking in the full Sussex coast. Spinning down quiet country lanes and cycle paths heading towards the border with Kent, I particularly enjoyed the stretch between Bexhill and Hastings where the path runs on the shingle at the back of the beach.

To start the day with a traditional Sussex feast, I sampled the English breakfast tea and a bacon sandwich at a café in Rye. Les, a local cyclist, and I enjoyed the view up cobbled Mermaid Street while extolling the virtues of brown sauce. Sussex had set the bar high. With an afternoon ferry to catch in Dover, I pushed on across the flat plain towards Camber and across the harsh, dry headland to Dungeness.

The high clifftop path between Folkestone and Dover crosses the A20 before heading towards the ferry terminal. By all accounts, this road will shortly become a lorry park extending through Kent towards London. For those caught up in this situation, I can at least offer the consolation that the view of the castle and the harbour is spectacular.

As the ferry ploughed through choppy seas into Calais, the light faded and I scoured the map for a camping spot from where to launch my push to Dieppe and on to Sussex the following day. I hungrily wheeled around the main square in Calais surveying closed shop fronts and searched for a road sign to Sangatte feeling the first twinges of a plan going awry. After half an hour of circling, I eventually convinced a man trying to close his patisserie to sell me some stale cakes for dinner. Fortunately, a milky sunset over the wide beach at Sangatte made up for somewhat lacklustre start to the culinary efforts from the continent.

The next morning wasn't much of an improvement and after eagerly anticipating a continental breakfast and, later, café au lait by the sea I was disappointed with dry croissants, curdled milk and a soggy bottomed religieuse. So much for French cuisine. But what the continent lacked on the table, it made it a good effort to make up for with smooth roads and expansive coastal views perfectly suited to cycle touring.

Le Treport was a beautiful surprise and a fantastic ice cream raised the spirits whilst I watched the fishing fleet bobbing in the harbour. Pushing on into the evening, I rolled into Dieppe and to a lovely sunset over the harbour. Fishermen lined the harbour arm as the sun neared the horizon and some continental pride was salvaged with a French classic of moules frites followed by a Nutella crepe.

The night ferry allowed time to indulge in a Kronenburg before snatching some sleep on the crossing. We glided into Newhaven on a glassy sea and with a thick pre-dawn mist. Climbing through the sleeping village of Rottingdean through the sound-muffling vapour felt like a smugglers' raid. The road climbed and I burst out into the sunshine on top of the Downs into another Sussex morning.

As I rolled back into Britain, shortly to be the land of straight bananas, souped up hoovers and blue passports, I considered the outcome of my important Brexit culinary investigation. A hands down victory for Sussex.

Get involved

Sustrans Route Two connects St Austell in Cornwall with Dover in Kent and takes in the full Sussex coast on scenic roads and cycle paths. See the Sustrans website for details.

The DFDS ferry link from Newhaven offers a four-hour connection to the continent. With some great prices for those leaving the car at home, what more incentive is there to head to the continent on two wheels?


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